Barack Bulworth

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

deficit 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Review.com reported yesterday:

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

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

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

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

He was an especially zealous campaigner against masturbation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This guy was serious:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future Isn’t Free

David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times, has published an extended essay on Kindle, Here’s The Deal.

The deal, says Leonhardt, is that Americans want more government than they are willing to pay for and he presented some ways to fix the resulting long-term debt problems (you’ll have to cough up $1.99 to find out what they are, though).

Now, Leonhardt, who is a mathematician by training, has won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary, so who am I to say that his notion that Americans don’t want to pay for all the government they desire is, well, sort of obvious. But it is.

Since the time of Ronald Reagan and the advent of voodoo economics, Americans have become accustomed to having big-government benefits and paying for them with small-government taxes, which, of course, means deficits, deficits, deficits.

The Democrats temporarily restrained the voodoo-practicing Republican witch doctors in 1993, with the Deficit Reduction Act, which raised taxes and contributed to subsequent surpluses. But the voodoo came back when George W. Bush, who was designated president by Republicans on the Supreme Court late in 2000, went on a tax-cutting and spending binge.

And these days the voodoo, though not quite as prevalent as before, is still with us, as Democrats are willing to raise taxes only on the wealthy, which is a noble deed indeed (since they have plenty more to give), but, given political reality, it is just not plausible those taxes can be raised enough to significantly narrow the budget gap without more and deeper budget cuts.

Leonhardt, in his little Kindle ebook, wrote:

Obama’s stance that taxes should rise only on incomes above $250,000 is almost certainly not sustainable in the long run.

He points out that in 2012, federal revenue—including all forms of taxation—represented only 15.8% of GDP, compared to 20.6% in 2000, when the budget was in surplus. (According to the Heritage Foundation, total federal spending for 2012 was 22.9%, so do the math and the problem becomes clear.)

And Leonhardt writes:

…most Americans have paid far less in total taxes in recent years than they would have paid 30 years ago had they been earning the same inflation-adjusted income. For instance, a household making $52,000, which was roughly the median income in 2010, paid 27.7 percent of its income in taxes on average that year…In 1980, a family with the equivalent income would have paid a total rate of 30.5%.

Additionally, the author reminds us that,

By any measure, taxes are lower in this country than in most other rich countries. Here, tax revenue of all forms—federal, state and local—equals about 25 percent of GDP. In Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway and Sweden, the level is at least 40 percent…It is 36 percent in Germany, 35 percent in Britain, 31 percent in Canada and 30 percent in Switzerland.

Remember all that when you hear a conservative talk about how overtaxed we are as Americans.

Look, I’m not one of those folks you see on TV all the time who irritatingly blathers on about how we are on our way to becoming Greece or advances austerity as a cure for our budgetary problems. And I definitely think more revenue is needed from rich. (Leonardt: “The amount of each dollar that the affluent pay in taxes has actually fallen in recent decades.”)

My only point here is that some time in the future—after the economy has shaken off all the effects of the Great Recession—all Americans who earn a middle class and above income in this country need to face the fact that they are getting way more government than their tax dollars are paying for. No one, not even the most wild-eyed liberal economist, believes that we can continue on the path we are on forever.

When Democrats signed off on a fiscal-cliff-averting budget deal with Republicans at the beginning of this year, a deal that made permanent most of the Bush tax cuts, I was critical of it and ended my criticism with this:

...let us hope that what Democrats have done—setting in stone tax cuts that have partly contributed to our fiscal problems—will not someday hinder them as they attempt to protect vital government programs from those who mean to drag the country back into the 18th century.

Democrats can’t protect those programs just with taxes on the wealthy, although obviously more needs to be done to reduce what Leonhardt calls the,

thicket of deductions, credits and loopholes that lead people to change their behavior and waste time trying to avoid too large a tax bill.

Leaders on our side need to be ready to tell the people, even middle class people, that if they want a 21st-century American civilization that still attracts the best and the brightest in the world, they need to be willing to pay for it or it will go away.

What You May Not Know About The Debt But Should

“Can we now start talking about unemployment?”

—Paul Krugman

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

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

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

Sunday, DeLong posted a blog entry with the title,

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

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

deficit reduction and stabilization

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

Here is Krugman’s description of the graph:

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

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

Krugman makes the point that,

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

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

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

Brad DeLong offers this stinging rebuke of the President:

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

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

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

You figure it out. I can’t.

