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Left Margin

Obama & the Democrats Sending Mixed Messages
about the Catfood Commission

By Carl Bloice
BC Editorial Board
Black Commentator
September 2, 2012

http://www.blackcommentator.com/485/485_lm_catfood_commission_share.html

Like a lot of people, I often wonder: Do these people
meet?

The words of a party's platform and the declarations
of its candidate don't mean much in the real world
of political wheeling and dealing.

Serendipity does not quite describe what happened
the day the Democratic Party convention opened. It
looked more like collusion or perhaps just a well-
executed campaign maneuver. There was the
ubiquitous David Brooks in the New York Times
openly challenging President Obama to come out
forthrightly for "Simpson-Bowles" in his acceptance
speech. He was referring to a set of proposals made
by the co-chairs of a deficit reduction panel
appointed by the President two years ago that called
for cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and other
safety-net programs and for tax "reforms" that would
actually reduce tax rates for the well-to-do and large
corporations. That same morning editors of the
London-based Financial Times called for more
"middle-class sacrifice," asserting that "Only by
demonstrating his backing for long-term reform can
Mr. Obama make the case for fresh steps to help
revive the US economy. It is good politics and good
economics. Endorsing the Bowles-Simpson
recommendations would place Mr. Obama on the
high ground for this election - and afterwards."

Meanwhile the ultimate in "Simpson-Bowles"
chutzpah appeared on the opinion page of the Wall
Street Journal, wherein so-called centrist Democrats
Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen, operatives in
the Carter and Clinton Administrations,
respectively, called up the President to "change
direction - immediately and decisively," and
"embrace the findings of the 2010 Simpson-Bowles
deficit-reduction commission and make it clear that
he too has a plan to revitalize the U.S. economy,
reduce the deficit, reform entitlements and spur
economic growth through a fairer and leaner tax
system." (The commission itself made no "findings,"
never came to agreement and adjourned without
ever voting on anything.)

Why this coordinated waving of the "Simpson-
Bowles" banner on the eve of Obama's acceptance
speech?

My hunch is that some people have decided that
there is a good chance the President will win
reelection and their aim is be able to claim the
election, in part, as a mandate for going after Social
Security, Medicare and Medicaid, "afterwards" under
the cover of "compromise." Brooks would seem to be
supporting this conjecture when he writes, "A
landslide or `mandate election' in November is
unlikely because neither party enjoys a clear
advantage. Most fundamentally, any solution to the
nation's fiscal crisis is going to require compromise.
No matter who is in charge, taxes will have to go up
and entitlements will have to be scaled back. The
math doesn't work any other way."

I guess it was inevitable that "Simpson-Bowles"
would find its way into former President Bill
Clinton's nominating speech but it only rated a
mention. He praised Obama for offering what he
called a "reasonable' and "balanced" plan" for deficit
reduction as "the kind" contained in the "approach"
of the "bipartisan commission" that he said was
"better" than the Republican's plan. That is an
understatement. What Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan
propose to do to seniors, patients and poor kids is
truly horrendous.

The President said, "No American should ever have
to spend their golden years at the mercy of
insurance companies.

Clinton, to his credit, also used the occasion to do
something practically nobody in his party's
leadership has had the sense - or courage - to do.
He laid out what the threat to alter Medicaid actually
entails. "They also want to block grant Medicaid and
cut it by a third over the coming decade," he said.
"Of course, that will hurt poor kids, but that's not
all. Almost two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on
nursing home care for seniors and on people with
disabilities, including kids from middle class
families, with special needs like Down syndrome or
autism. I don't know how those families are going to
deal with it. We can't let it happen."

The Financial Times editorial didn't sit too well with
some of the paper's U.S. readers. A Colorado doctor,
Ron Forthofer, responded that Obama's
endorsement of "Simpson-Bowles" "would be using
a bipartisan commission as cover to satisfy the
demands of the financial sector and so-called fiscal
hawks for deficit reduction without inflicting much
pain on the US oligarchy." And Reba Shimansky of
New York wrote, "Bowles-Simpson is the document
of two very wealthy rightwingers, Erskine Bowles
and Alan Simpson, and it expresses their point of
view. Bowles-Simpson is a prescription for
downsizing government while lowering the marginal
tax rate, cutting corporation taxes, Medicare,
Medicaid and cost of living adjustments for social
security" adding, "It is a not a bipartisan approach
to reducing the deficit. Liberals refer to it as the
catfood commission because if its proposals were
implemented that is all most Americans could afford
to purchase."

Brooks is simply wrong. The Ryan plan is not to "cut
spending and restructure entitlements," it's to
restructure spending and cut entitlements. The
restructuring involves more money for the military
and lower allocations for education and nutrition
aid for those with low incomes; the cuts called for
involve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Repeating what has become their mantra over the
past couple of years, the editors of the Washington
Post said September 5 that taxes must rise and
"entitlements will have to be scaled back."

He specifically promised not to slash those programs
in exchange for tax cuts.

"We're saddled with monster deficits, and the
Republicans refuse to let this president do the brave
thing Bill Clinton did, and get us more revenue,"
New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote last
week. True. And that's where "Simpson-Bowles"
comes in. The money has to come from somewhere
but rather than raise taxes on those who have been
making out like bandits the past couple of decades
the aim is to take it from sick people, seniors and
poor kids and make life even more precarious for
the million of working people who have lost so
much and are still losing out amid the ongoing
economic crisis.

