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December 10, 2012

Obama's Untenable Position on Taxes, Growth

In the WSJ, Kimberly Strassel puts forth an amusing suggestion that the Editorial Staff has already stated its support for:

To read the current fiscal-cliff coverage, President Obama holds the upper hand and is poised for the "victory" of winning an increase in the top two tax rates.

So successful has the White House been in defining this fight, few have stopped to consider how paltry that victory is likely to be. For a short-term win on this ideological issue, President Obama may well cede most everything else.

Let us assume that Mr. Obama is correct in his bet that the GOP will prove more responsible than he is and won't cliff-dive. The president's recent baiting of Republicans—his unreasonable offers, his public campaign to belittle them, his refusal to negotiate—has not put them in a generous mood. If Republicans have to fold on the top tax rates, it's a decent bet they will do only that—and nothing more.

If the pundits are correct, the President's entire "plan" for raising revenue and righting the economy amounts to proposing something even his own party is unlikely to swallow: tax hikes for the top 2 income brackets (that won't raise the revenue they need) with no matching cuts in spending. Now that it's safe to point out the flaws in Obama's position, even the NY Times is starting to complain that the President's math doesn't add up:

Even if Republicans were to agree to Mr. Obama’s core demand — that the top marginal income rates return to the Clinton-era levels of 36 percent and 39.6 percent after Dec. 31, rather than stay at the Bush-era rates of 33 percent and 35 percent — the additional revenue would be only about a quarter of the $1.6 trillion that Mr. Obama wants to collect over 10 years. That would be about half of the $800 billion that Republicans have said they would be willing to raise.

We know that raising marginal tax rates on top earners will NOT raise the revenue Obama is promising. But there's another problem that doesn't bode well for the Democrats' future electoral chances. When the new ObamaCare taxes kick in, families who earn over $250,000 will see their tax rates go up even more:

Under the healthcare law adopted in March, the Medicare tax will rise that year, from 2.9 to 3.8 percent. Also, a new 3.8 percent tax, called the Unearned Income Medicare Contribution (UIMC), will be imposed on high-income taxpayers’ interest income and most of their pass-through business income that’s not subject to Medicare tax. So, under the president’s proposal, virtually all of top earners’ ordinary income will be taxed at 44.6 percent, starting in 2013. We’re not just going back to the Clinton-era rates of 40.8 and 43.7 percent.

A similar pattern holds for capital gains. Under the president’s plan, in 2011 and 2012, the top rate on gains, now 15 percent, will go to 20 percent, with the stealth provision adding 1.2 percentage points, sending the tax back to its 1997–2002 level of 21.2 percent. Starting in 2013, though, capital gains will also be hit by the UIMC, pushing the rate to 25.0 percent.

How will these families react? Let's look at one family - the one residing at Villa Cassandranita. Our combined income is over $250K. We are very comfortable, but hardly wealthy. Because we both work and have no child labor units infesting our domicile, we hired two enterprising Latina women (one of whom started her own business and is going back to school at night) to clean our house. We also pay for a yard service staffed by Latino men to mow and edge our lawn once a week. Remembering how grateful she was for the opportunity to earn money performing the very same jobs during the early years of her marriage, the blog princess remains blissfully free of racial or class guilt about this arrangement. This weekend, after reading an article about how this generation of retirees isn't divesting itself of debt in anticipation of living on a fixed retirement income, we had a discussion about the effect of this administration's tax and economic policies on our current work and lifestyle choices.

The conclusion was hard to escape - the Obama administration's tax policies amount to a punitive tax on my earnings (the "marginal" portion of our joint income). Once one factors in the extra money we spend on travel and personal services associated with my job, it's doubtful whether it makes economic sense for the blog princess to work.

There's a palpable irony here. During her years as a stay at home wife and mother with no college degree, the blog princess worked at mostly menial jobs (child care, lawn care, small repairs and painting) for pocket money. My earnings, though meager, yielded just enough extra money to fund DITY home improvement projects and a few small luxuries we would not otherwise be able to afford. Most weeks, she worked 25 hours or less.

Now, with a college degree and 14 years of continuous FT work experience, her earnings have multipled by a factor or 40 or 50 and yet, the Obama administration's policies bid fair to make working 50+ hour weeks no more profitable than it was to work fewer than 25 hours a week at a salary 40+ times smaller.

If this administration had purposely designed its economic policy to inflict maximum damage on women who aspire to move up the economic ladder through education and hard work, it could not possibly have done better. WAR ON WOMYNS!!11!

To add to the hilarity, the decision to stop working would mean less work for the Hispanic men and women we have been able to employ with my earnings.

