All the uncertainty around fiscal issues has convinced the group of Washington mandarins who have been trying to undermine the social safety net in service to reducing the deficit that this is the moment to strike. Practically everyone affiliated with a commission that could earn the appellation “cat food” over the past several years has joined forces, rock-supergroup style, with broad support from Georgetown to slightly east of Georgetown, to “fix the debt.”
America faces a pivotal moment in its history.
For several years, the federal government has relied on a series of temporary patches and one-year extensions in lieu of a thoughtful economic policy—while amassing trillion dollar annual deficits for the first time ever.
Washington now borrows 40 cents of every dollar spent.
And Americans are increasingly dismayed at the seeming inability of our elected leaders to put aside party divisions and do what needs to be done to get our fiscal house in order.
The end of the year will bring what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has termed the “fiscal cliff,” as various tax provisions expire and the $1.2 trillion budget sequester begins to take effect—threatening to remove trillions of dollars from the economy, coupled with an almost certain need to raise the federal debt ceiling.
The Committee for a Repsonsible Federal Budget is the nominal sponsor of this campaign, but supporters include Erskine Bowles, Judd Gregg (who has magically replaced Alan Simpson, like a new Darren on Bewitched, as the right-leaning deficit scold leading the campaign), Ed Rendell, Honeywell CEO David Cote, CRFB President Maya MacGuineas, former Senator Sam Nunn, longtime deficit scold and funder of multiple catfood commissions Pete Peterson, Steve Rattner, Alice Rivlin, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, and more. You get your “serious” badge on Foursquare when you sign up to be part of this group.
This campaign posits a terrifying future that doesn’t exist. The US can currently borrow at a negative interest rate. As their own charts show, the debt did not measurably grow from the additional burdens from the Great Recession, and most of their warnings refer to a time 10-20 years from now. The number one necessity of any policymaker right now should be to put people back to work, not obsess over the debt/GDP ratio two decades from now. What’s more, there’s no constituency in the country for deficit obsession and safety-net reduction.
This is the big move, and this supergroup has a lot of support at its flanks. Richard Eskow reports today on a separate effort from “No Labels” (which is apparently still happening), which added to this new campaign has a cumulative effect:
No Labels is just one small cadre in a great army of mercenaries pushing the austerity cause. Their brigades have colorful (that is to say, silly) names like “Americans Elect,” “I.O.U.S.A,” the “Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget,” and my personal favorite, “Budgetball” – which I like to think of as ‘The Fountainhead’ Meets ‘Deathrace 2000′.”
Even if every one of these groups fails individually – which so far they all have – the hope seems to be that they’ll have the cumulative effect of making it look like there’s a tidal wave of support for Simpson Bowles austerity.
These programs uniformly attempt to stigmatize the majority’s opinions and interests as “extreme.” These front groups always try to stigmatize the popular goals of protecting Social Security and Medicare benefits and fighting Simpson Bowles austerity as those of a “tiny minority” which “ruthlessly punishes those who step out of line.”
Gerald Seib shills for a grand bargain in today’s Wall Street Journal as well, pitchin it as a structural panacea to all that ills the US economy. The unique circumstances afforded by the fiscal slope and the lame duck session has this crowd buzzing that they can overcome enormous unpopularity by attacking democracy at its weakest point.
Digby has more on this today. So far, this has failed every single time it’s been tried, despite buy-in at the highest levels, certainly of the Democratic Party. One of the points Tom Coburn made in his raspberry at Grover Norquist in the New York Times yesterday is that he’s rapidly becoming irrelevant. Coburn isn’t so thick that he can look again at the prospect at huge cuts to the signature progressive achievement of the last century, the New Deal safety net, in exchange for some token and easily surmounted increases in taxes, and blink once again. The groups forming for the lame duck session certainly have that in mind.