Barack Bulworth

Last night I finally saw in graph form what the CBO came up with for its projected budget deficit for this year:

deficit 2013

As St. Rachel pointed out, this isn’t a good thing in an economy struggling to keep the recovery momentum, such as it is, going. This isn’t a good thing with so many unemployed folks out there. Nor is it a good thing with government jobs, jobs held by, say, teachers, disappearing as I write this.

But it is what Republicans, especially Tea Party phonies, have been squawking about since George Bush went on a spending spree Barack Obama became president.

And apparently no matter how far the damn deficit falls, they won’t stop squawking about it. Because, as we all know, their squawking has very little to do with government spending, but has to do with the Scary Negro, who they claim is spending it, and who they claim he is spending it on.

Remember the 2012 election charge, a charge that came from everywhere on the right, that O was trying to “buy” the election by spending a ton of money on the poor, minorities, and other natural Democratic constituencies? If so, he did a terrible job of spreading the cash around.

Maybe, just maybe, he won the election for other reasons.

And maybe, just maybe, O needs to take this chart and shove it down the throat of the next Republican who opens his or her mouth about “out of control” government spending. And then maybe he needs to rat out the Republicans—instead of eating and playing golf with them—to the American people about how phony their deficit hysteria was and still is, and explain that it is the Republican Party in Congress that is responsible for nothing, absolutely nothing, getting done to fix the country’s problems.

Finally, maybe O needs to go to many of the red states in the country and explain to the people there that the reason teachers and cops and firefighters are out of jobs, and the reason that unemployment is so high, is that their Republican governors and Republican legislators are starving the beast of their state governments, too.

And he should tell all the people everywhere that it is only the people who can put a stop to this madness.

Because no one thinks that anything positive, especially in terms of  the economic recovery, will get done while Republicans essentially control Congress. So, President Obama may as well go back to traveling around the country and, as The New York Times reported, possibly go “Bulworth.” What else can he do? How many dinners does he need to have, how many rounds of golf does he need to play with reactionaries, before he realizes that they will never allow him to actually govern the country?

For a fantasized version of what a Barack Bulworth would say, Ezra Klein wrote a great piece. Here is part of what President Bulworth had to say to a reporter who ask him yet another dumb question about whether the American people can “actually trust their government”:

BARACK BULWORTH: Look, the reason the American people can’t trust their government is here in Washington. Right now sequestration is cutting unemployment checks by 10 or 11 percent. Do you hear anyone talking about that? Or doing anything about it? No. You hear Republicans aides telling Politico, anonymously, that the speaker is quote “obsessed” with Benghazi. You know, I don’t think most of the Republicans screaming about Benghazi could find Libya on a map. I don’t think 10 of them knew our ambassador’s name. And, let me be clear, Speaker Boehner certainly wasn’t obsessed with giving us the money we asked for to keep the embassy’s safe.

But now he’s obsessed with Benghazi. And not even Benghazi. The Benghazi talking points. Are you kidding me? He’s not obsessed with global warming or unemployment or rebuilding our infrastructure.  And now that there’s conflict, all of you are obsessed with Benghazi talking points too, and meanwhile, we’re cutting the National Institutes of Health and we’re cutting too deep into the military and we’re making life harder for the unemployed and we’re doing nothing to keep this planet in good shape for our kids.

Look, this is why the American people can’t trust their government. Because this town is obsessed with conflict and political advantage and not with real problems. We worry about the wrong things so much that we don’t even have time to talk to the American people or each other about the right things. And that’s not the I.R.S.’s fault.

Who wouldn’t want to see that guy do a presser? It would scare the tan off John Boehner’s face, but, much more important, it would educate the people as to what the Republican Party is doing to the country.

Austerity Doctors Warn: If We Don’t Stop Spending We’ll Go Blind!

I have seen and heard countless Democrats, including President Obama, make the case that allowing sequestration to happen next week is bad for the country, from jeopardizing our military readiness to damaging our ability to conduct medical research.

However, none of the scary stories that Democrats tell reporters, who then tell the public, are working to change the minds of Republicans, many of whom have actually decided that sequestration is the best cure for what ails the country.

Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi and a man who once chaired the Republican National Committee, is one of those Republicans—let’s call them “austerity doctors”—who want to fix the patient by hurting the patient.

National Review.com reported yesterday:

...Haley Barbour says he expects the GOP to allow sequestration to occur, and that the party should see it as an important step toward fiscal responsibility. “I hope and believe that Republicans will allow the sequestration to go into effect, so that we can start down a path of trying to get control of spending and reduce the deficit,” Barbour explained on Fox Business Network’s Cavuto…

These austerity doctors are so worried about the deficit that they are willing to do almost anything to get Americans to stop what Republicans see as our bad habit of pleasuring ourselves with federal dollars.

All of which reminds me of another doctor who tried to do what he thought was right by using rather strange techniques to get Americans to stop pleasuring themselves.

John Harvey Kellogg is most famous for co-inventing the breakfast cereal Corn Flakes in 1895. But he also had a medical degree and ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And he also held what we regard today as bizarre opinions about, well, I’ll let Wikipedia say it:

He was an especially zealous campaigner against masturbation.

Self-pleasure, according to the theologically-minded doctor, was self-destructive:

Kellogg strongly warned against the habit in his own words, claiming of masturbation-related deaths “such a victim literally dies by his own hand,” among other condemnations. He felt that masturbation destroyed not only physical and mental health, but the moral health of individuals as well.

Dr. Kellogg thought that masturbation caused cancer, epilepsy, insanity, and, according to Wikipedia, “dimness of vision.” Yep. Keep it up and you’ll go blind.

Given the doctor’s views, something had to be done to fix things:

Kellogg worked on the rehabilitation of masturbators, often employing extreme measures, even mutilation, on both sexes. He was an advocate of circumcising young boys to curb masturbation and applying phenol (carbolic acid) to a young woman’s clitoris.

He also creatively applied “one or more silver sutures” to the penis in order to make erections “impossible,” therefore,

the slight irritation thus produced acts as a most powerful means of overcoming the disposition to resort to the practice.

This guy was serious:

He also recommended, to prevent children from this “solitary vice”, bandaging or tying their hands, covering their genitals with patented cages and electrical shock.

In his Ladies’ Guide in Health and Disease, for nymphomania, he recommended “Cool sitz baths; the cool enema; a spare diet; the application of blisters and other irritants to the sensitive parts of the sexual organs, the removal of the clitoris and nymphae…

In Teaching America About Sex: Marriage Guides and Sex Manuals from the Late Victorians to Dr. Ruth , the authors, M.E. Melody and Linda Peterson, try to explain Dr. Kellogg’s work:

Kellogg certainly was not deluded. Part of the American tradition includes a view of a righteous God who punishes moral transgressions. In Kellogg’s view, these transgressions are acts of treason against divine governance and, hence, call for decisive responses. Though his teaching about masturbation seems extreme, the act must be understood as rebellion against divine governance, an ostensibly minor event that can, if amplified, cause the destruction of nations.

Masturbation can cause “the destruction of nations”? I remind you that Speaker John Boehner told a gathering of religious broadcasters two years ago:

Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country.

If all this is a little too much for you, good. It’s too much for me too. I share with you Dr. Kellogg’s zeal against onanism because I see a similar zeal among Republicans regarding, as I said, what they see as our national bad habit of pleasuring ourselves with federal dollars. They want to stop it, and if it means using the fiscal equivalents of silver sutures and carbolic acid and cool enemas and a spare diet—the sequester—then so be it.

Meanwhile, economist Paul Krugman—who has been under fire from the austerity doctors on TV and radio and in print—has exactly the right take on the sequestration mess:

The right policy would be to forget about the whole thing. America doesn’t face a deficit crisis, nor will it face such a crisis anytime soon. Meanwhile, we have a weak economy that is recovering far too slowly from the recession that began in 2007. And, as Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, recently emphasized, one main reason for the sluggish recovery is that government spending has been far weaker in this business cycle than in the past. We should be spending more, not less, until we’re close to full employment; the sequester is exactly what the doctor didn’t order.

