The pressure is growing in the face-off over the so-called "fiscal cliff" in Washington.
The president put his plan on the table. Republican Speaker John Boehner rejected it out of hand. And then . . . and then nothing. Republicans refused to make a counteroffer. They are apparently waiting for the president to make another offer. Obama made that mistake before and got nothing in return. He is not likely to make the same mistake again.
The press tends to cover this as a showdown, speculating on who will blink first. But this is not a game. Real lives and real pain are involved.
For example, Republicans are demanding that to get any increase in revenue to bring down deficits, Democrats have to agree to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They have not said how much they want cut, but Senate leader Mitch McConnell suggested raising the eligibility age for Medicare by two years, and changing the cost-of-living index for Social Security so the benefits lose value over time. Republicans have also voted for a budget in the House that would turn Medicaid into a block grant to the states and dramatically cut the federal payment. These changes, we are told, are part of a "balanced" agreement.
Why is it "balanced" to cut programs for the most vulnerable Americans in exchange for closing some loopholes in the tax code? (Republicans still object to raising tax rates on the rich. They might agree to more revenue, but only by going after tax deductions). We have the most extreme inequality since the Gilded Age. The richest 1 percent have as much wealth as 90 percent of Americans. Top tax rates have been coming down since Reagan.
On the other hand, Social Security is the nation's most successful poverty program. It puts a floor under seniors at the end of a long life of work that ensures they can live out their days with a minimum of security. Medicaid helps the poor, the disabled, and most of us in the last months of life. Older workers will find it extremely expensive to get health care at 65and 66. These are cuts that will endanger lives, not whether a rich person can afford a bigger boat or a larger beach house.
This is a classic case of what we used to call "ham-and-egg justice." The chicken and the sow are asked to contribute to breakfast. The hen lays an egg and keeps on moving. But the sow is forced to give up a leg. That isn't balanced and it isn't just.
Underneath these high-profile issues are real concerns that are getting too little attention.
First, pay attention to what it is not on the table. More than 20 million people are still in need of full-time work. The president has asked for $50 billion for an infrastructure bank to help rebuild America. Republicans treat this as a joke -- when, in fact, we need a much bigger plan to rebuild this country and put people to work. If deficit reduction slows the economy, we will end up with higher unemployment and spreading misery.
Second, pay attention to what the lobbies are pushing in the back rooms.
For example, a group of CEOs has joined in a campaign to "Fix the Debt." They say they want to reduce deficits and call for more revenue (but not higher top-tax rates) and cuts in Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. But they are also lobbying in the back rooms to slip in a new tax break for multinationals that would exempt all profits reported abroad from U.S. taxes. This would be a multibillion-dollar bonanza for companies, encouraging them to move jobs or report profits abroad. It is a simple outrage that at the same time they are asking the most vulnerable seniors to "share in the sacrifice," they are angling to get the biggest companies in the world another tax loophole.
That isn't shared sacrifice; that's just shameless.