There you have it, everyone: the so-called “Super Committee” has officially failed to come to an agreement.
Formed as the result of the utterly insane standoff over the debt ceiling this summer, the Super Committee was a bipartisan group of senators and representatives tasked with making major cuts to budget deficits. If they had come to a consensus, the Super Committee could have pushed their proposal through Congress without the usual procedural hurdles. Each new proposal floated by the committee members seemed to shift more and more in the direction of cuts to vital programs like Medicare and Social Security. In the end, the committee’s six Republicans wouldn’t take even these cuts: they wanted not only the demolition of the safety net, but a guarantee that those cuts wouldn’t be balanced out by net new tax revenue on wealthier Americans. (Although Super Committee Republican Pat Toomey, a new senator from Pennsylvania, was happy to propose a plan that would raise taxes on the middle class.)
In a new CNN poll today, 67% say higher revenues from wealthier Americans need to be part of deficit reduction, while 57% say that major cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits shouldn’t. The Beltway consensus position is exactly the opposite. Politicians like Toomey are expressing a fringe position—they’re wildly out of touch with the mainstream. A Super Committee-imposed deal that would cut Medicare and Social Security while leaving the tax burden of the rich untouched would fly in the face of public opinion.
But the really egregious thing is the time and energy wasted on the Super Committee fight while an actual, right-here, affects-real-people economic crisis is still underway. Joblessness is still stubbornly high, state budget austerity is cutting away real jobs and real public services people depend on, and unemployment benefits are set to expire at the end of the year. It’s completely embarrassing that Congress, thanks in part to the callous obstruction of Senate Republicans, is completely unable to get serious about putting people back to work.
Derek Thompson, writing at the Atlantic, says “we’ve missed an opportunity to expand and extend stimulus measures like the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits…the failure you should care about the most is the failure that we’ll feel first. And that’s the failure to address the growth crisis.”
Next week, the Super Committee is set to hold hold a public “markup” hearing on a plan to cut budget deficits. We’re watching closely—and with concern. Even as the debate in the streets and neighborhoods across America is about job creation, inequality and economic justice, Washington D.C. is still stuck in a tired conversation about cutting programs and protecting tax loopholes.
There have been a number of proposals floated—all with flaws, all tilted too heavily towards cutting back on programs that help seniors and working people rather than asking the very wealthiest to contribute any more. And the terms seem to keep getting worse. Co-chair Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican, said he’d consider some small increase in net revenues (while keeping all the Bush tax rates in place)…if Democrats agree, in exchange, to privatize Medicare.
To express this as a metaphor, let’s say you and your friend Jeb decide you need to lose some weight. Your first proposal is to say “let’s make a habit of going to the gym.” Jeb’s first proposal is “let’s cut off your arms, to reduce the total weight between us.” If Jeb’s next offer is “OK, we’ll go to the gym twice, but in exchange let’s cut off your arms below the elbow,” has he made a reasonable compromise? Is that “shared sacrifice?”
Thankfully, there’s some strong opposition building to what could be a bad deal from the Super Committee.
Yesterday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus held a hearing with economic experts to talk about jobs—including a strong warning to the Super Committee to consider the jobs impact of the policy changes they make.
This morning, a group of seniors has been on the Hill pressuring members of Congress to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, upon which millions depend, against what could be major cuts in benefits. They were all over Congress to make their voices heard, including disrupting a fundraiser hosted by Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, a member of the Super Committee and of the Senate’s Republican leadership team. (The organization Social Security Works has a handy rundown of the Super Committee members and what Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid mean for their constituents.)
Even some members of the 1% weighed in to support a deal that works for the rest of us. Two dozen executives, calling themselves “Patriotic Millionaires,” visited the Capitol yesterday to ask that the Super Committee make getting more revenues from the very wealthiest a priority.
As I’m always saying, politics is about choices and priorities. The Super Committee is another opportunity for members of Congress to show where their priorities lie. Is it more important to protect the programs that keep seniors and the most vulnerable out of poverty, or is it more important to keep historically low taxes on the very wealthiest? Out in communities across the country, that’s a question with an easy answer. What about in Congress?
We are watching closely over the coming weeks to see what comes out of the “Super Committee,” the group of 12 legislators tasked with cutting $1.2 trillion. Set up as a condition of the debt ceiling deal earlier this year, the “Super Committee” will have unprecedented power to push its recommendations through Congress—and they’re due to issue their report on November 23.
There’s a clear danger that this committee will push through a proposal that will unnecessarily slash vital programs—including Medicare and Social Security, upon which millions of retirees depend.
The very fact that this committee has been empowered to push through these big changes is a sign of how skewed and out-of-touch the conversation in Washington, D.C. is. The obsessions of politicians, pundits and big political donors are operating in a different world from the people we talk to every day. Among the 20,000 conversations we have every week, the number one issue is jobs—putting paychecks back in people’s pockets and helping them stay in their homes and pay for their basic needs. What we’re not hearing is any support for budget cuts to the programs that help people pay for health care and retirement.
So will the “Super Committee” listen to working people’s real priorities, or keep pursuing the concerns of Beltway insiders? As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka put it:
This is the moment we need to raise our voices to let Congress know that we will not stand for dismantling the safety net or letting Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans off the hook.
You’ll hear a lot of talk from these Washington bigwigs about these cuts as “shared sacrifice.” But the effects of vast cuts to Social Security and Medicare aren’t really shared by the privileged political actors on the Super Committee. Let’s go to the indispensable Digby:
The only people in this entire scenario who are going to be “sacrificing” are the most vulnerable people among us. The idea that this is a fair trade is simply obnoxious.
As many problems as the Democratic proposal has, at least it nods slightly in the direction of the real crisis of jobs. The Republican plan, reports Talking Points Memo, puts exactly zero dollars into job creation programs.
The best way to get our budget back on track is to get our economy back on track, and that means putting people back to work. The top priority of the Super Committee should be focusing on the jobs factor.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released this video to reaffirm the federation’s opposition to new safety net cuts. “These ‘Super Committee’ Democrats have put all their concessions on the table up front in the vain hope that the Republicans might reciprocate,” Trumka said, “But it doesn’t work that way. In this political climate, concessions beget more concessions – not a workable compromise.”
It’s tiring and frustrating to see these Democrats on the committee walking and talking like Bush and Norquist in a vain attempt to reach a compromise. You don’t need to be a history professor to know the other side is going to take as much as they can get from the Middle Class. No need to give them a running start.
We’re with Trumka: “This is the moment we need to raise our voices to let Congress know that we will not stand for dismantling the safety net or letting Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans off the hook.”