Upon the conclusion of the fiscal cliff debacle, President Obama in his speech to the country clearly conveyed his refusal to negotiate with the GOP over the debt-ceiling, allowing their party to “use it as a bargaining chip.” Furthermore, he reiterated a point he has made throughout his campaign for re-election, telling the GOP that “you cannot cut your way to prosperity!” Despite this, it is apparent that GOP lawmakers still plan on leveraging the debt-ceiling in order to get the spending cuts they continue to rant about.
For example, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) when asked by David Gregory, host of Meet the Press, whether the GOP plans to use the debt-ceiling “ransom” in order to get their beloved spending cuts, McConnell said:
But for McConnell to argue that the GOP does not have the President’s attention is misleading at best and disingenuous at worst. Make no mistake: the President has acknowledged the continuing debt problem in Washington; however he has argued for a balanced approach, versus the GOP’s incessant demand to focus only on programs providing middle-class Americans with a safety net.
Does this sound familiar? It should, because this is precise strategy used last year by the Tea Party-led GOP during the debt-ceiling negotiations, which, as a result, led to our nation’s credit rating being downgraded from AAA to AA+ by Standard and Poor for the first time in our nation’s history. In their provided explanation for the downgrade, S & P wrote the following:
“The political brinkmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policy-making becoming less stable, less effective and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy” (emphasis mine).
The agency continues by stating: “We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of REPUBLICANS in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act” (emphasis mine).
Did you see that word “statutory?” It’s a very important word for those being misled by the current GOP and it simply means, “required or permitted.” One other source says the following about the word: “Something that is required or proscribed pursuant to a written statue.”
Lest you’re confused here: All the President or Congress is doing when raising the debt ceiling is ensuring that our nation honors its previously made obligations, not those created in the future. It is rooted in the 14th amendment [Sec. 4] which states:
“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”
To be clear: whenever the GOP talks about “spending cuts,” they are referencing nothing more than cuts to what they refer to as “entitlement spending,” those very programs assisting the less fortunate in our society. For years now, it seems, the Republican Party has successfully been able to turn even their own policy failures into ideological successes. The party has persuaded Americans, all across this land, that despite the problems their very own ideology has produced, such as quadrupling the national debt since 1980 (mainly through defense spending and their subsequent refusal to deal with it,) placing two wars on a credit card, or being fiscally irresponsible when they are in power, the real problem in our country is the sole result of “welfare liberalism.” Yet, history paints us a very different picture, especially since welfare liberalism has not established American policy in over 30 years.
Case in point: the last GOP president to ever balance the budget was Dwight Eisenhower. In addition, Eisenhower refused to lower taxes while still paying down the national debt. Furthermore, on top of all this, Ike created jobs by investing in infrastructure as the country witnessed the development of the Interstate Highway System, while our nation’s treasury enjoyed a six dollar return for every dollar invested. In sum, the former President refused to lower taxes, paid down the nation’s debt, created jobs, all while implementing a major infrastructure project, providing the government with a hefty return on investment. While many modern day Republicans point out how Eisenhower was supposedly “against” a highly centralized government, taking power and authority away from the states, they neglect to mention one thing: he was also a president who saw the value of social programs and is most likely the last moderate Republican president who served our Country.
In fact, on November 8, 1954, the former president penned these words in a letter to his brother Edgar:
“This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon ‘moderation’ in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know of his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional business man from other areas.” (And then my favorite part of the correspondence folks:) “Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
Heck, even Richard Nixon, while arguing for some reforms to Social Security, still advocated for the program. In his special address to Congress on September 25, 1969, he said:
“This nation must not break faith with those Americans who have a right to expect that Social Security payments will protect them and their families.”
In fact, he argued for an increase in payments to recipients, albeit modest when he said in that same speech:
“I request that the Congress remedy the real losses to those who now receive Social Security benefits by increasing payments by 10 per cent.”
Finally, Nixon wanted recipients of these programs to have some level of assurance evidenced by these words:
“Beyond that step to set right today’s inequity, I propose that the Congress make certain once and for all that the retired, the disabled and the dependent never again bear the brunt of inflation. The way to prevent future unfairness is to attach the benefit schedule to the cost of living.”
For all of Nixon’s failings, at least he understood, it seems, that there are quite a number of people in our country who, through no fault of their own, require some level of federal assistance. So, what has happened to the GOP since then? Great question!
I believe the demonizing of social security began Newt Gingrich in the ’80s, along with Ronald Reagan, that great bastion of conservatism whom many tea party loyalists believe to be a hero. Why? During Reagan’s 1976 Presidential campaign, he introduced the term “welfare queen,” to describe a woman from Chicago’s south side who had allegedly engaged in what he termed“welfare fraud.” In that particular speech, then GOP candidate, Ronald Reagan said these words:
“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
To be sure, this played well with what political scientists refer to as the “New Right,” especially due to its tugging at their rugged individualism and supposed egalitarian heart-strings, but was hardly substantiated. In response to Reagan’s mythological claim, Susan Douglas, professor of communication at University of Michigan, writes:
“He specialized in the exaggerated, outrageous tale that was almost always unsubstantiated, usually false, yet so sensational that it merited repeated recounting.”