What You May Not Know About The Debt But Should

“Can we now start talking about unemployment?”

—Paul Krugman

for almost four years now, we have argued back and forth on this blog about deficits and debts and jobs.

My position, and one that seems stunningly obvious to me, has always been that jobs and the economic recovery deserve precedence over debt reduction, even though long-term debt is a problem that has to be addressed.

For those of you who don’t follow Brad DeLong, the professor of economics from Berkeley, you are missing something valuable in the debate you see on television or read in the paper every day, almost all of that debate focused solely on deficit reduction. (Go here and read DeLong’s bona fides, if you think he’s just another liberal economist.)

Sunday, DeLong posted a blog entry with the title,

NO, WE DON’T REALLY NEED ANY MORE DEFICIT REDUCTION UNTIL 2020

He borrowed from Paul Krugman, who borrowed from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (peer review?), this graph:

deficit reduction and stabilization

[Note: BCA is the Budget Control Act of 2011 (that "settled" the first debt-ceiling fight and which brought us the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of 2012) and ATRA is the American Taxpayer Relief Act, signed on January 2 of this year (the fiscal-cliff "settlement").]

Here is Krugman’s description of the graph:

The vertical axis measures the projected ratio of federal debt to GDP. The blue line at the top represents the projected path of that ratio as of early 2011 — that is, before recent agreements on spending cuts and tax increases. This projection showed a rising path for debt as far as the eye could see.

And just about all budget discussion in Washington and the news media is laid out as if that were still the case. But a lot has happened since then. The orange line shows the effects of those spending cuts and tax hikes: As long as the economy recovers, which is an assumption built into all these projections, the debt ratio will more or less stabilize soon.*

Krugman makes the point that,

for the next decade, the debt outlook actually doesn’t look all that bad.

True, there are projected problems further down the road, mainly because of the continuing effects of an aging population. But it still comes as something of a shock to realize that at this point reasonable projections do not, repeat do not, show anything resembling the runaway deficit crisis that is a staple of almost everything you hear, including supposedly objective news reporting.

We know that most Beltway journalists have bought into the hype over deficits and debts, since that is just about all that Republicans want to talk about now that they aren’t in the White’s House. But the focus of congressional and presidential efforts in the short term should be on keeping the economy stimulated enough to really catch fire.

Brad DeLong offers this stinging rebuke of the President:

In focusing in 2013 on further deficit-reduction deals rather than on policies to boost employment growth and infrastructure investment, President Obama is making yet another hideous economic policy mistake.

Now, to be fair to Mr. Obama, he can’t entirely control the debate. He has constantly talked about the dangers of deep cuts in government spending and the need to keep the economic recovery going.

But he faces stiff opposition in Congress from austerity-drunk Republican teapartiers who are aided and abetted by an establishment press, a press that pushes on the public the weird idea that we are going to bleed to death if we don’t slit our throats now.

You figure it out. I can’t.

In the mean time, we need to stop worrying about the damn deficit for a while and start worrying, even exclusively worrying, about jobs and economic growth.

_______________________

* For budget geeks: About that red line on the graph above, the one that shows deficits leveling out as a percentage of the economy, that was the point of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities original piece, which explained it this way:

Achieving $1.4 trillion in additional deficit savings would stabilize the debt at about 73 percent of GDP by 2018.  Some analysts prefer a lower debt ratio, such as 60 percent of GDP, a goal that the European Union and the International Monetary Fund adopted some years ago.  No economic evidence supports this — or any other — specific target, however, and IMF staff have made clear that the 60 percent criterion is an arbitrary one.  In addition, even if such a target were the best one before the recent severe economic downturn pushed up debt substantially in most advanced countries, it would not necessarily be an appropriate target for debt over the next ten years, given the severity of the downturn and continued economic weakness.  The critical goal now is to stabilize the debt in the coming decade.

Obama: A Little League Socialist

Here was the headline on HuffPo on Wednesday afternoon:

Jay Carney: Don’t ‘Buy Into The B.S.’ From GOP About Obama’s Spending Record

That story began:

WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had some advice for reporters on Wednesday when it comes to covering President Barack Obama’s record on spending: “Don’t buy into the B.S.” 

And then there was this headline from ABC News on Wednesday evening:

President Obama Denounces Republican ‘Wild Debts’: I’m Not an Over-Spender

Obama was quoted in the story:

I’m running to pay down our debt in a way that’s balanced and responsible. After inheriting a $1 trillion deficit, I signed $2 trillion of spending cuts into law. My opponent won’t admit it, but it’s starting to appear in places, like real liberal outlets, like the Wall Street Journal: Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace  in nearly 60 years. Think about that.

What was all the fuss about? What was Obama referencing? It was the following, from The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch early Wednesday morning:

Obama spending binge never happened

Commentary: Government outlays rising at slowest pace since 1950s

Here’s how the story began:

As would-be president Mitt Romney tells it: “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.”

Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true.

But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.

Now, we have discussed all this several times, but here is yet another graph from the WSJ piece to refresh your memory:

As you can plainly see, Obama is in the Little League of federal spending growth (and, by the way, so was Bill Clinton; the Big Leaguers, Reagan and both Bushes should all be in the spending Hall of Fame).

Let’s face it, being a Little League spender ain’t good for a President who is night and day labeled by right-wingers as at least a socialist, if not a secret Communist who will, if given a second term, unleash his diabolical European fury on the country.

Joe Scarborough blathered on this morning about how “government keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger” and referenced “the explosive size of government.”

Well, if that is true—and don’t forget that federal revenues as a percentage of our GDP in the Obama years is lower than any time since 1950 and state and local revenues have been fairly consistent since 1990—it is not Barack Obama who has made it so.

He is simply the dubious beneficiary of policies the basis of which relied on voodoo economics: cut taxes and, voilà, the economy and government revenues will grow, grow, grow enough to pay for two protracted wars, a brand new—ever growing—Homeland Security bureaucracy, a new prescription drug entitlement program, as well as the rest of what government does.

Let’s quickly look at federal spending since 2002, also from the WSJ article:

Clearly those blue lines were dictated by the red lines that came before and not some devilish creation of that wicked, big-spending socialist in the White’s House.

So, as Jay Carney said, don’t “buy into the B.S.” because, as the President said himself:

Missourians Mooing Over Sacred Cows

Let’s start with this:

The U.S. Department of Defense has been pressed to cut its budget by President Barack Obama and by a compromise Congress passed last summer to raise the federal debt ceiling.

To make those cuts, the Defense Department recently submitted to Congress a budget that requests authority to do base closures and realignments in 2013 and 2015.

At a Senate hearing in Washington last month, Undersecretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn said base closures are needed as the U.S. draws down operations in Iraq and elsewhere overseas.

“The math is straightforward,” she said. “Force reductions produce excess capacity, excess capacity is a drain-on resources.”

Now, with all the talk out there about cutting the deficit and reducing the debt our children will have to pay one day, all of the above sounds like a common sense way to reduce federal government spending, right?

Wrong.

Vicki Hartzler, Todd Akin, and Blaine Luetkemeyer are three of the most conservative legislators in the House of Representatives, if not the Milky Way.

All have enthusiastically supported the Ryan-Romney budget plan, which Paul Krugman characterized as possessing “inconceivably cruel priorities.” All three are enemies of Big Gov’ment. All three have pledged to save our kids from deficit spending.

Here is Hartzler from her website:

It is time to get runaway spending under control. The current situation is simply not acceptable…It is immoral to keep borrowing today and to pass the bill along to future generations…The U.S. Constitution puts forth a very lean vision of government…

Here’s Akin’s website blowing on about how the Congressman is gonna chop down the big government tree:

Every dollar of new deficit spending represents new compounded interest that this generation’s children – or their children – will have to confront…As a member of the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee, the Congressman continually works on solutions to actually reduce the size of government while performing core government responsibilities more efficiently.

Luetkemeyer says:

Over the past few years, the federal government has ballooned to an unsustainable level and has spent taxpayer dollars recklessly. ..Because of the federal government’s out-of-control spending, I have supported numerous measures to freeze funding for, and often cut, federal programs.

