In the wake of the fiscal deal raising taxes only on income over $450,000, Republicans are declaring that the debate over taxes is finished. The next fiscal deal will contain nothing in new revenues. Yesterday, Mitch McConnell said
“The tax issue is finished. Over. Completed. That’s behind us. Now the question is what are we going to do about the biggest problem confronting our country and that’s our spending addiction. We didn’t have this problem because we weren’t taxing enough.”
As Jonathan Cohn notes this morning
, this talking point may have some potency: Hey, we just raised taxes on the rich, so the next bite at the apple should be focused on spending cuts, right? So it’s worth putting the GOP demand in clearer perspective. What Republicans are saying here is that they intend to use the debt ceiling as hostage to ensure that all of the deficit reduction in the coming “grand bargain” is paid for by spending cuts — such as cuts to entitlements and other social programs — with not a penny coming from new revenues via the closing of loopholes and deductions enjoyed by the rich.
A hallmark of the Romney campaign was its pathological tendency to make bald misrepresentations of fact and to reiterate and reiterate the misrepresentation even after almost everyone knew it was false. Sometimes everyone knew the statement was false as soon as the statement was made; it contradicted what everyone already knew. Other times–or at least one other time–everyone knew the statement was false after, say, the CEO of the auto company that Romney said was closing a major plant in Ohio and moving the jobs to China said in a highly-publicized statement what everyone in or near the locality of the plant already knew: that the story was false and that the plant had recently expanded and was about to increase its workforce there. And still other times, everyone learned that the statement was false because the Obama PAC corrected the misrepresentation with TV commercials, or the news media pointed out often enough that the statement was false.
But those misstatements of fact didn’t concern technical matters of law or economic fact that almost no one actually knows. Which is why the debt ceiling matter is so susceptible of misrepresentation that “raising the debt ceiling” means increasing budget appropriations, when actually it means making available enough money to pay bills already accrued from earlier budget appropriations. This is a technical issue made in Tea Party heaven, albeit many decades before the Tea Party was born.
So, isn’t it paramount the president explain to the public what the debt ceiling issue actually is, rather than allowing the Republicans to keep misinforming the public that it’s an increase in budget allocations rather than a payment for budget allocations already made? This quirk in the law–the requirement that Congress authorize payment of costs already budgeted, already promised (e.g., in bond interest, Medicare payments, Social Security payments, veterans benefits)–is something that almost no member of the general public knows.
Obama keeps saying, in a single sentence, that he won’t allow default on money already appropriated and owing. That’s nice. But does he really not understand that this goes right over most people’s heads, because the Repubs keep telling them the opposite, and because the debt ceiling law is a technicality that most people simply don’t know about, and because that technicality has no counterpart in, say, normal living experience?
This is beginning to seem to me like the 2009-2010 ACA debate, redux–with the rightwing misinforming the public, and Obama thinking that the public knows specifics that the public flatly does not know.
So here’s a suggestion: Obama’s shown a fondness for adopting the Republicans’ messaging by analogizing the federal government to a family’s finances, even though this analogy, when it involves economic stimulus and other fiscal-appropriations issues, actually amounts to a misrepresentation of fact. But on the debt ceiling matter, the government-is-similar-to-families analogy is exactly apt. If someone already runs up large credit card bills, he owes the money even if he decides to rip up his credit cards and stop running up personal debt. If he doesn’t pay the credit card bills he’s accrued, he’s DEFAULTING on those debts, and his credit rating will plunge. And if someone owes monthly mortgage payments, he can’t simply stop paying them, and expect to keep his home. He’ll lose the home in a foreclosure proceeding.
See? Not hard to explain. But if Obama can’t or won’t explain this, some other Democrat who can garner the public’s attention should. My suggestion: Bill Clinton. And if Clinton won’t, then maybe Joe Biden can.
And after this success, maybe they can begin to torpedo the Republicans’ “Greece” canard by actually providing the public with facts. Such as that Greece has a much smaller, less comprehensive social safety-net system than the U.S., than Germany, than Holland, than Canada, than Australia, than …. It also has a deeply embedded culture of low rates of taxes, tax payments and tax collections. Unlike Germany, Holland, Canada, Australia ….
Which might suggest that McConnell didn’t know what he’s talking about when he said we didn’t have this problem because we weren’t taxing enough. Especially since we didn’t have this problem when, say, during the Clinton years, we were.
That spending addiction of ours, of course, goes by the some familiar names. Those names include Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid (including nursing home payments for incapacitated elderly who’ve exhausted their savings), and unemployment insurance. They also include the Defense Department, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, air traffic controllers, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Centers for Disease Control, medical research grants, supplemental aid to states for education, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the Agriculture Department (food safety), and farm price supports. Not to mention “tax expenditures” to, say, ExxonMobil.
All of which the president should mention in his two big speeches this month: the inaugural speech and the State of the Union address. Maybe then the Republicans will suggest what parts of our spending addiction they want us to confront, and how–exactly–they think we should confront them.
Since, unlike Greece, we didn’t have this problem because we weren’t taxing enough.