Friday, October 11, 2013

Turning Chicken Shit Into Chicken Salad

With the spectacular crash of their efforts to defund (or repeal) "Obamacare," polls showing their party is about as popular as herpes and even the media starting to go against them, you have to hand it to the GOP - instead of beating an orderly retreat, passing a "clean" debt ceiling and continuing resolution to pay our bills and open government (respectively), they've deftly pivoted back to the catnip that makes the DC media purr - the elusive "grand bargain." Suddenly, all the sturm und drang they caused by shutting down the government is now a faint din because Republicans now want to talk about budget deficits (which they exploded under George W. Bush) and our long-term debt (another victim of W's fiscal recklessness). 

Of course, the media is more than happy to encourage this discussion because there's nothing the inside-the-beltway types like more than the idea of "big" things being done. They lionize it movies like Lincoln and shill it in books like Chris Matthews's soon-to-be-released Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. It feeds the conventional wisdom that if both parties just got around the table and negotiated they could come together to solve our nation's problems. Unsurprisingly, the concessions that the media (and Republicans) are focused on tend to hurt the poor and elderly (chained CPI, sequestration, etc.) and rarely hit the well-to-do (Republicans say that any new taxes are non-starters and are funding domestic programming at something barely above down-to-the-bone levels).

Sadly, Democrats are inclined to buy into this narrative and even encourage it. Instead of advocating for policies that would make Social Security more progressive by, for example, lifting the cap on salary subject to Social Security tax (the current ceiling is around $113,000, so people at higher income levels pay no social security tax on their wages above this level), or expanding access into Medicare by lowering the eligibility age, Democrats appear content to merely accept the basic functioning of government and our payment of bills already incurred as their deal points. Of course, if the contours of a "grand bargain" begin to take shape that includes cuts to entitlement programs, any Democrat raising their voice in opposition will be subject to excoriation not just be Republicans (who are suddenly hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya cooperative) but the same media who craves an illustration of bipartisanship like a thirsty man in the desert (never mind that entitlement cuts won't hurt *their* bottom line. Most in the DC media are in the top decile (if not higher) of income earners in America). 

Aside from the potential for a massive political cave by Democrats, the cruel irony is that this narrative is being steered by a party that controls one-half of one-third of government and is wildly unpopular. The President and Democrats in Congress will not only do Republicans an enormous favor by entering into "grand bargain" negotiations, they will be forever tarnishing their reputation as the protector of the "little guy." If Barack Obama signs legislation that trims Social Security benefits or tweaks Medicare, he will strip from Democrats two pillars of its political identification that began under FDR, continued under LBJ and have been part of the party's DNA ever since. Moreover, by accepting temporary concessions, be they related to the lifting of the debt ceiling or opening government, the President will simply hand Republicans the ransom notes they will be able to use next year or against the next Democratic President.

Not that anyone's asking for my advice, but among the things I would demand in a negotiation with Republicans would be (1) legislation that eliminates the debt limit; (2) levying the FICA tax on income above $250,000; (3) allowing people to "buy into" Medicare beginning at age 60; and (4) an "up or down" vote in both houses of Congress on the President's American Jobs Act. The party that lost a landslide election, got 1 million fewer votes in Congress and lost seats in the Senate does not get to dictate the terms of the debate. The President and Democrats in Congress must press their advantage, understand that the American people are not "center right" and that the right wing echo chamber is more bark than bite. Lead. Do not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 

1 comment:

  1. Once again, you are brilliant! I wish the powers that be in Washington would ask for your advice.