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Past Time To Get Serious

July 24th, 2010 · 1 Comment

These last couple of days, I happened to see a couple of pieces by Robert Borosage. The first of these called “Kick the Old and Disabled to Show We’re Serious About Deficits,” is about organizing and fighting back against the deficit terrorist movement to cut Social Security, and reported that Borosage’s organization, the Campaign for America’s Future, “has joined with 50 other organizations (and growing) representing 35 million Americans to form a coalition”, called “Strengthen Social Security.” He also refers to a panel on Social Security at Netroots Nation that will be “inviting the bloggers across the country to help fend off the assault on Social Security, and join the debate about priorities over the next years.” Then he ends with this:

”This country has big decisions to make in the months and years ahead. We’ve still got a long way to go to get people back to work and to get this economy going. We’ve got to build a strong foundation for a new economy that will provide shared prosperity and rebuild a broad middle class. We need to address global warming — and capture a leading role in the green industrial revolution that will transform our lives. Fix our broken health care system whose soaring costs will be unaffordable for businesses, families or government and get our budgets back in order. Redress our growing domestic public investment deficit — in basic infrastructure like sewers, roads, an efficient electric grid, in education and training, in research and development. Balance our trade, and revive manufacturing in America. End two wars and stop spending as much as the rest of the world combined on our military budget. Clean up our politics, curb the influence of money, and reform the dysfunctional Senate. Empower workers and fix our broken immigration system. The daunting check list can go on.

”But one thing we don’t need. We don’t need politicians demonstrating their “credibility” by kicking the elderly and the disabled. We don’t need to fix a Social Security program that isn’t broken. The best “fix” for Social Security is simply to tell the truth about it.”

The second piece, “How Obama and the Dems Can Get Us Out of the Huge Economic Hole We’re in,” is a strategy piece for Democrats. It 1) outlines all the bad things out there that are putting the public in a sour mood approaching the mid-term elections, 2) describes the gloomy (for Dems) recent poll results, 3) covers the Dem attempts to frame the election as a contest between “the policies that led us into this mess and the policies that are leading us out of this mess,” as well as their attempts to sell the idea that they should be credited with the most dramatic and consequential set of reforms passed ind decades, 4) highlights the Republicans’ obstructionism and framing the contest as being about voting against the Dems’ lack of good results, 5) emphasizes the fact that the economy doesn’t look like it’s out of the woods yet and will give the Dems something to run on, and 6) points out the Dems’ intention to continue to push a “multi-faceted reform agenda.” He then gets to his point which is:

”. . . the White House would be better advised to focus as much as possible on jobs, even at the risk of aggravating liberals and constituency groups. The president needs to speak directly and repeatedly on where we are, explaining the reality that while the recovery act did stop the freefall and generated millions of jobs, the crisis was far worse than predicted. He should be calling for more action to create jobs. Raise the ante with a bold package of measures — including direct public hiring, aid to states and localities, use the money paid back by the banks to give small business access to lower interest loans, call for an infrastructure bank to mobilize private capital to rebuild America. Shelve the free trade agreements and challenge China and Germany, stating flatly that the US will not allow a return to the old global imbalances. Call on states and localities to pass and enforce domestic content legislation to ensure that taxpayers dollars create jobs here rather than abroad. Push the elements in the energy bill that generate jobs — from retrofitting public buildings to permanent tax credits for renewable energy sources. Push passage of jobs creating transport and infrastructure appropriations.

”The conservative noise machine already argues that the president, having run up record deficits with a failed stimulus program, now wants more of the same. Virtually all of these measures will be opposed — as everything else has been — by Republicans. Little of it will survive the inevitable Republican filibuster in the Senate.

”Why propose what is unlikely to pass? Because these measures are needed, and at least will clearly define the choice for this fall. Why propose measures that will increase the deficit that people are said to be freaked out about? Because the majority of Americans, if forced to choose, make the right choice – for focus on jobs over deficits. So pose the choice between a White House and Democratic Congress still pushing for action on jobs, and an opposition focused on deficits and wedded to the policies that drove us off of the cliff.”

So, let’s imagine that we all lined up behind Borosage’s calls for support. What would that get us if we were completely successful? First, we’d get no changes to Social Security, except perhaps a rise in the FICA wage cap. The Administration would abandon plans to “reform” SS further for the time being, or until the next time they want to get the “left” jacked up about something. However, the “Catfood Commission” would still be coming out with recommendations the Administration might try to get through the lame duck Congress so it could persuade the bond markets that the US is fiscally responsible. If SS were off the table, then what would be left for the Commission and the Administration to propose?

