Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Same as it ever was

This might be the most frustrating thing I've read yet regarding the fiscal cliff:

Unfortunately, much of the media have accepted the Obama narrative that it's only Republican rigidity that frustrates negotiations and leads to deadlock. This means, of course, that there's even less incentive for Obama and congressional Democrats to engage in genuine bargaining.

The result is that we're not getting the debate we deserve and that budget choices are being made mainly by default. Just as important, the periodic, ugly confrontations over budget policy -- the paralysis and bitterness they involve -- corrode confidence and weaken the economy. A weak economy creates few new jobs, and the lack of jobs is the nation's No. 1 social problem. Obama's abdication of responsibility may be in his political self-interest, but it is profoundly hostile to the national interest. 
So, who wrote that? Ed Morrissey? Mitch Berg? Rush Limbaugh? None of those, of course. Your mystery author is Robert Samuelson, who has had a prime media seat at Newsweek and the Washington Post since the days of Jimmy Carter. Samuelson is the son of Paul Samuelson, who won the first Nobel Prize in Economics.

If you think Samuelson is late to the party, you'd be wrong. Here he is in February, 2008:

A favorite Obama line is that he will tell "the American people not just what they want to hear but what we need to know." Well, he hasn't so far. Consider the retiring baby boomers. A truth-telling Obama might say: "Spending for retirees -- mainly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- is already nearly half the federal budget. Unless we curb these rising costs, we will crush our children with higher taxes. Reflecting longer life expectancies, we should gradually raise the eligibility ages for these programs and trim benefits for wealthier retirees. Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for inaction. Waiting longer will only worsen the problem."

Instead, Obama pledges not to raise the retirement age and to "protect Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries." This isn't "change"; it's sanctification of the status quo. He would also exempt all retirees making less than $50,000 annually from income tax. By his math, that would provide average tax relief of $1,400 to 7 million retirees -- shifting more of the tax burden onto younger workers. Obama's main proposal for Social Security is to raise the payroll tax beyond the present $102,000 ceiling.

Political candidates routinely indulge in exaggeration, pandering, inconsistency and self-serving obscuration. Clinton and McCain do. The reason for holding Obama to a higher standard is that it's his standard and also his campaign's central theme. He has run on the vague promise of "change," but on issue after issue -- immigration, the economy, global warming -- he has offered boilerplate policies that evade the underlying causes of the stalemates. These issues remain contentious because they involve real conflicts or differences of opinion.

The contrast between his broad rhetoric and his narrow agenda is stark, and yet the media -- preoccupied with the political "horse race" -- have treated his invocation of "change" as a serious idea rather than a shallow campaign slogan. He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation's major problems when, so far, he isn't.

Five years on, Obama's no more forthright in engaging problems than he was in 2008. The one thing that Samuelson had wrong in 2008 is this -- there's no hypnosis involved, at least not any more. What we are dealing with is willful delusion.

I blame George W. Bush.

13 comments:

Night Writer said...

Oh, economic issues. When I saw the headline I thought you were referring to the Rose Bowl.

Mr. D said...

I thought you were referring to the Rose Bowl.

At least my team gets to the Rose Bowl. ;)

Anonymous said...

Mark,
you would gain some credibility if you would write a single sentence about curtailing military spending, which is, by far, our largest chunk of non-entitlement spending. Almost 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet block, and the DOD is spending more, in inflation adjusted dollars, than it did when Reagan was burying the Soviets in military spending. More, too, than at the peak of the Vietnam conflict. I am curious: Why aren't you railing against that as well? It is one of the biggest drivers of the deficit. Over 700 Billion a year going to the Pentagon; More than the next 9 or 10 countries combined, and we are told that cutting 50 Billion a year would 'gut' Defense. As long as no one wants their ox gored, the country's fiscal health will remain precarious.

Yep. Same as it ever was.

Regards,
Rich

Gino said...

"Yep. Same as it ever was. "

so much for that hope and change, right Rich?

Mr. D said...

I am curious: Why aren't you railing against that as well?

How do you know what I'm "railing" about, Rich? You've been reading this blog for years now and I've written multiple times about the costs of maintaining an empire and my uneasiness about it.

We're going to have to look at everything, because this is unsustainable. But don't worry -- I blame George W. Bush.

R.A. Crankbait said...

Rich combines the First and Second Amendments to preserve his right to go off half-cocked.

Anonymous said...

