President Obama and Speaker Boehner are stuck in a tizzy over raising the debt ceiling. The GOP wants massive spending cuts before the debt ceiling is raised, without raising taxes or increasing revenues. The Democrats want to raise taxes, although it is off the table now, and are resistant to cuts in entitlements, like social security, Medicare, Medicade, and food stamps. The left’s frustration comes from Obama unwillingness to stand up for anything, well, left like. While the GOP holds firm on not increasing revenues, Obama decides to cut spending and put social security on the table. In other debates, like extending the Bush tax cuts, Obama also caved to the right’s pressure.
What is odd to me is how the Republicans, who only control one-third of the government, can drive the conversation. More surprising, the Tea Party wing of the GOP can drive where the negotiations go. The Democrats control the senate and the White House, yet they seem to get nowhere in driving the conversation. Can you imagine if the Progressive Caucus, the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party, had the same amount of power as the Tea Party does?
From my view, the Progressives are not angry enough at most of Obama’s economic policies. The stimulus was not big enough, healthcare was basically a Republican plan that they abandoned for reason, and Obama caved on extending the Bush tax cuts. As economist Paul Krugman pronounced this morning:
But let’s be frank. It’s getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama’s motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right. In fact, if all you did was listen to his speeches, you might conclude that he basically shares the G.O.P.’s diagnosis of what ails our economy and what should be done to fix it. And maybe that’s not a false impression; maybe it’s the simple truth. One striking example of this rightward shift came in last weekend’s presidential address, in which Mr. Obama had this to say about the economics of the budget: “Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can’t afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.”
Not to say deficit reduction isn’t important, but if Obama really was the liberal messiah everyone thought he was and the FDR/JFK/LBJ anti-Christ the GOP predicted, why has he moved towards the center right? Not fighting hard for a public option in the healthcare bill is a pretty bad move for a “Progressive candidate.” Its not like deficit cutting solutions don’t exist for Progressives. Eugene Robinson outlines a simple plan to fix that problem:
Start by allowing the Bush-era tax cuts for households making more than $250,000 a year to expire; this would cut deficits by about $700 billion over a decade. Add in the revenue that would be gained by closing the tax loopholes that Obama keeps talking about — eliminating some deductions for high earners, requiring hedge fund executives to pay taxes at the same rate as their chauffeurs, eliminating the tax break for corporate jets and so on — and soon you’re in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars.The nominal corporate tax rate of 35 percent is a joke, since big corporations don’t actually pay that much; those loopholes, too, could be eliminated. Then we could look at measures that would have broader impact — say, hiking or eliminating the income cap for Social Security payroll contributions.The point is that it doesn’t take much imagination to get within shouting distance of $2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years — looking at the revenue side alone. That’s half of the $4 trillion that both Republicans and Obama have set as a target.
Sadly, none of these plans are remotely close to being on the table in the talks. Democrats appear afraid of engaging in a fight. Obama wants to transcend party politics to be the pragmatic negotiator. For his base, this is not enough. Progressives need to pressure the president and get angry. Do what the Tea Party is doing to the GOP. Threaten to throw the bums out, it works sometimes. If he knows that he can’t take that vote for granted, he might think twice about throwing his base under the bus.
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