Selecting between 3 plans to slash deficit/raise debt ceiling is like choosing between hamburger joints

As reported in today’s New York Times, we now have three plans to reduce the deficit as a condition of raising the debt ceiling: 1) The McConnell-Reid Outline; 2) “Gang of 6” Plan; and 3) The Tea Party Plan (AKA “cut, cap and balance.”).  

These three plans present us with the quintessential American consumer decision—choosing between three things that are the same thing. 

Think of having to choose between Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Burger King for dinner.  Think of that monumental decision between two cola-flavored, sugar-enhanced carbonated drinks, Coke or Pepsi.  Or think of the rows of souvenir and gift shops at destination malls that all sell the same mugs, little statues and tee-shirts that say, “I went to ___ and all I got was this ___ tee-shirt.”   Or try differentiating between the offerings of two Big Box stores that sell the same items.  Our selections in these cases typically come down to elements not central to the food or nutritional experience—branding, colors, location, family traditions, attraction to a jingle or to a commercialized character.  But the products are essentially the same.

In the same way, all of these deficit-reducing plans depend too much on cutting the budget and all minimize or neglect our pressing need to increase taxes.  None of these plans focus on creating jobs or building the economy.  None do a thing to stem the tide towards a nation of increasing wealth polarization.  One of the primary reasons that our wealthiest people now have a greater share of the entire wealth and salary pie than 30 years ago and everyone else has less is that we have suffered under a consistent regime of low taxes on the wealthy and the curtailment of government services and investment.  None of these plans change that trend.

But among the three plans, you can find minor differences that pundits and politicians can use to say that one or another is more left-leaning and another (the Tea Party plan) is more right-wing.  Thus, by selecting one plan or a combination of aspects of all three plans, we can say that:

  1. We have made a real choice
  2. We have achieved a compromise
  3. Everyone is moving towards the center.

But it’s all Orwellian constructs that mask the real truth: The decision will have been between three right-wing plans, none of which represents the will of the people to raise taxes on the wealthy and protect seniors and the unemployed (as reflected in numerous recent surveys).  

Do you want your Model T in blue or in green?

Imagine, if you will, leftists and rightists in a tug of war match.  The goal of tug of war is to pull your opponents over a line. You pull one way and the other side pulls the other way.  The line never moves.  But if you were to move the line, you would move the territory over which the match is fought.  What politicians, think tanks, policy groups and the news media have done over the past three decades is slowly but inexorably nudge the line ever more rightward.

Our leaders should offer us real choices instead of the equivalent of three versions of calorie-laden greasy hamburger covered in artificial goop with a side of greasy fries.

Of course, the farcical part of this debate over deficit-reduction programs is the very fact that it’s linked to raising the debt ceiling.  It’s as if we have an immediate need for a glass of water or to find a restroom, and someone is making us spend precious time deciding between burger joints for lunch.

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