Local protestors will erect a “Durbinville” shantytown at the Federal Plaza at noon on Thursday, continuing their challenge to Senator Richard Durbin’s embrace of the austerity agenda that’s dominating budget talks in Washington.
Since Monday, a coalition of grassroots groups has been staging a soupline outside Durbin’s downtown office “to make visible the hunger and suffering that budget cuts will create,” according to a statement from IIRON.
All kinds of people are accepting the homemade soup being offered, and many are expressing surprise when they learn that Durbin is backing drastic safety net cuts, said Kristi Sanford of Northside POWER.
The long-term spending reductions Durbin is calling for — outlined in the Simpson-Bowles commission report he backed in 2010 – would be no better than the cuts required by “sequestration” if Congress fails to come up with a budget deal by the end of the year, Sanford said.
“They would push us back into recession, and we’d have more lost jobs and suffering,” she said. “It would cut education, food security, a whole range of government services we rely on.”
At a recent speech at the Center for American Progress  in Washington, Durbin cited the “fiscal conservatism” of his liberal predecessors, Paul Douglas and Paul Simon, to justify his stance.
According to Sanford, in a series of meetings with coalition members this year, Durbin refused to back off his call for cuts to Social Security. But last month, after 19 protestors were arrested at his office , he seemed to relent slightly, saying Social Security cuts shouldn’t be part of a deal this year.
He’s still calling for deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, Sanford said, and he wants a commission to consider Social Security cuts next year.
The Simpson-Bowles report backed by Durbin called for reducing Social Security cost-of-living increases and raising the retirement age to 69. It relies on a formula that assumes seniors would substitute cheaper alternatives as prices for necessities rise — thus earning Simpson-Bowles the nickname of “the catfood commission.” 
Raising the retirement age would penalize low-income workers, whose life expectancy has not been rising, Sanford said. (She suggested reading Paul Krugman’s analysis  of this issue.)
If the federal government would restore pre-Bush era tax rates on the wealthy and institute a financial transaction tax – a small fee on sales of stocks and bonds, now being implemented in France and Germany, that could raise as much as $1.8 trillion over a decade – it could maintain the safety net and pay down the deficit, Sanford said.
At one meeting with the coalition, Durbin said he couldn’t back a financial transaction tax because it would impact the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, said Toby Chow of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation. CME is one of Durbin’s largest contributors, Sanford said.
Durbin has also failed to endorse legislation that would raise the income cap on payroll taxes  and eliminate long-term shortfalls for Social Security. (President Obama backed this approach  prior to his election.)
The shantytown and souplines are an effort to encourage Durbin to “look into the eyes of the people his budget decisions will affect, and remember that CEOs and Wall Street donors are not the only people with huge interests at stake in the budget negotiations,” Sanford said.
Organizers expect hundreds of protestors Thursday (December 6, 12 noon, Dearborn and Adams). The coalition sponsoring the action includes Make Wall Street Pay/Illinois , IIRON , SOUL , Lakeview Action Coalition , Northside POWER , and Illinois Peoples Action .
An error regarding the date of the Simpson-Bowles report has been corrected.