Holding the American People Hostage

by Walter Brasch

Judges who wish to assure that a jury has no outside influence will sequester them.

Legally, a sequestered jury is seized by authority and isolated from all outside influences.

The jurors are escorted into and out of the courtroom. They aren’t allowed to read newspapers, listen to radio news, or watch TV news, ‘lest they could be influenced by the media. They are escorted to and from meals, and isolated from other customers. They can’t discuss the case with family or friends. They can’t even go home at the end of the day; they’re housed in hotel rooms.

In the summer of 2011, a bipartisan “super-committee” was supposed to come up with a reasonable budget to eliminate $1.2-$1.5 trillion from the national deficit. The Congressionally-mandated sequester went into effect two weeks ago when Congress couldn’t come up with a better idea about the budget. The draconian cuts across all federal programs was supposed to be enacted only as a last-ditch measure. The concept was that Congress and the Administration would be so fearful of the results of the sequester, which the media and elected officials often called a “poison pill,” they would take the time to thoughtfully work out a proper budget, and the sequester would never happen.

But, the Republicans dug in their heels, refused to compromise, and even continued their vacations the last week before the sequester went into effect.

Republican Speaker John Boehner claims he doesn’t like the sequester, never liked it-although he praised it a year ago-and blames President Obama.

President Obama wanted to restore the tax rates that existed before the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, while keeping the tax cuts for everyone else. Under Republican pressure, he eventually raised the limit to $400,000. The President further proposed a budget that would yield $1.1 trillion in spending cuts and $700 billion in increased revenue, primarily from closing federal tax loopholes and deductions that benefitted primarily the nation’s upper class. That proposal already included cutting back the deficit by $600 billion. (For those keeping track, George W. Bush came into office with a $236.2 billion surplus; by the end of his presidency, he left Barack Obama a $500 billion deficit and the worst Recession since the Great Depression of 1929.)

The Republicans, willingly jerked around by their Tea Party base, don’t want the restoration of the tax rates for anyone. Of course, they also don’t want to end billions of dollars of corporate subsidies, paid for through taxes upon the working poor. Until this past week, the Republicans didn’t even have a budget proposal of their own until they dusted off and put new polish on Rep. Paul Ryan’s slightly revised budget proposal from the 2012 campaign. That would be the budget proposal the American people rejected when they gave Barack Obama a resounding second term victory.

The Congressional Budget Office says the sequester could cut more than 750,000 federal jobs. Republicans like that idea, especially since most federal employees are also members of unions. But, those jobs include public health officials, social service workers, teachers, air traffic controllers, and others in critical jobs. Cutting social services appeals to the Republican mind-set, but cutting the number of air traffic controllers alone would cause not just a severe reduction of flights, but significant lost revenue for the airlines. Obviously, the Republicans, the party of corporate America, don’t really care.

And now we learn that the Republican leadership wasn’t honest with their own members, and didn’t tell them of the cuts the President had already agreed to, and the myriad compromises he had already made with the Republican speaker of the house and the Republican senate minority chair to try to avoid the sequester.

It may seem that Congress had no idea what the word “sequester” meant when it created this fiscal disaster. But the reality is that Congress does know. Its actions-or, rather, its failure to act- has left the American people isolated and held hostage by authority. This time, it’s not a judge sequestering a jury, but a Republican-dominated Congress sequestering all of the American people.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the best-selling Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the consequences of fracking by the natural gas industry. The book is available through amazon.com, greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]

Toeing The Cliff

The House will adjourn tonight with no vote on the fiscal cliff crisis.  The President said this afternoon that an agreement is near.  Word is Democrats have compromised on tax cuts by agreeing not to raise taxes for anyone earning $450,000/year or less.  This cuts potential revenues by 40% making it harder to balance the budget.

No House votes means the country will go over the fiscal cliff at midnight.  Because January 1st is a federal holiday nothing will happen tomorrow either.

Keystone Progress had a bit of fun this morning holding its “Fiscal Cliff Bowl” on a field in the 16th Congressional District in Reading.  Mike Morrill did the announcing while Dan Sauder played the part of Jim Gerlach who rigged the game for the millionaires.

Remember Government By Extortion?

America was on the verge of default.  The safest investment in the world:  United States Treasury Bonds, were about to fail because the Tea Party led Republican House of Representatives decided to play government by extortion.  The resulting crisis over raising the debt ceiling (which will play out again in January depending on the outcome of the election) resulted in a loss of consumer confidence which hurt the economy and the downgrading of the country’s credit rating.

