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Boehner The Extortionist: “Give Us Trillions In Cuts In Medicare and Medicaid Or We Blow Up The Economy”

Stripped of its politician’s gloss, this is the message that House Speaker John Boehner delivered to Wall Street Monday in discussing the price Republicans demand for raising the debt ceiling.

Boehner portrays himself as a reluctant extortionist: “It’s true that allowing America to default would be irresponsible.” But he told the barons of Wall Street he has no choice. The Tea Party made him do it: “Washington’s arrogance has triggered a political rebellion in our country. And it would be more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without simultaneously taking dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process.”

Notice the Speaker’s phrasing. He curses deficits and debt but he isn’t focused on them. He is focused on “our spending addiction.” “Everything is on the table,” he says, “with the exception of tax hikes.”

And even that is a half-truth, since Boehner and his party have also no appetite for real cuts in the defense budget. Boehner isn’t pushing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and roll back the costly U.S. global police role. In the budget that Boehner pushed through the House, Republicans voted to give the Pentagon back most of the relatively nominal defense cuts that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had projected over the next years. And many harshly censored the president for suggesting that another $400 billion in cuts might be chipped out of the more than $8 trillion the Pentagon will spend over the next 12 years.

So if tax hikes aren’t allowed—even though the wealthiest Americans are now paying a lower effective tax rate than their chauffeurs—and defense cuts are off the table, how does Boehner propose to get “trillions” in spending cuts? Medicare and Medicaid get the ax. Or as Boehner puts it in politician speak, “Everything on the table” includes “honest conversations about how best to preserve Medicare.”

The budget math is inescapable. The federal government, as Paul Krugman puts it, is basically an insurance system for our retirement years that also has an army. About half of the government’s spending is in retirement programs—Social Security, Medicare, much of Medicaid and other insurance programs. Defense is half of the rest. All of the rest of government —public health, environmental protection, the IRS, the FBI and Justice Department, education, Pell grants, roads, health research, R&D—consumes the last fourth. When Republicans take taxes and defense off the table, and call for trillions in spending cuts and you have no choice but to go after Medicare, Medicaid and/or Social Security.

Which of course is what they are doing. The House budget cuts nearly $800 billion out of Medicaid over the next five years—and ends Medicare as we know it.

There is a bitter irony to this. The current deficits stem largely from three sources—the Bush tax cuts, the two wars that were fought on the tab, and the Great Recession that cratered tax revenues and lifted spending on everything from unemployment to food stamps to the recovery spending. Boehner argues that “adding nearly a trillion to our national debt—money borrowed mostly from foreign investors—caused a further erosion of economic confidence in America.” But he ignores the trillions added to the debt by the Bush tax cuts, the wars and the Great Recession, focusing only on the Obama recovery spending, which made the smallest contribution of all of these to the deficits. And, he rules out reversing the top-end tax cuts or cutting the military spending to address the deficits that they helped to create. (And if we actually adopt his policies, he’s likely to extend the Great Recession as well).

Boehner argues that adopting his position would show that Washington is “starting to get the message” from the American people. But Boehner isn’t hearing what most Americans are saying. Americans are concerned about deficits, and they are certain that government wastes significant portions of their money. They also oppose the billions squandered on subsidies and tax breaks for Big Oil, Big Pharma, Agribusiness and the like—tax breaks that Republicans defend, arguing that repealing them constitutes a tax increase.

In fact, the vast majority of Americans don’t agree with Boehner’s priorities. The Campaign for America’s Future, which I help direct, has started an American Majority campaign to remind the media of this fact. Three quarters oppose cutting Medicare to help balance the budget. Two thirds oppose raising the retirement age. Three fourths oppose cutting state funding for Medicaid. Over 60 percent favor raising taxes on those making over $250,000 to help reduce the deficit. A growing majority think defense cuts ought to be on the table.

Boehner wants to extort his cuts now—at a time when the economy is struggling, and the country is suffering from mass unemployment. With interest rates near record lows, the construction industry idle and our infrastructure in deadly state of disrepair, the country would be well advised to use this occasion to invest in rebuilding the country, and put workers back to work.

