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Opinion: Off the Cliff

Why the fiscal deal passed by Congress last week is only the beginning of the betrayal.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Carolyn Kaster | AP
FILE - This Nov. 16, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama, accompanied by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, speaks to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. President Barack Obama?s re-election has stiffened Democrats? spine against cutting popular benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security. Their new resolve could become as big a hurdle to reaching a deal for skirting economy-crippling tax increases and spending cuts in January as Republicans? resistance raising tax rates on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

As daylight begins to shine on the fiscal cliff deal just passed by Congress, it’s clear the expected bipartisan betrayal has occurred. And even worse, it lays the groundwork for much more to come.

In brief, the deal protects wealthy households earning up to $450,000 annually from tax increases, as it makes Bush tax cuts permanent for 98.5 percent of Americans. With this provision, Obama broke his promise to raise taxes on those earning over $250,000 per year.

The deal also ended the payroll tax holiday, hitting vulnerable working and middle class families with significant tax increases likely to take further steam out of the economy. This increased tax burden—of about $1,000 for a family earning $50,000 per year—should have been replaced by another tax break for working families to prevent a reduction in demand that’s likely to further stall the ailing economy.

The deal also ushered in an additional $205 billion in wasteful corporate tax favors. New racetracks will get tens of millions, Goldman Sachs gets $1.6 billion in tax-free financing for its new massive headquarters, banks get a $9 billion dollar loophole for offshore financing, and U.S. multinationals are allowed to dodge taxes on income earned by foreign subsidiaries—giving them all the more reason to move jobs offshore.

Taking care of ill family members at home was dealt a set-back with the repeal of a provision in the Affordable Care Act designed to let millions of elderly and disabled people get help at home rather than be placed in institutional care.

The deal included an urgent renewal of unemployment insurance, though many observers considered this virtually a given. It also deferred the self-inflicted devastation of the “sequester,” which would impose $110 billion in across the board domestic and military cuts, but only for two months.

In supporting the bill, President Obama gave away the one bargaining chip—the expiring Bush tax cuts—that he could have used in the upcoming negotiations on spending cuts and the debt ceiling. Not only did Obama get little of substance in return for his only bargaining chip; he actually ceded nearly half the $1 trillion in new revenue that John Boehner agreed to, getting only $600 billion in tax increases on the wealthy over the next decade.

This lays groundwork for a disaster. Obama has already agreed to $4 trillion in deficit reduction. The revenue side of the deal he just signed generates little more than $600 billion. That means we can expect bipartisan collaboration on more than $3 trillion in cuts going into the next round of brinksmanship over the debt ceiling. Obama has already indicated his willingness to cut Social Security, Medicare and other health programs. Now, thanks to his early capitulation, the Republicans have all the cards in their hands.

Stay tuned. Our voices are needed more than ever to continue the fight for strong Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid—and for an economy that works for all of us. Once again we’re seeing that real solutions will not be coming from the corporate-sponsored political establishment. Those who voted for Green Party candidates in the last election can be prouder than ever of their votes against the continued bipartisan sellout. More than ever, we—the people—are the ones we’ve been waiting for.•

The Green Party’s candidate for President of the United States in 2012 and a Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate in 2002 and 2010, Dr. Jill Stein is a mother, physician, longtime teacher of internal medicine, and pioneering environmental-health advocate. Dr. Stein lives in Lexington with her husband, Richard Rohrer, also a physician.

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