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There's a glimmer of good news for the nearly half of America's seniors threatened with poverty: The grand bargain is nearly dead. The Center for American Progress, a key Democratic establishment institution and strong backer of President Obama, has abandoned austerity. The deficit, they say, is not the most critical issue facing the country in 2013. (And the sky has yet to fall.) The move comes in a report from the Center's Michael Linden, who writes "Most policymakers, organizations, and policy leaders seem to be stuck in 2010, as if nothing has changed in the years since."
Much has changed, however, and the debate should change with it. If we are to move forward, it’s time to recognize all that has transpired in the past three years and begin the conversation anew. It’s time to hit the reset button on the entire fiscal debate. [...]

With conservatives calling the president’s compromise offer “dead on arrival,” we remain stuck in perhaps the worst of all possible fiscal realities. We remain living with the painful, counterproductive, and near-universally derided “sequester” spending cuts. The long-term fiscal challenges remain mostly unsolved. We remain unable to use federal fiscal policy to address immediate economic problems, to say nothing of underlying structural ones. And the budget issue itself remains an obstacle to progress on all manner of unrelated policy areas.

The new context, CAP argues, is that the government has already enacted about $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction, most of it in spending cuts. Additionally, health care spending has slowed significantly. But more:
  • The key argument that high debt causes slower growth has crumbled.
  • Countries around the world have experimented with austerity, and those experiments have failed spectacularly.
  • The U.S. economy has not healed nearly as swiftly as was projected when the budget cutting began.
  • The push for immediate debt reduction has resulted in some perverse policy outcomes.

In a nutshell:

When considered all together, there is clearly no need for deficit reduction to take precedence over every other important issue facing the country. We need to stop allowing deficit concerns to hijack every other policy discussion.
This is the first significant defection in the Obama team on austerity, and one that has some political potential. It gives lots of room for congressional Democrats who would have been necessary to any kind of grand bargain passing in the House to back out. Without CAP arguing for the necessity of making cuts to benefits to Social Security and Medicare, there's no one to have their back if they choose to participate in making those cuts. It makes the urgent need to turn cuts to our social insurance system into a bargaining chip a much, much tougher sell for the White House (which still insists, by the way, that the Medicare and Social Security cuts are still on the table).

Now that we're seeing significant, and long-overdue, defection from the austerity fetish on the left, let's push the advantage and try to get the conversation started on expanding benefits.

Please join with Daily Kos and Campaign for America's Future by signing our petition telling every member of Congress to increase Social Security benefits by passing The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Fri Jun 07, 2013 at 10:32 AM PDT.

Also republished by Pushing back at the Grand Bargain, Money and Public Purpose, and Daily Kos.

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