As President Obama meets Tuesday meeting with labor union leaders and the heads of liberal advocacy groups to discuss the so-called "fiscal cliff," many leading progressives argue that no such cliff exists, and that President Obama must stand firm in opposition to any compromise with Republicans.
Fearing that Obama will repeat his performance of past budget negotiations, the progressive chorus argues that Obama must avoid a preemptive sellout to rightwing, corporate-friendly demands and recognize the mandate given to the President by voters in his reelection victory last week.
According to officials, the following individuals representing their respective groups were set to join Obama in the White House today: Mary Kay Henry, SEIU; Lee Saunders, AFSCM; Dennis Van Roekel, NEA; Rich Trumka, AFL-CIO; Neera Tanden, Center for American Progress; John Podesta, Center for American Progress; Bob Greenstein, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities; Laura Burton Capps, Common Purpose Project; Max Richtman, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare; Justin Ruben, MoveOn; and Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change.
In the past, these groups have urged the president to hold firm on his commitment to end tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and refrain from previous offers to cut social programs like food stamps, Medicare, and Medicaid in exchange for a deal with Republicans. But whether the groups will act to counter Obama's tendency towards compromise or provide cover for it, has the wider progressive community rightly concerned.
"We are still on a complete fighting posture because we knew we had to win the politics in November and then on the economy in December," Van Jones, co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, told The Huffington Post. "For the progressives who threw ourselves on hand grenades for the president over the past 24 months and especially the past six months, we are not going to be happy at all if he turns around and takes a chainsaw to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in pursuit of some misguided so-called grand bargain."
Gaius Publius, writing at Americablog, calls it wise to be skeptical of the White House meeting with the groups, noting that it was impossible to know if the White House invited these "progressive" leaders so that they could "twist" Obama's arm or—potentially—to have their arms twisted.
Note [that those invited to the White House] aren’t necessarily actual labor and actual progressives — these are “leaders” — front men and women who lead organizations. Some of them are like the various women’s rights “leaders” who endorsed Joe “Short Ride” Leiberman against the actual Democratic candidate Ned Lamont, because Democrat Obama said to. Let’s watch to see which of our strong labor and progressive advocates sign up for this. Those who do will be given something; you’ll get nothing because you’re not at the table.
Invitations to the White House to discuss budget issues is something that progressive groups should welcome, acknowledges Publius. Ultimately, however, the actions of any one group will make it clear whether they represent the progressive values of their constituencies "or just themselves, their lists and their organizational interests."
Individual progressives, though, not interested in waiting to see how others respond to Obama's courtship, have instead taken to the op-ed pages and the airwaves to voice their warnings of a fiscal "deal with the devil" in hopes of placing pressure on the Democratic leadership before it's too late.
Obama "seems poised to give away the store on spending cuts," Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect and Demos fellow, warned Monday.
Under the so-called "grand bargain," Democrats have offered to cut trillions in spending, likely to target Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare—while receiving only paltry revenue increases in return.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., insists that briefly going over the "fiscal cliff" is preferable to agreeing to a bad deal.
Sanders advocates for increasing taxes on the wealthy, closing corporate tax loopholes, cutting defense spending and tracking down individuals and companies that hide money in off-shore accounts.
Former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, said Obama's "opening bid" should include raising taxes on the rich by as much as 30 percent on millionaires; increasing the capital gains tax; eliminating special tax preferences for, among others, oil and gas, price supports for eliminate "unnecessary weapons systems for military contractors" and indirect subsidies to the biggest banks on Wall Street.
Current TV's Cenk Uygur, in a highly cited column on Monday, said that anyone who argues in favor of the "grand bargain" is "either a fool or a charlatan."
"If President Obama was anything but the establishment hack that he is, he would never consider it," Uygur said. "There is nothing wrong with compromise, but this isn't compromise. This is a robbery."
The president should allow the automatic tax increases to occu, arguing the Republicans will feel pressure to agree to tax increase for the wealthiest so the bottom 98 percent can get tax relief.
"If Obama will just realize it, he holds most of the cards," said Kuttner, echoing Sanders' idea that no deal is better than a bad deal. He explained:
[Obama] prevailed in the election. Most voters agree that the rich should pay higher taxes. Most don't want cuts in Medicare and Social Security.
Tactically, if he just waits and lets the automatic tax increases take effect, public pressure will mount on the Republicans to agree to tax hikes for the wealthiest so that the bottom 98 percent can get tax relief.