Friday, April 22, 2011

The Bergen And McCarthy Show

Barack Obama's Barack Obama is at it again.

Dick Durbin, a "liberal" Democrat, one of the three Democrats on the "Gang of Six" seeking agreement on a debt reduction package, commented in an interview for ABC's Subway Series

You have the House Republican budget from Congressman Paul Ryan, who I know and like, which is going to be placed somewhere on the right side of the spectrum. You have the president's suggestion, which will be on the other side of the spectrum. And if and when we reach an agreement, it will be in the middle, a bipartisan effort, which I think has a chance to succeed.

Somewhere on the right side of the spectrum? Would anyone three years ago- before Barack Obama was inaugurated- have suggested that eliminating Medicare and turning health care for the elderly over to private insurers is "somewhere on the right side of the spectrum?" And that a President bragging about "the biggest spending cut in history" (as all taxes as a proportion of personal income fall to the lowest level in over 60 years) would be considered alll the way on "the other side of the spectrum?"

No. And No. But Durbin wasn't finished, arguing "In 2037, as we know it, Social Security falls off a cliff. There's a 22 percent reduction rate in payments, which is really not something we can tolerate."

ABC News did not ask how a 22 per cent reduction in benefits is "falling off a cliff." Generally, when someone falls off a cliff, it ends horribly, in death. A 22% (actually, 23%) reduction is not falling off a cliff but apparently, in order to accept harm to one of America's two most cherished government programs, people first must be panicked.

Durbin might have suggested the cap on the income subject to payroll taxes be eliminated (or at least raised), but that wouldn't do, especially when the President who pulls his strings cut the payroll tax as part of the tax deal in December. Instead, the Illinois Senator advocates reducing Social Security taxes to the wealthy (whereupon they ultimately might be eliminated) because (sarcasm alert) there is nothing Americans like more than a welfare program.

Durbin believes the Gang of Six is "very, very close. And there's a sense of urgency. Our relevance is going to be hooked to our timeliness. If we wait too long, we may not be players. And a lot of people are counting on us to be players."

No doubt the Senator is particularly pleased with the reasonableness of Gang of Six member Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. Recently, "The Last Word" host Lawrence O'Donnell presented an ode to Coburn who had, it is believed, stood up to Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform. The latter has had virtually every Republican in Congress sign his Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which opposes not only tax increases but also elimination of loopholes. On March 29, Coburn sent to Norquist a letter criticizing the powerful activist for opposing elimination of a tax earmark for movie producers and currently opposing an amendment sponsored by Coburn to eliminate an ethanol subsidy.

Both O'Donnell and the normally sober and insightful Jonathan Chait are both pleased that Coburn has challenged "Norquist's vision of conservatism." Maybe not so much of a challenge, however. The Hill's Michael O'Brien reports

Coburn, one of six senators involved in behind-the-scenes talks considered crucial if there is to be a deal, said that while it was possible that some voters could see their tax burdens rise, the “Gang of Six” talks would not result in a significant tax hike.

"There's no plan to have a significant tax hike on anyone," Coburn said on conservative talker Laura Ingraham's radio show. "I don't think there's any of the three of us who will embrace tax hikes."

Coburn’s comments suggest the senators are unlikely to agree to end the Bush tax rates for families with annual income above $250,0000, a priority for the White House.

Is Dick Durbin disappointed? embarrassed? chastened? Not in the least. The role of Obama's proxy has been to put Social Security onto the table, and to keep it there, meanwhile portraying the President's center-right plan as the only legitimate proposal on the left. (Durbin on Senator Sanders: "I think Bernie is going too far with his language.") President Obama hopes to swoop in at the last minute and negotiate a "compromise" on mostly Republican terms. But as Digby maintains

We must demand that Democrats just say no to any “grand bargain” that includes changes to the benefit structure of Social Security. Healthcare costs, a moribund economy and defense spending are driving the deficit projections, not Social Security. The trust fund is well-funded for some time, invested in the safest investment in the world: the U.S. Treasury bond. No good will come of touching the program right now. Literally.

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