The Adult Republican Argument?

Nicolle Wallace was a senior adviser to John McCain’s campaign in 2008. She tried hard to sell Sarah Palin to non-gullible Americans and to put Palin’s muddled mind one McCain-heartbeat away from the presidency. That alone ought to keep her off TV for at least a decade. But Wallace is becoming something of a regular on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. She gets credit, these days, for not being one of those crazy Republicans we are used to seeing on TV, like, uh, Sarah Palin.

nicole wallace on msnbcWallace represents what some in the media are fond of calling the “adults” in the Republican Party. This morning she was explaining how politically dumb it is for Republicans like Ted Cruz to insist on going all-in on defunding ObamaCare. Pay close attention to her reasoning here because it constitutes the adult thinking in the GOP:

I have a two-year-old and sometimes when he’s on his scooter he wants to cross the street even when the light is red…it is your job as the parent to hold the child and the scooter from running into traffic ’cause he would get squished. It is the job of the adults in the Republican Party to tell—there is grass roots support in this country, among Republicans, among conservatives, among Tea Party members, to do this…Obama’s health care is incredibly unpopular, so Ted Cruz is responding to what is a genuine sentiment out there. However, when Republicans run into the street, despite the fact that there’s a flashing red light, they’re gonna get hit by the cars and killed. So this is stupid politically, this is stupid at a policy level because as the great Charles Krauthammer said, it has no chance of succeeding. This is Obama’s health care law, this is Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, so they’re going to fail. 

So, we are at a moment…most of the country is pretty disillusioned with President Obama’s leadership on the world stage, a majority of Americans do not like his signature domestic achievement, which is the health care law. We’re actually at a moment, as Republicans, where even Bernie Sanders has described our party as “on the offense,” and now we’re going to let our party to run into moving traffic against a red light. It’s idiotic.

That pretty much represents what you hear from Republicans who don’t like what Cruz and other maniacs are trying to get their party to do regarding the defunding of the Affordable Care Act.

For clarification and enlightenment, let me summarize the adult Republican argument this way:

We Republicans are playing a good offensive game right now. We’ve helped make Obama look bad “on the world stage” by aggressively criticizing every move he makes, no matter what it is; we’ve exploited people’s ignorance about ObamaCare to the point where lots of Americans now don’t like the law, even though they admit they don’t know what’s in the law. That’s how brilliant we have been on this thing. A majority of Americans don’t understand the Affordable Care Act, but know they don’t like it, some even hate it, because we have aggressively attacked it night and day. So, why muck up all that good work we’ve done? We Republicans have Obama on the ropes, he’s going down on the canvas anyway, why risk pissing off the crowd now?

If you think that is a misleading characterization of the argument that Wallace and other Republicans are making, you haven’t been paying attention the last five years. Republicans have done all they can to destroy Obama’s presidency domestically, and now they take great delight in thinking that they have weakened him around the world. This is all, and I mean all, about politics, particularly crass and cynically opportunistic politics.

Nicolle Wallace didn’t breathe a word about what the shutdown of the federal government would mean to Americans, including those who work for the government and those—all of us—who depend on it for services. She never bothered to mention how damaging it would be for us to once again flirt with not paying our bills, including our creditors. She never discussed how a default would, in the words of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, be an “extremely dangerous and likely recovery-ending event.” She never noted how domestic interest rates would go up, making it hard for businesses seeking credit to expand, as well as making it difficult for consumers seeking credit to purchase cars and homes. She failed to explain how our national credit worthiness would take yet another hit at the hands of Republicans, resulting in higher financing costs for our nearly $17 trillion debt, which will then eat up more of the budget and cause Tea Party Republicans to demand even more draconian cuts in government spending—the ultimate goal of these ideological freaks.

No, all she essentially explained was that her party is doing okay right now with all the demonization of the President, all the dysfunction in Congress, and all the distrust in government these tactics have created among the American people. At such a shining moment for the GOP, she argues, Republicans shouldn’t push their luck.

That’s some adult argument.

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.

Ben Bernanke Channels Paul Krugman

I have been watching Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, testify this morning before the Senate Banking Committee.

He has sounded a lot like Paul Krugman.*

Krugman, an economist of distinction who also happens to be a liberal, has been telling anyone who will listen that all the scary talk about the national debt is misplaced, considering that we have a genuine jobs crisis going on right now.

