Sunday, April 10, 2011

Smoke gets in your eyes

Ezra Klein: "2011 is not 1995"(via BDR) would’ve never known it from President Obama’s encomium to the agreement. Obama bragged about “making the largest annual spending cut in our history.” Harry Reid joined him, repeatedly calling the cuts “historic.” It fell to Boehner to give a clipped, businesslike statement on the deal. If you were just tuning in, you might’ve thought Boehner had been arguing for moderation, while both Obama and Reid sought to cut deeper. You would never have known that Democrats had spent months resisting these “historic” cuts, warning that they’d cost jobs and slow the recovery.

Boehner, of course, could afford to speak plainly. He’d not just won the negotiation but had proven himself in his first major test as speaker of the House. He managed to get more from the Democrats than anyone had expected, sell his members on voting for a deal that wasn’t what many of them wanted and avert a shutdown. There is good reason to think that Boehner will be a much more formidable opponent for Obama than Gingrich was for Clinton.

Of course I don't know Ezra Klein, but by most accounts he is a bright, highly educated overachiever, so I assume he knows better, or at least should know better. He gives Obama and Reid credit they don't deserve, suggesting they fought the good fight against those horrible Republicans, and are bravely putting on a good face in defeat. To believe this you have to believe that Obama and Reid are not in fact in on the effort to strip mine the New Deal and Great Society programs. Reid and Obama could have, for example, insisted on a vote on ending the GWB era tax cuts in the summer of 2010, when the dems still had a majority, playing election funding hardball with the so-called Blue Dogs in the House and Senate(most of whom lost re-election anyway). They didn't do this because they didn't want to.

But what about a filibuster? Bills have passed the Senate for many decades without 60 votes. They could have forced a GOP fillibuster, rather than reactively running away from even the possibility of one because they didn't have 60 votes locked up, breaking the phony-baloney gang of 14 agreement. Again, they didn't force the issue because they didn't want to.

Going back to 1990s income tax rates would have rendered the 38 or 39 or whatever billion in cuts unnecessary. (Whether they even were necessary in the short term is also debatable, but to keep the present discussion simple assume they were.)

Even if they lost a vote on the tax cuts in summer 2010, it would have given the democrats a rhetorical club against the GOP in the then-upcoming elections, refuting the Tea Partiers claim that they were serious about reducing the deficit. It may have even helped in the midterms, at least in some districts that democrats lost.

And as far as Boehner being a 'much more formidable opponent for Obama than Gingrich was for Clinton'', you have to assume that the degree of difference between BHO and Boehner today is comparable to that between Gingrich and Bill Clinton in '95, and that BHO is not a corporate stooge, etc.

(Actually, even Bill Clinton has shifted corporate right closer to the GOP than he was, at least operationally, in 1995. I note Clinton's endorsement of Joe Lieberman versus Ned Lamont in 2006 as exhibit A, and Clinton's own rejection, in December 2010, of going back to the Clinton era tax cuts as exhibit B. Of course 1995 was so many six figure speeches ago, and one imagines that Bill's Rolodex of well-connected friends is so much fatter.)

Klein continues:

So why were Reid and Obama so eager to celebrate Boehner’s compromise with his conservative members? The Democrats believe it’s good to look like a winner, even if you’ve lost. But they’re sacrificing more than they let on. By celebrating spending cuts, they’ve opened the door to further austerity measures at a moment when the recovery remains fragile. Claiming political victory now opens the door to further policy defeats later.

Or, claiming political victory now confuses stupid people and sends the proper signal of deference to the owners. I guess that's crasser, and may even use words that are frowned upon in the Washington Post style manual. But he's undoubtedly right about opening the door to further austerity measures and 'further policy defeats'. You have to give him that.

Among the best blog posts from this past week:

Two from Ian Welsh, "In Light of the Budget Deal: Obama’s Personality"
and "When Medicare is destroyed is only a matter of when"

and two from Jack Crow, "Clumsy Theater"
and "Pay no attention to the man behind the..."

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