One of the hardest lessons we learned as parents is that sometimes, the best way to drive home a point with our sons was to let them try whatever bone headed scheme they were hell bent on advancing. In our more mean spirited moments, we snidely ponder administering a similar object lesson to the Democrats. Stop arguing that their policies won't work and allow the same buyer's remorse that followed the passage of ObamaCare to do the work for us.

Discuss amongst your ownselves, knuckle draggers :p

Update: more grist for the discussion mill:

Even 39 percent of Republicans support raising taxes on households making more than $250,000. Independents favor such a move by 21 percentage points, 59 to 38 percent. Only 38 percent buy the GOP argument that raising taxes on households earning over $250,000 per year will have a negative impact on the economy. Fifty-eight percent do not.

In this post, I've argued that raising taxes on households making over $250K will negatively impact the economy (and moreover, it is likely to hurt lower income workers far more than it will hurt higher income workers).

Again, how do we change minds on this issue? We also found this rather amusing:

Since the era of Ronald Reagan, women have traditionally been more open to cutting defense spending than men. This has changed in recent years, and now women take a harder line than men on the military budget. While 41 percent of men favor making significant defense cuts and 56 percent oppose them, only 34 percent of women favor cuts and 62 percent oppose them. That’s a 15-point spread. Women believe the world is more dangerous, Democratic pollster Lake explained, and they see cutting the military budget as harmful to the troops.

There's a joke in there, somewhere. Fortunately our high principles prevent us from making it.

Posted by Cassandra at December 10, 2012 04:31 AM

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Comments

The problem with the "let them own it" approach is that they will blame Bush because this started after the real estate crash caused by the Dem Senate's refusal to follow Bush's suggestions for mortgage reform.

I managed my debt. I own a unicyle and a jock strap for when I ride the unicyle away from Key West's beaches, and both are paid for. I am prepared for the Obama economy.

Posted by: man riding unicycle naked at December 10, 2012 09:35 AM

You're assuming, of course, that they're unaware that their policies will change people's behavior. I'm normally of the camp "do not attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." But in this case, how can they NOT see that people will change their behaviors to avoid economic losses? As you say, you'll quit working, and drop below that magic $250k threshold. So instead of paying at the current rate (and paying far more in taxes), you'll pay on less money at a lower rate (thus providing less tax revenue). Now, admittedly not everyone will do so. Some small business owners don't have the option to drop below without closing their business. And those are the people who will be hurt by this. But the most wealthy will just do what Warren Buffet does and give himself an "income" of $1 a year or some such and only pay capital gains and no income tax, thus avoiding the rates meant for "the very richest".

Posted by: MikeD at December 10, 2012 10:14 AM

One of the rationales to *not* economize during WWI was because of others who worked as service providers, be it cooks, gardeners, chauffers, etc.

One small irony is that one of the houses we lived in (a lovely Spanish Craftsman bungalow) was built in 1929, the year of the crash. It had a separate servant's qaurters.

Just 12 years later, the servants were gone, and a renovation added a living room, kitchen, bath, and bedroom to help pay expenses.

That was one of the nerdy geeky things I did as a teenager...was studied the houses we lived in.

Posted by: Cricket at December 10, 2012 10:17 AM

We can't afford to let the Democrats experiment any further. It isn't just a question of reducing spending; it is paying WHO and WHAT we owe.

Posted by: Cricket at December 10, 2012 10:18 AM

Well, if it's any consolation, things under the Obama administration look considerably worse from my family's perspective. This last year has been the worst one I've ever seen. Things are really brutal for almost everyone I know who isn't retired, and thus has (for now at least) some guaranteed income. Even people with jobs are seeing their hours cut, their pay cut, or being let go entirely.

And that comes down to Obamacare, regime instability for job creators, and the complete failure of the administration and Congress to come together and do their basic duty of crafting a workable budget. It's amazing how much damage Washington can do without even trying.

Posted by: Grim at December 10, 2012 10:44 AM

You're assuming, of course, that they're unaware that their policies will change people's behavior. I'm normally of the camp "do not attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." But in this case, how can they NOT see that people will change their behaviors to avoid economic losses? As you say, you'll quit working, and drop below that magic $250k threshold. So instead of paying at the current rate (and paying far more in taxes), you'll pay on less money at a lower rate (thus providing less tax revenue). Now, admittedly not everyone will do so. Some small business owners don't have the option to drop below without closing their business. And those are the people who will be hurt by this. But the most wealthy will just do what Warren Buffet does and give himself an "income" of $1 a year or some such and only pay capital gains and no income tax, thus avoiding the rates meant for "the very richest".

I think it's entirely possible (as with some conservative pundits) that their ideology blinds them to the way the real world operates.

Let me ask you all a question: what do you think would happen if the President won this contest (i.e., he got an increase in the marginal tax rates that everyone agrees won't even come CLOSE to closing the revenue gap with NO spending cuts)?

