American Majority Rejects Washington Austerity Consensus -- And Demands to Be Heard

Out in the America, unemployment is back up to 9 percent, but inside the Washington beltway bubble the consensus, driven by conservatives seems to be for austerity. An unholy alliance of pundits, politicians and even reporters -- who differ only in degree -- is insisting on the need to slash Federal spending over the next few months. As we approach the deadline for Congress to raise the debt ceiling, not a hour goes by in the 24 hour cycle without the media interviewing some expert who declares that the deficit is the most important threat facing the country, that tax increases are off the table, and that a severe crisis awaits if the Congress doesn't cut and radically restructure Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

But one voice is missing from this discussion: that of the American Majority.

Occasionally some talking head on TV will acknowledge the almost daily public opinion polling showing conclusively that strong majorities of Americans:

  • oppose cutting benefits for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid recipients;
  • reject the idea of raising the age of eligibility for these popular programs;
  • hate the proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher or privatize Social Security;
  • support taxing the rich and corporations to close the deficit and fund needed investment;
  • favor cutting military spending for both obsolete weapons systems and current wars;
  • and, while acknowledging the need to reduce deficits, place a higher priority on creating jobs and getting the sputtering economy growing.

Rarely in the public discussion are the views of the American majority presented in such a comprehensive way. Instead, some budget expert from Brookings or an honest reporter will nervously interject that "recent polls show Americans may resist taking the medicine," and then the discussion moves on to why austerity is absolutely necessary. Rarely on talk shows or even in serious print news article does anyone challenge the predictable Republican mantra that "We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem." And, given the consensus that we face a "debt and deficit crisis" that could soon hurt the economy, rarely is anyone allowed to warn that a strong dose of spending cuts might hurt the America's faltering recovery.

And so the inside-the-bubble discussion moves on to how much to cut which programs -- and whether automatic spending caps might work to appease the bond markets.

No more the silent majority. Today the Campaign for America's Future is sending letters to all the major media demanding that the views of the American Majority be represented in the news programs, print articles and opinion pages, and the non-stop daily and Sunday talk shows in which the debate about America's future is being conducted as we move toward the showdown over the budget.

We are demanding representation in the media proportional to the size of the American Majority. And we are making the point that the views of the majority are not irrational -- and that in a democracy the majority deserves to be heard, not patronized. We are also supplying the media with an extensive list of economists, experts and advocates who share the majority view that deficits are not now the major threat to US prosperity, and that getting revenue back into the budget is far less damaging (and more just) than cutting spending and crippling important programs for the poor and the elderly. And we are telling them that occasionally featuring the great Paul Krugman, as though his views represent a lonely majority, is not enough.

Out in the real world, despite being excluded from the beltway discussion, the real people who represent the American Majority are finding their voice -- as Republican Members of Congress, including Rep Paul Ryan, discovered when they went home last month to defend the Ryan/GOP budget they all voted for. They encountered well-informed and angry constituents protesting the plan to turn Medicare into a voucher and demanding to know why unemployment is still so high and why the rich are still enjoying the Bush tax cuts. It didn't make any difference to these voters that columnists at the Washington Post thought Ryan's plan was "bold and brave." They were just angry that all the Republicans in the House voted to dismantle Medicare.

You can also see the American Majority stirring powerfully in the huge populist rebellion against the attempt to cripple workers' rights in Wisconsin, Indiana, Maine and around the country. The right wing governors in these states thought they could isolate what they see as a small unionized minority and pit other working people against them. Instead, citizens of all kinds are seeing the assault on union workers as an extension of the war on the battered middle class -- a war in which conservatives preach austerity to the rest of us, while demanding tax cuts and bailouts for themselves.

In the dangerous looming showdown over the budget and the debt ceiling, those of us who share the views of the American Majority must demand to be heard. We have to get over our self-image as an embattled, if righteous, minority. In recent weeks millions of our fellow Americans who voted in 2010 for conservative candidates who promised jobs have begun to realize what an extreme and destructive that their real agenda poses for our country. Even most rank-and-file Tea Party supporters reject dismantling Medicare and cutting Social Security. In April, when the polling firm Greenberg-Quinlan read a list of the programs likely to be cut by across-the-board spending caps (which Republicans and some Democrats are demanding as the price of raising the debt limit), 72% said they would rather raise taxes on those earning over one million dollars. In March, Bloomberg asked Americans to choose a priority - creating jobs or cutting spending -- and 56% said creating jobs, rather than spending cuts is the more important priority for the federal government right now. See all the polling that we have compiled here.

So it is time for all of us to ask, if we are the American Majority, why aren't 72 percent of the pundits on television talking about raising taxes on the rich? Why don't we read about -- and hear from -- the 56 percent of Americans (and experts) who think that jobs and economic recovery is more important than austerity. We don't need to demand quotas -- but equal time would seem to be justified.

The Campaign for America's Future is joining with the Center for Economic and Policy Research (whose Co-Director, Dean Baker blogs regularly about economic bias in the media) and with FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) to monitor the media's coverage and representation of the American Majority views as they go into covering the big deficit fight. But we want to enlist YOU too. Send us accounts of unbalanced coverage in the national media and in your local newspapers and television. Call up reporters, editors, assignment people and tell them when they are under-representing the views of the American Majority. We should have at least half the experts, pundits, quotes and real people represented in their coverage. In a debate as important as the one we are going into, we can't allow the media to ignore the American Majority.

And while we challenge the media to present the views of the American people on the economy, let's get to work on the politicians as well. (More on that soon.)