Political Animal


November 26, 2012 10:35 AM Quick, Quick, Give Me Your Wallet

By Ed Kilgore

Today’s overriding political news is about the brave Republicans (a mob of three or four, at this point) who are signaling their defiance of Grover Norquist and a willingness to put revenues on the table in the ongoing fiscal talks. In nearly every MSM story, the implicit message to Democrats is that courageous “moderates” like Lindsay Graham and Saxbe Chambliss and Peter King and now Bob Corker need to be covered in rose petals and offered an immediate deal.

Each of these fearless rebels is, of course, making its hypothetical support for more revenues strictly contingent on “entitlement reform”—not just spending restraint. And the entire media discussion of the so-called “fiscal cliff” situation treats Democratic defense of entitlements and Republican resistance to revenue increases as precisely equivalent, morally and politically. Greedy nursing home residents, greedy multi-millionaries, whatever, it’s all the same, everyone must compromise, right?

While I am not the kind of progressive who believes in placing anything permanently off the table, and have always disliked the tendency to treat every element of the New Deal and Great Society programs as though they came down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets—still, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are not just some special interest bauble, and defending their integrity is not equivalent in any way, shape or form with defending one’s promise to Grover Norquist never to raise taxes.

So no, Republicans like Lindsay Graham should not be able to demand Democrats accept his idea of “entitlement reform” (which means benefit cuts) in exchange for agreeing, vaguely, to insist on less than 100% repeal of the Bush tax cut expiration that is in current law. For one thing, if Republicans are going to claim Norquist’s iron grip on the GOP has been broken, they need to explicitly accept the possibility of tax rate increases on the wealthy, not just more revenues via “loophole closing.”

Let’s don’t forget Republicans put themselves in this position to begin with. Those who have been in Congress since 2000 deliberately created a fiscal crisis via tax cuts; lashed themselves to the mast of Norquist’s pledge; and have spent every other minute in front of partisan audiencies demanding much smaller government and entirely regressive taxes. A slight return to sanity is no grounds for celebration by Democrats—much less surrender.

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 26, 2012 10:56 AM:

    Democrats: Just say no to the GOP!

    The $1,500 my mother gets monthly as SS survivor benefits, is NOT comparable to the the $1,500+ an hour some CEO's get, or $1,500+ a day some executives get.

  • Kathryn on November 26, 2012 11:00 AM:

    Quite right Ed. Steven Pearlstein has an interesting column in Sunday Wapo.. Would be interested in your take of it as I'm far from an expert. Thanks.

  • Brownell on November 26, 2012 11:13 AM:

    One more thing: I hate the language the Repugs have foisted on the national discussion, namely "Entitlements." Except for Medicaid, our "Entitlement" programs are more accurately called Social Insurance. Social insurance is not an "entitlement" in the sense of a handout. Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment Insurance Benefits are all funded through taxes on the same people who are eligible for the benefits. We pay into the funds when we are healthy and working, so that we can collect what we need from them in the unknowable future. Does anybody call car or homeowners insurance an "entitlement"??? If I hit a deer and GEICO pays for it, am I a moocher? Enough, already.

  • stormskies on November 26, 2012 11:21 AM:

    The corporate media, as ever, are yet again being 'actively complicit' is creating ever more propaganda in order to brain wash the citizens of our country.

    And manifestation of this propaganda is the so called 'grand bargain'. For those who watched NBC's "Meet the Propagandists' yesterday you were of course treated to David "I am not a used corporate condom' Gregory to this repulsive corporate pig doing just that.

    The vast amount of our corporate media is in fact one of the greatest dangers to our country. They invent their 'narratives' and 'story lines' which are the preferred vehicles of choice by them to create the propaganda they they desperately want American to believe.

  • Mudge on November 26, 2012 11:26 AM:

    The great Republican roll back on taxes is a facade, a fraud. None of them advocates raising taxes, an easy, direct process; they say they want to limit deductions, an arcane process. They will argue endlessly which deductions to cut and by how much. Meanwhile, they will have had what they want, the extension of the Bush tax cuts. And notice it's all senators. The Senate has passed a middle class tax cut bill. The House is the problem.

    Always remember, when a Republican opens his/her mouth, a lie comes out. Have we forgotten Mitt and Ryan's mendacity?

    So, pass a middle class tax cut and let the Bush cuts expire (raising the taxes of the rich), then address the world of deductions in the richness of time and with higher taxes for the wealthy in place. That may focus the Republicans a bit better.

  • hornblower on November 26, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Many Seniors like myself get SS and Medicare. To tell the truth I don't need the SS. I'm sure there are many Seniors like me. Means testing either or both is a good idea for so-called "entitlement reform". I have no problem raising the deduction for Medicare based on income either.

