Debt deal is bad for America


The debt deal is a bad deal for the American people and the economy.

In addition to cuts of nearly $1 trillion over 10 years in discretionary spending, a committee of 12 - six Democrats and six Republicans - will cut another $2 trillion in spending, including, in all probability, "entitlement" programs.

If they can't reach agreement, cuts will be across the board.

At the same time, tax hikes on the rich were pulled from the agenda, leaving the haves untouched and the have-nots feeling all of the pain.

The only concessions of the right wing were to postpone a debt ceiling battle until after the 2012 elections, allow military spending to be part of the budget cutting calculus, and keep its hands off Social Security for now.

The settlement makes one ask: where is the "balance" and "shared sacrifice" here, which are problematic notions to begin with?

Debt politics won't go into the woodwork now to reappear two years later. Without a struggle by left and progressives from in and outside the Beltway, they will dominate U.S. politics for the foreseeable future.

Almost immediately the commission of six Democrats and six Republicans will convene to begin a new round of talks, which the mass media, if they follow past practice, will feature at the top of their news.

The debt talks and deal set aside democratic procedures and principles. The American people should have been a part of any negotiations that were considering such draconian cuts in social programs, but were in effect bystanders, waiting for the worst to possibly happen.

No one in his or her right mind could consider this a highpoint in the democratic life of our country

Driving this entire process was right-wing extremism. Continuing and building on the momentum gained from the 2010 elections, it framed and steered the negotiations, as well as, recklessly employed the threat of default.

In doing so they brought the country and the world to the brink of catastrophe.

The Obama administration had a hand in the outcome for sure. It takes "two to tango;" it deserves criticism, but the lion's share of responsibility for the deal lies with right-wing extremism. They held the country hostage. And if given a chance will do it again.

The tea party was a factor in the debt deal, but it would be a mistake to think that it alone, or it mainly, was in the driver's seat. Other sections of the right wing, long embedded in the main reactionary groupings of transnational capital, were in command. The tea party gathers a lot of publicity, but it is still only a current within the right and the Republican Party.

The president boxed himself into a corner, not because he is a bad negotiator, but because he and his aides made the calculus on the heels of the 2010 elections that his appeal to independent voters, and thus his reelection, depend on his credentials as a "responsible fiscal manager."

This calculation, however, could come back to bite him next year if the debt deal induces a deterioration in, or even a stabilization of, the current economic conditions.

Paul Krugman reminds us that President Roosevelt pursued this course of action in 1937 to disastrous results. Let's hope that President Obama fares better.

Years from now economists will wonder what prompted the administration to pursue deflationary policies when the economy is contracting.

The debt negotiations and package caused divisions in both parties, but more so in the Democratic Party. The House vote was split evenly down the middle - 95 to 95. The vote clearly demonstrates that liberal and progressive congressional support can't be taken for granted either now or next year. It has to be earned by the administration through progressive governance.

The events and outcome of these negotiations doesn't change the strategic policy of decisively defeating the right in next year's elections, but it will make the job more difficult. There is both unease and anger among good people - and I'm not solely talking about people on the left - with the track record of the Obama administration.

Some even go so far as to say that the two parties are essentially the same, and the negotiations over the debt limit will be new grist for their mill.

The hope engendered by the president's election in 2008 has turned into disappointment for many people. This has to be acknowledged, but at the same time, it also has to be said that the president inherited the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the Republicans have blocked this administration at nearly every turn, even when the Democrats had the majorities in both houses of Congress by use of the Senate filibuster. For the president they have made the country, for all practical purposes, ungovernable.

Moreover, it has to be said that what we are seeing now from right-wing extremism, as bad as it is, is nonetheless only a small down payment on what they would do if they regain control of every branch of government in the 2012 elections.

If this sounds like I am trying to scare the pants off you, you're right. There is a tendency to underestimate the danger of right-wing extremism and the consequences of such an underestimation can only be negative both now and next year.

While the right danger cannot be underestimated however, it shouldn't be equated with fascism. Fascism has a very particular meaning, and thus an authoritarian government that restricts democratic rights is not necessarily fascistic.

