Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Most Americans would not be able to point out how failing to raise the debt ceiling would affect them. However, if the regressive plan proposed by Republicans in the House were to become law, every American would quickly be able to feel its sting. The focus grouped, "Cut, Cap, and Balance" bill would require $400 billion in cuts each year for the next 10 years, cap spending at 19% of GDP, (despite Congressional Budget Office projections showing spending will need to rise to 21-22% in the next 10 years) and it would result in the end of Medicaid, (health care for the poor) and Medicare. It is truly a breathtaking proposal, as it would roll back and end the progressive agendas of the 20th century and return America to the Gilded Age of a weak federal government, low or no taxes on the rich and a Grand Canyon sized divide between the wealthy and the working poor.

If you ever wondered what our national priorities would look like if the regressive/tea partiers were to gain the Senate and the White House, it is now crystal clear what their vision of the future contains. The gap between the rich and everyone else would continue to grow. The social safety net would cease to exist. Education would become the purview of those who could afford the rising tuition. Innovation would dry up as spending on basic research drops precipitously. The Pentagon would continue to suck up huge amounts of resources and environmental gains of the past would quickly reverse.

All I have laid out isn't a secret. It has been the goal of regressives since FDR implemented his New Deal. Regressives have been quite vocal about their goals. In 1982, Reagan budget director David Stockman did the unthinkable when he committed truth. Stockman admitted the purpose of Reaganomics was to drive up the deficit and national debt so there would be less money available for social programs. They wanted to "starve the beast" to "cut off its oxygen". By driving up the deficit, regressives could attack socially progressive policy under the guise of fiscal discipline thus avoiding a political backlash among affected constituencies. "Don't blame me, we just don't have the money to fund these extravagances any longer." Regressive anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist says the goal is to starve government down to a size where he can drown it in a bathtub. Just as few people believed Hitler when he laid out his agenda and goals and philosophy in Mein Kampf, regressives have been clear their goal is to return government to how it looked in 1900 rather than 2000. Why don't we believe them? (Ironically, in 2000 America was prosperous, President Clinton turned over a surplus to George Bush and over 8 million jobs had been created during his presidency.)

"Cut, Cap and Balance" is political theater at its best. It has no chance of passing and regressives just want it for political talking points. The proof of the pudding is Democrats in the House tried to pass the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, a proposal which included the end of Medicare as we know it and contained most of what cut, cap and balance is said to accomplish, but Republican leaders rallied members to vote against its passage. The last thing they wish to do is incur the wrath of voters. They want to slowly suffocate the progressive agenda under the aegis of fiscal discipline. Regressive columnist David Brooks, bemoans the fact Republicans are overreaching. He says they have already accomplished so much. They have blocked any tax increases on the rich, forced Democrats to accept cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, blocked much of the financial Dodd/Frank reform bill from being implemented, stopped funding of regulatory agencies tasked with oversight over industry and manufacturing and agriculture, but are now getting greedy by opposing a raise in the debt ceiling. No truer words were ever written.

If you want to test my theory, just compare President Obama's proposal to Republican and House Majority Leader Eric Kantor's ideas. Obama proposed a $4 trillion reduction in spending over 10 years. He proposed $3 in cuts for every dollar in revenue increases. Kantor wants less than $2 trillion in spending over the same 10 years with no revenue from tax increases and massive across the board cuts, except at the Pentagon, and reducing benefits in both Medicare and Social Security. Kantor does not want to truly get us back on a fiscally sound footing. He wants to protect the wealthiest taxpayers and corporations and end the progress of the last 80 years.

When President Clinton raised taxes on the richest 1% in 1992, not a single Republican voted in favor. Newt Gingrich predicted the end of the world. Jobs would disappear. The economy would crater. Poverty would increase and personal wealth decrease. Taxing the "job-creators" (a euphemism for the rich) would be a disaster. As we now know, the opposite occurred. Job creation exploded. The economy grew red-hot. The wealthy got richer and the middle class grew and poverty decreased. In 2001, President Bush cut taxes on the richest 1% costing the treasury over $2.3 trillion. He started two wars, which he refused to pay for through increased taxes. Those wars will cost over $4 trillion when all is said and done. For the first six years of his presidency, he did not create a single net new job. The deficit and national debt ballooned. The economy went into a depression not seen since the 1930's from which we still haven't recovered. Between Clinton and Bush we have textbook examples of the effects of progressive vs. regressive policies.

We can’t keep spending at current rates. However, we can't keep tax levels for the rich at 1950 levels either. Anyone truly interested in a solution would embrace spending cuts and tax increases as the best way to put the nation on a good fiscal foot. (However Social Security shouldn't even be a part of the discussion as it doesn't add to the debt at all and pays for itself) Regressives aren't interested in a good fiscal footing which maintains the status quo. They want to end Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security as we know them. They want to eliminate health care reform. They are reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in political contributions from the financial industry, corporations and the uber-rich so they can cut financial reform and regulations under which industry chafes. They are philosophically opposed to the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), Federal Reserve, FDA (Food and Drug Administration), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), FDIC (federal deposit insurance corporation), FCC (Federal Communications Commission), and any other form of government regulation. They refuse to staff the new consumer watchdog agency. (What is so interesting is how they blithely accept the expansion of the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, TSA, and the DEA, which threaten our privacy and civil liberties. This is despite their constant mantra that the government governs best which governs least).

President Obama is actually drawing a line in the sand for once. He won't accept a short-term debt ceiling increase. He wants to do more. He needs to call the Republican bluff. He should oppose Mitch McConnell's Plan B; which allows him to raise the debt ceiling between now and 2012 and which would give the Republicans ammunition to use against him while they protect the rich from paying their fair share. However, the war on progress will continue unabated until the American people rise up and declare their preference for moving forward not regressing. I have little confidence the electorate will wake up and send the m message progress means life and standing still or regressing is political and economic death. As always, however, I live with hope.


  1. Well stated, Bernie. As per usual, you have stated the salient points. Would that clear thinking would fall upon the masses "like the gentle rain of reason".

  2. Bernie, I'm surprised you're taking this seriously. Obama has been entertaining us for 7 months. This debt negotiation is just more theatre and comes from the fact Obama has been giving in to the repubs from the moment he took office, we were just too stupid to see it until now. We were hoping Obama was playing eight dimensional chess with the repubs. We were wrong. It's too late for Obama to "draw lines in the sand." In the end the debt ceiling will get raised (before Aug. 2 or a couple of days later) in a way for all sides to declare victory. The only losers will be future and present americans and the country in general. As long as he doesn't become a one term president like Jimmy Carter and a joke (which can you picture: Obama with a suitcase full of money heading a lobbying firm or Obama building houses). If you want a "line in the sand" Bernie, this is it.

  3. I disagree that Obama plans to leave with a bag full of money. He may be our Stevenson and only time will tell if Stevenson would have been a successful president as demonstrated by Obama. I prefer my leaders to not be flamboyant. Those who are may make a lot of change in a short time but those who follow may just as quickly reverse much of the good that was accomplished. Better a tortoise than a hare, so to speak.