Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research
Fans of arithmetic everywhere know that the large deficits of the last five years are the result of the economic downturn caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. But those taking part in deficit discussions in Washington won't allow such numbers into the discussion.
The Serious People in Washington, such as the Washington Post (both the opinion and news sections), the Wall Street Campaign to Fix the Debt, and the Republican congressional leadership are in a full budget-cutting frenzy. They demand cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and everything else that benefits middle-income and poor people because, well because the market demands it.
And we know the market demands these cuts because the Serious People told us the market demands these cuts. The fact that the cuts have the effect of redistributing income from the rest of us to the Serious People and their friends is just a coincidence.
Those of us who focus on numbers and data might see that we actually have near record-low interest rates on U.S. government debt, suggesting that the markets aren't at all concerned about budget deficits. We can also point out the obvious truth that budget deficits are supporting the economy given the loss of more than $1 trillion in annual construction and consumption demand as a result of the collapse of the housing bubble.
But the Serious People in Washington don't have the time to deal with the stinkin' numbers. They have worked themselves into a full-fledged budget-cutting frenzy.
Perhaps the best piece of utter wackiness coming out of this Washington debt-cutting frenzy is a proposal from Republican Senator Bob Corker, a member in good standing of the Serious People club. Corker's plan, the Fiscal Reform Act of 2012 includes items such as cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which are described in classic Washington fashion as "reform."
But the best part of Corker's plan is his proposal for cuts in the wages and benefits of the federal government's workforce. These cuts average $141,600 for every federal employee. That is not a typo. The $141,600 figure is correct. It comes from taking the $397 billion in savings that Corker wants to come from "Federal Employee Hiring and Benefit Reform" and dividing it by the 2,804,000 employees on the federal government's payroll.
That one is worth mulling over for a few minutes. We're talking about $141,600 in wage and benefit cuts for every nurse and custodian working at the Veterans Administration's hospitals; $141,600 in cuts for every letter carrier who delivers our mail; $141,600 in cuts for every meat inspector at the Food and Drug Administration who ensure that our food is safe.
In Washington today proposals like Corker's pass for serious. At a time when tens of millions of people are still unemployed, underemployed or out of the labor force altogether as a result of the fallout created by the collapse of the housing bubble, in Washington it is serious to argue that our biggest problem is that custodians at the VA hospitals are getting paid too much.
In fairness, it is not only federal employees who Corker and the other deficit hawks want to whack. They also want to cut Social Security benefits, raise the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67 and to cut Medicaid, which covers the cost of most nursing home care for the nation's elderly. The basic story is that anyone who is not rich can expect to see a big hit if these deficit hawks get their way; it's just that federal employees get special treatment.
As always, the folks who were the central cause of the economy's wreckage and the large current budget deficits, escape large unscathed in the Serious People's offensive on the debt. For some reason they never consider the idea of a modest tax on Wall Street speculation. Hey, they don't even consider the idea of cutting the pensions of folks like Alan Greenspan, whose astounding incompetence as Federal Reserve Board Chairman allowed the housing bubble to grow so big that its collapse would destroy the economy.
But going after the rich and incompetent would not be Serious. In Washington, "Serious" means beating up on people without money and power. It's that simple.
January 28th, 2014
In the State of the Union address tonight, President Obama is going to call for a national minimum wage of $10.10. Then in their response ...
January 21st, 2014
My New Year's Day op-ed in the New York Times seems to have kickstarted a discussion about how to make Obamacare better. I hope you ...
December 18th, 2013
This morning it was announced by the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board that my first film, 'Roger & Me', has been ...
December 14th, 2013
[View the story "Michael Moore Tweets on Eve of Newtown Anniversay" on Storify]
November 9th, 2013
Click here for this week's full schedule for the State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay in Traverse City, Michigan. The day has arrived. For ...
September 10th, 2013
[View the story "John Kerry's Accidental Diplomacy" on Storify]
July 30th, 2013
Today Bradley Manning was convicted on 20 of 22 counts, including violating the Espionage Act, releasing classified information and disobeying orders. That's the bad news. ...
September 11th, 2010
OpenMike 9/11/10 Michael Moore's daily blog I am opposed to the building of the "mosque" two blocks from Ground Zero. I want it built on ...
December 14th, 2010
Yesterday, in the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, the lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange presented to the judge a document from me stating that ...
May 12th, 2011
"The Nazis killed tens of MILLIONS. They got a trial. Why? Because we're not like them. We're Americans. We roll different." – Michael Moore in ...
November 22nd, 2011
This past weekend I participated in a four-hour meeting of Occupy Wall Street activists whose job it is to come up with the vision and ...
September 22nd, 2011
I encourage everyone I know to never travel to Georgia, never buy anything made in Georgia, to never do business in Georgia. I will ask ...
December 16th, 2010
Dear Swedish Government: Hi there -- or as you all say, Hallå! You know, all of us here in the U.S. love your country. Your ...
November 2nd, 2010
This letter contains (almost) no criticisms of how the Democrats have brought this day of reckoning upon themselves. That -- and where to go from ...