The Budget/Deficit Deal

Against the Current, No. 167, November/December 2013

David Finkel

SOME SERIOUS RULING class intervention finally presented John Boehner an instruction he couldn’t refuse: Get the Harry Reid-Mitch McConnell Senate deal to the House floor for a straight vote to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. Tell the Tea Party that you know where they’re coming from, and they need to crawl back under it. We run this damn country, and we don’t care enough about “Obamacare,” one way or the other, or about your Speakership for that matter, to risk our ill-gotten trillions over it.

Only after The New York Times reported that the Business Roundtable and other corporate heavies are so upset with the Tea Party that they might start funding primary challenges against them, and after the global financial press and leaders of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund opined that the United States Congress was going out of its mind and getting ready to destroy the world economy along with its own, did the logjam break up. (For some background, see “The Shutdown Showdown,”

The Reid-McConnell deal passed the Senate with 81 votes, and the House by 285-144 with 198 Democratic votes, while 87 Republicans voted “yes” and 144 “no.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, calling his party’s debacle a “great lost opportunity,” stated: “If we had been focused on the rollout of Obamacare and its confusion, public support would have diminished. Instead, our numbers have gone down, Obamacare has mysteriously gone up, and other than that, this has been great.”

The main Democratic concession was to tighten “verification” processes for low-income people to qualify for subsidized health coverage. That adds one more layer of bureaucratic hassle to the Affordable Care Act’s hopeless complexities, which (as Senator Graham recognizes) are ultimately more likely than Republican obstruction to bring down “Obamacare.”

If the nightmare of the health care “rollout” demonstrated anything, it’s how badly we really need a straightforward universal single-payer health insurance system, not the privatized for-profit morass that the Affordable Care Act with its hopeless complexities was written to preserve.

The political collision of the government shutdown and default panic has ended in victory for Obama and the Democrats at least until mid-December when a longer-term deal is supposed to be hammered out. And right now, collision turns to collusion.

The Tea Party may be over, temporarily, but the malady lingers on – austerity. Contrary to Republican calculations, the Democrats couldn’t surrender on the Affordable Care Act because that would have effectively ended the Obama presidency. But when it comes to the rest of the budget, the sign is already hung up: “Everything must go.”

A budget deal is supposed to be in place by December 13, a month before the next shutdown deadline. The main features of the deal-to-come have been put in place, as outlined by leftwing labor economist Jack Rasmus (“Austerity American Style,”

The preview over the next decade includes: a trillion dollars in cuts to Social Security and Medicare; a major reduction in the corporate tax rate — which is the real priority for big business, not defunding Obamacare; and big cuts in middle-income tax credits and exemptions, and in spending on education, transportation and other programs that don’t feed the military.

In the meantime, the “sequester” cuts remain locked in, sucking the bloodstream of the economic recovery in much the same way, except in slow motion, as the government shutdown did. As the new negotiations proceed, the Republicans will have all the more pretext to demand more cuts and block new revenues. Look for more pressure (from elements of both parties) to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Speaking of environmental destruction, if you’re expecting this administration to do anything to halt the plague of natural gas fracking, you’re breathing the methane.

Yes, corporate and finance capital finally had to call the Republican leadership to order when a potential massive financial meltdown loomed. But never forget that the capitalist class is united around a drive for austerity, and for profit at the expense of a habitable planet, that sets the agenda for the entire political system. If you thought partisan gridlock sucked, just wait till we taste the poisoned fruits of capitalist “bipartisanship.” In fact, we already are.

November/December 2013, ATC 167