Well, based on the AmericaSpeaks worksheet on budgetary options, the Commission might still recommend changes like the following. A series of incremental gradually increasing across the board cuts in the following categories so that by 2025 the following spending cuts would have been achieved: 1) $300B in health care cuts; 2) $204 Billion in non-Defense Expenditure cuts; 3) $132 Billion in Defense Expenditure cuts. In addition, they might recommend 4) a range of tax increases designed to “share the pain” across all tax payers and to raise $250 Billion in 2025, 5) a value-added tax providing $400 Billion in revenue in 2025, and 6) “tax reform” that would eliminate most deductions lower rates, and also raise some $642 Billion in additional tax revenue in 2025. The Commission would of course emphasize that with Social Security off the table, it will be even more important to pass a framework leading us to make spending cuts and tax increases of this kind so that our projected deficits in the period 2020 – 2025 are much more manageable. And they would probably suggest that the cut in the projected deficit we should aim for should be $1.2 to $1.8 Trillion, given a deficit projection for 2025 of $2.46 Trillion.

Now suppose that comes to pass. What will Borosage and his progressive coalition do then? Will they just accede to the deficit hawks wishes because SS was spared? How will they mobilize opposition to some of these cuts and new taxes in just the few short weeks of the lame duck session? What will they do if the proposed reductions cut deeply, as they almost certainly will do, into our efforts to solve all the other problems Borosage calls out?

In other words, is Borosage’s focus on opposition to SS cuts, rather than on opposition to the whole idea of a plan for implementing spending cuts and tax increases in order to hit a target 15 years from now that is based on projections about the economy and the Government’s financial state that is almost certainly way off the mark, the wrong focus? Shouldn’t a coalition of progressive organizations instead be focused on opposition to deficit terrorism itself, on the very idea of the fiscal commission, and on the Administration’s support for this idea? Isn’t it, after all, the ideology of deficit terrorism, and its Hooverite associated policies, that are the main barriers standing in the way of our beginning to meet all the challenges in Borosage’s check list? If so, then why isn’t Borosage organizing a coalition to go after that? Why is he organizing in a way that at best will save Social Security, but will cost us all kinds of other things we are loathe to sacrifice?

Which brings us to Borosage’s strategy piece. Here he recommends all kinds of good things for the Democrats to do that may be both effective and popular, but acknowledges that: “Virtually all of these measures will be opposed — as everything else has been — by Republicans. Little of it will survive the inevitable Republican filibuster in the Senate.” And then he says:

”Why propose what is unlikely to pass? Because these measures are needed, and at least will clearly define the choice for this fall. . . .”

So, this is not about getting anything done. It’s about politics. If we have success and the Democrats advocate for the things Borosage calls out, then where are we? Well, the campaign messaging will indicate a clear choice between the two parties, and the Democrats may win the mid-term election, or at least hold down their losses, so that they still retain effective control of both Houses of Congress. But, so what? What does that get progressives?

Well, at least the Republicans won’t be in nominal control of Congress, and they won’t be totally neutering Obama with investigations. That’s certainly something. But, maybe not much for all the millions of Americans suffering because this Administration hasn’t actually solved a single problem. The really important question is: what reason do we have to believe that the Administration will pass any of the measures Borosage lists even if there is a nominally Democratic Congress? After all, it has such a Congress now, and what has it passed that is truly worthwhile. I won’t go through the usual litany of progressive disappointments with this Administration. We all know what they are. The point is that I don’t trust this Administration a bit to either tell the truth, keep its promises, or represent anyone but a small minority of the population. And I’m sure many other progressives feel as I do.

If the Democrats do win, what’s to prevent them from giving us a lot more kabuki, and then blaming the Republicans, and the filibuster, for their failure once again? What’s to prevent them from coming back right after the election, and passing a good many of the recommendations of the Catfood Commission, even if they’ve promised during the campaign to return to their populist roots? I think the answer is nothing. And the question I have is why Borosage isn’t telling the Administration and the Democratic Party in Congress that what they need to do is to immediately prove to working people that they will represent them by passing the list of things he has called for.

