[edited to correct typos]
There is concerted effort to portray Social Security as ruining the country by being a significant cause of the current deficit , and this is not accidental. Social Security has been funded by payroll taxes that are supposed to be dedicated to the payouts. But the GOP since Reagan has worked to cut income taxes and increase military funding (especially with the Bush "pre-emptive" wars of choice that Stiglitz now says will cost us a minimum of FIVE TRILLION), and has borrowed from those Social Security pension funds to pay for those tax cuts and military excesses. It's the tax cuts and runaway military spending that are choking this country's economy, not Social Security. That fact gets lost unless Social Security's income and outflows are portrayed fully. It's a fact that the GOP wants to be lost, I think, along with the overall amount of military and related spending in our budget.
The cost of treating Social Security as part of the deficit is that workers who have been locked out of sharing in productivity gains will pay, while the benefits have gone especially to the upper class that owns most of the financial assets and most of the military-industrial complex.
The deficit hype appears to be a concerted effort, in other words, to destroy the programs that were created in reaction to the colossal inequities that were contributory causes of the Great Depression and were intended to safeguard the broad-based society that is essential to democracy, one where growth is shared and everyone has opportunities. I just found that Robert Reich has similar thoughts, noting that this is a divide-and-conquer strategy built on three kingpins: the battle over the budget, the assault on public employees, and the distortion of the Constitution. See The Real Republican Strategy, Salon. What the GOP aims to do, I suppose, is to weaken the 90% who aren't in the race to be the richest plutocrats of the country, and make sure that they secure the spoils for those at the top.
It would seem that the GOP is using this moment to
- Get rid of programs that have advanced gender equality.
- See Rebecca Traister, This is what pro-life means?, Salon.com, Feb. 18, 2011, noting that "Morality is on the side of women, on the side of children, on the side of a society that offers aid to its impoverished and to its young and does not discriminate against half its population. In Moore's words, 'Planned Parenthood is healthy for women, it’s healthy for children, and it’s healthy for our society.' " The post includes a video of Rep. Jackie Speier's impassioned response to the lack of understanding about abortions.
- See, e.g., Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP's War on Women, MoveOn's political action group, noting the attempt by various state and federal Republican groups to reduce access to abortions and redefine victims of rape (but not of other crimes like burglary) as mere "accusers"; expand legitimate "defense" to permit killing abortionists; cut funding for food and other assistance to low-income pregnant women and families; allow hospitals to refuse abortions necessary to save a woman's life; eliminate preschool programs for poor kids at state levels and Head Start at the federal level; cut funding for services for the elderly poor (most of whom are women); cut all funding for Planned Parenthood; cut all funding for family planning.
- Get rid of public employee unions (and reneg on pension promises made years ago at the same time). The mainstream media has lapped this up like the lapdogs they are. See, e.g., Wall Street Journal, New York Times stories.
- Gov. Walker in Wisconsin--the state where there is a pitched rhetorical battle to get rid of public employee unions and defund public pensions--did not inherit a budget shortfall. Like at the national level, GOP policies are driving the attack on public employee more than the actual deficits involved--especially since those shortfalls at states are related to the toll of the Great Recession and to states' long-term habits of borrowing from Peter (their own employees' pension funds) to pay Paul (e.g., their other creditors or even their wealthiest taxpayers who were spared taxes by the borrowing). See, for example, Mark Thoma at Economist's View on the spreading use of recession-induced budget gaps to target unions. Gov. Walker has pushed the "tax cuts create jobs" idea, signing various business tax cuts into law. See Walker Gins Up Crisis to Reward Cronies, The Cap Times, Feb. 16, 2011; Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, annual review of the State's Fiscal Status (Jan 2010) ( even with the recession and various changes that caused the state to have less revenues, projecting a surplus of more than $55 million at the end of the 2009-2011 biennium which, though below the statutory surplus of $65 million required, means that the state was still doing well); Walker Signs 2 More Business Incentive Bills, Journal Sentinel, Jan. 31, 2011. Exacerbating the future shortfall created by the tax cuts, the state has about $260 million of unfunded obligations-- from taking $200 million out of a dedicated fund for general fund purposes and from an unpaid obligation to Minnesota under a tax reciprocity agreement (an obligation that is earning interest at more than $4000 a day). So the public employees aren't the cause of the state's problems.
