Left and Right Protest Movements Target Super Committee
Occupy Wall Street protesters briefly became Occupy Georgetown this evening, disrupting the commute in a final act of outrage that capped off a day when activists of all stripes hurled demands and complaints at the super committee.
Liberal seniors and their Congressional allies gathered on Capitol Hill this morning to demand the panel protect Medicare and Social Security.
“Welcome to the first meeting of occupy the joint committee,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told the group of seniors, who responded with raucous cheers.
Later in the day, a group of conservatives unveiled a deficit reduction proposal of their own that they said represented the priorities of the tea party.
The tea partyers and occupiers are similarly deeply skeptical of the consolidation of power in the hands of 12 lawmakers on the committee. Neither side seems likely to be satisfied with any savings proposal the panel unveils next week, and each is increasingly skeptical that the committee will manage anything at all.
But for all the anti-establishment rhetoric, both movements are supported by groups that have long flexed their muscles on Capitol Hill.
The organizations devoted to protecting entitlements, such as Social Security Works, the progressive group behind the seniors’ event, are bolstered by several powerful unions including the Service Employees International Union, United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO.
FreedomWorks, a conservative organization led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), has played a similarly instrumental role in helping tea partyers make themselves heard in Washington, presenting a savings plan crafted by its 12-member citizen “tea party debt commission.”
Sen. Rand Paul, however, pointed out at a mock hearing organized by FreedomWorks today that the similarities between the occupy and tea party movements end there: “We held a lot of rallies, a lot of protests, and then we picked up our signs and took out our trash. … We went home and took a bath. And, on Monday we went back to work,” the Kentucky Republican said.
The FreedomWorks proposal was more detailed than anything that has been publicly discussed by the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, which must come up with at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts by Wednesday.
The plan would eliminate several federal agencies, including the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the new health care law and the administration’s “czars.” But the plan mirrored much of what the organization has lobbied for since 2004, when it split from Americans for Prosperity.
The proposal says it would save $9 trillion over the next 10 years, $2.23 trillion of which comes from entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which together make up nearly half the federal budget.
Budget experts, however, said they were skeptical.
“That is a fairly unbelievable number,” said Joseph Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, referring to the entitlement savings. “I don’t think I would pay as much attention to the numbers as I would to the ideas. … I think the specifics here are pretty light.”
The FreedomWorks plan includes several ideas already offered by tea party sympathizers in Congress such as legislation introduced by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that would replace Social Security with personal retirement savings accounts. The proposal would also allow all new Medicare beneficiaries to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan after 2013, an idea championed by Paul.
The proposal could also end up serving as a tool to help lawmakers fight tough re-election battles.
“We are gently under attack by members of our own party who don’t have the you know what,” said Rep. Joe Walsh, an outspoken freshman challenging the more moderate first-term Rep. Randy Hultgren for re-election in Illinois’ newly created 8th district. “I will walk around with the FreedomWorks debt commission report in my hand for the rest of my term.”