First They Sentenced Us to Death By A Thousand Cuts.
Now They Threaten us With Death By a Thousand Clichés.
I am largely mystified by the apparently widespread support for further austerity. The leadership of the House of Representatives continue to manufacture governmental crises to force draconian cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, in the face of totally lousy economic news.
The latest jobs news out Friday the 6th gives us further reason to pause and reflect on just how ruinous the Great Recession has been for the people of the country. There was overall job growth of about 169,000 new jobs, but the unemployment rate is still at 7.3%. Overall job growth for the year was revised downward from previous estimates. Continue reading “There’s Only One Cliché Coming Out of DC That Seems to Fit”
This fall a major showdown is brewing over tax and budget priorities in our nation’s capital. Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Congressman Dave Camp (R-Michigan) have been laying groundwork for a rewrite of the U.S. tax code.
After failing to pass a Farm Bill that included farm subsidies and food assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) in June, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a skeleton of a Farm Bill on July 11—without the food stamps. The House effectively left 46 million Americans wondering how to feed themselves and their families.
The response from House Republican leadership? House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio shrugged and said: “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas. (check out an irreverent look at Mr. Boehner) You’ve heard that before. My goal right now is to get the Farm Bill passed. We’ll get to those other issues later.” (NY Times, July 11)
So the hungry and indigent just have to wait until pigs fly, or Christmas comes in July. Congressmen who own farms themselves will get their subsidies, along with family farmers who actually need the federal support. Meanwhile, those other issues like food security; will have to wait. Indefinitely.
The deficit crowd cheered when the President included a concept called “Chained CPI” in his 2014 Budget.
This is a proposal to change the way the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is calculated. This change is about as wonky as wonk-dome can get, but here’s a try.
Currently the CPI grows based on overall increases in the cost of goods. The new idea is to calculate how much consumers change their purchasing habits when prices rise. If there is an increase in the cost of Stella Artois, then some beer drinkers will switch to less expensive brews. Say they turn to my favorite, Tecate.
This tendency to switch choices will be calculated as a part of the new Chained CPI. So the effect of the change will be slowly to reduce the benefits paid out through programs like Social Security.
Now you may think that switching from Stella to Tecate won’t amount to much. But it keeps growing over time. The COLA for this year was 1.7 percent. If my monthly Social
Security check was $1,250 last year, it increased to $1,271.25 this year. Were the Chained CPI in effect it would be $1,267.50, amounting to $45 less a year. Again, that might not seem like a big reduction, but if the COLA is the same next year, the difference increases to $91.32 for the next year. And as the SSI checks get smaller and smaller, inflation will drive prices higher.
The cumulative effects of the change will have severe effects on the poor and the elderly. Two populations that already have few choices on how they spend their money, especially in the all-important areas of health care and pharmaceuticals.
There are also some very specific problems with the new plan, particularly for those who have no retirement support other than Social Security.
The change especially impacts women who tend to work less, earn less, and live longer.
Chaining the CPI may also amount to a subtle tax increase for the middle class, assuming that the new method will be applied to the way IRS calculates tax brackets. Over time, the brackets will rise more slowly and, as incomes gradually increase, folks will slip more quickly into higher brackets.
How the Numbers Add up, and not for the Best
The really big problem with Chained CPI, and the point of this essay is that reducing Social Security is simply a bad idea in general. The plain fact is that the growing income inequality, a severe recession and wage stagnation have created an enormous “retirement security gap.” This gap is the difference between what people should have saved for retirement and what they actually have.
The HELP Committee of the U.S. Senate estimates the retirement gap at $6.6 trillion. Half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings. Then throw on top of this the $1 trillion in student debt. Whoa. We’re getting into real money here. How are we going to close this gap?
The Solution is the Same Program They are Attacking
Well one obvious way is to expand Social Security and Medicare so that they can help fill up the bucket. Instead, our political leaders all seem intent on making the gap worse. The bucket isn’t full enough so let’s poke a hole in the bottom. “Let’s chain down that CPI!” say these deficit hawks.
Why? When Social Security has zip to do with the deficit (and Simpleton and Blows know it)? Besides, ‘fixing’ this problem will not make the austerity preachers happy. The “Fix the Debt” corporate tax dodgers and the right-wingers simply want to dismantle the social insurance system.
And the Democrats have taken the bait. Rather than support expansion of these vital programs, many Democrats, including apparently the President, have joined the rush to austerity in a recession and are buying into a compromise with an ideology that rejects physical fact, economic science, and the idea that government can be an instrument to advance the common good.
Give me a break!
There is much to appreciate in the President’s Budget, but the Chained CPI is not one of them. Beyond opposing this bad idea, progressives should go on the offensive. Social Security and Medicare need to expand not shrink.
The debate about the national economy seems to have slipped into the shadows. You may be breathing a sigh of relief. Shadows on the budget are inevitable with the Congress focusing on immigration and the press focusing on the attack in Boston.
Well the new jobs numbers are out this Friday and the results are a paltry 88,000 new jobs in March. Private employment provided a mere 95,000 new jobs while federal cuts costing 14,000 jobs. There were offsets by slight increases in state employment, but overall government employment fell a total of 7000 jobs.
What could possibly be causing this?
Economists that actually study the economy rather than those who craft right wing talking points have been telling us that now is the worst possible time to be reducing government spending. But the entire Federal leadership has been in the spell of an austerity frenzy nonetheless. Remember the “Super Committee” and the caps.? These policies will reduce Federal spending $1.5 Trillion by 2020.
This year, stumped for a better idea, Congress began an automatic “sequester” that cuts another $1.2 Trillion starting March 1st. Jobless claims jumped immediately in March.
And there is more to come. Over time, the “sequester” will pull 750,000 jobs out of the economy according to the Congressional Budget Office estimates.
When the new jobs numbers were announced the conservative pundits were quick to pounce: “Our plan to keep cutting jobs is good for the economy. The real culprit here is the Affordable Care Act.” Yep, the ACA is to blame, so we have to repeal it – thereby pulling another pile of jobs out of the economy.
Some days I want to go episodic and stand on a street corner yelling “ARE YOU CRAZY?” (Only a few of my neighbors would notice and are unlikely to be surprised. So I’ll skip it.)
But I will beg progressive advocates to continue to ask our political leadership a simple question: “Why not reduce the deficits by growing the economy?” Why not start with President Obama’s 2013 Budget?
To the President’s credit, his recently released budget does include a $350 billion jobs program and other investments in education, job training, infrastructure, and research. But over time it cuts another trillion plus out of the public funding for many important things including Social Security, Medicare and other domestic spending. Overall there are some $900 billion in cuts. The President’s budget also increases taxes by $600 billion.
Compare this budget to what is being proposed in the U.S. House. This budget cuts nearly $6 trillion out of spending and also lowers taxes. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 66% of the cuts will affect people with low or moderate incomes.
These are the parameters for the recovery of jobs in the economy – cut either another trillion or cut another six trillion. How will either of these approaches lead to a thriving economy and jobs for the unemployed?
Every time they get anything done they do more harm. To raise the debt lid they cut a trillion. To avoid the fiscal cliff they cut another trillion. Then they sequestered. Now we are looking at a “grand bargain,” another debt lid crisis, tax reform…
“Broken Bootstraps: Falling Behind on Full-Time Work,” is the 14th annual installment of a joint study by Alliance for a Just Society and its affiliates in 7 states.
Unemployment rates in all states are still high. A modest $9.00/hr. minimum wage has been mentioned at the federal level. Even that income would leave most low-wage workers needing to utilize public assistance programs. Continue reading “2012 Job Gap Report”