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2012 will be more about actual problems than phantom movements

danps's picture

It's funny that professional left now describes those who have been too critical of Democrats. To the extent that such a thing - a well funded, fully staffed and perennially active infrastructure presuming to be a liberal standard bearer - exists, it is the province of the think tanks (Center for American Progress), media (New Republic) and personalities (Jonathan Chait) constantly flacking in defense of Washington.

While it may offer occasional quibbles, the real professional left is ultimately supportive of current leadership, and more interested in rationalizing its actions than examining whether that leadership has been less than exemplary. And since there is a rotating cast of political followers who need faux-progressive commentary designed to lionize and prop up the established order, there is always plenty to do.

Because of the relatively high turnover among those followers (it changes as leaders change), folks like Chait can offer up new wankery on a regular basis without having to answer for previous instances. Really, Chait's time as an analyst should have ended with: "No matter how badly we might bungle a post-Saddam rebuilding of Iraq--and Bush's record in Afghanistan, alas, suggests little reason for optimism--it is difficult to imagine that deposing Saddam will not greatly improve the living conditions and human rights of the Iraqi people." But failure is not discrediting for the professional left.

This is not to say it consists entirely of snake oil salesmen. Some like Steve Benen are very sincere and thoughtful, and in fact Benen is a regular read for me. But while I enjoy his analysis, sometimes he seems a little too determined to explain everything as the result of GOP perfidy.

Take the payroll tax cut. Forget that if you're talking about tax cuts then you're on Republican ground. The bigger problem is that it is being played up way out of proportion to its usefulness. Does anyone think it has been substantially stimulative? Is there any evidence it has made a real impact - say 1% or more - on the unemployment rate? The whole squabble is essentially inside baseball, which means non-political junkies will just regard it as more background noise from Washington. The kind of fine distinctions Benen makes are destined to be lost on the broader electorate.

To really energize the base, I suspect Democrats will need to identify an agenda and also a legislative path for its enactment. Using the payroll tax holiday as one item in a substantial list of initiatives (including, say, mortgage cramdown, taxing the rich, reinstating Glass-Steagall and the previous bankruptcy program, and a massive infusion of grant money for colleges) could be a real selling point. Whining about how the big bad GOP stymied all the awesome things you were on the verge of doing? Not so much.

Which is why a concrete platform has to also be accompanied by a road map. When Democrats had the presidency and both houses of Congress in 2008 they proved more concerned with the tender feelings of their friends across the aisle than with the actual fates of millions of their fellow citizens. It will be incumbent on leadership - Harry Reid and others in the Senate particularly - to show how they will move items through the process.

Maybe they can tell voters they need at least 75 Democrats to overcome defections from "centrist" members of their own caucus along with reflexive filibusters. I suspect they'd get a better reception by simply pledging to do away with the filibuster and going with majority rule, but I'll leave political calculation to the professionals.

There is also what Eric Scheiderman called the "sense that we don't have one set of rules for everyone anymore, that people are not held accountable for misconduct." For instance, the Justice Department just settled an eight year lawsuit with no disclosure and no admission of wrongdoing. Also, a former Treasury Secretary was just alleged to have tipped of his Wall Street buddies with insider information. These are merely two recent examples.

There seems to be complete impunity above a certain level; call it Too Big To Jail. Democrats have at least allowed it to flourish, and that encourages the perception that there ain't a dime's worth of difference between the parties. Want to change that? A perp walk for Hank Paulson would be a splendid place to start.

But at a minimum, outline a program that might make a real difference in voters' lives. Tax cuts won't do it, and "we'll try not to once again be confounded by Republican parliamentary maneuvering" is not the path. The question voters' need answered is, what will be different this time? If they don't have that answer, election day might disappointing for Democrats.

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coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

Part of the payroll tax cut includes employee based contributions to SS.

If that continues, isn't it likely that goal of both the Dems and Republicans - to gut SS through defunding - is more likely to occur?

It seems that this "short-term benefit" is likely going to be a long-term disaster. And since people are now "used" to that "tax cut", when rates go back up to what they should be, everyone is going to be screaming bloody murder about the "tax increase".

More fun and games from DC. Only the 99% shouldn't be laughing.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

can either be thought of as a separate program with its own funding or as just another gov't program drawing on general revenues. He seems to be agnostic on it, just pointing out the separate political implications for each. I'm just wary of tax cuts because it feeds the whole austerity loop. Tax cuts means deficits, which means calls for cutting spending. That won't end well for most of us.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on that it be separately funded and NOT be another government program. By law, SS can't contribute to the debt - but the politicians conveniently forget about that - and put it on the table for cutting. You see, they took the money from the SS trust fund to spend on other programs and now won't pay it back.