I know, I know; there’s no time left for that before the election, especially since the Republicans will filibuster everything the Democrats try to pass. Well, guess what? There is plenty of time to pass these measures if the Democrats get rid of the filibuster first by using “the nuclear option.” And they can follow that with all the legislation Borosage has proposed. So why aren’t he and other progressives calling for that? Why aren’t they calling for Democrats to prove that they can really be trusted to be Democrats rather than corporate shills, before the election.

As far as I’m concerned, they’ve already gotten our votes and our support, and they’ve failed to prove they deserved either. In my view, it’s time for them to put up or shut up. Only performance will now suffice to persuade those among the progressive base who think we’ve been screwed, that this group of Democrats is worth trusting again, or that they can be believed when they make campaign promises.

So, my question is, why hasn’t Borosage advised the Democrats to perform, to pass the measures he suggests and in that way to show the public that there is a clear choice between Democrats and Republicans? Why is asking them for promises they are unlikely to keep, if elected, enough for him, and other Washington progressives?

That is, and with respect to both the columns I reviewed, Why doesn’t Borosage propose actions that, if successful, will really mean a victory for progressives, and not just a result that still leaves them in a defensive crouch, thinking that things could be even worse than they are, and hoping for changes that will never take place? Why is it that Washington-based progressives always seem to ask for less than what is necessary to get a concrete result that solves a problem? Why is it that they stop short of actually proposing solutions to the problem of the Catfood Commission and propose instead a solution for its attempts to cut Social Security alone? Why is it that they propose a solution to the problem of seeing to it that Democrats have a better chance to win in the Fall; but no solution to the problem of how the Democrats can get the legislation they need passed so that they can actually win in the Fall?

Could it be that the various progressive interest groups based in Washington to defend progressive interests have learned the wrong lessons too well? Could it be that they have learned how to mingle with other Washington elites and also learned the limits of “acceptable behavior” in order to keep a place at the table? Could it be that it is acceptable to try to protect Social Security, but not acceptable to try to force the President to give up his Catfood Commission and his foolish ideas about what constitutes fiscal responsibility and sustainability? Could it be that it is acceptable to advise the Democrats about what to do about their messaging, but not to say to them that if they don’t actually do what is necessary to make that messaging believable, then the progressive coalition will see to it that they sustain a big electoral defeat in 2010, and, if necessary, split the Party in 2012, to ensure that there is a nominee running for President in 2012 who is likely to represent the interests of the people?

Democrats cannot serve two masters. They cannot serve both corporate interests and the people. They cannot serve Wall Street and Main Street. They cannot serve the haves and the have-nots. What Borosage should be organizing is a coalition of progressive organizations spanning the range of all interests threatened by the Catfood Commission, and this coalition should be asking the President and the Congress to immediately disband the Commission, and to abandon plans to manage Government spending using deficits, the debt, and the debt-to-GDP ratio. Government spending should be evaluated only in terms of its likely real effects on American society and the economy at any point in time. It should be evaluated only relative to its public purposes, and to the impact it has on Borosage’s list of challenges and additional challenges he doesn’t mention. That is true fiscal responsibility.

Those challenges are the real problems, not some entirely unreliable projections about what the future state of the deficit may be that is very unlikely to come to pass. A progressive coalition of interest groups should make it clear that its support for the Democratic Party in the coming election is conditional on concrete action and results before the election; that pie-in-the-sky promises won’t do. Immediate action getting legislation passed is necessary. The coalition should also make it clear that its support also requires the Democratic Senate to immediately end the filibuster forever, and pass the measures advocated by Borosage before the election, and before October 1st, so that there is time to campaign on these legislative achievements. And if they won’t act before the election, then let’s see ’em win it without us.

(Cross-posted at FireDogLake.com and Fiscal Sustainability).

