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Bipartisan “Super Committee” Turns to Cutting Deficit with “Extraordinary” Powers

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The bipartisan “super committee” tasked with finding a way out of the U.S. debt crisis has been established, but what can we expect? On Thursday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi named the final three members to the 12-person panel, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. They will have until November 3 to recommend a plan to cut $1.5 trillion from the deficit over 10 years. We speak with Robert Borosage, founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. Borosage says the committee’s authority is unique in Congress, with “powers [that] are quite extraordinary.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the economy. On Thursday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi named the final three members of the bipartisan “super committee” tasked with finding a way out of the U.S. debt crisis. Pelosi’s picks fill out the 12-member panel, split between Democrats and Republicans. She selected Congress Members James Clyburn of South Carolina; Chris Van Hollen, a top Democrat on the Budget Committee; and Xavier Becerra of California. On Tuesday, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid named Senators Patty Murray of Washington, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana.

Republicans announced their six picks earlier. Joining the panel from the House will be Congress Members Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Dave Camp and Fred Upton, both of Michigan; from the Senate, Senators Jon Kyl of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. All six have publicly opposed raising taxes on the wealthy.

The panel will have until November 3rd to recommend a plan to cut one-and-a-half trillion dollars from the deficit in 10 years.

Speaking to workers at a battery plant in Michigan, President Obama yesterday urged Congress to put politics aside and set to work to pass legislation to help the economy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The only thing keeping us back is our politics. The only thing preventing these bills from being passed is the refusal of some folks in Congress to put country ahead of party. There are some in Congress right now who would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C., to talk to Bob Borosage, founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future, co-director of its sister organization, Campaign for America’s Future.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about this “super committee,” what its powers are, first.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, its powers are quite extraordinary. It has to identify $1.5 trillion in cuts over 10 years. It has to report before Thanksgiving. If it reports, their measure gets an expedited vote in both houses early in December. No amendments. No extended debate. No hearings. No filibuster. And to issue a report, only seven of the 12 members have to agree.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about these members and what their positions are, the Democrats and the Republicans.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, all of the Republicans have signed the Grover Norquist pledge against any tax increases whatsoever. And some of them—Toomey, for example, or Hensarling—are really right-wing zealots who aren’t likely to be part of any agreement. The others are more senior members or experienced members of the House and the Senate and will probably be looking to see if they can get a deal, and they’ll look for increased revenues as opposed to increased tax rates.

The deal that’s starting to get formed, and that the President and Speaker, House Speaker John Boehner, almost agreed to would actually lower rates on the wealthy and corporations and then turn its attention to gain revenues by closing deductions. To gain enough revenues to counter the lowering of the rates, you have to go after the home mortgage deduction, the deduction for employers who offer healthcare to their workers, or the retirement deduction. And so, on the revenue side, this may be very inequitable.

On the cutting of spending, this is targeted directly at Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, at getting—at taking the entitlements, the promises that we make to the most vulnerable in our society, and using this crisis to make changes that would otherwise be unacceptable. So, the kind of deal that’s talked about in the back rooms is raising the eligibility age on Medicare by two years, cutting Social Security over time by lowering the inflation adjustment, and putting a cap or cuts on Medicaid. And these will have really damaging effects on the elderly, the disabled and the very ill.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Democrat, spoke to Meet the Press Sunday about the debt deal. He said the country’s economic problem is long-term and structural.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: And the real problem for our country is not the short-term debt. We can deal with that. It’s the long-term debt. It’s the structural debt of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, measured against the demographics of our nation. That, then juxtaposed to the lack of jobs and job creation and growth. That’s our problem, structural.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Borosage, your comments? I mean, if seven of 12 of the committee vote together, this cannot be defeated.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Right. And Kerry is dangerously wrongheaded here. You know, we have a long-term debt problem, scary projections of long-term debt. It is entirely due to the fact that our healthcare system is simply broken. If we spent per capita what every other industrial nation spends, we have no debt problem whatsoever. Medicare and Medicaid are simply the on-budget expression of that broken healthcare system, and they’re actually more efficient than our private healthcare. So you have to get healthcare costs under control. If you simply focus on Medicare and Medicaid, what you’re doing is not getting those costs under control. You’re just shifting the rising costs to those least able to pay them: the elderly, the disabled and the poor, or people on their death bed. That doesn’t make much sense. And so, getting that problem wrong is a fundamental thing that has to get challenged, and people have to mobilize to keep them from using this crisis to go after Social Security and Medicare.

The other thing that’s wrong about the Kerry formulation is we have a problem now about jobs. The subject of this committee, which is to make cuts, more cuts in government, as if that would solve that problem, is simply wrong. You know, Nancy Pelosi, when she nominated her nominees, suggested to the committee that its first priority ought to be finding ways to generate jobs, because if we put people back to work, that’s the only way and the best way to start reducing our deficits. And that was very—a great deal of wisdom, which Kerry and others seem not—seem to have forgotten.

