Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Taking our Government Hostage

Now we can reflect on the budget cuts that were forced on us in return for not allowing our government to go into default.

It is important to note that every part of our budget is there because enough of our elected representatives voted for it.  You or I may not agree with parts or it but that is the nature of democracy.  If there are parts of the budget that we want reduced or cut altogether, we can always put a bill through Congress to try and do that.   That’s the way the democratic process works.

So if we agree that like it or not, what’s in the budget is legitimate, then it follows that we must try to come up the revenues to pay for it.  This pay as you go method worked well enough in the 90’s under President Clinton to not only balance the budget but also result in a surplus.

But then President Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush did something that was unprecedented.  He dramatically raised spending by choosing to conduct two wars while at the same time cutting taxes, mostly benefiting the wealthy.  Previously, wars were paid by raising the top marginal rate, sometimes to as much as 91%.

So the predictable result was a return to deficits and the resulting borrowing that has greatly added to our debt level that we are trying to address now.  But it also makes it clear how to reverse the process – and that is to not only cut spending but also end the Bush tax cuts since both the overspending and tax cuts clearly contributed to the problem.

But those on the political right have used the Big Lie over and over by saying that “It’s not a revenue problem but is instead a spending problem.”  When in reality, it is both.  The revenue problem is not only because of the reduced tax intake from the Bush tax cuts, but also from so many unemployed who are paying no taxes.

The Bush tax cuts were scheduled to expire at the end of 2010.  President Obama wanted them to continue for the middle class and below and end them for those in the upper 2% of income.  But the Republican Senate in what can only be described as an act of extortion, threatened to filibuster all legislation, including the extension of unemployment benefits unless the tax cuts for wealthiest Americans were extended.  The president gave in to the demand.

The crisis over raising the debt ceiling was nothing more than an extortion attempt to get what the failed Ryan budget plan tried to get through the normal legislative process.  In a previous posting Republicans Backed Into a Corner, I detail how Ryan and other Tea Party Congressmen were booed and heckled when they explained their budget plan making radical changes to Medicare to their constituents at their town hall meetings.

This is because there is a solid majority in polls who have strongly said that they do not want major changes to Medicare.  In addition, most people polled believe that the richest Americans should contribute more in tax revenues as part of a balanced approach to addressing our budget deficits and resulting debt.

But a belligerent minority got their way through the Tea Party’s demand for deep budget cuts including entitlements but without any additional tax revenues whatsoever or let the US go into default by not allowing the debt ceiling to be raised.

Of course we can question the soundness of a philosophy that wants to take a wrecking ball to government and never agree to tax increases under any circumstances.  For example, is there ever a possibility that taxes can be too low?  Is there a possibility that we can ever have an inadequate amount of government to meet the common needs?  Surely they are not asking for no government or taxes.  So the question is how much of each do we need.  And this is what is legitimately worked out in the democratic process which involves compromise.

But this is not about the pros or cons of the Tea Party philosophy.  It is about the way they imposed their views on our public policy in a thoroughly undemocratic way through taking our government hostage.  It is for this reason that they and their other Republican enablers deserve condemnation.  The Democrats must call them out on this in the upcoming elections before the democratic process in this country gets even more poisoned by unethical tactics like this.

And to show that there is no remorse whatsoever over how this was all accomplished, we have this breathtakingly blunt quote in the Washington Post by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell which says it all.

McConnell said he could imagine doing this again.

“I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting,” he said. “Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done.”

No comments: