A Story More Important than Debt Limit Kabuki

I take it the American news cycle is dominated by the artificial debate over raising the debt limit. It is a silly season story. The budget was being balanced by Clinton in the late 1990s, and the Republicans were the ones who created long-term structural deficits by slashing taxes on the wealthiest Americans (even Bush argued with Cheney over the second cut), by an unfunded prescription drug give-away to get votes from the medicare crowd, and by two unfunded wars, one of them illegal in international law.

The reason that the Republicans deliberately destroyed the balanced budget and created unprecedented government debt was precisely in hopes that at some point they could use the debt as an excuse to destroy social security, medicare, and myriads of educational and health programs. They represent rich people, and the rich don’t want to be having to bear their fair share of the national burden. What better way to get out of having to pay those pesky taxes than making sure the government doesn’t do anything for anyone but the rich.

So everything unfolding in Washington was planned out in a room in 2001, and is going according to plan.

The government will find a way to continue to function eventually, and this particular government will find a way to throw ever more public resources to billionaires and to take even what little the middle class has away from them.

Reducing taxes on the super-wealthy and borrowing money for key government functions is just a sneaky way of increasing taxes on the middle class, who will now have to pay taxes to support the billionaires’ wars and corporate welfare plus pay out of pocket for health care, education, environmental protection, and social security– i.e. things they had already paid into the government for. Starving education of funding ensures that people are too ignorant to figure out this scam. They won’t even be able to distinguish between one-time stimulus deficits like Obama’s, and long-term structural deficits of the sort passed by Bush.

In the meantime, things have been happening on the ‘chipping away at the constitution’ front. The government has more or less admitted that it is using your cellphone’s gps function to track you whenever it likes, without a warrant.

Then, some senators are meeting secretly to decide whether to pass an extension of the 2008 FISA law allowing warrantless wiretaps. This is an attempt to avoid a public debate on this clearly unconstitutional law, which was to expire in 2012. As with the provisions of the so-called PATRIOT act, which were extended without public debate until 2016 last May, such parliamentary maneuvers that sidestep public debate do American democracy a profound disservice. Worse, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has warned us that there is a secret government interpretation of these acts that permits domestic surveillance far beyond what their text seems to authorize.

As someone who, it has been alleged by Glenn Carle, was the object of illegal US government surveillance, I mind.

26 Responses

  1. Government education spending on a dollar/student/year basis has increased three-fold in inflation adjusted dollars since 1970. If all it took were money to banish ignorance then Americans should be the most saavy, well-informed people on the planet.

    • This statistic would only be alarming if you thought Americans were well-educated as of 1970. Who did they vote in as president, again, in 1968?

      • I’m not sure I get your point now. In your blog post you suggest reducing government spending on education will lead to (more?) ignorant citizens. I responded that a massive increase in spending on public education in recent decades hasn’t resulted in a less ignorant public. Indeed, I’m not aware of any other country in the world that spends significantly more per student on education than America, yet our students consistently rank below average in most academic areas on standardized tests.

        Your response would seem to indicate you believe that public schools have not been effective in sufficiently banishing ignorance since their inception in the early 1900s. If that’s the case why would you argue against decreasing funding to support them?

        • Actually most education in the US is not paid for by the Federal government, so your whole point was bogus and I was having a little fun. But another loogical possibility is that I think we are still not spending nearly enough on education.

        • Gee Mark, why is America the only country in the First World that can’t get public schools to work? Unless you are claiming that all those Germans, Frenchmen, Dutchmen, Japanese, Koreans, et al are also ignorant since they all went to public schools.

          In fact, your agenda is made clear when you claim public schools’ inception was in the early 1900s. Implying that America was better off before that, when robber barons and plantation owners ruled the land unchallenged by liberals. But in fact public schools are much older than that. They won their key victories in the early 1800s, where they were part and parcel of the American industrial revolution in Massachusetts and New York. It was, as usual, the slaveocratic South that viewed them as a threat. Not surprisingly, the South paid dearly for its technological backwardness in the subsequent war and reconstruction. Even the robber barons of the North did not have the arrogance to believe that they should privatize the school system – they viewed it as an investment in growth. Why has ignorance grown so greatly among capitalists that they now think America can rule the world with a population indoctrinated cheaply in Christian Right madrassas to believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, evolution doesn’t occur, and the solution to every problem is Guns, Guts and God?

        • Juan isn’t, but I am.

          The GOP is carrying out the same anti-public ideology that its fellow capitalist stooges at the IMF and World Bank carried out as detailed in Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”; the intentional collapsing of societies to justify handing everything over to the rich.

          Some years ago Pakistan’s military regime was under pressure from the international finance gang to cut government spending. They could have cut the military, but of course they didn’t. They cut back on public schools. But by an amazing coincidence, the regime’s allies from the war in Afghanistan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, had armies of Wahhabi missionaries funded by noblemen, ready to fill the gap. The madrassa generation has had an impact in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the mess may never be cleaned up.

          So when right-wingers here talk about slowly strangling public schools, I have to suspect that they have a replacement in mind, and so do you.

  2. They have been trying to do social security in since long before 2001, some have been trying to do it in since its inception.

    The argument between Bush and Cheney shows Cheney was out of place, he wasn’t president and acted beyond his powers , he was VP president. Cheney did this nation no favors.
    Warrantless wiretapping is the baby of Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers of Brighton located in Livingston County. And Mike’s warrantless wiretapping was found illegal by Judge Vaughn R. Walker.

    Mike also voted….. YES on removing the need for FISA warrants for wiretapping (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, required warrants.}

    Below is a blog piece on Mike Rogers the creator of wiretapping in the Patriot Act

    link to mittromney2012potus.blogspot.com
    ( the site is actually an anti-mitt site) :-)

    Mike is a former FBI Agent, he worked white collar crime detail in Chicago and it looks like Mike’s experience with crime taught him well on how to commit them. Livingston County, which Mike’s family dominates –( Mike has a brother serving in the Michigan State legislature, his father a heavy influence in Brighton, and his mother dominated the Livingston county GOP), there is enough of corruption in Livingston to keep any white collar detail busy for a long time cleaning it up and is found though-out the county system. Alberto Berlusconi could come to the county and they would make him a member of the county board and his behavior with young women would qualify him to become a county judge — he would fit right in.

    The best way to tackle the issue is Washington is to remove the people from office who are part of the problem, starting at the local and state levels and Michigan has its work cut out for them in removing people from both sides of the political spectrum — “two walls hold up the same roof” -Khalil Gibran, as folks in Mike’s Livingston county are very much aware, but are still hiding under the bushes in hopes no one figures it out.

  3. It’s one thing to inherit a problem. It’s another thing to inherit a problem and continue the policies you inherit while still blaming your predecessor.

    The Bush taxes are the problem? Obama extended them for two full years, cut taxes additionally and cut the payroll tax.

    The wars are the problem? Obama continued the Iraq war on the Bush schedule, surged the Afghanistan war, added Libya, accelerated the war within Pakistan, added the war in Yemen and added the war in Somalia.

    If wars and tax cuts are such a problem, why have Democrats not only continued the policies, but added to them once they gained control of government?

    The Democratic party had four full years, and Obama had two years, to implement policies to reverse these issues that they are blaming as being the problem, and they did not even try. Obama did not even ask for legislation to any of that effect and Democrats did not introduce any when they were in control of Congress.

    If government cannot solve our economic problem, then so be it. We will have to look elsewhere for solution. But it’s time to admit that they are helpless to solvbe the problem instead of fecklessly blaming it on their predecessors.

    • Obama extended the Bush tax cuts because he was blackmailed by the Republicans, who threatened to shut down government if he tried to let them expire. Obama has withdrawn tens of thousands of troops from Iraq. This comment is sheer propaganda and illustrates the point I was making about the dishonesty and/or ignorance of most commenters on this subject.

      • Honesty demands that the point “Obama has withdrawn tens of thousands of troops from Iraq” not be made without also adding that he increased troops in Afghanistan from 33000 to 101000.

      • “Obama has withdrawn tens of thousands of troops from Iraq.”

        That schedule was determined by the Bush Administration before it left office. Obama has withdrawn no troops whatever from Iraq. He is, in fact, trying to reverse the Bush plan and keep troops there longer.

        “Obama extended the Bush tax cuts because he was blackmailed by the Republicans”

        Doesn’t matter why he did it. He did it. He made the deal and presented it to Congress, to the vast irritation of that body, which had a Democratic majority at the time.

        Your comment and rebuttal illustrate the short-sightedness of those who are blindly loyal to Obama and defend him even when he is wrong. I voted for him and will probably do so again, but not everything he does is the right thing, and his endless blaming of problems on others instead of focusing on solutions is one of his errors.

        • You guys can’t at the same time allege that Obama has “continued Bush’s wars” and then turn around and say that his massive drawdown in Iraq is just Bush policy. Bush was boxed in to the SOFA and his officials and generals were clearly trying to find ways not to implement it.

          Likewise, Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan was not a continuation of Bush’s war; Bush neglected Afghanistan and the fight against Bin Laden. It is an Obama initiative, and it is already winding down, with a huge drawdown over the next year.

          All this is not “a continuation of Bush’s wars” and it is either muddled thinking or sheer dishonesty to so allege.

      • Well… I thought I was paying attention. As I recall the reason Obama gave for extending the Bush/Obama tax cuts was the Republicans were holding unemployment extensions hostage (not threatening to shut down the government).

        Look, I agree with your post 100% but not this comment. As a tradtional liberal I think the neo-liberals in the Democratic party are a big part of the problem. When I examine the Obama record (I voted for him), I can’t find much to be excited about while at the same time there is much to loathe. Does he get all the blame? No, but a quick look at how Health Care reform evolved reveals that the Democratic Party is corrupt, maybe not as corrupt as the Republicans but corrupt none the less. Rather than holding votes on public options or single payer they said those positions didn’t have enough votes (from their whip counts) to pass so they wouldn’t be having them. See the problem here? It is an incumbancy protection racket. Why not force those in office to establish a voting record? The Republicans know this quite well, when they were running both Houses they forced many “support the troops” type of votes where they dared Dems to vote against them because they wanted a voting record to challenge.

        Anyway, thanks for this site, it is great.

  4. those who differ with your point of view, with regards to Obama and extending the Bush tax cuts, are obviously wrong according to you. and biased and pushing propaganda and so forth…

    if only life were so simple.

  5. Has anybody noticed the current Republicans never talk about other famous Republican leaders from long ago? I never hear them quote or talk about Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and never Nixon or Ford. That shows how radial these current Republicans are. The Republicans are radicals.

  6. We’re beginning to resemble the French third republic with our dysfunction.

    Correct me if I’m wrong Professor Cole, but didn’t Poincare solve the mid 20’s financial and debt crisis in large part by raising taxes on the middle class?

    It’s easy to think the powers that be will eventually do the same here.

  7. Obama has always been lucky in his political opponents. His biggest advantage for reelection is that the GOP will probably have an even less desirable candidate.

  8. The graph is a misleading in terms of what it implies should be done regarding policy. The assumption I’m expecting you are looking for people to draw with the given data is that nothing can be done about the wars (already happened/happening), economic downturn, recovery measures (already spent), TARP/Fannie/Freddie (already spent). Therefore, we must repeal the tax cuts! However, what makes up the deficit without those factors (ie. below the bottom black line) shouldn’t be off the table in terms of spending cuts. Having a higher tax regime is hardly something government should strive for (taxing for taxation’s sake is ridiculous). Europe with higher taxation rates still gets only as much revenue per person as the US, yet seemingly overall (but not without significant issue), provide a better social safety net.

