Congressional Republicans released their "Pledge for America" today with a press event at a Virginia hardware store, and a hardware store was definitely the right choice: If these policies ever take effect you're going to get screwed.
It was slightly amusing to see these wealthy tribunes in their pricey business-casual clothing, dressed to look the way they must imagine "real people" do. But other than providing some revenue for Dockers pants and Johnston & Murphy shoes, what were the economic implications of the GOP's Pledge?
Once you strip away the rhetoric, the answer is simple: Off the top, their plan is a trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich - at everybody else's expense. Their "pledge" would slash needed spending, kill jobs and end any hope of growing the economy. It declares open season on the public's health and safety with a deregulation agenda that would unleash BP, Goldman Sachs, and every other corporation whose risky behavior endangers us. It would lead to even more financial crashes and environmental disasters. Firefighters, cops,and teachers would be laid off in droves. The deficit would soar. We'd face a permanently stagnating economy. The middle class would wither away.
That's the future they're offering. It's Bush on steroids, fattened up and ready to feast on ... you. If you like today's economy, you'll love the one these guys are cooking up.
If this document wasn't written by lobbyists then it was certainly submitted for their review and approval. And there's a lot for them to love. Here's what the Republicans propose.
The $4 trillion hole
So, let's see: $100 billion in supposed savings in that first year, versus $400 billion in tax cuts. In the fuzzy math of the GOP, that's called deficit reduction. Their policies would benefit the wealthiest households in the country, with special attention lavished on inherited wealth (call it the "Paris Hilton handout") and hedge fund managers (the "hedge fund handout"). Consider this: The 25 top hedge fund managers earn at least $1 billion a year, and are taxed at 15% (those soon-to-be-unemployed police officers and teachers pay more). By extending those cuts, the GOP plan would cost the rest of us at least $62 billion over ten years, putting it in the billionaires' pockets instead.
The Pledge quotes the adage, "to whom much is given, much is expected." But since they're giving even more to those to whom much has been given, the "much is expected" part must be an unsubtle hint to the ultra-rich to keep those contributions coming.
Where would they cut, exactly? They don't say. David Frum, a former speechwriter for George Bush, explains why: "Here is the GOP cruising to a handsome election victory. Did you seriously imagine that they would jeopardize the prospect of victory and chairmanships by issuing big, bold promises to do deadly unpopular things?"
Deadly unpopular things. At least Frum is honest enough to say out loud what other Republicans won't: They're going to subsidize their tax breaks for the wealthy by doing things the American people will hate. They won't just cut the everyday functions of government that make our lives better. Returning government spending to "pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels" also means ending the repair work that's currently being done to fix what their policies have broken. That includes getting people back to work, providing loans for small businesses, and cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico.
Fire a cop, buy a banker
But even though they slither past the specifics, the GOP leaders left some broad hints about their defunding priorities. In a graph that lists government spending, for example, the categories aren't listed by size, or alphabetically. The ones at the top are the targets, and which figure prominently? The Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Justice ... you see where this is going, don't you? (Yes, the Justice Department's on the list. Law enforcement isn't always a convenient thing in their America.)
Their list of 2,050 different assistance programs singles out Federal funding to the states--states that are in desperate need of federal support to keep people working in the fiscal aftermath of GOP policies. They need Federal aid to avoid the kind of cuts they'll be forced to make otherwise: laying off cops and teachers, slashing Medicaid, letting roads crumble, and shutting down emergency services, just to name a few.
Why not rename this pledge the "fire a cop, buy a banker his own private island plan"?
This proposal adds to the clamor of Washington voices calling to slash Social Security. In order to pay for their tax break--a giant handout to the wealthiest among us--they'll need to welsh on the loan the American middle class gave to the government through its payments to the Social Security Trust Fund. That lack of specifics is probably why Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who wrote a much more specific plan, was notably absent from today's event. Ryan's plan included deep cuts in Social Security benefits and a privatization plan that puts Wall Street gamble with our retirement security.
Ryan also provided the specifics on health care that these guys won't: He wants to convert Medicare into a voucher system, leaving individual seniors to cope with buying health insurance. He'd raise the eligibility age for Medicare, as well as for Social Security, and would raise premiums while cutting benefits. The Ryan plan would eventually cut Medicare by 76%. The GOP would roll back the new coverage provided by this year's health law while adding many seniors to the ranks of the uninsured. And some estimates suggest that half of all seniors would live in poverty under the Ryan plan.
Ryan, like Frum, committed the crime of honesty. Remember: Deadly unpopular things. Ryan's presence would have reminded the public of what they actually intend to do, instead of hiding behind Pledge's weasel words: "We will (require) a full accounting of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid ... preventing the expansion of unfunded liabilities ..."
But wait, as the old commercials used to say. There's more.
The Pledge also promises to give "small businesses" a tax deduction equal to "20 percent of their business income" - but, as Rachel Maddow and others have observed, their definition of "small business" includes giant corporations like Bechtel and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That would mean another multibillion-dollar tax break for the wealthiest among us.
This "deficit-conscious" plan wants to expand the "military/industrial welfare state," too. "We are a nation at war," it says, calling to "fully fund" a missile defense system that's already plagued with persistent test failures, laden with cost overruns, and which most experts don't think is needed or can ever wok. What it can do, however, is transfer a lot of middle-class income to Boeing and Northrop Grumman. We've already spent more than $60 billion on the "Star Wars" missile program in the last eight years, in fact. Why, that's nearly as much as the GOP intends to give to the top 25 billion-dollar-a-year hedge fund managers!
They dress their plan up with the usual mumbo-jumbo about government spending that's "crowding out the private economy." That may sound good, Tea Partiers, but think about: How does it do that, exactly? Every government employee buys things from private companies--from supermarkets, pharmacies, auto dealers, and yes, hardware stores. Makes no sense when you think about it.
And while their rhetoric's pretty polished, they tried a little too hard to channel the Founding Fathers with lines like this one: "Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course." (Note for whichever lobbyist wrote that: "Agenda" is a business word, not an inspirational one. It doesn't fit. It's like writing "When in the course of human events we are called upon to write a Mission Statement ...")
Here's the bottom line: They'll raid your money to make their rich patrons even richer. The middle class will continue to wither away, and those manage to hold on will be worse off than ever. More and more people will slip into permanent unemployment, poverty, and penurious old age. More roads will crumble. More aging pipelines will explode in towns like San Bruno, Calif. This "pledge" is the oldest kind of promise in the world: the promise than con men make to their victims.
Remember, the Republicans made a lot of promises the last time they took control of the Congress. They promised to create more jobs, and their policies led to record unemployment. They promised to limit their own terms, then settled in for a long comfy stay in Washington. They promised that businesses would regulate themselves, and both the Gulf Coast and the Main Street economy were ruined.
It brings to mind the words of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce: "They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: they promised to take our land and they took it." Substitute "our wallets" for "our land," and that's what we'll get with the Pledge to America. What they're really promising is this: No jobs, no health care, no security, no future.
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street and Strengthen Social Security projects. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.
He can be reached at "firstname.lastname@example.org."
Website: Eskow and Associates