Posted by: Cass at December 10, 2012 11:01 AM

Even people with jobs are seeing their hours cut, their pay cut, or being let go entirely.

Bingo. And do you expect that trend to get better, or worse if taxes on the top two income brackets go up?

Posted by: Cass at December 10, 2012 11:02 AM

It depends, Cass, on whether the deal has the frame of being a long-term arrangement. People who are skilled at making money and who have access to capital can make money even in a bad environment, as long as it's a stable environment. Government agencies whose budgets get cut can at least plan for the money they still have. But if you have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow, neither industry nor government can really engage with the economy in a meaningful way.

So in terms of damage to the economy, I think it's the instability more than anything else. But higher taxes on the rich will hurt those of my friends who are small business-people, because it will mean cutbacks among their customer base -- the last group of people in America who still have money to spend. Your contractors are in that boat, for sure.

Posted by: Grim at December 10, 2012 11:22 AM

Not that it isn't hard being a small businessman anyway, right now. A buddy of mine is talking seriously about closing his shop entirely, and just doing internet-only sales and cash sales out of his house. Between the spiking regulations, increased taxes, and new Obamacare rules coming to bear on his employees, it just may not be possible to make a living anymore.

Posted by: Grim at December 10, 2012 11:29 AM

It'll get worse.

But it'll be blamed on Obstructionist Republicans™ who hampered the Great and Noble Democrats™ with policies that were too little, too late, to stave off the economic crisis caused by Bush and his Fat Cat Cronies on Wall Street who were too busy making obscene profits off the backs of the poor and middle class to protect the economy from the Robber Barons.

If your policies fail, just do them bigger and harder.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 10, 2012 11:38 AM

...higher taxes on the rich will hurt those of my friends who are small business-people, because it will mean cutbacks among their customer base -- the last group of people in America who still have money to spend. Your contractors are in that boat, for sure.

Yep. And local businesses. One of the things we do now that we couldn't afford to do before was make a concerted effort to patronize local businesses even if their prices are higher.

For most of our marriage we never ate dinner out. We do so now for two reasons:

1. We can afford to.
2. We want to support local businesses and the local economy.

I picked up my husband's dry cleaning this morning. If I stopped working, there's no way I would send his shirts out to be cleaned. I starched and ironed his utilities for decades b/c we did the math and every 4th or 5th time you paid to have it done, you could have bought a new uniform item. It just didn't make economic sense.

Obviously I do not want to have our taxes go up.

And just as obviously, I don't want to see local businesses suffer.

But at some point you have to ask yourself, "When rethugs have argued and argued and argued, "DON'T DO X -- IF YOU DO, Y WILL HAPPEN" and the majority of voters keep voting for X...

Maybe it's time for a change of tactics.

Here's the other thing: I don't think Obama actually WANTS what he's demanding. His demands are calculated political theater, designed to make it easy to blame conservatives. But if he gets exactly what he asked for, it's going to be pretty damned obvious that it is his policies, and not conservative obstructionism or conservative policies that are to blame.

My suggestion is partially facetious, but I do think it deserves some thought.

Posted by: Cass at December 10, 2012 11:44 AM

Yu-Ain:

I agree he'll try to blame Bush. I just think that excuse is so threadbare that even his supporters are tiring of it.

Posted by: Cass at December 10, 2012 11:45 AM

After all, California is going bankrupt and Dems out there aren't exactly saying to themselves, "Oh crap, *we* caused this!"

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 10, 2012 11:46 AM

I don't think things have reached critical mass yet, though.

I'm far from sure I know what will happen either, FWIW :p

Posted by: Cass at December 10, 2012 11:55 AM

I don't think Obama actually WANTS what he's demanding.

Oh, I absolutely do. I don't think Obama cares what effect it would have on the economy. Obama simple wants to embarrass the Republican party in front of it's base. He wants to do it so badly he'll sacrifice half of the revenue the Republicans have offered and three-quarters of the revenue he says he wants, to get the optics of Republicans raising tax rates.

Obama won, not on his economic stewardship, but because the party base couldn't be bothered to show up.

"The only difference between Obama and Romney is velocity. They both want to go the same direction."
"The only difference between Obama and Romney is that Romney is 1/2 less black."
"I hope the Republicans lose by margin of Libertarian"

I cannot tell you how often I heard this in the run-up to the election. And given that Obama won with less votes than McCain got in '08 seems to bear it out.

He is betting that if the R's cave on this, the base will increasingly see the Party as Democrat Lite and simply refuse to show up. Even when the economy continues to tank.

After all, we've done it once already.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 10, 2012 12:14 PM

Obama won, not on his economic stewardship, but because the party base couldn't be bothered to show up.

