fresh voices from the front lines of change







… because if he were we could dismiss him as a typical stupid hippie to whom nobody should ever pay attention (particularly when sharp analysts like Newt Gingrich and George Will exist.) But now that people who the mainstream media can respect, like Tim Kaine, are saying it, now it’s respectable:

The two parties are miles apart on how to cut the deficit and national debt: Republicans want to slash spending even more. Democrats want to raise revenue.

And then there are the other Democrats — the ones who reject the entire premise of the current high-stakes fiscal fight. There’s no short-term deficit problem, they say, and there isn’t even an urgent debt crisis that requires immediate attention. This group could make it even harder for President Barack Obama to strike a grand bargain because they increasingly see no immediate need for either new spending cuts or significantly more revenue, both of which they say could further slow the economy.

These Democrats and their intellectual allies once occupied the political fringes, pushed aside by more moderate members who supported both immediate spending cuts and long-term entitlement reforms along with higher taxes.

But aided by a pile of recent data suggesting the deficit is already shrinking significantly and current spending cuts are slowing the economy, more Democrats such as Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen are coming around to the point of view that fiscal austerity, in all its forms, is more the problem than the solution.

This group got a huge boost this month with the very public demolition of a sacred text of the austerity movement, the 2010 paper by a pair of Harvard professors arguing that once debt exceeds 90 percent of a country’s gross domestic product, it crushes economic growth.

Turns out that’s not what the research really showed. The original findings were skewed by a spreadsheet error, among other mistakes, and it’s helping shift the manner in which even middle-of-the-road Democrats talk about debt and deficits.

“Trying to just land on the debt too quickly would really harm the economy; I’m convinced of that,” Kaine, hardly a wild-eyed liberal, said in an interview. “Jobs and growth should be No. 1. Economic growth is the best anti-deficit strategy.”

No kidding.

Look, I’m happy that some of the Democrats are finally beginning to see the obvious. It’s been a long haul. Unfortunately, we’ve already slashed the hell out of government for the past four years because nobody wanted to be seen as a hippie. But better late than never. What this does is give the Democrats in congress the ability to beat back the Grand Bargain and, if we’re lucky, maybe be just a little bit bolder on the sequester. Or bold enough to at least, cut some deals with Republicans instead of just agreeing to reinstate the funding for items that Republicans value. (You know — we’ll reinstate the FAA if you agree to reinstate cancer treatments or something like that …)

Anyway, this return to the “reality based community” is long overdue. And very welcome.

Update: Oh hey, it seems to be “hippies were right” day at Politico (Not that anyone will admit it, mind you.)

Democrats have used a clear and potent attack against Republicans in recent elections: Don’t vote for them because they’ll cut your Social Security and Medicare.

But using that playbook next year, as Democrats had planned, just got a lot more complicated.

President Barack Obama blurred the lines this month when he embraced entitlement cuts of his own as part of his budget plan. And Democrats now fear their leader’s tack to the center could blunt one of their sharpest weapons in the battle for the House of Representatives next year.

The concern is that Republicans will have a ready retort — your own president proposed entitlement cuts — and force Democrats on the defensive. The issue is critical to senior voters, who turn out in disproportionately large numbers in midterm elections.

“I think it does make it more difficult for Democrats in the next election,” said Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan, who occupies a swing district in Minnesota. “I would think that Republicans will say this cycle that if you want your Medicare and Social Security cut, that’s what Obama wants to do. … And I imagine that’s what Republicans will campaign on.”

The president’s shift came after an election year in which Democrats made the GOP’s embrace of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial plan to overhaul Medicare a centerpiece of their campaigns. The offensive, Democrats say, helped them net eight House seats — a respectable figure but short of the 25 they needed to seize the lower chamber.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Bill Burton, a strategist for the Democratic public affairs firm Global Strategy Group and a former deputy White House press secretary for Obama, said in an email “there is no doubt that Karl Rove and his allies will spend millions of dollars lying about what the President’s budget means in terms of the economic health of our country. What we don’t know is just how much Democratic donors are going to stand up to those lies.”

While Obama would love for his party to win the House — he has said he would do everything in his power to help Democrats take the speaker’s gavel from John Boehner — his budget highlighted tensions with congressional Democrats. The president has said he wants to reach a grand bargain with Republicans to tame the nation’s $16 trillion debt. And getting there, Obama signaled with his budget, requires taking a whack at entitlements.

“The White House is more concerned about his legacy,” said Paul Maslin, a longtime Democratic pollster. “It’s the classic dilemma of the second-term incumbent.”
In the days since Obama released his budget, many of the Democrats who have been quickest to distance themselves from his blueprint are those from senior-heavy districts. California Rep. Raul Ruiz, a freshman Democrat who represents a Palm Springs-area district where seniors compose about half of all registered voters, said “putting the burden of the national deficit on the backs of our seniors is wrong.”

Democrats are even concerned that Republicans could reverse the dynamic and portray Democrats as the bad guys on entitlements.

In an interview with CNN after Obama unveiled his budget earlier this month, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon called the plan “a shocking attack on seniors.”

“I’ll tell you when you’re going after seniors the way he’s already done on Obamacare, taken $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare and now coming back at seniors again, I think you’re crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine certainly and around the country,” he said.

Walden’s remarks drew criticism from some in the GOP, which has come out in favor of chained CPI as a way of reducing the deficit. But the NRCC chairman’s point was made: Republicans had been given a free opportunity to hit back on entitlements, long a Democratic trump card.

Brock McCleary, a GOP pollster and former NRCC deputy political director, said Republicans couldn’t expect to gain an advantage on who’s most likely to defend programs but could try to fight the issue to a draw.

“The president has very clearly shown the way for how Republicans can keep voters in the lurch about which party is going to protect entitlements,” he said.

Indeed. But Democrats in congress have not taken any votes on this and if they’re lucky they won’t have to. I’m fairly sure that won’t stop the wingnut millionaires for tarring them with this absurd proposal anyway, but at least they won’t have to defend it.

If House members want to be very sure to end up on the right side of this one in 2014, they should all sign the Grayson-Takano letter. (And so should you …)

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