This wasn’t the first instance of House extremists using extortion to hurt the economy.  Repeatedly since 2010 they held a gun to the President’s head (figuratively) and demanded deep cuts in government spending which wound up slowing down the recovery.  While 5.2 million private sector jobs have been created public sector employment has plummeted.

Guess who participated fully in that extortion?  Pennsylvania’s GOP Congressional delegation:

Jim Gerlach

Joe Pitts

Mike Fitzpatrick

Pat Meehan

Charlie Dent

Lou Barletta

Tom Marino

Tim Murphy

Mike Kelly

Todd Platts

Part of that agreement was the sequestration crisis scheduled to hit the economy early in 2012.  It would slash government spending, including defense, by large amounts.  Most agencies will see a 20% across the board cut meaning essential services will be lost.  Do you enjoy safe food, research into cancer and other life threatening diseases, breathable air, safe ground, pharmaceuticals which are safe to take etc?  Forget it.  These Tea bagger conservatives have put all of it at risk along with the safety net for the poor.  Their failed economic policies crashed the economy and drove many middle class Americans into poverty.  Now they want to take away your food stamps, housing assistance, heating assistance and Medicaid.

Are you really going to vote them back in?

News & Notes December 3, 2011

Channel 69 News picked up my story about Tom Herman.  No one will yet comment about their resignation.  I’ve downloaded the fall dinner video done by Mr. Herman to pull out the section where he rants against blogs, email listers and progressives.  This is someone who co-founded a “progressive PAC (which gives to non-progressives) and who calls himself a progressive when it’s in his interest.  BS as we saw in his rant.

Donald Trump will moderate a GOP debate.  This is now, officially, a reality show combined with book tours.  At the end of the debate he should fire one of the candidates.  You cannot take seriously anything in which The Donald is involved.

Newt Gingrich claims people use their food stamp card to go to Hawaii.  This is shocking in that it illustrates the disconnect the 1% have with poor people.  Newt doesn’t have a clue how food stamps work.

The Milton S. Hershey School barred a boy from enrolling because he has HIV.  It’s been a long time since we witnessed HIV hysteria.  I thought the Ryan White days were passed us.  The only potential threat from others is the slight chance the boy would be subjected to a predatory sex offender hiring Hershey boys out for sex to older men.  Since the Hershey School has actually had that happen recently with one of its adult employees perhaps they shouldn’t be trusted with any children.

Michele Bachmann says she’d close the American embassy in Iran.  There hasn’t been a U.S. embassy in Tehran since 1979.  Shouldn’t candidates for president have some minimum sense of history and information?   Maybe, at a minimum, pass a basic civics test?

House Speaker John Boehner says the middle class payroll tax cut is “chicken shit.”  I think he has this confused with the way Republicans view the entire 99%.  Perhaps he should spend less time protecting billionaires’ incomes and rolled around in some chicken shit.  It’s right there in the GOP caucus room.

Penn State isn’t subject to the state Open Records Act and is using that shield to suppress requests for information about the Sandusky scandal.  They also used it to fight grand jury subpoenas.  As I recall the original controversy was around disclosing JoePa’s salary.  Penn State is just making itself look worse and worse by concealing what should be public information.  This is yet another disgrace.

Gov. Corbett ordered DPW to cut $470 million from its budget and social workers are now telling tales about poor women and children being cut from Medicaid.  All this, of course, is to fund tax breaks for corporations and allow energy drillers to NOT pay for extracting OUR natural gas.

Congressman Mike Kelly (PA-03) lambasted Obama for not taking responsibility for Republican failures.  It sounds like something you’d hear from a car salesman.  Kelly is a car dealer in Erie.

Rick Santorum says you shouldn’t get health insurance if you have pre-existing conditions.  It’s an excellent argument for single payer.

No New Jobs

The New Austerity is beginning to have its effect on the economy as no new jobs were created in August.  The net total of zero reflects job losses due to massive Republican (Tea Party) budget cuts across the country.  You cannot create jobs when you’re cutting them.

Meanwhile consumer confidence is declining along with the stock market.  The market collapses following the debt ceiling deal are hurting the overall economy as people see their investments disappear.  The lack of confidence in the future means businesses aren’t hiring.  We have been put into a downward spiral due to conservative radical ideology and signs point to another repeat of the fall 2008 collapse.

President Obama does not escape blame because he gave in to the demands for cuts.  Americans want JOBS but no one in Washington seems to be listening.

Obama Caves Yet Again

Our spineless President can’t even stand his ground on when he’ll address a joint session of Congress about jobs.  Following a dust up by the real President John Boehner, Obama caved and switched his speech to next Thursday so he doesn’t compete with those trying to take his job.

