Pete Peterson's Fix the Debt CEOs Promote Austerity for the Masses, Expanding Wealth for the 1 Percent

The False Economic Dialogue

The Center for Media and Democracy has published an extended report of Pete Peterson's decades-long efforts to leverage his billionaire status to underwrite numerous organizations and PR campaigns intent on slashing Social Security and Medicare, under the pretense of concern for "unsustainable" federal budget deficits, even as he and fellow CEOs promote ever greater corporate tax cuts.

Fix the Debt is the most recent incarnation of the Pete Peterson machine seeking imposition of austerity on the masses, ostensibly to address economic downturn. Fix the Debt CEO Talking Points (see first Footnote) mask their ambition to privatize Medicare and Social Security while feigning to seek to "improve efficiency" of Medicare and Medicaid, and to make Social Security "solvent... for future beneficiaries." Their third agenda item is implementation of "pro-growth tax reform" that "lowers rates, raises revenues, and reduces the deficit" (italics mine) -- virtually impossible with static high unemployment rates.

Peterson-inspired initiatives, including the Simpson-Bowles Commission, groups worldwide, and even Paul Ryan's extreme Path to Prosperity budget, have widely cited a 2010 mathematically flawed study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff - each with links to Peterson institutions - to justify austerity. Other economists subsequently cited the study's reliance on flawed math, resulting in the imposition of austerity that has sent unemployment soaring worldwide, even as stimulus programs have been rejected, and economies shrink.

Announcing the Fix the Debt campaign in the summer of 2012, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation website declared, "The Campaign to Fix the Debt is a nonpartisan movement to put America on a better fiscal and economic path." Fix the Debt steering committee member, former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen revealed the Campaign's strategy: to create an "artificial crisis" to force Congress to act, in order to enact a Simpson-Bowles style "grand bargain" for austerity by the nation's 237th birthday on July 4, 2013.

Fix the Debt Conflicts of Interest

The Center for Media and Democracy reveals that the ranks of Fix the Debt CEOs are "rife with conflicts of interest." Many member corporations pay a negative tax rate, contributing greatly to the federal deficit. Fix the Debt firms are pushing for a "globally competitive" territorial tax system that would increase the debt by $1 trillion over ten years, encourage the offshoring of U.S. jobs, and result in a $134 billion windfall for at least 63 Fix the Debt firms. Despite purported concern for the deficit, business lobbyists pushed for more than $60 billion in breaks as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal.

Even as Fix the Debt CEOs call for cuts to Social Security, many of the publicly-traded Fix the Debt firms underfund their employee pension plans. Defense contractors number 38 among Fix the Debt leaders, linked to companies with defense contracts totaling $43.4 billion in 2012.

Satellite Astroturf Groups

Dubbed an 'astroturf supergroup,' Fix the Debt between October 2012 and January 2013 launched state satellite astroturf groups, posting almost identical websites for 22 states and the District of Columbia, each identified by the national group's copyright: © 2013 The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Fix the Debt Coalition, Inc. To lend a patina of "non-partisan" respectability, Peterson's Fix the Debt has enlisted a who's who of lobbyists, plus former and current Republican and Democratic leaders in each state to serve as co-chairs and steering committee members.

Former Gov. Richard Lamm and former State Senate Majority Leader Norma Anderson serve as Colorado Fix the Debt co-chairs. Steering Committee members include Gov. John Hickenlooper, Denver Deputy Mayor Cary Kennedy, former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, former Secretary of State Mary Estill Buchanan, State Rep. Lois Court, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, former State Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, former U.S. Senator Gary Hart... the list goes on. Both Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall are quoted offering encouragement for the group's work. The only variation from other state websites is a video of people visiting a booth set up by Fix the Debt at the University of Denver during the 2012 presidential debate, where folks who were probably unaware of Pete Peterson and his corporate agenda were invited to share their reasons to "fix the debt."

Specious Arguments Justify Greed of Plutocrats

Echoing Fix the Debt talking points during an Independence Institute program, former governor Dick Lamm declared that the elderly are the "biggest welfare queens," and that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have "created dependency," and are "the big drivers" of debt. Lamm apparently ignores the fact that Social Security is separately funded and could easily be made solvent far into the future by raising the payroll tax cap above the current $113,000 income. Or that improved Medicare-for-All could provide $400 billion annual deficit reduction.

Nevertheless, Lamm declared that eligibility for Social Security should be raised to ages 64 and 70 -- ostensibly because people are "living longer" -- the CEOs' rationalization for cutting benefits. He thus disregards research demonstrating that only the affluent are living longer, revealing that "large and growing" disparities in life expectancy parallel the growing disparity of income in the U.S. over the past two decades.

Huge disparities exist between Fix the Debt CEO incomes and pensions and the average 2012 monthly Social Security beneficiary payment of $1,230 that they target. True to form, Fix the Debt's former senator Alan Simpson branded Social Security recipients 'greedy geezers'.

David Cote of Honeywell regurgitates CEO wisdom holding that "entitlements" are the "ticking time bomb that's going to kill us." Cote reportedly enjoys retirement assets of more than $78 million, with anticipated monthly retirement payments of $428,092, even though Honeywell's employee pension plan is underfunded by $2.8 billion. Twelve of the CEOs cited in an IPS report can each anticipate a monthly retirement check of $110,000 for life.

Corporate media elites are as disconnected from working people as Washington elites. NBC dean of the press Tom Brokaw asserted in December on Meet the Press that "middle class" should be redefined to include incomes of $250,000 -- because it's difficult to put two kids through college while caring for a dependent parent -- well, yes, but that definition relegates 99 percent of the population to dire poverty.

Bail Out Students Instead of Banks This Time

"Fix the Greed" read the banner of protestors at a recent convocation of Fix the Debt CEOs, challenging the immorality of the co-opted U.S. economy, in thrall to the 1 Percent.

Founder of the Public Banking Institute, Ellen Brown, observes that the Federal Reserve could buy up and liquidate all student loans, and it would provide a significant stimulus for the economy. She writes, "In its first quantitative easing program (QE1), the Fed removed $1.3 trillion in toxic assets from the books of Wall Street banks. For QE4, it could remove $1 trillion in toxic debt from the backs of millions of students." Why not bail out the students who are being crushed in an economy brought low by fraudulent activities of private banks?

Ours is an allocation crisis, not a moral crisis, said 2004 Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb at the 2011 Democracy Convention convened in Madison, Wisconsin. Occupy Wall Street got it right -- it's time for a paradigm shift toward an economy that serves the people.