Bernanke said this morning:

High unemployment has substantial costs, including not only the hardship faced by the unemployed and their families, but also the harm done to the vitality and productive potential of our economy as a whole.

Ya think? He also said—again sounding like Paul Krugman:

In terms of the near-term recovery, there is a sense in which monetary and fiscal policy are working at cross purposes. To some extent, the fiscal policy decisions being made are mismatched with the timing of the problem. The problem is a longer-term problem, and should be addressed over a longer time frame in a way that, to the extent possible, it does no harm to the ongoing recovery.

In other words, the actions of Congress (fiscal policy—focusing only on long-term debt) are working against the Fed’s actions (monetary policy—buying government bonds now in order to help stimulate the economic recovery) and the result of those “cross purposes” is sluggish growth and needlessly high unemployment.

Now, we have to ask ourselves: Why would congressional Republicans, who are leading the charge when it comes to ginning up fear over our long-term debt problems, want to work against the economic recovery?

You can supply your own answer to that question. Suffice it to say here that we not only have most economists in the country saying it, including Paul Krugman, we now have clearly on the record the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board saying it too: Stop worrying so much about the future and concentrate on the now. There are still a lot of folks suffering from the Great Recession.

As for the dreaded sequestration, Bernanke supported the Congressional Budget Office’s “reasonable estimate” that the automatic $1.2 trillion spending cuts due to begin on Friday will dampen economic growth in 2013 by 0.6% and cost 750,000 jobs.  He also said that, in terms of the effects on economic growth, it didn’t matter much how the cuts were made, whether judiciously or injudiciously. That’s simply too much money to extract from the economy in the short term, even though “the sequestration takes place over time” and its impact “would probably build over a period of months.”

Bernanke also made a point about the constant battles over fiscal policy, what with cliffs, sequestration, and continuing budget resolutions, which cause enormous amounts of uncertainty for everyone and which Republicans use as devilish leverage to drastically cut spending. He said:

Uncertainty itself is costly.

Yes, the uncertainty created by hostage-taking Republicans, again and again, is costly, even though no one can exactly quantify it. But I doubt even the Fed chairman, trying to talk sense to the kidnappers, will help.

Ultimately, the American people will have to send the kidnappers a message because, in our democracy, the people are, paradoxically, both the hostages and the hostage rescuers.

_______________________________

* Even though the two players have had their disagreements in the past.

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.

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:

Whose Debt Is It Anyway?

Ezra Klein, first-rate columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, published a fascinating piece today that puts the lie to the Republican charge that Obama has been a historic deficit spender.  You’ll have to go to his site to get the details, but here is the graph, which I rearranged to fit:

Debt Hysteria Housecall

A conservative Globe blogger is in serious need of some timely counsel, and, being a conscientious public servant, I am here to provide it. He commented on my recent post, Let’s Agree:

We, all of us, in America, today are facing a $65 Trillion HOLE (Ok, plus or minus a “little bit”). Said another way…each and every American is “in hock” for about $550,000 due and payable some day.

And the crazy thing is NO ONE talks about that number nor does ANYONE propose how to fix it, “on bite at a time”.

And:

Well it is possible for a man to eat an elephant. But he must do so one bite at a time. But while we all argue, the NUMBER just keeps on going up and up. THERE, Duane, is the curve that MUST be bent, NOW. Just how deep is a $65 Trillion “cliff” I wonder?

Richest nation in the world my hind foot. Not with that kind of balance sheet!!!

Anson 

Dear Anson,

Because I hate to see you in such a state, as your Doctor of Tranquility, I am offering my limited help (I’m not a Doctor of Finance, remember) in treating the unfortunate hysteria you are suffering over the issue of the alleged “65 trillion” dollar financial “HOLE” you claim the country is about to disappear into. (Or are we going off a cliff? Or eating elephants? I forget.)

You should know that people who make that frantic $65 trillion charge (or any of the other various amounts) in the way they do are using what I consider to be the accounting equivalent of junk science:

First of all, the term “unfunded liabilities” has normally been used in right-wing, fear-generating blogs and articles and Fox “reports” on this very long-term wild speculation you mention, but that term has been lately discredited (because a “liability” is more of a legal term and promises made by the government are not actually legally binding on it). I notice now many folks are using the proper term, “unfunded obligations,” which is more accurate, but still junk, when used in the kind of analysis you referenced.