Yet, the damage was done, and ever since Reagan made that statement, those from the conservative movement have continued to demonize the very people in our country who need help by utilizing what is best termed “dog whistle politics,” in order to make their case. Corporations? No problem! We’ll just extend tax cuts to them on a consistent basis, because after all, THEY are the job creators, right? Wrong! To be clear: supply-side economics, or “trickle down” economics, is precisely what has gotten us into our current financial mess. Those wanting to pay fealty to their beloved supply-side model are only protecting those who are wealthy, the corporate lobbyists, and now groups who can contribute to “their” conservative candidates without worry, due to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizen’s United. Allow me to introduce a new word into the political lexicon: “corporate welfare queens.” Let’s see if this one sticks.
Former President George W. Bush, in 2001, with the foundation neatly laid, furthered the conservative cause by taking a surplus left to him by former President Clinton and pushing through one of the largest tax cuts in history. As NPR reports: During his 2001 State of the Union Speech Bush argued:
“The surplus is not the government’s money. The surplus is the people’s money!”
Dealing with a sluggish economy, the former president argued that the “tax cut” would “create jobs while stimulating the economy!” But even Bush’s own treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, disagreed, saying: (Located under Economic Policy Heading)
“The tax cuts will contribute to budget deficits while undermining Social Security” (Emphasis mine).
Of course, it is now well known that Bush didn’t place much stock in cabinet members who disagreed with him, but apparently in 2005, the light came on for the former President, and his treasury secretary’s intuition was correct!
During that year’s State of the Union address, Bush outlined, in detail, his plan to privatize social security. His rationale and justification for embarking on this new crusade was simple: he just won re-election! As Slate conveys, Bush said:
“I earned capital in the campaign, political capital and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.”
His proposal, considered by many economists to be a “partial privatization,” was simple: after a phasing-in period, workers under the age of 55 would have the option to take 4 percent of their FICA, and invest those resources in the stock market. Wow! President Bush, you mean I can invest my own money in the very stock market which collapsed to a mere 7,000 points as you were leaving office? No thanks; I think I’ll pass on that one!
Thankfully, the proposal fell flat, save for one exception; the “far right” continues to champion the proposal being led by a conservative young man considered by many on the “right” to be a mathematical genius. His name? Paul Ryan (R-WI), Congressman, Tea Party poster child and the most recent GOP Vice-Presidential nominee. Make no mistake folks: Ryan, as reported in theWashington Post Wonk Blog fully supported Bush’s proposal then, and supports privatization now! And so, the torch has been passed; however the stakes could not be higher due to the complexities, recalcitrance, obtuseness, and blatant obstructionism engaged in by the very group of people Ryan associates with.
Perhaps, the point that amuses me most regarding the GOP’s persistent attacks on programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is this: the GOP manages to interpret problems arising from the drastic reduction of public provision for the poor as caused by the supposed woefully inadequate welfare system that continues to manage, surviving despite all of their attempts to make severe cuts to it. Their ideological position holds that it would be better or more charitable to the poor if we simply cut them loose from their supposed “dependence” on the state. From their worldview, privatization in the service of economic competitiveness is the solution to nearly every problem their ideology creates! As spending on material and social infrastructure has declined, economic growths have slowed and economic inequality has rapidly increased. One would think that anyone who had taken Economics 101 would know that if we do not invest in the future, the future will be bleak! Yet, under the aegis of the Republican rugged individualistic mantra, the American economy, under consistent pressure from GOP lawmakers, beginning with Gingrich back in the eighties, along with Reagan, has chosen high rates of short-term gain, however speculative, over investment for long term growth.
My advice to our President is simple: should the GOP attempt to use the debt-ceiling as a bargaining chip, once again, sending our economy into a tailspin, just remind them that their conservative hero, Ronald Reagan increased the debt-ceiling 17 times while in office. Then, remind the “Party of No,” as Time referred to them in an article this past August, how the debt ceiling has been raised 68 times between the Eisenhower administration and yours, with their party raising it 45 of those times. And if all of this fails, re-visit the constitutionality of taking unilateral action with your Chief Legal Counsel.
In addition, the next time the Tea Party-led GOP dictates you engage in spending cuts or entitlement reform, which is really what they are referencing, mandate that each and every single legislator in Washington place their respective salaries, pensions, and benefits on the table as part of the discussion. That is, call their bluff, while unveiling their true level of concern over fiscal responsibility. Mandate that Congress works more than the scheduled 112 days they plan on being in session, reminding them that the American people, in many cases, need to work two jobs just to survive. In sum, Mr. President, just remind them that “We the People,” the very people they claim should not be underestimated, are, in fact, being underestimated!
Finally, remind the Tea Party-led GOP that the 2014 mid-term election is just around the corner and “We the People” shall not forget! We want OUR Country back!!!