The Democratic turncoats behind the “Fix the Debt” attack on Medicare & Social Security

Most left-side commenters paint “Fix the Debt” — the well-funded campaign to scare Americans into believing the debt is not only going to destroy us all, but that massive cuts to Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are the only way to “fix” the “problem” — as a billionaire-led, CEO-led operation to kill (or at least seriously maim) the social programs by delivering one blow after another. But Fix the Debt is also a bipartisan operation.

This is about bipartisanship — real bipartisanship, bipartisanship in the bad way. In a recent post about how the American people overwhelmingly want to strengthen Social Security (and the rest of the social programs), I made the following point about “centrism“:

People who perform on TV are fond of talking about the “centrist” position, or the “bipartisan consensus” on various economic matters. This presumes a vertical left-right divide with some kind of center between them.

The real divide in this country is not Left versus Right — it’s the Rich versus the Rest. It’s the horizontal division between the people taking all the money they can, and those they’re taking it from.

Among the rich, there’s a widely-agreed center position — more for us, less for everyone else on the planet.

As the poll above makes very clear, there’s also a widely-agreed center position among the rest of us — keep your stinking hands off of our last protection against poverty.

Keep that horizontal division in mind as you look at what follows. The left-right divide among the elites, the 1%, is usually represented as Democratic vs. Republican. But that’s only true among the electorate, and then only on some issues. As the following shows very clearly, the leadership of both parties is deeply in bed with the Billionaire push — fronted by Pete Peterson — to kill off the social programs.

There’s a true bipartisan consensus among billionaire-backed Democrats and billionaire-backed Republicans — “All your money are belong to us.”

Fix the Debt is a true bipartisan operation

Take a look at the great research done on “Fix the Debt” by the true-progressive watchdog group SourceWatch and PRwatch, the good folks who brought you ALECexposed.

From their new Fix the Debt portal, we find this about Fix the Debt and its leadership (my emphasis everywhere and some reparagraphing):

The Campaign to Fix the Debt is the latest incarnation of a decades-long effort by former Nixon man turned Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson to slash earned benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare under the guise of fixing the nation’s “debt problem.” Through a special report and new interactive wiki resource, the Center for Media and Democracy — in partnership with the Nation magazine — exposes the funding, the leaders, the partner groups, and the phony state “chapters” of this astroturf supergroup. Learn more at and in the Nation magazine.

Fix the Debt is led by the president of the CRFB, Maya MacGuineas. Erskine Bowles, and Alan Simpson are listed as its “founders.” Michael Bloomberg, Judd Gregg, and Ed Rendell are listed as its “co-chairs.” There is an 11 member steering committee. …

Ed Rendell is a co-chairman of Fix the Debt. In media appearances, he is only introduced as the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania (2003-2011), yet he has extensive corporate and financial ties.

A fine mix of perps. Erskine Bowles is a Clinton man. Bowles and Simpson are Obama men, hand-picked by our president to lead his personal “fix the debt” commission, aka the Catfood Commission. Judd Gregg was the Republican that Obama wanted to install in his first-term cabinet as Secretary of Big Money. (Scorecard note: When you hear Simpson–Bowles, you should see Barack Obama. In my mind, they are his surrogates, his water-carriers, just as he and Bill Clinton are Pete Peterson’s water-carriers.)

Finally, Ed Rendell is not a liberal, but he plays one on TV, thanks to the always generous face-time offered him by MSNBC’s supposed liberal program hosts. More on Rendell’s corporate ties and conflicts of interest below.

Other Democrats running Peterson’s Fix the Debt

We also find these Democrats involved with Fix the Debt (from the same source):

Phil Bredesen

Phil Bredesen is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. As Democratic governor of Tennessee, he “presided over the largest state cutback of public health programs in the history of our nation,” according to health care advocacy group FamiliesUSA. In 2004, Governor Bredesen did away with Tennessee’s state health care program, TennCare, and reverted to standard Medicaid, eliminating coverage for 430,000 people, and imposted [sic] strict limits on prescription drugs and doctor visits, with no appeals. This resulted in budget surpluses.

Vic Fazio

Vic Fazio is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. He is a former [Democratic] member of Congress (1979-1999) who works as a corporate lobbyist. He has lobbied for AT&T, Corrections Corporation of America, Archer Daniels Midland, Shell Oil, Blumberg Capital, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, Dow Chemical, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, and Waste Management.

Sam Nunn

Sam Nunn is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. He was the longtime [Democratic] chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee (1987–1995). He is Co-Chairman and Chief Executive of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), an organization working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

Steven Rattner

Steven Rattner is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. He is a former investment banker for two decades at Lehman Brothers, Lazard Freres and Morgan Stanley. Rattner was the Treasury Department’s point man on the 2009 bailout of the auto industry by the Obama administration. He is on the board of the New America Foundation, the Pete Peterson-funded parent organization of Fix the Debt and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). Rattner is also chairman of Willett Advisors LLC, the investment arm for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $25 billion in assets.

