Posts Tagged ‘David Gregory’

The Crumbling Empire

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

I had a few minutes at home today in the middle of the day and flipped on the TV.  The HBO documentary that I’ve been trying to avoid was on. 12th and Delaware  is about an abortion clinic in Fort Pierce, Florida and the Christian group across the street that accosts the women coming out of the clinic and tries to convince them not to have abortions.

When I turned it on, a black girl was sitting in her apartment looking out the window talking about how she didn’t want to be pregnant. She had tried to drink vinegar,  huff solvents and “move heavy things,” but since she was told that she could die or become infertile from an abortion, she had decided to keep her baby.

I changed the channel to David Gregory’s Afghanistan interview with General Petraeus. Interspersed with clips of American soldiers in combat operations, Petraeus was explaining that the troop withdrawal from surge levels would be based on “conditions on the ground.”

Over the past few weeks there has been discussion on the left about how cities and municipalities are cutting services that many depend on, including teachers, school days, bus service, police officers and even streetlights and police helicopters in the case of Colorado Springs, CO. This was highlighted in a New York Times article and featured by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Glenn Greenwald at Salon entitled his post about those cuts, “What collapsing empire looks like.” Krugman fleshed out the debate, pointng out that, as emerging countries invest in roads and infrastructure, 

a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel.

And a nation that once prized education — that was among the first to provide basic schooling to all its children — is now cutting back. Teachers are being laid off; programs are being canceled; in Hawaii, the school year itself is being drastically shortened. And all signs point to even more cuts ahead.

Krugman continues, explaining that these cuts are a direct result of the American aversion to tax increases and that, for all of the talk about “welfare queens” and lazy people collecting money from the public dole, we are now seeing that when tax revenues decrease, everyone suffers as streetlights are turned off, police and teachers are fired and (in the case of Hawaii) students are given shorter school years.

How did we get to this point? It’s the logical consequence of three decades of antigovernment rhetoric, rhetoric that has convinced many voters that a dollar collected in taxes is always a dollar wasted, that the public sector can’t do anything right.

The antigovernment campaign has always been phrased in terms of opposition to waste and fraud — to checks sent to welfare queens driving Cadillacs, to vast armies of bureaucrats uselessly pushing paper around. But those were myths, of course; there was never remotely as much waste and fraud as the right claimed. And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing what was actually in the firing line: services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole

I’m not one who says that we should get out of Afghanistan immediately. I think that we should give it our best shot in the next couple of years and then turn over to the Afghans while keeping a much smaller presence in the country in the long term. But I think that if we’re going to spend the money to nation build in Afghanistan, then we should nation build here as well; and if push comes to shove, I would rather build America then Afghanistan.  The contrast between us paving roads and building schools in Afghanistan and Iraq while we fire teachers and unpave roads here in America couldn’t be more striking.

I don’t want to get into the moral issues responsibility, life and death, free will and government control that are involved in the abortion debate, but surely most people can agree that the girl in 12th and Delaware could have used some more education before she huffed solvents in an attempt to cause a miscarriage of the baby that she eventually decided to have. I feel for the women suffering in Afghanistan, but we have people in America that need help as well.  

The Tea Party has tapped into something powerful: people (especially Americans) don’t like paying taxes. The question is whether they would rather have their streetlights turned off, cutback on police protection and shortchange the children of America in order to keep those lower taxes….and whether they will be as upset as I am by the contrast between our nation efforts building in Afghanistan and the crumbling of our infrastructure in America. If we’re not willing to pay the taxes necessary maintain the Empire and take care of our own country, then maybe we should consider dispensing with the Empire altogether.

Tax Cuts Do Not Pay For Themselves

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

With the Bush tax cuts about to expire and Democrats planning to make the argument over extending Bush tax cuts for the rich a key to their positioning for the November elections, there has been an increased focus on the effects of all of Bush’s tax cuts.

In defending the extentions the Republicans have backed themselves into a bit of a rhetorical corner. Specifically, they just spent two years complaining incessantly about the $9 trillion dollar deficit that Obama has somehow created in just two years (as if they were asleep during the previous 8 years) and now they are proposing to continue the tax policies that have significantly contributed to those deficits. In an attempt to justify this irresponsible policy, a number of Republicans have fallen back on the familiar supply-side argument from the Reagan years that “tax cuts pay for themselves.”

