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The politics of spinach

Thursday, November 11th, 2010



That bellowing sound you hear is the scream of pain from sacred cows.

The co-chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission really stepped in it yesterday, big time, when they publicly insisted that the spreading red ink on the federal ledger will never get cleaned up unless both parties, and the entrenched special interests in polarized Washington, all agree to share the necessary sacrifices. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world? Good luck with that one, guys.

It’s a darn good thing that Erskine Bowles (centrist North Carolina Democrat, former Bill Clinton chief of staff) and Alan Simpson (former Wyoming Republican senator who actually believed in working with Democrats) have no future designs on running for elective office, because the specific ideas they floated yesterday, in the name of restoring fiscal discipline, would be sufficient ammo for any opponent. Seriously, the 30-second TV attack ads would write themselves:

Bowles wants to hike your taxes at the gas pump! Simpson wants to gut seniors on Social Security! Bowles wants to raise taxes on middle-class homeowners! Simpson wants to throw people off Medicaid! Bowles thinks that you should have fewer tax breaks! Simpson wants to make America less safe! Bowles wants to raise the Social Security payroll tax on hardworking Americans! Simpson wants to protect ObamaCare!

And no wonder, because Bowles and Simpson have dared to defy both partisan camps. In their bid to slash the annual projected deficits and accumulating long-term debt, by finding $4 trillion in savings over 10 years, they are essentially signaling that everyone will have to eat some spinach. They’re arguing that the Republicans (and their ideological group allies) need to give up their fantasy that the federal books can be balanced solely through massive spending cuts; and that the Democrats (and their allies) need to give up their fantasy that the safety net shall remain forever inviolate.

It’s at least nice, for a change, to get some fresh thinking outside the box. Their aim is to get $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue increases, via an intricate mix of policy changes that would include: slowly raising the retirement age for full Social Security benefits to 69; hiking the federal gasoline tax by another 15 cents over the next five years; cutting defense weapons procurement by 15 percent, and raising the government health care premiums of military retirees; a repeal or modification of key tax breaks, including the deductibility of mortgage interest payments, coupled with reforms that would lower the income tax rates; hitting up affluent earners for Social Security payroll taxes; tying Medicaid payments to income levels…you get the idea.

Cue the inevitable backlash bellowing on the left and right:

The AFL-CIO says that Bowles and Simpson “just told working Americans, to drop dead.” Conservative leader Grover Norquist condemns their ideas as “merely an excuse to raise net taxes on the American people.” MoveOn.org says that any reduction in entitlement programs is “just plain wrong.” The right-leaning Heritage Foundation think tank says that the proposed military cuts “would make America less safe and are thus completely irresponsible.” The left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research says, “This is not ‘eat your spinach,’ it is ‘eat your arsenic.'” A former Bush budget official laments on the National Review website that Bowles and Simpson have failed to condemn the health reform law, and indeed “would leave in place the entire trillion-dollar monstrosity.”

Undoubtedly, the Bowles-Simpson is imperfect in various respects, but we should at least find it refreshing that somebody has made a concerted effort to breach the Washington paralysis. If all the usual suspects can stop jerking their knees, perhaps these proposals can become grist for a serious push toward common ground. There’s even a self-interest argument: If the necessary pain is shared by both sides, then everybody gets some political cover.

The current president, and his predecessor, both voiced a desire to change the tone of Washington, and the ways that Washington conducts its business. Starting in January, both parties will share responsibility for that conduct. At the risk of sounding like Voltaire’s Candide, who pined for “the best of all possible worlds, I’ll merely suggest that these new eat-your-spinach ideas would provide a template for a fresh start. If not now, when?


33 Comments

  • Philip Checchia says:

    Hello Swede, Tom, Nigel et al. Just located Polman today and am catching up on his columns. Talk about Frisco is amusing. This is a beautiful area populated with bizarre people. The Mc Donalds story is nailing liberals for what they are. Doing things that make them feel good, but are not effective. By the way looks like Michelle Obama had her plane stop at Frisco and bought up all those happy meals. She is looking very LARGE. Perhaps we need someone else to be spokesperson for eating healthy.