And yet spineless, mealy-mouthed no good RINOs like yours truly *did* :p

Which just shows to go ya. I have no sympathy for folks who refuse to show up. You want to win, you have to dress for the game.

Posted by: 99% of success is just showing up at December 10, 2012 12:25 PM

Obama simple wants to embarrass the Republican party in front of it's base. He wants to do it so badly he'll sacrifice half of the revenue the Republicans have offered and three-quarters of the revenue he says he wants, to get the optics of Republicans raising tax rates.

...and loses the optics (which he has relied upon for over 4 years) of being able to say, "My hands are tied b/c those obstructionist do-nothing rethugs keep blocking my policies".

The entire trick DEPENDS on republicans doing what he hopes they'll do. Personally I think the outome will be bad regardless of whether a deal is struck or not because we won't get enough cuts to balance out the ADDITIONAL programs Obama is proposing *or* enough revenue to make a difference.

Even the Dems know taxes are going up on the middle class. They have to.

Posted by: 99% of success is just showing up at December 10, 2012 12:28 PM

And yet spineless, mealy-mouthed no good RINOs like yours truly *did* :p

Romney won the "squish" vote by a huge margin. :-)

But the right half of the righties, who are generally thought of as having no where else to go, decided "no where" was a better place to be.

This will get worse if the Rs cave.

The optics of "my hands were tied" would no longer matter. Not enough of the base would bother to show up. And I don't see Dems defecting, pretty much no matter how bad it gets.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 10, 2012 01:03 PM

BTW, if I thought the base could be reliably counted on to show up, I'd be all for it. I'm not above saying I told you so.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 10, 2012 01:18 PM

given that Obama won with less votes than McCain got in '08 seems to bear it out.

I don't think it does. People keep saying that conservative candidates will win elections but they can't seem to point to very many. If that were true (put forth sufficiently conservative ideas and true conservatives will show up in sufficient numbers to assure victory), where's the evidence?

As far as I can tell, it was actually the more moderate Rethugs who won elections this year. If the 'base won't turn out for moderates' theory were true, it should have been the other way around.

If the base can't be counted upon to show up, what good are they? There's no way that Obama isn't worse for this country than Romney would have been.

You have often derided allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good, but that's exactly what "the base" is doing when they stay home and allow a defeatable candidate like Obama to waltz into office for another 4 years.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 10, 2012 02:22 PM

(1)If the base can't be counted upon to show up, what good are they? (2)There's no way that Obama isn't worse for this country than Romney would have been.

Absolutely, but when pointing this out the responses I get back to (2) are of the type "whether you fall off the Empire state building at 9.8m/s/s or 4.9m/s/s, you are still just as dead at the bottom." and for (1) are "Voting for falling at 4.9m/s/s just encourages more politicians to jump". To them the "Party Faithful" are the problem by sanctioning anything and everything so long as there is an R attached to it.

The idea that Time = Opportunity to improve is lost.


As far as I can tell, it was actually the more moderate Rethugs who won elections this year. If the 'base won't turn out for moderates' theory were true, it should have been the other way around.

House elections have their own idiosyncracies, such as gerrymandering and local pork that don't easily translate to national elections (or even the Senate).

In any case, you're gonna have a hard time convincing me that Romney was too right wing. Like I said, Independents voted for him by a wide margin. If you can thrash your opponent in the "mushy middle" and still lose, the only place it can come from is your base.

As we found out with Ross Perot, the disaffected base can't win you an election, but they sure can cost you one.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 10, 2012 03:31 PM

My cunning plan: I simply don't patronize local businesses owned by known Democrats anymore. For starters, one acquaintance is the owner of a small watch repair shop who's a frothing-at-the-mouth Donk. I used to take vintage watches to him for restoration, but no more. Given the declining demand for watch repairs these days, he'll be closing up shop sooner rather than later anyway. Another acquaintance, who's a die-hard ObamaCare supporter, runs an optician shop, which I'll never enter again. I reckon she'll be going into cardiac arrest next year when she gets her tax bill. Karma, baby, karma.

Folks in Washington are clearly living in an alternate universe when they're saying we've turned the corner on the economy. For starters, the one remaining camera supply store in my town--a local institution since the Depression days of 1929--is closing up shop this month due in large part to the economy and that it can't operate profitably anymore. I'm sure the store employees who will be out of work at Christmas are thrilled Obama got reelected. (*Seinfeld eye roll*)

Posted by: MarkJ at December 10, 2012 03:38 PM

I'm sure the store employees who will be out of work at Christmas are thrilled Obama got reelected.

See, just more proof that you need more Democrats in the .gov so that these people don't starve.

Hey, you got a pretty nice perverse incentive here. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 10, 2012 03:59 PM

My husband is convinced that the reason Obama is so wedded to raising taxes on those earning $250K or more is so that it will obfuscate all the additional taxes that they will be paying due to Obamacare.

