Let’s call it what it really is. The Republicans have a gun pointed to the head of the American economy and threaten to shoot if they don’t get their way. They lost at the ballot box – their positions are unpopular in the polls -- so they have abandoned the democratic process, and are once again resorting to what amounts to economic terrorism.
And right now it looks as though they are prepared to pull the trigger as the nation speeds toward the economically disastrous, across the board, draconian spending cuts mandated by the so-called “sequester.”
Over the last few days economists, Defense officials, and the President have all issued clear warnings that if these massive across the board spending cuts go into effect, they will cost in the range of 750,000 jobs, increase the unemployment rate and potentially throw the economy into a double-dip recession.
The Defense Department warned that 800,000 civilian personnel could be put on one day a week leave – effectively cutting their pay by 20% for the rest of this fiscal year – and significantly damaging the nation’s military readiness.
The automatic cuts resulting from “the sequester” would kick 70,000 children out of Head Start Programs. They would cut the ranks of first responders like firefighters and police – as well as teachers, and air traffic controllers.
Love long lines at TSA airport security check points? Think how you’ll feel standing in longer lines after the number of TSA employees has been slashed by the “sequester.”
Then there are the cuts to food inspections, the FBI and law enforcement – or cutbacks in the number of people who process Social Security and Medicare claims.
Now House Speaker John Boehner is scrambling to deny that the GOP has any responsibility for these massive automatic cuts. But that’s like a hostage-taker claiming that it’s not his fault that he is holding a hostage at gunpoint, it’s the responsibility of the family of the hostage that won’t pay the ransom.
The fact is that this current man-made crisis is one in a series of Republican hostage-taking episodes. In each case the GOP threatens blow up the economy if it doesn’t get what it wants. We simply can’t allow the GOP to force its unpopular austerity proposals on the country through these undemocratic means.
What is the ransom they are demanding? They want to end Medicare and replace it with a voucher program that costs seniors $6,000 more per year and makes a fortune for private insurance companies. They want to slash Social Security benefits. They want to permanently cut funding for education, child nutrition, and public safety. They want to shrink the size of government and protect tax loopholes for the wealthy.
But the GOP can’t win these things through the democratic process. We just had an election where the voters overwhelmingly rejected their positions. Their positions have no support in the polls. That’s why they’ve resorted once again to hostage-taking to force their minority positions on the American people.
The first hostage episode was their threat to shut down the Government over the budget in early 2011. Then came the big one: they threatened to default on America’s financial obligations by refusing to increase the nation’s debt ceiling. That would have blown the economy to smithereens – almost certainly resulting in a second recession and potentially another worldwide financial crisis.
It would have been an entirely self-inflicted disaster. The Republicans were very clear: they would blow us all up economically if they didn’t get their way.
The so-called “sequester” deal was constructed to prevent them from making good on that threat. There was an agreement that huge, unthinkable cuts would be made to domestic and military programs – cuts that neither Democrats nor Republicans could possibly abide – if there was no agreement on long-term budget reduction. That agreement was coupled with $2 trillion in actual budget cuts. At the time, Republican Leader Boehner loved the idea and said he got 98% of what he wanted.
Some thought the threat of the “sequester” might provide an opportunity to let cooler heads in the Republican Party prevail – and give time for the voters to send a message in the 2012 elections.
The voters sent that message – they rejected the Republican demands. And you might hope that Republicans would listen up. But instead they have decided that if they couldn’t win at the ballot box, they will double down on their hostage-taking and that’s where we find ourselves today. They are simply unwilling to abide by the results of the democratic process. They ignore that every national poll finds that overwhelming numbers of Americans reject their proposals to eliminate Medicare, cut Social Security benefits and maintain tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations. And now, many extremist Republicans appear perfectly comfortable with draconian automatic cuts most people thought that even they would reject as simply unacceptable.
What’s the answer? Demand the Republicans simply vote to repeal the “sequester.”
The disastrous consequences of the sequester – that everyone seems to agree would greatly harm our economy, our people, and our defense posture – are not acts of God, or consequences of inevitable economic forces. They can be ended by simply calling the whole thing off.
In other words, we have to demand that the Republicans put down the gun they have pointed at the head of the economy and make their case to the people through the democratic process. Demand that they try to sell their positions to the voters and their elected representatives rather than threaten to throw the country into a recession if they don’t get what they want.
And while we’re at it, we need to remember two key lessons of history.
Not many years into the New Deal, Congress became convinced that the looming budget deficit had to be trimmed, even at the expense of the New Deal programs that had begun to lift the country out of the Great Depression. The result was another recession.
We do not face a choice between economic growth and fiscal responsibility. Long-term fiscal responsibility requires near term economic growth. It is not possible to get to long-term fiscal surpluses like we had during the Clinton Administration without near-term economic growth. And near-term economic growth requires more economic stimulus, not less.
The last thing we need are the severe spending cuts contained in the “sequester.” That kind of austerity is a formula for recession. Just ask the Brits how it just turned out for them.
The second lesson from the recent past is that we can cut deficits without undermining economic growth if we demand that the wealthy pay their fair share. In 1993, Republicans issued dire warnings that by raising taxes on the wealthy, the Democratic Congress would cause a depression. Instead the Clinton budgets set the stage for the creation of 22 million jobs and gave America the most prosperous economy in human history – with budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. It was the Bush-era tax cuts, and un-paid-for wars that brought deficits back as a way of life.
Only a week to go. The clock is ticking. Let’s tell the Republicans that the American people will no longer tolerate the GOP’s attempts to hold our future for ransom.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.