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The Politics of Deficit Reduction

Thursday, April 14, 2011

WNYC
Seniors attend a 'Medicare Monday' seminar at the Holly Creek retirement community on December 6, 2010 in Centennial, Colorado. 80 people came to learn how federal health care reform will affect them. Seniors attend a 'Medicare Monday' seminar (John Moore/Getty)

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 Show, Jonathan Alter, MSNBC analyst and author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One, talked about the president's speech and how it will play inside the Beltway and around the country.

The president's speech on Wednesday wasn't just about deficit reduction, it also framed the political conversation leading into the 2012 election. Speaking to a crowd at George Washington University in the capital, Obama railed against the proposed tax breaks for the wealthy saying, "that's not going to happen while I'm president" and called his approach "patriotism" — strong words from the president.

So, what does all this mean?

Touching Medicare is bad politics

MSNBC's Jonathan Alter called the potential approval of Congressman Paul Ryan's plan "a serious political mistake" for the Republicans because it will change Medicare so drastically. According to Alter, this is the opposite tack from part of their midterm campaign platform in 2010 that won them the House. He explains:

The main message of what they used in their attack ads all over the U.S. was, Obama Care will cut $500 billion from Medicare. Now, in midterm elections, elderly people vote disproportionately...and the Republicans very successfully frightened seniors, particularly seniors who are independents, into voting Republican because they convinced them that Obama Care was going to meddle with their Medicare. Medicare is a wildly popular program, so now just a few months after that election, you have the entire Republican party which is about to end Medicare as we know it...that's what the Ryan plan does, it ends Medicare. And that is a very poor platform for the Republicans to use in 2012.

According to Alter, Democrats have historically agitated that Republicans want to end programs like Medicare and Social Security, when Republicans actually haven't taken these steps. Now this is changing, he said.

Now, the Republicans are becoming so radicalized. They actually do want to repeal the social contract of the 20th century so that's what the next election is going to be about, these gains that were made in the 20th century and whether we want to continue with the deal that we make to each other as a people, and I think it's going to be a fascinating election because it really is a referendum on something important.

Both plans are inadequate

Rep. Ryan responded to the president's speech calling it "partisan", "inaccurate" and "inadequate." Alter said the speech was in no way inaccurate, but he agreed it was inadequate, especially considering the crushing deficit, but Ryan's plan is inadequate too, he said.

Both of them cut $4 trillion over a decade and although that sounds like a lot of money, it doesn't really address the problem, it's not enough. So they're in exactly the same place in terms of how deeply they have to cut.

Raise revenue and cut spending, the political way

Ultimately, you have to raise revenue as well as cut spending to deal with this deficit and this is where it gets tough, according to Alter.

Obama, perhaps irresponsibly, is not saying he's going to raise taxes on the middle class. He really can't meet his deficit reduction targets without doing that eventually, but he's smart enough not to do that before the election. So instead, he's making it about more tax cuts for the wealthy which poll very badly so if the Republicans want to plant their standard on that ground, good luck to them. I don't think it's going to work.

Even though Obama hasn't given enough details, he didn't start this mess, Alter said.

We have to deal in the realm of facts here...when Bill Clinton left office we had a surplus of a couple billion dollars. When George W. Bush...left office, we had a deficit of $1.2 trillion, so the idea that Barack Obama created this deficit somehow is just spin of the worse kind. Did he add to it because he had to rescue the economy, rescue the banks, and so forth? Yes. Has he been specific enough about the way he will get us out of it? No. And I think that is a legitimate criticism of the speech.

But looking ahead, Alter argued there's a bigger question:

Will we make adjustments in Medicare so that the wealthy elderly pay more, which will be necessary to get control of our fiscal problems, or will we end Medicare. That's going to be the big choice in the next election.

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Comments [20]

jawbone

Maybe Alter --and Brian as well-- should read this article by Robert Reich. To remind themselves of why LBJ thought Medicare was a good idea, why it has helped so many, and how it is so much less expensive than for-profit health insurance.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/150606/mr._president%2C_medicare_isn%27t_the_problem_--_it%27s_the_solution

To remember those numbers which tell us that far of the monies paying for Medicare go to CARE of people than the dollars paying for private for-profit insurance do.

Overhead is big in private for-profit insurance, and that includes the huge pay packages for the executives of for-profit private insurance.

Note that term: for profit? Yeah, it eats up quite a bit of the money going into the system.

Just something to think about, amidst this current rage for austerian slashing.

(Oh, an what about jobs? If more people were working, there would be far more revenue coming in to all levels of government.... Oh, and what about not slashing taxes, what few they pay, on extreme high wealth? On corporations?)

My apology if this is doubled; I had trouble in IE trying to post it.

Apr. 14 2011 08:33 PM
jawbone

Maybe Alter --and Brian as well-- should read this article by Robert Reich. To remind themselves of why LBJ thought Medicare was a good idea, why it has helped so many, and how it is so much less expensive than for-profit health insurance.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/150606/mr._president%2C_medicare_isn%27t_the_problem_--_it%27s_the_solution

To remember those numbers which tell us that far of the monies paying for Medicare go to CARE of people than the dollars paying for private for-profit insurance do.

Overhead is big in private for-profit insurance, and that includes the huge pay packages for the executives of for-profit private insurance.

Note that term: for profit? Yeah, it eats up quite a bit of the money going into the system.

Just something to think about, amidst this current rage for austerian slashing.

(Oh, an what about jobs? If more people were working, there would be far more revenue coming in to all levels of government.... Oh, and what about not slashing taxes, what few they pay, on extreme high wealth? On corporations?)

My apology if this is doubled; I had trouble in IE trying to post it.

Apr. 14 2011 08:32 PM
jawbone

Glenn Greenwald expresses my reservations about Obama far better than I can:

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/04/13/obama/index.html

It's not bad negotiating that gets Obama's results; it's what he wants to accomplish that does it.

Apr. 14 2011 04:08 PM

Republicans worry about entrepreneurs who create new products and enterprises as long as they can make, say, $6,300,000 after taxes but should that be reduced to $6,000,000 they would just watch TV.

Would it be much sillier to talk about the entrepreneurs planning to watch TV full time once their net worth reached, say, $100 million? Higher taxes would extend, not cut short the services of these to the nation because it would take them longer to reach their objective.

Apr. 14 2011 12:12 PM
jawbone

For something which will protect Medicare and Medicaid, which will actually cut costs, which will help with the ongoing deficit:

Single Payer: Medicare for All Improved.

Go to Physicians for a National Health Program
http://www.pnhp.org/

Make those in DC put it ON THE TABLE!

It demonstrably works. People understand Medicare and most love it. It's a much easier sell than exchanges which if not large enough are destined to fail.

Apr. 14 2011 11:37 AM
jimy da'badass

sad part is that lots of us saw all these broken promises coming years ago - shameful that so many fools fell for his "bridge for sale"

Apr. 14 2011 11:34 AM
jimy da'badass

jawbone - you could fil la book with his lies, misrepresentations, con-games, and broken promises of similar and greater magnitude.

that said - i still like turtles.

Apr. 14 2011 11:31 AM
jawbone

Yesterday Obama did sound more like the Obama of the presidential campaign in this most recent speech.

Which makes me worry. Greatly.

He didn't govern very closely to what he told us, the voters, in his 2008 campaign speeches and appearances. I'm among those gobsmacked at how many of the Bush/Cheney policies he has not only kept in place but actually extended.

I was not as surprised that he protected the big health insurance companies, as he had said he wanted "health INSURANCE reform." Of course, he campaigned on "no mandates," except for parents to cover their children, but the big insurers needed to expand their customer base....

He did tell private fundraiser gatherings, the few times his words to the wealthy got out to the public, that he wasn't going to be able to do everything he talked about doing in health and education. He talked in these fundraisers with the wealthy elites about "fixing" SocSec and Medicare/Medicaid.

He proposed something the voters believed was going to be "health care reform," but he himself called his legislation "health INSURANCE reform." At least when he wasn't trying to fool the voters.... And he made several important agreements in secret with large business interests in the health fields...and lied about the so-called a/the "public option" to the voters after he'd already told the Big Health Industry Players (BHIP) that he would not support a public option.

Now, in his most recent "cave" (or was it what he actually wanted to accomplish???) to the Republicans, the more liberal and helpful aspects of his health insurance profit protection plan got wiped out. Rescinded. Now, even more people will be forced to stay with or offer themselves to the insurance parasites..

So, when he is not crystal clear about his intentions on SocSec, I cannot trust him.

It's beyond "trust, but verify," as he has so often broken or twisted his promises.

I'm afraid he might be setting up protecting SocSec (also Medicare and Medicaid???) as the great, ever changing and unattainable "sparkle pony" of the 2012 election campaign. As the so-called a/the "public option" was for the health insurance profit protection plan "campaign."

