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Senate’s “Gang of Six”: Keep Taxes Low on Rich by Punishing Everybody Else

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The U.S. Senate’s “Gang of Six” plans to fix the deficit created by the disastrous Bush-Cheney economic policies and $400 billion per year tax cuts by … making people who are currently young work longer before they’re allowed to retire on Social Security & Medicare, and cutting Medicaid to the disabled & needy. How fair does that seem to you?

In the wake of President Obama’s right-leaning fiscal commission, we now have the Senate’s solidly-right Gang of Six. While the Democrats range from progressive to conservative (Illinois’ Dick Durbin, Virginia’s Mark Warner & North Dakota’s Kent Conrad) leaving them with a moderate middle, the group’s Republicans are all far right conservatives (Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss, Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn & Idaho’s Mike Crapo).

So is it any surprise that while some good ideas are coming out of the Gang of Six talks – trimming wasteful defense spending, cutting subsidies to gigantic food corporations, trimming the regressive & sprawl-inducing mortgage deduction – they’re being overshadowed by some truly bad ones?

While the emerging proposal by the so-called Gang of Six won’t increase tax rates, [Mark Warner] said it will include scrapping some tax breaks and limiting others, such as shrinking to $500,000 from $1 million the size of mortgages on which interest payments can be written off or scaling back deductions for charitable giving.

Details of the plan — still under negotiation and being drafted for release as early as next week, according to a person familiar with the talks — are scarce, given the group’s secretive discussions. Yet Warner said it will involve spending cuts on health care, defense, agriculture and other domestic programs, along with changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Previous reporting has indicated we can expect those changes to Social Security & Medicare to include raising the retirement age for future retirees, which amounts to a steep cut in benefits. And it would leave workers with precious little actual retirement – if the retirement age is raised to 70, with a life expectancy of 75 for the average American male, someone like me could expect just five “golden years.” MoveOn.org will drive home that point today with a “Don’t Work Us Till We Die” event at 11:45am at Sen. Warner’s Norfolk office.

So why are these life-altering cuts being greeted with indifference?

Because conservatives, heavily funded by billionaires who hate paying their fair share, have spent decades telling young people that Social Security & Medicare won’t be there for them. And many a mindless Democrat has parroted that rhetoric. After growing up hearing that Social Security & Medicare won’t be there for them with no alternative narrative, a generation of Americans are unfazed by legislative threats to the social safety net.

But there’s a major flaw with the conservative narrative: It’s simply false. Social Security is doing just fine – the entire rationale for making dramatic changes today is that the program might run out of money … in 2037. That’s right, we’re supposed to shred the social safety net NOW to avert a possible threat 26 years down the road.

Which leads to an inherent contradiction of the “we must gut the social safety net to save it” argument. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe it’s pro-future generations to raise the retirement age & cut benefits only on those future generations – while leaving benefits for current frequent voters retirees untouched.

Let’s also point out that if Congress does nothing – allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, Medicare doc fix is either implemented or its repeal is paid for, and the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented – the budget will balance itself. Sure, Medicare will drive up government expenditures, but Medicare is only in trouble to the extent that we’re all in trouble thanks to skyrocketing health care costs – and raising the retirement age does nothing to address that issue.

That’s why if anyone tries to tell you the budget is in crisis, it’s because they want to do something crisis-provoking to the budget – usually extending the debt-exploding Bush tax cuts or creating new ones – while ignoring other obvious avenues of new revenue (such as a tax on carbon pollution) in the name of anti-tax extremism.

Of course, there’s a budget that addresses fiscal concerns without shredding the social safety net. It’s the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget. So why isn’t that being considered by the Very Serious People in Washington, Paul Krugman?

The answer, I’m sorry to say, is the insincerity of many if not most self-proclaimed deficit hawks. To the extent that they care about the deficit at all, it takes second place to their desire to do precisely what the People’s Budget avoids doing, namely, tear up our current social contract, turning the clock back 80 years under the guise of necessity. They don’t want to be told that such a radical turn to the right is not, in fact, necessary.

But, it isn’t, as the progressive budget proposal shows. We do need to bring the deficit down, although we aren’t facing an immediate crisis. How we go about stemming the tide of red ink is, however, a choice – and by making tax increases part of the solution, we can avoid savaging the poor and undermining the security of the middle class.

Republicans know how to play this game – they’re digging in their heels, setting the tone of the debate and declaring their refusal to negotiate until the last minute, if at all. Meanwhile, top Democrats are already declaring their support for the Gang of Six, giving up their leverage before we even see an initial proposal.

As a 33-year-old, I’m not sure if Social Security and Medicare will be there for me when I retire – but if they’re gone, it won’t be because of fiscal instability – it will be because they were negotiated away by the Democrats that workers thought we’d elected to protect us.

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    evil.

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    1.  Soc Sec has nothing to do with the deficit and it should be decoupled from deficit reduction.

    2.  In 1986, when boomers were projected to create a big bump in the numbers of recipients (of money they themselves contributed directly or indirectly), it was decided that Soc Sec inputs  (revenue stream) could no longer just pay for current retirees as the program was originally devised.  Under Reagan the payroll deduction for FICA was DOUBLED so that it would cover current retirees and provide a surplus or when boomers retired.

    3.  ADDITIONALLY, they raised the age on us.  Those my age had to be 66 to receive benefits (it had been 65).  And the age for full benefits was transitioned even further to 67 for younger workers.   SO THEY ALREADY doubled our inputs and gave us a cut. Losing years of Soc Sec is a CUT in benefits.

    4.  Next they changed the manner in which COLAs were devised to cut us further. Another cut and they want to do that again.

    5.  All of this ends up providing an income on average which is poverty level. remember we all worked for it.  It is not a handout.

    6.  And guys like Warner want to crimp that further and push the children of boomers (our kids) to work till they drop.  

    7.  Only a man who does not have to depend upon work for a living could devise such a plan.  

    8. Mark Warner made his fortune on connections to prominent people and getting the right information and the right time. He is what they call the investor class, making money from money and not his own efforts. And he sits there telling people to work til they are 69 or 70.

    9. If Mark Warner had to get and keep a job like those with no connections he would be offshored, downsized and left with nothing between the ages of 60 and 70.  If only… Then he’d understand how wrong he is about just about everything.  Fat chance.  And no I do not really wish poverty on him.  But it sure would teach him a lesson about the real world which he has long NOT been part of.

     

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    I think the public doesn’t believe that Obama will let the cuts happen.  But it should not be sanguine. I do not think he would.  But at this point I don’t trust many in Washington to look out for the interests of Americans.

  • totallynext

    Mark Warner is z democrat

  • Hugo Estrada

    Quite literally. I am 35, and I have been paying into Social Security and Medicare, and this plan of the Gang of Millionaires is to keep their tax cuts by making regular people like us pay for it through the mortgage deduction tax and Social Security and Medicare cuts.

    As for our own local millionaire in the Washington Millionaires’ Club (aka the Senate), I have yet to see any response from voters. Overall, Mark Warner does whatever he wants to do, without even pretending that is going to listen to what the rest of us have to say. At least the previous Warner made a better job of giving the appearance that he was listening.

    I cannot see how Mark Warner can do this and pretend that he is representing Virginians. I know that he can pretend, thanks to conservatives, that he is being responsive about the budget. But how will he explain taking away the mortgage deduction tax cut from voters? This is one of the few tax deductions that a big sector of the population enjoys, and it will affect the already weakened middle class and the working poor, liberals and conservatives alike.