Apparently the only thing both Democrats and Republicans can agree on in Washington, DC, is that they can't deal with bad press involving Honor Flight vets.
This led to absurd images of Republicans -- who had shut down the federal government, including all monuments and museums -- rushing to "aid" veterans shut out by monument closures. In the most revolting display, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) publicly berated a National Park Service Ranger for a situation created entirely by Congress.
As the government shutdown marches on and the dangerously real deadline of the federal debt limit approaches, it is increasingly clear that the fight over "Obamacare" is merely an opening salvo. The real goal of the hostage takers is a "Grand Bargain" on the budget that would include cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
This has been the long-term agenda for debt crisis-monger Pete Peterson and government haters David and Charles Koch for many decades. But now, after massively gerrymandering the electoral landscape in 2010, these manufactured crisis kings and backstage billionaires hold all the cards.
As if on cue, today in the Wall Steet Journal House Budget Chair Paul Ryan proposes "entitlement reforms" as a way out of the shutdown crisis. Rev up those engines. It's time for the Honor Vets to head back to Washington to save us all.
Boehner Links Government Shutdown to Entitlement Cuts
Make no mistake, the kerfuffle over Obamacare is prelude.
House Speaker John Boehner took to the Sunday shows this past weekend, and the word "Obamacare" did not pass his lips. "It's time to talk about the spending problem," said Boehner. He wants to "rein in" the costs associated with "entitlement" programs, and he has two of the biggest -- Social Security and Medicare -- in his sights.
The danger to seniors, vets, and America's middle class is very real, says U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
"Let's not kid ourselves. This shutdown was planned by the Koch brothers from the day after Obama was re-elected," Sanders, who has long served on the Veterans' Committee in the House and the Senate, told MSNBC. "If you look at what the Koch brothers agenda is, Obamacare is just the tip of the iceberg. These people want to abolish the concept of the minimum wage, they want to privatize the Veteran's Administration, they want to privatize Social Security, end Medicare as we know it ... That is their agenda and many people don't understand it."
The Center for Media and Democracy has worked hard to pull back the curtain on the Koch agenda, reporting on their every electoral move on our PRwatch.org site and detailing their long-term funding of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its library of bills to privatize Social Security and Medicare, crush wages, privatize education, promote fossil fuels, and gut environmental regulations at ALECexposed.org.
While the current government shutdown is unlikely to cause major disruption to the economy, a fight over the October 17th debt ceiling could. The debt ceiling is a limit set by Congress on how much money the federal government can borrow; it is regularly extended to cover spending already authorized by Congress.
But the hostage takers are threatening to take the U.S. into default for the first time in our history. This would wreak havoc, warns Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. During the last debt-limit standoff in 2011, when default was just threatened, the S&P 500 index lost 3 percent, and the deadlock led to a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating to AA-plus from AAA. In a real default, markets would tank (harming investors large and small and pension holders) and interest rates would jump.
But the hostage takers see no reason to give up: "They will use every ounce of leverage, even if it means catastrophic pain for America and the world, so long as we get our way," warns Sanders.
Tea Party Terror Muzzles Moderate Republicans; Only Democrats Can Compromise
In a town of manufactured crises, why is this one any different? The 2010 mid-term election and unlimited political spending after the Citizens United decision not only swelled the ranks of ALEC, but gave Republican legislators unprecedented power to redraw political boundaries in key states.
With extreme gerrymandering, the average Republican now has an 11 point advantage in their district, says the Cook political report. Unless they are grossly incompetent, they have nothing to fear in a general election. Their only fear? A Tea Party primary.
Big money groups like David Koch's Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks are already threatening primaries against traditional conservatives in multiple states, but the reality is that the nation as a whole is getting primaried.
So here is the problem for America's poor and middle class: The only people left to compromise are the Democrats.
