For those of us out here in the real world, the bizarre scene in Washington, D.C., these days as the deadline for national default draws nigh seems like a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. There's a complete cast of characters from the insane asylum, starring intransigent Republicans full of sound and fury, willing to bring the nation to its knees for political advantage. In the meantime, Democrats, who still control the Senate and the White House, are in disarray and apparently incapable of even keeping the promises they already made. So here's a warning to President Obama and those Democrats who think they can tinker with Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid: Abandon your base and your base will abandon you.
The quandary facing Congress and Obama is not something that just popped up. For many years now, Congress has been spending more money than the American people are willing to give it in taxes. The result has been a snowballing national debt that now burdens every citizen, from the moment of birth, with $50,000 dollars in federal debt.
Because Congress now borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends—often from economic competitors such as China—federal debt is growing at an astounding rate. And there's the rub: unless Congress raises the debt ceiling by trillions of dollars by August, the United States, for the first time in its history, will begin to default on its debt payments.
Partisans from both parties love to point their fingers and try to assign blame for the situation. Democrats look at the massive expansion of debt under President George W. Bush and say he did it. Republicans look at the massive expansion of debt under Barack Obama and say he's responsible for this reckless federal spending binge.
Yet in all the wabba-jabba emanating from D.C.'s chorus of insane singers, where are the voices of reason stating the undeniable reality that both parties have been responsible, since both parties have alternated in positions of control and power over the last 3 decades? Instead, what we're treated to on an increasing basis is both parties telling us how we're going to have to suck it up and adjust to a "new normal" that includes cutting bedrock social programs, education, health care (what little we get), and environmental protection. In the meantime, the Republicans go even further and promise that they won't raise a dime in new revenue. They even want to cut taxes further for the wealthy, whom they have re-named "job creators," despite the fact that the wealthy are now sitting on trillions in available capital but are not using it to create jobs.
But that's nothing new. Republicans have always serviced the rich. That's why rich people vote for, donate to, and elect Republicans. All we're seeing from the Republican-dominated House is what we've seen for years: policies and practices that funnel money upward to a tiny percentage of the population that controls vast wealth while the economic divide between them and everyone else yawns larger by the minute.
But Democrats, well, that's supposed to be a different story.
Democrats have traditionally been the party of the working people, the middle class, and organized labor. They're supposed to be the party that takes care of those in need. But for some reason, Democrats aren't standing up for their foundational tenets now. In fact, starting with Obama and working down, it appears the party somehow thinks it can garner a continuing existence by becoming Republican Light.
They're dead wrong.
Those of us who have worked our whole lives and watched tens of thousands of our dollars funneled to federal programs such as Social Security are in deep shock right now, as Obama seems more than willing to put everything on the table to avoid the looming default should the debt ceiling not be raised.
When I hear Obama say Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all part of what might have to be chopped in his secret deal-making with Republican leaders, deep resentment wells up in me. And I am not alone. There are some 78 million American Baby Boomers right now who are furious at the thought that a Democrat President would ever think about pulling the rug out from under them as they enter retirement age. And older people are more likely to vote than any other group. Yet extending Medicare from 65 to 67 is definitely in play, as are amorphous changes to Social Security and Medicaid. And already the federal government has quit paying into some pension programs under the phony rubric of "austerity" budgeting.
True, there are a handful of Democrats, including former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who say they will never renege on Social Security. But it's a very tough thing for Democrats who want to keep faith with the party's working-class base when their President is so obviously willing to give in to outrageous Republican demands.
Nor do the Democrats have the guts to take on the one glaring sector of federal spending that is both unnecessary and incredibly unproductive: the wars. While the rest of government is being cut, the Pentagon's budget is enjoying double-digit increases as Obama starts new wars. Last week, the House passed a $659 billion one-year military budget 336-87. Only 76 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted against it.
So here's the simple message to Democrats: We are watching and we are fed up with you selling us out. Your choice at this juncture is equally simple: Listen up—or lose.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.