But by keeping it separate then those who have contributed into the program have a legitimate argument that DC must keep it's cutting tools off of SS.

Now, of course, with SS contributions already but by Obama - and sure to be continued that way - the program will get more and more fragile on it's own and eventually fade away.

All smoke and mirrors to achieve a goal that all DC politicians want, but won't admit.

tom allen's picture
Submitted by tom allen on

Sounds pretty much right. To even be arguing about tinkering with Social Security right now is stupidly insane, so arguing about whether to use tax cuts to do it is ... well, why not watch Dancing with the Stars, instead?

Submitted by jawbone on

this payroll tax cutting serves several purposes for him.

It gives him cover to say he's helping the out of work (who do not benefit at from this cut), stimulating the economy when the R's will not, and...ta dah!...lays the basis for saying SocSec really is "in trouble."

Now the promise is that the payroll tax cuts will be made up our of general revenues...anyone here buying that? If the R's stay in control, no way. And if the Dems get back in the majority, there are still enough of them with no principles who won't back that kind of funding.

Oh, my. I guess I have lost faith in the Democratic Party....

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Andrea Mitchell: [00:20] What about the payroll tax extension and -- the two sides are at least agreeing now -- reports that the Republicans were at least concerned they were getting outflanked on this payroll tax cut and that it was too dangerous to go up against the Democrats on this, it was not a good talking point politically. Can you agree on how to pay for it?

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN): [00:38] I don't know Andrea, I think it really is a bad policy, I mean, I think the type of thing we should be moving toward is the kind of thing Bowles-Simpson laid out and that is doing away with a lot of tax expenditures and loop holes and lowering everybody's rates. I think it's the very best thing we could do for our economy and if you really look at this payroll tax holiday or reduction it moves in the opposite direction. And I'm actually surprised that AARP has not come out and said, "Look, what you're really doing is turning Social Security into a welfare program." So, I just think all of this is really, really bad policy.

Corker: [2:37]...This payroll tax holiday was to be for a year. And now it's going to be around for another year. And Andrea, you know how things are around here, after a while it's permanent.

Mitchell: They'll never get rid of it.

Corker: [2:45] That's right. And so, think about it, what that basically means is that Social Security becomes a welfare program. I don't know, is that what most Americans want it to become? I'm surprised there's not been some discussion about that. Most people I know on Social Security, I don't think want it to be deemed that but that's the direction we're moving. And I'm just surprised this debate has taken on the angle that it's taken on.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

cuts in payroll taxes, notwithstanding. That's been established some time ago now.

All the "funding" of the private sector by the Treasury comes from the Government marking up someone else's spreadsheet.

The question is always, where does the Government get the authority to create the money to do that.

First, it gets it from Congress's constitutional power to coin money.

Second, it gets it from a law passed in 1996 allowing the US Mint to create legal tender 1 oz. platinum coins having arbitrary face value.

Third, it gets the authority from legislation enabling the Fed to create money to fulfill all its obligations including its obligation to credit deposits in the US Mint's Public Enterprise Fund (PEF) account of such platinum coins.

And fourth, it gets the authority from legislation enabling the Treasury to periodically sweep the Mint's PEF account of the coin seigniorage profits resulting from the difference the between the Fed's credits issued for the face value of the coin(s), and the actual cost of minting the coin(s). In the case of a $60 T coin, that difference would be very nearly $60 T (my favorite example).

So, there need not be any shortage of money for taking care of the Government's obligation to pay SS benefits. It's solely a question of the will of the Executive to create that money and then mark up accounts represented in "spreadsheets." These previous posts of mine will clarify what's involved here further.

Sorry for all the links.

But the whole issue here is created by unwillingness to think in terms of the Federal Government's power to create all the money needed to pay its obligations w/o either taxing away or borrowing the money needed for payment. You really need to recognize that and feel moral indignation against the people who keep claiming that we are running out of money and that we must cut "entitlements."

There is no shortage of Government money. Our "entitlements" are just that. We must not be defensive about them. Or consider them welfare. They are part of FDR's second bill of rights and they are ours. We ought to defend them with our lives, just as we ought to defend all of our other rights. We also ought to strengthen our safety net entitlement programs, because they are not yet strong enough to cushion the economic shocks and resulting destruction of the wealth of the 99% that comes from the financial and political manipulations of the 1%.

As soon as you realize that there is no need to take money from people to pay for SS; then you must also conclude that if a payroll tax cut will help create jobs, it ought to be passed. And not just in the limited way President O wants to do it. There ought to be no payroll taxes at all, until full employment is reached.