Our leaders in Washington heard from the voters last month. They may need to hear from them again.
According to news reports a budget deal is coalescing around some very unattractive and unwise ideas. The deal's centerpiece is reportedly the "chained CPI," a back-door tool for gutting Social Security benefits that also raises taxes on all levels of income -- all levels, that is, except the highest.
This deal would make voters very unhappy. It reflects neither their wishes, their needs, or their values. They've already said so -- to pollsters like ours and in the voting booth on Election Day. Instead of responding, this looks like another "insider deal" -- another agreement that suggests the public's values and concerns vanish once you cross the Beltway.
The polls and election returns are easily translated into a series of messages from voters -- first to the president and his party during negotiations, then about the deal itself.
On the negotiations:
Don't overrule us with a "Loser Take All" deal.
The Republicans lost the last election -- by a landslide, in fact, in both the presidential and Senate races. They even lost the House -- by more than 1.6 million votes. Only their gerrymandering, vote suppression, and billionaire campaign cash allowed them to retain control of that body despite a popular-vote defeat.
And only their outrageous abuse of Senate rules like the filibuster has allowed them to tie up that body and prevent it from doing its work.
Republicans lost because their ideas are unpopular. But this deal would turn those ideas into policy. This undemocratic "Loser Take All" strategy will further alienate voters, while encouraging extremists in Congress to keep abusing the system.
Don't mistake threats for concessions.
Republicans have repeatedly broken with precedent -- and common decency -- by using the debt-ceiling process to hold the entire nation hostage to foist their unpopular ideas on the public.
Now Boehner has "offered" to avoid using the debt ceiling as a hostage -- but only for a year. An "offer"? That's like plea bargaining with the DA by agreeing not to break the law again... this month.
Please take another look at Boehner's 'no-hostages' offer, Mr. President: It's not a 'concession' or 'deal point.' It's a threat.
Don't reinforce right-wing myths that undermine American values.
This deal would send the wrong message: that successful programs and policies -- Social Security, Medicare, and progressive taxation -- are problems to be fixed, not solutions to be implemented and strengthened. These programs reflect our finest values: fairness, self-sufficiency, and mutual support. And they work.
A deal like this would also distract the nation from the real sources of our economic difficulties -- like wealth inequity, a shortage of good middle-class jobs, and the misdeeds of under-regulated banks and corporations.
No deal is acceptable that undermines our social contract -- our common agreement to work together and help each other -- as this one would. They've made us strong and prosperous and they must be protected.
On the deal itself:
Don't use the "chained CPI" because it makes deep cuts to Social Security.
The deal being floated uses the sneaky "chained CPI" to cut Social Security benefits -- a lot -- for current and future recipients. This supposed "correction" in calculating annual cost-of-living increases makes an already-inadequate formula even less fair to the elderly and disabled.
It's a drastic cut, too: a 3.7 percent cut for the average 75-year-old, a 6.5 percent cut for 85-year-olds, and a 9.2 percent cut for 95-year-olds.
As Rep. Keith Ellison noted in a press release, this backdoor benefit cut would result in a "$6,000 loss for retirees in the first fifteen years of retirement and adds up to a $16,000 loss over twenty-five years."
That's draconian, especially for a program that's not in immediate crisis and doesn't contribute to the deficit. And as we've written elsewhere, the "chained CPI" targets women, minorities, the very elderly, and the poor. It also his veterans and their families hard.
It's stunning that it's even being discussed.
Don't use the "chained CPI" because it raises taxes on the non-wealthy.
The deal describe in the press would also adopt the "chained CPI" across all government agencies -- including the IRS. That would raise taxes on income below $400,000 per year (under the president's reported counteroffer) by forcing all income below that amount higher tax brackets more quickly.
But it wouldn't be an increase for earnings above that amount because they've already reached the top tax bracket.
This tax increase on the middle class would hurt consumer demand and dampen economic growth. It would also be damned unfair.
Don't ask the already-beleaguered majority to pay twice as much as the coddled rich.
Boehner's initial offer would raise taxes only for income of $1,000,000 and above, which would decrease revenue by an estimated $366 billion compared to the president's proposal. That's about half his revenue -- revenue we need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and heal our wounded economy.
The president's reported counteroffer of a $400,000 top bracket suggests they're working toward a final "compromise" that only asks the wealthy to pony up $100 billion or $200 billion more. By contrast, the "chained CPI" would cut an estimated $122 billion in Social Security benefits over the same time period, while taking roughly the same amount from tax-bracket tax hikes that target the middle class.
That's a two-for-one deal: For every dollar the wealthy put up, everybody else puts in two. And they call that "compromise"?
Deal with our real health care cost problems - and leave benefits alone.
The president's counteroffer reportedly includes $400 billion in unspecified savings from health programs -- presumably Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans' health. Benefit cuts are both unacceptable and unwise. They would place yet another burden on everybody but the wealthy, and would merely shift costs from Americans' tax "pocket" to their family budget "pocket" - or leave them without needed medical care.
Our health cost problem wasn't caused by overly-generous benefits, but by runaway greed in the healthcare system.
We need to address excessive profit margins, fraud, overcharging, and overtreatment -- or as the GOP might call them, "sources of campaign funding."
Do Our Deal, Not Yours
It's naive for members of either party to think they can sign a deal which overrides the voters and defies their values without paying a steep political price. (And Democrats have more to lose on that score than Republicans.) A deal like this would also reinforce the belief that leaders of both parties are beholden to the wealthy and corporations, not the people. This looks like another "insider deal" -- another agreement that suggests the public's values and concerns vanish once you cross the Beltway.
It would send a clear message back to the American people: We're not listening.
Democrats should tell the truth: Boehner and Republicans are demanding unpopular and damaging cuts to programs most Americans want and need by holding our economy hostage for proposals that voters rejected. They've also created an artificial crisis, a ticking policy device called the "fiscal cliff" meant to instill panic so that people will accept policies that are unfair, unwise, unpopular, and unnecessary.
The president can show the nation what real leadership looks like -- by refusing to panic. He can represent voters by demanding that Congress address our real crises instead -- crises of un- and under-employment, of wage stagnation and wealth inequity, of crumbling infrastructure, increased poverty, and unaffordable education.
Read the polls and election results and the voters' message is clear: We didn't vote for this deal. We don't want it. Two words: No deal.
(You can go here to tell President Obama: No deal that cuts Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.)