Over the past few days, the Senate and House leadership has selected the Senators and House members who will be on the Debt Reduction Committee that was created as part of the debt ceiling deal that was reached earlier this month. Some progressives have reacted angrily to some of the Democratic picks – most notably to the selection of Senator Max Baucus (D-MT). While we share some concerns about the selections, a far more effective response would be for progressives to flood the Democratic members of the Committee with letters and phone calls urging them to prioritize job creation, increase revenue from the wealthy, and ensure there are no cuts to Social Security or Medicare beneficiaries.
The Debt Reduction Committee is charged with proposing by November 23, 2011 $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years through spending cuts and/or revenue increases. If the Committee is able to agree to a proposal, it would then receive an up-or-down vote, with no filibusters or amendments, in both houses of Congress and must be either signed or vetoed by President Obama. The Committee has twelve members, with six from each party. Any proposal that goes to Congress would have to be approved by at least a 7-5 majority, so at least one Democrat or one Republican member of the Committee must end up siding with the other party in order to avoid a deadlock. If the Committee does not make a proposal, or Congress rejects the proposal, $1.2 trillion in cuts over ten years starting in 2013 would automatically go into effect. Those automatic cuts would include nearly $500 billion reduction in military spending, but no cuts to Social Security, Medicaid, or beneficiaries of Medicare.
Given Democrats’ propensity to compromise, progressives are understandably concerned that one of the six Democratic members will end up supporting a GOP deficit reduction proposal. And much of that concern has been targeted at Sen. Baucus, with folks like the Young Turks and Markos claiming that the “fix is in” and that the “GOP has already won.”
While Senator Baucus has certainly been disappointing to progressives on health care reform, the estate tax, and other issues, the progressive attacks on Baucus, and on Senator Harry Reid for selecting him, appear to be overwrought, as Baucus’ performance on core progressive issues during the various deficit debates of the past year has been pretty strong. For example, Baucus strongly supported keeping Social Security out of the debt ceiling negotiations, noting that the program “is not responsible for the deficits we face in the general fund today,” and has been “a major force in ending widespread poverty among the elderly.” Baucus also lambasted the GOP’s vote to abolish Medicare, slammed the House GOP’s Cut, Cap, and Balance proposal as “radical,” and voted against the debt reduction proposal made by Simpson and Bowles Debt Commission. In other words, Senator Baucus appears to be reachable on some key issues such as protecting Social Security and Medicare.
Rather than attacking individual Democratic committee members or throwing our hands up and saying the GOP has already won, we progressives should be working to make sure the Democrats on the Committee hear what we want loud and clear. Winning Progressive recommends making the following three points:
1. Jobs Must be Priority Number 1 – With unemployment still at 9.1% and underemployment at 16.1%, the number one priority must be creating jobs. And the way to achieve job growth is through a WPA-style jobs program, significant infrastructure investment, and a stimulus package focused on shoring up state and local government budgets and investments in developing a green energy economy. Job creation will not only help the economy, it will also decrease the deficit by achieving economic recovery and, therefore, revenue increases.
2. Make the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share Again – With taxes on the wealthy and corporations at or near the lowest levels since the 1930s, increased revenue from the top 2% must be the part of any effort to reduce the deficit.
3. No Cuts to Medicare Beneficiaries or Social Security – Social Security is not causing or contributing to the deficit. Skyrocketing health care costs post long term fiscal problems, but the solution is to rationalize health care spending, not abolishing the most cost effective form of health insurance, Medicare. Benefits should not be cut for either program under the guise of deficit reduction.
To make your voices heard and help push the Debt Reduction Committee in a more positive direction, contact the Democratic members of the Committee today at the links below and urge them to prioritize job creation, increase revenue from the wealthy, and ensure there are no cuts to Social Security or Medicare beneficiaries.