Friday, November 12, 2010

Let 'Em Eat Catfood

OK, there is a budget deficit that must be dealt with at some point.  But, surely, in this time of economic crisis it is not the greatest concern, and as most economists believe, it is more important for the government to spend money now to kick start the economy than to start cutting back.  Focusing on the deficit is an old Republican canard for gutting social welfare programs.  So-called deficit hawks oppose health care reform that would substantially reduce the budget, but insist on maintaining tax cuts for the top 2%,and oppose any cuts to the defense bill.  But for some reason, President Obama decided he needed to appear "reasonable" and "bi-partisan," so pays lip service to the Republican argument that the government needs to tighten its belt, and created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, appointing the folksy former Republican Senator Alan Simpson to co-chair it.  Simpson, a deficit hawk, is know, as Paul Krugman noted, for repeating the "zombie lie" -- a debunked misstatement that keeps coming back -- "that Social Security will be bankrupt as soon as payroll tax revenues fall short of benefit payments, never mind the quarter century of surpluses that came first."  In fact, as William Greider explained in an article in the Nation this summer, the 18 member commission "is top-heavy with fiscal conservatives and hostile right-wingers who yearn to dismantle the retirement program."

Thus, the Commission has been dubbed the "Catfood Commission" by opponents who anticipate that proposed cuts will force retirees to eat pet food.  Why is Obama really doing this?  According to Greider, it is widely understood inside the Beltway that the "president intends to offer Social Security as a sacrificial lamb to entice conservative deficit hawks into a grand bipartisan compromise in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits for future retirees while Republicans accede to significant tax increases to reduce government red ink."  And lo and behold, the chairmen of the commission have just proposed "deep cuts in domestic and military spending . . . limiting or eliminating popular tax breaks in return for lower rates, and benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security."

As Digby contends in a blog post today, "Obama has made some less than savvy political decisions in office but this one has to take the cake. If he ends up signing on to deep cuts in social security in exchange for some tax hikes then he will have presided over the destruction of the Democratic Party. If they can't even protect the safety net during a time of great financial stress --- when they have the presidency and one house of congress --- just what the hell is the point?"  Kevin Drum points out that the proposals are not even really aimed at reducing the deficit, but "at keeping government small."  As Drum says, "there's nothing wrong with that if you're a conservative think tank and that's what you're dedicated to selling. But it should be called by its right name. This document is a paean to cutting the federal government, not cutting the federal deficit."


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