The Fiscal Bluff and GOP Politics As Usual

Vegas Jessie posts a timely letter from a small business owner to Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) along with a predictable response from the Congressman, which just as predictably doesn’t directly address the issues raised by the correspondent.  Heck, as Vegas Jessie observes “presented nothing new or nothing of any practical application…”

No one should be surprised.  The Republican Party — in all its glorious disarray in Nevada — hasn’t had a new idea since St. Ronald de Reagan opened his presidential campaign at the Neshoba (Mississippi) County Fair.  The current incarnation of Republicanism is as obvious as it has been since the Days of Lee Atwater and Company.  The name of the game is still the same; GOP support for the wealthy and their agenda, including privatizing, voucherizing, and shredding the social safety net.  Their first major tactic is simply obscurative, the second is obstructionist.

The Politics of Distraction

The Benghazi Blitz: So, will someone explain, cogently and rationally, why any sentient human being would be passionately concerned about Ambassador Susan Rice’s preliminary information about the attack on the Benghazi consulate?  There isn’t one. Ambassador Rice could secure the imprimatur of the Pope and it wouldn’t suffice to satisfy Senator John McCain’s need to have a topic at hand for his weekly appearance on some Sunday Villager Shows.  If Ambassador Rice explains that the talking points were prepared by the intelligence agencies, then McCain complains that the intelligence community was at some unspecified fault AND that Ambassador Rice should have “asked better or more questions.”  If she had released NO information regarding the Benghazi attack then McClain would clamor about the lack of commentary.  In short, there’s no way to win — this is simply a distraction from larger issues, as well as a way for a Senator facing a term limit on his committee assignments to remain “relevant.”  The issue does make for a nice side show for the Chattering Classes, but accomplishes  nothing to advance political issues of any import.  It’s also an effort to “Create-A-Problem.”

Create-A-Problem Politics

The current Debt Crisis provides an excellent example of “Create-A-Problem” politics.  The process of setting a “debt ceiling” has been around since 1917 when it was an initial step toward financing the costs associated with World War I.  The debt ceiling has been raised without much controversy 74 times since 1962, including 10 times since 2001. [CNN] However, the Congress — imbued with an abundance of Tea Party enthusiasm and plutocrat campaign money — decided to transform the Debt Ceiling to a Debt Crisis in 2011.

Combining the national debt issue (run up by the Bush administration’s tax policies + two wars kept off the books + a nasty recession), with the Republican raison d’etre, repealing the New Deal and the Great Society, gave the GOP its talking points: We ‘must reform entitlements’ (privatize Social Security and voucherize Medicare) and bring down the debt along with other government activities associated with serving the needs of those American people who aren’t ensconced in corner offices.

That privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare are wildly unpopular doesn’t faze the average Republican servant of power.  Thus, cutting these programs must be carefully couched in a climate of fear.

The GOP would have us all a-tremor as if Annie Wilkes, Baby Jane Hudson, Leatherface, Norman Bates, and the Riddler were at the doorstep.   “Social Security… is going broke…has been raided…is going bankrupt…won’t be there for our grandchildren….”  None of this is true, but that doesn’t stop the GOP from using the talking points.

Since this line of attack didn’t work in 2004, 2008, and 2012, there’s a back up plan.  Encapsulated as, “We have to ‘reform’ Social Security and Medicare because we’re going broke.”  Here’s where the manufactured Debt Crisis comes into play.