Posted by: Sandi at December 10, 2012 04:42 PM

Obama and the MSM have redefined the Fiscal Cliff to a debate over the deficit. They are two separate issues.

The Fiscal Cliff: Largest Tax Hike in History + Sequestration Spending Cuts (Defense & Medicare, mostly) = Recession.

Obama's solution to this problem: Demand an ADDITIONAL $1.6 Trillion in taxes. That, of course, will make the recession worse.

The disconnect is hidden by the fact that he's pretending the whole debate is about the deficit.

Posted by: Callawyn at December 10, 2012 04:57 PM

When the Bush tax cuts were enacted they were described as a threat to the middle class.

Now, their expiration is a threat to the middle class.

If only we had an independent estate dedicated to keeping politicians honest and holding them accountable.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 10, 2012 05:24 PM

I think just being alive is "a threat to the Middle Class".

I just made more money this year than I have ever in my life. Of course, I am paying out more money than I ever have in my life, and my "net worth" is probably lower this year, due to the decline or stagnation in the value of my home (which I'm paying a mortgage on).

We are in the hands of the most malicious and incompetent political class that has held this nation in thrall since at least the mid - 1930's.

They care not for "prosperity", but for political power abrogated to them.

And yes, it would be interesting if there was an independent body of men and women whose paying job was to report on the goings-on of government.

What would you call that sort of thing, anyways?

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at December 10, 2012 05:37 PM

"Liberals in the media are going to be tougher on Obama and more respectful at the same time," Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker's chief political commentator and a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, told POLITICO.

"He was the champion of our side, he vanquished the foe….. [but] now liberals don't have to worry about hurting his chances for re-election, so they can be tougher in urging him to do what he should be doing."

Posted by: We in the media are all about respectful toughness! at December 10, 2012 05:37 PM

I think just being alive is "a threat to the Middle Class".

SILENCE, Frighteningly White Oppressor!

Posted by: We in the media are all about respectful toughness! at December 10, 2012 05:39 PM

A couple of points:

The Republicans already are in mid-stride of their full-blown panicky retreat from opposing Obama; the latest to beg for surrender being none other than Senator Corker (R, TN). As the WSJ pointed out today, this party is doing itself no favors and aiding and abetting the Progressives in the Federal government by publicly arguing with itself over the terms of the GOP's surrender.

My other point bodes far more destruction to our economy and to our nation. Obama has no plan other than the destruction of the Republican Party as a political entity so he can get a compliant Congress. He also cares not a whit about his legacy in the way those who allege it will be damaged imagine--arguments that his policies put it at risk are not even on the same planet he is. He's not a stupid man. He knows history, he knows the failure of his policies. But his ego will not let him change course, nor will it let him accept anything other than a gloatful dance on the GOP's political grave. He also is looking for one-party rule so he gets less resistance to his governing by fiat. That's the legacy for which he seeks.

Republicans need to regain their unity and to stand tall and reject any revenue increase, of any form, without a real, structural tax reform, hard cuts in spending (not reduction in growth rates), and entitlement reform--which will be further spending cuts.

Then they need to finish purging the RINOs, in the 2014 primaries. Yes, we'll get fools selected, also, but we've already done that. I see no material difference between having actual Democrats in Congress vs having folks like Corker, Coburn, Bono Mack, Bass, Dold, et al.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 10, 2012 05:41 PM

I see no material difference between having actual Democrats in Congress vs having folks like Corker, Coburn, Bono Mack, Bass, Dold, et al.

See?

Republicans need to regain their unity and to stand tall and reject any revenue increase, of any form,...

I don't know. I could go for a wholesale tax on the entertainment industry, organic foods, College Endowments, and many, many other heavily leftist industries without any sort of reform whatsoever.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 10, 2012 05:50 PM

I could go for a wholesale tax on the entertainment industry, organic foods, College Endowments, and many, many other heavily leftist industries without any sort of reform whatsoever.

We're on opposite of the fence. I oppose any tax that attempts social engineering.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 10, 2012 06:24 PM

Republicans need to regain their unity.

What unity? The unity they showed on Nov. 6th? When has the Republican party EVER been unified?

I see no material difference between having actual Democrats in Congress vs having folks like Corker, Coburn, Bono Mack, Bass, Dold, et al.

I understand your frustration, Eric, but you can't be serious. How many Democrats vote with the Republicans - ever?

Corker: votes with party 88-89% of the time

Bono: votes with party 95% of time (92% overall)

If you can't tell the difference between someone who votes with with Republicans 90% of the time and one who votes with the party 0% of the time, I have to question what definition you're using for "unity"?

Please explain.

