Nothing grand about bargain

Published 9:22 am Friday, April 12, 2013

President Barack Obama wants a long-term budget/tax deal that has been named “The Grand Bargain.”

The plan is envisioned by the president as the final step toward deficit reduction and responsible budgeting. But, as designed by the president, it is more like an economic long walk off a short pier for many Americans, particularly the middle class and those fighting to avoid poverty.

The president needs Republicans in Congress to help pass any long-term funding plan, but, as responsible fiscal partners, Republicans are both unreliable and irresponsible to middle class interests.

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The latest Republican budget ends Medicare in its present form, eviscerates the social safety net in favor of greater defense spending, and cuts yet unnamed deductions from middle class taxes. But that is not enough damage; the Republican budget allows no funding for growth, research, energy investment, or infrastructure restoration and improvement.

In short it is an austerity budget made in the European model, a model that has pushed all of Europe into a repeating cycle of recession.

We cannot cut our economy to success, and the concept is so deeply flawed to merit no responsible attention.

Yet this president is willing to “deal” middle class values to entice Republicans to be just a little less irresponsible fiscally. Making such a deal with those so inclined to protect the top 1 percent, at the expense of all Americans, it is not unlike being attacked by a bear and being happy it only chewed off one leg.

There should be no “deal” as long as the terms of the deal include the end of Medicare and the attack on Social Security long desired by Republicans and now offered by the president.

The argument for these irresponsible proposals begins by naming both Social Security and Medicare as entitlements.

They are not.

Americans contribute to their retirement and health care for all of their working lives; granting them their hard earned benefits is no gift, it is a responsibility. But once deal makers re-define earned benefits as gifts from government, they can feel free to alter promised benefits into budget cuts.

The president wants to save money in Social Security by changing the inflationary balance currently tied to the consumer price index to what is termed the chained price index, a concept that, in theory is more accurate as a gauge of inflation.

The chained index assumes that consumers respond to inflation by buying less expensive alternatives, for example replacing steak in ones diet with hamburger.

But the idea is laughably flawed. 40 percent of seniors have Social Security as their entire income, placing them near poverty. They have long ago given up steak for hamburger. And their costs are not rising more slowly than inflation, but more rapidly, because their purchases are more in health care, an above inflation cost, than in other consumer goods.

Over time the conversion to the chained concept would reduce the quality of life of the nation’s seniors for the sole benefit of serving as a bargaining chip for the failed ideas of Republicans who have long sought to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

It is not as if there is not another simple, honest, alternative if one argues that Social Security even belongs in a budget conversation (It does not, its funding is entirely separate.).

Currently, those who incomes are more than $113,000 do not have to contribute over that income level to Social Security withholding. That means, as a percentage of income the richest Americans pay less into Social Security.

If that cap, that protection for the richest Americans, is removed, Social Security is fully funded for a century.

But this week our president offered to punish our poorest seniors in their retirement while ignoring the fairness of asking those who make more to simply pay as much as everyone else, all to create a Grand Bargain with Republicans who want nothing but to protect the 1 percent.

It is a terrible bargain to offer the bear one leg.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.