The steep drop in stocks since passage of the ill-fated debt deal indicates that even markets understand the disastrous consequences of what has just occurred.
While attending a White House briefing for advocacy groups a few weeks ago, a Very Smart Staffer explained to the group that the debt deal would be “good for the economy.” When I asked him how, he admitted that the deal would be good for “markets” (he made no mention of ordinary people). The steep drop in stocks since passage of the ill-fated debt deal indicates that even markets understand the disastrous consequences of what has just occurred.
By turning our democracy into a game of high-stakes poker, Congressional Republicans—with the support of the President of the United States, 95 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 45 Democrats in the U.S. Senate—not only pushed through draconian austerity measures that will fall like a ton of bricks on our struggling economy, they managed to twist the terms of debate toward achieving their long-standing goal to “shrink government” by severely reducing or eliminating social programs that are vital to the health and economic well being of millions of middle class and low-income families.
Since its passage, the President and his representatives have incorrectly claimed that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would be protected as a result of the deal. The outcome is likely to be quite different. The Rube Goldberg-style debt deal included $917 billion in across-the-board spending caps and the authorization of a “super committee” that has been tasked with coming up with up to $1.5 trillion in additional spending cuts—including the possibility of “reforming” entitlement programs, which by definition include Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
If the recommendations of this super committee fail to pass the House and Senate, a trigger kicks in to establish automatic cuts; half of which are supposed to come from the defense budget and the other half of which are supposed to come from the rest of the budget—including education, health, and other important social programs.
In short, the debt deal has been structured to create a chaotic game of Survivor in which self-interested advocates of all persuasions will be vying to vote each other’s issues or programs off the island.
Given the hand that’s been dealt, how do progressive constituencies who care about the well being of the majority of Americans play the game to win? Progressive groups often work in “issue silos” in which they focus on advancing their own, often interconnected, programs and interests. However, disunity is not a winning strategy. The only way that progressives can gain the upper hand is by bridging issue silos to create a united front committed to protecting and advancing the commonwealth.
Social Security provides a good example of how this “commonwealth strategy” could work. By and large, education and environmental advocates (for example) have had little to no interest in Social Security policy and vice versa. However, for purely ideological reasons Social Security will be a primary target of the super committee even though it, by law, contributes not one dime to the national debt. This means that previously unaligned, yet natural, allies must work to ensure that members of the super committee arrive at a progressive solution for strengthening Social Security for the next 75 years. If the super committee fails to adopt progressive Social Security solutions, income security interest groups will likely fight to kill any super committee deal, which would trigger across the board cuts to education, environmental, and other vital programs.
The complexities of this process cannot be understated. Already poised to press their strategic advantage, Congressional Republicans are promising to appoint only anti-tax champions to the super committee in an effort to guarantee that the pain of debt reduction is born entirely by average workers and poor people. If the Democratic Party still stands in support of these constituencies, it is vital that their appointees to the super committee have a strong track record of advancing the interests of working class Americans.
It is important to remember that New Deal and Great Society programs have contributed to the security and advancement of millions of Americans—from the very young to the very old and everyone in between. Because the stakes are so high, there can be no glory in appeasing the intransigence of political defenders of the wealthy elite.
We are now at ground zero in the battle for the future of America. If advocates for the masses of Americans who depend on these programs lose this battle, even the super rich will not be able escape the resulting social chaos.