Posts Tagged ‘fiscal cliff’


The New Obama Honeymoon

   Posted by: Robert    in News

News reports out of Washington yesterday continue to be deeply disappointing for anyone who believes, even a little bit, in spending cuts and deficit reduction.  Apparently seeking some version of prudence in putting off the debt ceiling fight until they can better make the case for spending cuts, Republicans have given Obama a blank check with a sticky note asking to talk to him about it later.  This strikes me in every way as being yet another example of Republicans giving Obama and the Democrats almost everything they want, in exchange for… I have no idea what.  It’s really starting to look as if the Republicans in Congress have completely lost their minds.

If there is a single upside to what the Republicans have managed to accomplish, it’s to lay bare once and for all the farce formerly known as the debt limit.  As a trip point for political and media chaos, the debt ceiling was an unbelievably potent tool.  Every few months for the past few years, we’ve had this highly compressed political dance of talking about the government running out of money and how we need to get serious about reducing the deficit.  At the end of the day, though, the whole thing ended up being nothing but political theater after the first couple of rounds made it obvious that Republicans would always blink first in the game of financial chicken.  When you get right down to it, the debt ceiling has been effectively unlimited for years.

By always being the side that blinks, Republicans have done an exceptional job of losing all credibility in the recurring battles over deficit reduction.  Everyone knows that when the going gets tough, the GOP backs down.  And while they used to at least frustrate the Democrats a little bit in their compromises, the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling “compromises” have been nothing but capitulation in exchange for trivialities.

Behavior like this is exactly why conservatives have no faith in Republican candidates and it is precisely why Republicans have so much trouble turning out their base.  Low conservative turnout for elections is a vote of no confidence in the Republican party.

As I’ve said before and will say again, when Republicans do the things that they say, they are unbeatable on the economy.  Republicans won huge in 2010 on a platform of economic issues.  Romney beat Obama handily among economy-oriented voters.  Americans want deficit reduction, debt reduction, and spending cuts.  The GOP doesn’t need to take their time to prepare that message; they have done that successfully.

What Republicans need to do is start acting like they believe in any of it.

And so as I understand it, May will come and with it will come the expiration of the unlimited debt ceiling.  The media, which will have ignored five more months of Republicans attempting to talk about spending cuts, will once again get all amped up over the financial crisis du jour and put Republicans back on their heels with cries that the GOP wants to cut off America’s financial legs.  Republicans, having never tried to spread their message by any means other than the mainstream media, will have no choice but to extend the unlimited debt ceiling again, while promising future talks about spending reduction, “for real this time, you guys!”  And so it goes, and so it goes…

Until the country plunges to its doom.

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Pushing the Middle Class Over the Cliff

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

There’s no shortage of things to dislike about the way the Fiscal Cliff was “avoided” by the politicians in Washington.  Deferring talks about cutting spending, again, is one of the most prominent failures I can imagine.  The impotence of Republicans in winning even a single meaningful battle is an embarrassment to the party and to conservatism.  The fact that America’s real fiscal disaster looms as large as ever, even as we pat ourselves on the back for fixing a so-called disaster that we specifically engineered for our political theatre, is inescapable.  But perhaps the greatest thorn in my side as I consider everything that went wrong with the Fiscal Cliff “solution” is the restoration of Social Security taxes to their level three years ago.

In the media and in political discussions, the battle over the Fiscal Cliff was played out in a world foreign to most Americans.  The debate on the table was largely about taxes on the “rich,” meaning people who have incomes significantly higher than most of us are likely to achieve.  The political battle over the definition of “rich” (is it $250k?  $400k?  $1 million?) happened way over the heads of most Americans, since most of us don’t live in households with six figure incomes.  Of course, this focus on “the richest of the rich”, “the 1%”, or whatever you want to call them was entirely the point.  As the rhetoric went, “they have more money than they need, they aren’t you, so screw them.”  And so we did.

But even as Republicans celebrate passing a permanent tax cut for the middle class — a “tax cut” which merely makes “permanent” the “temporary” tax rates that had lasted more than a decade — most Americans won’t see a tax cut when they open their next pay stub.  In fact, everyone who gets a pay stub will see a tax increase, thanks to the two year old Social Security tax “holiday” being allowed to expire.  When a tax cut causes taxes to go up, you know something is broken.

Welcome to America.

