[The Huffington Post published an article the other day (“Obama’s Fiscal Plan Appeases House Liberals, Sours Republicans“) following the president’s plans for reducing the federal debt, and I just had the time to read and react to them today. So, let me react away.]
What? The Republicans are sour? I’m shocked.
Even more: What? The liberals are appeased? I’m actually shocked.
The president unveiled his debt reduction plan on Wednesday, which would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next twelve years. The plan is a contrast to that of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget that would cut the deficit by $4.4 trillion, the majority of which comes from health care repeal (even though it cuts the deficit), Medicare/Medicaid reform and Defense-approved cuts to defense spending. Unlike the president’s plan, Ryan’s plan allows for no tax increases, which is the reason why the president’s budget has been seen by many as a nonstarter in the house; in fact, Ryan’s plan intends to cut taxes.
Though I am not really that surprised that the Republicans would be soured by the fact that tax increases are on the table (and unless one is an anarchist it necessarily must be on the table), I am surprised that the Democrats are appeased:
- For every $1 raised in revenue $3 would be cut from the budget.
- $400 billion in savings from “holding the growth in base of security spending below inflation,” which is in addition to the savings to be incurred from bringing to a close the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
- “Non-security discretionary spending would be cut to levels that would save $770 billion by 2023.”
- If no agreement is reached a “debt fail-safe” trigger would require Congress to pass across-the-board cuts (security spending excluded) if the debt does not decline as a percentage of the economy over the next five to ten years. [Frankly, though the Republicans would probably like to target their cuts to things like education, Planned Parenthood, NPR, and so on, the fact that security spending is exempted from this trigger does not make this much of a threat. I almost wonder if it’s akin to a small child threatening to hold their breath until they get what they want – i.e. OK, whatever.]
- Lastly, and this is the exciting part: while Obama would allow the Bush Tax Cuts to expire (there seems to be no implication that he will change the tax code to create new income brackets) he would also simplify the tax system and let the savings be put toward lowering corporate tax rates.
Skimming over it, one quickly realizes that this is in no way similar to The People’s Budget created by the 80-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. Compared to the other plans put forward, it really is worth describing at length (CNN: “A ‘people’s budget’ that invests in jobs”)
It requires corporations to pay their fair share by eliminating taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies and closing international tax loopholes that deprive the United States of jobs, investment and revenue. It taxes exotic and risky Wall Street financial instruments to curb speculation and recovers the costs of the financial crisis.
The budget restores fairness to the tax code by asking more from those who can afford to pay more. Instead of cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans, the budget raises taxes on those who have seen most of the income gains over the last decade by adding new tax rates for millionaires and billionaires. The budget taxes investment income as wage income, ending an unfair tax system that taxes income from wealth at lower rates than the wages of teachers and nurses ….
Fiscal responsibility does not require gutting social programs and public investments that promote economic security and generate growth. Instead, it requires standing up to the powerful lobbies whose special interests are not in our national interest and abandoning unfair tax policies that favor the wealthy and privileged.
These policies more than achieve long-term sustainability by slowing health care, bringing the budget to surplus within a decade, and bringing debt down below a sustainable 65% of the economy. A budget is more than a mathematical exercise; it is the most definitive embodiment of our national values.
But, what do I know? I’m just a liberal who should be appeased by a proposal that could just as easily been put forward by center-right Republicans a decade ago. Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh. Maybe I shouldn’t be too disappointed in the president’s proposal. I mean, it is coming from the same man who said, regarding the budget deal made to divert a last week’s possible government shutdown, “This is an agreement to invest in our country’s future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history.” Never mind the fact that austerity measures are austerity measures and the greatest investment one can make to the future is not stifling the economy by cutting the only capital flowing in the economy: government spending. But who cares about economic “theory,” which is after all just a “theory?”
So what’s next, Mr. President? We’ve already let the Republicans win the government shutdown debate, sure; but Republican talking points aside we now have a chance to reframe the debt debate and break the Clinton-era tone set under the thought that “the era of big government is over!”
“Now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s,” the president said in a speech at George Washington University. “We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs and win the future” (from the article on the president’s debt reduction plan).
Or you can endorse the economic policies of Newt Gingrich. I mean, hell, if it was his fiscal responsibility that made the 1990s so awesome we may as well make him president, which we can now that he’s a possible-maybe 2012 Republican presidential candidate.
In the article that inspired this post it’s mentioned that some members of congress believe the “more liberal” individuals of the chamber to be not “helping the party by bashing Obama for not embracing more progressive positions, whether it be in his fiscal policy or other major issues.” As congressman Gerry Connolloy (D-Va.) says:
“Some on the left don’t want to take any responsibility for the political dynamic we have to live with for the next two years … It must be very special to be in that special corner.”
Yeah, the complete dismissal of moral vision is how one wins elections. Remember that it’s the same strategy Robert Gibbs used when effectively trying to disown the activists who elected the president? Never mind the fact that these progressives are perhaps the only inspiration liberals will have left in the political process following two years of absurdities, door knocking and phone calls all done to preserve one last flickering candle of Hope somewhere in a “special corner.”