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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.