Obama: On the Brink Of Losing Progressive Support Forever
The temporary Bush tax cuts that were passed using reconciliation are set to expire on December 31st, 2010. If President Obama surrenders to the Republicans and allows the portion of those tax cuts that are aimed at wealthy Americans continue, he will likely sacrifice progressive support permanently.
The 2008 presidential election brought hope for a new path in America. Millions of formerly disenfranchised voters rose up to have their voices heard, and found a man who promised to deliver this new path of change: Barack Obama. The result was an electoral landslide and a clear mandate for reform.
Two years have passed and this new America has yet to be delivered. The centerpieces of progressive change were ending the military-industrial complex stranglehold over policy (Iraq War, torture, domestic espionage, and limitless budgets), delivering strong reforms to our nation’s failed health care system, and reversing tax and regulatory policy that favors the rich at the expense of everyone else. The first has failed, the second is severely watered-down, and the third is ready to be surrendered. If this happens, Obama and the Democrats can kiss progressive support goodbye.
The Democrats were already punished for their inability to get strong reforms passed in the last election. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is still in effect. Comprehensive Immigration Reform was not even proposed. Green energy projects were funded minimally in the Stimulus plan. Guantanamo is still open. There are 50,000 non-combat troops left in Iraq. As a result, there was a monumental enthusiasm gap in the midterms, and the Democrats lost the House.
That of course was not done in a vacuum, and was coupled with energized conservative turnout resulting from a defense consisting of an unprecedented campaign of negativity and obstruction, particularly from abusing the filibuster in the Senate.
To use a sports analogy: fans can only cheer on a team so long before the team has to make some spectacular plays and score some points. The Democrats were on offense, and they failed to get a touchdown, the Republicans were on defense, and they forced the punt, and now it is their ball. The home crowd is silent and disillusioned.
This is not to say there has not been a measurable change in direction in the country. There have been a few catalogues of the reform wins over the past two years compiled at What Obama Has Done [Comprehensive Edition], Democratic Change Update, and WTFHasObamaDoneSoFar.com. These have not been epic wins however, and have been more than overshadowed by the failure of passing big reforms.
The most vocal progressive activists on the internet are ready to bolt. They have had enough of fighting for the real change and reform promised while the White House and most of the Democratic leadership sell out real change for a center-right solution, and are in serious danger of either moving their support to a third party (often the Greens) or just stepping back into the woodwork. The most tragic part about this is that if the Obama administration sells out their base with a Clintonian backflip, the conservatives will STILL attack him with the vindictive tenacity that they did to Bill Clinton. The movement for change and reform will die right then and there, and that is the danger here that cannot be stressed enough.
Fiscally Irresponsible Tax Cuts
The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) and Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) should never have been passed in the first place. They were rammed through Congress using reconciliation and decreased government revenue by giving massive tax cuts mostly to the rich, increasing the exemption amount for the Alternative Minimum Tax, and lowered capital gains and dividend taxes.
The Bush/Cheney regime and the Republicans in Congress promised this would reduce the deficit by $2 trillion over 10 years before the bills expired, but has in fact increased it $2.5 trillion. To add a little salt in this wound, they were deficit financed, so interest on the national debt from the Bush tax cuts would add substantially more to this.
This comes as no surprise to most who have paid attention to history, as fiscal conservatives has been the synonymous with “borrow and spend” policies since Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt. Republicans are responsible for 82% of our nation’s debt, particularly through failed “Starve the Beast” dogma.
If the Bush tax cuts for the rich are renewed, they will add an additional $3.4 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years. One progressive pundit summed up the situation very well, “Bush Tax Cuts or Lower Deficits, pick one, you can’t have both.”
There are many myths being deliberately perpetuated by right wing propaganda to push for permanent passage of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, but the fact is they will only balloon deficits and not help Main Street America one iota.
Ezra Klein has offered a few pragmatic solutions for Democrats in this battle, but the new found arrogance of the Republicans has demonstrated that they are not willing to compromise on anything, much less their resistance to decoupling (keeping the tax cuts for anyone with an income under $250,000 per year and letting them expire for the rich). That leaves Obama and the Democrats only 2 options: fight back or surrender.
There has never been a better time, nor a better issue to highlight the differences in philosophy between progressives and conservatives than this. Bailouts for billionaires is not the answer, and if the Democrats cannot take a stand on this, they are in more serious trouble than most people think.
This scenario in mind, they should let ALL the tax cuts expire on time at the end of the year. If the Republicans don’t want to pass a new bill that makes them permanent for the poor and middle class, they can try to explain that to American voters. If Obama surrenders this issue after having given up so many other pieces of reform, he will surrender the support of his strongest supporters. This is one of those watershed moments.