Sold out 

With friends like Democrats, can the poor survive?

It's quite the spectacle, seeing Congress breaking its arms patting itself on the back over this week's measure to raise the nation's debt ceiling. Particularly disgusting are the self-congratulatory huzzahs for achieving this so-called "bipartisan solution." In truth, the only part of it that was bipartisan were the final votes, cast in desperation to save President Obama from the political Sword of Damocles in the guise of a national default. In a word, Republicans won. In another word, the Democrats lost, big time.

If you've been living in a cave for the last month, there's a chance you lucked out and didn't have to suffer through the interminable circus acts between the House, Senate and President Obama. At first, Obama came out talking tough—well, as tough as he's capable of talking—while telling the American people that dealing with the debt ceiling required what he called "a balanced approach."

In plain language, that meant adjusting taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations who have, ever since the Bush tax cuts a decade ago, been skimming the cream off the top of the economy while the rest of us get thin whey, if that. But of course, it's not hard to recall that Obama was the one who agreed to extend Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy when he could have kept his campaign promise and vetoed them. He and he alone had the power to end those needless giveaways with the swipe of a pen. But he didn't.

Watching the hypocrisy was painful, but it spurred a tiny glimmer of hope that this time around, Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate would hold out until some equity was returned to the tax code and those most able to pay actually started paying. But Speaker of the House John Boehner and his Tea Party pals simply said one two-letter word—"no"—and Obama and his lame Democrats crumbled.

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Next we got a new line from the White House: "shared sacrifice." What that actually means is that the most needy would be required to give even more of what little they have so those at the very top of the pile wouldn't have to give an extra penny. Those "shared sacrifices" actually meant that the vast majority of the American people could look forward to seeing holes cut in various social safety nets and eligibility for Medicare and Social Security pushed a few more years down the road.

Apparently those in Congress and the White House who already enjoy massive, guaranteed lifetime social benefits paid for by the masses are hoping more of us will die before we get old enough to even qualify to recoup some of the dollars we have been paying into Social Security and Medicare for our entire working lives—dollars that were supposed to be safely kept in an interest-bearing trust, but which have been cashed in for Treasury IOUs by free-spending Congresses of the past.

In the meantime, the Republicans came up with a few demands of their own, the first of which was no "new" taxes—which meant, in reality, not rolling back the tax giveaways of the past. They also demanded spending cuts–but not to the bloated Pentagon budget merrily rolling along on the grease of numerous useless wars. Oh no. "National defense" must be spared at literally any cost. Where the cuts should come would be from so-called "entitlement programs" already paid for through lifetime payroll deductions. And if the Democrats wanted to stand tough and refuse to cut entitlements, well, so be it...they'd be in for a fight, because the Tea Party minority in Congress was somehow managing to call the shots for the entire nation.

Had the Democrats acceded to a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, the Tea Party could have declared victory and perhaps, just perhaps, been mollified enough to address future spending starting with the requirement to balance expenditures with projected revenues.

But that didn't happen either. Instead, the Democrats came out against a balanced budget amendment as if it were a hound from Hell, despite the fact it would have had to be ratified by two-thirds of Congress and two-thirds of the states before it could take effect.

In the end, what did happen was a defeat for the Democrats on virtually every point. The debt ceiling did get raised, so I guess they can rally 'round Obama's flag and lift their glasses high, having saved him from the ignominy of a first-ever debt default. But there will be no "balanced approach" because there will be no new revenue. Period.

And there will be no significant reduction in military spending. In fact, what the Pentagon and its multitude of war-waging, spying and drone-attack buddy agencies have to give up are merely future spending increases. Considering the military budget doubled in the last decade, it's tough to find the tears for their travail.

There will, however, be a vote on a balanced budget amendment. There will also be yet another appointed "bipartisan" panel to consider more budget cuts. And there will be another vote on raising the debt ceiling before the next election.

Speaker Boehner is right to brag that he and his Republicans "got 98 percent of what they asked for," while those of us who sent Democrats to Congress and the White House got sold out once again. There's a big difference between winning and losing. And for most Americans, we've had just about as much of the agony of defeat as we can stand.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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