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Defending Entitlements Against the Debt Terrorists

letsgetitdone's picture

Dean Baker recently posted on the closed door meetings some prominent CEOs are having on shaping austerity budgets to be used after the election to pressure Congress to arrive at a bi-partisan compromise that will cut spending much more than it raises taxes and “put us on the road to fiscal sustainability and fiscal responsibility.” Dean rightly points out that these concerns are greatly overblown since the most important problem we are facing now is growing the economy and providing for full or near-full employment. In particular, he's very opposed to entitlement cuts and is opposed to the current bipartisan impulse to sacrifice entitlements on the altar of fiscal sustainability/responsibility. He then says:

”The question is how to make it so that popular sentiment overrides the big bucks of the corporate chieftains. The obvious answer would be to make the protection of these programs central issues in the election. Members of Congress and candidates for seats should be pressed to indicate where they stand on the proposed cuts to these programs.

“That means getting them to answer specific questions, like whether they support reducing the annual cost-of-living adjustment or raising the normal retirement age for Social Security or the age of eligibility for Medicare. These are among the most important issues in people's lives and voters should not have to go to the polls not knowing where the candidates for the House, the Senate or the presidency stand on them.

“People should also be aware that politicians are true masters of evasion on these questions. A response like, "I support Social Security and Medicare," should be taken to mean that they are prepared to support cuts for these programs. All of the people running for office are smart enough to know how to say that they oppose the cuts being put on the table, and they undoubtedly would say that they oppose the cuts, if it is true.

“Similarly, a statement like, "I oppose the privatization of Social Security and Medicare" should also be taken to mean that they are prepared to support cuts to these programs. Again, they are not being asked about privatization, it's not immediately on the table, why would they give an answer about privatization except to avoid admitting their support for cuts?

“The news media should also be pressed into service in this effort. It is their job to tell us the candidates' positions on important issues and there are few issues more important to voters than Social Security and Medicare. People should harangue their local newspapers and television stations to ask candidates their positions on cuts to these programs. This is far more important than most of the gossip about the campaigns that dominates news coverage.

“The whole effort here must be focused on smoking out politicians on where they stand on cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The CEOs want to do this behind closed doors because they know that politicians who have to answer to their constituencies will never be able to get away with these cuts. The key is to force the debate into the sunlight.”

While I very much agree with the idea that we must force this debate into the sunlight and should focus on getting our Representatives, Senators, and even Presidential candidates to take a “no entitlement cuts under any circumstances position,” I also think that the methods outlined above by Dean are unlikely to be enough to carry the day.

We also need to be trashing the position that says that there is a deficit problem, and that there is long-term deficit reduction/debt problem that need to be fixed. That's true because unless we do that, we just look like selfish people trying to hang on to safety net benefits, when, the deficit hawks will say, the US reached a period where fiscal responsibility/sustainability demands that we cut those benefits on pain of running out of money, or ruining our capability to borrow money from the bond markets at low interest rates.

Fortunately the position of those who think we need to reduce the deficit and fix the debt is easy to trash because the economic and fiscal assumptions it's based on don't apply to currency sovereign governments like the United States. For us the problem of eliminating the debt is neither problem nor a burden, and our current deficits are no problem because they are far too small to produce demand-pull inflation. In recent posts, I've both explained why the debt is no problem, outlined how to eliminate it if we really want to and explained why our current deficits are too small. Please see here, here, here, here, and here for the explanations.

Besides approaching our candidates and the media with anger and better arguments and traditional methods of influence, I also think we need to make use of other channels of influence. These days, both officeholders, candidates, and the media all have web sites, Facebook pages, and Twitter sites. These especially need to be flooded with protests and also the truth that there isn't any debt/deficit problem that needs to be fixed. And also with demands that candidates come clean about their positions on entitlement and other spending cuts, and, as well, plain threats that a vote for entitlement cuts and other programs that benefit poor and middle class Americans will be met with retaliation against the candidate before and during the next primary election and their certain defeat.

