Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Not Even Close

I reject the notion that the framework that President Obama and Republicans agreed to on Monday was in any way a true compromise. In a White House video release the President makes the case for the agreement. The Administration extracted a few promises from Republicans including an extension of the Obama tax cuts from the stimulus bill, a tax cut for all Americans on income below $250,000, an additional payroll tax to incentivize hiring, and extensions of emergency assistance for the unemployed. In return, Republicans received a two year freeze on income tax rates for the wealthiest 2% of Americans and the Millionaire Inheritance tax at historically low rates. Protecting tax cuts for middle class families is now only a liberal goal? Puh-leeze. Getting the economy into a true recovery by incentivizing hiring is a progressive idea? Sure. Keeping the unemployed out of foreclosure with unemployment insurance is only good for Democrats? That's a new one. Conservatives got almost everything they wanted, except perhaps an even larger reduction to the millionaire inheritance tax. The Democrats got nothing that is of ideological value on par with the Republican gain. Since when did economic pragmatism become solely a province of one party? Oh right.

Republicans held hostage every goal that Obama mentioned in his press conference remarks yesterday. The Republicans essentially planted a bomb aimed at the middle class and the entire economy and claimed that the only way to defuse the bomb was to accede to their demands. Is it a compromise to accede to the bomber's demands? On the one hand, the safety of the American economy, which is the Obama administration's penultimate goal, was safeguarded. On the other hand, there's a reason that every government (and even fictional government) has the policy of not negotiating with terrorists. It spawns more danger for the citizens of their countries. Will Republicans be satisfied with this gift to the wealthy? Let's hope so, but there's plenty of reasons to expect them not to be: their stated goal is to cause the Obama administration to fail. Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and their SPECTRE GOP cronies will keep holding guns to the heads of Americans and demanding that Democrats act like Republicans or they'll shoot.

Obama doesn't see much point in labeling these tactics for what they are while the tactics are ongoing, which will make his complaints little more than a footnote in this debate. The President did have this to say in a direct-address video on the White House website:
"These tax cuts will expire in two years, and I will continue to make the case to the American people about why I don't believe they should be renewed. In fact, I'm confident that as we make the tough choices to cut the deficit, it will become apparent that we cannot afford to extend these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans one day longer."
Instead of fighting for the integrity of the federal budget and against the extra tax cut for the wealthy and the millionaire inheritance subsidy, the President will make the case against it as the government is being shut down as a result of that hole in the budget over the next two years.

The fact is that this compromise is great! if you don't want the government to function. That is the central motive of the modern Republican party, and it is the complaint that even loyal Democrats have with this administration. The Bush Administration was marked by a serious of despicable failures in government: inability to oversee financial markets, unwillingness to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina, the discrediting of American intelligence and diplomacy in the rush to the invasion of Iraq, a do-nothing EPA that refused to confront global warming, an impartial Department of Justice, etc... The list is about as endless as the government has functions. To err may be human, but it would require a willfully blind person to not connect the dots between these systemic failures. George Bush, in most areas in which the government operates, put in a staff that was organized against pursuing the goals of the agencies which they directed. Office of Management and Budget director Mitch Daniels and his successors took a $3 trillion projected surplus and turned it into a $8 trillion deficit by 2008. The reason that this "deal" is not a compromise in any real sense is that Republicans are kneecapping government, and Democrats are giving away the money in its purse. Yes, the Democrats motivated by an attempt to spur job growth, hence the payroll tax cut as opposed to a tax cut for the wealthy, but longer term care for the economy also requires a functioning government. I can't imagine that self-identifying "liberals" are the only people who understand that. The government's role in the economy is to promote the growth of the middle class by preventing the types of market failures that suck money into the pockets of the extraordinary few. When the government is attacked, its ability to protect the middle class from criminals like Bernie Madoff (and for that matter, street criminals and Mexican drug cartels) is weakened.

If the government starts shedding the ability to function (and Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader McConnell are going to shed it with a hatchet), President Obama will lose credibility in his ability to influence the economy. His plan to point out the hatchet wounds as the GOP makes them will not pay off. The GOP has a long standing hatred of government, as their tax policy guru and feudal lord Grover Norquist put it, the goal is to shrink the federal government until it is enough that it could drown in a bathtub. President Obama believes that the American people will realize the value of government services as they lose them, coming to the Democrats aid. I think this is unlikely; people are more likely to blame the incumbent President for failing to serve them than they are to cut through the corporate media noise and right-wing echo chamber blather to blame the right people. The economy may very well come roaring back in the next two years, but more likely, it won't. If it does, the money to regulate the criminals will be in the pockets of the wealthy. The SPECTRE GOP recovery will be a boon to corporations, but there will be plenty of victims who blame the Democratic Party for failing to amply protect them.

The truly sad thing is that Obama thinks that the left just wants to score political points and make the Republicans vote against a tax cut for the middle class. That is not the reason that the President should either be getting more out of this deal or not taking it. He needs to negotiate from a stronger position on behalf of the American people, the economy, and the government. Those are the losers in this deal, not the Democratic party. The Democratic party comes out fine from this deal. It is the future of the budget, the debt, government services, and a just society that are at stake. Democrats may care more about these than Congressional Republicans (meanwhile, outside of Congress, the majority of real Republicans agree with Congressional Democrats in a CBS News poll), but fighting against this giveaway to the wealthy is not a partisan issue. 98% of House Republicans voted not to extend the tax cut on income below $250,000 because they wouldn't get the extra tax cut for the wealthy thrown in. That makes them bad economists or extortionists, but it doesn't make the economic pragmatism and fiscal conservatism of extending only the middle class tax cuts partisan. President Obama is long in learning that not all opposition is loyal.

If President Obama's message to the left is 'this is a long game,' the left's message to him is, 'and when will you start playing it?' It won't be soon enough. Not even close.

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