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It's A Free Country All-Stars on the Coming Political Year

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IAFC bloggers Justin Krebs, Karol Markowicz, and Solomon Kleinsmith

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC.  Today on the Brian Lehrer ShowIt's a Free Country contributers Solomon Kleinsmith, founder of the political website Rise of Center; Karol Markowicz, public relations consultant and blogger at Alarming News; and Justin Krebs, founder of Living Liberally, discuss the new congress, the state of the GOP and Democrats, and the country's political future.

It's a new year and a new Congress with a Republican majority hours away from taking control of the House. A divided government may mean compromise, but some big battles are expected first, as the new Congress launches attempts at repealing the health care reform bill, opens investigations, and insists on reading the Constitution from the House floor.  

Justin Krebs, a proud liberal, thinks that progressives should be encouraged from the legislation passed in the recent lame duck session, which he saw as not just as a result of compromise, but of Democrats standing up for their progressive values.  

The Zadroga Bill, [the repeal of] Don't Ask, Don't Tell...[Democrats] said we are going to push this through, we’re going to make this happen. I think that as the Republicans showed over the last two years, even a minority, if they’re determined enough, can move their agenda forward. They just have to stick by their principles.

Conservative Karol Markowicz also sees some hope from the immediate political past.

Republicans haven’t had anything for the last two years and they still managed to stop a lot of the Obama agenda, so I’m pretty hopeful…There is something good about being in the minority and being able to stop the other side’s actions. Obama had a filibuster-proof majority for a while there and still wasn’t able to get very much done. If future compromising will mean that Obama basically keeps extending tax cuts and lives up to so many conservative principles, I’m all for compromise.

Solomon Kleinsmith, who identifies as a moderate, predicts that with the loss of so many seats previously held by members closer to the center politically, the new Congress will be even more polarized. For the centrists who remain, he said the major priorities have to be deficit reduction and job growth. Kleinsmith calls the different plans for saving on spending "magical thinking, on the left and the right."

A lot of people on the left…think that we can get all the deficit reduction that we need to be doing by cutting everything that they don’t like, and they think they can do it from deficit spending and other discretionary spending, and that’s not possible. There’s not enough out there to squeeze.

While the campaign talk of cuts to service spending will translate into results, Markowicz anticipated that the cuts will be smaller than the deep $100 billion reduction to education, police, scientific research and other services that Republicans have called for. Part of that talk was grandstanding, she said, as those elected officials will still face reelection in their districts. But she said that Congress will need to make some deep cuts.  

As for the new mandate that each new bill being introduced be preceded by an explanation of why the Constitution allows for it, Krebs welcomes it, saying "I wish that George Bush had been forced to read the Constitution more often." Markowicz is less enthusiastic.

Great, read the Constitution, that’s excellent. I love that our elected officials will be a little more familiar with it, but the truth is that if they use it to support their votes, they’ll be committing political suicide everywhere outside of Ron Paul’s district... They’ll find themselves voting against, say, aid to Hurricane Katrina victims, they’ll find themselves voting against usual Congressional performances like giving out medals of honor… the Constitution doesn’t allow for that.

All these theatrics aside, Kleinsmith said it's time for a more realistic debate about taxes, but he said that's unlikely to happen.

Both parties have been selling this idea that they can get everything they want by just going against what the other side wants, and it’s just not true. You can’t give as much social welfare type benefits out without raising taxes, and the Democrats are much more willing to spend money on social welfare programs than they are raising taxes, and the Republicans, they’re the same way. It’s just their priorities are a little bit different. They want to spend more on the military and things like that, and they want to cut taxes that they’re not willing to pay for. I don’t even think it should be called sacrifice, it should be called we need to start paying for what we’re doing… that’s just common sense.  

Markowicz, for one, said she gives enough to support the government already. To a caller who asked if taxes are not what people, especially the well-off, owe the government for the use of the infrastructure, education and labor that made their wealth possible, she replied that the caller was welcome to make that decision for himself.

Nobody’s stopping you from spending more money to the government, you can write as big a check as you’d like, if you feel that you owe more to the government which you feel spends your money the way you’d like it to be spent. Then please, by all means, give more of your salary to the government to do that... I’m not interested in spending more of my paycheck to the government to misspend and get us further into deficit.

All were cautious in their predictions for the coming year. Kleinsmith abstained from making a guess what legislation will live and die, but Krebs and Markowicz both felt confident that the South Korea trade deals would happen. In this divided government, it might be an uphill battle to get anything else passed.