To put it as simply as possible, what you are referring to with your scary high number is the difference between projected federal financial commitments under current law and the projected revenues available to cover those commitments—over a completely arbitrary time horizon of 75 years.

These obligations are not technically “debt,” since Congress is free to pass legislation that would eliminate them altogether (don’t try doing that with your debt, by the way). And it is beyond silly to say “each and every American is ‘in hock’ for about $550,000 due and payable some day.”

Second, that time horizon (did you even know what it was?) could just as well have been 750 years and that big and fat and scary number would have been even bigger and fatter and scarier. (Let me see, what comes after “trillion”?)

The truth is that no one—or almost no one—actually believes these numbers are accurate for a lot of reasons, most notably that policies and situations change quite frequently over even short periods of time (just look at budget surpluses under Clinton and deficits under Little Bush), and 75 bleeping years is sort of a long time, don’t you think?  Go back 75 years (1936?) and imagine a bureaucrat in the government, perhaps Newt Nostradamus, estimating “unfunded obligations” in 2011. It is absurd on its face.

And while we’re at it, the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees have said that

Projected Medicare costs over 75 years are about 25 percent lower because of provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act…

Do you believe that? Of course you don’t.

The reason some conservatives promote hysterical talk about such things as unfunded liabilities and use such frightening language is because they seek to dismantle or sharply reduce our social commitments and scaring the public is one way, they believe, they can do it. 

While it is true that Medicare funding is a big problem in the out years, it is not, as I demonstrated recently, an insurmountable one, if policies to control health care costs are implemented and other things are done, like, say, raising revenues.  And they will get implemented and revenues will get raised, in some way at some time. So, get some sleep and stop worrying about it, for God’s sake. (Or, if you can’t sleep, use the up time to write your favorite Republicans and urge them to get real about taxes.)

Third, there is a comparative fallacy involved in these numbers. The gap, instead of being put in the form of aggregate unfunded dollar commitments, should be put in the form of percentage of projected GDP, which would attempt to account for economic growth over the time period. That way future gaps could be more fairly compared with today’s gap.  But then those numbers wouldn’t look or sound so damn scary, would they?

Fourth, let’s look at those “unfunded obligations” in a way that conservatives won’t like.  Let’s discuss Pentagon spending in those terms.  Is defense spending an obligation? Yeah, sort of (see the Constitution). And, like Social Security and Medicare, is there a Pentagon tax dedicated to our national defense? Huh? Nope, there’s not.  So, using the analysis you are advancing, every single dollar of necessary future military spending is an unfunded obligation, right?  That means, projected over 75 years, the gap between revenues specifically dedicated to the Defense Department and the projected military spending is, well, it is more money than God, or even Mitt Romney, has!

This stuff the right-wind peddles is analytical junk, Anson.  There really are no such things as “unfunded” obligations because the government has the power to tax to meet them. And using such language in the context you and others use it unnecessarily scares people who don’t know any better, and it doesn’t help arrive at rational solutions to our very real problems with long-term debt. 

The fact is you don’t need those misleading large numbers to make the point—which nearly everyone understands by now—that some important changes in Medicare (and a tweak or two in Social Security) are necessary to keep us fiscally sound.  Indeed, distorting the picture so grossly tends to lead away from careful, reasonable solutions in favor of distinctly reactionary and irrational ones. (Of course, as I said, some folks on the right wouldn’t mind that one bit, as long as the New Deal fell victim to such panic.)

But I am under no illusion that you, in your zeal to save the country, will stop worrying and stop trying to scare the bejesus out of people because you are fixated on our debt problem and therefore welcome uncritically any analysis that generates fear over it.  And I am certain you will not now listen to,

Your  Doctor of Tranquility,

Duane

GOP DNA

I don’t want to say a lot of Tea Party Republicans are delusional, but I have to.

I was sent an email this morning alerting me to a new article on Tea Party Nation. The article began with this:

I actually pity the Democratic Party these days even though I think it has brought the nation to ruin because, as Joseph Curl recently noted in a Washington Times commentary, “Democrats must spend, spend, spend, and spend. It’s in their DNA.”

Hmm. If spending is in Democratic DNA, somehow Democrats must have impregnated George W. Bush with it. And somehow they must have fornicated with the Republicans in Congress during Bush’s first six years in office and deposited a big wad of that spending DNA, which then produced big, fat deficit babies.

