The fiscal fantasists who would have us believe America is broke tell us that the Congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction is going to have to make “tough choices” between slashing social programs and raising taxes on working Americans. The debate, we are told, is between painful cuts and painful demands for new revenues. For the richest 1 percent, that’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” equation that secures their already comfortable position for the foreseeable future. For the rest of America, however, it’s a false choice that does not begin to address the fiscal challenges or economic realities of the moment.
The real choice for America is between austerity and accountability. Proponents of austerity in countries around the world argue that those who have been hardest hit by economic instability must sacrifice (see Ari Berman, “How the Austerity Class Rules Washington,” for a dissection of how the austerity class rules the Beltway). Proponents of accountability argue that those responsible for the instability—banksters, hedge-fund managers, CEOs—should shoulder the greatest burden. After the 2008 financial meltdown, European trade unionists marched behind banners that declared, We Won’t Pay for Their Crisis! It took Americans a little longer to pick up the theme, but if Occupy Wall Street stands for anything, it is the principle that those who created the mess should be required to clean it up.
Occupy Wall Street’s arrival as a national movement could not have come at a better time. When the deficit reduction “supercommittee” was established, it seemed all but certain that—as in Europe, where austerity has been imposed by unaccountable international institutions and central banks—only the false choices dictated by the 1 percent would be considered. Then came the occupation of Wall Street, followed by Main Streets from Los Angeles to Milwaukee to Boston. Now there’s a chance for a 99 percent solution.
A humane alternative has been presented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the form of a People’s Budget, which CPC co-chair Keith Ellison says will “ensure that all Americans are put on the path to prosperity, not just the wealthiest 1 percent.” The caucus proposes to do that by demanding that the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich be allowed to expire, by scrapping irresponsible estate tax reductions and by enacting Representative Jan Schakowsky’s plan to tax mere millionaires at a 45 percent rate and billionaires at 49 percent. If these measures are enacted, Congress will raise some $4 trillion over the coming decade. The caucus also embraces a tax on Wall Street speculation, a tax widely supported by Occupy activists. National Nurses United has been working with an international labor coalition to promote just such a tax at November 3 protests in Washington and around the world.
But the CPC is not just recommending sensible savings; it’s pushing economic growth as well, arguing for a national industrial policy that invests in manufacturing, for the renewal of our crumbling infrastructure with a New Deal–style jobs program, for the creation of training initiatives for unemployed youth, for a green jobs revolution and for rules assuring a living wage. As Ellison points out, “The most effective way to reduce the deficit is to put America back to work.”
As Occupy goes global, the debate is shifting away from the false choices offered by Wall Street and its apologists. The streets of our cities are filling with citizens demanding economic justice, with signs saying, Make Wall St. Pay! The politicians will pay a price if they allow the supercommittee to do anything less.