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Democrats Refuse to Buckle to GOP Demands for Huge Cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

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SUPER COMMITTEE DEADLINE DEFICIT REDUCTION
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Inside-the-beltway pundits have already begun to decry the so-called "failure" of the super committee to hammer out an agreement that would have almost certainly resulted in huge cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits for ordinary Americans.

Those ordinary Americans should applaud the Democrats' refusal to buckle to Republican demands for Draconian cuts in these critical middle class programs.

In addition, Democrats insisted that Congress' top priority at this moment should be creating jobs, and that the only fair way to bring down future deficits is to end tax breaks for the wealthy and, once again, require that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share.

Of course it should come as no surprise that Republican negotiators were completely unwilling to allow meaningful increases in the share of taxes paid by millionaires and billionaires -- whose slice of the overall economic pie has exploded over the last three decades. They were unwilling to increase top tax rates to the Clinton-era levels of 39.6% -- much less the 50% marginal tax rate millionaires paid during first administration of that well-known "socialist" Ronald Regan.

After all, the Republicans have one central mission -- to act as guard dogs for incomes of the one percent. Enhancing the wealth of the wealthiest Americans is in fact the core goal of current leadership of the Republican Party. They are willing to battle through hell and back to defend the riches of the Koch brothers of the world.

Never mind that two-thirds of Americans believe that taxing millionaires is the best way to reduce the federal deficit. Never mind that 70% say they oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare to cut the deficit.

In fact, most Americans are down right militant about not cutting Social Security, Medicare to reduce the deficit.

In a recent poll by the Republican polling firm, American Viewpoint, and the Democratic firm, Lake Research Partners, 49% -- including 42% of Republicans -- said they would be more likely to vote Members of Congress who voted against cutting Social Security and Medicare as part of a Super Committee proposal (18% were less likely).

And 54% said they would be less likely to vote for a Member of Congress who supported cutting Social Security and Medicare as part of a budget deal (14% more likely) -- including 65% of independents and 42% of Republicans.

According to a recent memo by Anzalone Research, a poll by Pulse Opinion Research, on behalf of The Hill newspaper, finds:

... a greater than 4:1 margin who believes the middle class is shrinking (67%) as opposed to growing (14%). They also find a majority of Americans (55%) identify "income inequality in the U.S." as a "major problem", with another 19% declaring it "somewhat of a problem."

... an ABC/Washington Post Poll shows 60% of Americans want the "federal government to pursue policies to reduce the gap between the wealthy and less well-off Americans", compared to 35% who believe the government should not pursue such policies.

And it's no wonder.

Four hundred families control as much wealth today as 150 million of their fellow Americans -- roughly half of the population.

In fact, the top one percent, control as much wealth as the bottom 90%. That's not democracy.

And when it comes to income, Anzalone's memo notes that:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans reached a record high last year. The Gini measure is a statistical measure of income inequality and the Census Bureau also finds it reaching record levels...

By rejecting the Republican proposals in the Super Committee, Democrats were simply expressing the views -- and standing up for the interests -- of the vast majority of Americans.

What's more, they were standing up for the future of the American middle class.

Long-term, widely shared prosperity requires that the incomes of everyday people increase in proportion to their increasing productivity. If it doesn't, they simply won't have the money to buy the increased number of goods and services that they themselves have the ability to produce. That is the formula for economic stagnation and the end of the American dream.

The inability of the super committee to reach an agreement is not a reflection on the "intransigence" of both sides and "unwillingness" to compromise. The far right that now dominates the Republican Party insists on positions that fall far outside of mainstream views of everyday American voters. They want changes in the American social contract that will destroy the middle class.

They are intent on continuing the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the top 1%. They demand the elimination of Medicare and want to substitute a publicly funded private insurance program in its place that will raise average out of pocket costs for retirees by $6,000 a year. They want major cuts in Social Security benefits. They want to "reform" the tax code so it would permanently lock in the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and go even further to lower tax rates for the 1%.

These are not issues that should be subject to "compromise" -- in a democracy they should be the subject of elections.

What's next for the battle over the role of government?

The Republicans will no doubt rush to eliminate the provision of their own deal to raise the debt ceiling, that required the Defense Department to absorb 50% of the $1.2 trillion automatic "sequestration" of spending that begins in January 2013. That provision was supposed to force them to compromise on their inflexible opposition against more government revenue -- but it didn't work. Now they want to change the rules.

But that isn't going to happen. The president has indicated, in no uncertain terms, that he will veto any attempt to eliminate the Defense Department from the sequestration trigger.

That doesn't mean that sometime during the next 13 months there won't be a deal that modifies the sequestration requirement. But to be viable any deal will have to be balanced, and pass through the regular order of the Congress -- not on some Congressional "fast track" procedure that gives the upper hand to Republicans.

The right wing chose to use the debt ceiling as the leverage to force the round of deficit wars that will conclude when the mandate of the Super Committee expires. That battleground gave them a huge tactical advantage.

Progressives' best hope for a long-term budget deal that reflects our values is to insist that the next battle take place as the Bush Tax Cuts are scheduled to expire in the lame duck session following the November elections. That will be the moment when we have the greatest leverage to drive the best bargain for ordinary Americans.

In addition, I believe that the outcome of the elections themselves will completely change the political dialogue in America. The relative importance of jobs programs, the importance of assuring that millionaires pay their fair share, and the importance of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- will all be litigated in the next election. Progressives have the high political ground on every one.

In the meantime, Congress must refocus its full attention on the real crisis facing our country -- the need to create jobs, put Americans back to work and defend the middle class.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

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