Who’s behind this piece of crude surgery on the retirement and health programs that most Americans count on? Pete Peterson, for one. For years, this Wall Street billionaire, who amassed his fortune as honcho of a private equity outfit named Blackstone, has run a political sideshow demanding that the federal budget be balanced on the backs of the middle class and the poor. Fix the Debt is just his latest war whoop, organized by a corporate “think tank” he funds.
This time, Peterson rallied some 95 CEOs to his plutocratic crusade, including the likes of General Electric boss Jeffrey Immelt and Honeywell chief David Cote. (Note: Both Immelt and Cote, while cheering for cuts to programs that we working Americans pay into, are themselves taking money hand over fist from taxpayers in terms of military contracts and corporate subsidies for their corporations.
All of them are not merely “One Percenters,” but the top one-tenth of One Percenters. Of course, a group of pampered, narcissistic billionaires would not make a credible sales argument for this dirty work. Having elites piously preach austerity to the masses would be as ineffective as having Col. Sanders invite a flock of chickens to Sunday dinner.
Presented with this image problem, Fix the Debt needed to give their campaign a more benign image, and Peterson and Co. followed a tried-and-true formula of political deceit. As described by Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy, the trick is to “gather a bipartisan group of ‘serious’ men, hire a PR firm to place them on TV shows, blanket the media with talk of a looming crisis and pretend to have grassroots support.”
In this case, a collection of former members of Congress, each of whom had a reputation for being moderate to the extreme, was recruited to give the campaign a sheen of high public purpose. Backed by a $40 million budget put up by the corporate interests, these “elder statesman” are now the face of Fix the Debt, doing dozens of TV interviews, hosting breakfast sessions with members of Congress, making speeches about “mutual sacrifice” and generally going all-out to sell the financial elite’s snake oil.
But wait – being an elder does not automatically mean you’re a statesman. Let’s peek at the resumes of these so-called public-spirited fixers of the debt. Start with Jim McCrery, a former GOP lawmaker from Louisiana. While urging Congress to cut people’s programs, he’s also a top-paid lobbyist pushing Congress to give more tax subsidies to America’s richest people and to such multinational corporations as General Electric.
Former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn is a fixer, too – but he’s also paid $300,000 a year to be on the board of directors for General Electric. Likewise, Democrat Erskine Bowles, a co-founder of the fixers’ front group, is on the board of Morgan Stanley, drawing $345,000 a year. And former GOP Sen. Judd Gregg takes about a million bucks a year as advisor to and board member for such giants as Goldman Sachs and Honeywell.
Jim Hightower is national radio commentator, columnist and author.