    That said, I don’t really agree with the Republicans about anything, except that I do (somewhat) appreciate their emphasis on the need to deal with our long-term fiscal health, especially regarding our entitlement programs. That said, making it all about the debt ceiling is all political posturing, but at least these issues are on the table now. Democrats were certainly ignoring them. That doesn’t mean I think the Republicans have good plans for dealing with the issues, but at least by them having a plan at all, the issues are being brought up.

    I’m (mostly) in favor of a government role in providing for health care, retirement, education, and some wealth redistribution to alleviate poverty. But how the government does it is severely broken and unsustainable. I’m pretty sure we could improve the country’s health care, retirement, and education, and spend significantly less money. And yes, I do define improve as more services, especially to lower-income households.

    Side note: The Bush income tax cuts themselves actually were more progressive than the previous taxing regime because the marginal rates at lower income levels dropped more than at upper levels. Tax cuts on investment income and the estate tax are really what benefitted the wealthy (however keep in mind taxes on investments represent double-taxation).

    • the graph is not misleading. It shows the long-term structural causes of repeated deficits. And it is obvious what they are and how to remedy them.

      • I would argue it is indeed misleading in the sense that with only this data, only certain actions could result, even though there are in fact a myriad of options. What’s obvious is only true if you limit yourself to this presentation of the data. A truly non-biased chart wouldn’t selectively choose which factors to show (granted it would also be a hard chart to read). It also doesn’t show *the* long-term causes of the deficit, but rather *some* causes. If it were unbiased would include military spending (unrelated to the posted wars), health spending, Social Security, agricultural subsidies, and all the other thousands of factors that make-up spending.

        Further, 2-3 of those causes are hardly long-term. TARP/Fannie/Freddy, the recovery measures, and hopefully the wars (though at this point they are certainly in the “long-term” range, even if winding down) are temporary spikes in spending that aren’t repeatedly (hopefully) contributing to the debt year after year (except through rising interest payments as we continue to not pay it off).

        Plausible lessons from the given graph: 1) Wars are costly 2) Tax cuts without spending changes are contribute to increased debt 3) Economic downturns’ effect on the debt can be magnified by [perceived/actual need for] government action(?) That last one is probably not valid at this point. I tend to think the government response to the financial crisis was inappropriate. After all, we got stimulus that doesn’t in any obvious way seem to have helped (at this point), plus big-bank bailouts (which probably helped the short-term), without any meaningful financial reform. And what was passed may have made incentivized more abuse in the financial sector.

        PS. By definition, the graph doesn’t show the structural deficit because it includes “economic downturn” which would be part of the cyclical deficit.

  9. You’ve changed your mind on the purpose of the Iraq War? I once suggested to you in a comment here that the point of the war was to drain the treasury so that the Bush Administration could claim the till was empty whenever new programs were proposed. You said you doubted this. Have you come around on this, or am I overinterpreting?

  10. I am part of the middle class, maybe even the upper middle class. I’d gladly pay more taxes, if, IF, if and only if, the government would get its pathetic act together. There must be cuts across the board and taxes must be raised on those who can afford them easily. I want to live in a country that is fair and takes care of those in need without discouraging work, personal responsibility, and thrift. The Republicans are mostly miserable, but the Democrats cannot control themselves when they have our money to spend – on whatever.

  11. Three observations on the posted comments:

    My observation is that the American ruling glasses are emulating the British Empire, no industrial investment, no general education, just training the elite to administer the empire, it came to a bad end for the Brits also.

    The robber barons invested in culture and public education, at least after they had made their fortunes. Stanford U, Rockefeller U, Carnegie libraries etc.

    Why is it that the ultra conservatives in the US seem to hate the one lasting legacy of the conservative Otto von Bismarck? Social Security.

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