Because under W. Bush and his Republican Congress—who inherited budget surpluses—we saw nearly unprecedented spending. And you don’t have to take my word for it:

During his eight years in office, President Bush oversaw a large increase in government spending. In fact, President Bush increased government spending more than any of the six presidents preceding him, including LBJ.  In his last term in office, President Bush increased discretionary outlays by an estimated 48.6 percent.

During his eight years in office, President Bush spent almost twice as much as his predecessor, President Clinton.  Adjusted for inflation, in eight years, President Clinton increased the federal budget by 11 percent. In eight years, President Bush increased it by a whopping 104 percent. 

Now, that wasn’t written by me or Barney Frank, but by Veronique de Rugy.  Here is her bio:

…a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. She was previously a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, and a research fellow at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation…She writes a column for Reason magazine and is a regular contributor to The American, AEI’s  online magazine. She also blogs at The Corner at National Review Online and at Big Government.

You can see that she has some conservative chops. Here’s more:

Between FY2002 and FY2009, discretionary spending rose 96 percent…

Some argue that federal spending during the Bush years was so high because security needs drove up the budget… Whether this is true, the overall rapid rise of discretionary spending indicates that, here too, the administration and Congress made no trade-offs in the budget. If the administration and Congress wanted more security spending and wanted to be fiscally responsible, they should have found savings elsewhere in the budget.

Wanted to be fiscally responsible“? Republicans?

Still more:

President Bush added thousands of new federal subsidy programs during his eight years in office. In 2008, there were 1,816 subsidy programs in the federal budget that spread hundreds of billions of dollars annually to special interest groups such as state governments, businesses, nonprofit groups, and individuals. The number of subsidy programs has grown by 30 percent since 2000 and by 54 percent since 1990.

Let’s turn to another source, this time McClatchy Newspapers:

George W. Bush, despite all his recent bravado about being an apostle of small government and budget-slashing, is the biggest spending president since Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, he’s arguably an even bigger spender than LBJ.

“He’s a big government guy,” said Stephen Slivinski, the director of budget studies at Cato Institute, a libertarian research group.

The numbers are clear, credible and conclusive, added David Keating, the executive director of the Club for Growth, a budget-watchdog group.

“He’s a big spender,” Keating said. “No question about it.”

Most of you know that the Cato Institute and Club for Growth are hard-core right-wing institutions, but somehow the memory of big-spending Republicans has faded and a delusion fathered by hatred of Barack Obama has taken hold of many minds on the right.

Besides the defense buildup and Homeland Security spending under Bush and the Republicans, here’s more:

Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, points to education spending. Adjusted for inflation, it’s up 18 percent annually since 2001, thanks largely to Bush’s No Child Left Behind act.

The 2002 farm bill, he said, caused agriculture spending to double its 1990s levels.

Then there was the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit — the biggest single expansion in the program’s history — whose 10-year costs are estimated at more than $700 billion.

And the 2005 highway bill, which included thousands of “earmarks,” or special local projects stuck into the legislation by individual lawmakers without review, cost $295 billion.

“He has presided over massive increases in almost every category … a dramatic change of pace from most previous presidents,” said Slivinski.

And all that is without even considering the cost of the Bush tax cuts, which are still with us and—along with other Bush-initiated spending—still doing fiscal damage that Obama and the Democrats are getting blamed for.

Let’s go back to that delusional Tea Party Nation article and read that first paragraph again:

I actually pity the Democratic Party these days even though I think it has brought the nation to ruin because, as Joseph Curl recently noted in a Washington Times commentary, “Democrats must spend, spend, spend, and spend. It’s in their DNA.”

There. I feel better.

Fussy Facts

I don’t much care for Paul Greenberg’s opinions, as regular readers of this blog know.  It’s not that he is a horrible writer or undeserving of his Pulitzer Prize. He’s a very fine writer and Columbia University is free to pass out Pulitzers to whomever it wants, especially to one who apparently was willing in the 1960s to defend civil rights in a most uncivil part of the country, the South.

There’ s just something about his tone, call it Arkansas Delta arrogance, a peculiar mix of experience-over-ideas conservatism and Southern sensibility and the kind of condescending charm that a man at war with the modern world passes off as genteel sophistication.

At least that’s how his prose rubs me.

