"Everything is on the Table" at the Catfood Commission

by Bruce Webb

I am not going to harp on the sexism or ageism in Simpson’s ‘310 million tits’ comment generally, if you happen to have just gotten back on the Inter-Spatial Shuttle from Alpha Centauri this evening and don’t catch the reference a Google search on that turns up 125,000 hits, and I daresay the first 25,000 of them relevant. I want to examine what it, and some other developments inside and outside the Obama Deficit Commission reveal about a new openness in class warfare.

What Simpson’s comments revealed more broadly was a profound contempt for the lower 98%, those who might end up reliant in whole or even in part on Social Security. Because ‘310 million’ takes in everybody, in Simpson’s world anyone who ever did, is, or will ever rely on Social Security is just a Randite ‘parasite’ or at best ‘dependent farm animal’ and you can bet it is a long time since Simpson read Timothy 1:18: “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.” and clearly he glossed over the even more famous admonition “Honor thy Father and they Mother”. For Simpson workers are suckling pigs and seniors are ‘Greedy Geezers’.

Naturally the Simpson remarks sparked large and heated discussions in the blogosphere including my old, old stomping grounds at dKos including one by commenter bink Time for Obama to Shut Down the SS Commission which sparked a long and ongoing comment thread with some vigorous participation by me. In the course of that conversation some people pushed back in defending Obama by noting that it wasn’t formally just a Social Security Commission, instead it was focused on deficit reduction generally and was formally known as the Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Commission, and that moreover both current commissioners and people around Peter G Peterson, who clearly was the inspiration for applying the BRAC Commission model to deficit reduction, were on record supporting defense cuts and tax increases, meaning that nobody was really in the tank, and that everything was on the table. But how does the Commission seem to be defining ‘defense cuts’ and ‘tax increases’ and how does that relate to Simpson’s open contempt for the ‘lesser people’ sucking away at those ‘310 million tits’. Well some discussion under the fold.

First as to defense cuts. Given the requirement for a 14-4 minimum vote for any recommendation to come out of the Commission major cuts in defense acquisition were never likely to make the cut, the six Republican Congressional members should have been enough to prevent anymore than tinkering on that front. But seemingly to make sure Obama named Republican David Cote, CEO of major defense contractor Honeywell, and he, understanding that nothing could be seen to be a total sacred cow, came up with an ingenious idea to have defense cuts while avoiding cancellation of current and future weapons program cuts: you just stick it to the troops. I’ll let TPM take it up from here: Source: Debt Commission Fights Over Freezing Military Pay, Slashing Benefits

A source familiar with the proceedings of the working group on discretionary spending tells TPM that some commissioners, including one military contractor, would prefer to save money by freezing military pay and scaling back benefits, rather than by eliminating waste in defense contracting.
The source said that different members of the commission come down on different sides of the issue. The discussion group is led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), whose primary aim is trimming fat on the contractor side, but, according to the source, David Cote, the Honeywell CEO who was appointed to the panel by President Obama, is pushing to find savings elsewhere.

“Coburn raised concerns about all of the cost overruns and redundant weapons system,” the source told TPM. “Cote made excuses for it all.”

According to the source, Cote and other members, including the commission’s co-chair Alan Simpson, are focusing instead on “freezing military pay, making military people pay for their health care.”

So Simpson’s ‘310 million’ was not just a misquote, it not only includes all those working civilians whose retirement will be based on Social Security, it also includes all those military people relying on military retirement. And since retirement pay is formulaically based on final military pay, the Commission can save $100s of billion off the back end, to say nothing of requiring service persons and retirees to kick in more for their health care. And all without taking a penny from the bottom line of Honeywell or Raytheon. But plenty of ‘shared sacrifice’ for the lower 98%.

Now as to tax cuts, also alleged to be on the table. Do you think Commission sponsor Peterson is generously offering to have the exemption for ‘carried interest’ for Hedge fund billionaires to be on the table? I don’t think so, his cofounder at Blackstone suggested that any attempt to address that would be the equivalent of Hitler invading Poland. Schwarzman: A ‘Fat Cat’ Speaks Back and I think it is safe to think it is still speaking for his old partner (and obviously still huge investor) Peterson. And Peterson has been on record for a few decades for eliminating the corporate income tax and doesn’t seem to have changed his stripes. In an op-ed last month in the WSJ (where else) Tax Aversion Syndrome and Our Deficit Future: We’ve run out of painless options. Higher taxes and reduced entitlement benefits for the well-off are the only solutions. he spells that out. (And note the clever word play-the ‘higher taxes’ on the left side of the conjunction don’t actually apply to the ‘higher off’ on the right side, only the benefit reduction)

Some have tax aversion syndrome—they have never met a tax increase they didn’t do everything in their power to block. While I believe that spending cuts must play a lead role in any solution to our long-term structural deficits, the sheer magnitude of the imbalances requires revenue increases.

Ideally, the country should raise as much government revenue as possible from a progressive consumption tax. Such a tax can be designed so that it won’t overly burden lower-income families but will raise significant revenues and increase our savings rate.

However, given political realities, it is not likely that we could enact a progressive consumption tax that would raise sufficient revenues to meet our needs. Therefore, I would initiate such a tax in conjunction with a simplified income tax (that would have far fewer corporate and individual credits and deductions)—thereby allowing for lower individual and corporate income tax rates.

Meaning that for Peterson ‘shared sacrifice’ means retaining current reduced rates on capital gains, means testing the middle class for Social Security, slapping on a broad ‘progressive’ consumption tax on everyone. And you can bet ‘progressive’ doesn’t mean a huge luxury tax on yachts.

So the translation of “Everything is on the Table” seems to be: across the board benefit cuts to Social Security, additional means testing on the middle class, cutting military pay and shifting more of the cost of medical care to soldiers and retirees, and ‘progressive’ consumption tax. Meanwhile I guess the top 2% and even more the top 0.001% just keep producing along supporting us 310 million sucking parasites. (0.001% of the population is roughly 3100 individuals and maybe 1000 households and should handily include all those with 9 digit (multi-multi millionaire) and 10 digit (billionaire) net worth and 310 million – 0.001% still equals 310 million, Simpson was not indicting everyone, just you me and everyone we know).

We can couple this with troubling statements out of the Obama Administration touting the success of TARP, the stimulus bill, and HAMP even though TARP hasn’t led to a loosening in credit to small business, the stimulus is turning around profits while not actaully reducing unemployment, and HAMP only seems to have allowed some extra months of mortgage payment extraction from homeowners who are now in large numbers re-entering default. But it is all good for the banks and the bonuses of the top 2%.

Somebody is playing a dangerous game here, surely they can’t be so far in the bubble that they want to add active unrest among the left to the ongoing tea party anger emanating from the right. If the Obama Administration allows the Catfood Commission to define ‘shared sacrifice’ in he way this post suggests they are preparing to, that nice smooth road to re-election in 2012 may shape up to be a lot rockier than they intended. Even Reagan didn’t run explicitly on a platform of “Screw the Middle Class” and nobody back then dared openly come out and admit that in practice ‘Trickle Down’ meant ‘Golden Shower’. Why the Democratic Party is attempting a merger with the Plutocratic Party is beyond me.