Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Catfood Commission's Dark Vision For Our Country Isn't Inevitable


When Obama decided to create what Digby dubbed the Cat Food Commission he solicited nominations from all the usual suspects. I'm sure he was very relieved that Boehner gave him his favorite Wall Street shill, Paul Ryan who, like Obama-- and their mutual campaign donors-- isn't in the "sanctity of Social Security" camp. On the other hand, Pelosi's nomination of longtime Obama ally Jan Schakowsky, an intrepid fighter for ordinary working families, could have only been viewed as potential trouble brewing. And yesterday that trouble manifested itself in the form of an alternative proposal to the reeking pile of garbage released last week by Obama's two handpicked chairmen, conservative Republican Alan Simpson and conservative MorganStanley board member Erskine Bowles.

Unlike conservatives and reactionaries, Schakowsky is seeking to reduce the deficit without further breaking the back of the middle class-- and without continuing the trend of redistributing the nation's wealth upward and concentrating it in the hands of fewer and fewer ultra-wealthy families, something most Democratic voters who supported Obama were certain he would also favor. The realization that that isn't part of Obama's agenda is probably what kept Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents home of November 2-- and what threatens to make Obama a one-term president. Schakowsky's plan is meant to re-balance the budget, as though Bush and the Republicans had never put it in such dire straights between 2000 and 2008, by 2015 and her plan includes another $200 billion worth of desperately needed stimulus spending for unemployment insurance extensions and aid to states.

Her plan reads like a progressive manifesto for governing on behalf of ordinary working families rather than on behalf of a plutocracy and includes adding a public option to the health care reform bill and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices-- two fixes that will save the government over $17 billion. She's aiming at cutting $8.55 billion in non-defense discretionary spending and $110 billion from the Pentagon. and she would close lots and lots of corporate loopholes by which American corporations pay less tax than corporations in almost any other developed economy in the world. Her plan eliminates the grossly unfair Social Security payroll tax cap on the employer side and would tax dividends and capital gains as ordinary income.

Last week Bernie Sanders also put out a statement trying to spark a progressive alternative to the Catfood Commission:
“Everyone agrees that over the long-term we have got to reduce the record-breaking $13.7 trillion national debt and unsustainable federal deficit,” Sanders said, but he stressed that deficits mushroomed in recent years because of two unpaid wars, tax breaks for the wealthy, a Medicare prescription drug bill written by the pharmaceutical industry, and the Wall Street bailout. “The national debt is a very serious issue and we’ve got to tackle it but we can do it without balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class.”

Sanders, in a letter, invited progressive activists and economists to meet next week to develop a progressive plan to reduce the deficit. “We all know that there are a number of fair ways to reduce deficits without harming the middle class and those who have already lost their jobs, homes, life savings and ability to send their kids to college.  The time has come to put these proposals into a package so that a fair and progressive deficit reduction plan will become part of the national discussion,” he said.
Sanders’ own deficit reduction proposals include ending Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. He also favors ending expensive and outdated Cold War-era Pentagon programs and has proposed elimination of tax credits for big oil companies that have amassed the fattest profits in history.

Raúl Grijalva was one of the progressives in Congress to step right up and back Schakowsky's proposal, which, he points out, would reduce the national debt by $427.5 billion in 2015, surpassing the $250 billion target President Obama gave the Commission when it began its work. “From large elements to small, this plan is a vast improvement over the Bowles-Simpson proposal and represents a more thoughtful approach to debt reduction,” Grijalva said. “Our middle and lower class families did not cause our current budget shortfalls-- they were largely caused by the avoidable housing crisis, by irresponsible Bush-era wars paid for with borrowed money, and by unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthiest earners. Rep. Schakowsky’s plan reflects the fact that, as she has said so often, the sacrifices of the past several years have all been made by the middle class. It’s time we stopped telling these hard-working families to tighten their belts again for the sake of another millionaire tax cut. We need to bring our taxing and spending in line with reality, and her proposal is a big step in the right direction.”

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