To the consternation of some, and the joy of others, the ballooning Occupy Wall Street movement has so far resisted injecting itself into the nation’s political debate.
Even without a concrete list of policy goals or demands, however, there is a growing sense that, by simply existing and persevering, the month — old movement already is exerting a new influence. President Obama, for instance, has appeared to be taking a more forceful, populist, and progressive tone in recent weeks. And Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) has explicitly given Occupy Wall Street credit for the renewed energy on the left: “We’re coming together. Maybe the protesters unified the Democratic Party.”
If Occupy Wall Street is indeed exerting a new gravitational pull leftward, and it continues to do so in the coming weeks as seems likely, a sign of just how strong that pull is could come soon. A new confidence of Democrats to tilt leftward could affect the outcome of the ongoing deficit-reduction talks of the so-called bipartisan supercommittee. The supercommittee, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, is tasked with developing a plan by Thanksgiving that finds ways to reduce the federal budget deficit by more than $1 trillion over ten years.
Despite the protestations of the likes of GOP House Speaker John Boehner, the panel could well recommend reducing the deficit by raising federal taxes, not just further cuts to federal spending. The Occupy movement likely will have no effect on the six supercommittee Republicans. Led by hardline conservative Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, they also include Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who once headed the anti-tax group, Club for Growth. Occupy could, however, embolden the supercommittee Democrats to stand up to the Republicans with more vigor.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) just last week sent its set of proposals to the supercommittee. The CPC wants the supercommittee to develop a plan devoted to creating jobs, raising revenues through fair taxation and protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The CPC identified more than $4 trillion in savings, which would increase to more than $7 trillion if the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are allowed to expire on schedule. The CPC recommendations direct the savings toward job creation, which it calls the single most important means to reduce the deficit. Key recommendations include a responsible end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saving $1.6 trillion; enacting the Fairness in Taxation Act, creating a millionaire tax that generates $872.5 billion; and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, saving $157.9 billion. ”With the supercommittee, the Republicans have manufactured yet another budget crisis,” says CPC Budget Task Force Chair Rep. Michael Honda of California. “We can ‘go big’ and address our budget deficits by allowing the unpaid for Bush tax cuts to expire and ending our unpaid for wars on schedule. Anyone who says we need to cut education, cut the social safety net, cut Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare or provide more tax cuts to the rich, is pushing a political agenda, not sound fiscal policy.”
With protests on the street in the states of every supercommittee Democrat, even Sen. Max Baucus’ Montana, Occupy could be the fire they need to finally help turn Honda’s words into reality.