Monday, May 14, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

Politico's Manu Raju quotes Harry Reid noting "if there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it's the filibuster rules, because it's been abused, abused, abused."  

But this November, 23 Democratic seats and only 10 Republican seats are at stake in the U.S. Senate.    The famous Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics seems to believe that the likelihood of the Gas and Oil Party gaining control is roughly 50-50. No projection is being made yet for the 2014 elections, but 2008- when those elected for the first time will face the voters again- was a very strong year for Democrats.    If Democrats hold off the GOP in 2012, they may not be so lucky in 2014.

It is naive to assume, or probably even expect, Democratic control (such as it is) of the upper chamber to continue much into the future.     It's fairly bizarre, then, that in a classic failure of timing

An angry Harry Reid took to the floor Thursday and demanded changes to the Senate’s hallowed filibuster rules, siding with junior Democrats who have sought to substantially weaken the powerful delaying tactic.

It’s a risky move for the Senate majority leader, who could find himself in the minority in a matter of months and need the filibuster to block the GOP’s agenda. But Reid — who struck a “gentleman’s agreement” last year with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to preserve the filibuster from an effort by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff. Merkley (D-Ore.) to water it down — signaled he is now on board with their effort given the gridlock in the Senate.

“If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it’s tonight,” Reid said on the floor. “These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn’t. They were right. The rest of us were wrong — or most of us, anyway. What a shame.”

"Risky" is right.    If there ever were a time, it's not now- perhaps a few years ago, but not now.       The usually insightful Susie Madrak (who once linked from Suburban Guerilla to this blog) echoes the circa 2010 perspective of liberal/progressive bloggers when she says of Reid   "It's also possible he's just blowing smoke to get his way on the current matter. But let's hope he means it this time."

No, let's hope he doesn't mean it, given the danger easier passage of legislation would pose in a Repub-controlled Senate.     In December, 2010 William Greider recognized the danger in Obama's plan, since implemented, to cut by 2% the portion of the FICA deduction paid by workers.    Although the trust fund was replenished (from general revenues) by an equal amount

the president has bought into a Republican proposition favored by conservatives who would love to do away with this New Deal creation. They know this will deprive the trust fund of $120 billion in annual revenue and that shortfall will sooner or later have to be made up to sustain future benefits. Can you imagine Congress finding $120 billion for Social Security amid all the other fiscal pressures?

For that matter, can you imagine Congress turning off this modest tax break for working people once it’s in place?  If you believe that, you probably believe Obama is going to fight to recover the $700 billion tax giveaway to billionaires while he is in the midst of his reelection campaign.

Nancy Altman, a thirty-year policy expert and co-chair of Social Security Works, fears this perverse policy turn "will lead inexorably to killing Social Security." The right-wing agitators will renew their claim that Social Security is unsound and should be privatized, only now their case will have a little substance.

It's unsurprising that the leadership of the push to privatize Social Security would come from Wall Street.   Dean Baker explains

Last spring, Wall Street investment banker Peter Peterson hosted a lavish daylong conference devoted to the budget deficit. One of the highlights was an appearance by President Clinton. Clinton boasted of how he had wanted to cut Social Security back in the mid-90s but congressional leaders from both parties wouldn't let him.

The cut he had wanted would have reduced the annual cost of living adjustment by 1 percentage point annually. This would have left seniors in their 70s, 80s, and 90s with Social Security benefits today that are about 15 percent lower than their current level. How great would that have been?

Baker wrote that in May of 2010, when he remarked also

Peterson is back with Round II this week, another lavish affair devoted to the deficit. President Clinton will be again be playing a starring role, although it is not clear whether he will still be boasting about his wish to cut Social Security benefits.

Clinton lived down to Baker's fears.    With another Peterson's summits scheduled for tomorrow, Campaign for America's Future noted

Former President Clinton will be there. At last year’s Peterson fiscal summit, he defended Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to get rid of Medicare as we know it. We're showing up – to ask Clinton whose side he is on.

Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner will be there. He speaks for the Obama Administration. We're showing up – to tell him that the American people won't stand for another “grand bargain” that gives conservatives cuts to Medicare or Social Security in exchange for weak “tax reform.” We're showing up to demand that Geithner fight for job creation and against austerity.

For investment banker Pete Peterson, the modus operandi continues to be, as Baker described it two years ago, to use "his vast fortune to push an agenda that has little to do with deficit reduction, and everything to do with cutting Social Security, Medicare and other programs that are vital to ordinary working people."     Erskine Bowles, who was dispatched to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich by President Clinton to strike a deal on Social Security, will join other Washington heavies, deficit commission co-chairman Alan Simpson, Speaker Boehner, vice-presidential hopeful Rob Portman, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, and Chris Van Hollen, ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee.     And they have Social Security and Medicare in their sights.

Progress has been stymied, and the interests of the 1% fostered at the expense of the middle class, as Republicans have routinely used the threat of filibuster to block any legislation without the support of 60 senators.    But be careful what you wish for, and not only in the matter of Social Security.    Just as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and other national disasters periodically occur, the Gas and Oil Party will, at some point, retake the Senate and attempt to impose a radical agenda- and that 60-vote requirement may be the only thing standing in the way.

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