But are such distinctions, you might be thinking, of any importance from the standpoint of the political struggle? The answer is that they are.  Access to democratic space, even if restricted, makes all the difference in the world.

Finally, the outcome of the debt talks reflects in no small measure the limited imprint of the progressive and left movements on the political process. Do we have anywhere near the power and influence of the right? The answer is obvious, but that can change, but only with a sound strategy, flexible tactics, and long persistent work at the grass roots.

Photo: Chicagoans protest bank and corporate bailouts, June 14, 2011. (PW/John Bachtell)


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  • The article is a job welldone. Obama himself,more than any body else , will continue to curse the deal for next 12 months. Left and labour have been his allies and will be on his side in Nov 2012.

    Right reaction and its press barons are enough to malign him.They cut his wings,divided his supporters,confused his following in 2010 elections.Let us not butress their attempts through our ranks.CPUSA leaders,and Trade union bosses,as also Sam in this article, have avoided exaggerating Obama's weaknesses or slips.

    The success of pro-working class coalition will depend
    solely on concentrating the campaign attack on extreme right,than creating illusions about Obama.The limitations imposed upon him and on Democrats in
    congress,by the newly grabed Repub- majority in house,by the Supreme court decisions,the money powers,Republican Governors,are neither negotiable,nor violateable.The result of their coercion is intensification of class struggle in all arenas,where in both classes are in attack position,as was
    seen in Wisconsin.This class polarisation is the great outcome yielding 95-95 vote,in house Democrates.This I believe was done with tacit consent of Obama.His facile looking "compromises",are not that sudden to those who know the inside,like Pelosi,Reid,Biden,and others.

    Those of us the left,who pride in projecting themselves by isolating Obama as a part of two party bourgeois combine,are inflicting wounds on their own body.This they do knowingly or unknowingly. CPUSA,leaders have escaped this remarkably well.Trade Union organisations,have invariably led us to this consistent class unity strategy.This coalition led by Obama is the most appropriate front that can avert the extremely dangerous possibility of wall street's recapture of the white house in 2012. The oil-Robbers,the war-hawks,Empire-seekers,are hell bent to use a section of us against Obama,and against our own class struggle.Mind you it will have untoward results in USA and the whole world.Economic crisis will be eased by breaking the back of all of us of 7 billion.Yet be not scared,because bank failures are continuing .

    Posted by RAMA KANT SHARMA, 08/12/2011 12:34pm (4 years ago)

  • "the outcome of the debt talks reflects in no small measure the limited imprint of the progressive and left movements on the political process"

    I think this picture of a tiny and insignificant Left is not quite accurate. The progressives and Left have recently made differences on the national scene - Obama would not have beaten Clinton in the Dem primary (wherein he ran as the "peace candidate") and he would not have won the general election without the mobilization of progressives and much of the Left. His rhetoric was such that many on the Left believed he was really deep down one of theirs. CPUSA's national leadership seemed to embrace this same optimism when in 2008 it wrote: “The Communist Party USA views the 2008 elections as a tremendous opportunity to defeat the policies of the right-wing Republicans and to move our country in a new progressive direction” and “Barack Obama’s campaign has so far generated the most excitement, attracted the most votes, most volunteers and the most money. We think the basic reason for this is that his campaign has the clearest message of unity and progressive change” and “The activism growing out of this election will help guarantee a progressive mandate no matter who is elected.” CPUSA spoke in nearly messianic terms regarding the “broad progressive coalition” supporting Obama and what it was going to bring about.

    The fact is that Obama ran in such a way as to appeal to both the center-left and to appeal to most progressives. He has now shown that he is not a progressive, at least certainly not outside of the issues of identity politics. He is not even center-left, he is, at least by international standards, a center-right politician. Progressives are now crazy to support him on the basis of the belief that he will in any way pursue a seriously progressive economic policy.

    I write this as a dues paying CPUSA member who will most likely begrudgingly vote for Obama in 2012. I understand that a center-right politician is better for our class than a tea-party crackpot.