Posted by: Cass at December 10, 2012 06:25 PM

When has the Republican party EVER been unified?

Between 2008 and 2010, when they, unanimously, fought against Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. Between 2008 and 2012, when they opposed Obama's ruinous "budgets." Between 2010 and 2012 when they were unified enough to pass with overwhelming majorities (of Republicans--unity does not require unanimity) serious budgets that took serious steps toward spending reductions and entitlement reform. That's an incomplete list. I'll leave additions as an exercise for the student.

How many Democrats vote with the Republicans - ever? All of them--you do the homework to discover what "all" means--who joined with Republicans to unanimously reject two Obama budget proposals. A dwindling number of Blue Dog Democrats who routinely vote with Republicans on fiscal matters.

As for voting 92% of the time with Republicans, what counts is the votes cast, not how many out of how many opportunities. Some votes are more serious than others. Voting to raise taxes is a serious vote. And voting to raise taxes ought to be a deal breaker. Especially given Corker's, Bono Mack's, et al., reasons for suggesting such a vote: to accede on this matter in order to bring spending and entitlement reform to the fore. That's just idiotic.

In the first place, they're assuming Obama's motives and concerns are the same as theirs. See my remark above.

In the second place, spending cuts and entitlement reform started out as part of the present debate. Republicans have already surrendered this far--letting Obama divorce spending and entitlement from tax rate increases and to discuss only tax rate increases.

In the third place, after the Republicans surrender on this, they'll have no leverage with which to "negotiate" (read: beg) for spending cuts and entitlement reforms. With the Republicans already having surrendered on taxes, Obama will have no reason to believe they won't surrender again. And again. And he'll be right.

If you're that hung up on raw numbers without looking at particular votes and motives for same, I'd like your explanation for why those raw numbers should override the important votes.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 10, 2012 06:48 PM

If you're that hung up on raw numbers without looking at particular votes and motives for same, I'd like your explanation for why those raw numbers should override the important votes.

Important to whom?

I made no such assertion, by the way. The source I used to get the overall percentages also contained each rep's individual votes.

All of them--you do the homework to discover what "all" means--who joined with Republicans to unanimously reject two Obama budget proposals. A dwindling number of Blue Dog Democrats who routinely vote with Republicans on fiscal matters.

Eric, two votes doesn't outweigh the rest. Throwing out a bunch of generalities and then demanding that I "do the homework" to prove your point for you does not a convincing or compelling argument make. It's your argument, and therefore your burden to back it up.

That's the way most discussions go.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 10, 2012 06:58 PM

I made no such assertion, by the way.

No, I did in response to your remark of the raw per centages. Which, by their isolation, implied to me that you gave the per centages greater importance than individual votes contained in the per centages.

Throwing out a bunch of generalities and then demanding that I "do the homework" to prove your point....

I'm not sure how All of them is a generality. Unanimity is pretty specific. The votes all four times--in both houses on both Obama budgets were 0 for Obama's budgets.

[T]wo votes doesn't outweigh the rest.

When they involve giving up the ghost and losing all hope of reform of spending, taxing, and entitlements for the next four years, I think they do outweigh the rest. These votes are on the structure of our economy and government, and whether we'll continue as the nation our Founders birthed or we transform ourselves into the impotence of Europe, at the mercy of our enemies.

Some votes really are more important than others. And your source is only the Washington Post's opinion of what constitutes "key" votes. In those "key" votes was an empty one on a non-binding resolution. Corker also voted on the S Amdt 2875 - Sportsmen's Act of 2012. Are these two votes on a par with a vote on a bill that raises tax rates? On a par with a vote on a bill that raises tax rates and contains nothing in the way of spending cuts or entitlement reform?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 10, 2012 07:36 PM

This is the first time I've read comments on this site. I just want to tell all of the people who've contributed ideas to this discussion that they are refreshingly articulate. It's so nice to not read epithets such as "libtards," "Obummer," "Mittens" and the typical immature angry responses you read on other sites.

I respect and admire the people who've responded to this article.

Posted by: barbara at December 10, 2012 07:48 PM

It's so nice to not read epithets....

Well, our hostess carries a big whip, and she knows where we live.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 10, 2012 08:18 PM

Well, our hostess carries a big whip, and she knows where we live.

:D

Barbara (and Sandy, and Callawyn, and everyone else who has commented today - yes, even the Oinkitudinous in our ranks) thanks for commenting!

My oversized whip aside, it is you all who make it possible to have fairly civil discussions even when we feel strongly about a topic (and even when we disagree). You all invariably say things that make me see things I had missed.

Eric, the WaPo's vote summary included both Key Votes and All votes. And no, of course all votes aren't equally important (but then I never argued that they were). It appears to me that, taken as a whole, Corker has mostly voted the way you would want him to.

