Let the Budget Wars Begin!

It’s ‘go’ time!  The gauntlet has been thrown down, and the posturing has begun.  Where will it ultimately take us, we don’t yet know, but we can certainly hope that the recent past is not prologue, and if what we saw yesterday is any indication, then we’re in for one helluva fight in the next year-and-a-half.  And it’s a fight that Democrats have been itching for ever since the right wing ideologues seized control last November of the Republican Party.

But perhaps more importantly, we’re going to get a good, hard, in depth look at the sense and sensibility of the American voters.  Just how smart are we?  Are we really gullible enough to believe that we can once again achieve American prosperity simply handing out trillions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthiest two percent in America while increasing the burden on seniors and the disabled?  Or do we rebuild the American economy by fortifying and expanding the middle class; by creating greater opportunity for more people to achieve?

Are we a nation to be ruled by the wealthy elite, or are we a representative democracy with core principles such as “government of the people, for the people, and by the people?”  Are we a nation that believes in pixie dust and unicorns, or do facts and reason rule the day?

President Barack Obama stepped to the podium and presented his outline for the budgetary future of the United States yesterday in front of a large audience at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  His sketch outline (it’s not really fair to call it a plan, since there were few real details presented) was full of logic, and based on the reality of our economic situation.

And the situation is this, as presented in Obama’s speech (read the entire text here):

Around two thirds of the total budget is accounted for by Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security.  Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20%. What’s left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else. That’s 12 percent for all of our other national priorities like education and clean energy; medical research and transportation; food safety and keeping our air and water clean.

Up until now, the cuts proposed by a lot of folks in Washington have focused almost exclusively on that 12%. But cuts to that 12% alone won’t solve the problem. So any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table, and take on excess spending wherever it exists in the budget.

Taxes are on the table.  Medicare and Social Security are on the table.  Military spending is on the table.  What we’re talking about is a comprehensive approach that asks everyone to ante up.  As opposed to the Republican/Ryan plan that attempts to close the deficit and budget gaps by further cutting taxes on the wealthy and increasing the burden on the middle and lower class, particularly the elderly.

Republican lawmakers are already hooting and hollering about the notion of asking the rich to pay their share.  House Speaker John Boehner has insisted that any proposed tax increases will be a non-starter as far as he and his Republican caucus is concerned.  Paul Ryan called the speech “excessively partisan.”  And as one Talking Points Memo headline read, “GOP:  Obama’s Speech So Partisan We’ll Never Reach Budget Agreement.”

Republicans continue to insist that they can magically close the deficit and eliminate the debt by slashing and burning that remaining 12 percent.  And they continue to insist that the only way to solve our problems is to keep cutting taxes, telling us that by lowering revenues, they can actually increase revenues.  But the math simply doesn’t add up.

We currently have the lowest tax rates since the Great Depression.  And as I pointed out in a piece I wrote here, it is the Bush tax cuts that are the biggest contributors to our exploding debt and deficit.  President Obama pointed out in the speech that not only do we have the Bush tax cuts that went unpaid for, we have two wars that were unpaid for and a Medicare prescription drug act that went unpaid for (all by Republican legislatures and a Republican White House).  If you want to know where our current debt and deficit come from, look no further than that.

Republican lawmakers demand that increasing taxes will devastate the economy.  There’s just one problem with that meme:  Bill Clinton increased taxes in the 90’s, and it led to one of the most prosperous times in our country’s history, and a sizeable budget surplus.  Clinton’s presidency also saw the creation of over 20 million jobs.  George Bush implemented record tax cuts, and look where we are now.  Bush, by the way, presided over an economic period that created less than one million jobs in his eight years in the White House.  So who’s more credible?

It’s more likely that a modest increase in taxes on the richest two percent–bringing them in line with where they were during the Clinton era—will not have an adverse affect on job growth.  Ending the Bush tax cuts alone will lead to a closure in the budget deficit of $1 trillion over the next 12 years.

Our economic problems are not going to be solved overnight.  A long-term, balanced approach is what’s called for.  But there’s only one side of this debate that’s willing to take such an approach, while the other side has offered nothing but fairy tales and an opus to the rich and powerful.   What we need is responsibility, not rhetoric.

The real problem, of course, is that Obama has started from a position of extreme reasonableness, while Ryan and his contemporaries have offered up a plan that dismantles America as we know it.  Now, it’s safe to assume that neither proposal will be adopted in its entirety (we KNOW the Ryan plan won’t, as it’s being derided by Democrats and Republicans alike as totally irresponsible).  But since Obama is starting from the middle, and the Republicans are starting from the extreme fringes of the far right, how far to the right will Obama move?  And how do the Democrats stop him from compromising too much?

But even more importantly, will the American voter continue to allow themselves to be snowed over by the fiction being peddled by the Tea Party, and by default, the entire Republican platform?

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