Going Over the Cliff? The Voters Speak

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Credit: arlington25percentsolution.org/.

The “fiscal cliff” and fixing the deficit are all the rage these days. No sooner is the election over than Washington insiders and media pundits start talking about a so-called inevitable “grand bargain” that would cut Social Security, Medicare and other public programs we all depend on in exchange for modest tax increases on very high incomes. And we are led to believe that those who voted for Obama embraced this “balanced approach” to our fiscal problems.
Not so fast.
The voters -the use of whose money is being bandied about – must have a say in these critical budget decisions. And there are data that actually provide us with their clear message for Washington: “No Grand Bargain.” Period.
Massachusetts has taken the lead in voicing and voting this majoritarian view.
On Election Day over 1 million voters in Massachusetts had a chance for the first time to vote directly on a fiscal plan called the “Budget for All”. This non-binding ballot question called for no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other vital public programs; investment in useful jobs; an end to corporate tax loopholes and to the tax cuts for the highest incomes; the safe return home now of U.S. troops from Afghanistan; and re-direction of Pentagon spending to domestic needs and job creation. It was decisively passed in all 91 cities and towns where it was on the ballot by an average margin of 3 to 1.
This massive differential was far more lopsided than Obama’s victory over Romney in Massachusetts. The ballot question won in rich towns and poor towns, in rural areas and cities, in areas that voted for U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and those that voted for his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren.
The ballot question offers a direct challenge to U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and to President Obama, both of whom in the past have called for a deal with Republicans involving large cuts to vital programs. And the 79 groups who sponsored this volunteer effort in Massachusetts hope to replicate their efforts to show that a majority of voters nationally would vote for this Referendum.
National opinion polls bear out that assessment. A November, 27, 2012 ABC/Washington Post poll shows that 60% support raising taxes on upper income families making more than $250,000 but there is no comparable support for large cuts. In fact, an Economist/YouGov November 27 poll shows that 70% oppose cutting Medicare, and 80 oppose Medicaid or Social Security cuts. The poll also shows that 68% oppose increasing the age of Medicare eligibility as a way to cut costs. The only area where a majority supports cuts is in defense. And a November 8 poll from the Campaign for America’s Future/Democracy Corps shows that protecting Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts is more important to more people than bringing down the deficit. It shows majority support for ending tax cuts on high incomes and large corporations; opposition to reductions in Medicaid benefits; support for cutting military spending by ending the war in Afghanistan and support for providing federal government funding to local governments.
But how about that deficit? The budget deficits we now see are mainly the result of policies put in place after 2000: Tax cuts heavily tilted to corporations and the very wealthy; trillion-dollar wars financed by borrowing; a severe economic crisis triggered by illegal and irresponsible practices of the biggest banks and Wall Street speculators; a bloated Pentagon budget that bears little relationship to our actual security needs; and an inefficient and very expensive private health care delivery system. What’s labeled “entitlement reform” does not address these factors actually responsible for the deficit. Instead, it makes the rest of us pay.
Public sentiment is converging around four elements of a strategy that can put the country on a more solid footing: no cuts to key programs; create jobs, as employment is the key to recovery; raise revenues by ending tax preferences for large corporations and very high incomes; and bring our troops home from Afghanistan and redirect Pentagon spending. The voters are not up for any bargain current contemplated in Washington.
It remains to be seen whether public sentiment can be mobilized to implement this four-point plan. But right now it must be mobilized into a wall of opposition to any deal that involves deep cuts to core public programs, cuts which will put many of us over that fiscal cliff.
Paul Shannon works for the American Friends Service Committee and is an organizer for the Massachusetts Budget for All campaign. Charles Derber is professor of sociology at Boston College, whose latest book (with Yale Magrass) is The Surplus American.