To hear government and business leaders talk, you'd think it was self-evident that our two biggest problems in the U.S. are the federal debt and deficit, caused by Out-of-Control-Spending, due (at least partly) to Out-of-Control-Entitlements-That-Must-Be-Reined-In-NOW.
Example: Shortly before his re-election, President Obama declared, "There's no doubt that our first order of business is going to be to get our deficits and debt under control."
Example: In January, U.S. Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) offered this observation: "I think there's a growing urgency among the people in the country to say, You know what, it is high time for the federal government to get control of the unfunded liabilities in the entitlement programs."
The debt, deficit, and so-called "entitlements" are seemingly so worrisome that some of our most influential Job Creators have formed the CEO Fiscal Leadership Council (of Pete Peterson's "Fix the Debt" Campaign); their plan to share fiscal their "thought leadership" and "strategic guidance"with the American people. Accordingly, last November, Honeywell CEO and "Fix the Debt" Steering Committee member David Cote went on "Meet the Press" to warn the nation that "entitlements" are the "ticking time bomb that's going to kill us."
And despite its preference for the term "reform" over "cuts," the Obama Administration has repeatedly signaled its support for Social Security cuts (e.g. Obama's campaign debate statement that he and Romney held similar positions on Social Security, his campaign's cryptic press release offering the unsettling assurance that he would not privatize and not "slash" Social Security benefits; and his support for the Chained CPI, or Consumer Price Index).
So...we all agree that these things pretty much go without saying:
- We have a Looming Debt Crisis.
- The obvious conclusion here is that Social Security recipients must make do with less in monthly benefits (average per retired worker is $1,237). (Cut back on the cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew, Grandma, or we'll have to end school meal programs for poor kids! Start reusing those corn pads, or we'll have to shut down crisis hotlines!)
And many of us can agree to these:
- While most Medicaid recipients are good, hard-working Americans, some of these people get sick, and sick people can be so expensive.
- The best approach to deficit reduction is the one that is bipartisan and immediate. Right?
I, for one, don't agree. And I don't think I'm alone.
Re the deficit: Recently, I surveyed my friends about their most urgent concerns and the Debt Situation. My survey suggests that for many people, there are more urgent concerns than the nation's debt, including the prospect of "clipping my pet's toenails" and the prospect of "finding a spider at home." Perhaps this is because: 1) they know that Social Security and Medicare don't contribute one penny to either the deficit or the debt, and 2) they think that if we can afford multiple wars, tax breaks for the rich, and corporate tax loopholes, then surely we can afford health care for poor people.
Re the "balanced approach" to deficit reduction, or who gives up what as we pay down the debt: For over 30 years, most Americans have been: not getting everything they want, making sacrifices, having some skin in the game, taking a haircut, stepping up, swallowing their medicine, eating their peas, tightening their belts, and feeling the pain. We have put up with budget cuts, stagnant wages, tax law changes that redistribute our nation's wealth upward, deregulation, union-busting laws and practices, free trade, outsourcing, and more.
The result? In the U.S., according to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VA), " "the top 1 percent owns 42 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while...the bottom 60 percent own only 2.3 percent....The Walton family...owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans."
So to the CEOs urging us to support a balanced approach to deficit reduction: the next 30-plus years of not getting everything you want are all yours.
Those of us who care about anti-poverty programs cannot afford to be distracted by decoy debt and deficit "emergencies." It's time for us to take charge of the debate about our national priorities. To do this, we need "entitlement reform" reform.
First, let's not use "entitlement reform" to refer to cutting retirement and health care benefits for people who have earned them, or to cutting health care for people too poor afford it. "Entitlement reform" sounds like some sort of corrective action applied to greedy people who cannot be left unsupervised or they'll bankrupt the country. Let's use it to refer to calling out bailout-needing, bonus-favoring, tax-evading, loophole-loving, public teat-sucking CEOs (and their toadies) who tell taxpayers to be more responsible.
Second, let's publicly call out each individual government and business leader whose recent thought leadership on the debt/deficit undermines or threatens Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid. Let's publicly suggest-- in letters to the editor, on signs at a protest outside of her/his office, on an online petition, at a town hall meeting, or on a radio call-in show - how s/he can help the rest of us get us back on track.
Examples of whom to call out and how:
- Pete Petersen, the Wall Street Billionaire behind the "Fix the Debt" Campaign, a PR effort that could more accurately be called "Nix the (Safety) Net."
If there is so much grassroots support for focusing on deficit reduction ASAP, why has Peterson reportedly put together a campaign with: 127 CEOs, four PR firms, 80 staff,multiple Peterson-funded "partner" groups, and 23 dubious state chapters? This would be a good question to ask at one of the Campaign's upcoming grassroots events, or in the absence of same, in your local paper.
- Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, who co-chaired the 2010 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and who recommended slashing Social Security: These two men charge $40,000 - each - to talk to business and other groups about their draconian deficit reduction ideas. If she were still alive, my Great Aunt Florence would ask me to drive her to whatever meeting was Bowles' and Simpson's next gig. There, she would commandeer the microphone. And she'd ask them to donate their $80,000 in speaking fee money to her fund for old ladies who can't afford food because of callous, clueless, cold-hearted men like them.
- Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs: This is the guy whose 2011 compensation package was worth over $16 million. The guy who said "You're going to have to do something, undoubtedly, to lower people's expectations of what they're going to get".the entitlements, and what people think they're going to get, because you're not going to get it."
What if several hundred inquisitive seniors gathered outside of a Goldman Sachs shareholder meeting, under a banner saying: "Lloyd, you say people must lower their expectations"just how much lower should they go? Explain!" They could carry signs saying things like, "Give up on pensions? Check!" and "Give up retirement? Done!" and "Shareholders: Please! If you don't finish lunch, get the leftovers to go, and leave them with us!"
- U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX): Just this week, he opined on " the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now," and adding that the debt is "one of the most immoral things this country has ever done."
Let's say you live in Texas and volunteer with your local progressive advocacy organization. Your group hold its first annual Drama Queen Awards for elected and other community leaders given to exaggeration. (Award categories, in addition to Queen, could include Drama Despot -- for leaders who support over-the-top laws mandating things like transvaginal probes; Drama Duke - for most dramatic political newcomer; Court Jester, etc.) Imagine Representative Gohmert, Drama Queen 2013, wearing his royal robe and crown.
There are many politicians, pundits, and others to be called out, and all kinds of opportunities to do it. Join the fight to reform "entitlement reform." Let's get this done! This country can afford to meet the basic human needs of all of its people. Yes, we can!