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

_______________________

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

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

Lazy Journalism

Nothing angers me more than lazy journalists, like the kind I heard on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning discussing the state of our national politics.

The easiest thing in the world is to say about what is happening what Mike Barnicle said this morning:

There’s no certainty in this country as to what’s gonna happen to my children. We are now living in a country, where—because of the way this campaign is being waged on both sides—where too many people no longer can afford to dream, and that’s a huge hole in the American fabric. A huge hole.

The huge hole, of course, is in Barnicle’s careless, almost comatose, analysis. If he built his journalistic career on such sloppy, inattentive thinking he has been one lucky guy.

The uncertainty in the country belongs squarely on the Republican Party, whose leaders from the beginning of Obama’s term decided that the best political course for them to follow was to create as much uncertainty and cultural angst as possible. There is simply no disputing that.

And the Romney presidential campaign is following that myopic political script written after the 2008 election by trying to capitalize on the almost complete Republican obstruction of the Democrat’s attempt to fix the massive economic problems left to them by years of governance according to Republican Party principles.

On that note, today’s Joplin Globe editorial played the same kind of game that Mike Barnicle was playing on television this morning. Oh, the piece, titled, “Stop pointing fingers,” started out just fine:

In 2001, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the federal government would collect surplus funds in the amount of $5.6 trillion during the period 2002 through 2011.

Instead, we incurred a deficit of $6.1 trillion resulting in a gross loss in federal revenues during that period of time in the amount of $11.7 trillion. The question, of course, is why such a miscalculation occurred.

Well, that is certainly one question. But another one would be, who was responsible for the reversal from surpluses to deficits? Huh?

On the way to answering its question, the Globe cited some studies by the CBO, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Government, and the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, all of which came up “with the same answers”:

 • The overall weakened economy was the primary cause. Growth for the entire period was predicted to be 3 percent. But from 2002 through 2007, growth was only 2.6 percent. Then during the period 2008 through 2011, growth was only an average of 0.2 percent. This overall lower-than-expected growth caused a 27 percent drop in federal revenue expectations during those years.

• The second highest cause was a 13 percent drop in federal revenues caused by enactment and continuation of all the Bush-era tax cuts, amounting to a 13 percent drop in federal revenues. Other smaller contributors were the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, increases in discretionary spending, defense spending increases not related to wars, the Obama stimulus, and the 2010 tax cuts.

Now, a fair-minded person, upon discovering that the Republican Party was in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House during most of the time the country’s economy was in decline and collapsing and when the path toward massive deficits was first being cleared of surplus brush, would naturally blame the Republicans for most of the mess. Right?

Except that the Joplin Globe editorialist, shielding Republicans from the blame they deserve, had a better idea:

It seems rather naive to be arguing about which party alone caused today’s American economic problems. Again, they both did so big time by cutting federal revenues as shown above, yet continuing to spend at historically high levels.

“Both sides” are apparently equally responsible, it turns out, despite the facts cited in the piece and despite what is plainly clear to anyone paying attention.

All of this, from Mike Barnicle’s dumb statements this morning to the Joplin Globe’s dumb editorial conclusion, serves the right-wing reactionary Republican Party very well, as it requires very little thought to simply assert that both parties are equally guilty, that both parties are equally to blame for the mess we’re in, and therefore the economic philosophy that brought us to our knees can be tried again.

Obama: A Little League Socialist

Here was the headline on HuffPo on Wednesday afternoon:

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

That story began:

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

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

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

Obama was quoted in the story:

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

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

Obama spending binge never happened

Commentary: Government outlays rising at slowest pace since 1950s

Here’s how the story began:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Obama Is A Big-Government Socialist, What’s That Make Ronald Reagan?

I saw this interesting graphic on MSNBC (adapted from a Talking Points Memo piece), which should, but won’t, shut up all the talk about the socialist in the White’s House.

In terms of net change in government spending, Obama isn’t in the same league with either Bush or Ronaldus Magnus:

“Budget Honesty”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at part of that quote again:

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

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

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

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

A Tale Of Two Styles

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

First the President:

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

Here’s Krugman:

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

Very similar, no?

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

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

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

Now, Krugman’s view:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, that’s really the fight here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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