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Budgets Votes in House Cast Long Shadow as 'Grand Bargain' Looms

Democrats flirt with disaster as they put Social Security cuts and Medicare changes 'on the table'

- Jon Queally, staff writer

The budget put forth by the Progressive Caucus (CPC) in the House went down in expected defeat on Wednesday with a vote of 84-327.

In this March 18, 2013 file photo, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. It's not this man, however, that progressives should be most worried about. It's Democrats and what they're willing to do in the name of 'compromise.' (Photo: AP) “The Back-to-Work budget is common sense, and it reflects the values of the American people," said CPC co-chair Rep. Raul Grijalva from the floor ahead of the vote. "It recognizes the realities of our economic and social times. This budget is about investment, and the greatest resource we have in this country is the American people, we need to invest in them."

It was not to be.

The Senate budget, approved by the Democratic-controlled upper-chamber, was also voted down in the House by a margin of 154-261. Among those who voted against it were 35 Democrats.

Also struck down was the the budget proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). That vote was 105-305, with Democrats split with 105 in favor and 80 voting against it.

A vote on the Republican House budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, is expected for a vote on Thursday. It will likely pass, of course, but will be dead on arrival in the Senate.

"Before we pass a grand bargain, we have got to take a hard and sober look at what’s happening economically in our country today." - Sen. Bernie Sanders

All votes more or less expected, but the story their failures reveal is one of continued budgetary gridlock in a split Congress and a country stuck in an economic crisis that continues to pit the good of all against the interest of the wealthiest few.

Above all, the failure to pass a budget agreement in Congress pushes President Obama to stay on a trajectory to willingly foster cuts—in the name of "compromise" and "shared sacrifice"—to key social programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as he succumbs to the invented mantra that instead of a massive crisis of unemployment and income inequality, the US economy is suffering from annual deficits or a tax code not preferential enough to corporate interests.

In the name of this 'fabricated crisis,' Obama and other Democrats, according to economists and progressive critics, are falling victim (or willingly playing along) to the Republican budget intransigence that has been their hallmark since Obama first took office in 2008.

As recently as last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would be willing to consider the 'chained CPI', which economists widely agree is fundamentally a cut to Social Security. She also said she would consider means-testing Medicare, a shift that could undermine the public support it has long enjoyed.

It's not the first time the Democrats have toyed with cutting program their constituents widely support, as economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich points out Thursday, but the Party's current willingness to "lead with compromise" is particularly unwise and harmful.

"If there was ever a time for the Democratic Party to champion working Americans and reverse these troubling trends, it is now," argues Reich. The Democrats should be "forging an alliance between the frustrated middle [class] and the working poor" and arguing that even the rich would be doing better "with a smaller share of a rapidly-growing economy than a ballooning share of one that’s growing at a snail’s pace."

"The modern Democratic Party [is] too dependent on the short-term, insular demands of Wall Street, corporate executives, and the wealthy." - Robert Reich

Unfortunately and frustratingly, however, Reich continues, "the modern Democratic Party can’t bring itself to do this. It’s too dependent on the short-term, insular demands of Wall Street, corporate executives, and the wealthy."

And independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders, who has repeatedly vowed to protect Medicare and Social Security and other earned benefit programs, warned Obama on Wednesday that a 'Grand Bargain' with Republicans should really be seen as a 'Grand Sellout.'

Writing in The Hill newspaper, Sanders said:

At a time when the middle class is disappearing, 46 million Americans are living in poverty and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider, we need a “grand bargain” that protects struggling working families, not billionaires.

With corporate profits at record-breaking levels while the effective corporate tax is at its lowest level since 1972, and 1 out of 4 profitable corporations pays nothing in federal income taxes, we need a grand bargain that ends corporate loopholes and demands that corporate America starts helping us with deficit reduction. We must not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. We must not cut Social Security, disabled veterans’ benefits, Medicare, Medicaid, education and other programs that provide opportunity and dignity to millions of struggling American families.

Before we pass a grand bargain, we have got to take a hard and sober look at what’s happening economically in our country today. In doing so, we must acknowledge that the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth and that inequality is worse today than at any time since the late 1920s. Today, the wealthiest 400 individuals in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America — 150 million Americans. The top 1 percent owns 38 percent of all financial wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns just 2.3 percent. Incredibly, the Federal Reserve reported last year that median net worth for middle-class families dropped by nearly 40 percent from 2007-2010. That’s the equivalent of wiping out 18 years of savings for the average middle-class family.

And Isaiah Poole, writing about the defeated 'Back to Work Budget'—which his Campaign for America's Future fought hard to support—said:

Though this push has ended, the fight is not over. There will be other battles ahead in the coming weeks in which Congress will be forced to choose priorities, and the Back to Work Budget has made one thing clear: There is a right road to economic recovery and eventual deficit reduction, and progressives have it. Millions of Americans agree, and their representatives have been put on notice.

Stating clearly his priorities going forward, Sen. Sanders said:

We need a budget that puts millions of Americans back to work in decent-paying jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and transforming our energy sector away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy and energy efficiency.

We need a budget that keeps the promises we have made to our seniors, veterans and the most vulnerable by protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

We need a budget that makes sure that the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations pay their fair share of taxes. We must end corporate loopholes that allow Wall Street banks, large corporations and the wealthy to avoid more than $100 billion a year in federal taxes by stashing their profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens.

And Reich concludes by arguing that the false narrative that the US is financially "broke" must be upended:

We are the richest nation in the history of the world — richer now than we’ve ever been. But an increasing share of that wealth is held by a smaller and smaller share of the population, who have, in effect, bribed legislators to reduce their taxes and provide loopholes so they pay even less.

The budget deficit “crisis” has been manufactured by them to distract our attention from this overriding fact, and to pit the rest of us against each other for a smaller and smaller share of what remains. Democrats should not conspire.

Needy children should be getting far more help, better pre-school care, better nutrition. Seniors need better healthcare coverage and more Social Security. All Americans need better schools and improved infrastructure.

The richest nation in the history of the world should be able to respond to the legitimate needs of all its citizens.

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