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There is a great deal of angst and worry among progressives about what is going to happen in two months, when the Republicans will once again try to hold the economy hostage so they can cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and everything else in the federal budget that helps low- and middle-income folks. It is of course a bad situation when you have one branch of the government eager to blow up the economy to do bad things that more than 80 percent of Americans oppose, but we need to spend a lot less time worrying and a lot more time organizing.
We can beat these guys, and beat them badly, if we have a focused and aggressive strategy.
There are four things progressives should do right now. The first relates to the President. I understand the disappointment we're feeling about his kicking the can down the road another two months, and the leverage lost on the revenue side. And I was very critical of the President’s willingness to swap cuts in Social Security benefits for a deal in this last go-around, and will fight him with every ounce of energy if he proposes any such thing again. But right now is the worst possible time to be raising doubts about this President’s willingness to hang tough in a negotiation as some of my friends in the progressive movement are doing.
The Republicans need to know that the President is deadly serious when he says he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, and that the entire progressive movement and Democratic party have his back on this. No negotiation whatsoever. Period and end of sentence.
In the 2011 situation and in the fiscal cliff drama, the President made clear from the first that he was ready, willing, and eager to negotiate, and negotiate he did. But Obama knows that we can’t keep running from one ridiculous self-made crisis to the next, so he has drawn a line in the sand, and progressives need to back him to the hilt. Let’s take him at his word, and expect that he will deliver: no negotiation over whether government will pay the bills it has already incurred. To send the economy into a massive panic, to put the good faith and credit of our country at risk, so that Republicans can cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and education is not acceptable to the American people, and the Republicans will quickly figure that out.
I've been very tough on the President at times over the last four years, and I’m sure I will have some choice words for him at some point down the line, but I admire the fact that he has essentially put his manhood on the line on this issue. If he backs down and starts negotiating, he will look terrible, be seen as very weak, and he knows it. He knows he can’t afford to blink, and progressives should back him 100%: no negotiation whatsoever on the debt ceiling.
Speaking of lines in the sand, the second thing progressives need to do is to mount an all-out, serious, no-holds-barred campaign around no more cuts to those things in the budget that help the bottom 98%. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits should all be off the table. Education, student loans, Head Start, health care, the SNAP and WIC programs have to be as well. Low and middle income Americans have lost jobs, had their wages frozen or decline, had the cost of basic necessities like groceries and health care and gas prices skyrocket, had their homes drop badly in value, and have taken round after round of devastating cuts in government programs that directly help them. It is neither morally nor economically right that they would be the ones who get hurt by budget cuts. And cuts to these programs are generally quite unpopular, in some cases by percentages of more than 80% against. If politicians feel the need to cut government spending, there are plenty of bloated military contracts and subsidies to agribusiness and oil companies, but don’t you dare touch the things that help middle- and low-income folks.
This needs to be a serious campaign, like the campaign against Social Security privatization in 2005, or the campaign HCAN organized on health care reform. We need to build a firestorm that walls off these programs from more cuts, that makes that idea fundamentally unacceptable and politically explosive. And we need to tell the leaders of both parties: we will fight you with everything we’ve got if you don’t keep your hands off the things that matter the most to us.
Third, in every forum we have, we need to keep resolutely bringing this back to jobs. We should keep asking the questions: How, exactly, does threatening to stop paying our bills create jobs? How does cutting Social Security create jobs? Why are politicians obsessed with cuts for middle class programs instead of creating new jobs? What we need, as many of my friends in the blogosphere keep saying, are jobs, not cuts. In fact, as Bill Clinton proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best way to cut the deficit and create a surplus is to create lots of decent paying jobs. So every single time some right-wing blowhard is talking about cuts, ask them exactly how that cut creates a job, and remind people that 60 percent of the deficit right now is due to the lack of jobs in the economy.
Finally, we need to be very clear: we are not done extracting tax revenue from big corporations and the top two percent. There are hundreds of billions of dollars in big corporate loopholes we need to close; we should have a financial transactions tax on speculative Wall Street trading and a carbon tax to help do something about global warming; and yes, we can still raise more from individual rates and the inheritance tax.
After all, the Republicans keep going back and raising the same old bad ideas over and over again, we can certainly revisit the good ideas.
Progressives need to stop worrying about what deals might be cut, and start organizing to make it impossible to cut the bad deals we are afraid of. The President has laid out in the clearest possible way that he won’t negotiate with these economic hostage takers, and we should make clear we have his back. We have to make clear to every politician and every pundit: we need jobs, not cuts to the things the bottom 98 percent most rely on, and we need more tax revenue from big business and the top two percent.