AMY GOODMAN: And Bob Borosage, how would you create more jobs? How can people be put back to work?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, people can be put back to work in a number of ways. You know, we are now able to borrow money. We’re virtually being paid for people to take our bonds, interest rates are so low. So if you were a business, this is a remarkably good time to borrow tons of money and rebuild an infrastructure that’s simply collapsing around us and modernize our infrastructure, making us more competitive for the long run and putting people to work immediately.

We have one out of four kids who have graduated from high school and having gone on to college who are unemployed at the start of their work life. That’s a disaster. That’s a recipe for despair and depression and drugs, and we should put them directly to work. Jan Schakowsky has a bill to put 2.2 million people to work with an urban corps, a green corps, a parks corps, to start retrofitting buildings and start cleaning up parks, etc. And for young people, rather than being idle, it’s incredibly important that we get them a job, a paycheck, the discipline of work, while they’re young. And if you go the other way, if you go now to more austerity, more cuts, more constriction and more unemployment, look at Britain, look at what’s happening on the streets of Britain. They went down that route, and they’re suffering the expression of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me get your response to part of last night’s Republican debate on taxes. This is the debate moderator Bret Baier of Fox News.

BRET BAIER: I’m going to ask a question to everyone here on the stage. Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10 to one, as Byron said, spending cuts to tax increases. Speaker, you’re already shaking your head. But who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Will you raise your hand, if you’d feel so strongly about not raising taxes, you’d walk away on the 10-to-one deal? Just making sure everyone at home and everyone here knows that they all raised their hands. They’re all saying that they feel so strongly about not raising taxes, that a 10-to-one deal, they would walk away from, confirming that.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me get you a few more clips. At the Thursday Republican debate in Iowa, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney called for a partial privatization of unemployment benefits.

MITT ROMNEY: Unemployment benefits, I think they’ve gone on a long, long, long time. We have to find ways to reduce our spending on a lot of the anti-poverty programs and unemployment programs. But I would far rather see a reform of our unemployment system to allow people to have a personal account, which they’re able to draw from, as opposed to having endless unemployment benefits. So again, let’s reform the system, make the system work better by giving people responsibility for their own employment opportunities and having that account, rather than doling out, year after year, more money from an unemployment system.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mitt Romney. Bob Borosage, respond to both.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, on Romney’s quote, the way to deal with unemployment benefits is to put people to work so they don’t need unemployment benefits. We don’t have a problem of workers who don’t have a work ethic and are—want to be on unemployment. We have a problem of workers who can’t find jobs. And so, the notion of exacting more pain on those families by cutting or capping or privatizing unemployment is not the answer. The answer is to put them to work, is to get jobs, get the economy going and put people back to work.

In terms of the Republican position on taxes, that’s been, of course, the stated pledge of every Republican office holder, that they will never raise taxes under any condition, no matter what the deal is. And if the committee deadlocks because Republicans will do nothing in terms of increasing revenue, and Democrats stand and demand that they do something, and it deadlocks, then it goes to across-the-board cuts in spending with no increases in revenues. That’s the deal that the President cut to get the debt ceiling lifted. And you get over a trillion dollars over 10 years of across-the-board cuts on spending. But in those cuts, at least, Social Security, Medicare, for the most part, Medicaid and [inaudible] for the poor are protected against those cuts. And so, in some ways, that’s less of a threat, although it’s totally wrongheaded policy, than a deal that would structurally change Social Security or Medicare.

AMY GOODMAN: They’ve signed onto the no-tax-increase pledge of Grover Norquist. Explain who he is. Is he more powerful than President Obama?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: No, I don’t—I think Grover—it’s sort of exaggerated. But Grover is an expression of a distorted ideology on the right that is simply opposed to any tax increases and believes in this kind of set of beliefs that violate every economic model, that somehow cutting spending doesn’t cost jobs, and raising taxes does cost jobs. So they will constantly be arguing that we can cut spending to create jobs, which is simply mythical in a slow-growth economy like this one. And so, they are ideologically, passionately, religiously opposed to any tax increases.

Now, there’s wiggle room in there. And the wiggle room is, well, we’ll lower rates, and we’ll shut down—we’ll close deductions and get—either be revenue-neutral or get more revenue. And the problem with that for middle-class families is the only way to do that is to go after the deductions for employers who have—give healthcare to their workers of families who have home mortgages. The one big deduction that they could do would be to raise capital gains taxes and tax wealth the same rate we tax the income from work. But that’s off the table for every Republican.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Borosage, I want to thank you for being with us. Robert Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, the man who wasn’t standing with the other Republican presidential candidates, Republican Governor Rick Perry. He’s expected to announce for president tomorrow. Stay with us.

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