Tag Archive: Social Safety Net

Feb 20 2013

Austerity, Sequester & Simpson – Bowles, Oh My!

The “comedy team” of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wy) and businessman Erskine Bowles trotted out their latest version of their unauthorized report from the “Cat Food Commission” that they co-chaired for President Barack Obama. Not surprisingly, the dynamic duo of austerity and cuts to the social safety net go even further with the 2.0 version of their solution for ending the mythical budget crisis calling for even greater cuts and less revenue all on the backs of those who have the least to contribute:

The corporate austerians released their ‘new’ Bowles-Simpson recommendations today (pdf). They claim that they are building upon their original plan, not replacing it. They framed their recommendations as the last two steps in a four step process. For Social Security followers, Step Three includes the chained CPI. And Step Four includes all of the previous cuts to Social Security which they recommended in their first plan.  Raising the retirement age starting in 2022 slowly to 69, cutting benefits through re-indexing and flattening  all future benefits for our recipients in 2050. [..]

The corporate austerians go for installing the chained cpi first. Why? It could be that they still think that most Americans do not realize that the chained cpi is a cut which keeps on cutting [..]

The language is a vague euphemism for cuts; code words to their rich buddies that the uploading of wealth will not be threatened with significant new taxes. No pesky new scrap-the-FICA cap income taxes which might be used to pay for under-funded social insurance programs.

Meanwhile, President Obama, seemingly ignoring his two side show buddies, called for tax reforms that would increase revenue and a more balanced approach to the looming sequestration that would impose draconian cuts to non-defense spending programs. Taking lessons from Bill Maher, the Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), is having none of that and has proposed “new rule“:

“The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.”

At Maddow Blog, Steve Benen points out that Mr. Boehner may not have thought this “new rule” through and it could pose some problems in his caucus:

One of the details that often goes overlooked is that the House Republican budget plan from the last Congress — the one that included all the spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and tax breaks the GOP are desperate to have — didn’t bring the federal budget into balance until 2040. That’s not a typo — under the House Republican plan, written by Paul Ryan, the United States would run deficits every year for nearly three decades, and then might reach a balanced budget 27 years from now if optimistic projections are met.

And that plan included spending cuts so severe, GOP candidates were afraid to talk about them out loud in public.

This year, however, thanks to a new “rule” embraced by Boehner and his cohorts, the new House Republican plan intends to balance the budget by 2023, instead of 2040. Why does that matter? Because trying to eliminate the entirety of the deficit in one decade instead of three necessarily means ridiculously drastic cuts.

A plan from the House Progressive Caucus that presented the unique idea that creating jobs would bring down the already shrinking deficit. But, as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post‘s “Plum Line“, notes it stands little chance of even being considered in the Republican held House:

Needless to say, this plan – the creation of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – has no chance whatsoever of passing Congress. Which is exactly the point: No plan that prioritizes job creation as the best means of reducing the deficit; no plan that cuts defense while determinedly avoiding any cuts that would hurt the poor and elderly; no plan that includes equivalent concessions by both sides – could ever have a prayer in today’s Washington. It’s yet another indication of how out of whack Washington’s priorities are.

Greg sums up the problem of the GOP’s approach in a nutshell:

So, Boehner says House Republicans are not only willing to let the sequester hit, but that the only acceptable replacement for it will be a plan that wipes away the deficit in 10 years – all without revenues. [..]

There’s simply no chance that House Republicans will produce such a budget by March 1st, which is the deadline for the sequester. If Boehner means any of this, he’s confirming that we’re getting the sequester, and it will remain in effect until it is replaced by a plan that is simply never, ever going to happen. Wiping out the deficit in 10 years with no new revenues would be at least as bad as the Ryan plan – probably worse – yet even that plan was loaded up with unspecified cuts and other big question marks. Republicans are never going to propose specific cuts that balance the budget in 10 years with no new revenues – ever. Boehner has, in effect, just taken ownership of the sequester.

No, Mr. Boehner has not thought this “boner” through.  

Jan 05 2013

Can you work against the social safety net and still call yourself a Democrat?

The New Deal, Social Security, The Great Society, Medicare, Medicaid – concern for the welfare of “the little guy.” These are the marquee items which have defined the modern Democratic Party to its constituency.  These sorts of programs have been the sweet nectar in the plant which has allowed liberals and lefties to excuse the Democrats flings with the Military Industrial Complex, foreign dictators and bankster thugs along with the usual graft, corruption and peccadilloes.

The Democrats have, in modern times, always looked after society’s island of misfit citizens and the oppressed, cast off from the society and economy.  This is what allowed lots of principled people to pull the levers for folks that were committing war crimes and conducting illegal wars of aggression for resources and business interests. It is what allowed principled anti-war legislators to coalesce in a party which did some pretty awful things. The Democrats were going to watch out for the interests of the little guy whether he was a hero in one of their wars or not.  

An article entitled, “Defining the modern Democrat,” lays out the basis of the identity of the Democratic Pary:

The modern Democratic Party was born, just over a century ago, when another young orator from the Midwest-William Jennings Bryan-rocked the national convention in Chicago in 1896.  Because of its stirring climax, Bryan’s address is widely known as the “Cross of Gold” speech and, in most histories, is accompanied by an arcane explanation about the gold standard and 19th-century monetary policy.

Unfortunately, the focus on gold obscures Bryan’s real import. His candidacy redefined the Democratic Party as the voice of the common man. It ultimately led to Woodrow Wilson’s election and the formation of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition, which dominated American politics for most of the 20th century. …

Bryan and his Democrats promoted a wide, rich menu of reforms – a graduated income tax, the Federal Reserve, women’s suffrage, direct election of U.S. senators – that became law in the Progressive Era.

