Many details of the debt ceiling deal negotiated between congressional leaders and President Obama are not yet known. It’s not yet known if the deal will pass both the House and the Senate. However, the reported outlines indicate that the president and Democrats were successful in defeating Republican proposals to tie the whole country up in chaos re-debating raising the debt ceiling continuously through the 2012 election. Thanks in large part to the stiff backbone of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Social Security remains untouched. The threat of economic catastrophe from a default on U.S. debt and other obligations was averted, but it is not clear if the perilous political gridlock – and growing U.S. instability – surrounding this entire charade will still result in a downgrade of U.S. Treasury securities.
The budget cuts reportedly included in the deal appear to be, thankfully, heavily weighted towards cuts in the military as wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “draw down.” This is a sign that the economic crisis has finally helped force a long overdue retrenchment in the U.S. global military profile.
But there are many other as yet unspecified cuts that will result in thousands more layoffs from federal, state and local public services for working people.
One that has been specified: There will be cuts in Medicare, although the details are not available. African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, the working poor, women and youth, seniors, all public workers and those they serve will be hit particularly hard. The recent Pew Research Foundation report on racial and ethnic inequality shows that, since the onset of the depression, minorities, for example, have virtually NO wealth with which to protect themselves against a medical or any other calamity. Instead of cuts in Medicare, the path forward is Medicare for ALL.
Further, the bill establishes “commissions” and “triggers” to force trillions more in cuts and layoffs down the road. Imminent disaster has been averted, but we must conclude that austerity politics and economics – the idea that one can fix recessions or depressions by laying off more people – have won the day. Working people will lose MORE ground. The rich will pay nothing towards the debt.
The showdown over the debt ceiling has proven one thing beyond doubt: The Republicans and their rich friends care NOTHING about debt. Their speeches and harangues on debt are lies through and through. They care only about THEIR taxes. Actually, they have one additional, overriding concern: to divert absolutely as much public capital as possible to private use.
Democratic government is the only real means working people have to contend with the power of wealth and the giant corporations. Only government has the power to redistribute wealth from these forces in accord with any principle of fairness or justice. The Republican goal: Destroy this power, make public services and investments so small they can, in the words of the scoundrel Grover Norquist, “be drowned in their bathwater.”
Recent economic reports show the economy is either a) sliding into another recession – the “double dip” – or b) entering a decades-long era of stagnation and permanent high unemployment, declining incomes for workers, and expanding inequality. Nothing in the debt-ceiling deal will do anything about this. More jobs will be lost as a result, not gained.
It is no doubt true that a Democratic president and Senate prevented a much worse outcome than the current deal. Many have criticized the president for being too soft and weak in negotiations with the Republicans. I had nearly 20 years’ experience in the labor movement which proved to me it’s hard to judge from the outside what is really possible, and what is not, in such bargaining. The balance of forces is hard to evaluate if you are not at the table. Maybe the president gave too much, maybe this is the best outcome possible to avert disaster for now.
But the point is: We the people are not at the table!
An old trade union mentor in West Coast longshore once told me: “When the working class sneezes in unison, the temples of Wall Street tremble!”
We have our work cut out for us as we enter the 2012 election, the most momentous election since 1936. The multitudes must speak for themselves to defeat war and austerity, to turn around toward peace, and prosperity.