Thursday, December 06, 2012

Only A Matter Of Time

On November 26, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) told GOP TV's Greta Van Susteren "I made a pledge to the people of Kentucky that I'm not raising taxes. I took a pledge. I signed a statement, an oath that I wouldn't raise taxes, and I'm going to adhere to it."

In a spurt of wishful thinking, David Atkins commented

One mark of a moron is not to know a good deal when they see one. So thank goodness for morons like Rand Paul, the kind of people who still think tax cuts for the rich pay for themselves and don't realize that this is their one big chance to cut Medicaid and Medicare in exchange for easily replaceable tip money for the rich, and blame it on the Democrats to boot.

The Grand Bargain would be much more likely without such useful idiots, and that would be awful. So bravo to you, Rand Paul. Keep that venal stupidity coming all the way through the end of the lame duck session, and best of luck with the 2016 GOP nomination.

In all likelihood, Atkins realized that was merely wishful thinking.   Today, The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery and Rosalie Helderman report

A growing chorus of Republicans is urging House leaders to abandon their staunch opposition to higher tax rates for the wealthy with the aim of clearing the way for a broad deal that would also rein in the cost of federal health and retirement programs.

With less than a month before the “fiscal cliff” deadline, President Obama remains adamant about allowing tax rates to rise for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers. Without such a deal, he is “absolutely” ready to go over the cliff, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Wednesday on CNBC.

Many GOP centrists and some conservatives are calling on House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to concede on rates now, while he still has some leverage to demand something in return. Republicans are eager to win changes to fast-growing safety-net programs, such as raising the eligibility age for Medicare and applying a less-generous measure of inflation to Social Security benefits.

A few days ago, ABC's Jonathan Karl found

Republicans are seriously considering a Doomsday Plan if fiscal cliff talks collapse entirely. It’s quite simple: House Republicans would allow a vote on extending the Bush middle class tax cuts (the bill passed in August by the Senate) and offer the President nothing more: no extension of the debt ceiling, nothing on unemployment, nothing on closing loopholes. Congress would recess for the holidays and the president would face a big battle early in the year over the debt ceiling.

Two senior Republican elected officials tell me this doomsday plan is becoming the most likely scenario. A top GOP House leadership aide confirms the plan is under consideration, but says Speaker Boehner has made no decision on whether to pursue it.

Under one variation of this Doomsday Plan, House Republicans would allow a vote on extending only the middle class tax cuts and Republicans, to express disapproval at the failure to extend all tax cuts, would vote “present” on the bill, allowing it to pass entirely on Democratic votes.

Of course, there is ample reason for the GOP to fold on the Democrats' bid to return tax rates on upper incomes to the 39.6% the wealthy had to endure (sarcasm alert) during the financially strapped Clinton years.  As Alex Seitz-Wald notes, the President is getting a much better reception from the public on his handling of the negotiations than are congressional Republicans; most Americans would rather the politicians compromise rather than "stick to their principles;" most individuals believe Congress, rather than the President, would be blamed if the country went over the cliff/slope; and most people support raising taxes on individuals earning over $200.000.

So the GOP eventually will capitulate on tax rates, but demand much in return.  Yesterday, the Post's Montgomery and Helderman wrote

“I and some others are advocating giving the president what he wants,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio). But he stressed that this must be part of a package that slows federal borrowing and reduces the debt by $4 trillion to $5 trillion.

“Quite frankly, some people in this 2 percent who call me, they’re more worried about the fiscal cliff than about the rates going up a couple points. That has bigger risk for them,” said LaTourette, a close Boehner ally who is retiring in January.

Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.) added: “If there are truly real entitlement reforms that are going to preserve Social Security and Medicare for generations to come, it’s going to be very difficult for me to oppose” higher rates for the rich.

It's clear, therefore, what Republicans are after- and it's not reducing the deficit.  Many of them, having applauded budget-busting deficits engineered by Presidents Reagan and Bush 43, now target not only Medicare and Medicaid, but, like Representative Rooney, refer to Social Security or "entitlements" generally.

These conservatives could not be unaware that  the most popular leg- Social Security- of the entitlement trio contributes not a whit to budget deficits, the debt, or any imaginary "cliff."     On Sunday's Meet The Press, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) first took a swipe at Medicare, stating "Look, I laid out in great detail very painful cuts to Medicare. I just did it in a 242 page bill that I’ve shared with the White House [...] "    A moment late, he would casually shift his concern to the more inclusive "entitlements," arguing "We really have to look at much deeper reforms to the entitlements… I think the Speaker is frustrated right now because as you’ve mentioned, the White House keeps spiking the ball on tax increases for the wealthy. But has not yet been forthcoming on real entitlement reform."  Corker's Fiscal Reform Act of 2012 includes, CBS News reports, "reforms to entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security."

For now, the GOP, with Democratic acquiescence, is coming after health care for the poor and the elderly by taking aim at Medicaid and Medicare.   Social Security, however, also is on the chopping block, though apparently not yet.

At a press conference last week, Senate Majority Leader Reid remarked "Social Security is not part of the problem. That's one of the myths the Republicans have tried to create.  Social Security is sound for the next many years. But we want to make sure that in the outer years, people are protected also. But it's not going to be part of the budget talks as far as I'm concerned."  He added that the President had told the Cliff negotiators recently "Social Security is not part of this."

Not yet, it's not.   It's "not going to be part of the budget talks" and "is not part of this."  But Republicans have set their sights on Social Security, as well as Medicare and Medicaid.   (After all, many of the recipients are among their despised 47%.)   And the President is anxious to get "the fiscal cliff" behind him so that he can continue to work on the slippery slope of undermining social insurance.

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