It looks as though President Obama has endorsed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s debt-ceiling proposal, which, according to the White House, would cut government spending by $2.7 trillion and increase the federal borrowing limit through 2012. It would seem that Democrats, in spite of the fact that they control the White House and Senate, have decided to give the Republicans everything that they’ve asked for, completely taking even modest tax increases on the wealthy off the table. I’m pissed, of course, that the Democrats haven’t pushed harder for a deal that would see the wealthiest Americans, who are presently contributing at historically low levels, asked to share the pain of their fellow citizens, but, in all honesty, I’m not sure what choice Obama has at this point.
It seems to me that Republicans have demonstrated again and again over the course of these past several weeks, that they don’t care if our country defaults on its debts. It seems as though they’re absolutely willing to force our country into insolvency. In fact, it’s almost as though they want it to happen. Representative Steve King of Iowa was quoted today as saying that, if we should fail to work out a debt ceiling deal, they would have cause to impeach the President. He did so, it seemed to me, almost gleefully. I know it sounds absurd that any American would welcome an economic catastrophe of this kind, but I suppose it makes sense if you take Senator Mitch McConnell at his word when he said that making Obama a one-term President was his “single most important political goal”. How do you negotiate with a party that doesn’t care if they trigger a catastrophic economic meltdown? That’s not to say that I don’t think Obama could have fought harder, but I do think it’s worth noting that the Republicans are living in a libertarian fantasy world worthy of Charlie Sheen. And I’m not sure that we’ve seen the worst of it yet.
Now that Obama is offering everything that the Republicans have wanted, they’re asking for more. Word is that House Speaker John Boehner wants to cut another $.3 trillion from the federal budget. (And by “federal budget,” I mean only the parts that serve the poor, middle class and retired. The military budget will be fine, as will the corporate subsidies that our lobbyists have secured via their liberal use of free speech. And, by “free speech,” of course, I mean money.)
Here, on the subject of how far the Republicans are willing to push this, and what the repercussions might be, is an excerpt from Ezra Klein’s most recent column in the Washington Post.
…Originally, the Democratic position was that we should simply raise the debt ceiling. Republicans said “no.” There would have to be a deal that reduced the deficit by at least $2.4 trillion — which is the size of the debt ceiling increase needed to get us into 2013.
Then the Democratic position was that we should raise the debt ceiling through a deal that reduced the deficit by about $2.4 trillion, with $2 trillion of that coming from spending cuts and $400 billion coming from taxes. Republicans said “no.” There would have to be a deal that disavowed taxes.
Then the Democratic position was that we should raise the debt ceiling through a deal brokered by Barack Obama that reduced the deficit by $4 trillion, with about $3 trillion of that coming from spending cuts and about $1 trillion coming from tax increases. Republicans said “no.” There would have to be a deal that disavowed taxes, and it would have to be cut between the congressional leadership of the two parties. Obama couldn’t have this as a win…
If you take the Republicans’ goals as avoiding a deal in which they have to vote for tax increases and denying Obama a political victory, it looks like they have succeeded. That success has come with costs — they’ve done themselves political damage, are risking a crisis that could do the economy tremendous harm, and have left the Bush tax cuts unresolved, which means they might end up watching taxes rise much higher than if they’d taken Obama’s offer — but it’s still been a success.
The question is, what happens if they don’t stop pushing?
Late last week, pollster Mark Blumenthal summarized the “consistent findings” from the polling on the debt ceiling. First, he said, “Americans prefer a deal featuring a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts to a deal featuring just spending cuts.” Second, “most of the surveys find strong sentiment in favor of compromise, especially among Democrats and independents.” Finally, “the surveys all show Americans expressing significantly more confidence and trust in President Obama’s handling of the issue than of either the Republican or Democratic leadership in Congress.”
Republicans have leverage because the debt ceiling needs to be raised and it can’t be raised without their support. But they don’t have popular support behind their position or their leadership. They can push this up to the brink and win, because Democrats really, really, really don’t want a debt-ceiling crisis that could set back the economy. But if they push it over the brink, they’re likely to lose, as the public really, really doesn’t want Congress to create an economic crisis that will set back the economy, and they’re primed to blame the GOP if one does in fact come to pass…
And, based on the recent comments and actions of John Boehner, it looks as though they have every intention to keep pushing.