In any case, Greenberg was at it again this morning in the Joplin Globe. After three nice introductory paragraphs about the upcoming campaign season, the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote:

Some candidates eventually prove great presidents — a Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt– and win eternal honor, or at least deserve to. Others are more like Jimmy Carter and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Now, let’s take a minute to consider those two sentences, which discredit two alive-and-well Democratic presidents and praise a long-dead one.

First the dead one: FDR is one of those Democratic presidents that even some Republican-minded folks occasionally like to praise.  Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of Tea Party Republicans only because they are ignorant of his many compromises as our president, particularly admired Roosevelt’s leadership:

His strong, gentle, confident voice resonated across the nation with an eloquence that brought comfort and resilience to a nation caught up in a storm and reassured us that we could lick any problem. I will never forget him for that.

Or consider Reagan’s calling Roosevelt, “an American giant, a leader who shaped, inspired, and led our people through perilous times.”

Ah, that must be what Mr. Greenberg means by praising the man who gave us America’s social safety net: Roosevelt was an American giant and inspirational leader. 

Okay. But I’ve never met a conservative Republican who had a good word to say about what Roosevelt’s domestic policies actually accomplished.  In fact, the entire modern conservative movement materialized in opposition to the New Deal and morphed into its current unseemly fanaticism while the New Deal was giving birth to its first child, the Great Society.

So, it’s hard for me, a non-Pulitzer winner, to understand what Greenberg can possibly mean by including Roosevelt in his list of “great presidents,” but I am sure he has his reasons.

And one of those reasons must be to contrast the mythical and historically sainted FDR with two of Mr. Greenberg’s favorite demon-Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

Carter’s name seems to pop up whenever Greenberg needs to stick a Pulitzer-blessed screwdriver in the eye of Mr. Obama, like last summer, when he wrote:

Surely it’s just my fallible memory, but I can’t recall a presidential address that has fallen as flat as Barack Obama’s last week, at least not since Jimmy Carter gave his (in)famous malaise speech back in the dismal summer of 1979.

Never mind that Greenberg, like all Republicans sympathizers, has it all wrong about Carter’s so-called “malaise speech.” (You can read why here or read the speech yourself here.)

Sure enough, Greenberg once again wielded his Obama-hater weapon, Mr. Carter’s presidency, along with the former president’s sidekick, Mr. Malaise:

The stubborn unemployment rate that refuses to subside, a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing, a Great Recession that won’t go away. No wonder there’s a sense of that old devil Malaise in the air. Again the word stagflation is heard in the land, and some of the leftier economists say a little inflation (which has a way of becoming a lot) would be a fine thing. As in the Carter years? Please.

The not-so-subtle implication here is that unemployment, the national debt, and the Great Recession are Mr. Obama’s doing. Never mind the facts; Mr. Greenberg has a job to do.

Now, this is going to be the strategy to attack Mr. Obama, as we move toward November of 2012.  Just yesterday, Jeb Bush, who received praise for telling GOP presidential candidates to stop “ascribing bad motives” to Obama, nevertheless ascribed bad policies to him:

He’s made a situation that was bad worse. He’s deserving of criticism for that.

But facts are not just stubborn things, they are eternal obstacles to the kind of revisionist nonsense that Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Bush are trying to peddle.

Rather than going from bad to worse, things have gone from worse to, well, not-as-bad.

Jobs were bleeding from the Bush-sized wound in the economy (Greenberg’s “Great Recession that won’t go away”) at an alarming rate when Mr. Obama assumed office.  And it took some time to stop the bleeding and close the wound. But it did stop and the wound is healing, albeit agonizingly slow. 

And what healing is happening has come despite fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers, who have en masse not only refused to help Democrats restore the economy to normalcy, but have steadfastly obstructed any efforts to do so.

And Mr. Greenberg’s “alarming to crushing” national debt is also an inheritance from Mr. Bush and years of Republican governmental malfeasance, based on unfettered free-market theology, which Greenberg enthusiastically endorsed in 2006. 

The recession is responsible for much of the ongoing yearly deficits, but particular and deliberate policies of the previous administration—those famous Bush tax cuts and wars—are also to blame for the shortfall and for the accumulation of massive debt.

Greenberg the war hawk was also an enthusiastic believer at the time in the power of the Bush tax cuts to heal the economy, all without ever mentioning the resulting deficits and debt.  In fact, I searched in vain for a bad Greenbergian word about deficits and debt under the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Even though now, in the Age of Obama, Greenberg clearly sees and writes about “a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing,”  he apparently didn’t see it as either alarming or crushing when policies that caused most of it were being debated and adopted by his fellow conservatives.