Did no one at the White House check schedules ar, if they did, turn so weak they couldn’t even stand up for themselves?  What a total debacle.  The American people saw who is really in charge in DC.

Obama’s Saturday Night Massacre

Obama once said he’d be a one term President if it meant doing what was right for the country.  He will be a one term President because he failed to do what is right for the country.   The “compromise” forged last night is horrendous and will hurt the economy, devastate seniors and the disabled, jeopardize our national defense and kill jobs.  How is it that poison pills like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid only appear when the White House is involved?  This “compromise” includes NO revenue hikes.  No new taxes are in the bill, we will see $2.8 trillion in cuts to fund tax cuts for the rich and for corporations.

How do you think this Super Committee will find $2.8 trillion to cut without gutting Social Security and Medicare?  It can’t be done.  The penalty if they don’t is a Balanced Budget Amendment, the ultimate poison pill.  It’s time to call everyone in Washington, your Congressperson, Senators and the White House and express your outrage.  Then go to your county courthouse and leave your Party.  If they see a mass migration of voters to non affiliated status it will get their attention.  Then refuse to give any more money to any Party affiliated organization or candidate/elected official who votes for this monstrosity.  It’s time to take to the streets people.

Debt Ceiling Talks Collapse

Speaker John Boehner walked out of negotiations on the debt ceiling today as the deadline looms for agreement.  With a drop dead default date of August 2nd ahead and a Congressional calendar and rules to which to adhere time is quickly running out.  Financial markets may very well collapse Monday if there’s no agreement.  Not just an agreement but one which can muster enough votes for passage.

President Obama was already giving away the store with substantial cuts to Social Security which contributes not one dime to the deficit.  Why this is on the table is beyond comprehension.  Any Democrat who slashed these benefits is doomed to be challenged in his own primary next year and be a one termer.  A Russ Feingold or Howard Dean would, and should, rise up and challenge Obama if that happens and no amount of fundraising by OFA will be able to offset the voter furor.

Still, the President was willing to sacrifice his second term to secure a deal.  His folly, however, is exaggerated by the fact he could have gotten a debt ceiling deal either in tandem with extension of tax cuts last year or earlier this year as part of negotiations on appropriations.  He passed and is now in this situation.  Any vote on raising the debt ceiling should be a stand alone measure not tied to any other issue.  Obama continues allowing himself to be held hostage by an extreme minority wing of the GOP hell bent on destroying the country.

Republicans have totally abandoned any notion of “Country First” and put their narrow minded ideological agenda before the good of the nation.  Members of Congress more afraid of breaking their tax pledges to Grover Norquist are blocking revenue enhancements critical to any real debt reduction.  Taxes must be raised to offset the massive borrowing done by Republicans the past thirty years.  Financing wars instead of paying for them, deregulating markets so they destroy the economy and depress revenues and enacting huge tax cuts which hurt the economy are all legacies of irresponsible Republican leadership.  They are why we are in this hole and now they want us to give them new shovels instead of ladders.

Grover Norquist is NOT the President.  He has NOT been elected to any office and whatever he wants is irrelevant.  If lawmakers don’t have the gumption to do what is right and what is necessary they should take some advice:

if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen.

Reports say Boehner insisted on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act at the last minute and walked out when the President disagreed.  He says Obama introduced additional tax increases.  It matters neither, it was all negotiating in bad faith because neither man can muster the votes to pass a bill.  Eighty progressives in Congress have now signed a letter they will block any cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  I doubt Boehner can get enough GOP votes for any bill which includes tax increases or the closing of loopholes.

Default looms and when financial markets open Monday morning and collapse business interests will once again retake control of the Republican Party and drive the Tea baggers back to their caves.  At some point intelligent adults have to take over and avert a new Great Depression.

When you voted Republican last year this is what you wished for folks.  I hope you enjoy losing your job, home and retirement…again.

The President’s remarks are under the fold:

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_______________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                               July 22, 2011

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

6:06 P.M. EDT

    THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening, everybody.  I wanted to give you an update on the current situation around the debt ceiling.  I just got a call about a half hour ago from Speaker Boehner who indicated that he was going to be walking away from the negotiations that we’ve been engaged in here at the White House for a big deficit reduction and debt reduction package.  And I thought it would be useful for me to just give you some insight into where we were and why I think that we should have moved forward with a big deal.

Essentially what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense.  We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.  We believed that it was possible to shape those in a way that preserved the integrity of the system, made them available for the next generation, and did not affect current beneficiaries in an adverse way.

