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Behind The Austerity Class That Rules Washington

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AUSTERITY CLASS WASHINGTON
Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) (L) and former White House Chief of Staff under the Clinton Administration Erskine Bowles (R), both co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, speak to the media during a news conference at the National Press Club September 12, 2011 in Washington, DC. Simpson and Bowles call on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the Super Committee, to'go big and develop a large-scale debt reduction package sufficient to | Getty Images

In September the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a bipartisan deficit-hawk group based at the New America Foundation, held a high-profile symposium urging the Congressional "supercommittee" to "go big" and approve a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan over the next decade, which is well beyond its $1.2 trillion mandate. The hearing began with an alarming video of top policy-makers describing the national debt as "the most serious threat that this country has ever had" (Alan Simpson) and "a threat to the whole idea of self-government" (Mitch Daniels). If the debt continues to rise, predicted former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, there would be "strikes, riots, who knows what?" A looming fiscal crisis was portrayed as being just around the corner.

The event spotlighted a central paradox in American politics over the past two years: how, in the midst of a massive unemployment crisis--when it's painfully obvious that not enough jobs are being created and the public overwhelmingly wants policy-makers to focus on creating them--did the deficit emerge as the most pressing issue in the country? And why, when the global evidence clearly indicates that austerity measures will raise unemployment and hinder, not accelerate, growth, do advocates of austerity retain such distinction today?

Read the whole story at The Nation

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