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Budget Showdown 2012 and the 98% Mandate

As the 2012 Election approaches, economic reform is one of the most important things on voter’s minds. Will Obama’s policies really deliver on his promises?

On November 6th, 2012, President Obama will be re-elected to a second term. This will be achieved, in part, because his opponent is hapless. But we should not forget the other reason that President Obama will be re-elected: his aggressively center-right policies in key areas – in addition to national “security,” these include education and social safety net “reform” – make it hard for any Republican contender to differentiate her or himself from the president without alienating moderate voters.

This second reason for Obama’s soon-to-be victory will become clear as soon as the President and Congress return to Washington to address the looming $1.2 trillion in sequestration cuts that are set to take place on January 1st. As Howard Fineman has noted [], one of three things will happen. Congress will either: (1) punt in order to delay the cuts without actually addressing the problem, (2) reach a deal, or (3) let the cuts take place. Now, we know that everyone will be very motivated to avoid letting these cuts take effect, so they will either punt or deal. Either way, the foundation for restructuring the federal budget will be put in place soon after the election.

If Republican campaigns around the country continue to collapse, there can be no doubt that the Obama Administration and Democratic allies will lay claim to a public mandate. The problem? Every indication we have suggests that Obama will use this mandate to pursue a “grand bargain” on the federal budget to avoid sequestration cuts. This deal, for instance, was touted by Obama surrogates at the DNC and is one of four key policy initiatives listed in his “New Economic Patriotism” TV spot []. And recent press reports suggest that Simpson and Bowles are already laying the foundation for passing this disastrous proposal during the lame duck session. They claim to have the support of 47 of 100 senators, including Majority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin1, and 150 of 450 members of the house [].

There can be no doubt that Obama’s “grand bargain,” which he proposes as a “balanced” approach to the budget, won’t be a deal for the 98%. We know from last time around that Obama’s $4 trillion deal calls for minimal tax increases while imposing devastating cuts to social safety net programs. (If you’re a bit fuzzy about what happened the last time around, check out my article on the debt deal and its intellectual underpinnings. []) Obama wants to come into his second term with a policy win, but to paraphrase Sen. Bernie Sanders: we need to be sure Obama’s first legislative achievement isn’t achieved on the backs of poor and middle class working families, students and children, the sick and the elderly.

As progressives, we need to remember that we Occupied Wall Street immediately following the collapse of the budget negotiations that have lead us here. I cannot help but think that the success of OWS depended, at least in part, on the mass disenchantment with President Obama.

This fall, progressive organizations should capitalize on this age of disillusionment. What we need is an Occupy 2.0 to make sure that this time around everyone in Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike, know that we won’t let them get away with the grand swindle. Occupy was a leaderless revolution because many of us, especially the young, have never seen a political leader. Too many of us were waiting for Obama to step into a phone booth and emerge as superman. No more.

We know, in the words of Fredrick Douglas that “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” So this November, let’s send our leaders back to Washington with a real mandate: Tax corporations and the rich, establish a financial speculation tax, expand and strengthen our social safety net, and create the biggest job program since the Great Depression. That’s the 98% mandate.