    In addition, what we sought was revenues that were actually less than what the Gang of Six signed off on.  So you had a bipartisan group of senators, including Republicans who are in leadership in the Senate, calling for what effectively was about $2 trillion above the Republican baseline that they’ve been working off of.  What we said was give us $1.2 trillion in additional revenues, which could be accomplished without hiking taxes — tax rates, but could simply be accomplished by eliminating loopholes, eliminating some deductions and engaging in a tax reform process that could have lowered rates generally while broadening the base.

    So let me reiterate what we were offering.  We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six.  We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed.  And we were calling for modifications to entitlement programs, would have saved just as much over the 10-year window.  In other words, this was an extraordinarily fair deal.  If it was unbalanced, it was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue.

    But in the interest of being serious about deficit reduction, I was willing to take a lot of heat from my party — and I spoke to Democratic leaders yesterday, and although they didn’t sign off on a plan, they were willing to engage in serious negotiations, despite a lot of heat from a lot of interest groups around the country, in order to make sure that we actually dealt with this problem.

    It is hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal.  And, frankly, if you look at commentary out there, there are a lot of Republicans that are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done.  In fact, there are a lot of Republican voters out there who are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done. Because the fact of the matter is the vast majority of the American people believe we should have a balanced approach.

    Now, if you do not have any revenues, as the most recent Republican plan that’s been put forward both in the House and the Senate proposed, if you have no revenues at all, what that means is more of a burden on seniors, more drastic cuts to education, more drastic cuts to research, a bigger burden on services that are going to middle-class families all across the country.  And it essentially asks nothing of corporate jet owners, it asks nothing of oil and gas companies, it asks nothing from folks like me who’ve done extremely well and can afford to do a little bit more.

    In other words, if you don’t have revenues, the entire thing ends up being tilted on the backs of the poor and middle-class families.  And the majority of Americans don’t agree on that approach.

    So here’s what we’re going to do.  We have now run out of time.  I told Speaker Boehner, I’ve told Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, I’ve told Harry Reid, and I’ve told Mitch McConnell I want them here at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow.  We have run out of time. And they are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default.  And they can come up with any plans that they want and bring them up here and we will work on them.  The only bottom line that I have is that we have to extend this debt ceiling through the next election, into 2013.

    And the reason for it is we’ve now seen how difficult it is to get any kind of deal done.  The economy is already weakened.  And the notion that five or six or eight months from now we’ll be in a better position to try to solve this problem makes no sense.

    In addition, if we can’t come up with a serious plan for actual deficit and debt reduction, and all we’re doing is extending the debt ceiling for another six, seven, eight months, then the probabilities of downgrading U.S. credit are increased, and that will be an additional cloud over the economy and make it more difficult for us and more difficult for businesses to create jobs that the American people so desperately need.

    So they will come down here at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow.  I expect them to have an answer in terms of how they intend to get this thing done over the course of the next week.  The American people expect action.  I continue to believe that a package that is balanced and actually has serious debt and deficit reduction is the right way to go.  And the American people I think are fed up with political posturing and an inability for politicians to take responsible action as opposed to dodge their responsibilities.

    With that, I’m going to take some questions.

    Ben.

    Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You said you want the leaders back here at 11:00 a.m. to give you an answer about the path forward.  What is your answer about the path forward?  What path do you prefer, given what’s just happened?  And also, sir, quickly, what does this say about your relationship with Speaker Boehner?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, with respect to my relationship with Speaker Boehner, we’ve always had a cordial relationship.  We had very intense negotiations — I’m going to have my team brief you exactly on how these negotiations proceeded.  Up until sometime early today when I couldn’t get a phone call returned, my expectation was that Speaker Boehner was going to be willing to go to his caucus and ask them to do the tough thing but the right thing.  I think it has proven difficult for Speaker Boehner to do that.  I’ve been left at the altar now a couple of times.

And I think that one of the questions that the Republican Party is going to have to ask itself is can they say yes to anything?  Can they say yes to anything?  I mean, keep in mind it’s the Republican Party that has said that the single most important thing facing our country is deficits and debts.  We’ve now put forward a package that would significantly cut deficits and debt.  It would be the biggest debt reduction package that we’ve seen in a very long time.

And it’s accomplished without raising individual tax rates. It’s accomplished in a way that’s compatible with the “no tax” pledge that a whole bunch of these folks signed on to — because we were mindful that they had boxed themselves in and we tried to find a way for them to generate revenues in a way that did not put them in a bad spot.

And so the question is, what can you say yes to?  Now, if their only answer is what they’ve presented, which is a package that would effectively require massive cuts to Social Security, to Medicare, to domestic spending, with no revenues whatsoever, not asking anything from the wealthiest in this country or corporations that have been making record profits — if that’s their only answer, then it’s going to be pretty difficult for us to figure out where to go.  Because the fact of the matter is that’s what the American people are looking for, is some compromise, some willingness to put partisanship aside, some willingness to ignore talk radio or ignore activists in our respective bases, and do the right thing.

