As the highly scripted stagecraft of the presidential campaign fades from the headlines, there's a new show in Washington. ”Fiscal Cliff” stars President Barack Obama, who urges Republicans and Democrats to agree on a ”grand bargain” that would soften the economic shock of the impending across-the-board tax and spending cuts. But that bipartisan handshake would be nothing to celebrate.
Here's why: Both parties are intent on imposing an austerity budget bloated with military spending and private-industry health insurance waste. That would be a raw deal for the American people.
It's a sign of Washington's rightward drift that a Democratic president has offered to put Social Security on the chopping block, even though it hasn't contributed one dime to the deficit. And Obama has offered to cut Medicare rather than pursue an improved ”Medicare for All” insurance system that could save trillions over the next decade by eliminating the wasteful bureaucracy and medical inflation inherent in our private health insurance system.
Equally troubling, both parties are ignoring another problem that's truly critical: the climate cliff.
Our planet is rapidly approaching a geophysical tipping point at which the consequences of climate change, such as the disappearance of polar ice caps and the melting of frozen methane deposits, trigger an unstoppable acceleration of warming. Once that happens, it will render our climate incompatible with civilization as we know it.
Throwing the nation over the climate cliff will make our current fiscal challenges look like a minor bump in the road.
Mother Nature must also have a seat at the negotiating table as our leaders hash out their supposedly grand bargain. In a nation already reeling from droughts, wildfires, and superstorms, budget priorities must reconcile the climate and economic imperatives. After all, they're ultimately one and the same.
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Our current drive to expand oil and gas drilling on U.S. soil is part of a bipartisan energy policy that's doing nothing to reduce unsustainably high carbon emissions. Showpiece programs to encourage renewable energy alternatives like solar and wind can't avert climate disaster unless they're going to replace fossil fuels.
The $15 billion a year that Obama wants to invest in renewable energy is a small fraction of what's being spent every month on the latest Wall Street bailout. Any boost the environment might get from his administration's showpiece renewable energy programs is more than cancelled by its promotion of dirty energy that runs from natural gas fracking to coal and nuclear reactors, and an expansion of oil drilling in our national parks, offshore, and in the Arctic.
We can avoid both the fiscal and climate crises only if we democratize our priorities and put the public interest ahead of the profiteering elite. One blueprint for this is the Green New Deal, which served as the mainstay of my presidential bid as the Green Party's nominee. Our plan would launch an emergency program to create 25 million jobs in green energy, sustainable agriculture, public transportation, and infrastructure improvements. It would also cut spending, making big tax hikes unnecessary.
Our Green New Deal would be funded by a combination of waste-cutting and targeted fair-tax reforms. These include scaling back the Pentagon's bloated budget to year 2000 levels.
A ”Medicare for All” health insurance system would provide health care to everyone, while eliminating the massive private health insurance bureaucracy and reducing the medical inflation that's straining federal, state, and household budgets alike.
Our proposed tax reforms would extend the Bush tax cuts for 90 percent of Americans. It would rein in Wall Street speculation with a small (0.5 percent) tax on financial transactions, generating $350 billion annually. Capital gains would be taxed as income, and income would be taxed more progressively, with multi-millionaires and billionaires paying in the 50-80 percent range, just as they did before the tax giveaways of recent decades.
If we are to have an economy that serves the people and creates a livable planet for the future, we must insist on nothing less than a grand bargain that is truly worthy of the name.