But, it would seem, some on the left haven’t given up hope. I just received the following letter from Senator Bernie Sanders:
The debate over raising the debt ceiling and deficit reduction is coming down to the wire and I wanted to take a moment to update you on what is going on in Washington.
Despite the fact that Democrats control the White House and the Senate, it is right-wing Republicans who are calling the shots and setting the agenda. Unless we fight back vigorously, Congress and President Obama will give the American people exactly what they don’t want.
Poll after poll shows that the American people want Congress to focus on job creation and that they want deficit reduction to be done in a way which is fair and which requires shared sacrifice. They do not want the budget to be balanced on the backs of those people who are already hurting through massive cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, child care, nutrition, affordable housing, fuel assistance and environmental protection. They want millionaires and billionaires to start paying their fair share in taxes, and they want the removal of massive loopholes which enable many large corporations to avoid taxes. They also want a significant reduction in military spending.
Republican leaders talk about three or four trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next ten years, with no new taxes on the wealthy and large corporations and unless we turn the tide NOW, they will get pretty much what they want.
Please understand what they mean. While no specific proposals have been adopted as of this date, here are some of the ideas which have been discussed.
SOCIAL SECURITY: Revising the formula which determines cost of living increases (COLAs) so that in ten years, a 75-year-old will receive $560 a year less in benefits and in 20 years an 85-year-old will receive $1,000 a year less. Further, another provision which would require that Social Security always be solvent for 75 years would likely mean even larger cuts in benefits. All of this would take place despite the fact that Social Security has not contributed one penny to the deficit and has a $2.6 trillion surplus today. This new formula would also cut back on the pensions of veterans.
MEDICARE: Raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 and/or cutting benefits by $250 billion over ten years. Now you tell me, how are 66 year old Americans with modest means going to afford health insurance with a private company – especially if they have medical problems? It’s not going to happen. They are going to suffer. Some will unnecessarily die.
MEDICAID: At a time when 50 million Americans already have no health insurance, Republicans and some Democrats are proposing to cut hundreds of billions from Medicaid which means that many men, women and children will lose the health insurance they have. According to a Harvard University study, some 45,000 Americans die each year because they don’t get to a doctor when they should. How many more will die if Medicaid is slashed? How many children will be thrown off of the Children’s Health Insurance Program?
EDUCATION: Today, childcare and college education are already unaffordable for millions of working families and Head Start has long waiting lists. If Republicans and some Democrats get their way, Pell grants and other educational programs will be deeply slashed. Affordable childcare and a college education will no longer be possible for many families in our country.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND INFRASTRUCTURE: Forget about the government having the ability to protect the people from corporations who want to evade regulations within the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. With massive cuts in the EPA, the resources will not be there. Forget about this country having the investment capability to transform our energy system to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Forget about creating millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and improving our public transportation system.
At a time of growing hunger in America there will be massive cuts to nutrition programs. We have a crisis in homelessness, and there will be cuts to affordable housing. While we need more funds for research and development in disease prevention and other areas, fewer funds will be available. And on and on it goes.
Yes, the time is late, but we can still make a huge difference.
As, perhaps, the most progressive member of the Senate, I will continue to stand for a deficit reduction plan which is fair, which requires the wealthy and large corporations to begin paying their fair share of taxes and contribute at least 50 percent toward any plan which is adopted. I will also demand that Congress take a hard look at excessive military spending.
This nightmare can be avoided, if, as progressives, we continue to stand together for social justice and common decency. Thank you for all that you do.
Personally, I’m not sure what good it will do at this point, but I’m going to give Bernie the benefit of the doubt, and call all of my elected officials tomorrow, urging a more balanced approach, which wouldn’t just look to balance America’s budget on the backs of the middle class. If you have a moment free, I’d encourage you to look up the numbers of your representatives in DC, and give them a call as well. As much as we might like to lay this at the feet of Obama, much of the blame lies with those in the Senate and the House, who aren’t giving the President the political backup that he needs to push for more. I don’t know what’s possible by August 2, but I know for a fact that no positive movement is going to happen unless all of the Democrats in DC get onboard and demand it.
update: OK, it looks as though closing tax loopholes is still a part of the Reid plan, even if tax increases on the wealthy aren’t. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing… Here’s Obama’s speech from this evening.
update: And heres Boehner’s response.