  • NE Philly says:

    I hear Rush embracing my ‘across the board spending cut’ but at 10%! Go Rush go!

  • Logathis says:

    Wow, I pretty much agree with all those proposals laid out by the deficit commission. Too bad they’ll never happen. It’s ironic to think that only 50 years ago, tax cuts were a liberal talking point. No real fiscal conservative would advocate tax cuts unless a huge budgetary surplus existed. I guess those days are long gone…

    • swedesboromike says:

      “It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now … Cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring a budget surplus.”

      – John F. Kennedy, Nov. 20, 1962, president’s news conference

      • Still Independent says:

        give it some context. the top marginal tax rate was 91% when he said it.

        • swedesboromike says:

          Still- On income above $ 400,000. Not to mention property taxes were much lower, no gas tax, no utility fee, no trasfer tax, in many cases no state income tax etc etc. I think many are oblivious to all the different ways we are taxed today. What we have in the US Govt is an entity that wins every lottery, every multi million dollar contract a sports star or movie star signs yet still cannot take in more money than it pays out. How silly

      • Rich says:

        Yeah, tax cuts pay for themselves…keep on drinking the Kool-aid!

        • swedesboromike says:

          Ritchie Rich- No one is saying that. A booming economy increases government revenue. Federal receivable went up by over 500 billion dollars per year after the Bush Tax Cuts. Not saying they pay for themselves, but if it increases economic activity then it can be a win/win for the economy and government

  • swedesboromike says:

    Polman from two weeks ago on the liberAl mecca of San Francisco………….. ” Late yesterday, I was contacted by a reporter for The Bay Citizen, an online news outlet based in San Francisco. She’s preparing a story about how some of the politicians in midterm races are mocking San Francisco, equating it with lefty decadence – good grief, that tired stereotype is back again? – and she wanted to know what I thought of Pennsylvania senatorial candidate Pat Toomey’s mockery of San Francisco.”…………………………. mmmm? tired stereotype???????????????????????? flash forward just 4 days from Polman’s ridiculous column and we have this story…………………. San Francisco’s board of supervisors has voted, by a veto-proof margin, to ban most of McDonald’s Happy Meals as they are now served in the restaurants.

    The measure will make San Francisco the first major city in the country to forbid restaurants from offering a free toy with meals that contain more than set levels of calories, sugar and fat………………………………… IF IT QUACKS LIKE A DUCK AND LOOKS LIKE A DUCK….WELL YOU KNOW THE REST!

    • Logathis says:

      Lay off San Fran smike. Why don’t you go there and see why everyone loves that city so much? Don’t worry, you can still fill your stomach with the sub-food that McDonald’s serves. Or even better go wine tasting and relax for once.

      • swedesboromike says:

        Logathis- Just pointing out that the liberal lable of San Francisco is quite accurate. There is more than enough liberal looney toons legislation that has come out from the ” San Francisco Board of Supervisors” to prove the point.

        • landscape says:

          Mike Have you ever visited SF?

        • swedesboromike says:

          Landscape- I’ve been to San Diego, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree natl park and Portland Oregon but never San Fran. Not sure what that has got to do with the city’s liberal track record but since you asked.

  • swedesboromike says:

    How about they change the way grant money is used. With unused portions returned to the government. I guess that’s just crazy talk.

  • NE Philly says:

    Roll back the whole federal budget (every dept.) to 2008 levels, then keep them there for 2 more years and we can clean this deficit mess up pronto! Time to stop the eating from the federal slop trough. Lets spread the pain to every dept., like the President campaigned on doing. Now:)

  • Bill H. says:

    If nothing else, I think the report is useful in demonstrating the insanity of the “sacred cow” approach. To accomplish the task, nothing can be declared out of bounds.

    • Steve says:

      I agree. And Polman’s characterization of the attack ads is spot on. I personally think the President and politicians in Congress should have the backbone (like Paul Ryan) to present ideas themselves instead of letting a panel led by outsiders do their dirty work. Cowards. But hey, something is better than nothing and it’s good to see some sacred cows put on the table here.

  • swedesboromike says:

    So you give people social security then you take it all back with your taxes. Which is why these programs should never have been implimented in the first place. Let people keep their hard earned wages and we’ll be able to take care of ourselves.

