Back in 2008, I wrote a lot of Blogs (several a week) on the old site about the Election. I thought it was important back then to get Democrats to stand up and be loud about their opinions, something that they tend to not do enough in the face of the other party’s in-your-face approach to everything.
This time around, I haven’t written much. Part of it has to do with a lack of time, but also, I haven’t really felt like there was much of a need. I still don’t, but I have enough people asking my opinion as we head into the last month of this that I decided to do one big post about my thoughts in general.
As a recap, back in 2007 when Obama announced that he was running for President, I predicted at the time that he would win the nomination. I had concerns about Edwards (through a friend, I had actually heard that he has some “womanizer issues”…what an understatement that ended up being), and I just felt that the country was in Clinton/Bush fatigue, meaning the idea of Hillary or even Jeb Bush on the other side just wasn’t going to go over. It’s hard to be a Democracy and then have two families running the country in 4-year shifts for what could have been 28 years if Hillary had been the candidate.
I also said on Day ONE after McCain picked Sarah Palin that the election was over, and that was before she opened her mouth.
When Obama won in 2008, I ended the Blogs by saying that I felt that the Republicans would pick up seats in the House in the mid-term elections, and that they might even win back the House, which would probably be the best thing that would happen for Obama.
This was before I saw all of the games that the Republicans played to drag out every little piece of progress. Think the Affordable Care Act (known by the Retards as Obamacare) took too long to pass? That wasn’t because of the Demcrats. Too much time was wasted trying to get a bill that both sides could agree on, and I think it wasn’t clear until way too much time had been wasted that the Republicans were simply not going to contribute in any meaningful way. Under no calculus was there ever going to be a “bi-partisan” bill for healthcare reform. The Republicans had zero interest from the start. Keep in mind that when Clinton went at healthcare in 1993, the Republican alternative plan to the Clinton plan…was essentially the Affordable Care Act that we got under Obama. These ideas were all proposals by the likes of Gingrich to counter what they viewed as a government takeover attempt of healthcare (single-payer system) that the Clintons were going after. In the end, Clinton scrapped the whole thing, largely because the Republicans won the public debate.
But don’t fool yourself. The reason that some of states ended up with healthcare plans like Massachusetts did under Romney was because that was the Republican version of reform. If you are going to try to tackle costs and get more people covered, you have to approach it this way. You have to force the insurance companies to not limit lifetime benefits. They won’t do it on their own. You have to force them to not be able to reject people for pre-existing conditions. They won’t do it on their own. If you are going to keep an insurance-based system (which, I don’t agree with, as it basically wastes some of the “care and benefits” that people could ultimately get for unnecessary “corporate profits”), you have to have plans with a variety. In most states, people only have 2 or 3 (in some cases, just ONE, which is hardly competitive) option for health insurance. You can’t force the private sector to compete when these entities have largely monopoly control. So, you have to have public insurance options. If you are going to continue to link insurance to people’s jobs, mostly (which I also think is a mistake for a variety of reasons), you need to give them portability if they move or switch jobs. The private sector isn’t going to do that on its own. And finally, if you are going to really keep down costs, you have to recognize that visits to the Emergency Room are more expensive than other care, and people that don’t buy insurance get that care on the backs of those of us that do, either covered in taxes or in insurance costs for the rest of us. That’s the reason for the individual mandate. You live and breathe? You will need a doctor at some point. Once you accept that, you must recognize that people that don’t buy insurance are freeloading off the system. So, you need to make them buy something, some minimal level of insurance coverage, even if you then turn around and give people at the lowest income brackets a tax credit for doing so.
If I tell you most of that is the basis of the Republican alternative to Clinton’s idea back in 1993, most of it sounds reasonable. It is also the exact reason that several states, including Massachusetts under Romney, enacted similar plans. It’s also the reason that that is exactly what the ACA (Obamacare, the last time I will call it that even if he likes the name now) is and does. And the reality is that when Obama came into office, he recognized that since 1993, insurance costs in this country had only gotten worse. The increases were out of control and EATING UP OUR GDP at a level that no other country’s insurance system is, and he knew it had to be fixed. He also recognized something that I’m sure he thought was smart at the start, which was that jumping at a Single-Payer system, as most progressives such as myself would prefer, and as I think down the road we will end up with, would only cause the same backlash from Republicans. So what he did was, he started almost exactly where they had been last time, thinking that would get them on-board. And in typical Republican fashion, they decided that none of that was acceptable. And as time went on, they didn’t negotiate or work with the Democrats. They had a simple plan from the start. It’s not going to happen.