And to their credit, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, the Democratic leadership, they sure did not like the plan that we are proposing to Boehner, but they were at least willing to engage in a conversation because they understood how important it is for us to actually solve this problem.  And so far I have not seen the capacity of the House Republicans in particular to make those tough decisions.

And so then the question becomes, where’s the leadership?  Or, alternatively, how serious are you actually about debt and deficit reduction?  Or do you simply want it as a campaign ploy going into the next election?

Now, in terms of where we go next, here’s the one thing that we’ve got to do.  At minimum, we’ve got to increase the debt ceiling.  At minimum.  I think we need to do more than that.  But as I’ve said before, Republican Leader McConnell in the Senate put forward a plan that said he’s going to go ahead and give me the responsibility to raise the debt ceiling.  That way folks in Congress can vote against it, but at least it gets done.  I’m willing to take the responsibility.  That’s my job.  So if they want to give me the responsibility to do it, I’m happy to do it.

But what we’re not going to do is to continue to play games and string this along for another eight, nine months, and then have to go through this whole exercise all over again.  That we’re not going to do.

Jessica Yellin.

Q    Standing here tonight, Mr. President, can you assure the American people that they will get their Social Security checks on August 3rd?  And if not, who’s to blame?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, when it comes to all the checks, not just Social Security — veterans, people with disabilities — about 70 million checks are sent out each month — if we default then we’re going to have to make adjustments.  And I’m already consulting with Secretary Geithner in terms of what the consequences would be.

We should not even be in that kind of scenario.  And if Congress — and in particular, the House Republicans — are not willing to make sure that we avoid default, then I think it’s fair to say that they would have to take responsibility for whatever problems arise in those payments.  Because, let me repeat, I’m not interested in finger-pointing and I’m not interested in blame, but I just want the facts to speak for themselves.

We have put forward a plan that is more generous to Republican concerns than a bipartisan plan that was supported by a number of Republican senators, including at least one that is in Republican leadership in the Senate.  Now, I’ll leave it up to the American people to make a determination as to how fair that is.  And if the leadership cannot come to an agreement in terms of how we move forward, then I think they will hold all of us accountable.

But that shouldn’t even be an option.  That should not be an option.  I’m getting letters from people who write me and say, at the end of every month I have to skip meals.  Senior citizens on Social Security who are just hanging on by a thread.  Folks who have severe disabilities who are desperate every single month to try to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet.  But it’s not just those folks.  You’ve got business contractors who are providing services to the federal government, who have to wonder are they going to be able to get paid and what does that do in terms of their payrolls.

You’ve got just a huge number of people who, in one way or another, interact with the federal government.  And even if you don’t, even if you’re not a recipient of Social Security, even if you don’t get veterans’ benefits or disabilities, imagine what that does to the economy when suddenly 70 million checks are put at risk.  I mean, if you’re a business out there, that is not going to be good for economic growth.  And that’s the number one concern of the American people.

So we’ve got to get it done.  It is not an option not to do it.

Q    And your degree of confidence?

THE PRESIDENT:  I am confident simply because I cannot believe that Congress would end up being that irresponsible that they would not send a package that avoids a self-inflicted wound to the economy at a time when things are so difficult.

Scott Horsley.

Q    Mr. President, can you explain why you were offering a deal that was more generous than the Gang of Six, which you seemed to be embracing on Tuesday when you were here?

THE PRESIDENT:  Because what had become apparent was that Speaker Boehner had some difficulty in his caucus.  There are a group of his caucus that actually think default would be okay and have said that they would not vote for increasing the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

And so I understand how they get themselves stirred up and the sharp ideological lines that they’ve drawn.  And ultimately, my responsibility is to make sure that we avoid extraordinary difficulties to American people and American businesses.

And so, unfortunately, when you’re in these negotiations you don’t get 100 percent of what you want.  You may not even get 60 or 70 percent of what you want.  But I was willing to try to persuade Democratic leadership as well as Democratic members of Congress that even a deal that is not as balanced as I think it should be is better than no deal at all.  And I was willing to persuade Democrats that getting a handle on debt and deficit reduction is important to Democrats just as much as it’s important to Republicans — and, frankly, a lot of Democrats are persuaded by that.

