Showdown Fatigue

obama running

White House Photo: Pete Souza

We’re one week away from a massive cut in federal spending — cuts that will hurt millions of lower-income Americans who’ll lose nutrition assistance, housing, and money for their schools, among other things; that will furlough or lay off millions of government employees, reduce inspections of the nation’s meat and poultry and pharmaceuticals and workplaces, eliminate the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people working for government contractors, and, according to Leon Panetta and other military leaders, seriously compromise the nation’s defenses.

Bad enough. If the spending cuts go through next week our fragile economy will slow further, causing more unemployment and misery. When consumers don’t have the money to buy enough to keep the economy moving, and government pulls back this much, businesses can’t justify keeping people on.

Yet the silence is deafening.

Republicans won’t deal. Obama has already cut $1.5 trillion out of the budget but Republicans insist on far more. They want the White House to propose major cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

Meanwhile, the Bush tax cuts have been extended permanently to everyone earning up to $400,000. Only the richest 2 percent have to pay at the rate they did under Bill Clinton, which was far lower than rich paid before 1981. That will generate $600 billion — less than half of the cuts Obama has accepted.

No one in their right mind would call this a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Yet Republican’s won’t even consider raising taxes on the most fortunate members of our society. They won’t limit deductions and loopholes that have driven down the super-rich’s tax rates to single digits (remember Romney’s “carried interest” loophole for private-equity mavens?).

So where’s the outcry? Why aren’t more people up in arms? Why aren’t big businesses (including major military contractors) and Wall Street screaming into the ears of the GOP? Where’s the outrage from Main Street?

I suspect most Americans are suffering showdown fatigue. After all, we got through the debt-ceiling showdown of August 2011 and the fiscal-cliff showdown on January 1, and the world didn’t end. So most people figure Washington will find a way out of this one, too.

Others have bought the Republican-Fox News lies that the deficit is our biggest economic problem, and government spending is to blame. So a massive, abrupt, and indiscriminate cut in spending seems okay.

It’s not okay. It will hurt the most vulnerable members of our society, and much of the middle class.

Yet it would be even worse if Obama and the Democrats were to give in to Republicans, and not demand more from those who have never been wealthier. Inequality is widening again. All the economic gains since the Great Recession have gone to the top. The richest 400 have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans put together.

Why not limit the mortgage interest deduction to $25,000 a year, so the rest of us don’t have to subsidize mansion mortgages? Why not a wealth tax on assets in excess of $5 million to pay for early-childhood education?

Robert ReichWhy not a small tax on financial transactions (as Europe is now instituting) to finance better schools? Why not close the loophole that private-equity and hedge-fund moguls live off of, to finance child nutrition and social services for the poor?

It’s no time for showdown fatigue. It’s time to fight.

Robert Reich

Friday, 23 February 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on February 22, 2013
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About Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine.

Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.