Fighting to keep Democrats from folding on the budget deal

Activists in the Democratic party are gearing up to counter disturbing signs that a bad budget deal is in the works, trading small rises in the marginal tax rates for the top 2% (smaller than the already small raises envisaged) in return for reductions in Social Security and Medicare.

Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration, spells out in two and a half minutes the eight principles that should guide the Democrats in negotiations over the ‘fiscal cliff’,

Meanwhile Charlie Pierce at Esquire argues that no deal is better than a bad deal and excoriates the chattering class for their assumptions about what constitutes good governing.

Nothing has so illustrated the distance between the courtier press, and the elites that they have come to serve, then the ongoing mock-horror from both camps that politics can be messy and angry and frustrating. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the mock-horror has its roots in the acceptance of the lunatic notion that government should be run “more like a business.” You would think that, with the resounding defeat handed to an MBA automaton last month, this argument would go into eclipse for a while. But it is the clear basis for almost all of the anguish and garment-rending inside the Beltway.

There may not be a “deal.” Smart people have speculated that we may not need a “deal” and, in any case, a “deal” is not necessarily the be-all and end-all of “governing.” I have said more than once that it is not the president’s job to tame John Boehner’s crazy-ass caucus for him. The president was re-elected on a slate of policies that the country wanted. He has no affirmative obligation to water these down just to “get a deal done” for the sake of appearances, just as he is under no affirmative action to offer up Medicare and Social Security as blood sacrifices just so that John Boehner and his crazy caucus will be placated. The country must be governed, It does not necessarily have to be governed efficiently, as long as the manifest will of the people is somehow expressed through it.

Meanwhile Anat Shenker-Osorio gives a stirring defense of taxes as the means by which we create the common good, and warns that we should not buy into the oligarchy’s message that lower taxes are always better.

I personally appreciate having every exit marked for me on every highway. Big fan of stoplights, too. The fact that you can open a faucet anywhere in our giant country and have potable water come out is amazing. These things are government, bought and paid for by taxes. My kindergartener started public school – a fact that makes me so happy I routinely say he’s out of pre-school and into free school. I drop him off at half past eight every morning and know he’s looked after, engaged, socializing with his peers and mastering his letters. If I can say this as a resident of Oakland, California, one of the most beleaguered and resource-strapped districts in our nation, I would say government is working. In short, my taxes are buying me some pretty fantastic things. But, instead of leading with discussion of these items, we accept having a debate on thoroughly conservative terms.

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow does his part to damp down the ‘fiscal cliff’ hysteria, by challenging the idea that ‘everyone knows’ that the fiscal cliff is a disaster waiting to happen.

The Republicans have supposedly come up with a counter-offer but Paul Krugman says that it is bogus.

It calls for $800 billion in revenue from closing loopholes, but doesn’t specify a single loophole to be closed; it calls for huge spending cuts, but aside from raising the Medicare age and cutting the Social Security inflation adjustment — moves worth only around $300 billion — it doesn’t specify how these cuts are to be achieved. So it’s basically the Paul Ryan method: scribble down some numbers and pretend that you’re a budget wonk with a Serious plan.

Why put forward such an obviously fake proposal? The point of this offer is to make it seem as if president Obama and the Democrats have to concede something to bridge the gap.

In reality, the president has the Republicans over a barrel. If no deal is made by December 31, 2012, Social Security and Medicare are preserved, tax rates go back up to what existed in the Clinton era, the defense budget will be cut by $600 billion, and another $600 billion will be cut from other programs. The raising of the tax rates alone will go a long way all by itself towards eliminating the deficit, which is the one thing that everyone pretends that they care about, when what they really want are cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

It is the last cut that will be painful and harm a lot of worthwhile programs. And the total cuts in government spending could cause the economy to contract too rapidly, hurting employment. But Obama can alleviate that because the Republicans will be desperate to bring back at least some defense spending. So after January 1, Obama could make a deal that trades some middle class tax cuts (which I feel should be just for those earning less than $100,000 or even lower, not the current $250,000 figure), and restoring some of the cuts in defense spending that are matched by amounts restored in non-defense programs. It would be political suicide for Republicans to turn such a deal down.

But adopting such a strategy by Obama and the Democrats is based on the assumption that they really care about meeting the needs of the people who voted them in, and we know that that is highly doubtful.


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