In addition to this general statement, I have also heard from some Republicans recently that “there was no revenue problem” during the Bush years and that if spending hadn’t increased at the time, Bush would have been able to balance the budget. While that may be technically true, it fundamentally ignores the fact that the Bush tax cuts tacked on an additional trillion and a half to a budget that was aleady bloated by recession and two wars (wars that almost all Republicans supported).

A few minutes of Google research was enough to dispel the fantasy that tax cuts pay for themselves. Studies by both the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the free market Heritage Foundation have both pegged the cost of the Bush tax cuts at close to $1.7 trillion over a ten year period. Even the most conservative estimates of the stimulative power of the tax cuts assume that they would have created a 25% increase in tax revenues during that period, making the cost of those tax cuts at least $1.3 trillion (if not more).

Going forward, the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for all income brackets is estimated at $3 trillion over 10 years.

So now Republicans–who complained seemingly non-stop for two years about how Obama had created trillion dollar deficits–are in the position of running for office on a plan to keep all the Bush tax cuts in place, but not providing any plan to offset the estimated $3 trillion revenue loss.

This dichotomy was on display pretty dramatically on Meet the Press last Sunday. The week before David Gregory had Alan Greenspan on and had asked the former Fed Chairman if he favored extending the Bush tax cuts. “I’m very much in favor of tax cuts but not with borrowed money” he said, “and the problem that we have gotten into in recent years is spending programs with borrowed money, tax cuts with borrowed money; and at the end of the day that proves disastrous.”

Gregory probed more: “you don’t agree with Republican leaders who say tax cuts pay for themselves?”

“They do not,” replied Greenspan. 

When Boehner was on last Sunday, Gregory played Greenspan’s clip from the week before and asked him how he could be concerned about the deficit, but at the same time in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts indefinitely.

“Do tax cuts pay for themselves?” Gregory asked.

Boehner was evasive, but Gregory kept at him until he burst out that Gregory wanted to “get into this Washington game…and their funny accounting over there.” 

Nice try Boehner, but this isn’t a Washington game, and it’s not a trick question to ask if you have a plan to pay for the $3 trillion in tax cuts that you are proposing, especially if you just spent the past two years blaming Obama and Pelosi for the deficit.

We just finished a long debate over the health care reform bill and the Republicans’ main argument was that we couldn’t afford to move toward universal health care and that they didn’t like (or believe in)  the way it was financed. That’s fair enough, I didn’t like how it was financed either, but it was financed, which is more than we can say about extending the Bush tax cuts, or the Medicare prescription drug benefit that the Republicans passed under Bush.

We are closing out 30 years of history in which the Republicans have consistently said that they would cut government, but when push came to shove, just cut taxes and let government increase in size. Does anyone think that we should just trust these guys to do the right thing this time?…and more importantly, if anyone does believe that they have a plan to balance the budget, don’t we deserve to know what that plan would look like?

As I’ve said before, I think that there are good arguments to maintain low taxes for the next couple of years to stimulate the economy (I would rather see the income tax cuts be replaced by a short-term payroll tax holiday), but we are facing a $9 trillion deficit over the next ten years and neither party seems serious about the changes that will need to be made. Canceling  the tax cuts would slash that deficit by one third overnight and make the job of deficit reduction significantly less daunting.

Americans need to understand that hard choices (on both benefits and taxes) need to be made, and we should have a debate that illuminates this reality. The politicians are doing what they always do. Obama promised not to raise taxes on the middle class, so he’s in favor of extending the tax cuts for everyone but the top 2%. Republicans like low taxes more than they hate deficits, so they’re in favor of adding on another $700 billion over 10 years for the top 2% (while they filibuster jobless benefits because “we can’t afford them”). Both sides complain about deficits, but both sides are also in a mad dash to stuff the budget full of their individual priorities before they have to start negotiating on what programs to cut and what revenues to raise.

The country deserves a debate on bigger issues instead of a narrow debate along the partisan lines that the parties have layed out. We deserve a rare outbreak of candor from our politicians. 

This may be to much to ask right now, but dispensing with the canard that “tax cuts pay for themselves” is a good start.