| Sometime next month Time Magazine will announce their "Person of the Year," and it should be obvious by now who best personifies 2009: Herbert Hoover. 80 years after he helped the nation slide into Depression with his austerity budgets and refusal to use government to help provide relief and recovery, his basic approach to political economy is enjoying quite a renaissance. Alongside Sacramento, one of the most prominent places to embrace the new Hooverism has been the United States Senate.
Now it looks like they're moving to up the Hooverite ante, and two of California's powerful federal politicians are at the center of the debate. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is joining 6 other Senators to demand that Speaker Nancy Pelosi approve a commission to recommend cuts to Medicare and Social Security - or else they'll refuse to vote to increase the US government's debt ceiling:
Congress is under pressure to raise the cap on what the federal government can borrow by mid-December. If the debt ceiling is not raised above its current $12.1 trillion mark by then, the government will exceed its borrowing limits and will be forced to default on the debt. Economists have warned that the inevitable result would be a lowering of the U.S. credit rating, triggering substantial increases in the interest rates the government is already paying.
But before Tuesday's hearing was over, Sens. Conrad, Gregg, Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) publicly vowed to vote against raising the debt ceiling if a budget reform commission bill doesn't come along with it.
Chris Bowers at Open Left called this a national suicide pact, an apt description for this truly reckless demand:
Let's review the threat that these five Democrats are making:
* They will allow the United States to default on its debt, which will vastly increase the overall amount we have to pay on our debt
* Speaker Nancy Pelosi turns over Congressional power on Social Security and Medicare to an unelected commission that will almost certainly propose deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare entitlements. Keep in mind that deep cuts to Social security and Medicare that pass under a Democratic trifecta would doom the party at the ballot box for years to come.
This is completely insane, and there is no choice but to call this bluff.
Bowers goes on to point out the obvious fact that if these Senators did cause the US to default on its debt (the practical effect of refusing to increase the debt ceiling) their political careers would all be over, so we have nothing to lose by calling their bluff.
And he is right. Cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits would be a truly insane, reckless, and radical act. At a time when the US economy is entering a period of long-term high unemployment, the very last thing you want to be doing is further undermining the ability of Americans, particularly the aged, to make ends meet.
Cuts in Social Security and Medicare will not only ripple through the economy in the form of reduced spending, they'll also ripple through younger generations, who will fill the gap lost by the cutting of government benefits with money out of their own pockets to help their elderly relatives make ends meet and get the treatment they need.
Feinstein is embracing Hooverism, putting Democratic gains at risk, and threatening to make our economic crisis permanent. Of course, in doing so she's merely going with the flow in both DC and Sacramento, so it's not like she's some kind of outlier.
Still, this kind of insane policymaking has to be stopped. Pelosi should call Feinstein's bluff. Anyone here who thinks Feinstein would actually enable a debt default, please raise your hands. Didn't think so. Pelosi already got rolled once this month by a block of regressive Democrats willing to risk future elections in order to roll back rights and screw the poor and the middle class. She shouldn't let it happen again.