Rattner’s wife also has strong ties to the leadership of the Democratic Party

Rattner is married to Maureen White, who served for five years as finance chair for the Democratic National Committee and is now the Senior Advisor on Humanitarian Issues to the Special Representative-Afghanistan and Pakistan for the U.S. Department of State.

Yet more Democrats on the Fix the Debt steering committee:

Alice Rivlin

Alice Rivlin is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. She is best known for her role as budget director in the Clinton administration (1994-1996). She has deep ties to the finance industry and to budget austerity advocacy groups funded by Pete Peterson. A former vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board (1996-1999) … Rivlin … was also a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission … where she voted for Simpson and Bowles’ recommended $200 billion annual cuts in discretionary spending, raising of the Social Security retirement age, cutting the federal workforce by ten percent, and reducing federal pensions and student loan subsidies.

Antonio Villaraigosa

Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat who has been Los Angeles’ 41st mayor since July 1, 2005, is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. He was President of the United States Conference of Mayors in 2011-2012. He has previously been the Democratic leader and Speaker of the California State Assembly and a member of the Los Angeles City Council. He was also Chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in September 2012.

In the past, he was a union organizer for the Service Employees International Union and United Teachers Los Angeles, and then President of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Federation of Government Employees.

And that just takes you down through the steering committee. That’s some load of big-time Dems.

Fix the Debt and corruption

One more point needs to be made. Many (or most) of these individuals have big-time conflicts of interest. Again, these are documented by Source Watch. Just one example, there’s this about Ed Rendell’s “extensive corporate and financial ties” mentioned above:

UNDISCLOSED CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Rendell lobbied for KCI USA, a wound care technology company, on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements in 2012. Rendell is special counsel to the law firm Ballard Spahr — which has been criticized as a union-busting law firm. — where he focuses on privatization and housing, with an emphasis on infrastructure. Rendell is also a senior adviser at Greenhill & Co., a multinational investment bank. Ninety percent of Greenhill’s revenue comes from advisory assignments, including to public officials.

Rendell is a strong proponent of “public private partnerships” (PPPs) in infrastructure, which have been criticized as a dubious form of privatization of public assets. Rendell is also on the advisory board of Verdeva, a firm developing technology to track motorists at the gas pump so they can be taxed for infrastructure revenue, an industry-favored measure for developing the income streams they need to finance infrastructure deals. Hel [sic] has also joined the venture capital firm Element Partners as an operating partner. Element Partners recently invested in oil and gas extraction (fracking) from the Marcellus formation.

Ed Rendell is the servant of Money. He works for Money; he does its bidding; that’s his career path and the source of his personal income stream. Fix the Debt is a perfect way to starve the beast (government) then sell it public-private fixes, like Obama’s health care bill, and Ed Rendell is perfectly placed to both wield the axe (via Fix the Debt) and salve the wound he caused (via his corporate-solutions lobbying).

There’s more about the many conflicts of interest in this handy table. Stunning, and a fast read. Do take a look.

This is what “starve the beast” looks like from the “left”

One last word and then I’ll close. Both parties want to starve the beast — underfund government so drastically that it can’t function alone. Both parties want to privatize public services. I was not joking, or being excessively snarky, when I wrote that the Democrats are every bit as evil as the Republicans when it comes to economic policy.

■ From the Republicans you get blatant privatization, such as Bush’s 2005 attack on Social Security or Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan.

■ From the Democrats, you get back-door privatization, like Obama’s Health Care act. Ask yourself — why didn’t Obama just offer a bill that expanded Medicare to everyone in the country? Answer: Because he wanted to shovel money into corporate (meaning, billionaire CEO) hands with a “public-private solution” to a public policy problem. This is always the Neoliberal “solution” — starve the government along with the Republicans, then sell public-private “deals” that screw the public while offering pretend or partial solutions.

The difference? Republicans don’t want to offer any solutions to public needs, while Democrats will offer pretend or partial solutions — ‘cuz you know, they’re the party that cares. Yep, that’s branding; that’s their product differentiator. It’s not that all elected Democrats don’t care, it’s just that their leaders don’t, and elected Democrats always play Follow the Neoliberal Leader when it comes time to vote.

Don’t believe me? Think about that crappy filibuster deal, which every Democratic senator vote for. Or watch those 100 Democrats who signed Keith Ellison’s sequester “no cuts” letter when they have to pull their grown-up pants on at Congressional roll-call time.

Notice that I didn’t say “from the Right” and “from the Left” in the above formulation. Democratic Party leaders — who own the total party structure, progressives and all — are not the “left.” They aren’t even Democrats by FDR–Lyndon Johnson standards. Today’s Dem leaders are “neo-Dems,” meaning not-Dems, in the same way that “New Labour” in Britain is not-Labour. They’re just the opposite, in fact; they’re the Right, dressed for bicoastal dinner.

