Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Milquetoast Democrats Right on the Issues, Republicans Slowly Losing Their Minds

(Update below. Update 2 below. Holy Crap, Update 3 below.)

The point of my headline was actually an attempt to critique our parties on policy and perception simultaneously. For let's face it: Every policy pronouncement in the political sphere is either clouded by or clarified by its purpose.

When I listen to my Democrats (a painful affiliation), I hear a philosophy closer to my own, but I observe a gang of hand wringers, as if they know in advance how they're going to fail at what should be both persuasive and appealing ("We know tax rates need to be restored to historically higher levels in order to provide the social structure that allows more opportunity for our citizens and a better shot at social justice, but we think it's more likely that during negotiations we'll telegraph a willingness to sell out, thus ceding victory to those money-grubbing Republicans. But don't worry, we'll be really pissed when it happens!"), and when I listen to those Republicans, it seems as if I'm listening to a group of conspirators whose brazenness is mesmerizing ("We've been forcing tax rates down for so long and preaching economic zombie lies that only zombies believe, while the rich get richer, that we're amazed we're still getting away with it, but we're doubling down, tripling down!! Job killers! Death taxes! Personal responsibility!") and yet we not only still let them into the public conversation but we also let them continue to dominate the Sunday political talk shows.

(I believe that sentence is parsable, if that's a word.)

Next, our roundtable: Lindsay Graham, Jon Kyle, David Brooks, and Ruth Marcus!

I imagine this is why election years are referred to as the silly season, but this time it's different. How could the Republicans put forth the budget plan and the tax scheme they did? And yet they did, and The Fix's Chris Cillizza thinks it's nuts:
The debut of the House Budget Committee chairman’s vision for what conservative governance could and should look like might win him kudos from the conservative policy class, but it elicits only groans from GOP political professionals.
“As a campaign issue, the budget is a significant challenge for GOP candidates,” said Bob Honold, a GOP strategist and partner at Revolution Agency. “As a campaign strategy, it is so much more difficult for Republicans to communicate their responsible solutions than it is for Democrats to spook seniors with rhetoric.”
Another senior GOP strategist was far more blunt. “Didn’t they learn their lesson?” the source asked. “House Republicans are still under the mistaken impression they have to lead. It’s a presidential election year; they’re along for the ride.”
I can't believe they ate the whole thing!

Essentially, Paul Ryan's 2012 budget plan (actually fiscal 2013, but who's counting?) slashes both taxes and federal spending, and aims to gut Medicare and Medicaid. But he's not talking much about that, except to say that those at or near retirement shouldn't worry. Of course, when you hear Paul Ryan reassure you, you should not just check your wallet, you should also check your future. Even moderate Republicans (who?) don't like it:
House Republicans on Tuesday will propose a dramatic reshuffling of the tax code, suggesting collapsing individual tax brackets into two brackets with lower tax rates and slashing the top corporate tax rate.
The plan also would slash trillions of dollars in federal spending, a move likely to appease conservative, tea-party-backed GOP lawmakers but infuriate the White House, congressional Democrats and some Republicans concerned that spending disagreements could spark threats of a government shutdown just weeks before the November elections.
 Wow. Who would have thought that the House Republicans would double down on Ryan's 2011 plan -- that never happened but gave everyone heartburn -- during an election year? TPM's Brian Beutler breaks it down:
Add in a contentious presidential election and you have a recipe for an unusually clear-eyed ideological debate over whether New Deal and Great Society-like federal programs are in the country’s best interest, or whether they were errors that ought to be unwound.
This will manifest in scores of smaller fights. But the three biggest of those will mark the coming year: the Republicans’ goal of phasing out traditional Medicare and replacing it with a subsidized private insurance system; their twin goal of repealing the health care law, which creates a similar subsidized private insurance system for uninsured adults; and the nearer-term question of how deeply to cut into other federal programs — and thus of whether there will be a government shutdown less than two months before the November election.
The Medicare fight will by and large be a replay of the Medicare privatization fight that played out last spring. This time around, the GOP is expected to propose a more modest version of the same plan. Medicare would still be phased out for future seniors, and replaced with a subsidized private insurance market. But future seniors could theoretically use those subsidies to buy into traditional Medicare. In proposing to reconfigure the existing system so dramatically, the plan would end the decades-old benefit guarantee that defines the current program.
 By the way, as I write this Tuesday morning, Paul Ryan has yet to debut his plan. Let's see how the chattering classes react to it later in the day.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum and his older, smarter, and smarmier brother Mitt Romney continue to duke it out on the stump. Newt Gingrich has become essentially irrelevant, as has Ron Paul. What eclipsed the latter pair was the contraception/abortion/fetus/personhood brouhaha. Gingrich has needed much too much birth control during his life, and Ron Paul is a supposed libertarian and thus isn't supposed to believe that the government should get involved in much of anything, especially what to do with our womb-servant class (I mean, uh, women) and how many babies the government should let them/make them have. Kudos to Paul on that one, I'll grant.

My religion calls for non-stop pregnancy, while Mitt also believes in tithing. Stark differences!

Meanwhile, the Democrats are wringing their hands and huddling in their smoke-filled rooms -- or, I guess, nowadays, their bottled-water-filled rooms -- trying to see if anyone will pay any attention to Barack Obama's more sensible fiscal 2013 budget. It's hard these days to get people to pay much attention to anything sensible. It's much more fun to blow up the debate.

The bottom line for now, of course, is that both the president's budget plan and Ryan's are DOA, period. They're election-year documents meant on the Democrat's (wringing) hand to be an actual budget while on the Republican's other (back) hand a placation of the Tea-Party Republican base. Which begs the question: Is this any way to run a country? Neither side would suggest that it is, although the Republicans are happier about this gridlock status quo because, as Grover Norquist might say, the government is ever-shrinking toward that sought-after bathtub size, as in drowning.

From where I sit, my one fervent (atheist) prayer is that the electorate will actually read the news, and that women and seniors will freak out, and the Republicans will be tossed out. But as Chris Hayes has said, asking the voters where they stand on the issues is like asking them what their favorite prime number is. Sheesh.

Update. firedoglake blogger David Dayen catches a story in the WaPo showing that we (assumed liberals) may already be screwed:
The Washington Post has a first draft of history piece about the debt negotiations last year that tells us mostly what we already knew: that the White House was ready to sign onto a document that increased the Medicare eligibility age and instituted chained CPI, which would cut Social Security cost-of-living increases.  In exchange would be $800 billion in new taxes, roughly the cost of letting most of the high-end Bush tax cuts expire (though this would be achieved by actually lowering rates and broadening the tax base).
...The deal could have easily become a reality were it not for the troublesome appearance of the Gang of Six. And it could still become a reality. It says right there in black and white at the end of the article: “White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table.” What’s more, despite the change in attitude from the President, who’s in election mode, from a conciliator to a fighter, there’s a signifying event coming at the end of the year that will force a number of these same choices to be negotiated again.
...And remember, “White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table.”
 Read it all. Dayen is rarely, if ever, anything but understated. So, pretty much, we're screwed, unless, unless... Does anyone remember Mighty Mouse?

Update 2. The White House is all "What deal is still on the table? That Boehner-Obama deal? Nuh-uh." TPM has the vague details. I hope TPM is right. But progressives will be -- and should be -- on edge until, well, maybe forever at this rate.

Update 3. Well, kiss my grits, Paul Ryan. Word is spreading Republicans are a little aggrieved that you're making them look bad in an election year. They are not pleased, sez Daily Kos. Oh Oh. It gets worse. TPM reports that GOP conservatives think it's not good enough! Holy crap.

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