Conservatives have a legislative agenda for 2011 that will hurt your ability to get or keep a job, your neighborhood's ability to recover from the recession and this country's ability to regain its footing in the global economy.
To keep conservatives from enacting policies that will kill a nascent economic recovery, progressives will have to organize against these top 10 economy killers.
1. Repeal of Health-Care Reform
Republicans have placed "repealing Obamacare" at the top of their legislative agenda for 2011. If they succeed, the economy is going to come down with multiple serious illnesses—at least 24, according to a report released this month by Rep. Peter Stark of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Among them: a $143 billion increase in the deficit by losing the savings the reforms created, an increase the number of uninsured by 30 million people, an end to free preventative care services and the loss of the requirement that insurance companies devote the bulk of premium payments to health care costs rather than expensive advertising and executive perks. While a Virginia judge is a conservative hero for blocking health-care reform's requirement that people buy private insurance, conservatives are silent on the fact that if that requirement goes, the reform's mandate that insurance companies cover preexisting conditions is unsustainable.
We'll be back to uncontrolled cost increases in private insurance. But, as the state of our health compared to other leading nations continues to decline, conservatives will at least be able to say that they maintained the United States' global leadership as the nation that spends the most on health care and gets the least.
2. Diminish the Federal Government's Ability to Support Job-Creation
Conservatives are poised to execute a strikingly broad assault against federal spending, particularly programs that help jump-start and steer the nation's job-creation engine. It includes the expected targets—such proven programs as Community Development Block Grants—as well as some new ones, such as the Small Business Administration (there goes all that Republican fealty to "small business") and even the requirement that the Federal Reserve take employment impact into account when it sets monetary policy.
That latest addition to the target list goes after the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment law, named after Rep. Augustus Hawkins, an early leader of the Congressional Black Caucus in the 1970s, and Sen. Hubert Humphrey. The law was passed in reaction to the Nixon-Ford inflation-fighting era, when the Fed ratcheted up interest rates to cool the economy, without regard to unemployment rates that were then approaching the scandalous levels of 9 percent. The right never liked this bill, but now with the election of people such as Rand Paul in the Senate and cheerleading from The Wall Street Journal editorial page, repeal has moved from right-wing think-tank wish lists to serious legislative agenda item.
Since the right can't complain about inflation—there is none—the enemy is "quantitative easing," the Fed's bid to pour liquidity into the economy in hopes that fuels investment and jobs. Take away quantitative easing and there's literally nothing left in the economic policy playbook to keep the economy from slipping back into recession.
3. Slash Federal Infrastructure Spending
The departing chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. James Oberstar, offered some rare frank talk earlier this year when he said the country's transportation network "was once the envy of the world" but has now "slipped into decline." And it's not just transportation: The systems that deliver clean water to our taps were given a grade of "D-" in 2009 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Engaging in a catch-up campaign to restore our infrastructure should be a no-brainer, because of many hundreds of thousands of jobs created by the restoration work as well as the long-term impact on economic growth. But instead, while countries such as China race ahead on infrastructure investment, conservative governors are being heralded as heroes for rejecting high-speed rail money and killing a rail tunnel on the nation's busiest rail corridor leading into New York City. Conservative ideologues are once again proposing to end most federal transportation spending. And even those on the right willing to maintain some federal transportation spending won't consider such simple common-sense moves as an increase in the gasoline tax, which has not increased since 1993.
Other major industrial powers put a premium on moving people and goods through their countries efficiently. Under conservative dominance, the United States increasingly doesn't. Guess how the U.S. will fare in global economic competition if this keeps up.
4. Dismantle Medicare (and Give Seniors "Vouchers")
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is successfully positioning himself as a thought leader among conservatives, is pushing a plan that would end the Medicare program for seniors and replace it with vouchers that seniors would use toward the cost of private insurance. We don't have to speculate about how well this would work: Just look at Medicare Advantage, says Austin Frakt, assistant professor of health policy at Boston University’s School of Public Health, in an article for Kaiser Health News. "The private Medicare Advantage plans are a (voluntary) voucher system. When covering a beneficiary, an Advantage plan receives a fixed monthly payment from Medicare that depends on the beneficiary's county of residence and health status. That fixed monthly payment is tantamount to a voucher."
And as Frakt and the Obama administration point out, Medicare Advantage costs more than regular Medicare services. Ryan's voucherization of Medicare, however, would control costs not by restraining insurance companies or health-care corporations but by keeping the value of the voucher below the increase in health care costs, thus shifting increasing out-of-pocket costs onto seniors themselves. Conservatives say this means government won't be rationing care to seniors. With vouchers, seniors will forced to ration care on their own.
5. Undo Financial Reform, and Let the Predators Run
Rep. Spencer Baucus, the Republican who will take over the House Financial Services Committee, has said that the primary function of government financial regulation is not to protect the consumer but to "serve the banks." On that score, conservatives are already off to a good start.
First, Republicans killed the omnibus spending bill that would have funded the operations of government for the next year. Now they’ve made it clear that they won’t approve any bill that provides funding for the financial reforms in this year’s bill.