    But I would like to see CPUSA leadership write more clearly about things pertaining to Obama, and with less of the "Obama glee club" sentimentality that I have too often found here. CPUSA should be clear that Obama shares more in common with the Republican Party, even a Republican Party increasingly directed by tea-partiers, than he shares in common with progressives. Obama is not a friend of our class. He may be a capitalist we have to support for a time against a worse enemy, but I don’t see why we should sugarcoat things – the man and his friends support policies which are hostile to the working class. Yes, he occasionally “throws the dog a bone” but on the big economic issues he betrays us much more often than not. And we should expect as much, we are talking about a man who said to the national press that he is friends with the CEO of Goldman Sachs and that he doesn’t believe that CEO is overpaid. We are talking about a man who during his last campaign sent his wife into a factory to talk to workers when she was wearing a $3000 outfit. I’m thankful that Sam has here written clearly that Obama is a capitalist, but I wish the rhetoric coming out of CPUSA would highlight more the communist disgust with the decadence and exploitation the Obamas have surrounded themselves with. I wish for more critique from a working class perspective. I don’t understand why CPUSA can’t both make the argument for why we need to vote for and potentially work for Obama against the tea party at this time, and at the same time engage in an honest and serious critique of Obama – along the lines we see from other Leftist and progressive groups. As things stand now, the rhetoric of CPUSA is to the right of the vast majority of Leftist groups. I have old friends from my New Party days who are working with the Working Families Party in New York. That social dem party works hand in hand with the Democrats all the time and will no doubt endorse Obama again in 2012, but it offers a much more trenchant and serious critique of Obama nonetheless. Progressive and Leftist friends of mine, including Democrats who would never dream of joining a socialist or communist organization, send me links to PA and PW articles praising and/or defending Obama and mock me for being a member of CPUSA. My response is simply that the views of the folks in my local CPUSA Club are much more nuanced and careful than the saccharine Obama-propaganda one can read on PW and PA.

    I am disappointed with the CPUSA leadership consistently making excuses about how Obama’s hands are tied by a lack of a viable Left/progressive movement when Obama will not even show support for the broadest of anti-corporate phenomena, such as was seen following the documentary “Inside Job” or the diverse and growing coalition against Monsanto or the broad and growing coalition fighting fracking and the natural gas industry (both and anti-Monsanto and anti-fracking coalitions have included many people from outside the usual Leftist/progressive circles). There have been key points at which Obama could have acknowledged these sorts of things, but time and again he has shown himself to be the friend and defender of those who are enemies of our class. His administration has not just continued but has increased the revolving door to ex-Monsanto execs and board members, and let’s face it, half the people exposed in “Inside Job” are friends with the president. He has done virtually nothing to use his office to educate the American public with regard to what is being done to them by the right. But when he speaks before Leftist and working class oriented groups, his rhetoric suggests he is “on our side.” Because of this it is not only appropriate that we speak of betrayal and a con-game, but obligatory if we are to have any credibility. I think it is possible to vote for him and even campaign for him without being conned. We must be able to articulate that the man is through and through a capitalist acting in the interest of capitalists but that because of the dire political situation at hand supporting him at this time is reasonable. I have these sorts of talks all the time in my metal shop - those conversations which go "yes, he is the typical scumbag politician, but here is why you should vote for him."

    Obama owes his presidency in part to Leftists and Progressives. He is not going to have any incentive to make more progressive moves if the Left and progressives do little more than apologize for him, though fortunately CPUSA is one of the few Leftist groups doing that. There has to be some threat on the part of progressives of a pull out of support, or Obama will veer even further to the right.

    Posted by owen white, 08/08/2011 2:17pm (5 years ago)

  • The peace and environmental movements have a great opportunity at this time to unite over a range of nuclear/nuke questions. The trade union bridge to them is green jobs. It has great appeal to young people in particular.

    Posted by Len Yannielli, 08/06/2011 4:21pm (5 years ago)

  • President Obama in his 2008 campaign promised "Hope & Change". He did keep that promise to keep hoping. However, when he told you fools about "change", he never said for the better.