Instead, Boehner offered Wall Streeters a shower of conservative shibboleths, stuck randomly like pieces of lint on a serge suit. “The massive borrowing and spending by the Treasury Department crowded out private investment by American businesses of all sizes,” he argued to what must have been a bemused audience well aware that with interest rates low, and business sitting on trillions in capital waiting for demand to pick up, the only “crowding out” comes from ideology displacing reality in Boehner’s head..

Boehner argues that business people crave stability. Even the mere threat of tax hikes causes them to retreat from investments they might otherwise make. Regulatory changes are similarly disruptive:

“For job creators, the ‘promise’ of a large new initiative coming out of Washington is more like a threat. It freezes them. Instead of investing in new employees or new equipment, they make the logical decision to stand pat.” Sadly, Boehner didn’t explain why the threat to blow up the economy if he can’t get trillions in unidentified spending cuts doesn’t constitute the “promise” of a large new initiative coming out of Washington.”

What happens now? Boehner’s position is untenable. He is holding a hostage—the economy—that he dare not shoot. He is demanding trillions in cuts from programs that he dare not name. He is looking for a back room negotiation in which he can get the president to give him cover in enacting cuts that are unpopular to the American people and likely to be ruinous to the economy. If the president falls for it, Republicans make progress in dismantling the Medicare program that they have always opposed, and the president takes the rap for the bad economy.

What’s to be done? Jonathan Chait gets it right. The president—and the country—would benefit from an open discussion, not a backroom negotiation. The president needs to call Boehner out. What are the trillions in cuts that he wants as the price for letting the economy go free? If he lays them out, as in passage of the House budget plan that ends Medicare as we know it, the President can show Americans why they are unacceptable, and use the bully pulpit to take the case to the country. If Boehner isn’t prepared to lay out his cuts, call his bluff. Surely he can’t long threaten to cripple the economy if he doesn’t get cuts that he isn’t prepared to define.

One thing Boehner says rings true. Americans are sick of the arrogance in Washington. But it is hard to imagine a more arrogant politician than one threatening to blow up the economy if he doesn’t get his way.

By: Robert Borosage, CommonDreams.org, May 10, 2011

May 11, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government Shut Down, Jobs, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Pentagon, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, States, Taxes, Tea Party, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can Seven Reports Be Wrong About The Risks of Spending Cuts? GOP Says Yes

Could two independent economic reports, a liberal think tank and four bipartisan reports on debt reduction be wrong? They all conclude that slashing federal spending this year could cause job losses and threaten the economic recovery.

The latest report, from Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics, says 700,000 jobs could be lost by the end of 2012 if Republicans succeed in their quest to cut $60 billion from domestic programs this year. Cuts and tax increases are necessary to address the nation’s long-term fiscal problems, Zandi said, but “cutting too deeply before the economy is in full expansion would add unnecessary risk.” The report largely echoes earlier analyses by Alec Phillips of Goldman Sachs and the Center for American Progress.

House Speaker John Boehner famously responded, when asked about potential job losses earlier this month, “so be it.” On Monday his office pointed to a new counter argument offered by Stanford economist John Taylor – that “a credible plan to reduce the deficit” will help the economy, not hurt it, and that $60 billion – the amount the other analyses assume will be cut this year – is an inaccurate, inflated figure.

Taylor is a former Bush administration official based at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford; last year he received an award from the conservative Bradley Foundation. Zandi, founder and chief economist at Moody’s, was an adviser to Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008. However, he is a registered Democrat. (Update: Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, named by Republican George W. Bush and re-appointed by President Barack Obama, also disputes the Zandi and Phillips reports).

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel called Zandi “a relentless cheerleader for the failed ‘stimulus,'” who “refuses to understand that ending the spending binge will help the private sector.” That led the Chicago Tribune’s Mike Memoli to tweet, “Today, GOP discredits Mark Zandi. Last fall, cited his analysis in arguing against tax hikes.”

It is an article of faith among Republicans that 2009 stimulus package has “failed.” But the Obama administration, Zandi and many others disagree with that assessment. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the stimulus created or saved up to 3.5 million jobs, raised the GDP and stabilized an economy that had been in free-fall.

There is no sign the stimulus will ever be anything but a partisan flashpoint. Yet there is bipartisan consensus to be found in the reports from various deficit and debt commissions. They are unanimous in suggesting either increased stimulus or steady government spending in 2011.