That Republicans would fail to protect the lowered Social Security tax rate is hardly a surprise.  Republicans, despite being the party of lower taxes, have opposed the lowered rate from the very beginning.  Republicans cited the already weak condition of Social Security which would be weakened further by the tax cut.  In practical terms, the tax holiday likely did very little to inspire job creation, because employers had to spend the same amount of money anyway; it was just allocated differently between employees and the government.  Nevertheless, outside the topsy-turvey world of Washington, the tax “holiday” was a tax cut, and its expiration is now a tax increase.

Of course, raising Social Security taxes does precious little good for anybody.  Social Security was going broke before the tax holiday and will continue going broke after.  With discussions of actually fixing Social Security in a state of perpetual deferral, Republican “problem solvers” have failed to solve any problem that needs solving.  And while Republicans seem institutionally incapable of understanding why people vote for them, things like this will do nothing but help drive away those very voters.

Republicans could make great strides if they stopped looking at taxes through the lens of Washington and started looking at them the way the people do.  If I look at my pay stub and the number for me is higher while the number for the government is lower, that’s a tax cut.  If my number is lower and the government’s is higher, that’s a tax increase.  A tax cut that goes away — it doesn’t matter how or why — makes my number go down and theirs go up, which means it’s a tax increase.  Making a “temporary” tax cut “permanent” is utterly meaningless, because the numbers don’t change.  And of course, there’s no such thing as a permanent tax cut anyway, because the government can always just raise taxes again.

But no, Republicans think like Democrats and live in a world where words don’t mean what they mean.  And all of us whose paychecks got smaller now have to suffer for it.

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The Anti-Conservative Blame Game

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

There’s apparently a lot of press going around discussing who will take the blame if the country falls off of the “fiscal cliff” being discussed currently in Congress.  The reporting, it seems, says that it will be Republicans who get blamed despite the fact that Democrats control both the Senate and the White House.  There’s apparently even a poll saying that the people will blame Republicans.  None of this should be surprising when you consider that Republicans were blamed for obstructionism even when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House.  Also unsurprising is the Republican response, moving to the left to try to avoid taking the blame.

When will the Republicans learn that they are going to be blamed for something no matter what they do?

Following the 2008 election, conservatives had staked out some relatively straight forward and common sense positions on how to manage government finances.  Republican proposals have been consistent about two major topics which remain the subject of much debate.  Republican proposals are intended to reduce spending and to raise government revenue.  Importantly, however, when Republicans say “revenue” they actually mean “revenue”, in contrast to Democrats who say “revenue” but mean “tax rates.”  The Republican plans were designed to ensure that more people have jobs and that more people got pay raises.  Without lowering the tax bar at all, more people would end up paying taxes because more people would have more income.

Republicans won big on the economy in 2010 and in 2012.

Republicans seem to have taken the 2012 election as a general repudiation of all things conservative.  Reality, though, is that that’s not what happened.  Among people whose top issue in the 2012 election was the economy, Romney beat Obama nationally by a relatively wide margin.  The economy has been a core issue — the core issue — for Republicans ever since Obama first took office and they have carried the day on that message consistently, despite media hostility, ever since.  Where Republicans failed in 2012 was in not realizing that the presidency is about more than just the economy.  If it were, Romney would be the President-Elect right now.

“If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”

For conservatives, those words from Captain Jean-Luc Picard should never ring more true than they do today.  The risk of being blamed for something shouldn’t deter conservatives from doing anything at all.  The reality is that it’s not a risk that our side will be blamed — it’s a certainty.  If we oppose the Democrats, we’ll be blamed for getting in the way of Obama’s economic plans.  If we go along with the Democrats, we’ll be blamed when their economic plans succeed in further destroying the economy.  If we pursue compromise with the Democrats, we’ll be blamedfor both.

Given that there’s no upside to playing along, it should be obvious that there’s no downside to playing against the Democrats’ wishes.  The outcome for us is the same either way, the only difference is in a few minor details.  However, the outcome for everyone else could be drastic.  By staying true to conservative economic principles, Republicans could calm an increasingly listless base.  What’s more, staying true to our principles would let us actually help people, regardless of whether we get credit for it or not.  And if by some chance our ideas truly are awful, at least we can say that we’ve done something for which blame is warranted, we can find new ideas, and we can move on.

Being blamed by the left is part of being conservative.  It’s time we got used to it, and stopped caring.