Monday, February 22, 2010

Bipartisanship, the health care summit and the deficit-

Robert Kuttner provides a good analysis of why Obama's Thursday summit to beg the Republicans one last time to support health care reform will be a Moment of Truth for his Presidency. (Huffington Post 02/21/10)

Robert Reich also weighs in at the Huffington Post, arguing It's Time to Enact Health Care Reform With 51 Senate Votes 02/21/10. Reich doesn't have even as much patience with this summit process as Kuttner, who himself has very little. Reich:

This week the president is hosting a bipartisan gab-fest at the White House to try to tease out some Republican votes for health care reform. It's a total waste of time. If Obama thinks he's going to get a single Republican vote at this stage of the game, he's fooling himself (or the American people). Many months ago, you may recall, the White House and Democratic party leaders in the Senate threatened to pass health care with 51 votes -- using a process called "reconciliation" that allows tax and spending bills to be enacted without filibuster -- unless Republicans came on board. It's time to pull the trigger.
But Reich's point about using the reconciliation process applies just as well to abolishing the filibuster, a badly needed reform: "The Constitution does not require 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation. A majority will do. That's called democracy."

Kuttner also makes a point that makes me momentarily feel less concerned about Obama's bipartisanship deficit commission:

When Alan Simpson, the Republican co-chair, was in the Senate, privatization of Social Security was one of his big causes. Under the commission's rules, it will take 14 out of 18 votes to recommend a blueprint for budget reduction. I asked a senior member of Obama's economic team how they expected a commission to reach agreement with this kind of requirement, given that Republicans block all Senate action using a much more modest supermajority. He had no good answer.
It's still a seriously bad idea for Obama to be pandering to the neoliberal deficit fetish at a time when the Republicans are howling at the moon about how the deficit is going to destroy us all and using it to oppose Obama's own programs.

But then, Obama lately has been fitting the classic cynical comment about liberals usually credited to poet Robert Frost, that liberals are so open-minded they are unwilling to take their own side in an argument.

Paul Krugman also just did a don't-worry-too-much-about-it column on the deficit commission in the New York Times, The Bankruptcy Boys 02/21/10:

So the beast [government, as conservatives claim to see it] is starving, as planned. It should be time, then, for conservatives to explain which parts of the beast they want to cut. And President Obama has, in effect, invited them to do just that, by calling for a bipartisan deficit commission.

Many progressives were deeply worried by this proposal, fearing that it would turn into a kind of Trojan horse — in particular, that the commission would end up reviving the long-standing Republican goal of gutting Social Security. But they needn’t have worried: Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted against legislation that would have created a commission with some actual power, and it is unlikely that anything meaningful will come from the much weaker commission Mr. Obama established by executive order.

Why are Republicans reluctant to sit down and talk? Because they would then be forced to put up or shut up. Since they’re adamantly opposed to reducing the deficit with tax increases, they would have to explain what spending they want to cut. And guess what? After three decades of preparing the ground for this moment, they’re still not willing to do that. [my emphasis]
Krugman's focus in this column is on the Republicans' unwillingness to actually propose specific spending cuts to get the balance budget they say they want. But in doing so, I worry that even Krugman manages to leave the impression that the deficits are a critical issue, though if you look closely he's talking about after 2020.

But the Democrats and progressives need to be demystifying the deficit scare whose purpose really is primarily to abolish Social Security and Medicare. That's what the deficit hawks are talking about when they discuss the supposedly vital need to cut back "entitlements".

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