Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Meet Pete, Austerian Elite

If you've not heard the name of Wall Street tycoon Peter J. Peterson, you've seen the ads his foundation has put out.  If America has a king of the Austerians, it's this guy.

Peter Peterson, a Wall Street billionaire who has been calling for cuts to Social Security and other government programs for years, is hosting a "fiscal summit" Tuesday that brings together Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, former President Bill Clinton, Rep. Paul Ryan, House Speaker John Boehner, Tom Brokaw and Politico's John Harris, among a host of other elites who will gather at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

Now, how can a guy like Peterson have that much pull with Clinton, Paul Ryan, Orange Julius, and the Village press?  Real simple:  He's spent close to a half a billion dollars in 4 years in order to convince Democrats, Republicans and the Village that it's time to end government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

According to a review of tax documents from 2007 through 2011, Peterson has personally contributed at least $458 million to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to cast Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and government spending as in a state of crisis, in desperate need of dramatic cuts. Peterson's millions have done next to nothing to change public opinion: In survey after survey, Americans reject the idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare. A recent national tour organized by AmericaSpeaks and largely funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation was met by audiences who rebuffed his proposals.

But Peterson has been able to drive a major shift in elite consensus about government spending, with talk of "grand bargains" that would slash entitlements, cut corporate tax rates and end personal tax breaks, such as the mortgage deduction, that benefit the middle class.  

That's right, much like the Koch Brothers, Peterson is putting his fortune where his ideas are, and those ideas are that the majority of the tax burden in this country has to fall on the middle class while the rich are spared.  The idea of our "spending crisis" and "debt crisis" in the Village press comes directly from Pete Peterson hosting summits like this and spending hundreds of millions of dollars of his own personal fortune in order to talk America's lawmakers into throwing the middle class and the poor under the bus.

Peterson is in this debate for the long haul: He's even working on children. Earlier this month, Columbia University's Teachers College released a new curriculum about the federal budget and fiscal policy that will be distributed free to every high school in the country. "Understanding Fiscal Responsibility" was introduced at a ceremony featuring Peter Orszag, a former Obama administration official who left to join Citigroup. The Peterson Foundation has already given $1.6 million of a promised $2.4 million for the curriculum.

The first two lessons are titled "Social Security and the National Debt" and "Medicare and the National Debt." The curriculum wants teens to ask, "How high a value do we place on guaranteeing quality health care to the elderly?"

Another effort to persuade America's youth about the shakiness of the entitlement programs is a joint venture between the Peterson Foundation and mtvU, the campus-based network created by MTV Networks, called Indebted. Peterson has already shelled out nearly $2 million to fund this effort to convince college students that Social Security won't be there for them, so therefore it should be slashed now -- a self-fulfilling policy prescription if ever there was one. 

So yeah, stuff like this makes Peterson one of the most dangerous guys in America, a billionaire trying to buy trillions in government spending cuts so that they can be given directly to the the richest Americans in tax cuts and loopholes.  Pete Peterson is literally quite rich enough to buy our government.

And he's been doing it for the last five years.  Think about that.  And now with Citizens United, he can buy the Congress he needs to make his twisted fantasies of millions of Americans losing their safety nets to make him billions come true.

Ain't America great?


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