Left Needs to Monitor Obama on Social Programs if he Wins

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Ben Cohen
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As most of our readers know, I'm squarely in the Obama camp for the Presidential election. This isn't because I agree with everything he has done or pledges to do in office - far from it - Obama has disappointed me on many, many issues to the point where my defense of him has been difficult to justify. I'm supporting Obama because generally speaking I believe he is tilting the country in the right direction, particularly from an economic perspective, whereas the Republicans would do irreparable damage to the economy and gut vital social programs that are a lifeline to many Americans.

I believe it is important that Obama is reelected next week so that the country can continue it's (painfully) slow path to economic recovery, pursue a more nuanced and thoughtful foreign policy, and preserve the function of government.

However, Obama has shown a history of extreme willingness to compromise with Republicans on sacred progressive issues that should be defended tooth and nail, and he needs to be watched carefully in his next term for backdoor deals with Republicans that do damage to programs like social security and welfare. Obama has long talked about a 'Grand Bargain' with Republicans - a tax increase on the rich in return for cuts across the board for social programs. In his own words the deal would be "$2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending". In an interesting discussion on The Real News, Professor William K. Black the former Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention warns the Left that it must hold Obama to account should he be reelected. Here's Black discussing what the 'Grand Bargain' would actually mean:

This grand bargain is: we will weight this much more heavily towards killing social programs, or at least cutting them back significantly and raising taxes on the rich.Now, that's got most of the attention from progressives, but note two other things that he was saying. One, he's talking about austerity. He's talking about following exactly the kind of model that Europe has followed that put them gratuitously back into recession, and indeed into a Great Depression......

You tell me what kind of grand bargain would put the economy back in recession, cost us jobs, increase the deficit, and begin the process of gutting Social Security. That's not a grand bargain. That is a complete surrender. That is the great betrayal. And that is what Obama is telling us he intends to seek.

Obama is obviously betting that ensuring government has a more tax revenue coming in is better for him politically than funding social programs - and he is probably right. Raising revenues and cutting social programs could cut the deficit significantly, leading to a far safer political position for the Democrats. But cutting social programs in weak economic times and throwing the most vulnerable people into severe poverty is not only immoral, but economically counterproductive in the long run. The truth is that while the debt is an important issue, it takes second place to job creation and robust welfare system in times of economic uncertainty. Europe is deeply in debt and in the midst of a great depression, and it is cutting government spending as a solution. The results have been spectacularly bad with continued mass unemployment no end in sight.

Obama, in infuriating fashion, has already laid out the terms of the deal before negotiations have begun - and as always, he has started from a conservative position leaving him little room to maneuver. The Republicans won't take the deal and they'll force more an more concessions until it looks like a standard piece of Right wing social engineering; continued tax cuts for the rich and massive cuts to welfare programs for everyone else.

There's no doubt a big bargain is needed over the next four years if the country is to pull itself out of the mess it's in, but slashing the already underfunded welfare system shouldn't even be on the table. You don't negotiate from your opponents own perspective in the beginning if you want to achieve tangible results. It seems Obama hasn't learned from the past, so it's up to the Left to force him to.

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