Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., left, confers with fellow supercommittee panelist Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., right, as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction holds a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Congress has achieved the remarkable feat of making itself less popular than Wall Street bankers. The way they’re heading, the legislators are going to lose the remaining 9 percent of the public who approve of the job they’re doing.
The economy is in serious trouble. There are 25 million people in need of full-time work, wages are declining and one in four mortgages is underwater. People want Congress to focus on jobs and the economy. So how is it that after a few weeks of inching toward talk about unemployment, Congress has turned its attention back to austerity measures guaranteed to destroy jobs, not create them?
We’re approaching the deadline of the supercommittee, the despicable offspring of last summer’s debt-ceiling deal, in which a “gang of twelve” legislators was given extraordinary powers to meet in secret and decide the economic fate of the nation—a terrible precedent for our democracy. It must forge a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion by Thanksgiving, and if nothing is passed by Christmas, deep cuts in discretionary spending begin automatically in 2013.
In a foolish concession to GOP extremism, the majority of Democrats on the supercommittee suggested $3 trillion in deficit reduction, with the ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes at a regressive six to one. A large chunk of those cuts would come from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. These Democrats have thus given up on the core legacy of their party—and a core obligation of the nation. Even so, House Speaker John Boehner scorned their pre-emptive concessions while supercommittee Republicans suggested even harsher measures that would fall most heavily on the neediest.
This leaves Congress offering a choice between the ruinous and the rapacious. No wonder Americans despair. The vast majority want our safety-net programs protected, not cut. They want taxes raised on the wealthy, corporations and Wall Street. They want the wars ended, the troops brought home and the money saved to be devoted to rebuilding America.
The best thing the supercommittee could do would be to disband, forcing Congress to reconsider the disastrous debt-ceiling deal and make its decisions the old-fashioned way—in open, democratic debate. Failing that, it should hold to one common-sense principle: jobs first. And it should go well beyond what’s on the table: extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance. It should call for a dramatic initiative to rebuild America’s decrepit infrastructure, a national manufacturing strategy that would end the offshoring of jobs, aid to hard-hit states and localities, debt relief for struggling homeowners and a government-funded public service employment initiative.
The Republican position that we can’t raise taxes on “job creators” is a cover for sending the bill to the vulnerable, the elderly and working families. But the “reasonable” Democratic position doesn’t make sense either. How can there be “shared sacrifice” in cleaning up the mess when most Americans have been sacrificing all along, while the wealthiest Americans had the party and created the mess?
Occupy Wall Street has captured the nation’s attention; protesters in Washington are holding a hearing for the 99 percent that will examine how to create a fair economy for all Americans. Congress, however, seems oblivious. No wonder it has lost almost all public support. Who is prepared to make Wall Street and the wealthy pay? It isn’t just the demonstrators who will be looking for the answer.