Monday, August 1, 2011

Super Debt Congressional Committee with Dictatorial Powers

We can only imagine the luminous spirits of FDR and LBJ, revered fathers of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, rolling in horror as a disastrously tepid White House and Democratic Party surrendered those historic hard-won victories to a more disciplined, better organized right wing Republican party with barely a whimper.   

In 1937, believing an end of the Great Depression at hand and succumbing to Republican pressure to balance the budget, an overly optimistic Roosevelt approved cuts to the CCC and other New Deal programs.  As Dow Jones responded with a 48% drop, Roosevelt, a more politically savvy President than the current White House occupant, reversed himself and renewed deficit spending.      

After initially calling for a ‘clean’ debt ceiling vote in April, Obama walked away from increased tax revenues last December by continuing Bush tax cuts for the country’s wealthiest 2%.  Buying into what was once called ‘voodoo economics,’ it would not be accurate to suggest that the President was hoodwinked by Republicans.  He is a smart man and one must assume knows exactly the cynical game he has played to cover his own political derriere at the expense of the country’s middle class.  So after numerous proposed debt ceiling plans, each version more eroded than the previous until the final agreement brought an impressive Big Win for the Tea Party – and, when all the dust settles, a disastrous defeat for the Democrats.  

The final plan based on Majority Leader Reid’s proposal will raise the debt ceiling up to $2.4 Trillion with $1 Trillion of undefined, sure-to-be-objectionable cuts to discretionary spending over the next ten years and another $1.5 Trillion to be determined by a new Super-Duper Congressional Committee by year’s end. 

In his announcement Sunday evening, Obama said the Agreement would see the ‘lowest level of domestic spending since Eisenhower” as if that were something to be proud of.  In 1960, the US population was 179 million as compared to 310 million in 2010.   While voicing support, Rep. Barney Frank endorsed the agreement with the excuse that funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be cut, a good bet  might that there will ultimately be little appreciable change in either conflict.     

While there is no doubt that the debt ceiling needs to be raised, there is no consensus that Obama’s proposed spending cuts will stimulate the economy or create jobs. As countless economists have pointed out, spending cuts at this time with a 1.3% GDP are exactly the opposite of what the government should be doing during a depressed economy which begs the question which of the President’s economic advisors signed-off on this agreement?  In any case, the coming economic disaster will deservedly have Obama and Democratic fingerprints all over it.

If there is still a need to find domestic cuts, the President might consider the estimated $600 billion cost to maintain 2.3 million prisoners each year at a cost of $63 a day per person and another $9 billion maintaining the half million prisoners awaiting trial who cannot afford bail.  Each year, Medicare costs taxpayers $452 billion and Medicaid $252 billion.      

Even as the President rejected a Fourteenth Amendment remedy, Obama’s repeated calls for  ‘compromise’ which led many citizens to believe those checks would continue and a ‘balanced’ approach that would ‘share the sacrifice’ with the country’s wealthiest and American corporations, the reality is that the President is more willing to give whatever it takes (including the Democratic party’s historic birthright) to win re-election.  The American public was led to believe that ‘compromise’ would be good for the public interest but in recent days ‘compromise’ devolved into no increased taxes on the country’s richest 2% (once a steadfast Presidential promise) or corporate subsidies (another broken promise) while the President’s  Numero Uno priority was pushing the next debt ceiling debate until after the 2012 Presidential election.    

In clear subversion of democratic principles, a new uber-Special bi-partisan Congressional Committee of 12 will be formed with unprecedented dictatorial powers to identify another $1.5 trillion worth of cuts by Thanksgiving or the Big Three entitlement programs will be automatically slashed – just in time for something to be grateful for.  A legislative gimmick that will do its deed behind closed doors, this new Super Committee. in abdicating Congressional responsibility, will bypass the proper legislative process of public hearings, witnesses, testimony and debate and public accountability.  With the authority to consider ‘everything’ on the table for cuts including all Federal government departments and programs, the Super-Committee can be counted on to decimate what remains of discretionary spending and the Big Three in ways that could only occur outside of the public legislative process.  The deal would activate a 'trigger' if the Committee fails to act with automatic cuts including a $350 billion in cuts to the Pentagon over 10 years - less than Obama's earlier proposed cut of $400 Billion.  The Agreement would, however,  keep federal retirement benefits (ie Congressional pensions) off the Committee's table. With Republicans emboldened by their current success, Democrats can be expected to continue their slide into oblivion – much like the Social Democrats in Germany in 1932.   