As I said in the last press conference, if you’re a progressive you should want to get our fiscal house in order, because once we do, it allows us to then have a serious conversation about the investments that we need to make — like infrastructure, like rebuilding our roads and our bridges and airports, like investing more in college education, like making sure that we’re focused on the kinds of research and technology that’s going to help us win the future.  It’s a lot easier to do that when we’ve got our fiscal house in order.  And that was an argument that I was willing to go out and make to a lot of skeptical Democrats, as you saw yesterday.    

But ultimately, that’s what we should expect from our leaders.  If this was easy it would have already been done.  And I think what a lot of the American people are so disappointed by is this sense that all the talk about responsibility, all the talk about the next generation, all the talk about making sacrifices, that when it comes to actually doing something difficult folks walk away.

Last point I’ll make here.  I mean, I’ve gone out of my way to say that both parties have to make compromises.  I think this whole episode has indicated the degree to which at least a Democratic President has been willing to make some tough compromises.  So when you guys go out there and write your stories, this is not a situation where somehow this was the usual food fight between Democrats and Republicans.  A lot of Democrats stepped up in ways that were not advantageous politically.  So we’ve shown ourselves willing to do the tough stuff on an issue that Republicans ran on.

Norah.

Q    Mr. President, there seems to be an extraordinary breakdown of trust involved here.  And I wonder if you could address what we’re hearing from Republicans, which is that there was a framework and a deal that was agreed with your chief of staff, with the Treasury Secretary, about a certain number of revenues, that the Republicans had agreed to that.  And then after you brought that to your party and the discussion of that, the goal line was moved.  Is this an example of where the goal line has moved and that that’s what has led to this breakdown in trust?

THE PRESIDENT:  Norah, what I’ll do is we’ll do a tick-tock, we’ll go through all the paper.  We’ll walk you through this process.  What this came down to was that there doesn’t seem to be a capacity for them to say yes.

Now, what is absolutely true is we wanted more revenue than they had initially offered.  But as you’ll see, the spending cuts that we were prepared to engage in were at least as significant as the spending cuts that you’ve seen in a whole range of bipartisan proposals, and we had basically agreed within $10 billion, $20 billion — we were within that range.

So that wasn’t the reason this thing broke down.  We were consistent in saying that it was going to be important for us to have at least enough revenue that we could protect current beneficiaries of Social Security, for example, or current beneficiaries of Medicare; that we weren’t slashing Medicaid so sharply that states suddenly were going to have to throw people off the health care rolls.  And we were consistent in that.

So I want to be clear.  I’m not suggesting that we had an agreement that was signed, sealed and delivered.  The parties were still apart as recently as yesterday.  But when you look at the overall package, there’s no changing of the goalposts here.  There has been a consistency on our part in saying we’re willing to make the tough cuts and we’re willing to take on the heat for those difficult cuts, but that there’s got to be some balance in the process.  What I’ve said publicly is the same thing that I’ve said privately.  And I’ve done that consistently throughout this process.

Now, with respect to this breakdown in trust, I think that we have operated aboveboard consistently.  There haven’t been any surprises.  I think the challenge really has to do with the seeming inability, particularly in the House of Representatives, to arrive at any kind of position that compromises any of their ideological preferences.  None.

And you’ve heard it.  I mean, I’m not making this up.  I think a number of members of that caucus have been very clear about that.

Q    But they were willing to move on some revenues, apparently.

THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.  But what you saw — and, again, you’ll see this from the description of the deal — essentially what they had agreed to give on is to get back to a baseline — this starts getting technical, but there were about $800 billion in revenue that were going to be available.  And what we said was when you’ve got a ratio of $4 in cuts for every $1 of revenue, that’s pretty hard to stomach.  And we think it’s important to make sure that whatever additional revenue is in there covers the amount of money that’s being taken out of entitlement programs.  That’s only fair.

If I’m saying to future recipients of Social Security or Medicare that you’re going to have to make some adjustments, it’s important that we’re also willing to make some adjustments when it comes to corporate jet owners, or oil and gas producers, or people who are making millions or billions of dollars.

Wendell.  Where’s Wendell?  Wendell is not here.

Lesley.  Is Lesley here?

Q    Yes, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

Q    Thank you.  You’ve said that your bottom line has been the big deal; that’s not going to happen.  Are you going to be willing to go back to just raising the debt ceiling still?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think I’ve been consistently saying here in this press room and everywhere that it is very important for us to raise the debt ceiling.  We don’t have an option on that.  So if that’s the best that Congress can do, then I will sign a extension of the debt ceiling that takes us through 2013.

I don’t think that’s enough.  I think we should do more.  That’s the bare minimum; that’s the floor of what the American people expect us to do.  So I’d like to see us do more.  And when I meet with the leadership tomorrow I’m going to say let’s do more.  But if they tell me that’s the best they can do, then I will sign an extension that goes to 2013, and I will make the case to the American people that we’ve got to continue going out there and solving this problem.  It’s the right thing to do, and it’s time to do it.  We can’t keep on putting it off.