Thankfully, The New York Times, put it in a form that even a conservative columnist with a self-described disdain for the theoretical can understand:

So, Mr. Greenberg and other like-minded Obama-haters can take their shots at the current president via comparisons with Jimmy Carter and FDR, but some of us still have a working-relationship with the evidence, with those obstinate, unyielding, and fussy facts.

The Bland Bargain

As this debt-ceiling fiasco reaches its apex, it has become clear that The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden has, hopefully only temporarily, disappeared from the scene. 

In his place is a man who, well, bragged on Sunday night that one result of the bipartisan debt-ceiling agreement would be,

the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

It was once inconceivable for some of us to imagine that Obama, or any Democratic president, would utter such a statement, especially in its present context:  Tea Party arsonists, matches in hand, are about to set our economic house on fire and have even threatened to slash the tires on the fire trucks, unless the zealots get what they demand.

And it appears they will get much of what they want, if enough of them put down the matches and the gasoline and decide to take the deal.  The main thing, for them and all Republicans, is that there will be no definite revenue increases, which would have served to make swallowing the definite domestic cuts a little easier for Democrats.

The post-bin Laden Obama mischaracterized, no doubt for pre-consummation consumption, the nature of the situation when he said in his Sunday statement,

… it will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis that Washington imposed on the rest of America. 

Washington” imposed the crisis?  Are Republcans and Democrats—Washington—both to blame? Did Democrats threaten to start a fire that would see our economic house possibly burn to the ground?  No, of course not, and Mr. Obama knows that. He’s pointed out the true culprits many times before, the arsonists on the hard, hard Right, aided and abetted by the wobbly-kneed John Boehner and the coldly-calculating political opportunist Mitch McConnell. 

Mr. Obama obviously believes he cannot name names right now, before the thing is done, but it would have been better to say nothing at all about who imposed the crisis, if he didn’t feel free to put the blame where it belongs.  There is enough public moral confusion about this issue without the President adding to it.

He also said this:

It ensures also that we will not face this same kind of crisis again in six months, or eight months, or 12 months.  And it will begin to lift the cloud of debt and the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over our economy.  

Well, it may not be exactly the “same kind of crisis,” but Americans will be hard-pressed to see the difference between this fiasco and the upcoming fight over the federal budget, with what will inevitably be threats of yet another government shutdown coming from Tea Party Republicans—uh, I meant, Washington. 

And that means the cloud of uncertainty will still hang over our economy and our people.

Look, I understand why Mr. Obama made this deal at this stage in the game. He feels a personal responsibility as President for the people whose economic house Republicans are so willing to burn down.  I get that, even as some on the left are calling him bad names and ridiculously claiming they will not vote for him again.

And I know why he resisted the odd constitutional options he had and the crazy talk about creating $1 trillion coins and other fantasies.  If you think this frustrating foozle has been destabilizing, imagine if Obama did what some angry liberals have been urging him to do and simply went over the heads of the Congress in order to raise the debt limit. 

In an instant, Republicans would plunge the country into a protracted constitutional crisis and the Tea Party placard-painting business—”IMPEECH THE KENYUN DIKTATER!—would be the hot buy until next November.

The problem is that Mr. Obama made a crucial decision earlier this year to move off his sensible position that using the rather habitual process of raising the debt ceiling was not the proper vehicle to achieve deficit reduction.  He wanted, and should have continued to demand, a clean debt-ceiling bill.

Perhaps he thought his past vote in the Senate not to raise it would cripple his attempt to take a principled stand on a clean bill. Or, perhaps he genuinely saw what Republicans were doing as a way of forcing them to accept some revenue increases, which was a serious misread of the zealotry that poisons the Republican Party these days.

Who knows. We’ll have to wait for the post-Administration book.

For whatever reason, Mr. Obama decided to play the politics on Republican turf and they took full advantage of the home field.  They perceived his strange strategy as a weakness and it empowered them.  His decision to play their debt-ceiling game made them stronger.

As the more ideologically-crazed Republicans appeared absolutely willing to push the country into default, Mr. Obama retreated on the one thing—tax increases—that most of us had every reason to believe was essential to any deal he would eventually make.