“Don’t disrupt the fragile recovery,” the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform warned in December. Its plan – adopted by 11 of the 18 panel members – calls for “serious belt-tightening” to begin in 2012. A report from the Bipartisan Policy Center suggested gradually phasing in steps to reduce deficits and debt “beginning in 2012, so the economy will be strong enough to absorb them.” The 2009 Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform put off cuts to the same year, as did a recent proposal from Brookings fellow Bill Galston and Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

MacGuineas has mixed feelings about the GOP drive to slash spending and slash it now. “It’s good that we’re actually talking about spending reductions” instead of putting it off, she said in an interview. “On the one hand, that’s helpful. On the other hand, they are focusing on the wrong time frame — this year instead of this decade, and focusing on the wrong part of the budget — a very thin slice instead of the real problem areas” such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The ideal scenario in the view of MacGuineas and the bipartisan commissions would be for politicians serious about debt reduction to spend 2011 on a long-term plan to reduce domestic and defense spending, raise taxes, ensure long-term health for Social Security and solve the riddle of controlling Medicare and Medicaid costs. “The right model is to put in place this year a multiyear plan to get there,” MacGuineas said, adding she has high hopes for a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

The skirmishes over spending – destined to repeat themselves constantly this year as Congress confronts potential government shutdowns and loan defaults – have provided political fodder for all sides. Democrats seized on Boehner’s initial response to the prospect of job losses and now refer often to the GOP’s “so be it” jobs policy. Republicans, though they only control half of Congress, are making good on promises to the tea party movement and other voters who put a premium on cutting government spending.

If Republicans can’t secure Senate passage and Obama’s signature for their spending cuts, they will have at least made clear to their base that they tried. If by some political miracle they win the $60 billion in cuts they are seeking, and the recovery picks up, they can take credit. If the economy dips back into crisis, or even if the jobless rate is flat, they can blame Obama and bolster their case to take back the White House.

Unless of course Obama and the Democrats, equipped with who knows how many reports by then, figure out a way to blame them first.

By: Jill Lawrence, Senior Correspondent-Politics Daily, March 1, 2011

March 1, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Deficits, Economy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican Budget Cuts Promote ‘Trickle Up’ Poverty

How appropriate that Washington’s most challenging budget crisis in decade coincides with the Republican Party’s centenary birthday celebration of Ronald Reagan, whose attacks on “welfare queens” and the social safety net in the name of deficit reduction caused indisputable collateral damage to middle class Americans. The Ronnie-like budget cuts that Republican leaders are proposing today—against unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing—all boast the potential to carry on the Reagan tradition of hurting the very middle class they aspire to help. 

Why? Because the cuts to the programs the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives are targeting would increase poverty, and more poverty lowers property values, diminishes the quality of life, and drives up family taxes and expenses of middle class Americans. 

Cuts to federal housing programs will increase homelessness. Combine increased homelessness with vacant public housing and you have a cancer that will spread, reducing property values in communities across our nation. Or consider cuts to unemployment and food stamps. These are likely to cause grocery stores in urban, suburban, and rural areas—many of which serve the middle class—to either close or lower the quality and selection of their wares, just to preserve profit margin. 

A persistently high unemployment rate may well also translate into desperation and increased property and personal crimes. Not only will more crime lower our quality of life, it will drive up the cost of local policing. That could mean higher local taxes meet crime-fighting demands.

Public schools were once the first choice of middle class families; these schools are the first to fail as poverty rises. Where school was once free, poverty forces many middle class families today to shell out thousands of dollars to educate their children. These new costs are a fact of life for more and more middle class Americans as poverty spreads across the country. Sadly it’s at just the time they can least afford it.

Let’s be clear. No one rejoices at the prospect of spending billions of dollars for subsidized housing or food stamps or Medicaid. And Glenn Beck acolytes and progressives alike can agree that good paying jobs are better for families than a plethora of government subsidies. But the problem is that our economy and the policies that drive it are not creating enough decent paying jobs for all able-bodied Americans to cover their basic household expenses. Federal subsidies for basic needs make up for the shortcomings in our economy. And they help a surprising number of people. 

