As he promised earlier this week, Sen. Bernie Sanders put some teeth into the "shared sacrifice" argument Thursday by introducing the Emergency Deficit Reduction Act. It would impose a 5.4 percent surcharge on Americans whose annual incomes exceed a million dollars. That, he says, would raise in the neighborhood of $50 billion. The bill would also get rid of tax breaks for oil and gas companies to the tune of $3.5 billion. This comes close to the $61 billion that House Republicans (and some Democrats) have decided to chop from programs in education, environmental regulation, heating subsidies for the poor, Planned Parenthood, nutrition, the Peace Corps and others. Says Sanders:
The American people get it. They understand you can't move toward deficit reduction just by cutting programs that working families, the middle class, low-income people desperately need in order to survive in the midst of this terrible recession. They understand that serious, responsible deficit reduction requires shared sacrifice.Let me repeat what he said again. Insane. That's what it is to cut programs for poor and middle-class Americans while extending tax cuts to the wealthiest citizens. Austerity is not on the table for those who were hurt least by the Great Recession and have been doing phenomenally well in an economic recovery that has yet to touch millions of unemployed people, some of whom have lost their homes and their savings as well as their jobs. Many of them long ago exhausted any unemployment compensation they were eligible to receive. What an insane joke is "shared sacrifice" to them while the top 1 percent of Americans continue to widen the income and wealth gap between themselves and everybody else, helped along by out-of-whack tax policies.
But if you're typical of those on top of the heap, this approach doesn't seem at all insane. Rather it is the natural order. The way things ought to be. And the role of the politicians whose campaigns you lubricate with cash from your tax cuts is to keep things the way they ought to be.
As a consequence, Sanders's deficit reduction act has about zero chance of getting even a dozen Senate sponsors to back it. He caucuses with the Democrats, backs them even when he has to grit his teeth to do so, but getting reciprocation for more than a handful of proposals each year takes more smiles than the amiable socialist from Vermont can muster. And when it's a proposal that would nick the richest, even for a pittance after decades of upward transfer of all that wealth, the Senator's corner can be expected to be rather bare.
What a drag when mere nibbling at the margins of our entitled plutocracy won't raise a huzzah from Senate Dems who are supposed to be on the side of working people. Like the Democratic legislators in Wisconsin have proved to be.
Worse yet, wise as Sanders's proposal is, it only addresses a symptom. What really needs attention is profoundly structural in nature. Antidotes for what plagues us, what put us into the economic mess we're in, can only be created by transforming corporate "personhood" and remaking predatory "globalization" into something beneficial to the commons. They require returning to a truly progressive tax system and reversing the economic inequality that has worsened during the past three decades.
But even milder medicine such as that contained in Sanders's bill is not going to be prescribed as long as those with antipathy toward the common good hold the reins of power. Right now, they've got a tight grip. And they are determined to feed us placebos.