And then the Democrats finally got smart and ignored them and got it done through a process of reconciliation. Now, this is a little “inside baseball” in the discussion, but I think it is important before we catch up to the current race between Obama and Romney. When the Republicans controlled the House and Senate through much of the early 2000′s and Bush-lite was in the White House, they often used something called reconciliation. Here’s the deal.
If you want to pass a law in this country, you need 50% plus one votes in the House, and then you need either 51 Senate votes OR 50 Senate votes to tie the other 50 against the bill and the Vice-President to break the tie. You then need the President to sign the bill. Good system of checks and balances. However, there is this thing called the filibuster. It is currently abused badly, worse now than ever by the Republicans, but it has also been abused by the Democrats in the past. The filibuster is in the Senate, and basically, what it means is that you need 60 votes in the Senate to agree to take a vote on a bill before it becomes law. This was designed in the spirit that people were good people and had good intentions, but that before a bill was voted on in final form, enough people agreed that everything about the bill had been thoroughly considered. Sounds great, right? Problem is this. In today’s world, if you want to actually pass something, it means that you need 60 votes if the other party uniformly doesn’t like it.
If you go back even to the 1980s and 1990s, there were times that a party didn’t like a bill, but they would say, “Well, I don’t like it, and I’m going to vote against it, but elections have consequences and the majority should win. If you don’t like the bills the other guy is passing, vote for us next time. But at least, when we take the time to write something up, as long as we all agree that it has been considered by enough of the separate groups in the Senate, there should be a vote that requires 50 plus 1.”
That no longer exists. That level of rational conversation is gone from this country, and it maybe the saddest failing of our Democracy that we can no longer say, “Hey, right now, you might be in charge, but it won’t always be the case.” Or, more to the point, the world used to work more like this. “We have 42 votes and you have 58, and you have the Presidency. Your starting point on this particular topic is here at A. Ours is here at B. Let’s each make a few compromises and end up with something in the middle, but something that leans more toward you because you have 58 votes and the Presidency.” That’s called working compromise, and it is how our Democracy actually works. Failing to do this, you end up not passing many laws that really the country needs to move forward as economic challenges change over time.
Keep in mind that the Democrats actually had 60 votes in the Senate for a very short time, as Senator Kennedy died a few months into Obama’s Presidency, and he was replaced by a Republican, Scott Brown. Basically, the Democrats have had somewhere between 53-59 seats in the Senate during Obama’s term. And the Republican view of this has been more along the lines of “We have 44 votes and you have 56. Here’s everything we want or fuck you you get nothing.” Does that sound like a Democracy?
And then the funny part is, they run around citing the Founding Fathers, who never intended for the filibuster to be used this way, and they run around saying that Obama doesn’t lead because nothing gets passed.
Well, let’s talk for a minute about that.
So the 2010 mid-term elections come and go, and the Republicans actually take the House as I said could happen. What I didn’t predict was this crazy thing called the Tea Party. But let’s talk about leadership and moving our country forward. Since the Republicans took control of the House, with the Tea Party whining about the “government takeover of health insurance” (um, NO) and the lack of jobs, how many Jobs Bills have the Republicans in the House voted on? ZERO. How many times have they voted to overturn the Affordable Care Act? 23. Does that sound like Leadership with a capital “L”? No.
To be honest, if I’m Harry Reid in the Senate, I don’t see the point in committing a lot of time to writing up bills that the American people might need when you know that the Republicans are just going to oppose them via the filibuster just because Obama likes it instead of working on a middle-ground compromise that people from (GASP!) both parties my vote in favor of. Keep in mind, the way it is supposed to work is, when you get a final bill, there are things you like in it and things you don’t. The party with the majority, as I explained above, probably has more things they like by definition. But then people on both sides vote for the bill and say “I worked well with people on the other side to make sure that things that I thought were important here were included.” But that doesn’t work when you have a baby in the room with a secret weapon called the filibuster holding their toy and screaming “I want it all.”
