BUDGET POKER A DOG

Man, that was ugly. Watching Obama, for whom I have a great deal of fondness and admiration, and Democratic legislators negotiate with Republicans is one of the more unappealing activities in which an individual will ever have the sad fortune to engage. Tactically, what they do is something akin to Bizarro World haggling whereby one surrenders at the very outset and then “negotiates” to get back as much of what was given away as possible.

Obama threw in the towel at the start on Republicans’ principal claim, which was that the current deficit is a “crisis,” and that spending must be reduced massively right away. Call me insensitive, but personally I might have questioned Republicans’ sincerity over the claim the deficit is in fact a crisis by pointing out that Republicans created, and did so rather insouciantly, the deficit they now proclaim a red ball crisis.

Unpaid tax cuts and wars created the current deficit. And three factors: health costs, continuing tax cuts and revenue lost as the result of the recession are the principal drivers of deficits now. Universal health care would be the most effective suppressor of health costs, which affect both private insurance costs and costs to Medicare. But of course universal care is an idea currently DOA in these United States, Republicans too ideologically around the bend to consider it; Obama and many Democrats too shy to ask for, much less demand it. Terminating the Bush tax giveaways to the wealthiest could score a ton of money right away of course. But a two year extension was just agreed to by Obama and the Democrats. Que sera, sera.

So Republicans’ hammy agonizing over spending and deficits is more small town dinner theater with the goal of chopping at the safety net so ideologically repugnant to them. Watching them work the Democrats is akin to watching an abusive relationship, which technically perhaps, it is.

In the meantime, cutting spending at such a tender time for the economic recovery could not be more economically unsound and ill-advised. The mere prospect of a closed for business government caused a drop in the value of the dollar Friday, and spurred a 2.3% rise in the cost of oil, meaning Republicans’ extortion already has exacted an economic pound of flesh. Obama’s re-election will depend more than on any other one thing on the state of the economy in the coming year, And this 38 billion reduction in spending can only hurt. It’s the proverbial win-win for the Republicans, natch.

Obama is an intelligent man, and perhaps unbeknownst to the rest of us he and his advisers have made the decision that Obama, the bi-partisan conciliator, is the only Obama capable of taking the swing votes necessary to ensure his re-election. Perhaps then, in a second term he intends a harder push against the conservative status quo, and a stronger rhetorical assertion of the values and historical achievements and current necessity of progressive ideas. Perhaps.

But preserving an identity as a president who always finds the center strikes me not only as an essentially empty role, but an alarming one. In effect, it means no matter how extreme the position staked out by the opposition he must meet them halfway. In other words, the mid-point between an idea that is completely insane and one that is sane is an idea that is half-insane. I don’t see that as a healthy prescription for an improving country. Given the steady diet of delusional proposals and lunatic ideology coming out of Republicans regularly, anxiety may be the better part of wisdom. I suppose if Republicans propose roasting the homeless everyday of the week in incinerators, the sensible middle would be to roast them only half the week.

The Republicans’ propeller hat base screamed for a 61 billion dollar spending cut. Boehner offered 31 and Obama accepted readily. Boehner withdrew it and made another. Obama accepted again. Boehner said, “just kidding,” and came back again for cuts. So It ends up a 38 billion cut for the remaining six months of the fiscal year (a whopping 76 billion calculated annually). No revenue is being raised, so the tax cuts for the wealthy remain in place, the wealthiest sacrificing nada in this period of ostensible sacrifice we’re told. Not so much as a discouraging word was uttered about defense, much less a reduction of any kind.

Add as always, from what we’ve heard already of the Big Deal, it’s programs for the poor and middle class that will take the hit: Pell grants for college students, desperately-needed, job-producing improvements in infrastructure; health assistance to the poor.

There isn’t much to celebrate here, so instead of popping champagne, I’ll have a nice tepid glass of water.

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