One of the most contentious issues in the current “fiscal cliff” negotiations that’s angering progressive activists is President Obama’s offer to the GOP to change the way cost of living adjustments are made to Social Security benefits. According to economists working with the group Social Security Works, moving to what is called a “chained” consumer price index will reduce benefits for the average 65-year-old by about $6,000 in the first 15 years of retirement, and $16,000 over 25 years.
I’m not surprised, but still angry. Obama has always been a failure as a negotiator with Republicans. He reliably makes major concessions before negotiations even begin – and in exchange for little or nothing from the other side.
In this case, there’s no excuse for concessions like the chained CPI on Social Security. First, by law, Social Security contributes not one thin dime to the nation’s deficit. The fact that Social Security is on the table at all in the fiscal cliff talks is indefensible. But apart from that fact, poll after poll tells us that 60 to 70 percent of the nation (including Republicans) oppose benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Further polling tells us that a majority of Americans say they will blame Republicans if there’s no deal – and taxes go up before the fiscal cliff deadline on Jan. 1. If a deal is not reached before the end of the year, the GOP will be forced to approve legislation reinstating tax cuts for the middle class in the early days of the new Congress.
More importantly, there are many alternatives to pulling the trigger on the chained CPI. Richard Eskow of the Campaign for America’s Future has summarized practical ways to produce revenue and make budget cuts that don’t place the burden on poor and working families, which are summarized in his article, 8 Deficit Reducers That Are More Ethical – And More Effective – Than the “Chained CPI”.
If Obama had any true leadership qualities, core beliefs or a spine, he’d rally the nation to protect social safety net programs while standing by his previous pledge to impose tax rate increases on those making $250,000 or more a year. If he did use the power of his office to wage this fight, he’d have the support of a strong majority of the nation, and likely force the Republicans to cave.
And if they didn’t concede, Obama and the Democrats could rally voters to punish the GOP in the 2014 mid-term election. It’s a perfect storm against the right-wing, which predictably the Democrats are poised to squander without a fight.
Obama, trying to meet GOP House Speaker John Boehner somewhere in the middle, has already backed down on his tax pledge, moving away from his campaign “line in the sand,” demanding higher tax rates on those making more than $250,000. He’s now proposed limiting higher rates to those that make $400,000 or more – and that will likely move up further to $500,000 or higher before it’s all over.
Like the “team player” she is, Nancy Pelosi, despite her repeated promises during the 2012 election campaign to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, is backing Obama on the chained CPI. Can Nancy spell the word “hypocrite?”
The politics of “compromise,” a more benign word for targeting the nation’s most vulnerable elderly, sick and politically weak citizens, is “exhibit A” in explaining why the majority of people in the U.S. are disgusted with politicians and politics. The permanent government bought and paid for by the 1 percent usually wins and the rest of us usually lose.
Our only hope is an independent, militant progressive protest movement – divorced from the Democratic Party – that can quickly mobilize masses of people in the street to demand the government do what the majority of people want, restoring some semblance of democracy.
I think I’ll give the Occupy Wall Street movement a call to see what they’re doing next week…
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines Radio Newsmagazine, a weekly, syndicated public affairs program. http://btlonline.org email: firstname.lastname@example.org