The message must be very clear. It must be given to both parties, and it must be unrelenting from now through the election, and for as long as it takes to make all the advocates of austerity cease and desist their efforts at destroying activist government and a State that fosters equality of opportunity, an end to extremes of economic inequality, and a decent standard of living for all.

Average: 5 (1 vote)


tom allen's picture
Submitted by tom allen on

Here's one of the chief debt terrorists complaining that his party doesn't get enough credit for their attacks:

He [Obama] particularly believes that Democrats do not receive enough credit for their willingness to accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security, while Republicans oppose almost any tax increase to reduce the deficit.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

he's one of the chief DTs. I've been criticizing him for it for years! Take a look at my previous posts.

mtngun's picture
Submitted by mtngun on

I agree with your policy recommendations, but . . . . don't see the Democrats changing their ways as long as Obama is in the WH. From the NYT this week : "He [Obama] particularly believes that Democrats do not receive enough credit for their willingness to accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security"

Obama is a Neoliberal ideologue with zero intellectual curiousity (the same article mentions that he never watches the news on TV). He has staked his presidency on cutting the deficit, believing history will judge him well even if austerity is unpopular now.

MMTers might actually have a better chance of gaining ground if Romney is elected. The left will then unite in opposition to Romney and be willing to seriously consider MMT if it serves to undermine the Romney position.

As long as Obama is in power, the bulk of the so-called left will not question Obama's policies, and MMT will not be taken seriously by Democrats.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

1. From the day of his re-election to a second term, the President's power with his Congressional delegation begins to decline. Obama won't have the same control over the Democrats he has today. I also think that even today, Ds can be persuaded to reject cuts to SS and Medicare if they face an enraged public. Unlike Obama, who's worried about his legacy, and what his rich supporters want, Congressional Ds have to face another election in 2014 and are not so worried about their legacy as they are about their jobs. People aren't going to forget if they cut SS and Medicare either in the 2012 Lame Duck or the 2013 Congressional Session. So, I think the opponents of cuts have a very good chance to block them even if O wins.

2. But also, even though I agree with you about Obama, I am very worried about the Supreme Court. We may have three vacancies coming up in the next 4 years: Ginsberg, Kennedy, and Scalia. Three D appointments, even if they won't be flaming liberals, create a 6-3 vote on re-litigations of Citizens United. On the other hand, three R appointments create a 6-3 vote for retaining it. Getting the 6-3 against CU is very, very important right now.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

don't have the rule of law is because of CU. We didn't have it before that decision; but if anyone wants to move back now, CU is a big barrier in their way. It's also a barrier in overcoming the two major parties; so yes, I think the Court will be an issue. I don't expect Obama to nominate a William O. Douglas; but he will nominate people like the Ds that are there now; and they will end the ownership of the Court by the corps. That will become very valuable as we try to take things back.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

The Rs will vote against him whatever he does even if they agree with him. So, to pass anything he'll need Ds!

Submitted by Aquifer on

"and, as well, plain threats that a vote for entitlement cuts and other programs that benefit poor and middle class Americans will be met with retaliation against the candidate before and during the next primary election and their certain defeat."

The problem is we have been "threatening" in one way or another to do that for ages, and are a laughing stock because we never follow through - "f-ing retards" as Emmanuel would say. There is no reason for the Dems to believe we wouldn't chicken out when faced with the ever present "scary Rep" - we always have in the past. At some point in time we have to carry out the threat - IMO we have waited too long already - time to boot them. Make it clear we mean it -they will not reform until they are convinced the threat is real and they will not be convinced until it is carried out. If we gather enough strength not only will they get the message, but we will be on our way toward building a party to compete with them for the left - wouldn't it be fine, instead of having parties competing to see who is more Right, have parties competing to see who is more Left, and there is only one way to do that ....