Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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How Much Of The Big 3 Will Obama Give Away Just To Make A Deal?

We heard plenty of rhetoric from Obama super-supporters leading up to the November election: how we had to vote for Obama because crazy ol’ Mitt Romney would destroy the country.  It turns out Democrats are just as eager to scare-monger as Republicans are when it comes to protecting those in power from accountability.  Largely left unsaid was what Obama would do if re-elected.  I argued with many friends about this topic.  I saw what the first-term was all about: taking progressive policies off the table prior to negotiation, negotiating for too long, yielding concession after concession while not getting anything of equal value in return from Republicans who only wanted to see him lose the 2012 election.

Now that Obama has been reelected, a political “crisis” that Obama and Congress purposefully created for themselves needs our attention.  The fiscal curb is approaching.  For a couple of weeks, Obama made a good show of touring the country and showing voters how smart they were to vote for him, because he wasn’t going to capitulate and concede on tax cuts for the obscenely rich or the Big 3: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  Social Security doesn’t add to the deficit because it has a guaranteed revenue stream.  Medicare and Medicaid could be made solvent for decades with minor adjustments that have nothing to do with things Republicans think they do.

I had no doubt we would see the following.  Obama made the following proposal yesterday: in exchange for extending middle-class tax cuts, raising the debt limit, extending unemployment benefits, and new spending on infrastructure, he would continue Bush’s high-income tax cuts for income up to $400,000 and would cut Social Security benefits.  That’s $1.3 trillion in revenue for $850 billion in spending cuts.  Obama has already given up on raising taxes for incomes over $250,000.  And he threw Social Security under the bus.  For nothing in return.

Mark my words: the Big 3 will take massive hits.  And unlike in 2005 when the country resisted a Republican President doing it, a Democratic President will do it in 2012.  Republicans will successfully get even more spending cuts in programs that need only slight tweaks while raising the income limit that gets subjected to a return to tax rates under Clinton than is present in this offer.  How do I know?  Speaker Boehner quickly rejected the President’s offer.  Why?  Because it ensures that Obama will continue to foolishly engage with the Speaker in closed-door meetings instead of speaking in front of the American people.  If he did the latter, as was his initial strategy, Boehner would have to agree to the President’s proposal.  Because Republican plans consist of everything Americans don’t want to see: slashing unemployment insurance, tax hikes on the middle class while the rich walk away untouched, cuts to the Big 3, etc.

And here is why that will happen: Barack Obama wants his legacy to be defined by his ability to make deals with Republicans.  The specific details don’t matter that much to him.  He wants to be perceived as someone who gets things done, regardless of who came up with the idea in the first place.  Health care?  Let’s try the Republican plan Mitt Romney got through in Massachusetts.  Climate Change?  Let’s try the Republican plan from the 1990s.  Budget balancing?  Let’s try what Republicans have wanted for decades: no social programs and lots of defense spending.

The best part?  We’ll all do it together!  Yay!  Be happy, Democrats!  You prevented the world-ending Mitt Romney from being elected and now your party’s President will dismantle the most successful programs that kept millions of Americans out of poverty in the 20th century.  Because we all had to vote for the lesser of two evils.  Phew, disaster was narrowly avoided, wasn’t it?


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Freezing Federal Workers’ Pay For 2 Years Accomplishes Nothing

President Obama’s announcement that federal workers’ pay should be frozen for 2 years generated headlines, but won’t accomplish anything if enacted.  It pre-empted Republican Teabagger headlines in January, true.  But being President should be about more than generating headlines before the other party.  It’s about demonstrating leadership and proposing policies based on a vision.

The reason for proposing this ostensibly is due to “deficit concerns”.  The policy would save a whopping $5 billion out of a $2000 Billion deficit over 2 years.  In other words, it is not a serious solution.  Everything being discussed by the D.C. establishment (which is solidly pro-corporate) in terms of the deficit will not reduce the deficit.

What continues to remain undone is a serious policy to address the employment crisis in this country.  Another chance to provide leadership has been passed up by this President.  I know why Democrats were drubbed in the 2010 elections.  Does the President?

[Update] Actually, this would accomplish something: further weakening an already weak economy.  Mark Sumner at dKos sums the effects up nicely:

It can’t be argued that imposing a $60 billion penalty on middle class workers — which is exactly what this is — will do anything but retard economic growth and reduce job production.

This policy will worsen the crisis that actually exists: the unemployment crisis. Bravo, President Obama.

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Op-Eds Regarding Sen. Bennet (D-CO) & Republican Teabagger Ken Buck

I saw some op-eds weighing in on candidates for Colorado’s junior Senate seat.

Steve from Ft. Collins represents your typical hypocritical Republican Teabagger – deficits only matter when Democrats are in power:

How well have his [Sen. Bennet’s] votes represented your children and grandchildren, who will be saddled with a lifelong debt due to the reckless spending of this runaway government?

