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Dancing on the Supercommittee’s Grave, Singing Hallelujah

Super Committee meeting. (Photo: sunlightfoundation / Flickr)

The spectacle of Democrats and Republicans arguing about who is to “blame” for the “failure” of the “supercommittee” is certainly tempting for many partisans, but any progressives who participate in the spectacle risk attacking their own interests to the degree that they promote the implicit assumption that the public interest would have been better served if the supercommittee had reached a deal.

We shouldn't be arguing about who is to “blame” for this development. We should be arguing about who should be awarded credit for this best of all plausible outcomes.

We should, to borrow a phrase from Monty Python, be dancing on the supercommittee's grave, singing hallelujah.

Who should get the Academy Award? The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)? The Strengthen Social Security Campaign? The Tea Party? All of the above?

Indeed, it was a de facto coalition, between the AFL-CIO and its friends, and the Tea Party and its friends, which again defeated the cruel plan of the extreme center to trade Social Security cuts and raising the Medicare retirement age for a relatively meaningless increase on the tax rates paid by rich people.

Why meaningless? Because tax rates raised today can easily be lowered in the future. Cutting Social Security benefits by changing the cost-of-living formula and raising the Medicare retirement age are forever.

From the point of view of the national aspirations of the indigenous people of the United States, what was the right price to charge for Manhattan Island? Surely the answer is: there was no right price. Cash is ephemeral. Control of territory could be forever.

Similarly, there is no amount of increasing taxes on rich people that can compensate low-income workers for cutting their Social Security benefits and taking away their access to Medicare.

It would be one thing if you could put the increased tax revenues from the rich people in a special fund that could only be used to benefit low-income workers. Even then, it wouldn't make sense, but at least in theory, there's a point at which you could equalize.

But of course, you can't do that. More than half of the increased revenues would go to feed the Pentagon monster, protecting the largest centrally planned economy on earth from long overdue cuts to its bloat. And moreover, that bloat isn't just a waste of taxpayer money. To the extent that the bloat supports the far-flung imperial ambitions of the neoconservative wing of the foreign policy elite, that bloat actually threatens the physical well-being of Americans, because the bigger the military is, the more neocon wars we will have. Furthermore, since military spending is the least efficient form of government spending from the point of view of job creation, if we have to cut somewhere during a period of high unemployment, then the military is the best place to cut.

Indeed, the “horrible consequence” which was supposedly the big incentive for the supercommittee to reach a deal was that if they didn't, it would trigger half a trillion dollars in cuts in projected Pentagon spending over ten years – about a 15 percent cut. That would take Pentagon spending back to 2007 levels – hardly a shutdown of the military-industrial complex. More like an overdue haircut.

Now that the trigger is supposed to take place, expect even more whining and special pleading from those who get fat off of Pentagon contracts, at taxpayer expense.

However, these people have now been beaten twice in the last year: once when the Budget Control Act passed, and once when the supercommittee failed to reach agreement. The “revealed preference” of Congress so far is this: there is no majority coalition in Congress that prefers cutting Social Security benefits, raising the Medicare retirement age and increasing taxes on rich people to cutting the projected Pentagon budget by 15 percent over ten years.

That's a fact to be celebrated – and defended – not mourned.

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