The final moments of the convention revealed to
what extent the full court press to make
endorsement of "Simpson-Bowles" an objective of
the Obama-Biden campaign succeeded. In his
acceptance speech the Vice-President mentioned it
in passing. In his address Obama avoided the term
but said, "Now, I'm still eager to reach an agreement
based on the principles of my bipartisan debt
commission. No party has a monopoly on wisdom.
No democracy works without compromise. I want to
get this done, and we can get it done."

That's mealy-mouthed. If he means the principle
that revenue increases should be accompanied by
spending cuts that's one thing. If he means he is
open to taking a meat axe to Medicare, Social
Security in return for making the very rich pay taxes
at rates they once did, that's another ball of wax. In
his speech he pledged not to do the latter but his
bow to "Simpson-Bowles" is not at all reassuring.

Digby at the Campaign for America's Future wrote
after the President's speech, "There's a lot of wriggle
room in there, and quite a few straw men, but if you
read it literally, he specifically promised not to slash
those programs in exchange for tax cuts. What he
didn't do was promise not to cut those programs in
exchange for tax hikes --- which is what the
Democrats are seeking. He won't agree to tax cuts
for millionaires. That's a good thing. But will he
agree to cuts if the Republicans agree to raise some
taxes? We don't know."

"Mitt Romney must not become president," Adam
Green, head of the Progressive Change Campaign
Committee, tweeted right after Obama concluded his
speech. "But it's unacceptable for a Democratic
president to pull the wool over supporters' eyes by
talking blandly about a `bipartisan commission' that
actually proposed extreme cuts to Social Security
and Medicare benefits -- and lowering corporate tax
rates."

Simpson-Bowles "offers draconian austerity for the
many and even more tax breaks for the wealthy
few," says Richard (RJ) Eskow of the Campaign for
America's Future. "No wonder Simpson and Bowles
keep praising Paul Ryan to the skies:
Simpson/Bowles and Romney/Ryan differ only in
emphasis."

The Ryan plan is not to "cut spending and
restructure entitlements," it's to restructure
spending and cut entitlements.

"While voucherizing Medicare will presumably save
the government money (at least up front) and
balance its books, it'll do so on the backs of most
American seniors," writes American Prospect co-
editor Harold Meyerson. "Obama's value of
citizenship won't permit that, and it's on this
battlefield that the Democrats will fight this fall."
One hopes. But a lot of us would feel a lot better if
the Administration stopped sending out mixed
messages.

David Brooks didn't like Obama's speech at all and
that's good news. "The Obama speech offered some
important if familiar hints of big policy ideas," he
wrote. "There was a vague hint of a major tax
reform. There was a vague promise to accept an
agreement based on the principle of the Simpson-
Bowles committee on deficit reduction. But it's hard
to be enthusiastic about President Obama truly
championing initiatives that get no more than a
sentence or a clause."

Likewise, the editors at Washington Post - prone as
they are to counsel austerity for working people
-were disappointed as well. "He vowed, `I will never
turn Medicare into a voucher,' but he gave his
audience no indication that his solution -
controlling health care costs - might involve
sacrifice on the part of seniors, they wrote the
morning after the President's speech. "He promised
`responsible steps to strengthen' Social Security,
which he has neglected throughout his first term. As
to which steps those might be, not a word."

Hardly a speaker at either the Republican or
Democratic conventions could step away from the
microphone without referring at least once to the
"American dream" (which used to mean owning your
own single family house) and ascribing so many
different and conflicting attributes to it as to render
the term meaningless. On the eve of the confab in
Charlotte, the Financial Times'chief foreign affairs
commentator, Gideon Rachman, warned Obama to
"be careful not to tread on the American dream,"
and went on to inform us that "The idea of the `land
of opportunity', where an individual is free to make
his own way, remains inspiring - far more inspiring
to most Americans than the notion of a social safety
net." He could be right but I'm certain he didn't poll
people in my neighborhood.

The Democratic Party platform says the Romney-
Paul Republican budget plan to give seniors
coupons for health care "would end Medicare as we
know it." And, it pledges a new Obama
Administration "will not ask seniors to pay
thousands of dollars more every year while they
watch the value of their Medicare benefits evaporate.
"It further pledges to "find a solution to protect
Social Security for future generations" and to "block
Republican efforts to subject Americans' guaranteed
retirement income to the whims of the stock market
through privatization." The President said, "No
American should ever have to spend their golden
years at the mercy of insurance companies. They
should retire with the care and the dignity they have
earned. Yes, we will reform and strengthen Medicare
for the long haul, but we'll do it by reducing the cost
of health care, not by asking seniors to pay
thousands of dollars more. And we will keep the
promise of Social Security by taking the responsible
steps to strengthen it, not by turning it over to Wall
Street."

The argument will be made that the words of a
party's platform and the declarations of its
candidate don't mean much in the real world of
political wheeling and dealing. Often that's true and
it's why one of the most important challenges facing
progressives, seniors and labor in this election
period is acting to secure a guarantee that such
promises are kept, that digging our way out of
capitalism's latest crisis (far from over) is not
premised on preserving present class inequities
while undermining the security and economic well-
being of working people on the job or in retirement.
____________

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member
and Columnist, Carl Bloice, is a writer in San
Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a
healthcare union

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