Drowning the Middle Class in the Bathtub, part 1

Alan Greenspan called for eliminating the debt ceiling

–and the press missed the story.

In response to Republican so-called budget proposals, President Obama says it best: “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.”

That has not stopped the GOP in Congress, of course. In between publicizing the offenses of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), as of this writing congressional Republicans, their allies in the media, and their lobbyists are still seizing every available moment to publicize the U.S. budget debt and the debt ceiling—even while calling for more tax cuts for the rich, resisting every effort to reduce health care costs, and adding to the cost of government by delaying needed confirmation votes. The Obama White House has a higher proportion of its judicial nominees and other nominees whose confirmation is being held up by the opposition party—that would be the Republicans—than any other White House in U.S. history. The immediate fiscal cost, setting aside any human costs if one could, is horrible: Every day that a judge is not confirmed is a day the docket in that court continues to backlog, with consequent loss of productivity even in the narrowest fiscal terms. That in itself is grist for GOP club-for-growth types and their henchmen, of course: They can then point to any failures of gummint, with a further view to discrediting the American form of government itself, while omitting to point out their own part in the failures.

They’re getting away with it, or getting away with it to some extent, largely because these shenanigans are not being adequately reported in the nation’s capital.

As with the justice system and other federal agencies, so with the federal budget deficit and the national debt: Just as the continuing refusal to confirm qualified appointees to judgeships costs the justice system, every day that John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and their henchmen dig in their heels and announce that they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling costs the U.S. Treasury billions of dollars.

This is no accident. This is the game plan. It is part of the over-all GOP strategy of breaking the middle class, breaking the national economy, to defeat President Obama, a strategy now so overt it is astounding that even the political press in Washington can still miss it. Let me repeat that: the GOP strategy to prevent the reelection of a Democratic president boils down, quite simply, to this: Break the middle class.

Part of the process is the passive-aggressive approach of simply refusing to adopt relatively simple measures that would improve matters.

Again, they’re getting away with it because the press in Washington is letting them get away with it. This is the part you would think no political reporter worth his salt could fail to mention, yet mind-bogglingly, it is going almost unreported.

At least in regard to the debt ceiling, for example, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has offered a simple solution to eliminate the destructive and costly delays, the waste-of-time disputes and the consequent toll on both the economy and ordinary people’s faith in our system of government: Eliminate the debt ceiling.

On April 17, on NBC’s Meet the Press, Greenspan had this to say about the perennial question of whether the raise the debt ceiling:

“I have a more fundamental question. Why do we have a debt limit in the first place? We appropriate funds, we have tax law, and anyone reasonably adept at arithmetic can calculate what the debt change is going to be.”

Greenspan went on to point out that Congress and the White House already have signed legislation predetermining what the budget number is, adding, “Why we need suspenders and belts is something I’ve never understood.” He also rebuffed threats by congressional Republicans to stop government, pointing out that most GOP leaders were simultaneously saying they would not allow the federal government to default.

The content of Sunday morning talk shows is often reported in newspapers the next day and sometimes through the following week, as in the months during the lead-up to invading Iraq, when the Bush-Cheney administration routinely used morning television on all three traditional networks as well as Fox to boost the idea that Saddam Hussein was a second Hitler, except with nukes this time. When shortly after April 15 the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Dr. Greenspan, the man whom John McCain famously said he would re-appoint even if he were dead, called for eliminating the debt ceiling entirely, surely that would seem to be a news story. Right? The headline almost writes itself: “Greenspan Calls for End to Debt Ceiling.” Sub-head: “Former Fed Chair calls for Bush tax cuts to expire.”
Inside sub-head: “Greenspan asks why we need ‘belts and suspenders’.”

Greenspan’s remarks were not reported in any major newspaper. The Washington Post, which is the morning paper this writer subscribes to, did not report Greenspan’s call for ending the debt ceiling. Not one word went to that interesting exchange between Greenspan and host David Gregory. Instead, the Post focused on arguments between Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Republican honchos in Congress over whether the debt ceiling would be raised. Other newspapers followed suit—and incredible as it might seem to say so, Greenspan’s unusual and sensible position went unreported in print. Online publications did pick up on it, including a blog at the Post by Ezra Klein—meaning that the print periodicals could also have caught it, had they wished to do so.

In the meantime, Greenspan also supports raising the debt limit. He also had this to say: “the country’s financial crisis is “so imminent and so difficult that I think we have to allow the so-called Bush tax cuts all to expire.”

