When Obama created the commission in early 2010, he mandated it to consider various options "designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015," including "changes to address the growth of entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the federal government."Read the rest here.
Translated into everyday language, this meant two things: One, that closing the deficit would depend on some combination of increased revenues and lower government spending on many activities; and two, that Obama himself was putting a big bull's eye on entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.
To make sure that the commission produced the kind of result that official Washington was looking for, Obama used his six appointments to put two well-known budget "hawks," Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles, in charge as commission co-chairs. Obama also tapped two business executives, as well as Alice Rivlin, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration. With the game already rigged, Obama then tossed a bone to organized labor with the appointment of former Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern.
When Andy Stern is the only "progressive" representative of labor on the commission... that's not a good sign. Jan Schakowsky released an "alternative plan" recently which, on the face of it, says all of the right things (e.g. "deficit reduction isn't an end in itself", we should tax the rich, etc.). The trouble with this alternative plan is that nobody else on the commission gives a shit. 11 of the 14 members of the committee, including the "liberal" Dick Durbin, voted for the doomsday ultra-conservative plan last week. If 11 of them are OK voting to kick the majority of us in the teeth while lavishing the rich with further tax breaks, it's not likely that they would even bother to read Schakowsky's proposal.
Like Kucinich in the presidential elections, Schakowsky is a token who is only there to assuage the frustrations of disgruntled liberals who still support the Democrats. She has no real power on the committee, and that was part of the plan from the start. The fact is that Obama loaded the commission up with business elites (as if they should have any say whatsoever!) and right-wingers from both parties...then he sprinkled one faux-progressive (Stern) and one lone liberal.
Contrary to the apolitical way it is described in the media, deficit hawking is not some technocratic matter of finding creative or "smart" ways to solve a hard math problem. Deficit hawking is one-sided class warfare from above, and both the Republicans and Democrats are on board with it. This entire panel wants to do what governments in Ireland, the UK, Greece and France have tried to do recently: push through punishing cuts that force ordinary people to pay for a crisis that was caused by financiers and capitalists. When push comes to shove, we in effect see the true owners of economy; we see who really has power and what the priorities of governments really are. Perhaps that's what the (bipartisan!) ruling-class technocrats that chair the panel meant by "moment of truth".
We shouldn't sugar-coat what's going on. Austerity is the redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top. That is what this commission is there to do, and their proposal makes doesn't hide this. They want to slash and burn Social Security and Medicare while, at the same time, giving the rich massive gifts in tax reduction. Now if there are still some apologists for the Dems who would say that we should support the panel, they can at least be clear about what they'd like us to support: one-sided class warfare from above. My sense, however, is that such a blunt portrayal wouldn't win many folks to the cause.