But this entire debate is wrong-headed. You can’t fix the debt without fixing the economy. And deficit reduction won’t fix the economy. The recovery is too slow and too skewed to put people back to work. Deficit reduction can only slow it further.
We need a big and bold debate about fundamental reforms needed to make this economy work for working people. That includes making big investments vital to our future at a time when we can borrow for virtually nothing – rebuilding and modernizing our decrepit infrastructure, funding R&D, doing at least the basics in education. We need to balance our trade, and revive manufacturing, beginning with capturing a leading role in the global move to clean energy.
We need to address inequality frontally. That requires much more than small marginal increases in taxes for millionaires. It includes raising the minimum wage, empowering workers to organize and bargain for a fair share of the profits they help to generate, limiting perverse CEO compensation schemes. It includes a financial transaction tax that might curb Wall Street gambling.
We need to continue health care reform, taking on the entrenched lobbies — the drug and insurance companies, the private hospital complexes — that drive up our medical costs. If we paid per capita what other industrial countries pay for health care, we’d project surpluses as far as the eye can see. We have to fix our broken health care system.
But Washington is talking about none of this. Instead the Congress and the President are going to continue to debate how much more to cut from public services as if that would fix the economy. That debate is likely to turn foul. Republicans use the debt ceiling to demand structural cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They’ll likely be willing to repeal or dilute the sequester as an incentive to focus on the core security programs. And they’ll be convinced that the president will fold once more.
Americans are struggling with mass unemployment, declining wages, increasing insecurity, Gilded Age inequality. Trimming the deficit addresses none of these, and is likely to slow growth, making things worse.
We’ve had an ugly debate leading to a wretched agreement. And that agreement only insures that the debate will get uglier.