    • Steve says:

      Swede, People are unable to take care of themselves anymore since the government has trained us otherwise. Look at France, where people expect Mother Government to nurse them from cradle to grave and the slightest hint of cutbacks is greeted with protests and rioting. “Waaa, waaaa, Mommy government won’t let me retire at age 60! Waaaaaa!”

    • Logathis says:

      Ya those poor seniors don’t need government assistance. Let them eat cake!

    • landscape says:

      Mike There are a great many people incapable of taking care of themselves for many valid reasons (not including Steve’s). We as a compassionate country have chosen to take care of those that need it the most. You can see the alternative for yourself in most 3rd world countries. Hypothetically, when YOU run out or lose the money you kept to take care or yourself, what then?

      • swedesboromike says:

        My only point is that if we would just let people keep their wages they could better provide for themselves later in life and government would not have to waste people’s money with the admin. to run these programs. It’s never going to change- we are stuck with these programs but they should have never been started in the first place. Furthermore if you on the left cared so much about poor people then why do you clamor endlessly for higher gas taxes, cigarette taxes, alcohol taxes, trans fat taxes, higher tolls, soda taxes etc etc- all of thise which hurt the poor. And please spare me the anecdotal sad story of people with no money while our government funds NPR and PBS and George Soros is donating millions. Perhaps that money would be better spent on helping a person with their healthcare instead of padding the campaign coffers of a liberal politician or a liberal public media outlet. just sayin

      • Steve says:

        I actually agree that there are truly people who are in need of a social safety net. The problem is it’s gone from “those in need” to a total entitlement mentality, which is what has happened in France, where perfectly healthy and able-bodied citizens riot and protest because they may have to work an extra two years….to age 62. What a shame. Unfortunately there are people in the U.S. vehemently against raising the retirement age of S.S., even though the life expectancy has risen dramatically since the program was first created.

  • swedesboromike says:

    Hiking taxes at the gas pump hurts the poorest the most. And Democrats like to pretend they are for the ” little guy “. I am going to throw this wild idea out there……… CUT THE SPENDING ! YOU CAN START WITH CUTTIING THE FUNDING AND NON PROFIT STATUS OF NPR AND PBS

    • Rich says:

      OK, wow, you just saved perhaps $5 million. Only $3,999,995,000.00 to go. Keep hacking, dude!

      • Conshohocken12 says:

        Ritchie- The justice department is currently trying to make a big deal out of $ 3000 that Gov. Christie spent on hotels and a rental car so I would call 5 million a pretty good start in cutting government largesse. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of these ” little ” 5 million dollar boondogles.

        • Rich says:

          So how come the Republicans haven’t been able to identify any of them (other than NPR)? And Christie’s problem isn’t really so much the amount of money involved, it’s the rank hypocrisy of a man who bloviates about wasteful spending while violating expense account limits.

        • Conshohocken12 says:

          Ritchie- repealing the healthcare bill, repealing prescription drug, eliminate earmarks, eliminate the office of homeland security, cut foreign aid, take back Nancy Pelosi’s jet, cut govt wages 10%, close some military bases etc etc etc

      • mw56 says:

        First get rid of any Dept created during the Carter Administration.

    • landscape says:

      Seems that everyone has ideas, but haven’t put a pencil to paper. The point that the commission is making is that there has to be some pain for all to do it. (They did the math.) It can’t be done by disbanding a few departments that people don’t like. That’s all sizzle and no steak (Follow the money, the BIG money.)

  • Paul says:

    The report shows what needs to be done to potentially fix the deficit as so many people have demanded have wanted. Now to see if our elected leaders have the backbone to do any of the proposed changes.

    I don’t think they do and all we get is more of the same

  • Rich says:

    I think the commission’s report is useful just to establish a picture of what it would really take to seriously cut the deficit to the degree the deficit hawks say they want to. It also is useful in showing how everyone has to give up something and make sacrifices in order to allow that to happen. But, this is America, and we don’t do that sacifice thing any more, do we? I just think it’s too bad the commission doesn’t have the power to just enact everything they are recommending, but they don’t, and none of it will get done, and we will just continue down the road to the Third World that Reaganomics put us on.

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