Monday, January 19, 2015

A Bumper Crop of Bologna

A Bumper Crop of Baloney

Ah, the New Year, the bright new-car smell of a freshly baked Congress, the timeless pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union address, all carefully plated by those chefs in Washington on the finest Royal Doulton (with hand-painted periwinkles) and served on a bed of greenbacks, with locally sourced and regional cuisines designed to tantalize every palate.

Big, big, questions this time of year, and even bigger answers to be revealed.  Who will sit next to Michelle?  What will she wear? How many Supreme Court Justices will show up, and which of them will scowl at Mr. Obama? What will they wear? How many times will disheartened Democrats rise and cheer and which Republican will shout out some epithet and become an instant hero on Fox?   How many references will there be to our “brave men and women in the armed forces” and how many of the listeners will actually care one whit about those brave men and women? What’s the over/under on the number of Obama proposals?  And the over/under of Obama proposals pronounced “dead on arrival” (special hint from the Editor, it is OK to make a single guess.)

So, we know it's all going to be tripe.  There will be a series of incoherent but “brave” pronouncements from both sides. The Prez will have his moment in the cold, unforgiving and rheumy glare of Mitch and John. Newly minted Republican Senator Jodi Ernst will deliver the Loyal Opposition Response (she’s the one who took retiring Iowan Senator Tom Harkin’s seat with a stunning ad about castrating hogs) and there will plenty of spinners and talking heads (some of them  spinning) to follow. You might also ask yourself how many of these will have prepared and even delivered their critiques before the actual text of the speech is released? (Second special hint from the Editor, you can start counting from last Friday.)

To make it easier on people, I have selected three large slabs of bologna, one from the President, and two from the GOP (they control both chambers in Congress) for today's special.

We commence our meal with two newly minted Congressional maneuvers.  The first, by the House, is to give absolute investigative and subpoena power to Committee Chairman, without either consulting with the minority leader, or permitting a vote.  I will leave it to your imaginations as to why this completely non-partisan change of long-standing House policy was needed at this critical time in our nation’s history.  The second was reported in The Hill “The GOP Finds Its Secret Weapon” which details the exhuming (that is the correct word) of a rarely used tactic, the “Congressional Review Act” to stall and overturn any regulatory actions taken by the Obama Administration that the GOP disagrees with, regardless of whether the statutory authority actually exists.  Under the CRA, the Congress can pass a “Resolution of Disapproval” (sounds something like you would find in Middle School debating contest?) on any regulation, which then goes to the White House for signature (Obama won’t) and then, after he demurs, back to Congress for an override vote.  The GOP has hundreds of health and safety, consumer protection, clean water and air, and pollution regulations they have Resolved to Disapprove.  Job-killers all. 

Will it work? Is there some special magic about this CRA? Absolutely not, and the GOP knows it, just like they know that 50 votes to repeal the ACA didn't work either.  There aren't enough votes to override the automatic vetoes that will follow.  However, what they hope to do is to get some Democrats on record as either opposing the regulations (to show bipartisan opposition) or, even better, have them go on record as being anti-coal, anti-fracking, anti-jobs, anti-American, etc.  So, think about those two tactics for a second, evaluate their ability to advance the cause of the common citizen in this country, and, for ease of use, call these what they are, Hunks of Bologna I.

Let us turn our attention to Mr. Obama.  The President has been having a pretty good time since he led his party to appalling defeat two months ago.  It’s Obama unbound, mounted up with wings, as eagles, soaring from community college for all, to his latest “Robin Hood Tax” which dares to raise some rates on the wealthiest to reduce taxes slightly on the middle class.  The sound of gnashing teeth from the Right has already induced many local dentists to call their Mercedes dealers.

Does Obama’s tax plan look good out of tights?  Not really.  It contains a tax credit for working couples, and an enhanced child-care credit. It really doesn’t do all that much besides move the deck chairs around a little and add a thin cushion for some of those in steerage.  Of course, these were excellent ideas when proposed by Republicans in the past, however, in the hands of Obama, they have morphed into something dangerously like socialism.  The numbers are the same, the names are the same, but there’s something suspicious when you get close.  You can tell that by former Bush operative Marc Thiessen’s column in the Washington Post “Obama Uses His Tax Proposal to Taunt the GOP” in which Mr. Thiessen is shocked to report that Obama is suggesting this for political reasons “He knows Republicans have been working to shed their image as the party of the rich and powerful, with a new focus on helping the poor and the working class. He wants to taunt the GOP into attacking his plan so he can accuse Republicans of fighting for the wealthy.”

I honestly did not make that quote up, or the title of Thiessen’s article.  I wish I had that marvelous and delectable ear for self-parody. But, Thiessen is essentially correct on one point—the proposals have absolutely no chance in Congress (the GOP would never agree to raise taxes one half-pence on the wealthy to ease the smallest burden on working families.)  And even if Thiessen were wrong, and the two sides could work together, it’s not tax reform in any meaningful way, just a modest redistribution of (after tax) wealth.  It is the Hunk of Bologna II.

By this point, I know I have your mind completely in cold cuts.  So, let’s talk about Hunk of Bologna III, the Republicans newly rediscovered (it was lost entirely during the Bush Administration) urgency for a Balanced Budget Amendment.  Any serious person knows there is no way to make this happen.  Spending on current and past military obligations is 47% of the budget, and that’s certainly not going down.  A lot of the other spending is on entitlements, and a great deal of that goes to “vested” seniors, who will not accept reductions in their payments.  Much of the rest is at the margins, except for support for business (a must have) and support for poor people (a must not-have.) But you cannot cut your way to a zero deficit without working on the revenue side--as Bill Clinton did--and raising taxes in the slightest causes the entire GOP to go into anaphylactic shock.  So, why have a Balanced Budget Amendment? Because a) when you add Dynamic Scoring, which the House has just mandated, and demands that all tax cuts show as revenue positive (from all that job-creating, of course) to b) blank-check military spending, then you get c) Grover Norquist’s fantasy of a government brought “down to the size we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Yum--it all sounds great, doesn’t it?  Smaller government, less taxes, less regulation, and everyone’s tummy is full and happy!  All from those solicitous men in blue and red aprons, asking us how we would like it sliced, on rye with seeds or without, mustard and a pickle on the side.

Come on. You know you want one.  Just don’t ask to read the ingredients.  It’s still bologna.

January 19, 2015

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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