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The battle is squared, and why we need budget jujitsu

Robert Reich, professor of public policy | May 17, 2011

Technically, the federal government has now reached the limit of its capacity to borrow money.

Raising the debt ceiling used to be a technical adjustment, made almost automatically. Now it’s a political football.

Democrats should never have agreed to linking it to an agreement on the long-term budget deficit.

But now that the debt ceiling is in play, there’s no end to what the radical right will demand. John Boehner is already using the classic “they’re making me” move, seemingly helpless in the face of Tea Party storm troopers who refuse to raise the ceiling unless they get their way. Their way is reactionary and regressive – eviscerating Medicare, cutting Medicaid and programs for the poor, slashing education and infrastructure, and using most of the savings to reduce taxes on the rich.

If the only issue were cutting the federal deficit by four or five trillion dollars over the next ten years, the President and Democrats wouldn’t have to cave in to this extortion. That goal can be achieved by doing exactly the opposite of what radical Republicans are demanding. We can reduce the long-term budget deficit, keep everything Americans truly depend on, and also increase spending on education and infrastructure — by cutting unnecessary military expenditures, ending corporate welfare, and raising taxes on the rich.

I commend to you the “People’s Budget,” a detailed plan for doing exactly this – while reducing the long-term budget deficit more than either the Republican’s or the President’s plan does. When I read through the People’s Budget my first thought was how modest and reasonable it is. It was produced by the House Progressive Caucus but could easily have been generated by Washington centrists – forty years ago.

But of course the coming battle isn’t really over whether to cut the long-term deficit by trillions of dollars. It’s over whether to shrink the government we depend on and to use the savings to give corporations and the super-rich even more tax benefits they don’t need or deserve.

The main reason the “center” has moved so far to the right – and continues to move rightward – is radical conservatives have repeatedly grabbed the agenda and threatened havoc if they don’t get their way. They’re doing it again.

Will the President and congressional Democrats cave in to their extortion? When even Nancy Pelosi says “everything is on the table” you’ve got to worry.

We can fortify the President and congressional Democrats and prevent them from moving further right by doing exactly what the Tea Partiers are doing — but in reverse.

Call it budget Jujitsu.

The message from the “People’s Party” should be unconditional: No cuts in Medicare and Medicaid or Social Security. More spending on education and infrastructure. Pay for it and reduce the long-term budget deficit by cutting military spending and raising taxes on the rich. The People’s Budget is the template.

But what if the President and Dems show signs of caving? This is the heart of the progressive dilemma. Are we prepared to say no to raising the debt ceiling our demands aren’t met? That way, the responsibility for rounding up the necessary Republican votes shifts to Wall Street and big business — arguably more eager to raise the debt ceiling and avoid turmoil in credit markets than anyone else. They’re also better able to push the GOP — whom they fund.

Which leads to a more basic question: Are we ready and willing to mount primary challenges to incumbent Democrats who cave?

Cross-posted from Robert Reich’s blog.

Comments to “The battle is squared, and why we need budget jujitsu

  1. Greetings Robert Reich from Minnesota where this Independence Day weekend will be extra special because our state government is shut down!

    I would like to bolster your spirits with a revelation from your esteemed college Bob Chanin.

    The Revelation of Bob Chanin
    (By R Jacobs)

    In the early part of the 20th century the modern liberal came into political power to curb what was called by them, the extremes of wealth and poverty under “unrestrained” capitalism. One century later… here we are in the 21st century with the extremes of taxation and regulation under “unrestrained” progressive-liberalism… the products of a living constitution!

    When it comes to government shutdowns and public employee strikes… there is nothing compassionate about the government.

    It has now been made perfectly clear that even in the leanest of times. That in order for all liberals to perform, they must first and foremost, be fully compensated and guaranteed by law, through the public coffers, to be generously compensated before they perform their kabuki dance of compassion too our children, the poor and too the rest of the public’s needs.

    This my fellow Americans is from the horses mouth himself… the essence of the speech from Bob Chanin when announcing his retirement as head attorney for the NEA. And sadly it is not only the practice of law or education that is part of this yoke of higher tuition and taxation around our necks, it is also their endless regulations, our diminished liberties and our liabilities to all public union employees for the same compensation, whether we have the money or not. They approach capitalism with contempt, they always have… it is the engine of our society, charging that the wealthy are not paying their fair share… again and again and again, times one hundred years.

    We have witnessed the zenith of hypocrisy that those who demand of us shared sacrifice… they them selves will have no part of it… “It is simply to high of price to pay.” (Bob Chanin… NEA speech)

    It has become increasingly obvious that education has turned too political power and greed. They would have priced them selves out of business if only education was not a monopoly. Those dollars would benefit our children more when they are in our pockets and given to private education of our choosing. Private education is knowing, that one day your bill will be paid in full and not taxed till your last breath.

