Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Friday, October 25, 2013
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Solving our biggest national problems is a very simple matter -- on paper. The major obstacle to progress in America is the annoying tendency of our political leaders to speak in useless generalities.
Republicans: “We will never vote to raise taxes.” Hooray!
Democrats: “We will never vote to cut social security.” Woohoo!
Why are lawmakers so afraid of having a civil conversation on the specifics?
Today, somebody earning $113 million a year doesn’t pay a penny more in social security taxes than somebody making $113 thousand a year. Most rational Republicans think that’s ridiculous. But as long as their “leaders” keep calling a fair fix a “tax increase,” inequity will prevail.
Conversely, there are now 400 percent more Americans -- age 65 or older -- than there were in 1940. And they are living an average of five years longer. Most rational Democrats think a modest increase in the eligibility age for social security is perfectly reasonable. But as long as their “leaders” continue to characterize common sense as a “benefit cut,” nothing will ever happen.
It’s not just social security. The same is true for almost any “difficult” issue you can imagine.
Most Republicans believe background checks should be required before buying a gun. Democrats agree. Yet there are no background checks.
Most Democrats accept the proposition that the path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants should be long and tough. Republicans agree. Yet there is no immigration reform.
Most Republicans think it’s absurd that the government can’t shop around for the lowest price when it comes to prescription drugs for seniors. Democrats agree. Yet the drug lobby still trumps the taxpayers.
Both conservatives and liberals believe that our allies should be shouldering a larger share of the cost of their own national defense. Yet overseas military spending is still off the charts.
Ditto taxes. I can’t find anybody who actually believes that a hospital worker in America should pay a higher effective tax rate than a hedge fund manager. Can you?
If politicians actually got down to the specifics of almost any major public policy issue, party labels and political ideologies would magically give way to good old fashion common sense. Unfortunately, in Congress these days, common sense is not so common.
There are a million reasons for this -- chief of which is a rightfully ticked off public that hasn’t seen any progress in their paychecks for more than three decades. And the fact that JP Morgan Chase just agreed to pay a record $13 billion fine for ripping the heart and soul out of everybody’s most important asset -- their home -- doesn’t even begin to heal that wound.
Sure, we’re angry. And yes, there are many other factors: gerrymandering, Citizens United, talk radio, 24/7 cable news networks -- pick your poison. Legislators, lobbyists, and luminaries of the chatter class all profit handsomely from a polarizing and ultimately paralyzing focus on the general at the expense of the specific.
Just look at the recent government shutdown. Standard & Poor’s pegged the cost to the country during a fragile recovery at $24 billion which translates into a half point in lost GDP this quarter. Yet Ted Cruz’s campaign coffers are millions of dollars richer.
The New York Times’ editorial page assessed the damage to American economic growth since 2010 as: “over $300 billion in lost output and roughly 2 million fewer jobs than would otherwise have been the case.”
Never raise taxes? Never cut spending?
The time has come for us to insist that when it comes to governing, leaders on both sides should never say never again. As long as reckless political behavior is rewarded with re-election, politicians will always vote to protect their own jobs -- even if it costs you yours.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
October 19, 2013
THE HIGH COST OF LOW POLITICS
It was never wise or necessary to cut the deficit while the economy remained weak. The political imperative to do so, driven by Republicans and clumsily adopted by Democrats, has had devastating results. Over the past three years, the depth and pace of federal spending cuts have reduced growth by about 0.7 percentage point, equivalent to over $300 billion in lost output and roughly 2 million fewer jobs than would otherwise have been the case. That so-called fiscal drag has been the single biggest weight on economic growth.
To the extent that deficit reduction is politically unavoidable, Mr. Obama and the Democrats should insist that it come mainly from higher taxes rather than spending cuts. Tax increases on high-income individuals and large corporations are less damaging to the economy than deep spending cuts, and income tax increases to date have affected only a fraction of the top 1 percent of filers, leaving room to raise taxes at the top of the income ladder without harming the economy.
Forcing Republicans to relent for now in their extortionate ways is a tactical victory for Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats in the long budget war. What’s still needed is a budget that taxes and spends with the aim of boosting the economy so that the majority of Americans will, at long last, begin to benefit from the recovery.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Monday, October 7, 2013
Friday, October 4, 2013
Our Democracy Is at Stake
October 1, 2013
This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.
What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded.
When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules then our democracy is imperiled.
This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ”
“Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.” How did we get here?
First, by taking gerrymandering to a new level. The 2010 election gave Republican state legislatures around the country unprecedented power to redraw political boundaries, which they used to create even more “safe, lily-white” Republican strongholds that are, in effect, an “alternative universe” to the country’s diverse reality.
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of strongly Democratic districts decreased from 144 before redistricting to 136 afterward. The number of strongly Republican districts increased from 175 to 183. “Republicans would need to mess up pretty badly to lose their House majority in the near future,” said Republican analyst Charlie Cook. The numbers suggest that the fix is in for any election featuring a fairly neutral environment. In other words, there is little risk of political punishment for the Tea Party members now holding the country hostage.
Meanwhile, there's the Supreme Court’s inane Citizens United decision. Last month, for the first time ever in Colorado, two state senators who voted for universal background checks on gun purchases lost their seats in a recall election engineered by gun extremists and reportedly financed with some $400,000 from the National Rifle Association. You’re elected, you vote your conscience on a narrow issue, but now determined opponents don’t have to wait for the next election. With enough money, they can get rid of you in weeks.
Finally, the rise of a separate G.O.P. (and a liberal) media universe — from talk-radio hosts, to Web sites to Fox News — has created another gravity-free zone, where there is no punishment for extreme behavior, but there’s 1,000 lashes on Twitter if you deviate from the hard-line and great coverage to those who are most extreme.
When politicians only operate inside these bubbles, they lose the habit of persuasion and opt only for coercion. After all, they must be right. Rush Limbaugh told them so.
These “legal” structural changes in money, media and redistricting are not going away. They are superempowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule.
If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.
President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.