Political Animal


November 20, 2012 12:13 PM Another Non-Struggle For the Soul

By Ed Kilgore

Even as much of the MSM buys into the largely phony meme of bitter internecine controversy among Republicans, who are actually united in a more-conservatism-with-tweaks strategy going forward, there’s growing talk of Democratic divisions over the current fiscal negotiations, perhaps extending to votes in Congress (and particularly the Senate). And although I am on record predicting there will be an actual “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” at some point, it’s not clear it has to break out any time soon.

The latest flash point is a polling memo released by the Beltway centrist Democratic group Third Way, showing strong support among Obama voters for a “balanced” fiscal deal that includes “fixing” Medicare and Social Security in addition to higher taxes on the wealthy. “Fixing” is not defined in the polling, though Third Way tells us its recent focus groups show Democrats are open to “modernizing” the programs via “minor measures” like small boosts in the retirement age. Retirement age changes are typically defined by many progressive Democrats not as “modernization measures” but as “benefit cuts.”

WaPo’s Greg Sargent fears Third Way is trying to lead Democrats away from a consensus position that even its own polling supports:

The centrist reading of the election is harder to explain. The Third Way poll seems designed to create the impression that the public yearns for a centrist deficit agreement. It tells us Obama voters support a mix of tax increases and spending cuts as part of a “bipartisan” deficit deal and that they want lawmakers to “fix” entitlements. But so what? A mix of tax increases and spending cuts is the liberal-Democratic position. The argument is one over degree. No one is arguing for no spending cuts whatsoever or doing nothing on entitlements or the deficit. Rather, the left wants a fiscal cliff solution that doesn’t take benefits away from those who need them and doesn’t undermine the core mission of social programs and the safety net. On this, the voters have spoken clearly.

I agree, but so, too, would Third Way, give or take some details or messaging emphasis. The real conflict here is probably one of traditional mistrust between Democratic factions rather than an actual split on substance or strategy. The real “centrist” threat to Democratic unity, if any, would probably emerge from the remaining red-state Democratic Senators up for re-election in 2014, particularly Landrieu, Hagan, Pryor and Begich, who are leery about committing to a hard-and-fast position on killing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy—a position on which, BTW, Third Way is fully in line with more liberal Democatic groups.

So it’s probably too early to get too excited about potential “betrayals” by any Democrats or project any real split in the party. The fat will hit the fire, if ever, only after the administration comes to a negotiating position in conjunction with the congressional Democratic leadership.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on November 20, 2012 12:23 PM:

    Despite having won the election on the issues of tax increases for the rich, and at least maintaining the current social safety net, never, never, underestimate Democratic politicians willingness to sell out their base

    The Republicans fear their base.

    The Democrats ignore theirs.
    'Hey, where else ya gonna go, huh, Liberals?'

    Once positions become more clear, we all need to have our Democratic Congresscritters on speed dial, lest they sell their newly-found spines for 30 pieces of corporate silver.

  • K in VA on November 20, 2012 12:28 PM:

    Decisions on Social Security, or Medicare, or food stamps, or any other entitlement should not be in the hands of people who never have and never will be dependent on the programs they are cutting. A "minor tweak" to a rich white man can be disastrous to many, many people.

    I know no one will talk about the moral aspects of "entitlement reform," but someone should. The quality of life for a large proportion of our fellow Americans is at stake.

  • Mimikatz on November 20, 2012 1:00 PM:

    It cannot be said too many times that "deficit reduction" is merely a cover for slashing safety net programs so as to preserve tax cuts for the rich. It is NOT really about reducing deficits.

    That said, the strategy of lumping Social Security and federal pensions with Medicare and Medicaid and talking about "entitlement reform" obscures the point that the problem is almost entirely with health care itself, specifically the incentives to over treat and the excessive costs built in it through for-profit companies. That is what needs to be attacked.