Proposed by an enfeebled Democratic Senate and a peacock of a Democratic President, establishing the Committee will be fast-tracked through Congress with no filibuster or amendments just as its recommendations in November will be an up-or-down vote and not subject to debate – something like your average bi-partisan regressive abuse of power.  As the level of cuts to be considered by the Committee remain murky and in case you were wondering, do not expect American corporations or the financial services industry to ‘share the sacrifice.”   

Strong opponents prior to its adoption on August 14, 1935, Republicans have, for its entire 76 year existence, portrayed Social Security as a ‘cruel hoax’ while predicting insolvency since the 1970’s with repeal always the target.  In 1977, the National Commission on Social Security Reform headed by Alan Greenspan found the fund ‘solvent for the entire 75 year forecast period” as did a 1983 Study which found the system to be ‘in balance for both the short and long run showing a slight surplus.”  Those positive results were reiterated by the 1994-96 Advisory Council on Social Security.   Current estimates put the Social Security fund from which the Federal government withdraws $180 billion annually, in reality, provides meager benefits, at $2.7 trillion with enough resources to meet its long term obligations. 

As Members of Congress like Frank and Sen. Dick Durbin, both corporate-Democrats, make media appearances in support of the agreement despite what they acknowledge to be an expected ‘exacerbation’ of unemployment, there are 23 Democratic Senators up for 2012 re-election (some of whom have already announced retirement) who will expect local Democratic activists to work their buns off knocking on doors, making telephone calls and doing whatever it takes to get the party faithful out to vote.   When the American public catches on to how they were screwed by the Democrats, some of those Senators may prefer to dust off those classics they have always wanted to read and plan to spend more time with the grandkids.

After relinquishing the potent campaign issue of saving Medicare from the Ryan Plan, the President who knows instinctively how to appear as the offended party while making the ‘hard choices,’ exhibited no conscience as he thanked the American people for their support while at the same time claiming that the Agreement was not his ‘preferred’ deal.   Once those trusting Americans who heeded the Presidential request to contact Congress discover they were being asked to slit their own throats while Democrats made little pretense of  ‘shared sacrifice’ from the country’s richest or corporate America; once those conscientious citizens come down off the ceiling, an appropriate response might be “Mr/Ms. Senator, since I cannot count on your support in my time of need, you can no longer count on my support. ”

It should come as no surprise that the R’s who did an exemplary job of defining the debate while controlling only one-third of three branches of government.(thanks largely to the capitulation of the Democrats) realized virtually ALL of their demands while the Democrats received Zilch.  Most important, Tea Party Republicans took a major step toward realizing their ultimate goal of shutting down the Federal government, what FDR once called the ‘affirmative instrument of the People”.   

Any question of how the Progressive Caucus (who put little real effort into proselytizing their People’s Budget) or the Black Caucus will vote is a foregone conclusion.  With few exceptions, the liberals can be expected to line up with the President..   With the two party system in undeniable dysfunction and chaos, Republicans, so rigid in their ideology, are genetically incapable of making intelligent decisions to benefit the public will continue to push the country into the ditch.

Even with an acknowledged intellectual prowess, it is now apparent that Obama assumed office with insufficient administrative experience, a lack of real political expertise and other than hollow rhetoric, no real people skills.  If he were insightful and wise, he might be embarrassed to know that we now see no personal or professional growth in office.       

The current debate is not the first time that government officials have appealed to naive American taxpayers with woeful predictions of dire consequences if Congress does not act with haste to forestall an impending economic debacle, averting catastrophe and a default that would be devastating to the public.  The current urgent drama played out on the House and Senate floors citing an imminent ‘never has there been such a time’ disaster echoing previous alarms by an irresponsible Congress since the 1970’s to prevent bankruptcy, default, loss of jobs, consumer confidence,  economic volatility, financial insolvency, global lack of confidence and other economic disasters that required trillions of taxpayers funds.  .    

UPDATE   August 1, 2011   6:45 pm
House vote to approve Debt Ceiling increase:     S365
                                  YES                            NO
 Republicans                173                              66
Democrats                   94                                95
Total                           269                             161
Rep. Barney Frank voted NO as Members of the Black and Progressive Caucus held back until the last two minutes when passage was assured.

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