Thursday, July 14, 2011

The debt ceiling debate

I'd like to talk to some of my liberal friends out there about what's really bugging me about the debt ceiling debate.

I've seen a lot of anger at Obama for not taking a stronger stand against the right-wing. Why is he giving in to their demands for steep cuts in spending?

Well, I don't know what the deal might entail at this time, but... the hard and fast truth is, the US does have an ungodly amount of debt, and it does need a plan to reduce it. Even if we could eliminate the deficit tomorrow, we'd be carrying a very heavy debt load compared to GNP.

Yes, the right-wing has lied about us being in dire financial straits before, and they're lying now about the effects (the deficit has nothing to do with our immediate problems with slow economic growth an unemployment), but we are in a serious bind, financially.

Now, either a moderate can try to formulate a good plan to try to fix that problem, and try to get the Republicans to buy into it, or, we can just let the Republicans scream about it, and kick up a fuss, and keep grabbing headlines, and keep driving the debate.

Now, there were two ways that this could have happened. There could have been a strong, politically active, energized left-wing to push some good ideas and get them a lot of press, and show that there was good political cover for pushing those ideas.

That didn't happen.

Or, someone like Obama could notice that the Republicans had telegraphed that they were going to take the country hostage over the debt ceiling, and see that there was an opportunity. If he offered a good plan, the country could see that he was offering a good plan, and the Republicans could either take the deal, or look like hostage takers.

He could, as Laurence O'Donnell put it, let them realize they were playing the hostage game with a President whose last reaction to hostage takers was to shoot them in the head.

Now, me, I don't like some of what I've heard about possible deals. I've heard of chained CPI for Social Security; I don't like that a bit. Right now, the payroll tax covers a smaller percentage of total salaries than it has historically; we ought to at least change that before considering reductions in benefits.

I've heard of cuts in Medicare, and... well. Folks, we pay more for medical care than any other nation; I've seen charts that suggest that the US government pays more per capita for medical care just in Medicare and Medicaid than other countries pay total, for all health care.

Think about that: just Medicare and Medicaid, alone, should have enough dollars being spent to cover everyone... not just Medicare and Medicaid recipients, but everyone in this country!If that's the case, we sure as heck have find cost savings in Medicare! We just need an intelligent plan to do so. We can't cut it by loading the cost on senior citizens (as the Ryan plan, passed by House Republicans, would do), and we can't cut it by reducing benefits; what we need is to find out how those other countries manage to provide benefits for so much less money than we do.

I've heard about a lot of cuts in other programs, and, yeah, I hate it. I really hate it.

But we do need to get indebtedness under control. And we know the Republicans aren't going to discuss a good idea in good faith with the President. Remember health care reform? He took a plan the Republicans used to propose, and they called it horrible, socialist, unconstitutional, and spread lies about death panels. (Yes, I know, not all Republicans spread death-panel lies - but they all let the lies be spread, favoring party loyalty over honesty.)

So what choice did Obama have? He had to let them spring their trap, to take their hostage, and make their demands... and find a way to turn their demands around to something sensible.

That was the only way. Why? Because, face it - for all the passion and concern on the left, the left is far too passive in trying to drive the news cycle. The Republicans can whip up front page headlines out of a couple of peace-loving Muslims who've helped the US fight terrorism, because those folks want to buy an old Burlington Coat Factory. Could the left-leaning folks do that?

Why would they want to? Okay, good question. But the fact is, they couldn't whip up that level headline-grabbing over something important either.

And that's the secret weapon of the Republicans these days. They do grab the news cycle, and keep it moving. And I don't mean their elected officials.

Liberal folks in the US just don't do this. And that's partly why we're in a situation in which the GOP can take hostages, and then we blame our potential allies for doing the best hostage negotiating they can.

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