    Q    You suggested that Speaker Boehner didn’t return phone calls this afternoon.  Could you elaborate a little bit on that?

    THE PRESIDENT:  You know, I’m less concerned about me having to wait for my phone call returned than I am the message that I received when I actually got the phone call.

    I’m going to make this the last question.  Go ahead.

    Q    Yes, the markets are closed right now, obviously.  What assurances can you give people on Wall Street?  Are you going to be reaching out to some people on Wall Street so that when Monday comes we don’t see a reaction to the news that’s developing right now?

    THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s very important that the leadership understands that Wall Street will be opening on Monday, and we better have some answers during the course of the next several days.

    Q    What can you say to people who are watching who work on Wall Street who might find this news a bit alarming, perhaps?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think what you should say — well, here’s what I’d say:  I remain confident that we will get an extension of the debt limit and we will not default.  I am confident of that.

    I am less confident at this point that people are willing to step up to the plate and actually deal with the underlying problem of debt and deficits.  That requires tough choices.  That’s what we were sent here to do.

    I mean, the debt ceiling, that’s a formality.  Historically, this has not even been an issue.  It’s an unpleasant vote but it’s been a routine vote that Congress does periodically.  It was raised 18 times when Ronald Reagan was President.  Ronald Reagan said default is not an option, that it would be hugely damaging to the prestige of the United States and we shouldn’t even consider it.  So that’s the easy part.  We should have done that six months ago.

    The hard part is actually dealing with the underlying debt and deficits, and doing it in a way that’s fair.  That’s all the American people are looking for — some fairness.  I can’t tell you how many letters and emails I get, including from Republican voters, who say, look, we know that neither party is blameless when it comes to how this deft and deficit developed — there’s been a lot of blame to spread around — but we sure hope you don’t just balance the budget on the backs of seniors.  We sure hope that we’re not slashing our commitment to make sure kids can go to college.  We sure hope that we’re not suddenly throwing a bunch of poor kids off the Medicaid rolls so they can’t get basic preventative services that keep them out of the emergency room.  That’s all they’re looking for, is some fairness.

Now, what you’re going to hear, I suspect, is, well, if you — if the Senate is prepared to pass the cap, cut and balance bill, the Republican plan, then somehow we can solve this problem — that’s serious debt reduction.  It turns out, actually, that the plan that Speaker Boehner and I were talking about was comparable in terms of deficit reduction.  The difference was that we didn’t put all the burden on the people who are least able to protect themselves, who don’t have lobbyists in this town, who don’t have lawyers working on the tax code for them — working stiffs out there, ordinary folks who are struggling every day.  And they know they’re getting a raw deal, and they’re mad at everybody about it.  They’re mad at Democrats and they’re mad at Republicans, because they know somehow, no matter how hard they work, they don’t seem to be able to keep up.  And what they’re looking for is somebody who’s willing to look out for them.  That’s all they’re looking for.

    And for us not to be keeping those folks in mind every single day when we’re up here, for us to be more worried about what some funder says, or some talk radio show host says, or what some columnist says, or what pledge we signed back when we were trying to run, or worrying about having a primary fight — for us to be thinking in those terms instead of thinking about those folks is inexcusable.

    I mean, the American people are just desperate for folks who are willing to put aside politics just for a minute and try to get some stuff done.

    So when Norah asked or somebody else asked why was I willing to go along with a deal that wasn’t optimal from my perspective, it was because even if I didn’t think the deal was perfect, at least it would show that this place is serious, that we’re willing to take on our responsibilities even when it’s tough, that we’re willing to step up even when the folks who helped get us elected may disagree.

    And at some point, I think if you want to be a leader, then you got to lead.

Thank you very much.

                       END                6:36 P.M. EDT

 

Obama Determined to Cut Social Security

Despite campaign promises to preserve Social Security and ever refrain from cutting benefits Barack Obama seems bound and determined to do exactly that.  As part of negotiations over the debt ceiling Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner are insisting on trillions of dollars in cuts to entitlement programs such as Social Security.  This social extortion shouldn’t be tolerated and such baseless activity denounced and condemned.  Instead President Obama, the pragmatic deal maker, is willing to cut any deal possible so he can go to the people next year and claim he accomplished something.  Never mind his accomplishment would be hugely unpopular and something Republicans, with their unlimited corporate campaign coffers, would hang him with, he is blindly walking down a blind, dark alley in which he and the American people will get mugged once again by conservatives.

