Debt Be Not Proud: Lame Deal Cements Cement Shoes on Energy and Climate Investment for Foreseeable Future

  • At some point, if you want to be a leader then you gotta lead” — President Obama, 7-22-2011
  • No way.  Not gonna happen.  Excuse me, NEVER!” — Tea Party or my 4-year-old daughter (various times)

If we judge by outcomes, then the Tea Party is now leading this country.  The fact that it is leading us under-water is apparently of less interest to the president then his various governance “victories.”

If you look up Pyrrhic Victory in the dictionary, there is a picture of Obama.

We not only have no policy to prevent catastrophic climate change, our “leaders” have stopped talking about the problem and the House is trying to stop anyone from even planning for it.

And what is our economic “policy” in the uber-slow recovery from the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression?  Under Obama’s “leadership,” we have become so obsessed with the national debt that we are actually willing to 1) undermine near-term growth by a spending-cuts-only debt-reduction strategy and 2) undermine long-term growth by enshrining caps on crucial investment programs, including clean energy.

The NY Times story on the deal opens:

The nation’s political leaders agreed on Sunday to spend and invest less money in the American economy, a step that economists said risks the reversal of a faltering recovery, in the hope of improving the nation’s long-term prosperity.

Ezra Klein thinks that reads more like “an Onion piece” than a Times story.  The whole saga reads like an Onion piece.

There is now no longer any question that the single most effective messaging strategy in US politics is precisely the same as the strategy practiced those who have always been the most effective at getting what they want — young children.  Just say what you want over and over and over again and give in to no demand or compromise.  And if you don’t get what you want, escalate!

Of course, at home, my daughter’s strategy can be countered with a number of viable alternatives.  I find distraction still works, but one can simply ignore her if nothing else works.  Ah, but if she pulls the stunt in a nice restaurant in the middle of the meal — or, say, if she simply refuses to extend the debt ceiling until you promise  to give her cupcakes every day for the rest of her life….  But wait, why did you allow her to  have a say in the debt ceiling in the first place?  What were you thinking?

Hmm.  That extended metaphor spun out of control, but I confess that it’s hard to think straight when I try to ponder just what Obama is thinking.  So I won’t.

Instead, here’s Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation, in her WashPost column on “the spectacle of how much Tea Party Republicans will be able to extort for agreeing not to blow up the economy”:

The debt-ceiling debate has lasted long enough for most Americans to start paying attention and to realize just how divorced both parties are from basic common sense. With the economy faltering and 25 million people in need of full-time work, most Americans want Washington focused on how to create jobs and get the economy going, not on slashing spending for the rising number of poor children while sheltering tax havens for millionaires.

Equally inexplicable is the president’s apparent eagerness to negotiate with a legislative faction willing to hold the entire economy hostage — and one prepared to extort concessions in backroom deals that it could not achieve in any normal legislative process. Negotiating with fiscal terrorists only encourages them.

On National Public Radio last week, Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican deputy whip, was giddy about the potential for calamity. Asked if it was a mistake to try to cut spending by threatening the U.S. economy, Cole replied: “No, I don’t think so. Frankly, I think it’s one of the good things that’s come out of this. We’ll never have a debt-ceiling increase again without serious efforts to deal with the long-term spending.”

Whatever the terms of the eventual agreement, we know they will be remarkably cruel. As Robert Greenstein, the respected director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, noted last week that every plan on the table now is far worse — cutting more from programs for the poor, exacting pain on the most vulnerable in our society — than anything Jim DeMint, the most extreme right-wing senator of all, was demanding last year.

The emerging compromise plans cut around $1 trillion over 10 years from programs such as schools, clean water, mass transit, clean energy and public health with no — zero — contributions from the wealthy or corporations through increased taxes or the closing of loopholes.  They set up a congressional super-committee armed with expedited voting powers and with the explicit mandate to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The deal is actually worse than since there is a second round of cuts in discretionary funding that would be triggered if that super committee can’t come to a deal.

Even worse, as I’ve said many times, Obama has accepted the dreadful GOP position that we can only raise the debt ceiling with an accompanying deal that lowers the future debt by the same amount.  Energy and environmental spending are simply not the most sacrosanct elements of nonmilitary discretionary spending.  They just don’t have the same kind of political constituency — or allow the same kind of simple messaging — as, say, medical research or education or  homeland security or  veterans spending.

It is astonishing how out of touch these plans are with what people seek in these tough times. The vast majority of Americans want Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid protected, not cut. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that nearly three-fourths of Americans oppose cuts in Medicare. Majorities reject raising the eligibility age for Medicare or cutting the Social Security inflation rate, two reforms President Obama has apparently embraced. For Americans, the most popular reforms to deal with the deficit are increased taxes on those making more than $250,000 (72 percent), hedge fund operators, and oil and gas companies.

Now after all this triangulated leadership, Obama’s Gallup poll rating hit its lowest level ever last week.  Go figure!

Who could have guessed his ratings would fall when he is not focusing on people’s top priority — jobs — when he is abandoning the investment agenda that progressives elected him to enact and defend, when he is instead spending all his time messaging on a secondary issue, trying to be the last reasonable person in Washington, when what Americans actually want in a president is bold leadership, when he ultimately folds on many of his original core demands even on this secondary issue?

The only thing President Obama has going for him in his reelection now, since he surely won’t have a strong economy, is that presidential elections  are graded on a curve and the GOP is apparently planning to field its third string.  Oops, I mixed my metaphors again.  I gotta stop trying to figure out what the president is thinking….

Still,  every cloud has a silver lining, and this debacle gives me more opportunities for punning headlines:

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