Remember 2009, Please

Here's the Post Where I Get Some Liberals Mad at Me

Liberals digging in their heels too deep on the grand bargain are making a huge mistake.

Mike Lind has a smart column in Salon that argues, from a strongly reality-based perch, that Social Security and Medicare have nothing--nothing!--to do with our current fiscal jam-up. He is right. I don't do charts here, but he does. You should click over and look at the chart of the factors that have contributed to our present deficit. The numbers are roughly as follows:

Economic downturn, $350 billion; Stimulus and other recovery measures, $350 billion; Bush tax cuts, $300 billion; unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $150 billion. Interestingly, in the out years, like from 2014 onward, the Obama portion of the tab (stimulus/recovery) dwindles to almost nothing; the Bush portions (the other three) stay quite high, especially the cost of the Bush tax cuts, which grow and grow.

So Lind writes:

Note what is missing from the chart. The ballooning of the public debt was not caused in any way by any explosion of spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or other middle-class entitlements or safety-net programs for the poor. And yet the proponents of a “Grand Bargain” like Simpson and Bowles tells us that we need to move quickly to cut these essential social insurance programs, which — it bears repeating — had nothing at all to do with the present fiscal crisis.

He is right on the facts. Alas, two points. First, the Beltway establishment doesn't see it like this. And second, and more saliently, well, Obama has to bargain with something. He can't get Republicans to give something if he doesn't give something. So he can't just walk in there and show them a bunch of charts proving that entitlements aren't the problem and expect them to scratch their chins and say, "Ah, I see, Mr. President, well okay then. Tax hikes it is."

Now, maybe instead of a grand bargain in this lame-duck session, we just need a petite bargain: tax hikes on the upper brackets, extend the payroll tax cuts, come up with some way to finesse the worst of the sequestration problem, and kick the can.

That would be nice, but he's not going to get even that tax hike without putting something on the table. Someone emailed me today's MoveOn statement, which I can't find on their site, but which goes like this:

MoveOn’s 7 million members will be pleased to know that President Obama today strongly reiterated his steadfast commitment to ensuring that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent finally end December 31—and to protecting the middle class in the process. MoveOn is staying fully mobilized after last week's election. Our millions of members are fired up and ready to go, and are taking the fight to Republicans who are holding middle class taxpayers hostage to win another tax cut for the rich. We also appreciate that the President again promised not to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and the poor—and our members are committed to defending Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security from any benefit cuts as part of a budget deal.

I'll deal with particulars in later posts. But I don't think this is a wise position for a liberal group to take. It just recreates that whole dynamic that we had around the public option--liberal despair at Obama's impurity. I believe, strongly, in pressure from the left for more progressive outcomes, but I don't believe in setting up a dynamic, which I think the above language comes awfully close to doing, by which any bargaining Obama does makes him a sellout.

This is a moment of great opportunity for the broad left. Let's all remember 2009, please, when the Republicans--written off in November 2008 just as they're being written off now--revived themselves while liberals did little but grouse about the president who's passed more big progressive legislation than anyone since Johnson or maybe FDR.