Now, after all that deficit hawk-talk, one might be surprised to read this:

Jefferson City —Three more members of Missouri’s congressional delegation on Wednesday signaled their opposition to possible military base closures or realignments in the state, moves that are being considered as the federal government looks for ways to save more money.

Guess who those “three more members” were. Yep:

Speaking at the Missouri Capitol, Republican U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler told a crowd of businesspeople, state and local officials and former military personnel that programs at Whiteman Air Force Base and Ft. Leonard Wood are too important for military planners to consider either for cutbacks or closures.

They are “too important” because:

Hartzler’s western Missouri district encompasses both of the state’s biggest military installations. The freshman congresswoman was joined at the state Capitol by fellow Republican U.S. Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer and Todd Akin, who is running for U.S. Senate this year.

This kind of fiscal duplicity is not uncommon on the right. They do this stuff all the time. They don’t mind cutting government to the bone, as long as the bone is on a part of the body they’re not using.

And to be fair, our own Senator McCaskill, who has fashioned herself as a Democratic deficit hawk,  has come out strongly against the potential base closings here in Missouri. She reportedly said at that Senate hearing in March that there was “absolutely no room for compromise” on the issue of base closings.

An item on her website dated March 21, 2012, began this way:

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill told top military officials today that, as Chairman of the Senate panel with jurisdiction over base closures, she will not allow any plan to move forward this year to close U.S. military bases here at home.

Because Missourians are slowly advancing themselves into the 19th century, McCaskill, who is up for reelection this year, has had to loudly demonstrate how serious she is about cutting the budget. Here is a blurb from her site:

Claire believes the growing national debt is a huge danger to our children’s future. If left unchecked, it will weaken the economy and give too much influence to foreign creditors. She thinks the federal government needs to eliminate wasteful spending and return to the sound fiscal practices that produced budget surpluses in the 1990s.

Again, it appears that “wasteful spending” is not wasteful if it happens in Missouri and “sound fiscal practices” are those practices that should be soundly practiced in other states.

But it would be a mistake to completely equate McCaskill’s position on the base closing issue with that of her conservative colleagues, mainly because she at least supports increasing revenues to help pay for keeping military installations open in Missouri.

All of our Missouri Republicans in Congress—and I mean all of them—are opposed to raising taxes to actually pay for our state’s sacred cows. They just want to slash federal spending  by slaughtering other state’s sacred cows.

In the mean time, with no new revenues and no one willing to kill their own cows, all those cows need more and more hay.

And judging by the way the deficit hawks reacted to only potential base closings here in Missouri, our kids’ haybarn still has plenty to plunder.

Get Serious About Getting Serious

I had high hopes when I saw this editorial in Sunday’s Joplin Globe:

Ah, I thought, the paper is finally coming around to the truth about Republicans. The editorial even included this paragraph about our future debt to GDP ratio under the various budgets proposed by the presidential players:

Under Obama’s proposal, it will rise to 80 percent by 2021. Mitt Romney’s policies would push that to 86 percent of GDP through 2021. Rick Santorum’s policy would take it to 104 percent and Newt Gingrich would have us at 114 percent, the group concluded…

In this group, Obama is the fiscal hawk, which should at least earn him some drive-by love from the Globe, which endorsed him in 2008. But nope. No love for Big O was forthcoming. But what was forthcoming was something that made the title of the editorial—”Get serious!”—seriously ironic:

Cutting taxes is the right medicine, if for no other reason than to keep it out of the hands of the spending junkies in Washington. Still, that won’t be enough — deep cuts are called for, too.

Now, it is hard to overstate the utter unseriousness behind these two sentences. The paper is saying that we should cut taxes—even though federal revenue is already at a 60-year low—andStill, that won’t be enough…” What? Without argument, without evidence, the writer, enchanted by some sort of supply-side fantasy, assumes that cutting taxes automatically results in increased revenue.

Haven’t we seen that movie enough times to know by now how it ends? Does anyone watch Gone With The Wind thinking that maybe this time Rhett and Scarlett will live happily ever after together?

In any case, the government is starving for additional revenue. We are in fact a low-tax country. Here are total federal receipts and total federal outlays as a percentage of GDP for the years 2009-2011:

YEAR               RECEIPTS            OUTLAYS

2009                 15.1                          25.2

2010                 15.1                           24.1

2011                 15.4                          24.1

Since WW II, only the years 1949 (14.5%) and 1950 (14.4%) saw years in which receipts were less than any of the above three years. And those years saw outlays of only 14.3% and 15.6% respectively.

The Globe editorial suggested that a “fundamental change” is needed “in the vision the American people have for their federal government.” No, it is not. People already have a vision for their federal government, much of which they like. What they lack is a second vision of how to pay for their first vision, and unserious editorials from the Joplin Globe won’t help them form one.

If tax increases are off the table, if tax cuts and the necessarily drastic spending cuts they would necessitate are instead offered as “the right medicine,” then the patient will never get well.

_______________________

Here are some helpful charts from the Center for American Progress:

“Budget Honesty”

We have tilled this ground plenty of times on this blog, but it bears occasional re-tilling, as Republicans plant weeds of deception, and especially now that President Obama has released his budget for fiscal year 2013, which Republicans have already attacked as “Debt on Arrival.”

I will post yet again the now-famous chart demonstrating what is driving our ongoing deficits and thus our national debt over the near and mid-term:

This image needs no explanation from me. It’s pretty clear that past policy decisions have ongoing consequences, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

But I will point out, via Steve Benen and Brian Beutler, an important feature of Obama’s 2013 budget that will likely get overlooked. Benen explains:

Deficit: Obama would use higher taxes on the wealthy, and fewer tax subsidies for oil companies, to help bring down the deficit. Overall, the White House plan would reduce the deficit by about $4 trillion over the next decade, though the White House plan prioritizes economic growth in the short term, and leaves debt reduction for another day.

* Striking a chord for budget honesty: If the White House were more inclined to rely on gimmicks, the deficit figures would look a lot better. Whereas Bush/Cheney consistently chose to ignore the cost of wars, the Medicare “doc fix,” and AMT costs to make it appear they were keeping deficits down, Obama’s team is playing it straight. This matters: “If the Obama White House had budgeted for 2013 and beyond the way Mr. Bush had, its deficit forecast for 2022 would have been $167 billion, or 0.7 percent of the economy. Instead, because White House budget writers are adjusting for such costs, the deficit is forecast to be 2.8 percent of the economy that year, $704 billion.”

That last quote is from the very last paragraph in a New York Times article (“Republicans See Broken Promises and Gimmicks in Obama Budget“) noting the extensive, if false, charges by Republicans against Mr. Obama’s budget.  Now, if the Times was truly a guardian of liberal orthodoxy, perhaps the above paragraph would have at the beginning of such an article, not the end.

Let’s look at part of that quote again:

If the Obama White House had budgeted for 2013 and beyond the way Mr. Bush had, its deficit forecast for 2022 would have been $167 billion, or 0.7 percent of the economy. 

That piece of information should be a starting point for any discussion about Mr. Obama’s budget or about deficit spending comparisons between Bush and Obama, but unfortunately it won’t.

In any case, Mr. Obama’s budget is in line with his mostly centrist philosophy, generally supported by the American people, of requiring those who have benefited most (including rich-beyond-imagination oil companies) to chip in a little more to help pay for needed investments in things like infrastructure and education and job-training and a viable safety net, as well as helping cut the deficit.

While the American people will have the last word, Mr. Obama’s budget philosophy will contrast sharply with that of Republicans, who have fought and will continue to fight with Talibanic fervor to protect the wealthiest Americans from even the slightest increase in taxes, while proposing devastating cuts to social programs that will make life harder for many Americans who already are fighting to overcome past Republican policy decisions.

A Tale Of Two Styles

Over the past couple of days, two people I highly respect, Barack Obama and Paul Krugman,  have succinctly and accurately laid out some rather simple solutions to our long-term debt problems. 