And now if a goodly number of Republicans support the deal, perhaps half of each caucus, then the pressure is on Democrats to take the deal, too, or risk having the disaster blamed on them.

There was a time, before the decision to meet Republicans half past halfway, when many of us were urging the President to go ahead and have his Armageddon with Republicans now rather than later: No coupling of the debt ceiling with deficit reduction. Absent that, the alternative was to stand firm on the basic principle of fairness, which requires a balanced approach—budget cuts and up-front revenue increases—to address the debt problem.

Many of us believe he could have won that fight, at least in the eyes of the American people. And if Republicans would have gone ahead with their burn-it-down scheme, then they would have sealed their political fate for a generation, and perhaps The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden would have been able to send bin Laden-like Tea Party Republicans to their proper home in the depths of a political Arabian Sea.

As it stands now, they live to plot more threats.

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?

 

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

The Debt Crisis And Global Warming: A Good Analogy

Another Joplin Globe blogger, Anson Burlingame, posed what I considered to be “an important question” the other day (“Divided Loyalties“) relative to our deficit and debt problems. It was:

WILL ECONOMIC FORCES, (forces uncontrolled by politicians in the long run) GIVE US THE TIME TO FIX THE “MESS THAT WE ARE IN”. [sic]

Anson’s answer to his own question was as follows:

I strongly believe the answer is a resounding NO. Economic “laws”, forces, etc will bring the whole house of cards down around our ears much sooner than “years and years and years”.

The reference was to a statement I made in a previous comment:

A balanced budget, under anyone’s scenario, is not achievable for years and years and years.

My point was that it’s just not wise nor politically possible to drastically cut the budget or substantially increase taxes sufficiently to tackle the debt problem in the near-term.  And I later addressed Anson’s question on whether “economic forces” will “give us the time” to fix things by citing the fact that professional investors are not shying away from long-term investments in U.S. Treasuries and thus must believe we do have the time—and the ability—to fix things.

I quoted a Wall Street Journal article from July 14:

A streak of successful Treasury auctions ended Thursday with a strong 30-year-bond sale, showing that investors believe in U.S. debt as safe-haven investments and are not concerned about the debt ceiling.

And Anson’s point in response continued to be—a common position on his conservative side of things—that despite the evidence of long-term investors’ willingness to keep buying our debt, we still don’t have much time:

We spend too much money… and have to borrow forever to do so…I firmly believe there are severe consequences for ANYONE that tries to sustain such a way of life and when that “well” dries up people will DIE, miserably.

My position and Anson’s we-are-soon-going-over-the-cliff position essentially mirrors the larger national fight over the federal budget.

But Anson also injected an analogy into our discussion that I believe makes an important point, although not in the way he likely envisioned it.  He wrote:

…if we only spend from the “well” (over time) the amount of rain that falls, that is OK with me. And if we keep enough in the “well” as a reserve for a drought, then we are even better.

That analogy, by the way, sounds like the Global Warming challenge (which is real someday, I just don’t yet know when). If we keep putting “stuff” in the atmosphere at a rate that is greater than the “natural” way for the atmosphere to “clean it up” ….. People will die when that happens also.

Ah, I thought. The issue of global warming is a pretty good analogy to our long-term debt problem, however Anson might have meant to use it.

Problems with climate change, like problems with long-term debt, cannot be solved immediately, cannot be fixed overnight.  We do have to find a way to reduce greenhouse gases, but the solutions need not be so draconian as to shut down every coal-burning power plant or to junk every fossil fuel-burning car on the planet. 

In fact, the mitigation of climate change includes the reality that fossil fuels are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.  Yet despite that reality, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said,

There is high confidence that there are viable adaptation options that can be implemented in some sectors at low cost, and/or with high benefit-cost ratios. [emphasis in the original]

That high confidence is also present regarding our long-term debt crisis, reflected in professional investors’ current enthusiasm for 30-year Treasury bonds.  Why would anyone invest in long-term American securities, if they didn’t have confidence that the full-faith-and-credit America we know today will still be here in 30 years?

The truth is that just like the solutions for addressing climate change, the solutions to our debt problems need not be so dramatic as to choke off government spending to the point of killing our economic recovery or to cut large holes in our social safety net that will bring real hurt to people.  Both climate change and our long-term debt troubles require solutions that first involve finding ways to reduce the things we are doing right now that are contributing to the problems over time.

