By Pam Linn


Super turkeys earn no thanks

It’s turkey time again, and I don’t mean Thanksgiving dinner. Our inaptly named Budget Supercommittee appears set to meet expectations of failure, further justifying Congress’s approval rating of nine percent.

By comparison, historians say that the Crown (Brit royalty) had a nine percent approval at the time of the American Revolution.

On the Sunday talk shows, committee members batted their stale talking points back and forth, convincing no one of their sincerity. An exception, committee co-chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), said she was willing to work through Wednesday if even one Republican would agree to cross the line in the sand barring revenue increases.

But as of noon Monday there were no takers. Apparently, millionaire lobbyist Grover Norquist has extracted pledges from Republicans to block all attempts to raise any tax for any reason in return for solid support (money) for their reelection campaigns. On CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday, with a grin and a wink, he made it clear that anyone who broke the pledge could consider their political careers doomed. Toast!

What’s wrong with this picture? How can the balance of power rest securely in the hands of one very rich man? We may need to reform the tax code, but we also should take a strong look at how our politicians are elected, and forever reelected with the help of redistricting, until voters “throw the bums out.” After which they live comfortably on our dime until they die, or become K Street lobbyists.

Unlike the summer fiasco over raising the debt ceiling, which precipitated an immediate downgrade in the nation’s bond rating, the world and its markets seem to be ready for this. However, the adverse effects of the Supercommittee impasse will be felt on a personal level both within weeks and for years to come. Extensions of unemployment benefits ($296 a week) will expire along with payroll tax cuts at the end of December, money that would immediately have been pumped into the sagging economy.

Some root for a failure by the Supercommittee to agree, which would result in automatic across-the-board cuts to everything from Medicare to the Pentagon. Lovely. Problem is, these cuts won’t take effect until 2013. And the ramifications of those measures set to expire at year’s end seem not to be well understood.

There is a pressing need to pass legislation to prevent a 30 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors. Why would we put that on hold at a time when seniors already have a tough time finding a doctor who will accept new Medicare patients? Most group practices limit the number of Medicare patients their doctors can have.

Also set to expire are many popular tax breaks and relief from the alternative minimum tax, which was written to close a loophole for millionaires but now adversely affects the middle class.

Most economists say that while austerity measures are necessary to bring debt and deficits under control, they shouldn’t take effect until a weak economy has begun to recover. That way growth actually pays for the services people require.

Reaching an agreement now on a balanced plan for cuts and revenue would not only have helped tame debt and deficit but could have presented a filibuster-proof package to Congress.

By the way, when did allowing temporary tax cuts to expire become the equivalent of raising taxes (anathema to Republicans)? Ditto phasing out subsidies that have outgrown their use. Doesn’t anyone understand the meaning of “temporary” anymore?

President Obama’s jobs bill would cut the Social Security payroll tax in half and extend jobless benefits to those unemployed for more than six months. Are these no longer options?

The Occupiers are speaking out loud and clear against income inequality, soaring college tuition and students graduating with $20K or more in debt and no job on the horizon.

Do we hear them now?

So without the fading possibility of a debt agreement from the supers, many will have little to be thankful for this week. Food banks are having a tough time keeping up with requests as many former donors are now on the other side of the line. The loss of a job, a medical emergency, a plunge in home value caused by one neighbor in foreclosure. It doesn’t take much to change a family’s life. Yesterday’s philanthropist may be this year’s recipient. If they’re lucky.

The safety nets are stretched to the max and, with Congress frozen in place, fast disappearing. The line in the sand has become a tug of war with no winners.

Happy Thanksgiving, you turkeys.