Sunday, April 14, 2013

Editorial: Dems Should Fear Left

It is useful for working people to know they cannot trust President Obama to protect Social Security and Medicare as he pursues a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans to further reduce the deficit while millions of Americans remain unemployed since the Wall Street financial collapse.

Obama’s budget (which also includes a lot of good proposals that doesn’t stand a chance in the Republican House) proposed cuts in Social Security if Republicans agree to general tax increases. The flaw is that the President, by showing he’s willing to talk about the “Chained Consumer Price Index” scheme that would reduce future cost-of-living increases for seniors and disabled veterans, validates the false Republican argument that Social Security obligations are part of the federal deficit problem. It is up to Democrats in Congress — particularly senators — to make it clear that Social Security is off limits in spending cuts.

The fact is that Social Security has accumulated more than $2.7 trillion in its trust fund through the payroll tax, but George W. Bush borrowed those savings to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because he wanted to cut taxes on the wealthy. Now the Republicans don’t want to pay the money back to Social Security, and Barack Obama has bought into the GOP argument that retired workers, who get an average of about $15,000 annually from Social Security, must sacrifice future cost-of-living increases to keep taxes on millionaire “job creators” low.

Obama hoped to score points with the economic terrorists in the Republican leadership by showing them he was willing to hammer his own Democratic base in the pursuit of a deal with the GOP. Democrats in Congress should take Obama’s lemon of a budget and make lemonade — and become heroes to their base — by standing up to the President and reminding him that you don’t negotiate with terrorists.

The resistance shouldn’t be a shock to the President. The Senate voted unanimously for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ resolution against chained CPI for Social Security as part of the Senate budget two weeks earlier. And 107 House Democrats — a majority of the caucus — have signed a letter circulated by the Congressional Progressive Caucus that affirmed opposition to chained CPI. (That leaves 93 House Dems, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, on the fence.)

Sanders (I-Vt.) noted that not even House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) touched Social Security in his austere budget outline last year. That means Obama owns the proposal to cut Social Security. “And I suspect that our Republican friends will make sure the American people understand that he owns it, and make sure the American people understand that any Democrat who supports cuts in Social Security and benefits for disabled vets will also be forced to own that,” Sanders said. “From a political point of view it is, to my mind, just a really dumb tactic. I don’t understand it.”

Sanders spoke at a rally in Washington April 9 with a handful of congressional Democrats, Social Security advocates and labor leaders who denounced the proposed Social Security cuts and presented the White House with petitions signed by 2.3 million Americans who reject the President’s proposal for “chained CPI.”

“We stand against any cuts in benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” AFL-CIO policy director Damon Silvers said. “The chained CPI is Washington-speak for a benefit cut.”

Other groups that have joined the fight against the chained CPI include Social Security Works, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the National Organization for Women, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, the Campaign for America’s Future, and Progressive Democrats of America.

Democracy for America chair Jim Dean said Americans really are rising up in outspoken opposition to any cut in Social Security — but, especially, to a cut proposed by a Democratic president.

“Real Democrats don’t cut social security benefits, period, and it’s positively shameful that a Democratic President is leading the charge to do so,” Dean told John Nichols of The Nation. Any congressional Dem who votes to cut Social Security benefits “should be prepared to face the ire of the progressive base of the Democratic Party and the primary challenges that come along with it,” he said.

Later on April 9, when Sanders was a guest on Thom Hartmann’s radio show, a Minnesotan called in to tell them that when she called Michelle Bachmann’s office about the proposed cuts, an aide told the constituent that Bachman was fighting the cuts to Social Security that President Obama had proposed.

White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer had said the White House only supported the proposal on two conditions: one, as part of a balanced package that includes closure of tax loopholes and two, with protections for the most vulnerable. But all the Republicans heard was that Obama was open to cutting Social Security — and all seniors will hear is that Barack Obama’s chained CPI will cut their future Social Security benefits by more than $1,000 a year.

It’s little comfort that House Speaker John Boehner summarily rejected Obama’s budget because of the proposed tax increases.

As for its prospects in the Senate, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which has oversight of Social Security, said the chained CPI is “an unnecessary attack on a critical program that, by law, is unable to add to the deficit. ... If anything, the Social Security benefit should be increased, not cut. And we can readily do that while still strengthening the long-term solvency of Social Security through means which don’t harm the vast majority of beneficiaries.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid noted that the Senate already has passed a budget. “It’s a good budget,” Reid said, adding, “The President has his budget.”

Right-wing Teabaggers have scared the spit out of Republican incumbents in the past four years, to the point where even conservative stalwarts won’t admit to taking a call from the President of the United States. To do that, the Teabaggers had to make examples of a couple of old Republicans who, though conservative, were notorious for being willing to talk to the President. So they unseated Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in 2010 and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in 2012. Progressive Democrats might need to do something like that with a few congressional Democrats who would rather curry favor with conservative talk show hosts and high-dollar donors than look after their constituents’ interests. That’s why Democrats couldn’t scrounge up the votes to pass a “public option” as part of the Affordable Care Act and it’s also why the Democratic leadership won’t even talk about repealing the ban on Medicare negotiating for lower drug prices or removing the $113,700 cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax, or anything else that two-thirds of the voters want but Wall Street opposes.

Of course, Progressive Dems should do a better job of selecting challengers than the Teabaggers did with Richard Mourdock, the right-winger who took out Lugar in the primary last year but couldn’t beat Democrat Joe Donnelly in the general election. But the Teabaggers still control a US House that stands resolutely against tax increases for the wealthy and regulation of banks and corporations and the wingers also control a Senate minority that votes in lockstep to support filibusters to block any Obama initiative or nominee.

Democrats should insist on some standards for their members of Congress, and if they can’t stand up for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, they deserve to be replaced.

An American expatriate in France explained to Michael Moore in the 2007 documentary Sicko that France has the best health care in the world because “the government is afraid of their people.” Working people need to make Congress scared of crossing them.

In the US, over the past four years Republican leaders have convinced many of their unbalanced adherents that they need to stockpile semiautomatic assault weapons in case an insurrection is needed to oust Barack Obama. (And some Teabaggers are increasingly explicit about their paranoia.) But all that’s needed to unseat a government in these United States is an unruly electorate that starts looking after their own economic interests and stops believing they have lost their right to democracy. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2013
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