    Posted by karen, 08/05/2011 11:18pm (5 years ago)

  • The Obama administration's negotiating style may be appropriate for some contexts, but it is not appropriate for the current "rule or ruin" thrust of not just the Tea Party, but virtually the WHOLE crop of Republican Party politicians.
    "Bipartisanship" and even "reasonable willingness to compromise" are seen by them as just the next step toward even more outrageous demands. Meeting lunatics and fanatics part way is not the policy to follow now. It means you have to adopt 1/2 their lunacy as your own position, thereby antagonizing part of your own support base.
    We have seen this negotiating style of the Republicans in the context of the immigrants' rights struggle, in which, by laying down a non-stop barrage of lies, the GOP right was able to drive any possible legislative solution off the table, and force the administration to give in to a lot the right wing's demands (border fence, National Guard to the border, increased deportations etc). The result is that the GOP does not make any counter concessions, and the Democrats stand to lose some support from immigrants and Latinos in Nov 2012.
    In the case of the debt ceiling deal, does anybody think that the Republicans are going to say "thank you" to the Democrats and the administration for the concessions, and stop pushing for even more? The most extreme of them will not stop until they have completely destroyed Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans' Services, Pell Grants and other student aid, and every other aspect of the social wage and the safety net.
    The Republicans have just scored this victory, because by the time the August 2 deadline came around, the Democrats found themselves with little choice but to sign on to a plan that will harm their own working class base.
    We on the left, along with organized labor and other people's democratic movements, have to greatly increase our activity even before the 12 member Committee for the second stage is formed. We need a national emergency meeting, and a plan of struggle of which the People's Budget will be the centerpiece. We have been remiss in not making more use of that excellent document.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 08/04/2011 11:35pm (5 years ago)

  • I hate to disagree with you, Sam, but President Obama IS a bad negotiator. As with the "public option" in the health care debate, time after time Obama takes his strongest negotiating points "off the table" even before there is a "table". He throws in the towel even before the bell has rung for Round 1! He had to have been the worst community organizer ever.

    Posted by John Whiskey, 08/04/2011 10:26pm (5 years ago)

  • I respectfully disagree. President Obama can no longer be trusted to protect the interests of ordinary Americans. He'll start talking tough again, only to cave later. I agree that the extreme right is a real threat, but they are going to have to be confronted head on without poor and working people relying on Obama and the "less right-wing" Democrats.


    Posted by John Lombardo, 08/04/2011 1:45pm (5 years ago)

  • We have to change the subject of the national conversation to JOBS, specifically directly creating jobs. Of course this is in direct contradiction to the restrictions placed by the debt "crisis" agreements that have just been made, but if we try to have the fight for jobs within those restrictions, it's unwinnable. You can't cure unemployment by laying off people.

    Posted by Bobbie, 08/04/2011 11:38am (5 years ago)

  • Fascism as a socio-political formation, although not to be confused with other formations, and having "a very particular meaning",like others, comes into being as a developmental and dialectical thing, like all other phenomena in particular, distinct to any nation also, as it will, if it ever, God forbid, comes to the United States of America.
    However, this does not mean that the U. S. (or any other nation, for that matter)cannot or does not have fascistic tendencies or practices, while it may not have a qualified fascist socio-political formation or government.
    These tendencies and practices, like anti-unionism, wanton enviromental and ecological abuse, anti-democratic repression, racism, gay bashing, anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism, war, imperialist war, misogyny, and xenophobia, are virulently and violently with us today, in genocidal and alarming numbers.
    To tout an "Access to democratic space, even if restricted..."in this real context, is to be out of contact with reality. When, as the most recent Confab of the NAACP states that democracy is being drastically constricted, voting, trade union and civil rights, agressivelly attacked, while the super rich, hold the great numbers of people hostage to take more resources from people, we need to review how the stage was set for institution of the Third Reich, from the Deutsches Reich, or Weimar Republic in Germany, in what many consider near contemporary history.
    As for Sam's "Access to democratic space..." comment- for activists and Communists, one would hope that"democratic space", when expanded to include the more than 300 millions, including all immigrants and their children", makes all the difference in the world"-in combating fascistic tendencies in our government and society.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 08/03/2011 5:24pm (5 years ago)

  • A sensible and balanced analysis of the debt ceiling debacle. It is important for progressives to be able to criticize Obama without attacking him. We need to develop strategies to constructively criticize from the left while continuing to work within a broader movement that includes all liberal and progressive people.

    Posted by Elliot, 08/02/2011 8:50pm (5 years ago)

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