Obama sells GOP agenda to Democrats

The battle now going on in Washington over taxes and entitlements is a fixed fight.  Democratic and Republic leaders now agree that crucial safety net programs such as Social Security and Medicare would be cut.  The only question is whether reductions in entitlements will be accompanied by moderate tax increases on the upper-income brackets, as the Democrats propose, or not, as the Republicans insists.

Shared SacrificeI blame President Barack Obama more than I blame right-wing Republicans such as Rep. Paul Ryan.  It is obvious what Ryan’s objective is—to destroy the social safety net, minimize taxes on rich people and give free rein to corporations.  And his supporters are in full agreement with his objective.

Obama’s actions are the opposite of his rhetoric, and, unlike with Ryan, the opposite of what his core supporters want.   I oppose the whole right-wing corporatist coalition—Ryan, Scott Walker the Koch brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council and all the rest.  But I feel betrayed by Obama.

When it comes to the Bill of Rights, President Obama lacks the courage to do what’s right in the face of public opinion.  But when it comes to going against the economic interests of his core supporters, he does possess the courage, as well as the political skill, to enact unpopular policies that are deeply wrong.

I forget who said that if Barack Obama is a liberal, he is an idiot, but that if he is a conservative, he is a genius.   I think he’s a genius.  Who else could have created a situation in which Democrats regard attacks on Social Security and Medicare as the moderate liberal position?

As one writer observed:

cartoon_socSecurity_privatizedVsSlowGrowth_2008oct_468x372From the earliest days of his presidency, Obama signaled that “entitlement reform” was a central plank in his agenda, offering up these sacrificial lambs marinated in talk of “bitter pills” and “reasonable” spending cuts.  Not only did Obama appoint Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to head his deficit commission, knowing they were deficit hawks of the highest order, but Peterson’s Fix the Debt gang grandly supported Simpson-Bowles precisely because it advocated the dramatic spending cuts both parties favor.  Yet former New York Times editor Bill Keller recently claimed that Obama has not embraced the commission’s wisdom.

Obama’s own 2011 plan—different from the commission’s version in that its tax revenues were at least mildly progressive—also aimed at $4 trillion in deficit reduction, with all three social programs included for euphemistic “reforms.”  Sequestration itself was hatched in the White House, a trigger mechanism that creates the illusion that Congress is at the mercy of a higher law and, of course, conservative hordes brandishing wildly underlined copies of Atlas Shrugged.  Likewise, the notion that the Senate can only pass a bill with a super-majority of sixty is a technicality that can be dispatched by a simple Democratic majority.  But the decorum of tradition trumps the exigencies of an anonymous populace. In the end, the policy prescriptions of both parties are overwhelmingly austere.

entitlement101When the administration does differ from its conservative counterparts, largely in the desire to impose a degree of taxation to polish its progressive credentials, the onus falls largely on the working class.  Obama’s much-celebrated tax on the wealthy is a clever sleight of hand: the tax hits a couple of million Americans whose incomes exceed $450,000, but the tax only applies to income over $450,000 and only by the smallest of marginal increases.  Cobbled together with slight increases in capital gains taxes, new Obamacare taxes, and fewer deductions for the wealthy, the 1 percent will cede an extra $62 billion a year.

By contrast, the media-slighted payroll tax will sift $95 billion in 2013 alone from the pockets of the working class. Although initially and intelligently proposed by Democrats as a stimulative measure in 2010, the payroll tax [suspension] was allowed to expire with the consent of both parties. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he saw no reason to extend it. (Granted, it is hard to discern the smoking ruin through the cloud bank.) Nor did Obama bother to include it in his 2013 budget.  Yet the tax penalizes 160 million working class Americans with a 50 percent increase in what amounts to a nationwide wage cut, wiping out the wage gains of 2012.

If it’s not austerity, it’s elitism.  Both are now beltway consensus; the notion of handcuffed liberal do-gooders has worn thin, exposing the Janus face of progressive Washington—rhetorically populist, practically bought.

via Counterpunch.

President Obama has persuaded Democrats in Congress to go along with cutting Social Security and Medicare.

House Democrats came away from a closed-door meeting with President Obama on Thursday [March 14] expressing openness to his proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare, after he assured them he would never cut entitlement benefits unless Republicans yield on tax increases.

2748-Reduced-Social-Security-Benefits-by-Monte-Wolverton-Cagle-CartoonsAfter the meeting with Obama, several key Democrats expressed an openness to entitlement benefit cuts as part of a broader budget bill that includes higher taxes. Their statements run counter to the hoary conventional wisdom in Washington that Democrats are just as stubbornly opposed to cutting safety net spending as Republicans are to higher taxes.

