Listen to the full conference call of progressive organization leaders opposing a fast-track budget commission.

WASHINGTON – Leaders of more than 50 organizations declared their opposition to a deficit commission proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. and Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. on a news conference call sponsored today by the Campaign for America’s Future. The Conrad-Gregg proposal is expected to be introduced on the Senate floor soon as part of the bill to raise the debt ceiling, a necessary step to keep the federal government operating.

The commission as originally envisioned – with the power to prevent any amendments to its recommendations on the House and Senate floors – is expected to be defeated by the full Senate. But the minority of pro-austerity, anti-Social Security/Medicare senators has threatened to force the entire U.S. government into default if a compromise isn’t reached that satisfies them.

The united progressive front “can be taken as a warning” for any proposal that undemocratically subverts the normal legislative process and recklessly targets Social Security and Medicare, said Campaign for America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey.

Hickey drew a line, explaining that “a forum to talk about deficits is one thing,” but “if it’s undemocratic … or focused on illegitimate targets like Social Security” which is not contributing to any long-term fiscal problem, then the White House and congressional leaders can expect tough criticism.

Speakers stressed the need for a long-term deficit reduction strategy, but up-front investment in job creation is the immediate priority, and would also lead to deficit reduction via economic growth.

Joan Entmacher of National Women’s Law Center noted that responsible ways to cut the deficit were available now if austerity activists weren’t only interested in attacking Social Security and Medicare. The pending health care reform legislation has been estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to provide significant deficit reduction. And several proposals are available that target the financial industry, forcing hedge fund managers to pay regular income taxes, shutting down offshore tax havens, and levying the “Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee” so banks fully pay back taxpayers for the TARP bailout.

While right-leaning Democrats can be expected to cite the support Massachusetts independents gave to the conservative Senate candidate as reason to push drastic austerity, Gerald Shea of the AFL-CIO emphasized that deep cuts are “wrongheaded in the present atmosphere” when voters are demanding “attention to the jobs crisis.” Further, former Rep. Barbara Kennelly of the National Committee to Protect Social Security added that seniors are deeply afraid of Social Security being raided and are tired to being seen as the nation’s “piggy bank.”

Hillary Shelton of the NAACP said the responsibility for debt reduction should remain with democratically-elected representatives from each congressional district, instead of the Conrad-Gregg approach that puts financing and funding decisions for programs crucial to communities across the country into the hands of a small circle of lawmakers.

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***NOTE: For more information, and the full statement by the 56 groups, please, see***