First the President:

When it comes to getting a sustainable debt level, if we went back to the rates that existed when Bill Clinton was President and we made some modest adjustments to Medicare that preserved the integrity of the system, our long-term debt and deficit problems would go away. And most people here wouldn’t notice those changes.

Here’s Krugman:

The truth is that as far as the straight economics goes, America’s long-run fiscal problems shouldn’t be all that hard to fix. It’s true that an aging population and rising health care costs will, under current policies, push spending up faster than tax receipts. But the United States has far higher health costs than any other advanced country, and very low taxes by international standards. If we could move even part way toward international norms on both these fronts, our budget problems would be solved.

Very similar, no?

But let’s look at how both men explain why those solutions won’t immediately be forthcoming.  First the President:

But we’ve become so dug in when it comes to sort of ideological purity that we’re not willing to make modest adjustments like that.

Get it? “We’ve become so dug in…” We. We. The implication is that both sides are dug in and thus equally to blame. And keep in mind that Mr. Obama’s remarks came at a DNC event!  If he can’t clearly name names there, where can he?

Now, Krugman’s view:

So why can’t we do that? Because we have a powerful political movement in this country that screamed “death panels” in the face of modest efforts to use Medicare funds more effectively, and preferred to risk financial catastrophe rather than agree to even a penny in additional revenues.

The real question facing America, even in purely fiscal terms, isn’t whether we’ll trim a trillion here or a trillion there from deficits. It is whether the extremists now blocking any kind of responsible policy can be defeated and marginalized.

There is no doubt who Mr. Krugman believes is responsible for the failure to solve the long-term problem.  There isn’t any “we” to blame.

As I said, I respect both men a great deal.  But until Mr. Obama starts talking like Paul Krugman—no matter what the pundits may say—a majority of the American people may take the “we” seriously in Mr. Obama’s analysis and conclude he is part of the problem.

Claire McCaskill: “This Fight Has Not Been About Nothing”

Missouri’s Senator Claire McCaskill, nobody’s liberal Democrat, appeared on Meet the Press this morning with South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune and she said this about the debt-ceiling brawl:

Here’s the bottom line: This fight has not been about nothing. This hasn’t just been political theater. There’s a philosophical difference here on the hill between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and it’s pretty simple: They have voted to keep giving taxpayer checks to big oil while they voted to convert the Medicare system to vouchers. Now, that doesn’t compute for us. How can you be more willing to push money—public money—to the most profitable corporations in the history of the world at the same time you’re willing to have smaller Medicare?

So, that’s really the fight here.

Yes, that’s the fight, as both sides acknowledge, including Senator Thune, a right-winger who represents 814,180 folks or 1/379 of the U.S. population. He has the power of, say, New York’s Charles Schumer, who represents more than 19 million folks or 1/16  of the population. (Missouri’s population is 1/51 of the total, so Claire McCaskill represents more than seven times the people as John Thune, but has no larger voice in our political system.)

Senator Thune was asked this question by David Gregory this morning:

GREGORY: Senator Thune, as  a Republican here, somebody who’s reportedly in play, what has to be in this agreement to get you to “yes”?

THUNE: Well, I think a couple of things, David. First, no taxes.

No taxes.”  No taxes first, and really, no taxes second, third, and on to infinity.  

Republican irresponsibility, as the debt-ceiling debacle demonstrates, knows no bounds.

This Is Not Your Daddy’s Poker Game Anymore

Normally, watching politics unfold is like watching a movie in which you know that before the last credits are run there will be some kind of acceptable denouement and the fun is watching the characters get there, watching the plot develop. 

But this fight over the debt ceiling is turning out to be something else.

Anyone who loves high-level politics, as I do, in a sense loves what’s been going on in Washington the past few weeks.  It’s intriguing, entertaining, even compelling. Politics is part art, part science, and part poker.

Mike Viqueira of NBC News reported today that someone from Chicago playfully said to President Obama after an event this morning that he had met him before and that the President owed him a poker game. Obama replied:

I’ve got a high-stakes game of poker going on right now.

Well, not exactly.  It’s sort of gone beyond poker.  In a poker game, in the end everyone gets up from the table, some as winners, some as losers, or all winning some and losing some and getting the most out of the opportunity. But they all get up.

We need new metaphors now.

Steven Rattner, financier and economic analyst—and the man who helped President Obama rescue the auto industry—was a guest this morning on Morning Joe. He had his own metaphor. He said the following in response to Joe Scarborough’s question as to how the current stalemate can get broken:

I wish I knew. You know, the problem with this is it’s like a form of economic terrorism. I imagine these tea party guys are like strapped with dynamite standing in the middle of times square at rush hour and saying, “You do it my way or we’re going to blow you up, ourselves up, and the whole country up with us.”

So, you tell me how those kinds of standoffs end.

Economic terrorism?  Hmm.  That can’t end well, can it?

 

The Boehner Two-Step Is In Trouble—With Republicans

Jim Jordan is the chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, a driving force behind the nuttery going on regarding the debt ceiling.  Our local representatives are members, naturally.

Of John Boehner’s latest two-step debt-ceiling proposal, Jordan said that he was “confident as of this morning that there were not 218 Republicans in support of this plan.” Why?

Because it doesn’t cut enough and it creates a pesky 12-member bipartisan committee that would be responsible for cutting the deficit as much as $1.8 trillion more than the initial $1.2 trillion Boehner proposes. The committee’s finding would go immediately to both floors for an up or down vote, without amendment.

And that’s the problem.

Jordan said that if six Democrats and one Republican on the committee decide to raise taxes as part of the mix to reduce the deficit, “you can’t keep that off the floor.”

And keeping any bill that would increase revenue off the floor—where it might actually pass—is more important than anything to House Tea Party Republicans, who, apparently, find perverse moral satisfaction in shielding the wealthy from tax fairness.

Obama’s Choice

“This is no way to run the greatest country on Earth.  It’s a dangerous game that we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now.  Not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake.  We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare.”

—Barack Obama, July 25, 2011

 

Mr. Obama is frustratingly rational.

What frustrates is his ongoing assumption that he is dealing with people who will respond to reasonable arguments like, say, when he quoted Jefferson last night:

“Every man cannot have his way in all things — without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.”

Thomas Jefferson never met Grover Norquist.

Or John Boehner.

Last night, during this moment of national import, the Speaker of the House took the opportunity to trash the President and tell monstrous lies, beginning with this one:

Millions are looking for work, have been for some time, and the spending binge going on in Washington is a big part of the reason why.

Who would write such a shockingly dishonest sentence, let alone stand before America as a leader of a once-great political party and utter it?

John Boehner.

He has now officially become the leader of the extremists in the GOP, those unreasonable souls whom George Will, Tea Party intellectual, praised this way in today’s Joplin Globe:

Their inflexibility astonishes and scandalizes Washington because it reflects the rarity of serene fidelity to campaign promises.

Leaving aside the false suggestion that the debt ceiling formed any part of the campaign in 2010, consider the fact that Will is praising inflexibility when the only way our country can be governed is by flexibility, by compromise. There is no other way to govern 300 million people.

Mr. Will can extol teapartiers’ “serene fidelity”—I’m sure all extremists possess it—but many of us see people who not only won’t bend in the slightest to the will of the other side, they won’t even bend to the will of the country, whose people want—by a substantial majority—a compromise that includes revenue increases.

Tea Party zealots, as President Obama surely realizes by now, are giddy over the idea that they have a rather dear hostage tied up in their ideological basement: The economic health of the United States and by extension the working class and the most vulnerable of Americans.

And what all of us need to remember is that these zealots, far from any known region of rationality, are willing to shoot that hostage right between the eyes and proudly and defiantly walk into the 2012 elections with blood spatters on their hands.

Boehner fibbed too when he said about the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act that it was passed “with bipartisan support,” knowing that only five Democrats supported it. As I have previously suggested, it is nearly twice as accurate to characterize it as having bipartisan opposition, since nine Republicans sensibly voted against it.  But such dishonesty is trivial compared to the deceit involved in the conservative insistence that the budget can be balanced without additional revenues.

