Making sense of this debt ceiling agreement?

I’ve been trying to follow this whole debt ceiling deal as much as possible. I’ve tweeted (and RT’d) about it quite a bit. So, is it a good deal? Should I feel pleased about it?

I have no idea. I’m no economist and the reports are conflicting to say the least.

President Obama offers this take spin on today’s debt ceiling agreement:

Now, I’m a big fan of President Obama. I supported his presidential campaign financially and with my time (and of course with my vote). I want to believe him. I want to support him. He says these are the key facts about what the agreement does:

  • Removes economic uncertainty surrounding the debt limit at a critical time and prevents either party from using a failure to meet our obligations for political gain.
  • Makes a significant down payment to reduce the deficit—finding savings in defense and domestic spending while protecting critical investments in education and job creation.
  • Creates a bipartisan commission to find a balanced approach to continue this progress on deficit reduction.
  • Establishes an incentive for both sides to compromise on historic deficit reduction while protecting Social Security, Medicare beneficiaries, and programs that help low-income families.
  • Follows through on President Obama’s commitment to shared sacrifice by making sure that the middle class, seniors, and those who are most vulnerable do not shoulder the burden of reducing the deficit. As the process moves forward, the President will continue to insist that the wealthiest Americans share the burden.

Well, those sound like good things to me. “Protecting programs that help low-income families” is exactly what I (and many many others) have been advocating for!

But then I get an email from the National Women’s Law Center decrying the deal, saying:

  • The deal would cut discretionary programs by nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, and more than half from non-defense discretionary programs: Programs such as Head Start, K-12 education, Title X family planning, job training, domestic violence prevention, meals-on-wheels and other services for vulnerable people will be cut by hundreds of billions of dollars. All this, without touching a penny of the tax breaks enjoyed by millionaires and corporations.
  • A new congressional committee: In addition to the nearly $1 trillion in cuts to defense and non-defense programs over the next ten years, the deal would create a new congressional committee to propose an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by this November. That committee will have the authority to consider cuts to all spending programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Food Stamps, and revenue increases to help reduce the deficit. House Speaker John Boehner has already said that he will not appoint anyone to the committee who will agree to any tax increases.

The Washington Post seems to back the Law Center:

Like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, other entitlement programs – such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Child Care and Development Block Grant program (CCDBG mandatory funding), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – are not subject to the initial $1 trillion in cuts, which apply only to discretionary programs. These low-income safety net programs, and the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, would also be protected from automatic cuts. However, any of these could be targeted for cuts by the super-committee.


Back on the other hand, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities declares, “Speaker of the House John Boehner erroneously claims that the legislation implementing the new debt limit agreement does not allow the joint congressional committee it establishes to propose revenue increases to help reduce deficits.” (Via my friend, Robin Stephenson)

So, again, how should a progressive, politically active, justice advocate like me react to this deal? Pretty lukewarm. (Or like we used to say in college, hancold. Get it? That’s funny, right?) It was vital to “Raise the debt ceiling! Raise the debt ceiling!” but how we got it raised…? Ugh. Puts in jeopardy too many programs people in need rely on.

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