To call Barack Obama a Democrat in his economic policies is a triumph of branding … only.

To make that point, I’d like to leave you with two videos. The first you’ve seen before, but I want to keep it before you. Barack Obama 1.0, branded for easy consumption:

Note that the branding was done for free, and by someone who truly believed — just like many progressive activists do today, I might add.

The next video includes the above-mentioned Alice Rivlin, shilling to “youth” about Fix the Debt and all the goodness it offers them. Yep, that’s her in the center, rocking up a storm, just like the “kids”:

They may be a clown car, those happy bipartisans, but they’re extremely well funded.

Did both videos make you gag, just a little? They should have, just a little. (And yes, that was a test. The taste in your mouth will tell you your score.)

Tastefully yours,


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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28 Responses to “The Democratic turncoats behind the “Fix the Debt” attack on Medicare & Social Security”

  1. theUglyTruth says:

    >2.3 trillion
    >an irrelevantly small fraction ofthe debt
    >counts tax cuts as unpaid/cheated taxes
    Would be a lot more credible if they just stuck to loopholes and tax havens…

  2. theUglyTruth says:

    I imagine the centrist position on same sex marriage would be to legalize it on-paper and allow voluntary groups to perform wedding ceremonies, while allowing churches to refuse to take part themselves.

  3. vonlmo says:

    Now don’t go telling me this was all a big suprise. Remember that you ALL voted Obama because he was less lethal than Romney, deal w it folks. Meantime, you can always tell that Obama is poised to inflict enormous pain whenever he pivots to support the gays. It’s his “I really am a good guy” faint, as if it’ll absolve him. Can “the gays” move beyond Identity Politics & ,like M.L. King, advocate for a bigger picture?

  4. Naja pallida says:

    Ed Rendell is one of those people who I can’t even stand to listen to anymore. Every time there’s a debate, he hits on all the right progressive talking points… then the second there is a resolution that isn’t so good, and isn’t anything even resembling a progressive outcome, he’s out there making excuses for why things went the way it did, and why we all have to just enjoy our shit sandwich, because that’s all we’re going to get. He has sold his soul for an ounce of relevance.

  5. Naja pallida says:

    I never really understood the whole Bircher ranting about fluoridation of drinking water, but not having any position on the real poisoning of our environment.

  6. Naja pallida says:

    TennCare came out of the end of McWherter’s term, in ~94, and actually saved money in its first few years, even while covering many more people than previous. But then his Republican successor decided to eliminate the managed care cost reduction measures, and shift the risk pool away from insurance companies and onto the State. Since insurance companies and providers no longer had any incentive to keep costs down, the obvious and predictable result was an exponential explosion in costs, even though benefits were not expanded and the number of people covered remained about constant. Then, instead of going back to what they knew actually worked, they started to just cut chunks out of the program, and kick people off of it, of course, citing that it was costing too much. By the time Bredesen came in and had any real chance to do anything about it, it was beyond salvage and it was more cost effective to revert to the old Medicaid system. Though, he did have plenty of time to try something new after the fact, but now with the Affordable Care Act, states in general no longer really have much incentive to bother with a state-level program. They’re counting on shifting the blame, and as much of the cost as possible, to the federal government. All the while Republicans at the federal level want to screw the ACA in much the same ways TennCare got screwed. TennCare is a perfect example of Republicans claiming that government doesn’t work, and then proving it with their own mismanagement.

  7. emjayay says:

    Good point. It’s a structural thing. Ignorant crazed John Bircher types now called Tea Partiers have gotten into Congress and have skewed and sabotoged everything. They have always been around, but now they are funded by Koch brothers or whaever, and fueled by the existence of an African American president.
    And what is the centrist position on carbon and global warming? The TPers just deny the reality. The only reasonable position is to do everything we can to address it, no matter what the inconvenience and cost.
    I just look at my Brooklyn apartment with some single pane windows and no insulation in the walls and a non-zoned heating system and it’s obvious we haven’t really tried. To be more specific, like most NYC buildings we can’t turn off the heat when we’re not there (well, you could but then thre’s no way to warm it up until the steam happens to come on) or control it otherwise much except by opening windows. Just one example of a huge waste of energy and carbon. Given the expense of putting in a modern system and insulating the walls and roof etc., it’s not gonna happen unless federal agents stop by and propose redoing everything for free. Which is what we should be doing.

  8. emjayay says:

    Great video. I don’t know much about her, but now I know that Alice Rivlin is an idiot. Everyone on this committee or whatever it is is an idiot. I tend to respect sincere experise, but now Alice is off the map. Simply an example of mediocrity (and cluelessness) rising to the top.Thanks.