The Speaker also said this:

I want you to know I made a sincere effort to work with the president to identify a path forward that would implement the principles of Cut, Cap, & Balance in a manner that could secure bipartisan support and be signed into law. I gave it my all.

His all?  No one, including the Speaker himself, believed that that extremist piece of legislation—its radical “principles” dreamed up just a few months ago by inflexible ideologues—ever had a chance to get through the Senate, let alone get to the President, since it would have ripped gaping holes in America’s social safety net.

And dubious is Mr. Boehner’s suggestion that the latest scheme he and Eric Cantor have dreamed up—the two-step approach designed as a political instrument to bludgeon the President in six months with the same kind of foamy-mouth zealotry we have seen the last six months—”can and will pass the Senate.”

Hell, he’s not even sure he can get most of the foamy-mouth zealots in his own caucus to vote for it. 

In any case, President Obama’s address last night was obviously a way of urging the people most affected by a debt default—the hostages—to get involved in the process and try to talk the hostage-takers into releasing them.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen.

The hammer is cocked.  In their zealotry, the perpetrators of this crime believe that pulling the trigger may be the only way of getting the larger job done: a revolutionary retreat into pre-New Deal America, where the moneyed class will enjoy the bounty while the rest of us eat their scraps.

As for President Obama, he will have to decide whether he will play it safe and pay the ransom to political fanatics in Congress or be the champion of the following point of view, which he described last night:

Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get.  How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries?  How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?  

That’s not right.  It’s not fair. 

No, it’s not right and it’s not fair, Mr. Obama. So how can you put your name on it?

 

“Bipartisan” Opposition to Cut, Cap, and Kill Doesn’t Faze Boehner

Possibly just to demonstrate how unserious he is, John Boehner issued this tweet today:

Bipartisan plan? I heard Kevin McCarthy, House GOP Majority Whip, say essentially the same thing this morning to NBC’s Chuck Todd, and I’ve heard many Republicans refer to the legislation as “bipartisan.”  Since I’ve already written negatively about the the budget-slashing, New Deal-killing bill known here as Cut, Cap and Kill, let’s look at the claim that the bill that passed the House was bipartisan.

H.R. 2560, The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011, passed the House on July 19 by a vote of 234 to 190, with a not-so-staggering 5 Democrats voting with the Ayes.  And I must point out that one of those Democrats—David Boren of neighboring Oklahoma—is no more a Democrat than Ozark Billy Long, with whom he shares a similar voting record in the House. But I’ll be generous and throw in Boren as a Democrat, which means that 98% of the Ayes were official Republicans.

Now, there are 193 Democrats in the House and the five who voted with the GOP represents 2.5% of the caucus.  That means that 97.5% of Democrats voted against the constitutional monstrosity.

But I want to make a larger point about this bipartisan nonsense.  Using the standards of John Boehner and the House Republicans, the opposition to the Cut, Cap, and Balance bill was decidedly more bipartisan than the support for it.  There were nine—count ‘em—nine Republicans (3.7% of their caucus) who voted against the bill.

So, we can say that the bipartisan opposition to Cut, Cap, and Kill was nearly twice as strong as the so-called bipartisan support for it.

Tweet that, Mr. Boehner.

Remarks And Asides, Debt Ceiling Edition

Obama still insists on a debt ceiling deal that goes beyond the 2012 election and Speaker John Boehner has newly offered a deal to, what else, raise the debt ceiling for only six months, so as to embarrass the President and gain political advantage later on during the 2012 election cycle. 

Now, that’s responsible governing.

And Tea Party spokesman Eric Cantor is in favor of the short-term proposal, apparently saying to the GOP House caucus that Obama’s insistence on a long-term deal is “purely political and indefensible, ” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Problem is, as Think Progress points out,  Eric Cantor opposed such a short-term deal just a short term ago, saying, “Putting off tough decisions is not what people want in this town.”

The Keystone Kops were more competent than this bunch of GOP “leaders.”  By the way, it has now been more than 200 days since the House Republicans took over, promising jobs, jobs, jobs.  They haven’t even offered a jobs bill, let alone produced a single job outside of Grover Norquist’s TV-booking secretary.

______________________________

Meanwhile, feeling left out, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi)—who agree that Boehner’s short-term offering is a “non-starter“—offered yet another proposal:

In an effort to reach a bipartisan compromise, we are putting together a $2.7 trillion deficit reduction package that meets Republicans’ two major criteria: it will include enough spending cuts to meet or exceed the amount of a debt ceiling raise through the end of 2012, and it will not include revenues. We hope Speaker Boehner will abandon his ‘my way or the highway’ approach, and join us in forging a bipartisan compromise along these lines.”

There you have it. In order to protect Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries from ravenous Republicans, as well as preserve the turtlish economic recovery, if not the economy itself, Democrats are willing to concede game, set, and match to the Republicans.

Except that the game, set, and match in which Republicans in the House appear to be interested involves the very social programs that Democrats vow to protect—with support from large majorities of the American people.

_______________________________

Related to all this is Teresa Tritch’s post on Saturday in The New York Times, which featured these two graphs, a study of which will reveal “How the Deficit Got This Big,” the title of Tritch’s piece:

__________________________________________________________

 ________________________________

Finally, as the world turns, foreign markets were down as the U.S. appears to be ungovernable, gold—the currency of uncertainty—hits  a record high, and the so-called safe haven paper currency of choice is decidedly not the U.S dollar, at least today, for obvious reasons.  

Once upon at time, before the advent of the Tea Party, the following was true:

When the world is in turmoil, investors have usually had one automatic response: Put money into dollars, viewed as the global safe harbor.

What does the world do when the turmoil is in the home of the ultimate safe haven for investors?

Well, no one is panicking yet, but the clock is ticking.  Either today, after trading in the U.S. begins, or sometimes this week, Wall Street will send a message to the GOP: Stop the madness.

Obama, Lincolnesque

It’s hard to know what it happening behind the scenes regarding negotiations over the debt ceiling, but we know that folks on the outside looking in—liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans—are worried about negotiators on their side giving up basic principles in order to make a deal.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There is no moral equivalency here.  Liberal Democrats are worried that “the big three,” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicare, are under attack, and they don’t much appreciate that President Obama seems willing to at least consider unpleasant cuts to those social programs. 

But that can’t be compared morally with Republicans worrying about keeping taxes low on the wealthy, whether individuals or corporations, or their willingness to risk incapacitating the economy in order to get their tried-and-failed way.  They are a disgusting group, this hard-headed, ideologically-centric band of know-nothings.

How this debt-ceiling thing turns out in the end is unpredictable at this time.  And I know liberals are starting to squirm, and some are starting to squawk, about President Obama’s deal-making skills, and his commitment to hard-bargaining with non-compromising negotiators in the House. 

I feel their pain.

But President Obama’s nature is not to gamble irresponsibly with such things as the full faith and credit of the United States, even if his political opponents are.  His nature is not to risk an economic calamity, that would harm most the very people that liberals want to protect, even if Tea Party Republicans don’t give a flying puck about that economic calamity.  In short, he is seeking the best compromise possible in order to save our economic system from the reckless, ideology-crazed conservatives in Congress.

His discussion this morning at a Town Hall event in Maryland included talk of Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.  He has used Lincoln’s willingness to compromise on the issue of slavery before, so it’s a good bet he has Lincoln’s example at the top of his head, as he seeks to avert economic catastrophe.   He pointed out that Lincoln was willing to settle for only outlawing slavery in rebel states as a means of preserving the union and finishing the fight,  a fight which eventually ended with not only the preservation of the Union, but slavery completely abolished.

I think Obama sees this fight much the same way:  Advance things by compromising, even to the point of making some supporters—like me—angry, in order to keep fighting—fighting that will continue through the 2012 campaign—because he believes he can ultimately win the fight for the Democratic vision of the country.

We shall see about that. Much of it will depend on how far he goes to appease unappeasable opponents.

