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Dem Senators Rally for Austerity

Fourteen Democratic Senators have asked Harry Reid for action on reining in the budget deficit, on the same day that the Catfood Commission failed to reach the threshold to deliver an official report.

The number – 14 – is incredibly significant. Democrats will have 53 members next year. 13 of the 14 members who signed this letter will be back next year, and the letter didn’t include Dick Durbin or Kent Conrad, who voted for the Catfood Commission plan. That would mean that, if every Republican wanted a deficit reduction plan, there would be a filibuster-proof majority to do something. There may not be such a majority on the specifics, but in a general sense, there will be some kind of deficit reduction action next year.

“Prompt action is needed to bring the country’s deficit into balance and stabilize our debt over the long term,” the group wrote. “Regardless of whether the Commission’s report receives the support of at least 14 of its 18 members, we urge legislative action to address these problems.” […]

The 14 senators hailed the commission’s recommendations on Social Security, healthcare, and tax reforms — three cornerstones of the plan on which support for a plan could hinge.

“There is no easy way out, and Washington must lead the way,” they said. “The strong bipartisan support its recommendations have already received demonstrates we can, and must, come together to solve this impending fiscal crisis. Every day that we fail to act the choices become more difficult.”

The 14 signatories were: Mark Warner, Evan Bayh, Mark Begich, Michael Bennet, Tom Carper, Dianne Feinstein, Kay Hagan, Amy Klobuchar, Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Claire McCaskill, Jeanne Shaheen, Jon Tester and Mark Udall.

I think it’s clear that the Catfood Commission, while “failing” in the technical sense, did its job. It created a report that people can label “bipartisan” moving forward, and it put deficit reduction – when there are 15 million Americans out of work – at the top of the agenda.

If they pursue this Social Security/Austerity business I think we’ll have a one term presidency (even, Gawd help us, if the Queen of the Arctic gets the nomination.) And I’m not sure that the Democratic Party won’t be permanently shattered.

I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it’s vitally, vitally important that the president understand that if he goes after Social Security, the Republicans will turn the argument on him just as they did with “death panels” and “pulling the plug on Grandma” and end up solidifying the senior vote for the foreseeable future and further alienate the Party from the liberal base. I know it makes no sense that Republicans would be able to cast themselves as the protectors of the elderly, but in case you haven’t been paying attention lately, politics doesn’t operate in a linear, rational fashion at the moment. After all, the Republicans just won an election almost entirely on the basis of saving Medicare.

And it’s a self-inflicted wound, as this was a Presidential commission.

The overall point is that we’ll be fighting the forces of austerity for the rest of our lifetimes. And it’s not a shared austerity, because it exempts a particular class of people – the fabulously wealthy, who are about to get an extension of their big tax cuts.

UPDATE: Paul Ryan, incoming House Budget Committee chair, calls the Bowles-Simpson Social Security recommendations something he can work with.

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David Dayen

David Dayen