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August 2011, Week 3

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Mon, 15 Aug 2011 20:54:58 -0400
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The Deficit Committee is a Stacked Deck

By Carl Bloice

Submitted to portside by the author

Last week, the Financial Times ran a commentary by Benn
Steil, a senior fellow and director of International
Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations,
headlined "U.S. Solvency Rests with 12 Angry Men."

Well, not exactly. There is one woman on the new Joint
Select Committee on Debt Reduction.

And it wasn't the headline writer's mistake; Steil
wrote the story that way.

Right after the recent debt deal was agreed to in
Congress and the new 12-menber "supercommittee" was set
in motion, the Women's Media Center called upon
Congressional leaders to appoint an equal number of men
and women to it, noting that its members "will decide
the future of many social programs relied upon by
millions of Americans" and "making critical judgments
that will likely affect social programs that women
disproportionately depend on - like Social Security,
Medicare, and Medicaid."

As it turns out Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat of
Washington, will be the only female present when the
guys begin their deliberations - or, some would say,
horse trading.

But you are not alone sisters. There is only one
African American in the group and only one Latino, both
Democrats in the House of Representatives.

And, as Melissa Harris Perry said on the MSNBC Al
Sharpton show the other day, the three designated by
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi - Reps. James E.
Clyburn of South Carolina and Xavier Becerra of
California Chris Van Hollen of Maryland - are the only
members of the full committee that are not very rich.

Obviously, there is nothing demographically
representative of the Gang of 12. It's hardly
democratic; but then, there is nothing particularly
democratic about the whole setup.

A lot of attention is being given to the political
composition of the panel when, in fact, its very
existence should be called into question. It's a scam
designed to bypass the regular legislative process (if
it makes recommendations they will be voted up or down
by the Congress with restricted debate and no
amendments allowed.) Its purpose it is permit the
Republicans and Democrats to make "tough" decisions
about the Federal budget. It's a given that any
decisions they make regarding cuts in social programs
will mean fewer resources for the elderly, students and
disadvantaged communities. Since each and every one of
the Republicans on the panel has previously pledged to
oppose any tax increases, even on the most wealthy, the
odds are against the group coming up with anything.
However, one Democrat could join them, throwing any
thought of revenue enhancement out the window.

Then there is that other assault on democratic
governing, the "trigger" mechanism whereby if the panel
cannot agree, or the Congress is deadlocked over what
it proposes, there will be an automatic $1.2 trillion
in budget cuts that would, among other things,
seriously jeopardize the future of Medicare.

"Put this whole mess up on the big board at the MGM
Grand in Vegas, and the line would probably be 50-1
that working people, sick people and the elderly are,
once again, about to take it on the chin," wrote
William Rivers Pitt, author of "House of Ill Repute:
Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged
Reputation," on Truthout.org the other day. "Perhaps
more galling than the seemingly evident outcome of this
farce is the fact that the whole process flies in the
face of Constitutional law. Nowhere in that document
does it give Congress the power to supersede the
established process of legislating through full
committees and sub-committees, and after all is said
and done, the whole thing could wind up being thrown
out by the courts if a legal challenge is brought
against the 'super-committee's' final conclusions.

"Nothing good will come of this, I fear. A great deal
of bad, however, almost certainly will."

Meanwhile, all the attention that will be directed at
the supercommittee, its makeup and possible dealings,
will serve to distract from the two big elephants in
the room: the state of the economy (clearly made worse
by all this maneuvering) and the 14 million people
unemployed. Then there is the specter looming out of
London these days.

"The American right today is obsessed with cutting
government spending. In many ways, Mr. Cameron's
austerity program is the Tea Party's dream come true,"
wrote two New York sociology professors, Richard
Sennett and Saskia Sassen. "But Britain is now
grappling with the consequences of those cuts, which
have led to the neglect and exclusion of many
vulnerable, disaffected young people who are acting out
violently and irresponsibly -- driven by rage rather
than an explicit political agenda."

"America is in many ways different from Britain, but
the two countries today are alike in their extremes of
inequality, and in the desire of many politicians to
solve economic and social ills by reducing the power of
the state," Sennett and Sassen continued. "Britain's
current crisis should cause us to reflect on the fact
that a smaller government can actually increase
communal fear and diminish our quality of life. Is that
a fate America wishes upon itself?"

House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson of
Connecticut has proposed the debt ceiling legislation
be amended to form a panel tasked with creating a plan
to eliminate unemployment by 2021.

"I plan to introduce legislation that would establish a
Joint Select Committee on Job Creation that would be
tasked, under the exact same terms as the Deficit
Committee, with developing a plan to return the nation
to full employment by 2021," says Larson. "This would
allow the Congress to simultaneously consider both our
near-term (high unemployment) and our long-term
(growing debt) challenges later this year. Just like
the Deficit Committee, all options would be on the
table. We owe the American people nothing less."

Fat chance of anything like that happening, not without
a tremendous upsurge in public outrage. The Republicans
will never agree to it and the Democratic Party
leadership, from the White House on down, have shown
scant willingness or courage in putting anything really
"tough" on the table and go to bat for it.

On Wednesday, the New York Times called the Federal
Reserve's decision to hold down interest rate for the
next couple of years "a sign that it has all but
written off the chances of an expansion strong enough
to drive up wages and prices," adding "It is now
conventional wisdom among forecasters that the economy
will plod along through the end of President Obama's
first term in office. Millions of Americans will not
find work. Wages will not rise substantially."  The
same day economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote, "Our leaders
tried papering over the economy's weaknesses - perhaps
out of fear that if we were honest about them, already
fragile confidence would erode. But that was a gamble
we have now lost. Now the scale of the problem is
apparent, a new confidence has emerged: confidence that
matters will get worse, whatever action we take. A long
malaise now seems like the optimistic scenario."

I would like to think Stiglitz is being overly
pessimistic but there appears to be nary a bright spot
in this situation.

___________________________________________

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