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Gridlock the Ally as Cat Food Commission Reaches Home Stretch

House and Senate liberals expressed their desire on a conference call that they would vote against any set of recommendations from the Cat Food Commission if they included benefit cuts to Social Security. That included any increases to the retirement age or privatization.

“[D]o not send Congress a plan that cuts Social Security benefits, raise the retirement age, or privatizes Social Security,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) warned Thursday on a conference call. “If you do, we’ll vote it down.” […]

“This isn’t just a political exercise,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who argued that working class citizens couldn’t reasonably survive an older retirement age.

“This is something that I hope the Obama administration will join with us,” added Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the House Judiciary Committee chairman. “I think that that commission with all due respect to all of them should keep their paws off this subject matter.”

Sanders reiterated this in an op-ed in The Nation.

The coalition that held the call, known as Strengthen Social Security, Don’t Cut It, asserted that they were up to 105 House pledges and 12 Senate pledges to vote against the Cat Food Commission’s recommendations, with more coming.

But those numbers aren’t going to really cut it. I think it’s useful to have over 100 House Democrats pledging this, and even more making it an issue in their campaigns, making it harder to turn around in a lame-duck session and vote the other way. But realistically, if Republicans sign on to the recommendations, just a sliver of Democrats would be needed to pass this. And the House has already agreed to a vote on the recommendations (though that was not a binding resolution).

This is why the looming gridlock on the panel is so important:

Get this: Republicans on the Deficit Commission aren’t just refusing to consider any tax increases. Now they’re proposing tax decreases designed to help the rich, while taking benefits from everyone else. Dealing with people like that is like negotiating with somebody who’s high on drugs […]

You read that right: “Deficit” commissioners who won’t allow any new tax revenues. Oh, they’d cut benefits for the elderly, alright, but they’d use the money to reduce corporate taxes – and capital gains taxes, too. That will make the deficit worse and it will widen income disparity, further enriching the wealthy by cutting benefits that lower and middle-income people paid taxes to provide all their lives. That’s what passes for fiscal sanity in the econo-millenarian saucer cult the Republican Party has become. And that’s how a nation that’s already radically redistributed its wealth upward could do it even more.

Basically, Republicans are trying for a maximalist strategy to get every single thing they want out of this deficit commission. A couple collaborationist Democrats on the panel may go along with them. The key outreach should be to the members of the panel who can be held accountable by voters – the six Congressional representatives (Becerra, Schakowsky, Spratt, Durbin, Baucus and Conrad). Spratt is in a tough re-election battle this year. Durbin might want to move up in the Congressional leadership. Baucus could get a primary challenger. If enough of them reject this stick-up from the Republicans, the commission will not have the consensus to move forward. Just insisting on a couple tax increases in the recommendations will probably be enough to stop the Republicans from cooperating at all and blowing the whole thing up. Heck, I could see plenty of Republicans objecting to cuts to earmarks and pork-barrel spending.

I think gridlock is the ally at this point.

UPDATE: The full list of signers is here.

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David Dayen

David Dayen