Cutting Social Security benefits in the name of deficit reduction is like cutting off your leg because of a tooth infection.  One has nothing to do with the other.  Social Security not only doesn’t contribute a dime tot he deficit it has a $2.6 trillion surplus.  Those funds are dedicated to providing future benefits for Baby Boomers now beginning to retire.  The system is fully funded through 2037 and even then, with no alterations, would pay 77% of current benefits.  Lifting the cap on income taxable for Social Security fully funds the program for the foreseeable future and even strengthen benefits.

As Americans have been screwed out of their pensions then robbed of their 401(k) investments by Wall Street dependence on Social Security is more important than ever.  We should increase benefits rather than decreasing them.  Following two years of no cost of living adjustments while health care, prescriptions and energy are rapidly escalating for seniors and the disabled, plans are to change the way COLA’s are calculated to severely cut future benefits.

I’ve been on Social Security Disabilty for roughly eighteen years.  At first my monthly benefit was $600 and over the years the COLA’s have brought it to about a grand.  Meanwhile the $20 it used to cost to fill my tank is $38, heating oil costs a thousand bucks per fill, food is way up and I can’t even afford a Medicare supplement plan any longer.  Rent is beyond any expectation since the average apartment is $750/month.  With the average Social Security check around $1,050 how does anyone afford food?  This is why we refer to the Simpson/Bowles Deficit Commission as the Cat Food Commission.  No one on Social Security is going to be eating anything but pet food in a few years.

If the chained COLA cuts go through the cost of living increases will cut $1,000/month from each check in twenty years.  Because women outlive men this will hurt them disproportionately.  Without COLA’s I’d be living in abject poverty because of the increases in costs of basic necessities.  Add to that the fact seniors and the disabled have high health care demands, costs which escalate far faster than even the current COLA’s calculate, the loss of traditional pensions and the raiding of 401(k)’s to survive during these recession riddled times and future seniors will all be living in abject poverty.  All this to “save” a deficit problem created by tax cuts for the rich, unfunded wars and the deregulation of the financial industry.

Shouldn’t the burden be falling upon those who have benefited from that government largesse instead?  The Bush tax cuts drilled a giant hole in the deficit.  Eliminating the cap on Social Security earnings so hedge fund managers earning a billion bucks a year (and paying a 15% tax rate) pay FICA on all of their earnings would solve all future funding issues.  Since Social Security contributes NOTHING to the deficit cuts to future benefits does NOTHING to solving the deficit.  This is merely an extortion plan to eliminate the safety net for needy Americans and provide yet another giant sellout for Wall Street at our expense.

The wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed mightily to the deficit along with a $700 billion per year Pentagon budget.  We can safely secure our nation and provide for our defense for $100 billion.  That leaves $600 billion a year towards deficit reduction.  Properly regulating Wall Street and restricting the gambling nature of out of control bankers betting against our economy and creating huge Ponzi schemes will save us from future calamities where we lose our homes and retirement accounts.  The loss of revenue from the economic collapse as people lost jobs created massive holes in the budget.  Cutting Social Security does nothing to correct any of the factors which contributed to the deficit.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse participated in a conference call this morning criticizing the President on the issue.  Asked if he would filibuster any bill in the Senate Sanders said he would do anything within his power to stop it from being passed.  He also said the damage politically to Barack Obama next year would be significant.  His only saving grace would be the sorry state of the Republican field.

How much money do you think Karl Rove and his Crossroads GPS super PAC would spend to portray Obama as the man who killed Social Security?  The GOP spent massive amounts criticizing Democrats in 2010 for cutting future benefits in Medicare and won control of the House with the message.  They’ll conveniently ignore the fact they insisted upon these cuts and held our economy hostage in order to force them.  Stupid Americans, brainwashed by incessant ads on TV, will willingly go to the polls and vote Republican then watch in horror as what is left is decimated.  Democracy is a wonderful thing:  you deserve what you get and you get what you deserve.

Boehner Cuts Jobs Then Asks “Where are the jobs?”

With news today the economy created 18,000 new jobs last month John Boehner jumped all over the President saying it wasn’t enough.  Of course under George W. Bush we lost 700,000 jobs per month but suddenly creating them isn’t enough.  I’ll agree that 18,000 isn’t enough but let’s examine who is responsible for this anemic growth:  Speaker John Boehner.  It was the GOP which shrunk the stimulus plan and forced a major portion of it to go to tax cuts instead of job creation.  It was the Republicans, and Boehner specifically, who extorted major government spending cuts costing thousands of jobs this year.  It is the Republicans who have insisted there be no further job creation bills passed by Congress.

John you cannot have your cake and eat it too.