Which brings us to the US debt downgrade and the Fiscal Cliff.
The United States is the most powerful country in the world. We’ve earned that. We can lose it, but we’ve earned it. One of the ways that we have done that is by always paying our debts, even if it means printing some extra money from time to time to do so. It’s a simple sheet of paper that Congress signs that extends our debt ceiling so that more money can be printed. We’ve been doing it forever, and while there should be periods that we reign things in and balance our books more like we did in the 1990s under Clinton (and then moved away from in the 2000s under Bush), there are also periods that we need to print more. And frankly, due to inflation, that number is always going to go up. But Republicans and Democrats have been doing exactly what they should every time it needs to be done. Raise the debt ceiling so that the world never wonders if we will pay them. That’s how we keep our pristine credit rating.
Now, pay attention to this because this is really important. People are dumb. You may not have noticed, but they are. I talk to people all of the time that actual believe that the reason that our credit rating was downgraded was because we have too much debt and our books are way too far out of balance. Now, even a casual reader might think, “Hmmmm, well, OK, maybe I would think that too.” It simply isn’t the case. It might be the case for a big publicly-traded business who needs money in the bank and profits (at least sometimes) to pay the bills and show that they can pay off OVER TIME any debts that they have incurred. But it isn’t the case of the US Federal Government because we can print more money in a responsible way as we always have. Our debt gets downgraded if we ever make the world wonder if we might NOT pay them back. That’s it.
So it’s pretty simple, really. We raised the debt ceiling several times under Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush…that’s what we do to hold our role as superpower and make the world feel safe and confident about us as the big boys in the room.
Enter the Tea Party.
Here’s what they think: Debt is bad. We spend too much (might be true at the Federal government level, but you need to approach it in a compromising way). We’re bankrupting our grandkids (curious, does that mean any business that invests in its future by borrowing is risking its shareholders?). It has to stop right now. Right now. Right fucking “I’m a baby holding my toy in the middle of the room and I want everything that I want” now.
Now I’m not going to mention right now that we are in a serious economic downturn, so every little bit of spending you cut means lost jobs. Let’s not focus on that piece. Let’s just focus on the fact that maybe we could cut spending a bit, and maybe we could look at the Bush tax cuts a bit and maybe we could find a way to balance our books and work together.
Not with the Tea Party, though. Because, here’s what they did. Because of the Bush Recession that slowed the economy, meant less revenue in taxes for the government, threw the books further out of balance, and put us in a generally bad place, the debt ceiling needed to be raised, just like it had been many times under every single President since, well, since we had Presidents.
And the Tea Party said, “No, unless you start cutting Federal spending on exactly the things we don’t like, but don’t even think about raising taxes on anything, we’re not going to sign the Debt Ceiling increase.” See what happened there? We’re going to risk the world losing faith that we will repay our debts if we don’t get our way.
It’s called hostage taking, pure and simple.
Now, there are some good faith people on the Republican side of the aisle, as well as on the Democratic side of the aisle, who tried to sit down and work out a compromise that both sides could live with in terms of our immediate spending and taxes so that enough of the people in the middle from both parties would vote to agree on it, and thus allow that same group to vote to extend the debt ceiling.
Obama was in that group, and in fact, he proposed the biggest net switch in the deficit, which would have been almost $4 trillion in net savings, with about $3 trillion in spending cuts over ten years and $1 trillion in new taxes over ten years. And the minute that the President said he would be in favor of a deal that big, do you know what the Republicans said?
“No, we won’t do this, we want our way. No tax increases.”
If the problem is that we need to balance our budget, then the Obama proposal was the biggest one to address that. And instead, since Obama came up with the proposal to come the closest to balancing the budget, the baby in the room had to flip and decide that the most important thing was to not raise taxes one bit. Not a dime to help balance the budget, even just a few extra percent on the backs of the rich people that benefit the most from this country existing, providing infrastructure and services, and being stable.
So, there was no way that the Democrats were just going to allow the $3 trillion in spending cuts that were in the mix. That’s not compromise. That’s the baby holding her breathe threatening to pass out. So instead, a much lower number was agreed to in pure spending cuts over the next ten years, and it was bridged with a vote on the last day possible on the increase in the debt ceiling.
