Today the fight over the federal budget deficit moves into higher gear. Officially, technically, legally, and as a matter of federal accounting, the federal government has reached the limit of its capacity to borrow money.
Most Americans have no idea what the debt ceiling is but it sounds like it shouldn’t be breached. Only 27 percent support raising it. When talking heads jabber about the debt ceiling, millions of eyes glaze over. TV channels are switched.
It should be a yawn. It’s a technical adjustment that used to be – and still should – be made automatically. Democrats should never have agreed to linking it to an agreement on the long-term budget deficit.
But now that it’s in play, there’s no end to what the radical right can demand. John Boehner is already using the classic “they’re making me” move, seemingly helpless in the face of Tea Party storm troopers who refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless they get their way. Their way is reactionary and regressive – eviscerating Medicare, cutting Medicaid and programs for the poor, slashing education and infrastructure, and at the same time reducing taxes on the rich.
If the only issue was cutting the federal deficit by four or five trillion dollars over the next ten years, they wouldn’t have to cave at all. The goal can be achieved by doing exactly the opposite of what radical Republicans are demanding – keeping everything Americans truly depend on, but cutting unnecessary military expenditures, ending corporate welfare, increasing spending on education and infrastructure, and raising taxes on the rich.
I commend to you the “People’s Budget,” a detailed plan for doing exactly this – while reducing the long-term budget deficit more than either the Republican’s or the President’s plan does.
When I read through the People’s Budget my first thought was how modest and reasonable it is. It was produced by the House Progressive Caucus but could easily have been generated by Washington centrists – forty years ago.
But of course the coming battle isn’t really over whether to cut the long-term deficit by trillions of dollars. It’s over whether to shrink the government we depend on, and give corporations and the super-rich even more tax benefits they don’t need.
The main reason the “center” has moved so far to the right – and continues to move rightward – is radical conservatives have repeatedly grabbed the agenda and threatened havoc if they don’t get their way. How much will the President and congressional Democrats cave in to their extortion? When even Nancy Pelosi says “everything is on the table” you’ve got to worry.
We can fortify the President and congressional Democrats and prevent them from moving even further right by doing exactly what the Tea Partiers are doing — but in reverse.
The message from the “People’s Party” should be unconditional: No cuts in Medicare and Medicaid or Social Security. More spending on education and infrastructure. Pay for it and reduce the long-term budget deficit by reducing military spending and raising taxes on the rich. The People’s Budget is the template.
But what can the People’s Party threaten if our representatives give way? This is the heart of our dilemma. Are we prepared to say no to raising the debt ceiling? Are we ready to mount primary challenges to incumbent Democrats who cave in?