Anyone want to bet that Steve sent in an op-ed when the Bush Regime blew the deficit up from $5 Trillion to $12 Trillion in 8 short years?  How about when Reagen blew up the deficit?  No, as usual, Steve is trying to use a topic to cover his true concern: a corporatist Democrat who isn’t 100% white is in the White House.  If Steve took the deficit seriously, he would fully support both the health insurance legislation that passed this year and push to reduce the bloated war budget.  Don’t take Steve seriously.

Scott from Loveland has a good point regarding health care solutions:

These bandages [high-deductible plans and open health savings accounts, espoused by Republican Teabagger Ken Buck] have been available for years and do not address the issue of those citizens who can afford neither.

That’s true.  It’s like the Republican Teabagger complaint about tax cuts: would one of you please tell the rest of us where the millions of jobs created by the Bush tax cuts are hiding?  The fewest jobs of any president post-WWII were created under Republican Teabagger economic policies.  The rest of us are still trying to fix your damn mess.  Your solution is ridiculous and has been proven to not work the way you think it works.

Martha from Denver speaks for a lot of progressives about Sen. Bennet:

He has finally come clean and admitted that he will be voting to continue the Bush tax cuts and against the Employee Free Choice Act. […] He may earn a few Republican votes with his tactics, but when combined with the loss of thousands of votes from registered Democrats, he will lose this election. Be clear, he will lose because he stepped right of center.

Martha argues along the same lines that I have for years – Democrats need to stand for Democratic principles.  Not bipartisan principles or Republican principles; Democratic principles.  The number of issues which Sen. Bennet not only voted against his base’s wishes but cynically used micro-issues to raise cash and visibility from that base prior to those votes are long indeed.  It surprises me that so many Democrats are still willing to support somebody who on too many occasions hasn’t supported them.  Oh, when you vote for the lesser of two evils, you’re still voting for an evil.  Don’t expect a ton of good to come from that.

Baxter from Silverthorne addresses my top issue:

If Ken Buck is like every other Republican in the U.S. Senate, he will fight all attempts to curb greenhouse gas emissions with a comprehensive energy and climate bill.

While true, some additional context should be made clear.  Sen. Bennet early in 2009 voted to require that climate legislation be subjected to the 60-vote super-majority instead of the 50-vote majority requirement that wins most other contests.  What followed was a lot of hand-wringing and lamenting that with the largest majority in the Senate in years, 60 votes just couldn’t be found, gosh darn it.  No, it’s not as though Sen. Bennet found global warming to be a leading issue of the day.  Let’s not kid ourselves and blindly think Sen. Bennet is a global warming champion.  If anything, he found Senate procedure to be more important than any legislative topic.  Sure, he started talking about “filibuster reform” after all Senate work had ground to a near-complete halt by mid-2010.  It wasn’t like Republicans abused the rule throughout all of 2009 or anything.  Heck, it wasn’t even like Republicans told Democrats they would do just that when the session started, right?  And after being told this, Democratic Senators still continued to try to bring one, just one, Republican over on bill after bill after bill.

Leading up to voting this year, you should ask yourself this important question: will Sen. Bennet vote to change Senate rules on the first day of business in January, when rule changes only require 50 votes instead of 67 afterward?  If Sen. Bennet wins this election and Democrats retain control of the Senate, will the filibuster rules be changed back to what they were historically, or will they continue to ask the Republican Teabaggers to steamroll over them, yet come back to the voters in 2012 and ask for more money, more volunteering, and more votes from us?

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Seniors Tighten Belts While Wall St. Rakes In Record Pay

I think perhaps we have things backwards in this country:

Senior citizens brace for Social Security freeze

Wall St on tap to pay $144 Billion in pay

Yet somehow those rich fat cats on Wall St have convinced policymakers to look at cutting Social Security benefits while giving them even more tax breaks.  That makes more elderly people slide into poverty while the country’s deficits race out of control.  All of the above, by the way, has been brought to you by Republican/Conservative economics.   Their policies have worked exactly as they’ve wanted them to for the past 40 years.  The sad part is too few Democrats are visibly standing up for the elderly and impoverished.  Given all that, I’m still confused why the elderly continue to vote for Republicans who in turn work to screw them over time and time and time again.

The 2nd article goes so far as to mention the “financial industry reform” legislation that passed this year.  Like a small number of other progressives, I’ll say this again: the reform was an absolute joke.  It won’t reform the financial industry.  It won’t prevent a repeat of the 2007-2009 economic crash that nearly destroyed the U.S. economy.  It was enough to allow the justified anger over that crash to wane to a point where politicians and Wall Streeters could point to the signed legislation and say, “See, something was done.  Nothing bad will happen ever again. Now go away and trust us to manage our businesses.”

