As we move closer to the November 23 deadline for the Congressional “Super Committee” to present its plan to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget deficit, both major parties have put forward proposals which sharply attack Medicare, Medicaid, and other social programs. If these policies go through, it will be the most devastating attack on New Deal programs since they were first established. Massive struggles need to be organized to defeat these cuts.
Republicans emerged from the debt deal as the apparent victors, achieving bipartisan agreement on massive cuts with zero tax increases. The dominant narrative of liberal commentators echoed Republican chest-pounding, painting Obama and Congressional Democrats as weak negotiators who caved to the Republican right wing. Commentator Paul Krugman’s July 31 column was titled “The President Surrenders.” Matthew Rothschild titled his article “Obama Just Got Run Over,” and Robert Reich lamented, “Ransom Paid.”
However, the narrative of Democratic Party “weakness” is dangerously one-sided because it implies that Obama, left to his own devices, would perhaps chart a course away from austerity.
In fact, Obama came into the White House wanting to enact fiscal austerity, as he himself explained in a 2008 speech: “Our economy is trapped in a vicious cycle: the turmoil on Wall Street means a new round of belt-tightening for families and businesses on Main Street … we’ll have to scour our federal budget, line-by-line, and make meaningful cuts and sacrifices as well.”
It is hard to overstate the depth of corporate corruption and political dysfunction on display in Washington, D.C. this past summer. Even veteran political cynics stood in awe.
When the bipartisan debt reduction deal was announced on the eve of the debt default deadline, Matt Taibbi expressed the popular rage well: “The general consensus is that for the second time in three years, a gang of financial terrorists has successfully extorted the Congress and the White House, threatening to blow up the planet if they didn’t get what they wanted.” (rollingstone.com, 8/1/11)
A rotten deal of historic proportions has been cut. Using the looming threat of a disastrous debt default as cover, Democratic and Republican leaders rushed a bill through Congress to raise the debt ceiling and cut $2.5 trillion over ten years from the federal budget. There were no tax increases on the wealthy, not even a limited closing of some tax loopholes. Virtually all the pain will fall on working-class and poor people through cuts to programs and services.
A colossal $1 trillion in cuts will be implemented immediately, but the biggest dangers lie ahead. The bill established a bipartisan “Super Committee,” whose makeup consists of six conservative Democrats and six Republicans, appointed to cut another $1.5 trillion. The bill places stunning authority in this unelected Super Committee, whose proposals for sweeping cuts will not be subject to any amendments. Instead, cuts will be put to a simple up-or-down vote by the end of the year. And if Congress dares to vote down the Super Committee’s proposal, this will automatically trigger a broad series of brutal cuts anyway!
The longest state shutdown in U.S. history appears set to end in a rotten compromise. Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, elected on a promise to raise taxes on the richest Minnesotans, completely caved to the Republican “no new taxes” position, and appears set to sign-off on massive budget cuts impacting workers, youth, and the poor.
When Wall Street imploded in 2008, plunging the world into the “Great Recession,” even corporate-sponsored politicians were forced to place blame squarely on the big banks and deregulated markets. Politicians everywhere demanded accountability from greedy financial titans and piously pledged their support to closing tax loopholes and re-regulating casino capitalism.
Now, just three years later, the only real change is the political rhetoric! Suddenly, it’s “overpaid” public sector workers and “bloated budgets” for public services that are to blame for economic stagnation, unemployment and declining tax revenues. Meanwhile, the once-reviled financial oligarchs, whose reckless gambling destroyed our economy, are now being re-cast as “job creators” deserving of further tax breaks and deregulation!
This new mantra is repeated endlessly in the corporate media and by right-wing pundits and is designed to make working people pay for the capitalists’ crisis. But the storyline is also accepted by most Democratic Party leaders who, at both the state and federal level, are proposing far more budget cuts and attacks on public sector unions than tax hikes on the rich or corporate regulation.
In this context, a basic task for socialists remains to expose the lies of the corporate politicians and media. Here we provide brief answers to some of the most pernicious capitalist myths now circulating……