Jun 29, 2010
Archon Fung of Harvard writes in Huffington Post of his disappointment over criticism of America Speaks’s forums on the federal deficit. (Newstips talked with Fung eight years ago about his fascinating research on local school councils and community policing in Chicago.)
“It was distressing that many left intellectuals leveled withering scorn at this event because they viewed it as a vast right-wing conspiracy to manufacture public consent to slash public programs,” Fung writes. Progressives need to support more opportunities for public deliberation, he says.
Fung cites votes by participants in favor of raising the cap on earnings taxable for Social Security, instituting a carbon tax and a securities transaction tax, hiking payroll taxes and a 5 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million, and cutting the defense budget.
“By the end of their deliberations, it was clear that most participants wanted to reduce the deficit primarily by raising taxes and cutting defense, not by slashing Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare.”
In fact, they did vote to slash Social Security benefits; Fung omits participants’ support for raising Social Security’s retirement age to 69, reported in a press release from America Speaks. This would reduce benefits for everyone, and would hit low-income workers especially hard, since they don’t live as long.
They also voted to cut spending on health care and domestic programs by “at least 5 percent,” according to America Speaks.
Or did they? They seem to have actually voted against health cuts, according to Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America’s Future, also in Huffington Post. Following the process online, Hickey says 71 percent voted for no cuts, 21 percent for 5 percent cuts.
Fung’s figures: 65 percent wanted to cut health care spending by 5 percent or not at all; America Speaks says “reforms that were preferred by participants” included “reduc[ing] spending on health care and non-defense discretionary spending by at least 5 percent.”
Thus Hickey’s call for America Speaks to provide a full report with complete voting results.
Hickey says some progressive positions emerged despite “misleading background information.”
Chief among this was the failure to identify Social Security as an independently-financed program – and the failure to ever mention the program’s huge surplus.
The Center for Economic Policy Research surveyed participants as they left the forums in four cities (including Chicago) “to determine the extent to which the process educated participants about the economy” and found that “even after this lengthy process, most of the participants were poorly informed about important aspects of the budget debate” – most notably Social Security.
Less than a third of participants surveyed were aware that Social Security trustees currently project that the program can pay all scheduled benefits for the next quarter century, according to CEPR.
CEPR notes the extremely limited options participants were provided regarding health care – with no proposals for cutting the growth of health care costs available.
Hickey looks in some depth at the organizers’ framing of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and growth vs. austerity (and reports a “rebellion in the ranks” which demanded an option of voting for Medicare For All). At Firedoglake, David Dayen looks at presentations on healthcare, Social Security, and tax increases, with a “cumulative effect [tending] towards social safety net cuts rather than tax fairness.”
Dayen reports from inside a forum in Los Angeles that “the entire event was absolutely designed to create a panic about the deficit among the participants.” Fifteen minutes were spent on the current economic crisis and five hours on the deficit, he says, with speakers in informational videos heavily skewed toward deficit hawks.
He also has video from a protest outside the event – 40 people showed up to demand hands off Social Security, and at least some of them were among the 100 who participated in the deliberations. MoveOn also called on members to attend and resist Social Security cuts, which may help account for some of the more progressive positions taken.
According to Ron Baiman of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, organizers did not keep commitments to him about including discussion of the larger economic context in their introduction to the deficit issue (see previous post).
Meanwhile, deficit hawks of the Herbert Hoover school reign in Washington and Europe, and as Paul Krugman opines, the results are potentially disastrous.