America Shrieks -- The Pete Peterson Austerity Pimp Revue Part III

Austerity Pimp Show Part III

by digby

Dday was at the Pete Peterson Austerity Pimp Revue in LA today and so (unlike me, who blogged it in my pajamas with a cat on my shoulder) went in person and got his hands on the written materials. His full report is here, but this part is particularly interesting:
The entire event was absolutely designed to create a panic about the deficit among the participants. Slickly produced scare videos talking about the dire straits of the budget were prevalent. Multiple charts and graphs without precise numbers or percentages were handed out. Speakers discussed how “most Americans are concerned about the deficits and debt,” and how we cannot grow our way out of the problem. The current state of the economy, which needs an increase in aggregate demand, mostly in the form of government spending, to avoid a relapse into recession, got a short mention at the beginning of the discussion, an inclusion which seemed forced and tacked-on. Overall, there was about 15 minutes of discussion of the current economic problems, and 5 hours on the deficit. Organizers stressed that their solutions are designed to kick in after the country hits recovery, but the compounded effect of stressing deficits over and over is undeniable. There was no slick video about the need for economic recovery, put it that way.


“Everything must be on the table,” said David Walker, and while everything certainly was at the meeting, it was tilted in a particular direction. The meeting was designed to provide an outline of the fiscal challenges of the nation, and offer solutions for how to meet it. But all the solutions were very prescribed and very narrow. An authoritative “Options Workbook” sets out potential budget solutions, on the spending and revenue side. 28 pages cover spending cuts, 15 pages cover revenue solutions. And the very first pages of the workbook talk about cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

While the workbook has pages and pages describing the health care system, the final menu of solutions simply list amounts of percentage cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, without mentioning how to achieve those cuts. The options to “achieve savings” in the program include means-testing, raising deductibles and co-pays, increasing the Medicare eligibility age, limiting Medicaid eligibility and voucher-izing Medicare. There are no progressive solutions nor is there anything close to the potential savings achieved in the Affordable Care Act, things like health IT and bundled payments and increased efficiency.

On Social Security, a more precise menu of options is offered, but so is a drastic description of the solvency of the program, without one mention of the trillions of dollars of surplus in the Social Security trust fund. The options in the workbook include raising the retirement age, cutting benefits through indexing or straight cuts, raising the payroll tax, raising the “limit of taxable earnings” (but not just eliminating the limit) and “creating personal savings accounts within the system,” the language of which has been taken completely from Republican Paul Ryan’s “roadmap” budget.

When the workbook finally gets around to tax increases, the language in the text constantly goes back to how taxing wealthier Americans would “reduce incentives for work and savings.” At one point it says that “Tax increases on upper-income Americans will discourage work and penalize success.” It talks about raising the corporate tax rate but not the effective tax rate, as in reality many corporations pay nothing in taxes. And writing about deductions, little in the workbook talks about the vast amount of subsidies for corporations and, for example, Big Agriculture. Only two specific corporate deductions, for depreciation for equipment and for producing goods in the US, get a mention. That a financial transactions tax makes it into the document (literally as the last option) is surprising, but predictably, the workbook says it could “move stock transactions to other markets.” Growing the economy and the effect of job creation on revenue appears nowhere in the document.

Dday also concurs with my earlier impression that this was a very slickly designed program to steer people worried about the economy toward cuts in the safety net, which we all know is the real purpose of this thing. (It's amazing what a billion dollars can do...) The people who attended were mostly earnest, decent citizens who are legitimately worried about the future of this country. And they are being led very methodically into a belief that the biggest threat to that future is government spending on social programs.