Friday night on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill had on Rachel Maddow as a guest panelist, and they discussed the budgets currently being offered by both parties in Congress. As to be expected, they found Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's budget laughable, offering up the same old silliness that was presented by Ryan and Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign. Talk about hanging on to an old sock like a pit bull, when it should be disregarded.
This time, however, the "Ryan Budget" is even more extreme. Ryan's proposal puts 2 million Americans out of work in 2014 and gives $7 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. It goes after Medicare and Social Security again, raising the eligibility age and passing on more costs to recipients, as Medicare would be "voucher-ized" and Social Security benefits reduced, with the ultimate goal of privatizing it. It would also cut health care benefits and Medicaid for 30 million Americans, according to the SEIU. Of course, the people's champion, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, sees through this sham, noting, among other things, that Social Security has a surplus of $2.6 trillion and can pay full benefits for the next 27 years. It is clear that the GOP's motive is to turn retirement benefits over to Wall Street, to ensure massive profits for the Banksters.
Some closing of loopholes are also included in Ryan's proposal, but there is also continued intransigence on the issue of not raising taxes on the wealthy; indeed he proposes more tax cuts for them. Why the Obama administration has allowed a faltering GOP in search of an identity and relevance to dictate the terms and language of this debate remains a wonder. Austerity is clearly a path to the bottom, and the Republicans maintaining their irrational grip on giving the rich a free ride while cutting those so-called "entitlements" for the rest of us -- which are actually earned benefits we all pay into during our working careers to receive upon retirement -- should discredit their proposals entirely.
From the get-go, Social Security should not have been included in these negotiations, as it does not contribute to the deficit. Yet there was George Will on This Week with George Stephanopoulos this past Sunday, declaring once again that Social Security and Medicare are bankrupting the country. He knows full well what a load of B.S. that is. Meanwhile, there was no mention from him of his party's enormous contribution to the deficit through the wars they mired us in, the Bush tax cuts they saddled us with, and the boondoggle of Medicare Part D that they dumped on us, a plan that does not even negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma. The Dems' language and efforts on the budget must be about creating jobs and building the economy, both of which will require investment on a national scale. We already have plenty of evidence from Europe of what Republican-style austerity measures would create for us: high unemployment and financial instability.
Last week at CPAC, Sen. Rand Paul referred to his party as the "...party of old that has grown stale and moss covered." Former governor of Florida Jeb Bush talked about Republicans as the party of "no." A 98-page document released at CPAC that was highly introspective and critical of the GOP and its identity problem. Even Reince Priebus, chairman of the RNC, said on Sunday that he would contribute $10 million to expand the GOP's reach in Latino and Asian communities, mentioning that President Obama's team has worked for years in those communities to build and expand his base.
The GOP seems to finally understand that they cannot continue to be identified as a country club of old white men that excludes women and minorities. Of course, their troubles run deeper than that. It is their extreme vision of what they think our country should be -- with a weak government and a free ride to corporations and the rich at the expense of the rest of us -- that has suddenly put them at odds with the electorate, which is made up of primarily hard-working and struggling Americans. The Republicans' disarray and confusion is an opportunity for Progressives to continue expanding their influence and building their message -- an opportunity that they cannot afford to pass up.
Stepping up boldly to this challenge is the Congressional Progressive Caucus, with its serious, substantive and thoughtful "Back To Work" budget, which was developed with input from Progressive Democrats of America. Among the sensible proposals offered in this budget are: incentives that would create 7 million jobs; much-needed fairness in individual and corporate tax policies, including a "Robin Hood" tax on Wall Street; a reduction in military spending; improvements to healthcare delivery and efficiency, including a Public Option, negotiation of drug prices, and a hold on cutting Medicare fees to doctors for ten years; increased protections for the environment, such as a carbon tax and ending subsidies to Big Oil and other fossil fuel companies; protections for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, including safeguards to protect Social Security for 75 years; extensions of tax cuts for the middle class, families and students; and closing loopholes that reward the outsourcing of jobs overseas, so that investments can be made in modernizing and rebuilding our infrastructure, improving education for our children and building a "green revolution" economy for our country. What's not to like? By the way, the "Back To Work" budget also eliminates the deficit in 10 years and creates a surplus of $31 billion -- and not on the backs of working people, Mr. Ryan.
Numerous economists have already weighed in on the failure of traveling a road to austerity through budget cuts. Paul Krugman, Robert Reich and Dean Baker have all voiced support for the "back-to-work Budget." The endless song from the right wing of "no new taxes" for the rich and a short shrift on programs for the rest of us makes no sense. Our safety nets are a shining example to the rest of the world of what a caring nation does for its citizens. Why else would government exist? This is what makes America great, and in the blink of an eye, the extreme right wing of the GOP would end it.
The Obama administration has already cut $1.5 trillion in the past few years, according to Chris Van Hollen on Sunday on Meet The Press, with $900 billion more in cuts proposed for 2013. Yet our economy continues to lag, with unemployment and underemployment still too high. According to Bernie Sanders, the real unemployment rate is 16 percent, especially impacting blue-collar workers. The right wing, on the other hand, believes that if you cut spending while not raising taxes on the rich, this will somehow miraculously create jobs. They are flat wrong. More austerity is the last thing we need to re-ignite our economy.
Perhaps it is time for Arithmetic 101 to be taught across the aisle by that tutorial expert, Bill Clinton.
- with Jonathan Stone