The Republicans sure love drama, don’t they. First they threatened to shut the government down unless their demands were met. Now they’re swearing they won’t agree to raise the debt ceiling unless they get the deep cuts they want. Shutting down the government would have caused some pain, but no permanent damage. Failure to raise the debt limit would put the United States in default for the first time in its history, with truly dire consequences. Sadly, the Democrats, running scared as ever, are negotiating with these bullies, who, I have to believe, have no intention of actually letting the country default. They’re simply trying to exact as many concessions as possible before agreeing at the last second to raise the limit. I’m becoming increasingly confident that this tactic will backfire, much as the Ryan budget’s attempt to destroy Medicare did. People instinctively don’t like government at the point of a gun. That is, it will backfire IF the Democrats have the backbone to stand up to the thugs. A big if, these days.
The game of chicken over raising the debt limit continues, with Republicans (and some Democrats) vowing that any vote for it will have to be accompanied by deep budget cuts, and tax increases of any kind will not be considered. If Republicans have their way, there’s only one possible outcome. The social safety net, already badly frayed by the deep recession, will have to be trimmed even further. There’s simply no way to make the deep cuts the GOP is demanding without attacking Medicare and Medicaid, health care programs for the elderly and the poor. Much of the pain could be alleviated, of course, by repealing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, but Republicans will not hear of it. They stubbornly cling to the fiction that any tax increases (even repealing the oil depletion allowance for oil companies swimming in record profits) will deepen the recession and cost jobs. The inescapable truth, though, is that the most vulnerable among us are being asked to underwrite the increasing income inequality in America, which is already at the shameful levels seen in the Third World. This is all neatly packaged as absolutely necessary deficit reduction, but if the Grand Old Party was really serious it might ask those who can afford it the most to share a little of the pain.
The post-2010 Obama style is emerging. Out is the optimistic liberal standard bearer. In is the Clintonian triangler. Let the Republicans frame the agenda, stay above the fray, expend as little political capital as possible, then step in as the mediator to forge a last-minute consensus. Hey, it worked brilliantly for Clinton, and it might just get Obama reelected.
Clinton had the benefit of a booming economy and didn’t have to give up much. As we saw from the last two of Obama’s “successes,” the price was giving up on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and this time around, surrendering a significant portion of environmental protection, family planning, renewable energy funding, community health care, and other essential services.
Now Obama wants to enter discussions about the long-term deficit. House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan has already put his much-ballyhooed plan forward, and it’s a disaster. It cuts trillions from the Medicare and Medicaid budgets while staying “revenue neutral.” Translation, big cuts for those who rely on those programs for their health care in the coming decades, the promises made to retirees and the poor broken in the name of fiscal responsibility, and more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. If Obama plays the game of meeting this plan halfway, of surrendering a little less than Ryan envisions in order to get a deal, we will all be the losers. The safety net will be irretrievably shredded, and the ruinous trend toward even greater income inequality will be accelerated even further, with the wealthy taking even more, the middle class losing more ground, and the poor totally forgotten.
Does Obama have any plan for resetting the agenda more in line with the progressive core values he articulated in his campaign for the presidency, or will his recent pragmatism, at a cost too high to contemplate, win out in the end? I’m afraid to look.
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has released his budget, and as expected, school funding takes an enormous hit. Wisconsin is not alone in sacrificing education, and it’s not just Republican governors who are mortgaging our kids’ futures to balance today’s budgets. Colorado’s new Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, has called for drastic cuts, too.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like I’m suddenly a citizen of a foreign country, one that didn’t exist a few short years ago. In the America (and Colorado) I used to live in, Democrats and Republicans alike understood the importance of the education system, and used all the economic tools at their disposal to create workable budgets. In this new and unfamiliar America, we cut taxes and pay for it with cuts to essential services. We don’t plan for the future by setting aside funds for the inevitable downturns. We blame the middle class for the economic miseries inflicted upon us by the rich. We preserve their wealth at all costs, demolishing the social safety net rather than asking the most secure among us to sacrifice a nickel.
The most short-sighted cuts of all have to be the ones to education. We are falling steadily behind the rest of the world in educating our children for the challenges of the 21st century. We are woefully deficient in science and math instruction. We keep slashing our institutions of higher education, which were once the envy of the world. Colorado, already near last among the states in funding, has joined the race to the bottom with a vengeance. I’m thankful my children went through public school when we still had the wisdom to support their education, and that they’re almost done with their college careers. I don’t even want to think about what their children will face when it’s time for them to go to class.
We now have two commissions recommending ways to trim the deficit. The one the president appointed made its preferred approach known last week, and now an independent commission has come up with an even stronger approach. Given the current state of affairs in washington, both approaches are dead on arrival. The GOP will have nothing whatever to do with anything that even remotely appears to be a tax increase. Democrats are incensed at the idea of laying a finger on entitlements. The Tea Partiers, even farther removed from reality than the mainstream of either party, have a laser focus on earmarks, which make up less than one-half of one percent of the budget. Those of us not inside the beltway appear to understand that we will need both to reduce spending and to increase taxes, and that there will be some pain for everyone if we are to get serious about getting the deficit under control. So, of course, we keep electing people who will do neither. The turkey is safe for another year.
I’m not sure, given the dire economic conditions, that Obama had much choice, but the combination of bailouts, stimulus and tax cuts created a budget with a projected $1.7 trillion deficit. The $100 million he’s asked in cuts is laughably tiny compared to the massive spending. A deficit this large will have serious long-term consequences. I only wish that I had more confidence in the administration’s approach to solving the woes of the banking industry. His program is a rehash of the panicked Bush response, and has so far failed to unlock frozen credit despite the hundreds of billions thrown at the problem.