CEOs Say Slash Safety Net at Bottom of Fiscal Cliff

If you’ve been wondering who is behind the hysteria about the “fiscal cliff,” meet the Fix the Debt coalition of 95 CEOs of major firms.

Fix the Debt calls upon Americans for “shared sacrifice” in order to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, by embracing “a common sense solution to prevent disaster and renew America's economic strength.”

For the top 1% of mega-millionaires and billionaires, their sacrifice is merely modest tax increases, which could come in the form of slight rate changes or the elimination of some exemptions. These are “sacrifices” so minor that they will not even notice, especially when they rake in the gains from the new corporate tax breaks for which they are pressing.

But for working people who have worked in grueling jobs their entire lives—on auto assembly lines, as waitresses on their feet all day, as construction workers toiling outside in extreme heat and frigid cold—their sacrifice consists of working two more years with their battered bodies until they can finally gain assistance from Social Security and Medicare.

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, is a key leader of the Fix the Debt coalition. Blankfein holds out the tantalizing prospect of a vast wave of new corporate investment in America once the CEOs’ demands are met. All this requires is President Obama and the Democrats caving in to draconian, life-shattering changes in Social Security and Medicare.

“There is a huge amount of investible cash that is now sitting on the sidelines, waiting for sensible reforms,” Blankfein pointed out in a recent Wall Street Journal column. Wealthy executives like him—Blankfein hauled in $$16,164,405 in 2011—are willing to pay somewhat higher taxes so long as there is “flexibility and “shared sacrifices.”

Blankfein and his Fix the Debt allies are quite prepared to be “flexible” in agreeing to pay mild increases on their income above $250,000, “but only if they are joined by serious cuts in discretionary spending and entitlements.” He apparently perceives an equivalent level of sacrifice from his modest tax increase and a 65-year old jobless worker who must now wait two more years for a Social Security check to sustain a meager existence. Or consider that worker, lacking any health care coverage, being required to accept a delay of two years in receiving Medicare.

America can no longer afford the same level of generosity as before, Blankfein told CBS recently. Although U.S. safety-net programs are widely regarded as offering far less assistance than in other advanced nations, Americans must adjust their “expectations” accordingly. Social Security "wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career," he stated. Actually, the average recipient gets 12 years of Social Security benefits after working many more years than that.

Blankfein wants people to know that they’re going to have to do with less.

"You're going to have to do something, undoubtedly, to lower people's expectations of what they're going to get, the entitlements, and what people think they're going to get, because you're not going to get it," he wrote.

Meanwhile, in their purported quest to lower the government’s deficit, Blankfein and the Fix the Debt coalition are busy promoting the notion that U.S. corporations should no longer be obligated to pay taxes on their plants and other operations located outside the U.S. This proposed "territorial tax system" would exempt their companies' foreign profits from taxation, saving them $134 billion in taxes, according to a new Institute for Policy Studies report titled "The CEO Campaign to ‘Fix’ the Debt: A Trojan Horse for Massive Corporate Tax Breaks."

Those who question the sincerity of Blankfein’s commitment to deficit-cutting will surely point out that the estimated $134 billion could help pay down the federal budget deficit.

Despite the obvious inequity of what Blankfein and Fix the Debt are proposing, Beltway wisemen are pressing Obama and the Democrats to compromise away programs that are critical to dignified retirements for working Americans.

This push for a shameful compromise comes from CEOs and pundits living on the Planet Affluence, who have never put in a day of hard physical labor nor spent a day worrying about how to feed their children.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based journalist whose work has appeared in, among others, The Progressive, Z Magazine, Progressive Populist, Extra!, American Prospect, Isthmus, and In These Times, for whom he blogs twice a week on labor issues at workinginthesetimes.com. Bybee edited the weekly Racine Labor for fourteen years.


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