Means To An End
House Speaker John Boehner has called Grover Norquist "some random person" and has stated "Because the American people expect us to find common ground, we are willing to accept some additional revenues, via tax reform." Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss claims the founder and director of Americans for Tax Reform "has no credibility" and Bush 41 has charged "Circumstances change, and you can't be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It's- who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?"
Some Republicans undoubtedly would say, rhetorically and in private: "Who the hell is George H.W. Bush, anyway?" (He is the last Republican president and, worse yet, the last president since Jimmy Carter to be rejected for a second term.) Norquist, creator and keeper of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, still is far more influential that HW Bush.
Still, as The Philadelphia Inquirer's Thomas Fitzgerald writes, some GOP congressmen "are openly defying Norquist."
That's just it- they're openly defying Norquist, all the better to curry favor with media types who yearn for a sign, any sign that Republicans may be doing something that may approximate what can be plausibly called "compromise." But compromise it's not.
Boehner, who sent a thrill up the legs of many Obamites and media types when he spoke vaguely on November 7 about "additional revenues," now says "we need to repeal Obamacare and enact common-sense, step-by-step reforms that start with lowering the cost of health care." (You win the election; we set the agenda. Sounds fair, doesn't it?)
While the House Speaker is willing to consider "additional revenues" in order to undermine the Affordable Care Act, Senator Chambliss has his eyes set on Wall Street's favorite targets, Social Security and Medicare. Zaid Jilani notes
For more than a year, Chambliss has been involved with a group of senators who support the Bowles-Simpson plan to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits while lowering the corporate tax rate. This Bowles-Simpson plan closes a few token tax loopholes, and also reduces the popular mortgage interest deduction. Norquist is opposed to closing even the tiny loopholes that the Bowles-Simpson plan closes, so he staunchly opposes the plan altogether — which also means opposing Chambliss.
Chambliss is willing to deal with closing small loopholes in the tax code in order to get to the wider goals of the Bowles-Simpson plan: cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, cutting Medicare benefits by capping overall spending, and dramatically lowering corporate tax rates.
On Sunday's This Week with George Stephanopolous, Georgia Senator Lindsey Graham conceded "Republicans should put revenue on the table. We're this far in debt. We don't generate enough revenue. Capping deductions will help generate revenue. " Moments later Graham, one of the congressmen often hailed as independent of Norquist, spun (h/t/ to Susie Madrak) this tale:
I don't think you can look at entitlement reform without adjusting the age for retirement, like Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan did. It goes to 66, 67 here pretty soon for Social Security. Let it float up another year or so over the next 30 years, adjust Medicare from 65 to 67 over the next 30 years, means test benefits for people in our income level. I don't expect the Democrats to go for premium support or a voucher plan, but I do expect them to adjust these entitlement programs before they bankrupt the country and run out of money themselves. So age adjustment and means testing for both Social Security, Medicare I think is eminently reasonable. And all those who've looked at this problem have done that over time.
Discussing the fiscal cliff, fiscal curb, or whatever idiotic, inaccurate cliches are in vogue this week, Graham pimps for raising the age for Social Security recipients. If we pretend, as does the thoroughly dishonest South Carolinian, that Social Security has something to do with the deficit (other than cutting it as politicians use the trust fund to pay for tax cuts), Graham ought to be informed that life expectancy has dipped, however slightly, in recent years. Lyn Parramore responds to the fear mongers by explaining
You will be hearing lots of convincing-sounding rhetoric on this topic in upcoming weeks –often from Democrats – including the notion that we should be means-testing Social Security for longevity among high-income earners. That plan plays into the mythology that the program is somehow broken and needs to be “fixed.” It also plays into the game of fiscal conservatives who know full well that means testing will diminish support, which is why they have been ardently pushing it for 50 years. It’s yet another red herring.
In return for beginning to demolish Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, Republicans hint at a willingness to accept an increase in revenue. But to many on the right, lowering taxes on the wealthy- the "job creators"- itself magically increases tax revenue (supply-side economics, Laffer Curve, voodoo economics, etc.). If they can be persuaded to accept caps on deductions, the loopholes simply will return within a few years. The lobbyists will not get religion, fold up their tents and go home simply because of a minor, temporary setback. Grover Norquist maintains his grip on the Gas and Oil Party.
In the meantime, the attack on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid- demonized as "entitlements"- would continue apace among neo-liberal centrists and conservative plutocrats. The Great Recession may have been engineered (intentionally or otherwise) by the financial community, but old people, poor people, and sick people must suffer for their sins.