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Weissman writes: "If you liked the government shutdown, the debt ceiling fight, political polarization, and agonizing gridlock of the past few weeks, you will love the Congressional budget talks ahead."

Tea Party extremists like Ted Cruz try to hide behind the flag. (photo: AP)
Tea Party extremists like Ted Cruz try to hide behind the flag. (photo: AP)


Fight the So-Called Centrists! Finesse the Tea Party Extremists!

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

22 October 13

f you liked the government shutdown, the debt ceiling fight, political polarization, and agonizing gridlock of the past few weeks, you will love the Congressional budget talks ahead.

The deal to end the shutdown and temporarily raise the debt ceiling called for reconciling the Senate budget that cuts Pentagon spending, ends some corporate subsidies, and closes some tax loopholes for the rich with Paul Ryan's budget that the House passed this spring, seriously cutting social programs. Ryan and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are co-chairing the conference committee to do this, and they must report any agreement by December 13. If they fail to agree, as seems likely, or if both chambers fail to pass a unified budget, or if President Obama refuses to sign it into law, the Budget Control Act of 2011 will kick in, imposing automatic, across-the-board cuts, or sequestration. Using figures from the Bipartisan Policy Center, this will trim the Pentagon budget for Fiscal Year 2014 by an estimated $54.7 billion, and reduce by a similar amount non-defense spending, including Medicare.

Allowing these automatic cuts would be a mammoth failure. But a budget agreement could prove even worse. Apart from the harm done to the weakest among us, these cuts will further weaken an economy in which overall demand is still too low to create decent growth and provide sufficient jobs. John Maynard Keynes long ago explained how this works, and even the IMF is beginning to catch on. As I wrote in April, "When times are tough and the private sector pulls back, borrow or print money to stimulate demand. When growth returns, pay down the borrowing."

Senator Ted Cruz, the Tea Party darling who has staked his presidential ambitions on the shutdown, abhors such rational economic timing. He grew up schooled in the "free market" trinity of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman, which – for all his vaunted intellect – makes Cruz easy to ridicule as a libertarian lunatic, which he is. But, compared to the real movers and shakers in the budget and debt debate, Cruz is only a political pipsqueak barely worth attacking. I would leave him largely to the barbs of country club Republicans and those in the business community who are coming to see the danger to themselves of using right-wing populists and libertarian ideologues as shock troops. Even the billionaire Koch brothers, who are massively funding opposition to Obamacare, seem of mixed minds about using the shutdown as a tactic against it.

Progressives in and to the left of "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party" would do better to counter the "centrist" arguments of people like Peter J. "Pete" Peterson, the octogenarian Wall Street billionaire who has led the class war to slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security ever since the early days of the Reagan administration. More than anyone else, Peterson and his amen chorus in the media fabricated the supposed "debt crisis" that still has us in its mythic clutches. Before most non-Texans even heard of Cruz, Peterson and those who kiss his coattails persuaded Obama to create the 2010 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, headed by retired Republican senator Alan Simpson and Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff, the Wall Street banker Erskine Bowles. Their report led directly to the catastrophically stupid Budget Control Act and its automatic cuts, and will frame much of the debate ahead.

If only Obama, who stood firmly against Cruz's effort to defund Obamacare, had stood up against Peterson's "debt crisis" fear-mongering. He did not and still does not. To his credit, he never endorsed the final recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles panel. But he signed the Budget Control Act in exchange for an earlier hike in the debt ceiling. He – along with the Democratic leadership in Congress – has accepted as a starting point for negotiations some $80 billion in across-the-board cuts that have already been made. And, he appears open to weakening Medicare by means-testing and reducing Social Security payments by linking cost of living adjustments to the chained Consumer Price Index. This leaves it up to citizen activists on the left to let Congress and the country know that we will fight any cuts to social spending.

No doubt, a no-compromise stance will get us tarred as extremists, much like the Tea Party on the right. But we cannot let ourselves be cowed by attacks from bought-and-paid-for politicians, ubiquitous political consultants, and corporate media pundits. In fact, I would go even further. As crazy as I find Tea Party economics, as outrageous as I find their opposition to health care as a human right, and as racist as some of them appear to be, we should learn from the movement-building approach they took in their shut-down fight. They knew what they were for and against. They kept their demands simple. They stuck to them, showing backbone that leading Democrats seem not to have. And if they lost the battle, they are closer today to winning the war they were fighting, which is to take over and remake the Republican Party, with the wonderfully unelectable Ted Cruz now a leading candidate to be its presidential candidate in 2016.

I also think we should make common cause with Tea Party Republicans in fighting for the First and Fourth Amendments and against the Surveillance State, the use of drones in targeted assassinations, the military-industrial complex, and an imperial foreign policy.