Some things we are not willing to sacrifice,” Obama said today, but “In the mean time, we have a responsibility to do our job.”  Like Lincoln who gave the South every chance to avoid the Civil War, Mr. Obama is giving Republicans every chance to avoid the catastrophe that what would follow a loss of confidence in America’s fiscal sanity.

It’s easy, and understandable, for liberals in the Democratic Party to voice their concerns over what is happening.  After all, most of this fight is taking place on conservative ground.  But what would they—we—have Obama do?  A majority of the American people—including those who didn’t vote—put radical conservatives in charge of the House and gave them filibuster power in the Senate.  The American people.

This is a delicate situation, both economically and politically.  If Obama sent the signal that he was completely dug in on his side, the markets would react negatively and the economy would already start sinking.  He has to be the grownup. He has to be the pea-eater.

In the end, though, there has to be a line he won’t cross.  Lincoln had his, and the South called what turned out to be not his bluff.  Let’s hope that, as Obama said two weeks ago, Republicans won’t call his bluff.

All liberals can do is hope he is not bluffing, and that he will not surrender.

“Let The Date Come And Go,” Says Billy Long

Colonel Ozark Billy Long has spoken and there is no need to worry about any darn debt default.

An article in the Springfield News-Leader quoted Southwest Missouri’s Tea Party Republican representative as saying,

“We are not going to raise the debt limit and they need to know that now instead of August 2nd,” Long said, accusing Geithner of picking that date “out of the clouds.”

Out of the clouds.  Geithner just picked that date out of the clouds.  Except that the story reported this:

Long and others have suggested that picking a date right before the recess was a political move.

Well, that doesn’t sound like it was picked out of the clouds, does it?  Sounds like Geithner picked it off the congressional calendar. 

In any case, facts are unwelcome guests in Ozark Billy’s world because it isn’t just Tim Geithner who believes the threat of default is real.  Wall Street bankers and investors and the Chamber of Commerce and even Karl Rove admits there is trouble coming, if nothing is done.

But Long doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care that interest rates will rise, costing our country uncountable billions in debt service. He doesn’t care that significant parts of the government would have to shut down in order to keep paying Social Security and Medicare benefits for the month, as well as interest to bondholders.

Nope. He doesn’t care:

“Let the date come and go,” Long said, brushing off the threat of a default and comments President Obama made earlier this week about the nation being unable to pay its bills, including Social Security checks to seniors.

“That’s going to be on the president,” Long said. “There is money there. He can pay what he wants to pay, and if he doesn’t pay, that’s his bluff.”

Bluff?  You see it’s just another poker game to Ozark Billy, who has a special place in his heart for gambling. It’s easy to play games with the lives of others, if you have nothing personal at stake.  If Social Security checks don’t go out to residents of Southwest Missouri, the Colonel won’t feel a thing. Or, more likely, if other essential agencies of the federal government shut down, what is that to Ozark Billy?

And certainly if interest rates rise—not just for the country but for individual borrowers—what does it matter to an independently wealthy congressman from a blood red district whose voters hate the government anyway?

Well, God would that we could test Long’s theory of indifference to a debt default.  God would that Obama, if there is no deal on the debt limit, would have the unthinkable audacity to stop payment of Social Security and Medicare benefits to registered Republicans in Southwest Missouri.  Wouldn’t that be fun, Tea Party fans?

Long’s glittering ignorance was captured by the article:

“When I went home last weekend, everyone came up to me and said, ‘Don’t raise taxes. Don’t raise the debt ceiling. Don’t raise taxes. Don’t raise the debt ceiling,’” Long said. “All the congressmen are hearing the same thing in their districts. We’ve spent too much money that we don’t have and there has to be a comeuppance.”

Raising the debt ceiling, however, doesn’t authorize future spending; it allows the government to pay existing obligations. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and a host of economists have warned that if the U.S. were to default on its loans, the result could be catastrophic.

Long said 51 percent of all calls, emails, and letters coming into his office are opposed to raising the debt ceiling under any circumstance,” the article reports.  I suppose if a majority of calls coming in were in favor of, say, stifling free speech, then Ozark Billy would be on board the Repeal the First Amendment bandwagon. 

Anyway, if you want to make your voice heard on this matter, whether or not the Colonel will listen, you can contact him via his website here, or here:

Washington Office
1541 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6536
Fax: (202) 225-5604
Mo-Fri 8AM-5PM CT

Springfield Office
3232 E. Ridgeview St.
Springfield, MO 65804
Phone: (417) 889-1800
Fax: (417) 889-4915
Mo-Fri 8AM-5PM CT

Joplin Office
2727 E. 32nd St. Ste. 2
Joplin, MO 64804
Phone: (417) 781-1041
Fax: (417) 781-2832
Mo-Fri 8AM-5PM CT

You can also contact Senator Roy Blunt, who also isn’t that worried about the debt ceiling, here or here:

Washington, D.C. Office
260 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5721
Fax: (202) 224-8149

Springfield Office                                                                                                                     2740 B East Sunshine
Springfield, MO 65804
Phone: (417) 877-7814
Fax:(417)-823-9662

Or, there is another way: You can go to ProgressMissouri and follow the directions, and while there possibly contribute.

Does President Obama “Own The Debt-Ceiling Fiasco”? Nope.

A commenter wrote in to ask my opinion of Karl Rove’s article in The Wall Street Journal the other day, titled Obama Owns the Debt-Ceiling Fiasco.  The commenter, Randy, wrote that the article,

Seems spot on to me, but I am open to other perspectives.

Okay. Here is another perspective:

Randy,

I’m afraid I have to concur with HLG who said that,

Karl Rove is an amoral bald-faced-liar that even when he appears to be telling the truth (which he does so rarely), he still can’t be trusted.

Let me tell you what the Rove piece was designed to do: Tell Republicans to look like they’re fighting hard for a deal, go ahead and cave in at the last minute in some fashion, and the GOP and GOP outside support groups, flush with cash from anonymous donors, will see to it that the 2012 campaign is all about how Obama doesn’t care about the deficit because he is an “incompetent liberal,” à la Jimmy Carter.

Rove begins his piece, filled with little untruths, with this truth:

President Barack Obama and Congress face a mess if the federal government hits the debt ceiling Aug. 2.

In terms of truth-telling, it’s all downhill from there. He says that,

This would be a disaster with no political winners.

Oh, yes, there would be political winners, depending on what the House of Representatives does.  Mr. Obama, whatever you or Rove think of his sincerity, has made it clear to that small segment of the American people paying attention, that he has tried to reason with unreasonable Republicans. If this ship goes down, the culprits will be easily found, tried, and convicted.

You see, Randy, there will always be this fact left over, after all the smoke has blown away from any potential crisis: Republicans refused to take a $4 trillion debt-ceiling deal, filled mostly with budget cuts, in order not to raise taxes slightly on the wealthy of this country

That’s it, Randy. That is how Democrats will sell this thing next year, one way or the other.  If a crisis ensues, the sell job will be easy because most people already know that Republicans today exist to protect the moneyed class. 

Indeed, the moneyed class has finally bought itself a political party, and Karl Rove is one of their spokesmen.  Which leads me to reveal the real reason Republicans like Rove and Mitch McConnell don’t want to take the generous offer Obama made them: It would instantly make President Obama look like he’s doing something big on the national debt, the GOP’s big wedge issue in 2012.

And for folks like Rove and McConnell, this is all about defeating Obama and gaining political power, not what is best for the country.

Duane

A Radically Simple Solution

If you missed today’s Obama presser, here is all you really need to know about what he said: 

We’re not Greece; we’re not Portugal…It turns out we don’t have to do anything radical to solve this problem.

We don’t need to “gut” social programs or stop investing in our country’s future, Obama said, what we need is,

modest adjustments to get our house in order.

Those modest adjustments, of course, must be put in place soon and must stay in place over time, but Obama—seemingly the only non-radical in Washington—calmly and rationally told the American people that, “We don’t need a Constitutional Amendment to do our jobs,” but only a commitment to do what Obama says “80% of the American people” want done: fix the debt problem with a balanced approach—a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.