  9. FunMe says:

    Meanwhile, great post! Love all the detail you have provided us Gaius.

  10. FunMe says:

    How did we get from a democracy to an oligarchy? And why aren’t more people angry and doing something about it? I know young people tried to make some changes with Occupy Wall Street, bless their hearts. But they were shut down by the government that is beholden to the corporations. The majority of Americans support the EARNED BENEFITS that the 1% wants to steal from all of us. So how do we stop both republiCONs and Fake Democrats from doing this?

    Meanwhile, love this sign that gives the solution to our “debt problem”:

  11. karmanot says:

    They are the Borg PJ. One is as thousands.

  12. Guest says:

    I would have to agree with perljammer. One down vote on a thread with 16 comments? Isn’t that a little hysterical? But there’s help:

  13. Ford Prefect says:

    Centrist fetishism is merely putting lipstick on a totalitarian pig. (Apologies to real pigs everywhere, as they have vastly more integrity than these people)

  14. perljammer says:

    Huh? At the time of this reply, there is exactly one “down vote” for this entire thread. Out in force??

  15. lynchie says:

    Obamabots are out in force down voting.

  16. Bill_Perdue says:

    Obama has a sort of a centrist position on equal ritghts. After years if rancid bigotry and opposition rights marriage equality he had a change of heart and evolved just in time to get the votes of those easily fooled.

    He claimed he was giving up his bigotry but remains wed to the idea that states rights trump equal rights. Maybe the best description of his position is not centrist but hypocritical.

  17. Bill_Perdue says:

    Democrats aren’t turncoats. They’re loyal to the ruling class, the looters and banksters and no one else.

    Calling them turncoats presupposes they were ever on the side of working people. That’s an error, they’ve always been either right centrist or reactionary. Democrats and Republicans are the enemies of democracy, both political and especially workplace or economic democracy.

  18. A_nonymoose says:

    In Phil Bredesen’s defense — and if I’m wrong, please tell me, because I may be misremembering — he inherited TennCare from a previous administration. Costs had skyrocketed and there was little outcry from either Democrats or Republicans when he ended the program. Regardless, the fact that he’s in on this “Fix The Debt” scam is damning enough.

  19. arcadesproject says:

    I had a hunch from the beginning that austerians would pitch and frame SS & Medicare cuts in a way designed to create maximum generational conflict. But the old we will always have with us. Even if Pete Peterson turns the entire Baby Boom into soylent green, there will be a new generation of olds coming up behind them As Atrios keeps pointing out, ‘old’ is a condition of life. (Maybe not as old as people used to get, due to reduced life expectancies in an austerity environment, but still old.) And the issue of pensions and health care access won’t just go away.

  20. nicho says:

    Don’t count on it — those bastards are quick.

  21. lynchie says:

    Yeah they play democrats on tv. My dear wife before she passed asked me a question that at the time I could not answer and that was “Do any of these bastards have a guilty conscience”. Sadly the answer is NO! They only care about where the money is coming from. Anyone out there who feels this is a representative government? Anyone think the 1% cares whether we go to bed hungry or have health care or can provide shelter for our families? The talk of the sequestration being bad is all being done because it will be bad for us the 99%. We will be laid off, we will have our hours cut, we will continue to lose our houses and jobs. It won’t be bad for the wealthy they will simply turn up the volume on their Ipods so they don’t have to hear the cries for help from across the country.

  22. bandanajack says:

    gives fresh meaning to the adjective “orwellian”, doesn’t it?

  23. See George Orwell, Politics and the English Language. A lot of people seem to be citing to it these days.

  24. bandanajack says:

    makes me glad i’m gonna die before they suck the marrows…

  25. If you see any of those names, you know you’re about to be screwed. Take Ed Rendell — please! I’m so old I remember when Ed Rendell threw in the towel on [genuflects] Al Gore’s behalf in Florida 2000!

  26. “Turncoats” seems a little over the top. How about “scum-sucking weasels”?

  27. nicho says:

    Any time you see Sam Nunn’s name, you know you’re about to be screwed. He is a corporatist’s corporatist. He sits on the boards of several large corporations and is one degree of separation away from the boards of dozens more.

  28. caphillprof says:

    Sort of an aside: I think our language is becoming increasingly meaningless. Bipartisan and centrist are not synonyms. While bipartisan might imply some sort of common ground, that common ground is not necessarily centrist. Polling shows that masses of Americans across the political spectrum support certain things which in the public realm would be decried as Liberal or extreme left wing. As Gaius notes, many of the widely supported issues lack support on both sides of the aisle in Congress. The bipartisan consensus in the Congress is anti majoritarian in the country.

    At the same time, many issues do not lend themselves to a centrist position, yet the politicians and the media both talk in terms of a fictional center. For example, what exactly is the centrist position on same sex marriage?

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