In all this, we need not become similarly suicidal, crazy, isolationist, or in any way reckless with the well-being of others, as the Tea Party groups are and will continue to be. Very much a wave of the past, the right-wing evangelicals and libertarians who identify with Cruz and Rand Paul are overwhelmingly white, small town voters who feel they are losing the white-bread Christian America they thought was theirs. They're right: they are, as non-white immigrants and their children become a large part of the electorate and as a new generation of voters swings to the left. This is the wave of the future, which can help build a decent society, but not if Democratic Party leaders continue to compromise away what remains of our social safety net.



A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How To Break Their Hold."

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

 

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+19 # Agricanto 2013-10-22 15:04
Mmmmm. You make persuasive arguments but 'm not sure I can agree with...

"we should learn from the movement-buildi ng approach they took in their shut-down fight. They knew what they were for and against." They kept changing what they were for though they did want to end Obamacare (and the they didn't).

"They kept their demands simple. They stuck to them, showing backbone that leading Democrats seem not to have."
They actually came up with a long list of demands that went into things like the KXL pipeline, and others.

"And if they lost the battle, they are closer today to winning the war they were fighting, which is to take over and remake the Republican Party, with the wonderfully unelectable Ted Cruz now a leading candidate to be its presidential candidate in 2016."
I hope this is not where the Left needs to go. Progressives need to build real coalitions of labor and environment, civil rights and women's rights, corporate reform and regulatory solutions. It might be good to join with those in the populist right that share a view on banksters and Wall Street. But I am not going to hold my breath. The Tea Party hates more than it loves. And they hate us more than they hate the banks.
 
 
+8 # MidwestDick 2013-10-22 18:47
Thought provoking rebuttal. Thanks.
 
 
+1 # drew 2013-10-26 11:02
Good catches, there were some glaring inaccuracies in this piece, and you are right that "the Tea Party hates more than it loves."
The only thing progressives should take from the Tea Party is their fierce determination and steely resolve to their cause (even though in their case, their cause is ridiculous and based on Republican lies, fear-mongering & hyperbole)
 
 
+15 # bingers 2013-10-22 15:33
Allowing teabaggers a voice in the party is al the proof you need that there is no rational reason for the continued existence of the Republican party.

When (if) they crush the tea twits then and only then should anyone outside their families consider voting Republican again.
 
 
+9 # Billy Bob 2013-10-22 16:16
Just an aside. Ted Cruz carries himself like a chronically depressed person with some personal untreated issues. He reminds me of a few people I've known with similar issues. What I say is just bullshit and has no meaning. It's just a vibe I get. Honestly, I could apply the same to
 
 
+15 # Billy Bob 2013-10-22 16:16
I could apply the same to John Boner.
 
 
+14 # ericlipps 2013-10-22 17:21
Quote:
. . . I also think we should make common cause with Tea Party Republicans in fighting for the First and Fourth Amendments and against the Surveillance State, the use of drones in targeted assassinations, the military-industrial complex, and an imperial foreign policy.
I don't. The "tea partiers" will stab us in the back at the first opportunity.
 
 
+15 # karenvista 2013-10-22 19:01
Weissmann makes a big mistake in saying that that the Republicans plan on "reducing Social Security payments by linking cost of living adjustments to the Consumer Price Index." That is how our occasional increases are already calculated. What they are going to do is to use a vehicle they've invented and called it "Chained CPI." That is the concept that if they increase our payments less than the rate of inflation-when we can't afford beef anymore we will eat chicken, when we can't afford chicken anymore we will eat hot-dogs, when we can't afford hot-dogs anymore we'll eat beans and when we can't afford beans we'll eat cat food. We know how this ends.

According to AARP:

"Look at it this way: The COLA for this year was 1.7 percent. If your monthly Social Security check was $1,250 last year, it increased to $1,271.25 this year.

With the chained CPI, you would be getting $1,267.50 — or $3.75 less a month and $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 $7.61 a month and $91.32 for the year.

You start to get the picture. The gap accelerates and begins looking like real money. If you're 62 and take early retirement this year, by age 92 — when health care costs can skyrocket and more than 1 in 6 older Americans lives in poverty — you'll be losing a full month of income every year."
 
 
+9 # Billy Bob 2013-10-23 04:59
Well said.

In fact, right now, people are already making decisions between medicine and food. We're already most of the way there. "Chained CPI" hopes to make people's lives even worse than they already are, when there's not much room for them to get any worse, to begin with.
 
 
+3 # amye 2013-10-23 08:00
Thank you Mr. Weissman! Ive been reading you for years, and you have given me hope! The current state of our media is so negative that I continue to fear a dystopian US and world. I love Mr. Hedges, however he scares me with this very possible future reality! There is, however, a revolt brewing underneath it all. The citizens of the US are seeing our similarities far better on which to start this revolution than the Congress, White House, Courts, and private business are capable of seeing for themselves or the people of this country! If things get any worse it will occur with half this country in or near poverty with no foreseeable economic future for the middle class.
 

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