For the austerity class in Washington, yesterday was high theater. The Congressional supercommittee on deficit reduction heard hours of testimony from people who served on other deficit commissions about how best to cut the government’s budget. Both Alan Simpson and Erksine Bowles, of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, testified, as did Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici, who have their own deficit reduction plan.
A morality play about the evils of national debt unfolded: the scene, as set by Domenici, was a fiscal house in disarray—“We have rats, holes in the roof and grass growing window high,” he said. Bowles—a board member at Wall Street megafirm Morgan Stanley—invoked his grandchildren and told the supercommittee not to “fail the country” by not agreeing on a major deficit reduction plan. Rivlin, who helped Representative Paul Ryan craft his Medicare privatization plan, proclaimed that “this committee can change the course of economic history for the better.”
The villains in this battle were Grover Norquist and the AARP, both of whom were repeatedly invoked as obstacles to a true deficit reduction package. Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson said Republicans should feel free to raise revenue, even if it caused Norquist to “have a stroke over in his shop.” He also blasted AARP for a television campaign to protect Medicare from supercommittee cuts. He called the advertisements “really ugly” and “the most disgusting ad I’ve ever seen.” (The ad can be seen here; it features a friendly senior citizen asking not to have his benefits reduced.)
No actual specifics were hashed out by supercommittee members—that’s being done behind closed doors, and as we noted last week, the left side of the supercommittee has already proposed a package that’s well to the right of the Bowles-Simpson proposal. Needless to say, the Republican proposal is even worse.
But other developments outside the hearing room yesterday have serious import—and should cause serious concern among progressives.
Reuters reported on the existence of a super-supercommittee—six members of the twelve-member supercommittee are negotiating a compromise amongst themselves. The Democratic members are Representative Chris van Hollen, and Senators Max Baucus and John Kerry.
That means Representatives Xavier Becerra and James Clyburn—the only true progressives on the committee—have been excluded from the negotiations. Becerra is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Clyburn has already reportedly opposed the Medicare cuts being discussed and spent most of his time at the hearing yesterday addressing income inequality, using charts that showed explosive growth in post-tax income for the top 1 percent.
But they apparently no longer have a seat at the table with their fellow Democrats. The only other Democrat to be excluded was Senator Patty Murray—and that’s logical because, as a co-chair of the committee, she can’t really be part of the subgroup. (The Republican co-chair, Representative Jeb Hensarling, was left out of the Republican side as well).
Last week, Democrats proposed a package that features deep cuts to both Medicare and Social Security, and now they have sidelined progressive members who might oppose it. I’m not sure there will be a deal—Republicans are still not budging on raising taxes—but Democrats are trying awful hard to make a bad one.