Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Big Bad Deal compromise

This was Obama's presentation on 07/31/2011 praising the debt-ceiling agreement and bragging it would reduce discretionary domestic federal spending to the lowest level since the Eisenhower Administration, something the Democratic President apparently thinks is a good thing.

Here's an alternative take from Scott Bateman, featuring the President's own words:

Actual Audio: Obama on the Debt Deal from scottbateman on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, Jamie Galbraith prior to the Senate vote was saying Vote 'No' to the Debt Deal and Call in the Constitution New Deal 2.0 08/2/2011. His reasons:

On the economics: by slowly choking off public services, public investment and regulation, the deal sets the economy on a path to strangulation. Every dollar cut from the budget, now or later, is a dollar less of private income. Less private income means less consumption, less private business investment, fewer jobs. Tax revenues will fall, and the deficits and debt will in the end not be reduced. The so-called "cloud of debt" will not lift. Contrary to the foolish claim made by the White House today, there is no magic by which "lifting a cloud of uncertainty" produces growth. There is no confidence fairy.

On dishonesty: the proposed cuts would reduce discretionary public spending as a share of GDP to what it was before the government had any major role in transportation, housing, education, safety, health, medical research or environmental protection. To where it was before the NIH or the CDC, before HUD, before the EPA, before OSHA, before the Department of Education. This is a false promise: those cuts cannot and will not be found. To promise them is to play to the gallery of the ignorant. To pretend that to make them would be good policy is to repudiate the entire past half-century. To make them would bring on a disaster, in many small and large ways, as the physical structures and legal and institutional protections built up over decades crumbled and fell apart. [my emphasis]
At least Social Security and (maybe) Medicare survived actual cuts in services in this round. But:

And while Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid escaped in the first round, they are set up to fall in the second. The deal creates a new junta to force those cuts before the end of this year. The process is repellent, cruel, undemocratic, and designed to leave blood on the ground but not on anyone's hands. [my emphasis]
What we've seen is a genuine breakdown in our democratic system, with unpopular oligopolistic economic policies being jammed through in the face of basic economic knowledge and good sense. When do we stop saying that the US is "becoming" a Banana Republic and acknowledge that the transition has occurred?

Michael Tomasky puts it sensibly in Obama Gives It All Away Daily Beast 07/31/2011:

This is the lowest moment of Obama's presidency. It makes Bill Clinton signing of the welfare reform bill of 1996 look like the founding of the Peace Corps. Even the things he supposedly got out of this deal could vaporize. Defense cuts on par with domestic cuts? After the military contractors' lobbyists get to work? I'll believe that when I see it. Of course Obama did get one concession: no second debt-ceiling vote until 2013. By which time, if he doesn't fundamentally change his way of doing business, he may very well be in retirement.
In political-science terms, Tomasky is right in the bolded statement. But in a more fundamental systematic sense, the low point of Obama's Presidency was his decision not to prosecute the torture perpetrators of the previous Administration. The assumptions implicit in that decision about the rule of law, the role of democratic government and the politics of facing an authoritarian opposition party are now visibly disintegrating his ability to govern. Without some unexpected crisis in which Obama displays a previously-unseen ability to deftly exploit, the Republicans with their control of one House of Congress and most of the federal judiciary are now running the show.

Tomasky is obviously right about the bolded following, as well:

... entitlements [Social Security and Medicare] are next on the GOP’s list. Take my word for it: The Republicans who will serve on the "super-committee" of 12 senators and House members who’ll be charged with determining the next round of cuts by Thanksgiving are going to aim squarely at entitlements, especially Medicare and Medicaid. Now, entitlements need reform and savings, no doubt about that. [This is a nod to conventional pundit wisdom, left vague enough to not specify what Tomasky thinks those need to be. - Bruce] If Republicans were interested in a good-faith way in shoring up the programs for the long-term even if it meant, say, that Medicare wouldn't kick in until age 67 for people now in their 40s, that would be one thing. [I.e, Tomasky thinks this disatrously bad idea is a desirable thing to do. - Bruce] But in fact, they want to destroy it. And Medicaid’s position is even more precarious. We spend too little on it as it is - the barest minimums for poor people's health costs, which inevitably result in higher-cost treatments down the road. This December, liberals will be counting on Barack Obama to defend those programs. What a disgrace that that is now a frightening proposition. [my emphasis]
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