Obama acts like a man grappling with a big problem. His approach is flexible and nimble within limits. He can respond to new ideas and amend his strategy if necessary. His opponents act like robots. They intone the same economic policy again and again and have not changed at all over the last four years. How is that possible? They appear to be single-minded zombies controlled by their extreme base. Their very inflexibility makes them worrisome. They don’t seem to respond to new trends, to economists, or to their colleagues. Nothing changes their prescription for the future, certainly not the reality of what has happened when their strategies have been applied and found wanting in Europe.
Austerity has not brought growth in Europe and I am convinced that it will not bring prosperity to America; first, because so many economists say it won’t and, second, because common sense suggests that it is impossible for the economy to grow if no one tries to grow it. But the Republicans, even with the advantage of having had someone try out the strategy they recommend right before our eyes and having it fail, have not changed a word of their doomsday message. Why? They seem to be so blinded by dogma that they can only ignore contrary evidence and repeat their nay saying. Their very inflexibility smacks of a group who must stick to a script and not deviate from it in any particulars. Doesn’t the word “brainwashed” sort of come to mind? Spooky!
It is important for us to keep Republicans from achieving their economic agenda which includes their prescription for small government. Since they consistently support the wealthy and protect them from having to contribute to America in the form of paying more taxes, we must consider ourselves, the not rich, at war with the GOP; a war to win votes. They definitely see themselves in a war to win votes. Why else would they want to get rid of that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which requires certain states to clear voting changes with the federal courts? Obviously they have pointed out the exact section of the Voting Rights Act that we need to preserve. When that section is truly no longer needed there will be no controversy about it.
An article in the NYT’s this morning (March 7, 2013) by Thomas B. Edsall discusses in great detail ways that Social Security and Medicare can be saved without means testing or raising the retirement age. Edsall points out how each of these suggestions have been approved by the GOP because they still protect the wealthiest Americans from having to pay any more taxes (even though he agrees that US taxes are the lowest they have been since 1950). Could you live on the salary someone made in 1950? I doubt it. My father supported a family of ten in the 50’s on a salary of $10,000, although certainly not without operating in crisis mode almost all of the time. Edsall says we could easily save Social Security. Here is what he had to say about why we should not favor means testing:
“First, insofar as benefits for the affluent are reduced or eliminated under means-testing, social insurance programs are no longer universal and are seen, instead, as a form of welfare. Public support would almost certainly decline, encouraging further cuts in the future.
Second, the focus on means-testing and raising the age of eligibility diverts attention from a much simpler and more equitable approach: raising the payroll tax to apply to the earnings of the well-to-do, a step strongly opposed by the ideological right.
In this kind of conflict over limited goods, one of the most valuable resources that can get lost in the fray is the wisdom of the electorate at large.
Third, and most important in terms of the policy debate, while both means-testing and eliminating the $113,700 cap on earnings subject to the payroll tax hurt the affluent, the latter would inflict twice as much pain.”
Here he discusses the impact on the wealthy:
“Contrary to the claims Heritage (The Heritage Foundation) is making, current levels of federal taxation are at historically low levels, and the increases needed to finance restoration of the Social Security trust fund will not break the bank.
Federal tax revenues in 2009, 2010 and 2011 have been 15.1 percent, 15.1 percent and 15.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product, lower than any level since 1950.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the amount of new revenue required to bring the Social Security trust fund into balance over the next 75 years would amount to 0.6 percent of G.D.P.
The same C.B.O. document presents a series of alternative ways to achieve such a goal, including the elimination of the current $113,700 cap on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax. If the cap or ceiling were lifted, the amount of money raised would be 0.6 percent of G.D.P., the exact amount of income needed to get Social Security out of the red — a striking coincidence”
Here’s the link to the NYT’s article and it contains plenty of the charts and graphs so beloved by the GOP:.
The Republican strategy that stresses America’s deficit and asks us to tighten our belts has been presented to us over and over again, sometimes as an impassioned plea to save our children from inheriting our debt, sometimes as an appeal to “reason”, sometimes as threats that America will end up like Europe or Greece. Since the Republicans seem to believe this message so strongly, we begin to question our economists and our own common sense which tells us that the GOP is not on our side. Small government does not really benefit those of us who are not rich, especially at a time when our employment opportunities are in transition and so many of us cannot find appropriate work that will allow us to support our families and grow the wealth of our families.
The GOP has been trying to make us feel guilty, to feel as if we are robbing the wealthy to subsidize the poor. But our Mr. Edsall from this morning’s NYT’s is calling their bluff and saying not so much. He suggests that it would cost the wealthy very little to stabilize the social safety net and rescue seniors who are being especially harmed by the current job market and who cannot afford to lose any of the monies that they were promised and that they paid for with their FICA contributions. He further suggests that by taxing themselves at rates that are close to those for the 1950’s the wealthy are out of sync with the present and actually should be paying more taxes given that 1950 rates are inappropriate in 2012.
We need to keep pushing back against the “brainwashed” Republicans who are trying to brainwash us. We need to keep saying no to the “fixes” they suggest for the safety net and we need to keep finding ways to get more revenue by dismantling the privileged tax rates that the “elite” are looking to the GOP to protect. It will not be easy to push back against the rich, the powerful, and the actually “entitled” because they have been getting their way for quite some time and because their wealth does give them a lot a power. What we are really fighting for is our Democracy. Will America truly be a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” or will it end up just the oligarchy that it is trying so hard to become. Can we relegate the rich to just one group of Americans or will they become the only Americans who matter?