- This is particularly worrisome for higher education. See Inside Higher Education story on impact on Wisconsin academics. These attempts to hit public employees generally start with some of the studies that suggest that public employees have better benefits than private employees. As noted in earlier posts, that is debatable. Commensurability is a problem, since many state and federal government jobs require higher education and experience levels. Wages are negotiated in exchange for better long-term benefits, which the states are now talking about reneging on. It's as though the private industry owners wrote the following script based on this "time to get even" rationale.
for years, we have underpaid our workers while keeping all the productivity gains for ourselves and paying ourselves knock-out pension and health benefits.
We've made sure that workers couldn't unionize, by spending lobbying dollars to fight fair systems (like card-check) and using all the powers of the employer to intimidate workers (see, e.g., Wal-Mart's long history of unfair labor practices).
Now it is clear that unions do benefit workers--just look at the fact that public employees have decent wages and benefits because they are able to bargain collectively with a decent employer that doesn't use these methods to squelch workers.
We've got to stop that--let's paint a picture of underpaid private workers who have very little in benefits, in order to incite jealousy of public workers.
Then we can use the deficit that we created by evading taxes, lobbying for tax cuts, and charging ridiciulous amounts for contracts through the military-industrial-banking complex to justify taking away both the benefits that public employees long ago gave up wages to receive and the collective bargaining rights that allowed them to get decent wages and benefits.
After all, the alternative would be for workers in our industries to realize that they've been cheated by not sharing in productivity and not being permitted to unionize.
We can't have that--they might get some share of the wealth that has been increasingly accruing to us.
And we deserve all that wealth, because we've run our companies so well by making sure that they can't unionize and that workers understand that they, not us, are expendable.
- Hamstring or get rid of the EPA --The script here sounds very familiar.
We can't have the EPA regulating carbon dioxide. That would cut back on our profits. So what if we are contributing the the rapidly accelerating global warming debacle. We just can't have environmental safeguards preventing us from making a killing (in more than one way) with oil and ore. If we want to use highly toxic chemicals in fracturing rock to extract gas, we should be able to do it. That's the free market we believe in. Free for us, risky for those who have to clean up after us (remember the Great Recession and TARP--same thing).
- Get rid of public broadcasting. Public Broadcasting has provided a voice for diverse perspectives in local communities that otherwise are completely left out of commercial media for lack of the funding to buy a way in. But that voice is not necessarily monotonal--it often has religious or conservative perspectives, but it also permits liberal or atheistic perspectives. So call up the script again, which in this case might go something like this:
hey, we've allowed media companies to consolidate so that most are owned by a very few media conglomerates (Rupert Murdoch, SONY, Sinclair, etc.). That's great for us, because it permits us to control the way things are cast. Look at how Murdoch has made even the conservative Wall Street Journal a right-wing rag on our side--not just the op-ed pages anymore, but the way the stories are chosen and cast. PBS, on the other hand, stillmanages to show some leftie stuff--even with the fear we've put into them with Ken Tomlinson and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's requirement of balance. (We know that there isn't always a right-wing side that's worth covering, but no matter--they MUST adopt the Fox News view of "fair and balanced" or funding will cease. Better still, let's just cease the funding anyway. Bill Moyers and his ilk is a threat to every multinational corporation that is attempting to protect its hordes of cash from the US treasury by offshoring jobs and offshoring all intangible rights.
Gail Collins notes the same mentality when she discusses the way Congress "saved" the Defense Department's budget to sponsor Nascar racers. Sacred Cows, Angry Birds, New York Times, Feb 19, 2011. Yes, that's right--Defense wanted to torpedo the funding, but Congress found it was too important to woo Nascar fans to the military-industrial complex way of thinking. They refused to cut it.
The newly ascendant Republicans have been howling that the deficit is so big, so threatening, that no target for cutting is sacred. "Everything is on the table. We're broke," said Boehner.
But the table is mainly crowded with stuff the Republicans didn't like to begin with. Family-planning money and environmental protection, but not oil tax breaks or Nascar sponsorships. "Sesame Street" is fair game, ut the Dayton 500 is untouchable.