The Great Commoner, as Bryan was known, was “the first leader of a major party to argue for permanently expanding the power of the federal government to serve the welfare of ordinary Americans.

The ambitions of William Jennings Bryan were carried out by other great Democrats and enacted with the enthusiastic support of Americans.  They are the bedrock of our social contract and a legacy of the 20th century that most Americans would like to keep vital and secure.

Nov 15 2012

The Fiscal Obstacle Course

Starting with Fiscal Cliff, Obama’s 2nd Term Rests on Organizing, Not Cheerleading

President Obama will open deficit reduction talks on Friday with a call for a $1.6 trillion tax hike on corporations and the wealthiest Americans over the next 10 years. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are sitting down to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax cuts and automatic spending reductions set to take effect at the end of the year. We’re joined by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who says the protection of “entitlement” programs will depend on action from Obama’s progressive supporters. “The question is: Will the Democratic Party, and specifically the progressive and liberal component of the Democratic Party, change its behavior from cheerleader, from blindly supportive, partisan apparatchiks … into some kind of a force where they actually fulfill their duties as citizens, which is to hold political leaders accountable?” Greenwald asks.

Transcript can be read here

Why Washington’s “Fiscal Cliff” is a Myth

by  Mattea Kramer and Chris Hellman, National Priorities Project

They don’t call it the “cliff” for nothing. It’s the fiscal spot where a nation’s representatives can gather and cry doom. It’s the place – if Washington is to be believed – where, with a single leap into the Abyss of Sequestration, those representatives can end it all for the rest of us.

In the wake of President Obama’s electoral victory, that cliff (if you’ll excuse a mixed metaphor or two) is about to step front and center. The only problem: the odds are no one will leap, and remarkably little of note will actually happen. But since the headlines are about to scream “crisis,” what you need to understand American politics in the coming weeks of the lame-duck Congress is a little guide to reality, some Cliff Notes for Washington.

As a start, relax. Don’t let the headlines get to you. There’s little reason for anyone to lose sleep over the much-hyped fiscal cliff. In fact, if you were choosing an image based on the coming fiscal dust-up, it probably wouldn’t be a cliff but an obstacle course – a series of federal spending cuts and tax increases all scheduled to take effect as 2013 begins. And it’s true that, if all those budget cuts and tax increases were to go into effect at the same time, an already weak recovery would probably sink into a double-dip recession.

But ignore the sound and fury. While prophecy is usually a perilous occupation, in this case it’s pretty easy to predict how lawmakers will deal with nearly every challenge on the president’s and Congress’s end-of-year obstacle course. The upshot? The U.S. economy isn’t headed over a cliff any time soon.

A peek at the obstacles ahead makes that clear. [..]

Among all the spending and tax changes in the queue, and all the hype around the cliff, the great unknown is whether it’s finally farewell to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. And that’s no perilous cliff. Letting those high-end tax cuts expire would amount to a blink-and-you-miss-it 0.003% contraction in the U.S. economy, according to Moody’s, and it would raise tens of billions of dollars in desperately-needed tax revenue next year. That’s no small thing when you consider that federal revenue has fallen to its lowest point in more than half a century. Ending these tax cuts for the wealthy would bring in cash to reduce deficits or increase funding for cash-starved priorities like higher education.

It’s impossible to say how Congress will come down on this final issue, though we do know how lawmakers will arrive at their decision. At least Congress is consistent. On this, as on all other matters in the fiscal obstacle course, it’s not the economy.

It’s the politics, stupid.

Nov 14 2012

The Myth of the “Fiscal Cliff”

No one actually cares about the deficit

Chris Hayes, host of Up with Chris Hayes,  discusses the stand-off between President Obama and House Republicans over the “fiscal cliff,” the name given to the combination of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the sequestration cuts mandated by last year’s debt ceiling agreement. Chris’ “filibuster” in the first segment is a “Cliff Note” summation of the debate about the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

Chris is joined for a comprehensive, and somewhat wonky, discussion with Hakeem Jeffries, newly elected Congressman representing the 8th Congressional District in Brooklyn, New York State Assemblyman; Teresa Ghilarducci (@tghilarducci), labor economist and director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New Schoo; Edward Conard, former partner at Bain Capital from 1993-2007 and author of “Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About The Economy Is Wrong;” Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown; and Molly Ball (@mollyesque), national political reporter for The Atlantic.

I found this article  about the debt/deficit/”fiscal cliff” from letdgetitdone quite interesting. It presents a very compelling argument, point by point, why this entire discussion about a “fiscal cliff” is a myth. He concludes his argument:

So, current claims that we have a fiscal crisis, must debate the debt, must fix the debt, and must immediately embark on a long-term deficit reduction program to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio under control, all misconceive the fiscal situation because they are based on the idea that fiscal responsibility is about developing a plan to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio “under control,” when it is really about using Government spending to achieve outputs that fulfill “public purpose.” There is no fiscal crisis that will require “a Grand Bargain” and cuts to popular discretionary spending and entitlement programs. It is a phoney issue.

The only real crisis is a crisis of a failing economy and growing economic inequality in which only the needs of the few are served. MMT policies can help to bring an end to that crisis; but not if progressives, and others continue to believe in false ideas about fiscal sustainability and responsibility, and the similarity of their Government to a household. To begin to solve our problems, we need to reject the neoliberal narrative and embrace the MMT narrative about the meaning of fiscal responsibility. That will lead us to fiscal policies that achieve public purpose and away from policies that prolong economic stagnation and the ravages of austerity.