fresh voices from the front lines of change







Ruth Marcus fills us in on what constitutes “reasonable” now that the Republicans have proven themselves asses with their government shutdown. And, you guessed it, it’s time for Democrats to compromise and agree to cut “entitlements” in exchange for sequestration relief:

Both sides have an incentive here. For Republicans, it is not only the lure of curtailing entitlement spending but also the fact that defense faces a serious, additional hit in the next round of sequester cuts. For Democrats, the squeeze on discretionary spending may be enough to consider accepting entitlement reforms.

The sticking point, as always, will be raising revenue — that is, the Republicans’ unwillingness to consider it, the Democrats’ refusal to budge without it. This phenomenon has both political and substantive dimensions. Politically, Democratic lawmakers demand revenue as the price for entitlement trims, and it will be difficult to persuade them to relent. Substantively, it is galling for Democrats to consider asking for sacrifices from those in the relative middle while the ultra-wealthy are spared.

Certainly a big budget deal would demand a balanced approach. But why must that be true in the current, more limited context of relieving the sequester’s bite? In this situation, demanding tax revenue equivalent, say, to the defense half of the sequester seems more symbolic than essential.

Some creative revenue thinking is needed. Raise the gas tax (it’s a user fee!) to finance infrastructure spending. Revive the president’s plan for a dedicated funding source (increased tobacco tax) for early childhood education. Consider lifting the income ceiling for Social Security taxes, combined, say, with a change in calculating cost of living adjustments.

Democrats would do well to remember: Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. They are not an end in themselves.

Marcus has been smoking some of that wacky-tobaccy if she thinks the Republicans will sign on to tax hikes for gasoline or cigarettes, no matter what the purpose. (Actually, especially if its purpose is for infrastructure and early childhood education.) And if Democrats agree to cut Social Security (which she euphemistically calls “calculating the cost of living”) there really isn’t any need to lift the income ceiling, so that won’t be happening.

She’s right about one thing though. Taxes are not an end in themselves — so getting a few dollars from some kind of “reform” or temporary tax hike will never be a reasonable exchange for cutting Social Security benefits when they already desperately need to be raised.

Luckily, the leftward institutions are gearing up against this emerging Village wisdom:

With fresh Capitol Hill budget battles on the horizon, the head of the leading labor federation planned to issue a blistering warning to unions’ Democratic allies on Monday, saying the AFL-CIO would “never stop working” to end the political careers of Democrats who cut entitlement programs.

“No politician … I don’t care the political party … will get away with cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits. Don’t try it,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, according to prepared remarks for a speech in Las Vegas, Nev.

According to the draft, which was supplied to HuffPost by the AFL-CIO, Trumka stressed his point for Democrats who may be wobbly on the issue.

“This warning goes double for Democrats,” he said. “We will never forget. We will never forgive. And we will never stop working to end your career.”

The AFL-CIO has long opposed any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, and the labor federation has suggested in the past that it would consider pulling support from Democrats who help make those cuts happen. But Trumka’s remarks on the issue Monday amounted to a far more aggressive threat: That the AFL-CIO would actively use its war chest to unseat Democrats on the other side of the issue.

An AFL-CIO spokesperson clarified for HuffPost that the federation still considers so-called “chained CPI” to be part of the off-limits cuts to which Trumka was referring. A chained CPI inflation index would alter the way cost-of-living adjustments are made for Social Security recipients, slowing increases and reducing the benefits for seniors and the disabled. Many Democrats have shown an openness toward chained CPI, and the measure was included in President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget, where it was paired with extra money for the elderly and poor.

These people aren’t doing this because they think it’s fun. They’re doing it because they can see all these Democrats going on TV since the government shutdown talking about the need to cut “entitlements.” They’re smart enough to know that it isn’t wise to assume they don’t mean what they are saying.

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