Another headline, one would think: “Former Fed Chief says let Bush tax cuts expire.”

Not reported.

As Greenspan said, “I think that what we have to become aware of is that if we allow taxes to fill in the holes here, we are going to find that we are getting ever closer to the type of economies that exist in Europe, which are very heavily laden and not rapidly growing the ways ours can.” He also warned that economic recovery is by no means as easy, quick and cheap as congressional Republicans and GOP presidential candidates are pretending: “there’s a lot of headwinds that are hitting the economy now and slowing it down, and we are in a soft patch.”

None of this made the headlines. Since the Meet the Press round table, Greenspan has continued to call for the debt limit to be raised, again with little reportage in newspapers.

The bigger picture, politically speaking, is bigger than the national debt: Regardless of the wishes of rank-and-file Republicans who vote for them, the strategy of Republicans in congress is quite simply to break the middle class. Every substantive policy proposal aggrandizes the few over the many. Each splashy ‘values’ struggle, over abortion or stem cell research or religious language in public buildings, is used as smokescreen—augmented by what seems to be an unending series of sex scandals involving politicians of both parties, playing out in the news media to maximum effect. Regardless of the values of their religious supporters, and regardless of the values of fiscally prudent people, GOP policy makers, their allies in the media, and their lobbyists always collide at some point with anyone working in any way for the public interest.

In this atmosphere of imaginary budget-cutting and real destruction, Orwellianisms abound. So-called ‘budget hawks’ and ‘deficit cutting’ are just more Orwellianisms.

For starters, anyone serious about trimming the budget would raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires. In March Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced a good bill, the Fairness in Taxation Act, which would create new tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires. The law, which Republicans are fighting with all their might, would increase the income tax by one percent per bracket, for anyone with an income of a million or more a year. For people with incomes of one million to ten million dollars, income tax would be 45 percent. For people with incomes of ten to twenty million, it would be 46 percent. For people at $20 million to $100 million, it would be 47 percent. And for people bringing in income over $100 million, the tax rate would be 48 percent.

This, be it noted, is not only less than the top tax rates throughout the periods of our greatest economic growth in the postwar twentieth century, it is even less than the top tax rates during the Reagan years, as pointed out in a good analysis by Lawrence O’Donnell on last night’s The Last Word.

[note: I would have liked to link to the Last Word web site as a courtesy, but the MSNBC and Think Progress web sites both seem to have attached themselves to some kind of cyberspace bog. You go there, you don’t come back, at least not any time soon.]

On the question of tax fairness, a Wall Street Journal-NBC opinion poll shows that 81 percent of Americans support a surtax on the wealthiest individuals.

In the bigger picture, every reliable statistical survey since the 1970s has shown an increasing proportion of U.S. wealth and income going to the top percentiles. Wallace Peterson wrote in 1994 in his Silent Depression, which sounds like a psychology book but isn’t, that between 1983 and 1989—Reagan years—the share of household net worth owned by the top one percent of households jumped from 31.5 percent (already high) to 37 percent. The share of net worth owned by the next 9 percent of households near the top declined from 35.1 percent to 31.2 percent.

So as of 1983 the top ten percent of households owned 68.2 percent of U.S. net worth. Meanwhile, the share of net worth owned by the bottom 90 percent of households in the U.S. fell from 33.4 percent to 31.8 percent.

That was never a healthy economic situation to begin with. It has only gotten worse since then. Income inequality in the Land of Opportunity is not only worse now than in the Reagan years, it is worse than at any time since the lead-up to the Great Crash of 1929, and for analogous reasons. Today, the top 1 percent of America’s households own 34 percent of the nation’s wealth, as Schakowsky points out, while the bottom 90 percent own 29 percent.

As previously written, my own working definition of the term middle class is that phrase so lucidly used in the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job–“the bottom 90 percent.” Benefiting the ‘bottom’ 90 percent of the population brings far greater economic gains than benefiting the top 10 percent, let alone (further) benefiting the top 1 percent.

That’s why the GOP in Congress will have none of it. Their goal is not to benefit the middle class but to break it, partly by cutting Social Security, Medicare, and every other social service–“if you can google, cut it”—as the ludicrous Tim Pawlenty says. Needless to say, every federal, state and local agency can be googled, so that doesn’t leave out anything. Isn’t he cute. But then these are the people who refer to teachers, police and firefighters as—any guess?—“government jobs.” My darling rightwing high-school English teacher, whom I loved, must be rolling over in her grave.

They are trying to drown the middle class in the bathtub.

To be continued

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