How Occupy stopped the supercommittee

Dean Baker writes: Those who want lower deficits now also want higher unemployment. They may not know this, but that is the reality – since employers are not going to hire people because the government has cut its spending or fired government employees. The world does not work that way.

While this is the reality, the supercommittee was about turning reality on its head. Instead of the problem being a Congress that is too corrupt and/or incompetent to rein in the sort of Wall Street excesses that wrecked the economy, we were told that the problem was a Congress that could not deal with the budget deficit.

To address this invented problem, the supercommittee created an end-run around the normal congressional process. This was a long-held dream of the people financed by investment banker Peter Peterson. Their strategy was derived from the conclusion that it would not be possible to make major cuts to social security and Medicare through the normal congressional process because these programs are too popular.

Both programs enjoy enormous support across the political spectrum. Even large majorities of self-identified conservatives and Republicans are opposed to cuts in social security and Medicare. For this reason, they have wanted to set up a special process that could insulate members of Congress from political pressure. The hope was that both parties would sign on to cuts in these programs, so that voters would have nowhere to go.

However, this effort went down in flames this week. Much of the credit goes to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement: OWS and the response it has drawn from around the country has hugely altered the political debate. It has put inequality and the incredible upward redistribution of income over the last three decades at the center of the national debate. In this context, it became impossible for Congress to back a package that had cuts to social security and Medicare at its center, while actually lowering taxes for the richest 1%, as the Republican members of the supercommittee were demanding.

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