In a weird sort of way, it really is that easy.  The truth is that we don’t need to do anything radical because the solution is radically simple: cut spending and raise taxes.

If only the radicals would shut up and govern.

Divided Loyalties

Ninety-seven percent of House Republicans and all but seven Republicans in the Senate have essentially taken two oaths, which I present below in both chronological order of execution and in order of primacy:

1.  To support and defend Grover Norquist in his effort to reduce government sufficiently so that he can “drown it in the bathtub.”

2.  To “support and defend the Constitution,” which includes the pledge to “faithfully discharge the duties of the office” on which they enter.

It is increasingly clear that Republicans, at least in the House, are not willing to discharge the duties of their office, faithfully or otherwise, but are willing to flush the country down the toilet in a spasm of misplaced loyalty to a life-long, wealthy right-wing activist, who stupidly said in 2009:

When I became 21, I decided that nobody learned anything about politics after the age of 21.

That’s the mental state of a man who is the most powerful Republican in the country.

Norquist’s ongoing claim to fame is his Americans for Tax Reform, which self-claims that it “was founded in 1985…at the request of President Reagan,” and which is responsible for the worst American domestic mischief of the past 30 years, outside of the 9/11 attacks.*

Here is the mission statement of this quasi-religious group:

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle.

We believe in a system in which taxes are simpler, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today.  The government’s power to control one’s life derives from its power to tax.  We believe that power should be minimized.

Now the sentiments expressed in that mission statement are supposedly the same sentiments that voters held as they swept into power the Norquistas in the Tea Party movement who now control the Republican Party.

Or are they the same sentiments?

Nate Silver, now with The New York Times, analyzed just-released Gallup poll data and came up with the following, in terms of people’s preferences for the proper mix of taxes and budget cuts as part of the deal to reduce the deficit: 

Silver also noted, incredibly, that “there is a larger ideological gap between House Republicans and Republican voters than there is between Republican voters and Democratic ones.”  He illustrated that ideological gap this way:

As you can see, House Republicans, with their anti-tax oath, have positioned themselves on the extreme, right where Grover Norquist, himself an extremist, wants them.

Unfortunately for Democrats, as Silver points out,

the mix of spending cuts and tax increases that Mr. Obama is offering is quite close to, or perhaps even a little to the right of, what the average Republican voter wants, let alone the average American.

And still that’s not good enough.

Mr. Obama has reportedly offered, under one ($2 trillion) scenario, a mix of 83% spending cuts to 17% tax increases.  The other scenario ($4 trillion)involves somewhere between 75 and 80% spending cuts.

Hopefully, this exceedingly generous and base-vexing offer is far as Obama will go.  But it appears fairly obvious that unless he is prepared to meet Republicans on the extreme, nothing he offers will cause House Republicans to get up off their collective knees, bent in loyalty to an anti-government fanatic, and fulfil their oath to do the right thing for their country.

_______________________________

* Interestingly, Norquist, who is married to a Muslim, has been viciously attacked by conservatives like Frank Gaffney and Pamela Geller and David Horowitz for his supposed connection to unseemly Muslim leaders, possibly including the Muslim Brotherhood. Don’t you just love these crazy folks?  Never mind that Norquist was in fact associated with a true criminal, former lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff, something that doesn’t seem to bother right-wingers.

Claire McCaskill Slams Mitch McConnell

“I think Mitch McConnell frankly has lost his mind.”

—Sen. Claire McCaskill

Claire McCaskill, facing a tough election next year to remain our senator from Missouri, appeared on Morning Joe this morning and put Mitch McConnell’s latest gambit on the debt ceiling in proper perspective.

If politics were professional wrestling—and it so often is—then she executed a perfect flying forearm smash on the scheming Republican Minority Leader:

Mitch, honestly, with a straight face, you do a press conference and say, “Here’s the solution to the problem: Let’s let the Democrats do it, and we want them to do it three times before the next election, and it’ll be okay with us if they do it as long as we don’t have to touch it.”

And people aren’t ridiculing that?

I mean, this is when we’re supposed to come together and show the country that we are capable of governing, not when we’re supposed to be figuring out what is the best strategy for “me” to become Majority Floor Leader. 

This is all about trying to take out me and a few others who are in tough states, so that Mitch can become the Majority Floor Leader…

Good for Claire, who has never had much trouble telling it like it is.

Is This Crisis Going To Waste?

Jim Wheeler, Globe blogger and frequent commenter here, wrote a piece (Into The Abyss) in which he severely criticized Republicans and mildly rebuked Democrats for their failure to use “a threatened national default” as motivation to tackle entitlement reform.

In other words, Mr. Wheeler doesn’t want this crisis to go to waste.

Here is my reply:

Jim,

I’m glad you singled out the President as the only “adult” in this mess.

Mr. Obama said on Monday,

Now is the time to do it.  If not now, when? 

He also made to liberals what I consider to be a powerful argument in favor of entitlement reform:

…if you’re a progressive who cares about the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and believes that it is part of what makes our country great that we look after our seniors and we look after the most vulnerable, then we have an obligation to make sure that we make those changes that are required to make it sustainable over the long term.

So the argument I’m making to my party is…if you care about those things, then you’ve got to be interested in figuring out how do we pay for that in a responsible way.

The problem with all that is that those on our side who respect Obama and Obama’s argument, don’t believe he is dealing with honest brokers on the other side.

Mitch McConnell has expressed several times his real priority, which is to oust Obama from office. John Boehner is too weak to make a deal, and Eric Cantor is after Boehner’s job and thus is motivated to thwart any genuine efforts on Boehner’s part to do the right thing.

That is why Obama’s position is a hard sell to liberals. We can’t fathom getting a “balanced” deal from the other side. We think Obama will have to cut way too deep and otherwise give away too much of what we value just to get Republicans to raise the debt limit. It’s last year’s hostage situation all over again, with more at stake this time.

And that is why I resent the use of defaulting on our debts as leverage to make a deal of this magnitude.  It’s not honest, as McConnell’s recent move revealed. Obama has made an unbelievably large offer that would cause him great difficulty among those who trust and support him, if Republicans chose to accept it.  But because Obama made the offer, because it came from his tainted lips, it is unacceptable. Republicans essentially want the cuts without giving anything in return.

Finally, if we believe in democracy, then we ought to let the people decide such large matters through elections. As I have argued before, both parties should cast the 2012 elections as a referendum on what kind of country voters want to live in.

Here are the choices on the domestic spending side:

Smaller government and lower taxes: Which means reduced Social Security and Medicare benefits and a rather severe reduction in Medicaid, reduced funding for education and infrastructure, etc.  Paul Ryan’s dissolution of the Medicare program for those under 55 is just one example of what the country would look like, if people choose this option.

Larger government with higher taxes: Which means making investments in education and infrastructure, etc., and tweaking Medicaid and Social Security to ensure their solvency. That leaves the real driver of long-term deficits and debt: Medicare. How do we fix it under this choice?  Well, more on that later, but suffice it for now to say this: Cost shifting of the kind Paul Ryan outlined is unacceptable; so, too, is perpetual tax increases, which could not keep up with the escalating costs.  Democrats will have to propose a fix along the lines of what Kevin Drum outlined:

We need something…that genuinely has an effect on healthcare costs. Something that reduces the amount we pay doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. Something that provides incentives for difficult end-of-life decisions. Something that makes credible tradeoffs between the cost of new treatments and the likely benefits. And something that gives taxpayers and patients alike a reason to care about all this. 

I’m in tune with your desire to do something about entitlements, Jim, but I’m skeptical of using the threat to ruin our credit (which would increase our debt problems through the increased cost of borrowing) and reversing our barely-discernible economic recovery as the way a democratic nation solves its problems.

A Modest Proposal

Most people don’t realize it yet, but if there is no deal to raise the debt ceiling by August 2, a massive shift of political power from the legislative branch to the executive branch will take place.

If Republicans fail to act responsibly and agree to increase the debt limit, they will in effect give President Obama and the Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, the authority to pay the nation’s bills with limited income.  Thus, Geithner and Obama will be forced to choose which bills get paid and which won’t. (Geithner’s already doing this now.)