To be sure, a crisis on both fronts awaits us, if we do nothing. And to be sure, the longer we wait to address them, the more drastic the measures that will be needed.  Right now, though, in this moment, the solutions can still be characterized as, to use Obama’s words on Friday,

modest adjustments to get our house in order.

 


[click on for better view of chart, from http://cedarcomm.com/~stevelm1/usdebt.htm ]

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.

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.

Surrender, Thankfully

“I hoped to do good; but I refuse to do harm.”

—Sen. Mitch McConnell, defending his new plan to raise the debt ceiling

 

Now, we see who appears to be serious about cutting the deficit.

I have followed the politics over the debt ceiling issue fairly closely on this blog, including posting yesterday what I thought was a fairly fanciful take on President Obama’s negotiating strategy authored by Lawrence O’Donnell.

It appears that O’Donnell, who claimed Obama’s “go big” budget-cutting strategy was  meant to make Republicans blink, was at least partly right, what with Mitch McConnell’s and John Boehner’s cave-in yesterday—a surrender obviously meant to send a signal (which McConnell acknowledged) to Wall Street types that Republicans are not seriously considering wrecking the economy by refusing to agree to an increase in the debt ceiling.

That surrender was summarized in one sentence by Sam Stein:

Congress would give up its power to raise the debt ceiling and effectively transfer that authority to the White House for the remainder of Obama’s current term.

Whether McConnell’s plan, which was indirectly endorsed by John Boehner—”I think Mitch has done good work”—ever becomes reality, it will serve to stabilize the markets as things move forward.

Essentially and thankfully, the Republican surrender means there will be no debt default.

And that surrender was caused, purposely or serendipitously, by the fact that Barack Obama, contrary to O’Donnell’s theory, appears to be damned serious about cutting the budget and the national debt, even if his Republican colleagues are not, a fact that even a casual observer of politics—including the independents Obama needs for reelection—can now see.

Obama, as he said in his press conference the other day, is willing to take the heat from his own party for tackling entitlements, inexplicably even including Social Security, if—and this is the crucial part of his strategy, whether it is a bluff or real—Republicans will come to their senses about taxes.

They won’t.

It’s obvious now that keeping taxes historically low on the wealthy and yielding to Tea Party ignorance means more to the GOP leadership than taking Obama’s unbelievably generous offer to actually address our mid- to long-term budget problems. 

Sam Stein’s reporting on Tuesday’s debt talks between Democrats and Republicans reveals that Democrats now believe the debt ceiling crisis has abated and reveals just how serious Obama is regarding the long-term debt crisis:

For all its talk of the importance of averting a debt default, the White House is signaling that major deficit reduction has become more than just a bargaining chip to bring Republicans aboard a debt deal.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner opened Tuesday’s meeting not by focusing on the perils of debt default, but instead with a “vivid” presentation on “what happens if you don’t cut the deficit,” according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks.

Geithner warned the group that ratings agencies are actively watching both the debt ceiling debate and the ability of Congress to turn around the nation’s growing deficit and debt. He pointed to the economic unrest in Europe as evidence of what could happen in the United States if the White House and Congress don’t tackle the deficit in a serious way.

As Stein reports, and as Obama himself told the country the other day, the President wants to go “big” on cutting the deficit, so big that it is scaring the base of the Democratic Party, a fact that seems to be lost on knuckleheaded conservatives—who have universally and hysterically condemned McConnell—who don’t seem to know that Obama is essentially offering them most of what they claim they wanted in terms of cutting the budget.

Instead of urging their leaders in Congress to take the deal Obama is offering, conservatives insist on ideological purity, even if it means getting nothing.

And nothing is pretty much what they will get, if they stick to their religious doctrine of no tax increases.

Let’s summarize:

(1) Both sides agree that default is not an option.

(2) Both sides agree that budget cuts are necessary in the future, and there appears to be some agreement on the nature of those cuts.

(3) Republicans refuse to budge on taxes and Democrats cannot sell budget cuts, especially entitlement cuts, without getting Republicans to budge on taxes.

Therefore, the only thing possible is (1).  The debt ceiling will get raised and the rest will apparently be left to the American people in 2012, as it should be.

Finally, all of this depends, of course, on whether Obama means it when he says that he will not even consider significant entitlement reform without Republicans agreeing to some revenue increases, which Obama mistakenly calls a “balanced” package.

I believe him, even though his balanced package is really quite an unbalanced one.

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.

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