The combination of these news stories might even have something to do with the “enthusiasm gap” that most of the corporate media and silly pundits can’t fathom.  Nah – it’s definitely the fault of the DFHs who didn’t get everything they wanted in 18 months.

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Forget Deficit Costs; What Are The Costs Of High Unemployment?

A jobs bill in Congress is being hacked apart and watered down by so-called “centrists”.  What these folks really are is termed “deficit peacocks”.  No objections to the unfunded occupations of two nations can be heard from these preening birds.  They would rather cut all deficit spending, at the risk of forcing today’s bad unemployment rates even higher.

Harold Meyerson had a good op-ed the other day.  It ended with the following (emphasis my own):

Yet the deficit hawks’ peachocks’ rejoinder is essentially: So what? Government spending is out of control. We need to cut back now.

The problem with this ostensible solution is twofold. First, it conflates short-term deficits needed to stanch the recession with long-term issues of fiscal sustainability. Such thinking risks turning a short-term recession into long-term stagnation, much as Japan did in the 1990s by failing to stimulate its economy sufficiently. Second, it calculates the dollar cost of the stimulus but neglects to factor in the dollar benefit from, for instance, keeping hundreds of thousands of teachers, police and firefighters on the job and paying taxes rather than collecting unemployment insurance. Once such particulars are accounted for, a new study from the liberal Economic Policy Institute argues, the cost of the jobs created in the bill coming before the House this week is more than halved, from $75 billion to $35 billion.

Again, Republicans weren’t held to the same standard when it came to Afghanistan and Iraq.  Why not?  It wasn’t the liberal media that held them to account.  (Because the media doesn’t have a liberal bias.  Duh.)  Voter support for the invasions and occupations would have been much lower had the Cons been honest by telling them nothing was paid for today – that it was our children and grandchildren (that they’re supposedly so concerned about now that middle-class jobs and not ultra-rich tax cuts are on the table) that would suffer.

Since the U.S. didn’t experience the lost decade of the 1990s the way Japan did, we didn’t learn the lesson of their economic stagnation.  What’s worse, however, is the large number of folks who say they studied the problems and solutions of the 1930s Great Depression in preparation for their current stations in our government, controlling public policy.  They’re by and large advocating for more unemployment so their deficit credentials can look better.

Decades of runaway spending under Republican control occurred and now its the Democrats who have to tighten the country’s belt.  Don’t think that happened by accident either.  Republicans hate the programs begun under the New Deal and the Great Society.  They long ago decided to attack them from every possible direction.  If they couldn’t legislate the programs away because of the public revolt that would follow, they would bankrupt the country for their foreign policy disasters so that the programs would be starved for funds.

Way to go, deficit peacocks!  You’ll likely force the country to suffer from chronic unemployment for the remainder of this decade.  But your deficit credentials will be bright and shiny on your chests!  And it’s not like you’ll be held accountable for trashing our future anyway.  Yipee!

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No Risk From The Deficit: Leading Economist

The Cons have successfully pushed the Democrats into an extreme version of deficit reduction-worship, a stunning achievement considering the unnecessary explosion of that deficit under the Cons’ watch last decade.

Another major economist has come out with a simple message: there is no long-term deficit risk to this nation’s economy, as evidenced by the financial markets activities and trends.

What we do have is an unemployment crisis.  That has much more severe implications for the health of our economy 10 and 20 years down the road than the deficit.  Too bad the Democrats jump whenever the Cons say, “BOO!”

[h/t Joan @ dKos]

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Max Baucus & The Deficit

Max Baucus is a Democratic Senator from Montana.  He’s been making noise in the past year about wanting to control our deficits, while telling the American people that health care reform measures would have to be paid for with money from other policies.  He had a quote lately about unemployment insurance.  Some folks have been out of work and unable to find a new job for a very long time.  Currently, unemployment insurance runs out after 99 weeks.  Congress did a poor job in the past year or so extending those benefit payments for more weeks than was “normal” in the 2000s.  It seems Sen. Baucus doesn’t think unemployment insurance payments should extend beyond the current 99 weeks they’re available:

“You can’t go on forever,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, of Montana, whose panel oversees the benefits program. “I think 99 weeks is sufficient,” he said.

Really, Sen. Baucus?  That’s an interesting position to take, given his record on the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Both were not subjected to the same budget constraints that Sen. Baucus wants to apply to unemployment insurance: there was no requirement that they be paid for so that the deficit wouldn’t increase.  The occupation of Iraq has lasted over 370 weeks.  Where is Sen. Baucus’ “99 weeks” limit?  The occupation of Afghanistan has lasted over 445 weeks.  Where is Sen. Baucus’ “99 weeks” limit?

No the, 99 weeks limit only applies to American workers who through no fault of their own find themselves out of work and unable to be hired for a new one.  They are not providing for their families, their communities or their country.

But the off-budget, deficit-busting occupations of two countries can last forever, as long as Sen. Baucus cares.

It’s good to know what his priorities are.