So then it comes down to whether you prefer someone who votes our way 9 times out of 10 (including many important votes) and then says something that you disagree with, to a Democrat who will hardly ever vote with us (that *was* your original statement - that you saw NO difference between a Dem and a Rethug who votes 90% with his party on *all* votes - not just key votes - and who, in fact voted your way on most of the big issues as well).

I do see a difference, and I think it's a fairly big one. It's that simple. This is about strategy, not principle. I suspect you would like to see the Republican Congresscritters vote on principle even if they go down in flames and Obama and the press do what they have done before very successfully - make sure they are seen as racist, obstructionist partisans who hate America and spit naked Infants of Color on pikes :)

That's an honorable position and I understand it. My semi-facetious suggestion, however, also has some merit: what if we let them have their way (and let them deal with the fallout)? What the Republicans really aren't good at doing is picking a simple mantra and repeating it endlessly, ad nauseam. But "Hey, we gave you everything you wanted and things are worse now than they were before" is just that kind of message.

I can't guarantee it will work (just as you can't guarantee that a united vote on principle with either win or win over the public - which we desperately need if we're ever going to turn this around).

This comes down to where we always end up in these discussions: whether we have the votes to win, or - if we vote on principle and lose, how that will go over with voters. I don't know the answer to that and neither (frankly) do you. Hence our disagreement :p

When they involve giving up the ghost and losing all hope of reform of spending, taxing, and entitlements for the next four years, I think they do outweigh the rest.

This is your formulation - it's essentially your opinion. It's only a serious hope if we have the votes to prevail (and survive a veto):

Senate = 51 Dems, 47 Reps, 2 Ind
House = 193 Dems, 242 Reps

We'll be weaker in 2013 in both houses than we are now by a fairly insignificant amount. And last time I checked, a bill has to pass both the House and the Senate (where we're weakest).

The votes all four times--in both houses on both Obama budgets were 0 for Obama's budgets.

Do you believe the Dems voted against Obama's budget because they agreed with us? I don't, but I'll admit I don't know for certain. My opinion is that they did so for their own reasons, which have little to do with supporting smaller government or fiscal responsibility. But, that's just my opinion - I can't prove it.

Posted by: Cass at December 10, 2012 08:59 PM

I suspect you would like to see the Republican Congresscritters vote on principle even if they go down in flames and Obama and the press do what they have done before very successfully - make sure they are seen as racist, obstructionist partisans who hate America and spit naked Infants of Color on pikes

These are very different things, and they have little to do with each other. The failure of Republican messaging has naught to do with voting on principle or voting for personal political gain or voting on any other platform. We've had the discussion of Republicans' inability to talk with their constituents, or with the Democrats' constituents, elsewhere. They could make the principled argument and vote on principle and be successful were they actually to talk to these folks.

More specifically, Corker has mostly voted the way you would want him to[] matters not a whit if he's going to vote for tax increases. Especially if he's going to do it while getting nothing of value in return. And if he does that, he's not voted the way I want him to on a critically important vote.

Acting on principle is important: if you or I or a Republican politician has no principle for which we/they are willing to sacrifice, that person has no principles. And that person cannot be trusted.

...comes down to whether you prefer someone who votes our way 9 times out of 10 (including many important votes) and then says something that you disagree with, to a Democrat who will hardly ever vote with us....

Indeed, I did say something to that effect. That's why the actual votes are important, not just the per centages. A Republican who votes Republican 9 times out of 10, but then votes against conservatism the 10th time is indistinguishable, in any important way, from the Democrat who will vote against Republicans nearly always, but will vote for conservatism on the remaining rare occasions. They support conservative principle roughly equally.

What the Republicans really aren't good at doing is picking a simple mantra and repeating it endlessly, ad nauseam.

This is certainly true, but it's more or less easily correctable. And so it is no excuse for surrender.

...what if we let them have their way (and let them deal with the fallout)?

This will fail. Having surrendered preemptively on taxes, they'll get zip but sniggers and smirks on spending and entitlements. Besides, as you (and I and others) have pointed out, Republicans presently aren't any good at communicating. They'll get blamed for the outcome regardless. Hence, with nothing to lose, it should be easy to hold out for principle. On the other hand, if we vote on principle and lose, how that will go over with voters[]--at least in that scenario, we'll be on record as being honorable and principled (or stubborn and obstructionist), but we'll have two years and four years in which to figure out how to make our case. If we fail then, then the Republicans will be finished as a political force, and it'll be up to the Tea Partiers to get their political act together. But if the Republicans surrender now, the potential future failure will be realized this month, and we'll be finished as a nation--the four years' guaranteed damage will be too great to repair: the welfare and dependency addiction will be too widespread and too strong.

