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Bruce Hartford

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Don't Fall for the Phony "Fiscal Cliff"

Posted: 11/14/2012 5:45 pm

The hype and hysteria about the "fiscal cliff" has just begun and soon we'll see a full-blown media tsunami of lies, distortions, and intimidation aimed at browbeating the White House, Congress, and the public into surrendering to Republican demands. Don't fall for it.

The so-called "fiscal cliff" refers to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts (primarily benefiting the 0.1 percent) and mandatory spending cuts half from defense/security and half from social programs. The deceptive term "fiscal cliff" was coined by Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, but most economists agree that "fiscal slope" would be more accurate because the effects will take hold slowly over time -- time in which new corrective legislation can be passed.

The "fiscal cliff" doomsday predictions of recession and economic disaster are in service to the Republican strategy of, as Paul Krugman put it, "[using] economic blackmail to achieve a goal they lack the votes to achieve through the normal legislative process." When schoolyard bullies demand your lunch money, you have to fight even if you're going to get hurt because appeasing bullies just encourages more extortion. The same is true for Republican blackmail.

Those hyping the "fiscal cliff" say the tax increases will hit the middle class hard -- more than $2,000 for someone earning $50,000 to $75,000 a year, for example. But a third of that amount is from expiration of the temporary payroll tax reduction that Obama put in place to limit the damage of Bush's economic collapse. Both Democrats and Republicans agree it now has to return to its regular rate in order to keep Social Security solvent -- it was never part of the budget or the debt-ceiling deal, and it's going to go up no matter what.

For the other middle-class tax hikes, the solution is to stand up to the bullies and fight. Let the Bush tax cuts expire and then introduce legislation to restore the middle-class tax reductions and raise taxes on the wealthy. Mobilize public opinion and politically slug it out with the Republicans.

Let the automatic spending cuts take effect. Half of them come from defense. The U.S. spends almost as much money on its military as all other nations in the world combined. Roughly 54 percent of the federal budget goes for past, present, and future wars. Why do we spend so much? Canada is not arming for an invasion. Mexico is not massing troops on our border. There is not a nation on the planet who poses any credible military threat to America. Yes, terrorists have attacked us and will probably do so again, but the bulk of our military budget goes for "big-ticket" items like aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines, stealth bombers and supersonic fighters, battle tanks and nuclear missiles. Those kinds of expensive weapon systems are hugely profitable for the defense industry, but they are ill-suited to combating terrorists who conceal themselves within a civilian population. So, it's time to cut military spending and refocus our defense budget on the threats that actually exist.

Yes, the cuts to social spending will hurt, and they'll hurt those least able to defend themselves. But appeasing bullies just leads to more bullying, more extortion, more robbing the poor to reward the rich. So it's time to stand and fight even if it means taking some hits. Fight to restore the social safety net. Fight to restore the gains of the New Deal that our parents and grandparents struggled so hard for. And if we're going to finally confront the Republicans, let's also call them out on their covert racism and misogyny, their overt homophobia, and their cynical immigrant-bashing.

So, yes, I for one stand with Van Jones when he wrote:

"Washington calls this the 'fiscal cliff.' Don't buy it! They're trying to scare us into a 'grand bargain' that cuts the pillars of the middle class but helps big banks. This isn't a cliff, it's a showdown between two ideas for America's future. If we don't keep fighting, any 'grand bargain' will look more like a 'grand swindle' that cuts Medicare, Social Security, education, and pretty much everything that helps guarantee the American Dream."
 

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