And the ratings agencies looked at this and basically said, “We don’t know that the current state of affairs in Washington is such that the US will always pay its debts.” Downgrade.
One last thing and then we will get to this year.
Remember when I mentioned reconciliation? Basically, there is this thing called the Byrd Law that was adopted by Congress, and it says that anything that costs money over time can’t be enacted as a law by Congress. So, things that cost the country money and throw the books off cannot become law. But, recognizing that the economy goes through ups and downs, the law basically says that Congress can still do things in the “short-term,” which is identified by up to ten years, to throw off the books.
Enter the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003. Obviously, when Congress says, “We’re going to lower taxes on someone,” it means that Congress is going to take in less money, which throws the books out of balance. Now, in bad times, there might be reason to do this, so you can pass such a change and avoid the Byrd Law by making the tax cuts for only so many years, up to ten. So, even though the economy was in nowhere near horrible shape in 2001 and 2003, Bush and the Republicans that controlled Congress decided to pass tax cuts for the wealthy, and they did it on a ten-year scale through reconciliation for two reasons. I should point out that despite this, the net result of EIGHT YEARS of the Bush Presidency was ZERO NET NEW PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS.
1) The Democrats can’t filibuster things that go through reconciliation. The Republicans didn’t have 60 seats in the Senate, so if the Democrats had been opposed to the tax cuts for the rich, they could have filibustered. This way, they couldn’t.
2) The law couldn’t have passed as a full law because it doesn’t pass the Byrd Law, as lower taxes by definition throw the Federal books off by intentionally take in less money.
So if you ever wondered why we keep having these discussions about whether to “extend” the Bush tax cuts, the reason is because the first ones were to expire in 2011, and Obama with the Congress extended them because we were in the Great Recession, through the end of 2012. The second expires at the same time.
If nothing is done otherwise, the tax rates on income over $250,000 will rise starting in January. Now, let me clarify one more thing. That doesn’t mean that if you make $275,000 that your tax rate will go up on all $275,000. It will only go up on the $25,000 above $250,000. The Republicans tend to try to confuse that point.
So here is the deal. When the deal between the Baby and the rest of Congress and Obama was struck last year on spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling, it was done with something called a sequestration trigger. Let me make it simple. If Congress and the White House can’t come to an agreement by the end of this year, some big things will happen. To hurt the Republicans, Defense spending will be cut. To hurt the Democrats, social spending will be cut. It’s basically a nuclear Armageddon trigger that was put in place to hurt both sides so badly if they didn’t work together to fix it that neither side could possibly not come to the table. And, add to that, the Bush Tax Cuts all expire at the same time.
That’s why they call it the Fiscal Cliff. At this moment, we are three months away from either coming to some agreement about tax rates, spending, balancing the books, and everything that goes along with it, or if we can’t, things are going to get ugly for everyone. Taxes will go up on the rich (not really by much, so this isn’t as big a deal as the rest). Spending cuts across the board will hurt everyone. Unemployment will rise.
But here’s the worst part. The reason that the economy is lagging here is because the uncertainty about all of this has all businesses on hold trying to decide what to do. If the $4 trillion deal had been reach last year, yeah, the markets and businesses would have the certainty of knowing what was going on, and would be doing things. Heck, our debt would be top-rated again by definition. If you feel like things are stagnant, if you watch the stock market like I do daily and know that trading volume is down (even though the MARKET isn’t going down), you know that this is all about the fact that businesses can’t make decisions right now because of the uncertainty.
And here’s the thing. This should favor the Baby in theory. Here’s why. By definition of the fact that the economy sucks, the sitting President should be getting the blame, especially since most people are, well, as I said, DUMB. They don’t understand it all. So let me just make my most partisan statement and then we’ll get to the 2012 election:
The Republican Party has been so determined and desperate to get back control that they have abused the basic premises and powers of Congress that both parties have worked through together for over 200 years, intentionally doing nothing to solve our problems in a balanced way, and put our economy on the brink all so that they would have a lay-up to win the election in 2012 and put a Republican back in the White House.
Enter Mitt Romney.
You’d think with all of the above, I would have been writing all of this stuff for the last few months trying to get the word out for people that don’t have time to stay up on this stuff. And maybe, if someone had taken the Republican nomination that really represented all of those radical Tea Party views and ignited the crazies on the Right, I might have.