I am so sorry I am unable to trust him. But his excuse that Republicans make him cave on things he really, really really wanted to do (and they wouldn't let him!) makes me very wary of his nice words now.

I am so sorry we got a 21st Century Hoover and not FDR....

Saw a quip yesterday: Obama says we must have shared sacrifice. The rich get to increase their share, and the rest of us get sacrificed.

Apr. 14 2011 11:27 AM
jimy da'badass

I like turtles

Apr. 14 2011 11:21 AM
Disillusioned

Jawbone -

I'm not sure what global warming has to do with the observation that NPR prefers liberal commentators and fosters a culture of progressive intolerance. But hey - any environmental awareness is a good thing as far as I'm concerned, so rock on.

Apr. 14 2011 10:59 AM
jawbone

From the Leonhardt segment, in case anyone heard something to explain what he meant:

I'm pretty sure I heard David Leonhardt say that those who have Medicare would not let other peole have it. I can't check until the audio is available (transcripts would be sooooo useful).

BUT, Obama himself took single payer "off the table," despite a solid, near supermajority of the American public, saying over and over (IF they were asked) that they wanted a single payer system simiilar to Medicare, despite an existing bill in the House that could have been passed.

Obama himself refused to accept Hillary's proposal to at least allow those 55 and over to BUY IN to existing Medicare.

Obama made a deal behind closed doors, at the very beginning or before the launch of his camaign to pass what he himself called "health INSURANCE reform," and promised the Big Health Industry Players there would be no such thing as the undefined "public option." But he continued to tell the public that it WAS something he strongly desired. He LIED.

At the time, the best way to "fix," to actually SAVE MEDICARE is to have single payer universal health CARE for everyone, to implement Medicare for All Improved.

Why did Leonhardt say that those who have Medicare didn't want to expand it to others???? Why did Brian let him say that?

Without challenge?

Apr. 14 2011 10:55 AM
jawbone

Dear Disillusioned:

NPR stands for "Nice Poite Republicans."

You didn't know that?

Also, facts are neither left or right; spin, of course, can be either. Albeit, many conservatives and global warming deniers, etc. do think facts have a liberal bias....

Apr. 14 2011 10:53 AM

don’t mississippi or alabama have low taxes? they also have low wages, low test scores, poor healthcare. i don’t want in live in the 3rd world

Apr. 14 2011 10:48 AM
Disillusioned from Manhattan

The budget and deficit debate is all about posturing. Both sides are approaching it from a political-gains point of view.

But I have to raise a separate issue here - Leonhardt from the New York Times and Alter from MSNBC on the budget, deficit and its politics. Two democrats yesterday, Pascrell and Maloney, on the Ryan plan.

Wow, does "NPR" stand for "National Progressive Radio"? It's hard to ignore the bias in the programming. Nevermind that these blogs are filled with mean-spirited and vicious attacks on any poster that doesn't echo non-progressive ideology. What a shame. I try so hard to support and defend NPR but you're not making it easy.

Apr. 14 2011 10:47 AM
Bob from Queens

At some point, when will someone concede that the if we want to get serious about shrinking government, we have to get serious about shrinking the biggest government program, the military. Not just cancelling a few select weapons programs, but a serious re-thinking of how big it really has to be in this day and age.

Apr. 14 2011 10:47 AM
Patricia from FH

Caller Phil is typical of Republicans - opening his mouth without knowing the FACTS.

Apr. 14 2011 10:43 AM
Jim

primary-care-medicine.net expired on 03/31/2011 and is pending renewal or deletion

Apr. 14 2011 10:40 AM
scotty from west village

Can someone please answer why the President doesn't suggest raising taxes on those making 500k or more versus 250k. It would go over much better politically--especially in this area where 250k doesn't get you far. Thanks Bri

Apr. 14 2011 10:40 AM
JT from LI

I'm glad the president through some figures into his speech. Saying that his $200k tax cut would be covered by 33 seniors paying $6k more in health costs should have more of an impact than a general reference to the top 1%.

Apr. 14 2011 10:35 AM
Charles Harris md from ISLAND HEIGHTS NJ

I have a better health plan--tit can EARN money for the government. Itd is detailed in www.primary-care-medicine.net.

However I have been unable to bring this to the attention of the senate, the congress, and worse yet-the media has walled itself off from us "common man'.

Apr. 14 2011 10:34 AM

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