  • T2 on November 26, 2012 11:30 AM:

    just let the Bush Tax Cuts expire. And NO, Social Security is not an entitlement by the Conservative definition. The GOP looks at it as free money - it's not.
    Workers are taxed automatically and that money is then returned in retirement (simply stated). It is money we earned and we are then entitled to it. The GOP wants to take that away.

  • pontormo on November 26, 2012 11:40 AM:

    Lindsay Graham is a species of protoplasm with just enough brain and brainstem to enable (him?) to stand upright some of the time and perhaps tie his shoes.
    That he accomplishes this without assistance is unknown.

  • Leopold von Ranke on November 26, 2012 11:41 AM:

    This is just rhetoricl blather for "reporters"who seem to be less cognizant of reality than the young man who mows my lawn. Of course, no R will ever increase taxes, though getting rid of some of the "special favors" in the current tax code makes sense.

    With regard to SS and Medicare, I can see a system that allows people who work with their backs and stand all day to retire earlier than those of us who don't. Make it 62 for bricklayers and 75 for lawyers. And, take off the cap on earned income, impose 2-3% on capital gains.

  • bluewave on November 26, 2012 11:43 AM:

    Look, we need some hard progressive pushback, and this is NOT a difficult story to tell. Social Security tax rates were raised in the 80s to prepare for Boomer retirement. The resultant surplus was peed away in the Bush tax cuts (and war), which disproportionately benefited the wealthy. The promise that jobs and growth would be created by those tax cuts. That didn't happen. So the taxes need to go back up on the wealthy, to claw back the stolen surplus. End of story.

    So where's the powerful YouTube video just waiting to go viral, a la "Yes We Can"? There has to be plenty of footage available from the Reagan and Bush years to pull video clips from, not to mention every Sunday morning. show since the dawn of man featuring John McCain and Lindsey Graham. I don't have the knowledge or the talent, but there have to be plenty of young progressives who do-- we need a simple, powerful, narrative that will overwhelm the trad media and shift the discussion, or Social Security and Medicare are toast for those of us under 55.

  • Mimikatz on November 26, 2012 12:08 PM:

    Hornblower: Social Security is already means tested to a degree in that 15% is taxed more highly for higher income people. The best way to recover more is to raise marginal rates and so get a few percent more back from the wealthy. It can further be means tested by capping benefits at the high end as the wage cap is lifted. But turning it into a welfare program by exempting higher income people from benefits would be a disaster. Just look at the difference in attitudes toward Medicare and Medicaid. Glad you support higher taxes, though. That is really the key.

    And raise the dividend and capital gains taxes. Why is investment income privileged over work? That is truly backward. We should exempt the first $25,000 in income from payroll taxes (or income taxes) and raise the wage cap for SS and Medicare.

  • majun on November 26, 2012 12:26 PM:

    "Entitlement reform"? Sure. Let's reform the way we pay for the social safety net. No more caps on the payroll tax. You "earn" a million dollars? You pay payroll tax on a million dollars. And no more limiting the tax to earned income. You have a couple of million dollars in dividend income or capital gains? You pay into SS and Medicare from that income just like if you earned it off the sweat of your brow.

    Maybe allow capital gains from sale of a primary residence to be rolled over in purchasing a new home and up to a million dollars in capital gains from a primary residence to be excluded from income for tax purposes, one time, after age 55.

    How's that for entitlement reform?

  • esaud on November 26, 2012 12:30 PM:

    Brownell - I agree, the perjortive "entitlement" needs to go.

    I would also add "welfare state" to language we should not use. In what alternative universe is the US a "welfare state" when working families need public assistance? The benefits we do hand out have caps (like UE or lifetime limits for welfare) and some require work. When compared to other countries, the US is hardly generous.

    If anything, we could be considered a prison state, in jailing so many people for trivial offences like drug possession. Or a militaty state, since we spend as much as the rest of the world combined.

  • Bob/SoCal on November 26, 2012 12:34 PM:

    OK...Raise taxes on those making $250,000 and more...End the SS payroll deductions at $250,000 for everyone. Those that incur a tax increase when they earn more than $250,000 will get some back when SS payroll deductions cease when they earn over $250,000...

  • MuddyLee on November 26, 2012 2:24 PM:

    To the extent possible tax all income at the same rates - no special deals for dividends and capital gains. And make sure income from from dividends and capital gains gets taxed to some extent for social security and medicare. Higher RATES on higher incomes - that is the only way to solve the problem. The starting point for Democrats should be going back to the Clinton tax rates. Since the Bush tax cuts didn't bring us the promised economic nirvana, it's way past time to discard these policies that just make the rich richer.

  • hornblower on November 26, 2012 7:02 PM:

    Mini, I get what you say about SS but most of us boomers really don't need SS. They do means test it now but I lost $10 last time there was a cost of living increase. Let's get real. Many Americans do not need the SS money so lowering the payout to well fixed seniors should not be a problem. As far as medicare goes many higher income seniors pay a deductable. It can be raised without any harm.