    Public education must cease to exist! It has been corrupted… it sleeps naked with our state and federal governments for it’s power. Public education is the turbo charger for bigger and more intrusive government. Just ask any democrat. And if they say no then ask them, “then why the need for the federal Department of Education?”

    Thank you Bob Chanin, for sharing with us the progressive-liberal’s true intent.

  2. Yes, voting against raising the debt ceiling is pure evil. No one who does so deserves to be in Washington.
    Right Mr Reich?

    Oh wait. Obama voted agains raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator.

  3. The elephant in the room that is currently a taboo “no no” in the deficit debate is the fact that the country is immensely rich, if only one would take into account the net worth of the top 1% of the population. The top 1% of the country comprises 40% of the national wealth or about $20 trillion dollars, which under currently adopted rules of the national debate is considered off limits and untouchable, e,g, untaxable, as a means to solve the government deficit problem. A 7% tax surcharge on this billionaire property wealth would handily and simply wipe out the $1.4 trillion annual Federal deficit. But, alas, the billionaire funded “Taxed Enough Already” program that so many of the remaining 99% of the population were “conned” into supporting with their 2010 votes against their own average American’s interest is the rule of the day. If half the $20 trillion in the hands of the top 1%, thanks to decades of inadequate Federal taxation, ala the supply side argument, were now going forward under enlightened sufficiently aggressive tax policies devoted to now reducing the national debt by $10 trillion to 1/3rd of GDP, the poor top 1% would be reduced to at most in a zero sum world an average net worth of only $3.3 million as compared to $6.7 currently. Is that too much to ask those who enjoy the most benefit in America to contribute to preserve the health, safety, and minimal financial security needed by the other 99% of average Americans? This not a class warfare question? This is a practical question of what must be done to save financially 99% of all Americans and preserve the United States AAA credit rating after years of improvident tax policy. But as the Supreme Court says, “ Money is speech.” Thus the taboo about discussing the wealth and taxation elephant in the room. The top 1% have more legally defined discretionary “Speech” than all the bottom 99% put together. Well, let’s discuss the REAL deficit math for once!

  4. Faith is Universal Mr. Reich

    Faith is universal! To believe in God takes faith! To believe in science takes faith! To believe in government takes faith! To believe in anything takes faith! Faith, theory, and beliefs are notions that reality in time will define as true or false. All the more reason for the support and defense of unalienable rights the distinction that is drawn around each and every one of us. And at this point in time the notion that humans can create rights through democracy and the state is fast becoming proven to be false… because the size and scope of a government necessary to support such a notion is unsustainable Mr. Reich!

     While all other sciences have advanced, that of government is at a standstill – little better understood, little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago. (John Adams)

    Does the First Commandment: “Thou shall have no other gods before thee!” Start to take on some significance? And does it not define the purpose of government set forth by our founding fathers?

    Modern Liberalism has played out their notions and beliefs! We cannot serve two masters! Our birth as a nation was a constitutional republic not a democracy!

    The belief in a democracy… the thought that man could create his own laws with the pragmatism that they will create more laws to rectify any loop holes the first laws mist, has lead to laws on top of laws creating an uncontrolled reaction unsustainable and all consuming! This is the reality of the welfare state of which time has now proven false!

     It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. (Franklin D Roosevelt) The father of the welfare state!

    Positive rights are a farce! It is time we revisited the law, as only necessary to draw civil boundaries and define the negative rights that government must obey and the unalienable rights it must protect! And those who proclaimed character, be about the building of that character in our selves and our posterity and leave government out of it!

    If the modern liberal is so righteous… why then doesn’t he promote giving to the people in need… instead of the government?
    Answer: Because big government is big business of which they benefit at the expense of other’s life, liberties and property. Again the first Commandment is violated and the unalienable is usurped for their power.

     “It is not because of creative ideas, it is not because of the merit of our position, it is not because we care about children, it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power…” (Bob Chanin)

    Liberty and justice are about patriotism! Social justice mocks God and destroys liberty. Liberty always affords even the least of us a choice when lent a hand and not the farce of man made factions.

    Wake up Mr. Reich, your faith in government as a nanny and class warfare is a case for cognitive dissonance!

    R Jacobs

  5. Who can get through to President Obama and fellow democrats that we (tax paying hardworking patriots who voted for them)will not be supporting their future politcial endeavors, unless they listen to us for a change? We were the ones standing in the streets with tears running down our faces chanting ‘we want change’ not those loose moral liars. I am tired of the never ending capitulation by our leaders, when I looked up the word for correct spelling, it showed a picture of the President and dems. Does anyone have Ophra’s number?

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