What will happen if they get their way? The agency that will make sure credit ratings aren’t rigged by the banks, the way they were in the run-up to the economic collapse: Gone. The budgets that will allow the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission monitor reckless and/or illegal bank activity: Gone. Even the office that would protect investors – that is, people who buy stocks – would be eliminated. And the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and ts aggressive chief, Elizabeth Warren, is the next target in their sights.
That's the formula: put fewer cops on the beat, make sure the cops are docile, and harass the ones who aren't. Cut the garlic budget just as the vampires prepare for their midnight run. That makes it safe for the Wall Street casino to reopen as if nothing ever happened—and put us at greater risk for another financial collapse.
6. Support Big Oil and Kill Green Jobs
Shortly after Congress adjourned The White House moved forward with plans to have the Environmental Protection Agency enforce tougher limits on greenhouse gases from power plants. The right has mounted a full-court assault against this since President Obama took office, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose state's utilities are responsible for 11 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration, has been leading an all-out legal war with the EPA. (Contrast that to California, which this month launched its own version of a cap-and-trade program.)
The right's mantra is that the EPA regulations will increase utility bills and kill jobs. The truth is that the regulations will create new jobs in clean-energy industries and, most importantly, save the planet. Just as Rep. Spencer Bachus thinks government should "serve the banks," conservatives would seem to be fine with EPA serving the polluters.
7. Don't Just Cut Government Waste; Cripple Government
From the beginning of the Reagan Revolution the plan was to create deficits to cripple government, not to cut “waste.” Reagan said the idea was to “cut the government’s allowance.” George W. Bush said turning Clinton’s surpluses into huge deficits was "incredibly positive news" because it would put government in "a fiscal straitjacket."
Now, House Republicans want to cut government spending to 2008 level. They'd exclude defense and homeland security spending, so what that really means is a 20 percent cut in everything else, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. That would lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, with recession-worsening effects in every state. And how is government supposed to make a program work such as the stepped-up food safety enforcement approved this month by Congress if it can't hire more staff?
One of the right's proposed tools is the creation of an "anti-appropriations committee" that would, according to the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, "focus only on reducing spending and balance the spending interests of the other panels tasked with appropriating and authorizing new outlays." It's unnecessary; appropriations committees operate under spending ceilings, and these committees are intimately familiar with the programs they are funding. But having a committee of rock throwers at a construction site makes for entertaining, as well as destructive, theater.
8. Amp up the Insecurity in Social Security
Conservatives have wanted to kill the New Deal for a long time. Now they have a historic window of opportunity. Unless the President and other Democrats stand up for Social Security, it’s going to be needlessly gutted in the name of “deficit reduction”—even though it doesn’t contribute to the deficit. Why? They want Social Security’s $2.6 trillion trust fund, so they can use it to pay for two wars and tax breaks for the rich. They’ve managed to capture most of the media with phony scare tactics about Social Security and insolvency. They’ve roped in quite a few Democrats, too.
Next up: Once the program is gutted, they’ll pretend to “make up the difference” by bringing back George W. Bush’s failed “privatization” scheme. The end result will be cutbacks in benefits for the lower- and middle-income elderly, tax breaks for the rich, and more customers for the Wall Street gambling casino.
9. Starve Public Education
Here is an easy way to keep the rich rich and the less well-off part of the permanent underclass: continue the decades-long conservative-led assault on public education. In just the past month, one report says U.S. children lag behind those in China, Finland, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and New Zealand in educational achievement, and another says one in four youths fail the Army entrance exam.
Our inability to provide a quality education to all of our children is a risk to our national security as well as our economic well-being and competitiveness. Yet many conservatives in Congress want to respond to this national crisis by abolishing the national agency charged with addressing the problem, the Department of Education. That's on top of the continuing push for school privatization and private-school vouchers, the scapegoating of teachers and their unions, and the shifting of funding burdens to states that simply can't handle the load.
10. Don't Ask the Rich to Help Reduce the Deficit; Ask Low-Income Americans Instead
Cutting taxes on the rich and increasing military spending caused the deficit. But the solutions offered by the conservative elites all center around cutting the things government does for the people.
Without so much as a blink, conservatives succeeded in forcing an extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans that would add $36 billion to the deficit in 2011 alone.
Next, Republicans want to make their "cutgo" scheme the law of Congress, in which new spending authorized by Congress must be offset by cuts elsewhere but cannot be offset by tax increases or fees on anyone. But new tax cuts would not have to be offset by spending reductions. That should finish off any molecule of credibility they had left on their feigned concern about the deficit.
If the wealthy aren't being asked to sacrifice something, guess who is. Social Security is the lifeline for America's elderly, but even though it adds nothing to the deficit it is at the forefront of proposals for cutting it. Medical programs for the poor, the Making Work Pay program, and so many other things the government does for our people are the first things suggested by the well-to-do who dominate the inside-the-Beltway commissions and commentariat.