February 25, 2013

From KC Labor: The Bi-Partisan Sequester Brings the Circus With No Bread

Stupid Is....
Mike Hall exclaims on the AFL-CIO Blog,

“[House Speaker] Boehner’s sequester could cost more than 750,000 private- and public-sector workers their jobs this year alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).”

Erskine Bowles, President Clinton’s Chief-of-Staff, and co-chair of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission, characterized the coming “sequestration” slashing across all government programs great and small as “stupid, stupid, stupid!” It’s an assertion that can’t be refuted. It ranks right up there with Lunch Box Joe Biden’s advice to nervous women home alone to start blasting away with a shotgun in the vicinity of unseen suspected prowlers.

But Washington Post veteran Bob Woodward, who has been exposing White House deceit since the days of Watergate, reminds us the sequester deal originated with the current administration--to get an interim deal, the Budget Control Act of 2011. Woodward has a lot of documentation compiled while producing his book The Price of Politics. He writes in Saturday’s Post,

“Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved. Nabors has told others that they checked with the president before going to see Reid. A mandatory sequester was the only action-forcing mechanism they could devise.”

They undoubtedly thought this plan would be “action-forcing” because even Congress could not be so stupid as to actually carry out random sequestration. But they may have underestimated the lack of intelligent design guiding their Capitol Hill adversaries. We now sit as petrified backseat passengers, without even seat belts or air-bags, watching headlights closing rapidly in a game of chicken.

The action the White House hoped for–and still craves–is a Grand Bargain where the other boss party shares responsibility for unconscionable, not to mention unpopular cuts in entitlements and other useful public sector programs. Bowles, and his Republican accomplice, deficit commission co-chair Warren Simpson, have not only bravely spoken against stupidity but have issued new dire deficit doomsday warnings.

Most economists dismiss imminent danger of deficit disaster and some of the top ones even call for stimulus rather than austerity. Some of the prime targets of the administration–such as Social Security and the US Postal Service--are self-financing and contribute nothing direct one way or another to budget deficit.

The only indirect ways Social Security impacts deficit is when Congress borrows money for other uses from Social Security and when Congress decides in an election season to stop collecting part of the SS payroll tax. In both cases, Congress incurs a debt to Social Security that must be repaid with interest. It requires a cynicism bigger than the national debt to use these examples to label old folk’s pension money as a budget buster.

As for Medicare, a recent e-mail blast from the pro-single-payer Physicians for a National Health Plan says,

“The traditional Medicare program allocates only 1 percent of total spending to overhead compared with 6 percent when the privatized portion of Medicare, known as Medicare Advantage, is included,” according to a study in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

That’s the vaunted superior efficiency of the private sector at work.

It is not fair to either him or us for our leaders at the House of Labor to center their fire exclusively on Speaker Boehner. He’s only the mischievous clown in this circus. The ringmaster resides several blocks away. Some past ruling classes used to at least provide bread along with their circuses for the proletariat. Austerity precludes substance for our bodies--and the diversion of the Washington Big Show isn’t even entertaining any more.

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