Thursday, November 11, 2010

Co-Chair's Draft Reflects Some of AmericaSpeaks Values

One of the most creative events in which I've had the opportunity to participate was the 'technology town hall meeting', America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy.

Joining people all across the country, ordinary citizens of every political ideological stripe, took part in an effort to tackle the federal deficit, the results of which would be passed along to our leaders in Washington. This was to include and help inform the process undertaken by President's Bi-partisan Committee on the Deficit.

The results was a pretty moderate consideration on both tax increases and cuts in the budget that reflected an understanding that a solution to the economic crisis must include compromises and sacrifices. It was an exercise in democracy that our elected officials would serve as an object lesson to our elected officials.

This week a draft of the Committee's co-chair report was released and, whether one wants to argue whether or not the America Speaks results were seriously considered, some of the results of our work on that Saturday in June are similar to some of the elements in the draft.

Here's an example:

  • Defense Spending: One of the strongest messages from across the ideological spectrum at the national discussion was that defense spending needs to be seriously curtailed. We need to protect our nation and our borders, but we simply cannot afford our current global military presence. The draft proposal from the Commission’s Co-Chairs makes the same argument.
  • Health Care and Discretionary Spending: A majority of participants in the national discussion supported reductions in health care and discretionary spending (of 5% or more), but urged that our nation continue to protect those who are most vulnerable in our society. The draft proposal offers options and ideas for how this goal could be accomplished.
  • Social Security: Nearly two-thirds of the participants in the national discussion supported raising the earnings cap on Social Security to 90% in order to protect the long-term solvency of the program, which was another suggestion put forth by the Commission’s Co-Chairs. Other proposals to reform Social Security that are included in the Co-Chairs’ draft proposal, however, did not receive significant support from the public, including raising the retirement age and modifying the formula for raising benefits to reflect a lower measurement of inflation.
  • Reform of the Tax Code: Not surprisingly, many participants in the national discussion expressed frustration with an overly-complex tax code and wanted a simpler, fairer system. The Co-Chairs’ proposal makes this recommendation as well. However, the Co-Chairs’ proposal to eliminate or modify major tax expenditures in the code, like depreciation rules and mortgage deductions did not receive majority support from participants.
  • Tax Rates: Public support for reforms that would increase taxes on individuals in higher income brackets is not reflected in the Co-Chairs’ draft proposal. Read more about the results here. You can read the Co-chairs draft here.
There are, of course some other considerations. For instance what about this idea of the need for 'shared sacrifice'? Have Americans shared 'equally' in the 'prosperity' that preceded the nation's economic crisis? Not according to author Robert Creamer, "...none of the factors that caused the Federal deficit involved profligate spending by middle class Americans -- or senior citizens. In fact, during this same period the incomes of middle class Americans shrunk and those of the very wealthy continued to soar."

Perhaps the Bi-Partisan Committee on the Deficit's preliminary report may aim at the idea of sacrifice, but it does so forgetting that many of our middle class countrymen were duped into equating credit with prosperity. At the same time senior citizens and the poor never experienced prosperity at all. Now, with a proposed extension of the Bush tax-cuts, measures to balance the budget call for them to disproportionately 'share' in the costs associated with recovery.

"[Wednesday], the Co-Chairs of the Bi-Partisan Commission on the Deficit proposed a package of dramatic cuts in government expenditures and changes in the tax code that they said were meant as "shock therapy" to force attention onto the growing Federal deficit."

"The implication is that putting the Federal Deficit represents a massive, intractable crisis -- a national emergency that requires all of us to sacrifice. For many "deficit hawks" the federal deficit has morphed into an enemy that threatens the nation like a foreign army. They claim that victory in their war on the deficit requires "shared sacrifice" -- that "we" simply cannot afford to continue on the current path to fiscal perdition."

"These people have lost their memories. They seem to have forgotten what caused the deficit. And they have certainly forgotten that we know how to eliminate the deficit without making the middle class pay the bill."

"Recall that just ten years ago, at the end of the Clinton administration, the Federal budget was generating a long-term surplus. It was in the black as far as the eye could see. The big question of the day was, "what do we do with the surplus?""

Of course, whatever else this previous election was about, it is being touted as a referendum on a failure to find a two-year solution to a crisis eight years in the making. 'Would-be' and 'wanna be' millionaires-cum-billionaires, who believe that continued tax breaks for the wealthy will 'trickle down' to provide the jobs that they didn't provide during the years of 'prosperity' that we 'remember'. And a non-government solution for all of our ills that includes a government that 'acts' to provide us jobs and security.

Unfortunately, the recovery from this recession will be painful, just as the recession has been painful. We will have to build our way out of it, the same way we built our way into it. A low threshold for pain on the part of progressives and conservatives will only make it harder. And short, convenient memories and an intolerance for the debate, negotiation and compromise will make that process longer...and increase the pain.

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