But let’s take a look at Mitt Romney. He was in favor of Obamacare (when he passed essentially the same thing in Massachusetts based on the Republican plan from the 1990s) before he was against it. He’s a poster boy for killing jobs and also (separate issue) for outsourcing and sending jobs overseas. He’s a corporate raider at a time that people care more about food on the table than whether we want the rich to get richer.
But the real key to not being that concerned was this. If Romney had run in the Republican primaries against one, maybe two, other candidates (a la Obama, Clinton, and Edwards), he wouldn’t have gotten the nomination. The reality is that he never polled over 25-30% at his best moments in the party…all the way to the END. He was competing with Ron Paul, Santorum, Perry, Gingrich, and five others (do we even remember Pizza Boy at this point?). They had to make special cameras with wider angle lens just to get them all in the screen during the Republican debates. So Romney always had the 25%, but never more. If it had been him against Santorum and Ron Paul from the start, with no one else, he would have lost. Same is true for many other combinations.
And the reality of all of that means that no matter what, there are too many people in the Republican Party that don’t really like the guy. To some, the Mormon thing plays a role. To others, it’s the flip-flopping on EVERYTHING. To some, he’s not really a conservative, which is why he had to play one on TV for months. And what does all of that mean? That means that the Obama campaign now has video of him saying just about the opposite of everything that he now tries to say.
“I’m not in favor of a $4.8 trillion tax cut. I’m not in favor of any tax cut or anything that would lower revenue to the government.” That’s Romney in the debate.
But for 12 months, “I’m going for a straight 20% across the board tax cut.”
And the coolness factor if you live in that Bizarro world is that you can always say something to justify it. “Sure, I want to lower the tax rate, but I’ll pay for that by cutting loopholes. I always meant that I would pay for it. I’m not crazy.”
“Oh, cool, can you tell us what loopholes you’d close? Cause $5 trillion seems like a lot.”
“I’ll get back to you in January. Oh, but I’ll stop public funding of Sesame Street.”
First of all, there aren’t enough loopholes to close to come CLOSE to $5 trillion. And, I’m curious what the average homeowner thinks about the idea that the tax deduction for mortgage interest would HAVE TO BE in this mix to come close. So while you drop your tax rate from 35% to 28%, you lose the write-off for mortgage interest. At best, let’s call it a wash. But what about the guy making millions that had several homes? He couldn’t write off the interest on all of them (just a primary and one vacation home) anyway. But now his rate went from 35% to 28%. Think about that.
And, yes, let’s hit the Big Bird theme because this is so fun. Do you know how many zeroes are in a trillion. $1,000,000,000,000. That’s twelve zeros. How much money does the Federal government spend on PBS? $300 million. Want to see that written out? $300,000,000. Yikes, we’re missing five zeros. Ever bought a house for $250,000 and then worried about that pack of gum for a buck fifty (I wrote that one out so you can do the zeroes)? Or as somebody put it, cutting funding to PBS won’t pay for an HOUR of the Federal government operating. You’re gonna need to find a lot of Big Birds to cut.
So why does he say all of it? In the debate, he seemed moderate. He doesn’t want to cut taxes on the rich. He believes in regulation (say what?). He thinks teachers are great and wants more of them (huh?). He’s a fan of fixing costs in the healthcare world and even says his plan forces insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions (although his campaign released a statement the next day saying that he had misspoke about this point). So why does he say all of that if the conservatives don’t agree with most of it and he has been saying the opposite of all of it (and in fact, not just the opposite, but 20 separate and distinct variations of all of it at different points in time in the campaign as needed)?
He saved it all for the debate for a reason. Because there are people who don’t follow this stuff like I do, and their first crack at Mittens was the first debate in front of 60-plus million people. And when you says those things, people that are just tuning in go, “Huh, he sounds kinda reasonable.”
How many of those 60-plus million people do you think saw his campaign the next day rolling back the comment about his plan covering pre-existing conditions? Let’s do the zeros again. 60,000,000,000 people watched. So if 10,000 pay enough attention to the rollback, that’s a lot of zeros that buy the lie.
