Friday, November 12, 2010



By Reginald Johnson

Nov. 12, 2010

If ever there was a moment when progressives should rise up and say “no!” --- that time is now.

Within the space of 24 hours, from Wednesday into Thursday, President Obama and his group around him have shown what they really are: a bunch of conservative Democrats who are ready to betray the interests of the working people of this country at a moments notice in order to serve their paymasters --- Wall Street and the wealthy elite.

Consider what’s happened in this short period. First, leaders of the bi-partisan deficit reduction commission ---- which Obama set up --- detailed some of the panel’s preliminary recommendations. For the middle class and poor, they’re not pretty. Cut Social Security benefits; raise the retirement age; cut Medicare benefits; cut Medicaid benefits; hike gasoline taxes; and eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction.

The proposed cuts and tax hikes come at a time when working people are already struggling to pay the bills in a bad economy and retirees and near-retirees wonder if they can make ends meet because pensions and 401K plans have been wiped out.

On Thursday, it got worse. The White House announced that it was willing to compromise on extending the Bush tax cuts --- something that the Republicans wanted, but Obama said previously he was against. This would allow high earners (generally those over $250,000 a year) to continue to get a tax break. According to Robert Kuttner, an economist and co-editor of the American Prospect Magazine, continuing the tax cuts for the wealthy will add $1 trillion to the deficit.

Wait a minute. I thought everyone had to sacrifice to help deal with this national problem, the huge deficit. Well, I guess not everyone. Not the Wall Street guys and the rich.

What a disgrace.

By the way, one of those Wall Street guys, Erskine Bowles, is the co-chair of Obama’s deficit panel. He gets paid $300,000 a year for being on the board of the huge investment firm, Morgan Stanley.

One suggestion that’s been floated in the past to raise more money and ease the deficit is by enacting a stock transaction tax. This would raise hundreds of billions of dollars, even with a fractional tax. Investment houses don't like the concept. For some reason, the commission didn’t broach this idea.

Another major area the commission didn’t take up was the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. According to the National Priorities Project, they have cost over $1 trillion since 2001. While the deficit panel did recommend cuts to the military --- one thing they deserve credit for --- they didn’t call for ending the wars. These wars are a huge drain on the treasury.

It seems to me that if the wars were stopped, tax breaks for the rich were ended, and a stock transaction tax was put into place, the national deficit would not be an issue.

This approach would be a lot better than whacking the poor and the middle class.

Progressives ---- and labor in particular --- should let Obama know that their support is no longer a given --- that these outrageous recommendations and the Bush tax cuts have to go, or else.

Third party anyone?

One other thing. Jane Slaughter, the fine writer with Labor Notes, reports that a group of organizations is organizing a national Call-in Day to Congress on Nov. 30. That’s the day the deficit commission will release its final recommendations to Congress, including the provision on raising the retirement age. “They’re saying ‘Owe No You Don’t’ --- the goal is to create a groundswell of outrage that will make the recommendations dead on arrival,” she writes.

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