And compromise they have. Obama's original budget had $1.3 trillion in spending. Now he is almost at Congressman Paul Ryan's level, as this Washington Post chart shows. Worse, his budget proposal included a plan to pare back Social Security cost of living increases (the so-called "chained CPI"), a shocking proposal for a Democratic President.
So far the Republicans have ignored this offer, but that will not last. This zombie proposal -- a terrible idea that simply won't die -- will walk again, says Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times.
Fix the Debt Hits the Road with Another Astroturf Road Show
Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson and his "Fix the Debt" wrecking crew are hard at work pushing for steep cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and other programs that keep millions of Americans out of poverty. CMD exposed Peterson and the "Fix the Debt" gang on the cover of The Nation in 2013.
Fix the Debt is just the latest Peterson-funded front group that has been trying to hype rapidly decreasing debt and deficits into a "Pearl Harbor"-level crisis. In 2007, Wall Street billionaire Peterson pledged $1 billion of his Blackstone Group fortune to fund groups that would make slashing "entitlement" programs a number one priority. Since then, he has funded almost every think tank, every bus tour, every propaganda movie and every "youth group" touting the responsible "shared sacrifice" line.
Today, Fix the Debt is releasing press statements urging Congress to resolve the government shut down, calling it a "manufactured crisis" -- but only because they have been working so hard to manufacture another one!
Better yet, they have sent their phony "Can Kicks Back" youth group out on a classic astroturf road tour (see the schedule here) with another alarmist movie about our nation's apocalyptic debt, this time underwritten by Travelers Insurance. It is a classic Peterson flick, with urgent doom-laden music and the same cast of elder statesmen (turned lobbyists) as his previous films touting the "responsible" must-slash-entitlements line.
In honor of Peterson's many decades of work hyping a nonexistent deficit crisis and neglecting to warn America about real issues, such as the housing bubble and reckless gambling on Wall Street that caused the 2008 crash, CMD is releasing its own short movie on Peterson and crew along with Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore.
U.S. Veterans May Have the Most to Lose
Our nation's veterans may have the most to lose in the countdown to the October 17 debt ceiling and from any deal on the budget that includes chained CPI or other major cuts.
The U.S. has never had a government shut down in a time of war, when millions of active duty soldiers and vets are relying on critical services. Starting today, regional veterans' offices will be closed. Ten thousand Veterans' Administration (VA) employees have been furloughed. Starting November 1, all sorts of veterans benefits could be suspended, including pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs, says the VA.
What's worse, proposed "chained CPI" will not only harm the average Social Security recipient and amount to a cut of almost six percent over a number of years, but it hits a wide array of veterans' programs especially hard.
In Rep. Neugebauer's state of Texas, there are 18 million veterans. In addition to receiving Social Security benefits, vets receive Disability Compensation benefits, pension benefits, and many receive Military Retirement Pay and the Subsistence Allowance for veterans participating in vocational rehabilitation and employment services programs. Let's not forget survivor annuities for deceased veterans' family members and Veterans' Monetary Burial Benefits. All of these benefits would be cut if Congress were to adopt the chained CPI, says the advocacy group Social Security Works.
Hope lies with the reasonable voters from across the political spectrum and even in the Tea Party. Poll after poll shows that some 70 percent of Americans hate the idea of attacking Social Security or Medicare. Alex Lawson of Social Security Works reminds us: "If a stalwart supporter of Social Security like U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) can be defeated on the lie that he voted for reductions in Medicare, what is going to happen to an elected official who actually affirmatively votes for cuts to Medicare and Social Security?" says Lawson.
Voters and vets need to make their feelings clear about any proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
So make your contributions to the Honor Flight vets. Our nation's veterans survived the Battle of the Bulge and Iwo Jima, the Battle of Inchon and the Tet Offensive. After all that, the Brothers Koch and Pete Peterson should be small potatoes.
The author is the daughter of a B-17 navigator who flew 35 missions over Europe during WWII in "Honky Tonk Sal" and lived to tell the tale.