It’s INTENTIONAL. Lie. Make up whatever you think people will want to hear when the most people are listening. One of his campaign guys six months ago actually stated that “once we get passed the primary, it’s like an etch-a-sketch. Everything erases and you can start over.” Boy Howdy, and you did.
It’s a snake oil salesman on steroids.
It’s a world devoid of facts, math, gravity, and frankly basic finance.
And he has to do this because here’s the math he’s facing.
25% of the people in his party never wanted him to be the nominee. He has to wink at those on the right by picking Paul Ryan as his running mate. He has to pick his moments for the biggest flip-flops and lies when the most people are paying attention, knowing that most of them won’t be in an hour. Is it cynical? Oh hell yeah. Will it work? Nope. Not gonna happen. Partially because enough people know better, partially because we have everything recorded now (even private donor meetings, evidently), partially because the Obama campaign is good, and partially because, in the end, he wasn’t the guy his party wanted.
This election isn’t over, but it is close. It’s no surprise that the Obama numbers in the polls were pulling away and ahead last week. It’s by design. They time their advertising perfectly, and it wasn’t to get him ahead before the debates. It was to reach a mini-peak on the days that early voting starts in key states like Iowa and Ohio. You want people excited about you on that first day because there is a surge of voting right away, and then there is election day. People that are going to vote early do it because they are excited and they do it as soon as they can.
Now, let me take a step back. Do I think that Mitt Romney is an evil person? No. Not at all. Frankly, if it were him against certain other people, and if he hadn’t had to pretzel himself into all of these positions to please the Tea Party, I think I’d be fine with him. There’s a reason he passed health reform in Massachusetts. He was Republican governor in a Democratic state. He acts like his big accomplishment was that he worked with the Democrats there and compromised, and to an extent, that is true. But don’t forget that there was another option. He could have gone there and done NOTHING, as the Republican party, especially today’s Republican party, often does. But he didn’t. He wanted to fix healthcare. That point is something so many people miss. He wasn’t a crazy conservative to start, and given the chance, he might not be one if he gets into office. But here’s the problem.
When you have to tell so many people that look and act like the Tea Party that you will do all of these things that they want just to get elected, even if you tell other people you won’t, how are we supposed to know what the hell you really stand for and what you would really do given the chance? He may have money, but I would bet at this point that he’s owned and owes a lot to those people.
The country can’t afford to take a chance that a reasonable and moderate Mitt Romney would be the guy that shows up in office and effectively puts an end to the 2-year Tea Party experiment and keeps us from driving off the Fiscal Cliff. We have a perfectly solid option in President Obama, and I think he has learned enough in the last four years that he won’t waste as much time trying to get the opposing party on-board. They aren’t here to move America forward, they aren’t here to compromise, and they aren’t here to help solve the problems of middle class America.
And so we move. Forward without them.
Final thoughts on the race itself. Obama has the money edge now and the lead in several key swing states that makes it hard for Romney to put together a winning strategy. Ohio was the key, but Obama is too far ahead there and early voting has started for Romney to have a chance, and that’s the real crux of the issue. Debate performances (and lies) aside, even if the Republican party gets more “unified” behind their man, I think you’re still going to see the money move elsewhere as the reality of the electoral math comes into play and Karl Rove realizes that he needs to focus on the House and Senate races, where the money can still move the needle.
Just understand this. With Ohio in Obama’s column, and it almost certainly is at this point, and with Romney giving up on Pennsylvania in terms of spending weeks ago, Romney has to win Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Viriginia, Iowa, and New Hampshire to win. If he wins all of those BUT New Hampshire, it is an electoral college tie at 269, which probably would mean a Romney win because the House would get to pick, and the Republicans will most likely keep the House, just with less seats. Just keep in mind that he is already down in ALL of those states, and Obama just had a record month of fund-raising in September, and the clock is ticking. It gets harder and harder to sway people as we get down to the wire, and this election has been unique in that there haven’t been many undecideds at all (currently around 5-6%, it was 17% when Bush and Kerry had their first debate).
Two weeks before the Election in 2008, McCain’s advisers told him that they couldn’t win. Think about that. That’s what it takes today to move the undecideds. It may be four weeks until the election, but Romney needs a miracle in the next two weeks or I go back to what I said in 2008 after McCain picked Palin.
This. Is. Over.