Tags: Politics

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dotsconnectors // Jul 26, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    My comments regarding the scope of National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform emailed to the Commission follow:
    Introduction
    In June 1980 the broadcast of the NBC White Paper If Japan Can…Why Can’t We?; sent major U.S. corporations looking for W. Edwards Deming in his Washington, DC, basement office. The reason: many U.S. industries, measured by key matrix, peaked in the mid-late 1960’s and were increasingly challenged competitively by the Japanese. The NBC documentary asserted that America’s declining competitiveness and rate of productivity would make the United States’ “guns and butter” policies of the past unsustainable and our children will be the first generation of American to have a lower standard of living than their parents. For more information about If Japan can…Why Can’t We? – click the link that follows:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_Japan_Can…_Why_Can’t_We%3F
    Deming’s spent the last 13 years of his life trying to prevent the United State from committing suicide. His blueprint for transformation was instrumental to the Japanese economic miracle after World War II and this same blueprint helped transform many American companies, including Ford, after 1980. Ford’s ability to thrive, without bailout assistance, is testimony to his sustainable framework. Deming networks exist in most countries; in fact, from 2001 through 2008 companies from India were awarded more Deming Prizes for quality (15) than all other countries combined.
    In addition to U.S. industries’ competitiveness peaking in the mid-late 1960s, the following were at levels that have not been seen since:
    The percentage of the federal budget funded by corporate taxes
    The level of employee post-retirement benefits funded by employers
    As wide a dispersion of annual income across the population
    Paradoxically, in spite of America’s declining competitiveness and rate of productivity, the 40 years through 2006 has resulted in:
    The percentage of the annual income accruing to the top 20% of the population (the special interest) reaching an all-time high
    The percentage of the federal budget funded by corporate taxes reaching an all time low
    The level of employee post-retirement benefits funded by employers reaching an all time low
    The aforementioned, have resulted in the bottom 80% (the common interest) bearing the brunt of America’s declining competitiveness and rate of productivity.
    The predominate reason corporate taxes were lowered and businesses justified freezing/terminating the funding of employee post-retirement benefits was to make America companies more competitive. Yet in spite of the lack of increased competitiveness, the percentage of the annual income accruing to the top 20% of the population reached an all-time high.
    Scope of National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform
    The scope of The Commissions work, perhaps more than anything else, will determine how history judges The Commission. Too many interest groups will want instant pudding and try to influence The Commission to focus more on the effects of the last 40 years, rather than the root causes. Over the 40 year period from 1969 through 2008, one major political party controlled the legislative branch of the Federal Government, 70% of the time; while the other major political party controlled the executive branch of the Federal Government, 70% of the time. As a result there is ample blame to go around. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between holding leaders accountable and being views as partaking in the blame game, but this should not deter The Commission from holding interest groups accountable. Self-interest partisans have over-promised and have set the stage for to gross under-deliver to the American people. The Commission’s work should above all be balanced and sustainable. Some interest groups have pointed to the follow deficits as being responsible for our current fiscal crisis:
    The Trade Deficit(s)
    The Saving Deficit
    The Leadership Deficit(s)
    The Budget Deficit(s)
    Based on the heretofore introduction, perhaps The Productivity Deficit(s) should be added.
    Trade deficit challenges may not be considered as compatible to the mandate of The Commission as other deficits, however, if The Commission determines that roots causes of trade deficits are also among the root causes of America’s current fiscal crisis, trade deficit root causes warrants disclosure.
    With globalization, addressing American’s saving deficit has special challenges, since policies designed to increase savings may not benefit our domestic economy/society; increased savings may benefit other countries more than the U.S. because these savings may result in increased investments by Americans abroad. The reduced dividend and capital gains tax rates, which are scheduled to sunset, did not result in increased savings, in facts savings rates reached all time lows. Perhaps savings targeted toward enhancing our domestic economy should be encouraged; this could take the form of individual investment, sovereign wealth fund investment or both.
    The leadership deficit(s) are not limited to public officeholders. All individuals in positions of authority have the primary responsibility for the system within which those that they lead and/or have authority over, operate.
    Budget deficit(s) have numerous moving parts. Often not discussed are tax discounts, tax credits and tax deferrals, which have been estimated to account for 25% of the U.S. Government’s total spending. The U.S. Federal Income Tax Code should be justified from a domestic economic and societal benefit standpoint.
    For example, the current U.S. Federal Income Tax Code provides substantial tax rate discounts on long-term gains from the sale of capital assets held for longer than 1 year; however not all capital assets provide meaningful economic and societal benefits. Some provide substantial benefits in terms of fostering entrepreneurship, creating jobs and economic growth, while others actually detract from domestic economic growth, e.g., commodity speculation (causing bubbles), investing in foreign stocks and exchange traded fund (ETFs) which are in substance speculative vehicles are among those that generally detract.
    Corporate obsession with quarterly earnings is to some degree influenced by the ability to achieve long-term capital gains treatment for holdings, as short as one year and one day. From 1934 to 1941, taxpayers could exclude: 20, 40, 60, and 70 percent of gains on assets held 1, 2, 5, and 10 years, respectively. This graded exclusion from taxation encourages genuine long-term investing and discourages hot-money investing which often results in bubbles.

    Respectfully, submitted by: