Does Obama Need the Wind at His Back?

obama ithaca

President Obama in Ithaca, New York. (Offical White House photo: Pete Souza)

First the good news: The latest New York Times/CBS News found that most people are familiar with the American Jobs Act, President Obama’s $447 billion proposal to create jobs. According to the Times, “Almost half of the public is confident the plan would create jobs and improve the economy. A substantial majority of Americans support the main proposals aimed at creating jobs, including tax cuts for small businesses, improvements in the nation’s infrastructure and payroll tax cuts for working Americans.”

And, most people “strongly support his position that creating jobs should be a higher priority than cutting spending.”

Some more good news: Citing what it called one of “a few promising signs for Mr. Obama,” Times/CBS poll indicates, “Americans strongly support his position that creating jobs should be a higher priority than cutting spending. Democrats and independents agree on that view, while Republicans do not. And across party lines, Americans support his position that a deficit-reduction plan should include a mix of tax increases and spending cuts.” Polling also indicates that most liberals and independents support compelling the very wealthy to start paying their “fair share” of taxes, meaning their rate should be the same or higher than that of working people. A recent CBS/New York Times survey had 63 percent of respondents favoring increasing taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year.

That should be enough. President Obama is proposing something that most people want, and think will do some good, amid the current economic crisis. Congress should heed his injunction to pass the measure right away with little alteration or amendment. It’s the democratic will, you say?

Yeah, except there a problem. The same poll found skepticism that the President’s handling of the economy is effective and 75 percent of those questioned have serious doubts Congress will step up to the plate. While most aren’t encouraged by Obama’s economic measures thus far they have pretty much given up on Congress altogether. Less than one in five looks with favor on the Republicans on the matter.

Still and all, under the circumstance one might think the President would have the wind at his back and would be able to get something enacted that would at least begin to tackle the unemployment crisis.

The Balance Sheet, the daily commentary from The American Prospect magazine, said of the President’s $3 trillion deficit-reduction plan that “instead of just slashing spending, this time he’s doing it the progressive way.”

“One of the proposal’s signature initiatives is the “Buffett Rule,” which would raise taxes on Americans making over $1 million,” it went on, “The White House will also propose closing tax loopholes for corporations, and paring back tax deductions for all Americans. Overall, the plan would raise taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. But there are more progressive goodies in the bag: Obama was expected to raise the Medicare retirement age from 65 to 67. Instead, he is expected to propose cuts to Medicare providers – not beneficiaries. To top it off, Obama has threatened to veto a plan that consists only of entitlement cuts without new taxes.

“This is good politics and policy. On the policy front, tax increases on the wealthy will help to roll back one of the major causes of our deficit problem: the Bush Tax Cuts. Politically, the plan will put Republicans in the position of either working with the president or, more likely, trying to argue that cutting Medicare benefits rather than taxing millionaires is the best way to reduce the deficit.”

“The American political discussion has finally turned to the right target: jobs,” wrote columnist Charles Blow in the Times September 17. “Even so, the president’s jobs bill is already being nickeled and dimed from the right – and the left – even though it is only throwing nickels and dimes at the problem to begin with. But at least it’s a start, even if a long-overdue one.”

Actually, the right-wingers aren’t just snipping at the President’s proposal; they are pretty much flat out against it. They oppose anything Obama proposes. It’s hard for some people to accept (who wants to be cynical) but they don’t want the economy to improve before next year’s Presidential election. That’s why they keep talking about things off in the future that evade the current situation. Or, they use the moment of economic insecurity as an excuse to press forward their pet projects: lessening health, safety and environmental standards, continuing to let the very wealthy off the hook tax wise and undermining such things as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

New York Times former editor Bill Keller was heard from this week complaining that liberals are subjecting the President to “a lot of carping.” “Obama’s deal to continue the Bush tax cuts, his surrender of a public option on health care, his refusal to call the Republicans’ bluff on the debt ceiling rather than swallow budget cuts – these and other compromises amount, in the eyes of the Democratic left, to crimes of appeasement,” he wrote. That’s just overstating the case. Besides, Obama didn’t have to cave on the public option and if he hadn’t, things would be quite different today. But Keller is right about one thing with regards to the liberals and the left: the President “needs their energy if he is to keep his office and have any allies left in Congress.”

Hailing Obama’s emphasis on jobs, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka Monday called on Congress to, “immediately pass the President’s proposal for job-creating investments, to ask the wealthy to start paying their fair share, to focus on the true causes of our long-term deficits, to reject any cuts to Medicaid or Social Security or Medicare benefits, and to stop scapegoating federal and postal employees and retirees for problems they did not cause.” On Monday, the labor organization said, “Thanks to President Obama, our national conversation is moving in the right direction. With the release of the American Jobs Act—and today’s speech – he has come forward with important steps to start addressing our jobs crisis. Now, it’s our job to demand action.” From what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from fellow leftists, that pretty much describes the reaction to the President’s jobs and deficit taming proposals from the left side of the parliamentary aisle.

“We are gratified that the President is returning America’s focus to job creation and a fair tax rate for millionaires,” said Nancy Altman, co-chair of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, over the weekend. “We thank the President for leaving alone Social Security, a program that, by law, cannot add to the deficit and so has no place in deficit discussions. We also thank the president for recognizing that raising Medicare’s age of eligibility from 65 to 67 simply shifts costs to the nation’s seniors who have not caused the deficit. We hope that any final plan would include zero reductions in Medicare benefits now or in the future.”

“With today’s deficit-reduction plan the President is aligning himself with the American people,” said Eric Kingson, co-director of Social Security Works. “The President, like Americans all across the country, wants to restore economic security for America’s families by getting people back to work. He has shown that he is listening to the people on Social Security and the Medicare eligibility age.”

On cue, as soon as the President unveiled his deficit reduction and tax plan, the rightwing voices began to scream in unison about supposed, “class warfare. Somehow, in their minds, telling the needy, the handicapped and the retired to make do with less in the way of Social Security, Medicare and Welfare unfairly targets no one, while taxing the very well to do is “Class Warfare.”

The President has apparently done one thing that will firm up support at his “base”: He’s stopped making threats to curtail Medicare. Hopefully, he’s put a stop to Republicans running around quoting him to the effect that it and Social Security are the biggest drivers of the federal deficit. That honor goes to the Bush tax cuts, most of the various wars in which the country is involved, and healthcare costs. New York Times Columnist Charles Blow reported last week that a recent Rand Corporation study found that “between 1999 and 2009, total spending on health care in the United States nearly doubled, from $1.3 trillion to $2.5 trillion. During the same period, the percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product devoted to health care climbed from 13.8 percent to 17.6 percent. Per person health care spending grew from $4,600 to just over $8,000 annually.” That’s not the result of Medicare; it’s a reflection of avarice on the part of the medical and hospital industries (surpassing the costs in all other industrialized countries). It will not be brought under control by limiting seniors’ access to Medicare.

And now? “President Obama’s new jobs plan is a step in the right direction, while some board members of the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England — though not, sad to say, the European Central Bank — have been calling for much more growth-oriented policies,” economist Paul Krugman wrote Monday. “What we really need, however, is to convince a substantial number of people with political power or influence that they’ve spent the last year and a half going in exactly the wrong direction, and that they need to make a U-turn.

“It’s not going to be easy. But until that U-turn happens, the bleeding — which is making our economy weaker now, and undermining its future at the same time — will continue.”

Of course, it ain’t over ‘till it’s over. But I go along with Fire Dog Lake’s view:

Carl Bloice“The social safety net is off the chopping block for now.” And that’s real good. And, the bulk of the credit is due to the “tireless efforts” of political activists, and everyday people in defense of the social safety net…”

Resistance and advocacy work.

“Our pledge warned politicians from the beginning that they couldn’t cut benefits and expect to survive politically,” says FDL. “The Wall Street-owned, austerity-crazed Congress will still try to push for benefit cuts, but it will be much more difficult to accomplish without the President out in front supporting them.”

Carl Bloice
The Black Commentator

Published by the LA Progressive on September 23, 2011
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About Carl Bloice

Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.