Friday, March 08, 2013

The Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is just as bad an idea now as in 2009

Digby has been closely following President Obama-Brüning's effort to strike a Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (aka, "entitlements") since before his first inauguration in 2009. She's been the best analyst I know of on the whole rotten idea.

In How to succeed as an opposition party without really trying Hullabaloo 03/08/2013, she reminds us again what a bad concept in was for everyone except Republican greedheads like Peter Peterson who have been looking to get their hands on the Social Security cash flow and rake huge investment banking profits off of it:

The original calculation of the Grand Bargain was always daft: deficit reduction in a time of massive unemployment and a moribund economy. And even worse that the Bargain was defined as some sort of amorphous "revenue" from people who won't even feel it in exchange for benefits cuts to some of the neediest people in the country. This is also known as a "balanced approach" (to a problem that doesn't doesn't need fixing.) That we've taken a hatchet to discretionary programs is just frosting on the cake. Well played.

The bottom line is this: I think it would be nice to raise some more "revenue." But it is definitely not worth this price and I doubt very seriously it will last any longer than the Clinton tax hikes lasted --- that is until the Republicans regain the presidency. They are not going to overnight become friendly to the idea of progressive taxation, so whatever tiny little accommodation we get now is it, and it's very temporary. But the people of this country will be suffering for many, many years from the cuts to vital programs that were given up in this Bargain.
In an earlier post, The Village: "very, very privileged people wanting to make sure they cut spending on everybody else?" 03/07/2013, she writes:

... we've had a bipartisan National Security policy for decades, one that has always placed a premium on our continued global military hegemony. There is nothing particularly new about that, as appalling as it is. But a Democratic president leading the way to cutting Social Security and Medicare is something new. There was a time when that would have been unthinkable. I've said it before, but it's more and more obvious to me that if the Democratic Party sells out its constituents on "entitlements" --- which they fought for and defended for over half a century, particularly at a time when their authentic democratic political power is stronger than it's been in over three decades, I'm hard pressed to see what the rationale for their continued existence really is. [my emphasis in bold]
She refers to an article on Social Security by Tom Edsall, who she describes as a "highly respected political reporter Tom Edsall, The War On Entitlements New York Times 03/06/2013.

Whenever referring to Edsall, I feel obligated to include the qualifier that, although he does some solid reporting and has for years, his analysis has an aggravating liberal-concern-troll aspect that has irritated me since I read his Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (1991). He often analyses in terms that broadly agree with conservative talking points of the moment, thought phrased in a way to imply that he's a liberal who views his results sorrowfully. After having seen his arguments so often tending that way, I'm tempted to read that even into his conclusion in this piece:

Elite anxiety over entitlement-driven budget deficits and accumulating national debt has created a powerful class in the nation’s capital. The agenda of this class is in many respects on a collision course with mounting demands for action by those lower down the ladder to address the threat to government social insurance programs. Intransigent opposition by the better off and their representatives to raising the necessary revenue means that not only Social Security and Medicare face a budgetary ax.

Among the additional likely casualties: WIC, which provides free nutrition for women, infants and children; long-term and emergency unemployment compensation benefits; low-income housing vouchers; vaccines for poor children; schooling for children with disabilities; special education; preschool programs; child care for disadvantaged and vulnerable children; after-school programs; treatment of the mentally ill; and meals for sick and homebound seniors.

This conflict could not have come at a more difficult time: the United States is in the midst of a zero sum struggle requiring politicians to pick losers, not winners. The population of those over 65 is set to multiply, with longevity steadily increasing even as median annual household income for the population at large has shrunk to $51,584 in January 2013 from $54,000 in 2008.

In this kind of conflict over limited goods, one of the most valuable resources that can get lost in the fray is the wisdom of the electorate at large. In this case, the electorate is pointing toward progressive tax increases for those closer to the top far more readily than members of the political class, for whom high-earners are a crucial source of campaign contributions.
But however Edsall himself regards the value of that outcome, he is correct in describing the strong pressures to cut benefits on Social Security and Medicare and other programs that benefit others than only the super-rich. Pressures actively encouraged right now by Medicare opponent Barack Obama.

Digby's comment on the effect of the Democrats supporting cuts in benefits to benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, "I'm hard pressed to see what the rationale for their continued existence really is", really resonates with me. Although it's like what I think of a classic Jesuit comment that first makes me think, "Something's not quite right about that." But then I find myself not being able to think about the issue without taking account of that comment.

I have a hard time envisioning what that might mean in practice for the Democrats to lose "the rationale for their continued existence." There's always the standard third-party slogans to apply: there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, if you vote for the lesser of two evils you'll get what you vote for, etc.

But even in a world in which politicians wouldn't even bother to pretend they were anything but corporate whores - how hard many of them are already to that point might be a matter of some discussion - there would still be competition between individuals to be first in line to collect their fees. And as long as elections are happening, there is always some room for people advocating positions not 100% consistent with a state of corporate whoredom to get a hearing, and even occasionally get elected. Even in the one-party segregated South, there were intense contests, including contests around issues, among candidates in the Democratic Party primaries as they competed for a majority of the white vote, nonwhites not normally having a vote to cast.

But I do think a Democratic Party that joins the Republicans, as Medicare opponent Obama-Brüning wants to do, in opposing the most basic social "safety net" programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, will put us into a fundamentally different political era for the Democratic Party.

I'm confident in saying it will not look like the postpartisan, end-of-ideology state on which Obama-Brüning seems to be so fixed. That happy state in which all "ideological" issues are settled: the requirement that rich people pay taxes to support their country, women grousing about how they should be able to control their own ladyparts, minorities complaining about being discriminated against, aspiring mall shooters griping that libruls are trying to limit their access to guns, workers thinking they have a right to join unions, old people expecting some kind of retirement in minimal dignity and with access to health care, all those will be resolved. All that will be left to discuss in politics will be technocratic issues, like which wars we should start this year, how much public land should be handed over to the extractive industries and at how low a price, and which new job-exporting, antilabor international trade agreements should be approved. The annoying public would happily accede to the advice of their betters in the corporate boardrooms, Wall Street casinos, K Street lobbying firms, the Pentagon and the pundits on TV talk-fests. And they will do their civic duty to show up every couple of years to select which corporate whore they think has greater celebrity appeal.

Shakira doesn't necessarily come first to mind when you think "protest song." But her song "Timor" comes to mind in this context:

It's alright, it's alright
The system never fails
The good guys are in power
And the bad guys are in jail

It's alright, it's alright
Just as long as we can vote
We'll have a democracy
And that's what we promote

Isn't it? Isn't it?
That is on her Oral Fixation Vol. 2 album from 2005, when George W. Bush was using "democracy promotion" as a prominent justification for perpetual war.

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