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Playing Doomsday Politics

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No one was elected to Congress because he or she promised to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

But now some members of Congress, mostly Republicans, are demanding what America rejected: cuts to Social Security and Medicare and tax breaks for a few of the richest Americans.

This is an enormously unpopular proposal. But Republicans are hoping the budget crisis they manufactured will send the country into a panic.

This style of doomsday politics already got us in real trouble last year. That's when Republicans refused to compromise with the White House to raise the debt ceiling. Markets reeled and the U.S. credit rating was lowered.

Until recently, Republicans have given us little more than posturing and fear-mongering. Apparently, they need to be reminded of just who won the election. Democrats won the Senate, the presidency and even got 93,000 more votes for House seats (gerrymandering that put Republicans in the congressional majority).

Now the time for serious negotiations is here, and the Republican leadership is proposing cuts to Social Security, increasing Medicare eligibility to 67 and cuts to schools, roads and bridges -- all to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. This is not what Americans voted for and it's not what the polls show they want.

I'd like to remind Congress that President Obama won the election by running on a rational tax plan of making the wealthy pay their fair share. Now he's doing what he said he would.

Obama has rightly taken off the table any cuts to Social Security. He insists the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy return to Clinton-era levels. He drew a line in the sand to further deep cuts to the federal deficit until the economy is stronger. He demands that middle class Americans keep their tax breaks. In the interest of bipartisan agreement, he proposed modest cuts to Medicare that don't shift the cost to beneficiaries. And he has even proposed $50 billion in new public investment.

If Republicans were serious about negotiating, they'd acknowledge that domestic spending was already cut by $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Taxes on the very richest Americans are already at a postwar low. The deficit is shrinking at the fastest rate since World War II. Meanwhile, Wall Street is raking in record profits, on track to double last year's total.

Yet, where are the jobs? Where is the prosperity for all Americans, not just the multimillionaires and billionaires? As my friend economist Robert Kuttner recently wrote, Republican leaders are fully prepared to drive our economy off the cliff to protect those ill-advised Bush tax cuts for the richest of the rich.

Big business has cried "wolf" a few too many times for most people to take seriously their Armageddon predictions over raising taxes on a few who can actually afford it.

After a grueling election, Americans now simply want their elected leaders to solve real problems, not to cut the retirement and health benefits they work all their lives to earn.

Those real problems do not include tax breaks for the super wealthy.