To be sure, we can find ways to run these programs more effectively and more efficiently. And that’s where the hard work of budget cutting should concentrate. The ubiquity of technology, even in low-income communities, presents a huge opportunity to shed administrative costs. We should also find ways to better align these programs so that they enable workers and their families to more successfully move out of poverty. If we are serious about protecting and expanding the middle class, then the tough discussions on how to overhaul the delivery of these income-support programs need to commence.

But it’s simply not in the interest of most Americans to swing an ax at these programs amid a nascent economic recovery. Today, over 10 million Americans are collecting unemployment, and nearly that many citizens are in apartments with rents subsidized by the federal government. More than 40 million Americans put food on the table with the aid of food stamps. Fifty million Americans are able to go to the doctor or the hospital because of the Medicaid program. And fully one in six Americans is dependent on federal and state support for their basic necessities of life. 

The consequences of reducing federal income supports will be devastating on the poorest among us. But the impact will not be contained to them. Remember: Ronald Reagan tried to convince us that wealth trickles down. His enduring legacy, however, is that poverty trickles up. 

By: Donna Cooper,  Senior Fellow-Center for American Progres, February 14, 2011

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Deficits, Jobs, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Reason on the Budget: House Republicans Have Finally Revealed There Real Vision

After two years of raging at President Obama’s spending plans, House Republican leaders have finally revealed their real vision of small government: tens of billions in ideologically driven cuts to job training, environmental protection, disease control, crime protection and dozens of other critical functions that only the government can perform.

In all, they want more than $32 billion in cuts below current spending packed into the next seven months. They would be terribly damaging to a frail recovery and, while spending reductions must be part of long-term deficit control, these are the wrong cuts, to the wrong programs, at the wrong time.

But they are not deep enough for many Tea Party members, freshmen and other extremists in the House Republican caucus. In a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, they forced the leadership to abandon its cuts and prepare to double them. The new list is expected on Friday and promises to be one of the most irresponsible budget documents ever issued by a House majority.

The Senate should make it clear that it is not worthy of consideration, and President Obama should back them up with a veto threat.

If House Republicans don’t come to their senses, they could shut down the government on March 4 when the stopgap measure that is now financing it runs out. If that does take place, it will at least be clear to voters that their essential government services were turned off in the service of two single-minded and destructive goals: giving the appearance of cutting a deficit that was deliberately inflated by years of tax cuts for the rich, and going after programs that the Republicans never liked in good times or bad.

Many of the Republican freshmen want to stick to the “Pledge to America” that they would cut $100 billion from the president’s 2011 budget, a nice round number apparently plucked from thin air. More experienced Republican leaders knew it would be impossible to cut that much in the remaining few months of the fiscal year and said they would trim the equivalent percentage. Harold Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, warned that the full cut would require laying off F.B.I. agents and air traffic controllers.

If he was trying to make his $32 billion in cutbacks seem modest by comparison, he failed. The list would cut $2 billion from job training programs — precisely what is needed to help employ workers mismatched with the job market. It would cut $1.6 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is struggling to keep up with the growth of greenhouse gases. There would be significant cuts to legal assistance for the poor and renewable energy programs and an end to all spending for AmeriCorps, public broadcasting and high-speed rail.

The battle over the rest of the 2011 budget is only a prelude, of course, to the bigger fight about to begin over the 2012 budget. President Obama is scheduled to unveil his budget on Monday, and already he seems willing to feed the bottomless Republican hunger for cuts rather than fight them. An ominous early sign is his proposal to cut the low-income heating assistance program nearly in half to $2.57 billion. Administration officials say that energy prices have fallen, but, as Democratic lawmakers from the frostbitten Northeast have pointed out to him, there are many more unemployed people now.

Some cuts will have to be made, but strategically it seems to make little sense to start giving away important ones before reaching the negotiating table. Republican lawmakers in the House have already made it clear that they are indifferent to the suffering and increased joblessness their cuts will cause. As the extreme reductions are heaped up in the next few days, Democrats in Congress and in the White House need to make a clear case to the public that quality of the nation’s civic life is at stake.

By: Editorial-Opinion Pages, The New York Times, February 10, 2011

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Deficits, Jobs | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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