“I’m willing to keep my powder dry until I see what’s on the table,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told reporters. “It’s the context that matters to me.  I’m not willing to absolutely rule anything in or out. … But I’m not willing to give anything away for free.”  … …

The two major benefit cuts Obama has publicly offered Republicans are a reduction in the growth of Social Security benefits via a policy known as Chained CPI, and further means-testing of Medicare, which would require higher-income seniors to pay for a larger share of their health care cost. … …

A separate letter to Obama vowing to “vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits,” has just 30 Democratic signatories.

Connolly candidly explained that for most Democrats, the decision on whether to support Obama on Medicare means-testing and Chained CPI comes down to how they’re framed.

“These issues — it depends on how you choose to frame them, what your frame of reference is,” Connolly said. “So if you define [means testing] or the Chained CPI as a benefit cut, that violates all that is sacred to the Democratic Party.  If you truly believe it can save some money and is simply a technical change in how we formulate and calculate the cost of living … and if that saves the program or if that extends the program for 10 or 15 years, is that a horrible thing? … So that’s how [Obama] phrased it, and that’s how some Democrats will frame it.”

On that score, [House Majority Leader Nancy] Pelosi has for months been refuting the notion that Chained CPI constitutes a Social Security benefit cut. “No, I don’t” consider it a benefit cut, she said in December when Obama floated the idea in fiscal cliff talks. “I consider it a strengthening of Social Security.”

via TPMDC.

Washington’s liberal establishment understands Obama’s agenda very well, and thinks it is a good idea.

tmwretirementThe spectacle of a supposedly liberal President repeatedly and needlessly trying to cut Social Security is enough to bring a reasonable, economically literate person to the point of existential despair. To see leading liberal lights like Rachel Maddow and Ezra Klein chuckle indulgently at those foolish Republicans in Congress over the subject – Don’t they know he’s already giving them what they want? – is to risk plunging into the depths of that despair.

… The President hosted a dinner for Republicans leaders where he worked to sell his budget proposal, including his harmful plan to cut benefits through the “chained CPI.” National Security was the main course and Social Security was the dessert. And guess who wasn’t coming to dinner: The elderly, the disabled, or any policy experts who understand the disastrous implications of the chained CPI.

The Maddow/Klein exchange is the crest of a building wave in pro-Democratic Party commentary which says, as Klein puts it, that “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”  Klein says that at least “some of the gridlock (in Washington) is due to poor information.”  Jonathan Chait bemoans the fact that Republicans ”won’t acknowledge (Obama’s) actual offer, which includes large cuts to retirement programs.”

Silly, silly Republicans.  Klein quotes one reporter as saying of the White House, “They tell us three times a day that they want to do chained CPI!”

That’s right: The White House has been trying to impose this benefit cut on Social Security’s elderly and disabled recipients for years, and Republicans don’t even know.  Neither do most Democrats, for that matter.  They think they voted for a President who will defend those benefits, not work relentlessly to cut them.

via Crooks and Liars.

The most striking and disconcerting thing about the latest round in the budget war is that the debate within the Republican Party is proceeding on the basis of completely false premises.  I don’t mean false in the sense of wrongheaded policy beliefs. I mean Republicans are debating their strategy as if President Obama’s offer consists solely of making rich people pay more taxes.  They won’t acknowledge his actual offer, which includes large cuts to retirement programs.  I keep writing about this.  It’s crazy.

via Daily Intelligencer.

WEB_safetynetI don’t think the Republicans are being at all irrational.  The more they can get President Obama and the Democrats to insist that they think that retirement programs should be cut, the more harmless this issue is to Republicans.

President Harry Truman once said that “if you run a Republican against a Republican, the Republican will win every time”—meaning a Democrat who talks and votes like a Republican has no chance against a real Republican.  Back in 2004, Howard Dean ran for President as the representative of “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”   If Democrats don’t stick up for historic Democratic policies, there’s no point in complaining about Republicans.

Click on the following links for more.

The Dawn of Austerity in America by Jason Hirthler for Counterpunch.

Lots of Democrats Support Entitlement Cuts by Shail Kapur for Talking Points Memo.

A President Who’ll Cut Social Security—And Liberals Who Love Him Too Much by Richard RJ Eskow for Crooks and Liars.

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3 Responses to “Obama sells GOP agenda to Democrats”

  1. Beneath The Tin Foil Hat Says:

    Reblogged this on Beneath the Tin Foil Hat.

    Like

  2. writerdood Says:

    We asked him to compromise. We asked him to work with the Republicans. Sometimes you get what you ask for. Sometimes it’s not what you wanted.

    Like

  3. philebersole Says:

    Include me out of the WE.

    Like

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