    Social security needs no reforms other than a slow raising of the wage cap up to $250,000. Period. Rising life spans are almost exclusively the result of declining infant mortality and lengthened life spans for the well off. The rest of the population is NOT living longer. Raising the eligibility age harms the people who need it most.

    Raising the Medicare age is similarly really counterproductive, as people 55-65 find it hard to get insurance and increasingly need care. Since Medicare is more efficient, let it cover people 60 and up or 55 and up with a buy-in. Raise the Medicare wage cap to $250,000 as well, slowly. Reform payment incentives and do more effectiveness research to bring costs down.

    Spending cuts can come primarily from defense. There is still more fat there than anywhere else, but leave veterans' health care alone.

    And on the revenue side, raise the top rate and do away with the 15% rate on dividends and carried interest, raise capital gains to half the ordinary income rate and keep the estate tax
    high. Do away with all the Romney loopholes and get money held abroad taxed.

    Problem solved.


  • hornblower on November 20, 2012 1:04 PM:

    If a tweak means "means testing" Social Security or Medicare this Democrat thinks it's fine.
    Please don't confuse all Obama voters with people who agonize about politics 24/7. The first, second or third way need to realize that they only speak for themselves. Ordinary voters did their job and now the President will do his. Surely pols. have to be watched but most of the noise is posturing. To speak about the "soul" of a Party is to dramatize it excessively. The Democratic Party of Jefferson and Jackson is not party of today. Leave the fake soul-searching to the GOP.

  • AngryOldVet on November 20, 2012 1:06 PM:

    If you paint stripes on a horse, it still is not a zebra.

    Just as the Teabaggers are repukes who rebranded themselves to claim that the stench of Little George Bush does not cling to them, the 'Third Way' is just a rebranded group of DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lites claiming to be 'centrists'. Kilgore fits right in with them.

    F*cking @ssholes. Social Security is NOT the problem with our national debt. If it was, there would not be a multiTrillion $$$ surplus in the Trust Fund. What long term problems exist for Social Security could be fixed for at least 80 more years by removing the 'cap' on earned income for which it is collected. Any @sshole claiming that social security needs to be fixed by reducing benefits and/or raising the retirement age is just another corporately owned @sswipe who never escaped their DLC status.

    Anyone claiming that Third Way is 'liberal' or 'progressive' is just another corporate tool and either delusional or an idiot. Speaking of which, is this why Kilgore regularly attacks 'older voters' and the elderly?

  • Paul Gottlieb on November 20, 2012 1:11 PM:

    How can anyone take Third Way seriously as a "Democratic" group. Third Way is financed and dominated almost entirely by hedge fund managers and other bigwigs from the financial industry--just look at their list of directors--and their agenda is certainly not "moderate" or "liberal." They are all about slashing programs that help the poor and middle class while simultaneously reducing taxes.

  • Peter C on November 20, 2012 1:29 PM:

    Well, if Third Way wants to struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party, it will need to rejoin the Democratic Party. Last time I checked, Third Way was casting about for a candidate to run against Obama.

    Now there is a line to get to the microphone. They'll need to join the back of the line and wait like the rest of us. When their turn arrives, I'll probably listen politely. Until then, I'd like to listen to the other speakers, please.

  • Col Bat Guano on November 20, 2012 1:49 PM:

    Once again we see the centrist's unshakeable belief that if only the left prematurely compromises will a deal be achieved. They never learn that the Republicans will take these concessions as the left-most position and demand more. Maybe this time we can start with our maximalist demands and make them move to the center?

  • biggerbox on November 20, 2012 4:11 PM:

    Since we began talking about Grand Bargains and bowls of Simpsons and "balanced" approaches, we've already cut expenditures, and passed Obamacare to address the costs of health care. So, um, where are the tax increases? I'm waiting....

    I'm so tired of all these discussions that begin their 'balanced' approach by talking about what to cut. Show me some one-percenters ponying up some real cash, and then we can move on (to talking about why we need to cut when the world is willing to pay us to borrow money from them.)