Working America’s Second Annual #TurkeyTalk: The Seq-what?-ster Edition

Picture this: You’re home for the holidays, about to dive into that rich, golden-brown pumpkin pie, when suddenly a conversation erupts with your mother-in-law about “deficit reduction” or “Debt Crisis”. We spend too much, she says, indignant. Why can’t the Federal Government pay its bills—I do. A “harrumph!” is implied by the look she’s giving you. What do you say?

Scenario two: You hear your cousin, who prides himself on being ‘pragmatic’ and ‘serious’, throwing around phrases like “Fiscal Cliff” and “Grand Bargain” – how do you explain why both those phrases are misleading?

Or maybe this: You are forced to listen to your uncle, who gets most of his information from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity wax on about why the Department of Education should be abolished. What do you say?

You love your relatives, but avoidance is not the answer. Something ought to be done.

Welcome to the Second Edition of “Turkey Talk,” Working America’s annual holiday advice toolkit filled with conversation tips, facts and advice to help extract your relatives from the morass of misinformation and give them the real deal about the economic issues working people face.

We’re going to show you how to Talk Turkey with the family. But first, basic rules of engagement: be polite, be respectful, listen as much as you talk and walk away if it gets too heated.

With the coming weeks likely to include scare-words such as “cliff” or “crisis” or the confusing “sequestration” – we start you off with some definitions and clarifications.

 

What Is the “Fiscal Cliff”?

  • This is the shorthand term for a set of different policy changes that are set to kick in starting in January.
     

  • These changes include the end of several tax cuts and the beginning of the “sequester” (see below).
     

  • As Paul Krugman has noted, “fiscal cliff” is a misleading term. What it should be called is the “austerity bomb”—because, if all these changes happen at once, it will pull a lot of money out of our economy.

 

What’s the sequester?

  • It’s a package of automatic spending cuts passed in 2011—one that will harm vital social programs. The sequester was passed in Congress as a trigger to pressure a legislative “Supercommittee” into cutting the deficit.
     

  • What’s a “Grand Bargain” you ask? It’s a wolf in reasonable-looking sheep’s clothing. There’s nothing “Grand” about it unless you are Donald Trump. It means even lower tax rates for corporate CEOs (they already have a sweet deal what with the record profits in recent years), paid for through cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
     

  • Don’t let anyone say a “Grand Bargain” is the only way to avoid sequestration cuts in 2013. It is not.
     

  • Here’s easy, fair, patriotic solution: End Bush Tax Cuts for the richest 2% of Americans (about $1 trillion) –it means the richest pay their FAIR share; this amounts to pocket change for a small sliver of America’s taxpayers, and these savings can cancel out sequestration.

 

There is no urgent federal “debt crisis”

  • Deficits and debts are the results, not the cause,  of our economic crisis. And the solution being touted—draconian budget cuts to critical social programs—will only make the problem worse. The problem is not deficits; it’s weak buying power among working families caused by high rates of unemployment, household debt and stagnant wages. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that the “fiscal cliff” the “debt crisis” or “deficit reduction” means we need to cut benefits in those programs.
     

  • Nobody wants a government by and for the very richest. They want shared prosperity and shared sacrifice. That’s what ending the Bush tax cuts would mean. We need tax hikes for the richest 2 percent. There is consensus on this across party and ideology.

 

We Had This Argument During the Election: Austerity Lost and Fairness Won

  • Two thirds of voters said one message they sent with their vote in this past election was “We should make sure the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes.”
     

  • Fully three-quarters believe we should protect Medicare and Social Security benefits from cuts. By contrast, just 18% feel that “we should reduce spending on Medicare and Social Security to bring down the budget deficit.”
     

  • Voters also overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Medicaid benefits.
     

  • When voters are informed of a possible “grand bargain” budget deal that would overhaul the tax code, reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits, and reduce the budget deficit, their reaction is overwhelmingly negative. Fully 75% say Congress should take more time and allow for public debate before even considering such large changes, while just 16% favor the “grand bargain.”

  

HELPFUL LINKS

More on the fiscal showdown on our blog

A thorough explanation from the New York Times

Reporting on budget negotiations from Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo

“Fiscal Cliffs Notes” from Message Matters

Alternet

Photo by artbystevejohnson on Flickr