Sequestration Is Austerity, but Not Enough for Simpson and Bowles

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The Nation

Sequestration Is Austerity, but Not Enough for Simpson and Bowles

Sequestration?

Cue the return of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, frontmen for American austerity.

If sequestration is not averted by the end of the month, America will experience an arbitrary austerity agenda that shifts burdens from the wealthy onto working families. It makes across-the-board cuts to vital services. As President Obama noted Tuesday, sequestration would impose “automatic brutal spending cuts” to job creation, infrastructure and education initiatives. It would, as well, slash funding for air traffic control, federal prosecutions and Federal Emergency Management Agency grants that make it possible for states and local governments to hire needed firefighter and emergency personnel.

Even the parts of the sequester that are appealing—squeezing the bloated Department of Defense budget—will tend to harm low-wage federal employees rather than billionaire defense contractors.

Most troublingly, sequestration will slow, and perhaps stall, the economic recovery. “This is not an abstraction,” says President Obama. “People will lose their jobs.”

By any measure, the sequester is austerity.

But it’s not enough austerity for Simpson and Bowles.

The former Republican senator and defeated Democratic senate candidate who praises Paul Ryan’s budget don’t particularly like the death-by-slow-cuts of sequestration. They prefer a full frontal assault on the most vulnerable Americans and a redistribution of the wealth upward.

As President Obama has noted, Washington has already reduced the deficit by $2.5 trillion.

But the co-chairs of the failed National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform now want another $2.4 trillion.

To wit, in a “rehashed” plan to “Fix the Debt,” Simpson and Bowles are busy promoting schemes to “modernize…entitlement programs to account for” an aging population. That’s code for schemes to delay the point at which the hardest working Americans can get access to Social Security and Medicare.

Simpson and Bowles are arguing specifically for the adoption of “chained CPI.” That’s the assault on Social Security cost-of-living increases that Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, correctly identifies as “a benefit cut.”

“It’s a bad idea and it’s a stealth way to give people less,” Ellison explained in a recent interview. “It is a benefit cut—and here’s the real problem with it being a benefit cut: It would be absolutely horrible if it were a benefit cut but the cut was designed to extend the life of Social Security and to make the program more solvent. But that’s not why they’re doing it. They’re doing it so that they can preserve somebody else to have a tax cut and to not raise taxes on the top 2 percent.”

Ellison is right. As is invariably the case with austerity schemes, Simpson and Bowles—and the billionaire-funded “Fix the Debt” group they head—are proposing cuts to the top marginal tax rate for wealthy individuals and corporations.

The United States can and should address debts and deficits. And there are sound plans to do so, including the “Balancing Act” advanced by Ellison and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. That initiative rejects austerity and proposes a growth agenda based on tax fairness and investments in education and job creation.

That’s not Simpson-Bowles, which Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Krugman dismisses as “terrible” economics. That’s responsible policy that avoids the “brutal cuts” of sequestration and the even more brutal cuts of full-fledged austerity.

“Almost $2 trillion has been cut over the past two years from teachers, firefighters, police officers, loans for college students, and infrastructure investments,” the congressman says of the warped federal budget priorities proposed by austerity advocates. “The American people shouldn’t continue to pay the price for massive tax breaks for millionaires and billions of dollars in subsidies to oil companies.”

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