The outcome of the Big Budget Manufactured Crisis of 2011 was the Budget Control Act, a complicated piece of legislation which gave the White House what it wanted — an extension of unemployment benefits and a second stimulus package in exchange for allowing the Corner Office denizens to continue enjoying their Bush Era tax cuts.  [Corn, MJ]  The Obama Administration (contrary to the Villager Narrative) didn’t get played:

“At a postelection meeting with labor leaders and progressive activists, several of whom were itching for a tax cut fight with the Republicans, White House aides were blunt. To win these stimulative shots, Summers told them, we’re going to have to give up on killing the tax cuts for the rich. “Getting more for our people is more important than getting less for their people,” he said at the meeting.” [Corn, MJ]

The Obama Administration won the first round, and if anything could be more convincing that the Republicans are driven by the need to protect the income of the top 1% the Budget Control Act then someone missed the memo in which the GOP agreed to two things which would have been unconscionable for them under ‘normal’ circumstances  (unemployment benefit extensions & a second stimulus) in order to preserve the lower tax rates for the Upper Uppers.

Distractions and the Creation of the Fiscal Bluff

The Budget Control Act of 2011 sowed the seeds of its own destruction.  The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (Super Committee) included in the legislation was supposed to ‘solve’ the deficit reduction problem admitted failure in November 2011:

“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.”

It might be interesting to find out how many people thought the Super Committee had any chance, however remote, to succeed in the first place.  The posturing, positioning, and palaver of 2011 gave the Administration what it wanted, and kicked the tax issue into the 2012 elections.

At this point the Fiscal Cliff becomes the Fiscal Bluff.  The Bush Tax Cuts are due to expire with the last toot of the last manufactured-in-China paper New Year’s horn.   There are new cards on the table, but the GOP is still playing with a very used deck.

McConnell’s old card, propose the discredited Romney unspecified loophole plan, cut corporate taxes, and tax lower income people (GOP code is “broaden the tax base”) It’s no accident the Bowles-Simpson Commission earned the sobriquet “Cat Food Commission.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s a secret that for our part, Republicans have shown a clear willingness to make tough choices in order to find a solution to the trillion-dollar deficits of the last four years. “We’ve been open to revenue by closing loopholes, as long as it’s tied to spending cuts and pro-growth tax reform that broadens the base and lowers rates. This is the model laid out by the Bowles-Simpson commission, and it’s a model both parties should step forward and embrace.”  [RCP]

McConnell went a bit further, playing an even older card, and  putting social safety net programs up for grabs on the GOP side of the table:

“McConnell said Republicans want any agreement to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” to include adjustments to eligibility and benefits in the Social Security and Medicare programs.”  [LCJ]

Cantor’s old card, put the Affordable Care Act ‘on the table’ as a bargaining chip in deficit reduction talks.  By Cantor’s lights it’s a bloated entitlement.

“During an appearance on Fox News on Monday, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) asserted that Obamacare “ought to be on the table” for cuts during ongoing budget and deficit-reduction negotiations between President Obama and Congressional leaders.” [Times24/7]
That the Affordable Care Act actually reduces the federal deficit by $143 billion in the next decade appears of little concern to Representative Cantor.  The Republicans, and their health insurance corporate allies, don’t like the provisions of Obamacare, ergo they’ll throw it out as a possible chip — which has about as much chance of success as promoting  a Dachshund High Jump Contest.

House Speaker John Boehner’s old card is the same as Cantor’s, put Obamacare on the table.

“The president’s health care law adds a massive, expensive, unworkable government program at a time when our national debt already exceeds the size of our country’s entire economy. We can’t afford it, and we can’t afford to leave it intact. That’s why I’ve been clear that the law has to stay on the table as both parties discuss ways to solve our nation’s massive debt challenge.” [Cin.Com]

What’s expensive about a program that decreases the deficit by $143 billion over the next ten years?    Speaker Boehner’s tactical argument is little more than a repetition of the 33 ceremonial House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.   [LAT]

The Affordable Care Act repeal suggestions are pure bluff — what politician could possibly believe that the President wouldn’t veto a bill repealing his signature piece of legislation?

The American public must then be left with the unmistakable conclusion that it is more important for the Republicans to protect the income of the Richer Rich than to secure  Social Security, Medicare, and Affordable Care Act for the middle class, as they play all the old games bluffing their way toward the Fiscal Cliff of their own devising.

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