Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Bipartisan March to Fiscal Madness

In today’s polarized world, it takes a Republican who is no longer an active political player to talk sensibly and meaningfully about our country’s fiscal situation. Given the utter nonsense issuing from the likes of another furloughed pol like Newt Gingrich, maybe it also takes a Republican who always was a bit of a contrarian, one known to choose the truth over the party line.

The person to whom I am referring is David A. Stockman, writer of a Sunday Op-Ed article in the New York Times with the same title as this post. Stockman is not someone easily dismissed by the likes of Paul Ryan, John Boehner or Eric Cantor--(who seems attached to Boehner like some Siamese twin whenever the House Speaker steps up to a microphone)--no matter how much these Republicans may want to reject or ignore him. Stockman was a U.S. Representative (R, MI) for three terms until President Reagan appointed him Director of the Office of Management and Budget (1981-1985), and he was a major player in the fiscal debates during this period, overseeing the passage of the Reagan budget.

Although a committed supply-sider, Stockman resigned from the OMB in 1985 because, as I hinted in my introduction, he refused to toe the Republican line. Even today, he takes positions that most Republicans wouldn’t dare to take. For example, in October of 2010 he stated that extending the Bush tax cuts is “rank demagoguery. We should call it for what it stand before the public and rub raw this anti-tax sentiment, the Republican Party, as much as it pains me to say, should be ashamed of themselves.”

In this Sunday’s Op-Ed piece, Stockman opens with these words: “It is obvious that the nation’s desperate fiscal condition requires higher taxes on the middle class, not just the richest 2 percent.” I suspect that many Americans would agree with this statement, as I do, even though it calls for tax increases not only on the wealthiest of us but also on the middle class (to which I am proud to belong). But we don’t hear any Republicans embracing this “heresy” (nor too many Democrats, unfortunately).

Further on, Stockman says this of the Republican plan: “Trapped between the religion of low taxes and the reality of huge deficits, the Ryan plan appears to be an attack on the poor in order to coddle the rich.” This, of course, is what the Democrats are saying, as they gleefully rub their hands in anticipation of how that will go down with the American public.

As he moves towards his conclusions, Stockman pulls the curtain back from the Ryan plan as if he were Toto revealing the Wizard of Oz for the charlatan that he was: “By 2014, for example, the Ryan plan does not save a dime from the $2.2 trillion baseline for Social Security, Medicare and national security spending. Then it extends all the Bush tax cuts at a cost of $350 billion while instructing the states to reduce spending for the poor by $100 billion and the Congress to slice domestic discretionary spending by 25 percent. That toxic brew is likely to find few takers — even at a Mad Hatter’s tea party.”

Now, I can’t quite end here, since Stockman also has an important criticism of the Obama plan. He says that Obama, by only criticizing the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of taxpayers, is not addressing the deficit as much as he is “playing the class-war card” and siding with the middle class over the wealthy. I agree with him. Obama simply is taking the easy way out and doesn’t have the courage to embrace tax increases for the middle class, even though this also needs to happen.

But then, the American public has been exposed to thirty years of Republican indoctrination that says all tax increases are anathema, and it is the rare politician who dares to counter this insane position. Unfortunately, Obama seems not to be that rare politician.

Therefore, as Stockman concludes, “we are about to descend into class war because the Obama plan picks on the rich when it should be pushing tax increases for all, while the Ryan plan attacks the poor when it should be addressing middle-class entitlements and defense.”

Regrettably, the Republicans have whipped themselves into such a lather about Obama over the past two years that they can’t listen to him about, nor work with him over, anything. But can't they listen to one of their own, especially someone as highly respected as David A. Stockman?   Or, couldn't they deign to listen to our Nobel-winning economist, Paul Krugman, who last month stated much the same thing as Stockman: “I believe that we will need modestly higher taxes on the middle class as well as the rich to pay for the kind of society we want.”   Or, are they merrily taking us all down the road to “class warfare” as well as fiscal (and social) collapse?

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