Mark,
blaming George Bush isn't going to cut it. He certainly deserves part of the blame, especially on the military buildup and his part in staging two wars off the books. But every President is limited in what they can do with the purse. And there is a whole other branch of government whose main job is supposed to be controlling the purse. That Congress can't seem to perform this task seems to be the heart of the matter.

The Republicans, who are supposedly running things in the lower house, say that they want to cut spending and reform entitlements. But saying and doing are two very different things. They talk a lot, and are very good at threatening everyone with poison-pill proposals, but they never propose any actual, workable plans. They remind me of the Sheriff in Blazing Saddles holding himself hostage. Stop me before I spend again!

If Congress is going to make any progress on fiscal issues, they are going to have to do some politically unpopular things. Those things shouldn't include threatening to default on our debt payments: that would be both moronic and catastrophic. They are going to have to learn to compromise. Breaking the Hastert Rule was a pretty good start, and I commend the Speaker for doing that.

Gino,
one of my most fervent wishes for the last 20 years was for Universal Health Care coverage for all Americans. While ObamaCare doesn't quite get us all the way there, it is a massive step forward. I would definitely classify that as fulfilling my biggest expectations of Hope and Change. Also, getting out of Iraq and ending the war in Afghanistan were high on my list. Lot's of progress there too. So, yah...Hope and Change! Now let's hope that the Executive and Legislative branches can get together and actually make more bipartisan progress on fiscal issues. That would be some real change.

Regards,
Rich

Anonymous said...

Also, in re. Hope and Change, let's not forget Obama ending the torture regime of the last administration. That was big for me too.

Regards,
Rich

Mr. D said...

The Republicans, who are supposedly running things in the lower house, say that they want to cut spending and reform entitlements. But saying and doing are two very different things. They talk a lot, and are very good at threatening everyone with poison-pill proposals, but they never propose any actual, workable plans. They remind me of the Sheriff in Blazing Saddles holding himself hostage. Stop me before I spend again!

Ever heard of Harry Reid, Rich? He's in the papers a lot, you know.

Gino said...

Also, in re. Hope and Change, let's not forget Obama ending the torture regime of the last administration. That was big for me too.

yet, you are still on board with the baby killing regime...

Anonymous said...

Gino,
I am on board with states determining the legality of abortion. Put abortion on a ballot and I will vote against abortion every time.

But the right is never content with that. They always want to push the boundaries with absurd laws like the personhood amendment, banning in-vitro procedures, or other add-ins, like banning abortion in the case of rape, or disallowing contraceptive measures.

When the state of Illinois puts a law on the ballots or uses legislative means to pass a law that bans the vast majority of abortions, I will support it. But if there are no exceptions for rape or incest, or attempts to mess with birth-control or in-vitro fertilization, they will lose my support.

Regards,
Rich

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, big, bad Harry Reid: The wheels fall off of the increasingly dysfunctional House GOP caucus, and Boehner can't get anything done. This happened after Obama had offered up raising the Medicare eligibility age and pinning Social Security raises to chained-CPI. Note, also, that Obama has also taken measures to squeeze Medicare payments to providers and insurers for a savings of $720 billion over the next decade (which he was attacked on the right and the left for doing), and has proposed another $350 billion in cuts in his 2013 budget. Even with all of that, Boehner and the House are paralyzed. So Boehner drops the whole thing in Reid's lap. Reid puts together a workable short-term solution in a week, that passes in the House and Senate, and you want to pretend that Harry Reid is the problem here! Good luck selling that.

If the GOP caucus in the House wants to keep leading with there chins, without having any real plans to move forward short of taking their football and going home, I would anticipate more of the same. Hopefully, after doing this to themselves a couple of times, the GOP might be beaten into a state of reasonability and be ready to work on a bi-partisan solution that doesn't include derailing the world's economy if they don't get their way. Time will tell.

We already no where Obama is opening for the next round: He wants to balance any subsequent spending cuts with revenue increases to reach the total of $1.2 to 1.6 trillion in new revenues and cuts over ten years. Can we find $600 to $800 Billion in revenues by restructuring the tax code? Can we find $600 to $800 Billion in cuts? I would think that would be pretty easy if our legislators would be willing to negotiate.

Regards,
Rich

Mr. D said...

Rich,

As always, you're missing the point. The reason Reid matters is that the Senate hasn't passed a budget in FOUR YEARS. That has meant that the government has essentially been running on continuing resolutions at a level that has produced a trillion dollar deficit each of the past four years. That is one of the reasons why things are so much worse now than they were since Obama took office. John Boehner has any number of faults, but he can't control the Senate.

And the compromises you are talking about aren't going to come close to dealing with the problem. But you know that.