Opinion
8:34 am
Wed August 3, 2011

The Nation: A Heavy Hearted Deal

John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999.

Following in uneasy but steady lockstep behind the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives, the Democrat-controlled US Senate voted 74-26 Tuesday to endorse the deal between President Obama and Congressional Republicans that will impose massive cuts in federal programs in return for a temporary hike in the debt ceiling.

Obama signed the deal, even as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner admits it may not avert a downgrading of the Triple AAA credit rating the US has long enjoyed.

Few of the Democratic senators who backed the plan were happy with what they were doing. "At the end of the day I will vote for this measure, but obviously with a heavy heart," said assistant majority leader Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, a liberal who was President Obama's political sponsor and mentor when the young state senator sought an Illinois US Senate seat in 2004.

A Democratic president may have gotten the vote he wanted from the Senate. But Democrats weren't celebrating.

The celebration was on the right.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was busy declaring "victory" for conservatives in their struggle to disempower and defeat Obama, who she comically described as the most liberal president, I believe, in US history..."

"We have to make sure that we realize that, yes, this is a victory, because Tea Party patriots did shift the debate," announced Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee who still hints that she might be a 2012 contender for the party's presidential nod.

Of this, there can be little doubt.

Most members of the Senate Democratic Caucus were willing to give the "Tea Party patriots" — and the Republican Party they are steering far to the right — the victory Palin described.

But seven members of the Democratic caucus refused to go along — as did nineteen Tea Party Republicans, such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley voiced some of the strongest objections when he said the spending cuts in the deal could cost as many as 300,000 jobs.

"Doesn't this deal take us in the wrong direction?" Merkley asked. "Shouldn't we be on this floor working to create jobs, not to destroy jobs?"

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the conscience of fiscal-policy debates in Washington, decried the $2.4 trillion debt-ceiling deal in the strongest terms.

Sanders, who has led the fight to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and who has argued that that it is morally and economically wrong to balance budgets on the backs of working families while asking little or nothing of billionaire CEOs and multinational corporations, says the Obama-GOP deal "is not only grossly unfair, it is bad economic policy."

Sanders echoed concerns expressed by progressive Democrats in the House, such as Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, about a deal that bends far to the right in order to make deep cuts while protecting the tax breaks of billionaires.

"[It] is very clear that there will be devastating cuts to education, infrastructure, Head Start and child care, LIHEAP, community health centers, environmental protection, affordable housing and many, many other programs," explained the senator. "I am also concerned that when we hear that 'everything is on the table' in terms of what this super committee deals with it will certainly include devastating cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans' needs, while protecting the interests of the wealthy and large corporations."

Sanders is particularly concerned by the lack of clarity with regard to how more than $2.4 trillion in cuts will be made and how the deal will be implemented. "This two-part deficit-reduction legislation is complicated, and it is impossible to predict exactly which programs will be cut and by how much because the process requires action by appropriation committees and a new super committee in months to come," says Sanders.

The Vermonter, who has for many years expressed frustration and concern over the widening gap between wealthy Americans and working Americans, warns that: "The wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations who are doing phenomenally well today are not being asked to contribute one penny in shared sacrifice toward deficit reduction. On the other hand, middle-class and working families who are suffering terribly in the midst of this horrible recession are being asked to shoulder 100 percent of the human cost of lowering our deficit. This is not only grossly unfair, it is bad economic policy."

"This country needs deficit reduction, but we need to do it in a way that is fair and which will result in economic growth and job creation," says Sanders. "This proposal does neither..."

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