Reportedly, after August 2  the Treasury Department will be about $120 billion short of paying our bills each month, if the debt ceiling is not raised.

Given that reality, here is a proposal (not  original) for how to operate in a post-August 2, no-deal environment. Call it political triage:

♦ Immediately gather a list of the reddest Republican counties in the United States, according to the 2010 “tea party” elections.

♦ Prepare to withhold all federal payments to those Republican-red counties, including Social Security and Medicare benefits to the residents of those counties.

♦ Then, should Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling, first pay all interest due to bondholders, then begin withholding federal funds to those red counties in descending order of redness until enough money is saved to prevent further borrowing.

There. That should do it.

I feel better already.

 

Obama’s Ace?

Yesterday,  regarding the debt ceiling negotiations, I mentioned that President Obama is a “shaky negotiator,” but I held out hope that, “he has an ace up his sleeve that would explain his willingness to give Republicans nearly everything they want…

Last night on The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell discussed what he thinks is Obama’s ace, a segment that is a must-see for every liberal, if nothing else, to give some comfort that there may be a method to the madness:

Punt, And Let The People Decide

“Eric Cantor did most of the talking.”

— Sen. Dick Durbin on Sunday’s 75-minute debt ceiling talks

Now that we have had today’s dueling press conferences, just before Obama and the Republicans gather once again to hear GOP leaders explain why they will not act responsibly on the debt ceiling issue, it’s time to understand exactly what is going on here.

♦ Republicans, long on talk about doing a big deal to meet head-on a big, falling-off-a-cliff debt crisis, are slinking back toward the smaller $2 trillion deal.  Obama favors doing “something big,” although it appears he can’t convince Republicans to follow him. Thus, the $4 trillion deal is likely history.

♦ John Boehner is perhaps the weakest Speaker of the House in history.  In fact, he’s not actually Speaker.  That job is now in the hands of Eric Cantor, who though he doesn’t have the title, does have a horde of wild teapartiers behind him who trust him to remain irresponsible by insisting that tax increases remain off the table. 

♦ Obama, a shaky negotiator, essentially ceded so much early ground to the Republicans, that instead of taking the deal of a political lifetime, GOP leadership senses that they can get Obama to blink at the last minute and they can get it all.  Let’s hope he has an ace up his sleeve that would explain his willingness to give Republicans nearly everything they want in exchange for, for, for….well, we’ll see.

♦ The Fourteenth Amendment escape hatch appears to be locked from the inside.  Last week, Tim Geithner reportedly told budget negotiators that the administration cannot constitutionally continue to keep the debt train going past the debt ceiling limit.  Thus, on the other side of the August 2 deadline awaits default and the economic naughtiness that goes with it.

♦ Republicans insist that it’s not wise to raise taxes on “job creators,” which is the way party spokesman refer to those with great wealth who have done very well through this otherwise anemic recovery.  Now, it’s not true, of course, that those alleged job creators will stop creating jobs if they get a tax hike. If it were true, we would right now have a thousand jobs for every applicant because taxes are at an all-time low. If there were an indisputable causal relationship between low taxes on the wealthy and overall employment, then it would also be hard to explain the boom during the late 1990s, when tax rates were higher on everyone.

♦ And besides that, as Obama made clear today, any tax increase would not take effect until 2013 and beyond.

♦ If Republicans do come to their senses and accept the deal of a lifetime, it will be difficult for Obama and the Democrats to sell it to the faithful, including me.  Mr. Obama used this phrase today:

We have agreed to a series of spending cuts that will make the government leaner, meaner…

I think most Democrats would agree that a government shaped by conservative recalcitrance would, indeed, be “meaner.” 

Aware of the difficulty of persuading people like me that he is right, Obama said this:

And so, yeah, we’re going to have a sales job; this is not pleasant.  It is hard to persuade people to do hard stuff that entails trimming benefits and increasing revenues.  But the reason we’ve got a problem right now is people keep on avoiding hard things, and I think now is the time for us to go ahead and take it on.

Okay. I can be persuaded.  If “trimming benefits” indeed means trimming and not scalping, and if “increasing revenues” means, among other things, eventually raising taxes on the wealthy to Clinton-era levels, then I am in. As the president said,

We have a system of government in which everybody has got to give a little bit.  

Yes. That is our system.  Or at least that was our system until it was hijacked by a band of teapartying brothers whose scorched earth economic policy allows no room for compromise, for giving even “a little bit.”

Look, President Obama is obviously trying to do the responsible thing for the American people, in terms of keeping Republicans from completely tanking the economy.  His presser today demonstrated that beyond question.  He is driving a clunker in these negotiations, thanks to the American people who put the Tea Party in charge of Washington. 

His main problem is that he is the executive in charge of the government and he has the most visible responsibility to make sure the full faith and credit of the United States remains intact, a responsibility he obviously takes very seriously.

I, as only one liberal, hope that he has the guts to say no to a bad deal, to a deal that only furthers the irresponsibility of the Republicans.  I have previously argued that the best deal to be made at this time is something that will get us through the 2012 elections.

Let’s punt it to the American people.

Then, both sides can present their plans and, with so much at stake, the American electorate can decide what kind of country they want to live in.

David Brooks Goes Far, But Not Far Enough

David Brooks, noted conservative columnist (although not many current conservatives note him or claim him, such has been the deterioration in conservative taste since the Age of Limbaugh), has put into words what most old-timey Republicans surely know in their hearts:

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independent voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

The joke, of course, is on David Brooks.  Other than himself, “responsible Republicans”—once part of a respectable class of politicians in this country—have shipped away not just American jobs but American common sense from our political shores.

The Republican Party may no longer be a normal party,” Brooks observes.  It has been “infected by a faction” we all know as the Tea Party, members of which:

“…do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms.” (And, as Brooks points out, the terms are very sweet indeed, thanks to less-than-stellar Democratic negotiating.)

“…do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities…” (Brooks was speaking of the gazillion economists who have told the GOP that their stance on the debt limit is nuts, but I prefer to think of how some teapartying folks disregard the intellectual authorities regarding evolution and climate change and other such “hoaxes.”)

“…have no economic theory worthy of the name…” (But they do have what Brooks calls a “sacred fixation” on tax policy, which is important, but not all important, and certainly not important enough to ruin our economic future.)

“…have no sense of moral decency…” (They are willing to “stain the nation’s honor,” Brooks says, by not acknowledging ” the “sacred pledge” we made when borrowing money.  That pledge, in case anyone with teabags hanging from their foam ballcaps has forgotten, has to do with paying the lenders back.) 

The problem with Brooks’ analysis here is that it doesn’t go far enough.  He says, obviously referencing the Tea Party, the faction that has infected the GOP and that is responsible for the irresponsibility of Republicans, happened “over the past few years.”  Not so.

The Tea Party movement is just the latest incarnation of the kind of distorted, perverted conservatism practiced for a generation now by wildly popular Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and promoted by Fox and the Murdoch empire. 

Talk radio and later Fox enabled those who infected the Republican Party and continues to push the idea that compromise—especially with a “socialist” in the White House—is a dirty word;  that scholars and intellectuals have a hidden “liberal” agenda and are not to be trusted; that during this era of historically low taxes, taxes are still too high; that moral decency means gays can’t get married, but fiddling with the full faith and credit of our country is okay.

Brooks claims the Republican Party is infected, when, really, the entire country—from “sea to shining sea,” as the ubiquitous Limbaugh says on his three-hours-a-day-five-days-a-week radio show—is to some degree or another ravaged by the disease.

Oddly, Brooks himself demonstrates just how far the sickness has spread, when he makes this point about Democrats:

Republican leaders have also proved to be effective negotiators. They have been tough and inflexible and forced the Democrats to come to them. The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.

Astonishing, indeed. And what have Democrats received for giving up so much ground to Republicans?

Nothing.  Nothing except more Republican irresponsibility, as they push Democrats, and more important, the economy to the brink of collapse.

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