By Ruth Conniff on March 11, 2013

The deficit hawks just won't quit. Never mind that the deficit is actually shrinking steadily as a share of GDP.

"Debt Threat!" screamed a typical banner on CNBC this morning, where a full-employment program for the pundits of economic doom is under way, with constant warnings about the debt and deficits.

No wonder cable viewers don't know that the deficit is actually decreasing.

The Congressional Budget Office expects the deficit for the 2013 fiscal year to be $845 billion -- that's on track with a steady decline since the height of the current recession in 2009, when the deficit reached $1.4 trillion.

As Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, and other economists keep pointing out, economic recovery shrinks annual deficits, and therefore the cumulative national debt, while austerity programs, like those Europe has imposed, will torpedo growth and destroy individual lives and whole national economies.

But forget reality. On Tuesday Paul Ryan will release his latest budget plan, aiming to balance the budget in ten years by making $5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, food assistance for the poor, and other domestic programs -- and through his signature plan: Medicare privatization.

Ryan's budget will also include that old dead horse, repealing ObamaCare.

The ObamaCare detail, dismissed even by Republicans as a nonstarter, is particularly dishonest because Ryan is actually back to embracing the cuts to Medicare included in that law that he bashed during the 2012 Presidential election.

Ryan has quietly reinserted the $716 billion in cuts to Medicare reimbursements for hospitals and insurance companies that he had in his original budget plan -- but denounced when the President included it in ObamaCare as an attack on seniors.

He is sticking with his promise that he won't make any changes to Medicare for people over the age of 55 (a promise he has repeated again and again at town hall meetings, but that his staff indicated he was recently reconsidering).

Ryan is trying to have it both ways: In order to make his goal of balancing the budget in 10 years, he happily relies upon the Medicare cuts contained in ObamaCare -- but still says he'll "repeal" the law. His budget also gets a boost from the tax hikes on the very rich that passed in January, which he opposed on ideological grounds.

And the continued economic recovery makes it possible, on paper, to claim to reach a balanced budget.

But if the Ryan plan ever really went into effect, the actual effects on the economy would be disastrous.

The House Republicans will embrace Ryan's extreme austerity agenda, knowing full well that it will never go anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

What is more worrying is the deal Ryan says he thinks he can make with the President.

Ryan emerged from a lunch with the President last week saying he thinks a deal on spending cuts is possible. That's not good news.

Senator Bernie Sanders has been working hard to pull together a coalition of working people, veterans, and seniors, to sound the alarm about Obama's willingness to cut a deal on so-called chained CPI -- a rejiggering of the cost-of-living calculation that would mean big cuts in Social Security benefits for seniors.

Even as Paul Ryan gets his moment in the spotlight this week for a plan that will go nowhere, what we should really be worried about is what the President is doing to strike a deal with the deficit hawks to solve a nonexistent problem and exacerbate suffering for millions of Americans who can afford it the least.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wall Street Cheers the Austerity Bomb".

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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