Winning the Moral Fight on the Economy
By Susan Ozawa
September 9, 2011 - 3:11pm ET
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Last night was the big night and some progressives are disappointed, not because of what the President proposed by way of a jobs plan, but by what was not said. And for this, the progressives are partly to blame. They have been what they are stereotyped to be; too focused on new spending. Their reasons for being this way are understandable. Jaded progressives see fighting the defense contractors, big Pharma and Wall Street lobbyists on cuts to the budget as a losing battle, so they’re hoping they’ll lose the fight looking better, asking for something different. Other progressives say, “If you’re going to lose the fight, go out big!” The logic being, the House is so ridiculously deadlocked against doing anything that could be perceived as remotely bipartisan that the left should be doing what the Republicans have done whether or not they’ve been in power—take a hard line on their principles and fight tooth and nail pushing the political discussion further and further in their direction. Obama’s jobs plan was his attempt. I argue that because he only talked about half the proposal it will annoy virtually 100% of the people listening. What was missing was a necessary and direct critique of the budget that we inherited from the defense build-up since W. Bush’s first term and a principled plan for how we should proceed to change that. This was a missed opportunity. But Obama’s team will be putting out a budget plan soon to be proposed to the Congressional Super Committee on the Budget. What it should stress are the following principled positions.
We should be calling for the end of the war in Iraq and military operations in Afghanistan. This should be stressed on moral grounds. Now is certainly the time to put to rest the tautological argument espoused by the Neocons for constant and preemptive US militaristic vigilance against all unchecked powers that might menace the US or Israel and/or commit crimes against humanity. We can finally say, “you want intervention in dangerous, oppressive dictatorships? We have a better model; our intervention in Libya.” God knows it hasn’t been perfect. There have been civilian casualties and now the human rights of Africans in Libya are being violated. However, if we must have an international intervention into an oppressive, violent dictatorship, the protocol for initiating one exists in precedent through the UN. Iraq as a threat or theater to fight terrorism has been debunked. Regarding Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda and other groups identified as at risk of terrorism are presently in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, while more pockets have developed in several other countries. There needs to be international protocol in the international community to address terrorism and horrific dictatorships massacring their own populations. US participation in such multilateral bodies needs to be advanced by the left. Part of Obama’s presidential platform pointed toward a more multi-polar world in which all nations would share responsibility for international affairs. The left should be pushing for that to mean the US must unwind our military operations and presence internationally, significantly and rapidly. The case must be made on moral grounds with a secondary emphasis on how our public debt build-up is directly related to the scaling up of our military operations since 9/11.
The next big ticket item that needs to be addressed is waste, fraud and inefficiency in government spending. How can this be addressed? Have GAO alongside relevant congressional committees perform comprehensive audits of all government spending, direct and indirect for every single department of the federal government. For example, with the example of the Department of Defense, the Senate Commission on Wartime Contracting just released a report finding up to $60 billion of waste in Defense contracting alone. This kind of study should be done for every department and their recommendations should be mandated to be included in the congressional Super Committee’s recommendations on the budget. What are certain to come up in these studies again and again are systemic problems in the government contracting protocol. A nice book on that is Shadow Elite by Janine Wedel which looks at legal mechanisms contributing to this including the role of Federal Advisory Committees and the IDIQ Contracting System, which is a no-bid, ongoing contracting system. Both are particularly pernicious places rife with potential for fraud and abuse, but mostly just waste. These pieces of the contracting system need to be eliminated.
Another huge big-ticket item budget saver would be allowing the government to negotiate prices of pharmaceuticals it covers by reforming Medicare Part D. Dean Baker estimates the savings of doing so at $270 billion a year.
We should not be apologizing for a problematic health care bill but continuing to make the point that we should be striving to evolve to a universal health care, single-payer system in order to negotiate prices more effectively while saving employers a tremendous financial burden and making them more competitive.
Other well-trodden ground for increasing income in the budget include proposals for increased taxes on financial transactions, reimposing the capital gains tax, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, closing loopholes on foreign earnings, and taxing the wealthy à la Buffet.
Once the left lays a stake in the ground on our priorities regarding defense; foreign policy; health care; government waste, fraud and abuse; and fair and effective tax policy, we will have the moral ground to propose whatever we want to stimulate the economy. Until we do so, we will look like out of touch political panderers who do not care about the economy or have any long-term rational plan for the nation as a whole. In order for this to be avoided we need to keep talking about our larger priorities not just popular stimulus measures du jour. Believe me, I have my pet list of stimulus and spending ideas, but until we lay this broader framework out and stand by it we will never win the larger argument about the economy and the confidence of the electorate. But now it’s not just up to Obama, it’s up to everyone one the left to start thinking big on everything, not just jobs in the short-term. Win the bigger argument and everyone wins.
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