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Helpful Bernie Sanders Is Helpful!

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After months of treading water, the Peterson-Simpson-Bowles Catfood Commission appears to be hopelessly deadlocked, with the co-chairs releasing their toxic list of horribles in a (hopefully) futile attempt to either give it a kick-start or inject their ideas into the public discourse without all that pesky 14-out-of-18 consensus nonsense.

Senator Bernie Sanders is aware of their distress, and intends to ride to the rescue with some deficit reduction ideas of his own:

The Vermont Independent said that he will work with members of Congress, labor unions, seniors’ organizations and others to develop alternative suggestions. And while he didn’t get into the weeds, he did offer a few general areas that he hopes to target, including ending Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, chopping off Cold War-era Pentagon programs and eliminating of tax credits for big oil companies.

[Sanders slams Simpson and Bowles as “a darling of the Republican right wing” and “a former investment banker who made a fortune on Wall Street,” respectively]

The likelihood that a progressive alternative for deficit reduction would get a vote in the Senate, let alone a hearing, is slimmer than the chances of Simpson and Bowles’ recommendations making it to the floor unscathed. But Sander’s effort isn’t necessarily about getting a vote. Rather, there is, currently, one blueprint being offered for the task of deficit reduction and it’s largely anathema to the progressive community. Having a second proposal out there serves the purpose of giving the negotiations a bit of bearing.

“We all know that there are a number of fair and progressive ways to address the deficit crisis that would not harm the middle class and those who have already lost their jobs, homes, life savings and ability to send their kids to college,” Sanders writes, in a letter to those he’s inviting for discussions. “The time has come to put these proposals into a package so that the progressive view becomes a part of the national discussion.”

Whether or not Sanders’ plan gets a vote, it will provide a valuable counter-narrative to the myth that only Republicans and conservadems have some kind of monopoly on the will and the know-how to cut the deficit, thus rendering progressive deficit reduction ideas all but invisible.

Instead of a debate over whether we want to slash Social Security and cut(!) tax rates for rich people and corporations or simply let the deficit grow, maybe we can talk about whether we’d rather cut Social Security or eliminate the cap on the payroll tax.  Or whether we’d rather cut Medicare and education or impose a financial speculation tax and let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire.

If Obama and the Democrats are serious about reducing the deficit and not just helping the GOP protect the wealthy at our expense, then there’s no reason why they can’t emphasize progressive strategies instead of conservative ones.  But by putting corporate wankers like Bowles, Simpson and Peterson in charge of the Catfood Commission, Obama has ensured that most of those alternatives will be kept off the table.  Bernie is valiantly attempting to put them back on it again, so that we can look at real choices instead of false ones.

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