This is a big week for Republicans in Congress. They’ve been telling us for months what they’re against — anything that helps women and working families, and anything proposed by Barack Obama — now, it’s their turn to say what they’re for as they unveil their new budget plan.
Most of the media coverage is focused on a fight over defense spending. As Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told the New York Times,
“This is a war within the Republican Party,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has vowed to oppose a final budget that does not ensure more military spending. “You can shade it any way you want, but this is war.
Typical. When defense contractors and campaign contributors are put at risk, Republicans call it war. But when economic security for women is under attack, they shrug their shoulders and change the subject.
We’re in this mess in part because gridlock on Capitol Hill produced the brain-dead idea of sequestration — massive automatic budget cuts that were supposed to scare budget negotiators into finding a way to reduce the federal deficit. It didn’t work — remember the “fiscal cliff“?
Besides, as I wrote in HuffPost during the sequestration debate,
Reducing the deficit is a Trojan Horse. The Republican leadership wants to cut spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs, while decreasing taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations and increasing military spending. These items have been at the top of their agenda for a long time. Demanding that the federal deficit be eliminated immediately is just a convenient way to get what they want: a weaker government that serves only to fuel the military industrial complex and ensure that the rich get richer.
And now, here they go again. According to the Washington Examiner,
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., both of whom serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee as well as the Senate Budget Committee, are working behind the scenes to build consensus to an alternative to to sequester cuts before next week, when both the House and Senate Budget committees are expected to release separate marks on the spending limits for this year.
Instead of following the across-the-board sequester cuts, Graham is pitching the budget committee to support a “mini Simpson-Bowles,” referring to a 2010 commission of Republican and Democratic lawmakers and private-sector leaders who identified areas to generate new taxes, and areas of discretionary spending and entitlement programs to cut. However, in 2012, the House quickly rejected the Simpson-Bowles suggestions.
And The Hill reports,
Graham has said he’s considering developing a “mini-Simpson Bowles” with senators from both parties. He said he would be willing to raise taxes by ending loopholes in exchange for concessions Democrats would make on entitlement spending.
There’s talk inside the Beltway that Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) may be one of the Democrats planning on supporting a “mini-Simpson Bowles.” I hope that’s not true — and I’ll be watching the news and working the phones today to see what’s happening on Capitol Hill. (Check back here later in the day to see what happened).
The last thing women need is a new ‘catfood commission’ like the original Simpson-Bowles, which sought to appease wealthy interests on the backs of the most vulnerable people who rely on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A vote for a mini-Simpson Bowles is a vote to push millions of women into poverty and out of the middle class by imposing cuts, blocking expansion of benefits, and shielding the wealthiest from paying their fair share into the system.
Republicans are once again racing in the wrong direction just to placate the billionaire donors and right-wing PACs who can protect them from being challenged in a primary. We shouldn’t be cutting Social Security and leaving more people behind — we should be expanding benefits and providing more peace of mind to millions of people who want to retire with dignity.
I recently participated in a conference call with Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Nancy Altman of Social Security Works and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, and Dr. Ben Veghte, Director of Policy & Research at Social Security Works. Senator Sanders is introducing legislation to ensure greater retirement security and strengthen the system’s long-term finances, taking into account the fact that skyrocketing inequality is weakening the entire system. As Bernie Sanders says,
Sometimes we all tend to take things for granted and we forget that Social Security is the most successful government program in our nation’s history. Let’s be clear. For more than 75 years, Social Security has, in good times and bad, paid out every nickel owed to every eligible American. Social Security has succeeded in keeping millions of senior citizens, widows and orphans and the disabled out of extreme poverty. Before Social Security was developed, about half of our seniors lived in poverty. Today, fewer than 10 percent live in poverty and all of that is done with minimum administrative costs.
For tens of millions of women, Social Security is their primary source of retirement security, as their jobs rarely provide pensions, and working a lifetime at unequal pay leaves them with precious little in the way of personal savings. Requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share into the Social Security system — which they currently do not do— is the right way to strengthen long-term solvency and provide the benefits that people need to stay out of poverty.
Republicans, and some Democrats who think copying some of the worst qualities of the Republicans will make them more popular with voters, are going after Social Security hammer and tongs. Senators might think that setting a pathway towards cutting Social Security will make it easier to reverse course on the sequester, but that’s just wrong. You can’t fight bad policy with worse policy.
The choice isn’t between the wrong-headed austerity of sequestration and the failed austerity plan of Simpson-Bowles. Congress must choose to be on the side of women and their families, and against cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Senators should know better than to put women and families at risk with harmful benefit cuts. Make no mistake: throwing Social Security under the bus is bad politics as well as bad policy.
Originally published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on 03/19/2015.