A miracle happens and a satisfactory budget gets passed and sent to Obama, which he vetoes? Nothing is different from the present surrender outcome, economically. But the veto puts it all on Obama and no one else. Not even the NLMSM will be able to protect him from that.

Do you believe the Dems voted against Obama's budget because they agreed with us?

Doesn't matter why they voted with us, or against a ridiculous budget, or.... They voted with us. Just as it doesn't matter why Corker, et al., will vote against us on this occasion--they vote against us. This will be one of those aww, s*ts that will cancel all of those 90% attaboys.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 10, 2012 09:43 PM

I turn on the news every night and it's about 75% about "avoiding the fiscal cliff." But the fiscal cliff is just a bargain: the one we all cut last time around. If we avoid the fiscal cliff by cutting another bargain, it's not going to help unless it's a better bargain.

And all the bargains I've heard suggested as likely so far are considerably worse. My hope lies in the inability of these clowns to cut a deal.

Over the years I've negotiated a zillion deals. When clients really wanted to fix a problem, the deals were real. When they only wanted to put something on the books that made that quarter's results look better so they'd all get better bonuses, the deals were smoke and mirrors. I see nothing but smoke and mirrors in Congress now, like "spending cuts" that amount to constructing fantasies about future defense spending and then imagining a world in which the defense initiatives won't be needed after all. No one is serious about cutting any spending that anyone will miss. Polls show Americans overwhelmingly doubt that tax hikes on the rich will address the budget problem at all, but they want the hikes anyway, for "fairness." It's all a bunch of garbage.

Posted by: Texan99 at December 10, 2012 09:49 PM

A Republican who votes Republican 9 times out of 10, but then votes against conservatism the 10th time is indistinguishable, in any important way, from the Democrat who will vote against Republicans nearly always, but will vote for conservatism on the remaining rare occasions. They support conservative principle roughly equally.

I don't agree - you are positing (on no evidence, mind you!) that the composition of the 90% of votes with the party are worthless and the 10% (which may well be on issues where we weren't going to win anyway) would have been game changers.

That's a big argument. If you want me to entertain it, you're going to have to put more on the table that a "trust me - it's the way I say it is".

Tex, I agree with every single thing you just typed. Especially this:

the fiscal cliff is just a bargain: the one we all cut last time around. If we avoid the fiscal cliff by cutting another bargain, it's not going to help unless it's a better bargain. And all the bargains I've heard suggested as likely so far are considerably worse. My hope lies in the inability of these clowns to cut a deal.

Posted by: Cass at December 10, 2012 10:07 PM

...you are positing (on no evidence, mind you!) that the composition of the 90% of votes with the party are worthless.....

Look who's talking. I've posited no such thing. What I've said is that this vote, in favor of tax increases with nothing to show for it, overrides the value of all the others. And with that override, he becomes indistinguishable from the Democrat who votes rarely with us, but when he does, he undoes all the good he's done for Progressive causes with his 90% votes with Democrats. And both support conservatism, when the chips are down, roughly equally.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 10, 2012 10:23 PM

I'm not sure I see the distinction that you are arguing for, Mr. Hines. There may be a difference between 'the composition is worthless,' and ' this vote... overrides the value of all the others,' but I'm not seeing it.

Posted by: Grim at December 10, 2012 11:18 PM

There may be a difference between 'the composition is worthless,' and ' this vote... overrides the value of all the others,' but I'm not seeing it.

Me either :p

I have opinions each week about whether my beloved Redskins (GO RGIII!) are likely to prevail against the assortment of criminals, miscreants, and evildoers they face on the gridiron. But the fact of the matter is that I really have no idea whether they're win or not because football doesn't work that way. I thought the Giants were likely to whup our collective tuckii, but we won. We won again this week. And we have lost games we probably should have won.

A bad call or an injury or some other factor can always cause the clearly better (!) team to lose :)

The same is true of fiscal cliff negotiations: neither you nor I know how they'll turn out. Your opinion is based on your assessment of what you think is likely to happen. It represents one set of possibilities out of a whole range of possibilities. You can dismiss all the others and insist that you-and-only-you have it right, but again that's merely an opinion.

Do you believe (I haven't seen you argue this, but it's one logical interpretation of your position) that Republicans should vote a certain way regardless of what they think the effect of that vote will be - IOW, whether or not you're correct about what will happen? Should they vote the way you want them to regardless of what their constituents (the ones they're actually responsible to) think?

What accountability does a Congresscritter from Tennessee have to you (a resident of Texas)? Under federalism, isn't his duty to the citizens of Tennessee?

One of my big problems with liberalism is that they regularly base their votes on assumptions about "what will happen" that I don't think are correct. Principle matters, but so does the practical effect of various policy proposals.

You are treating a difference of opinion about "what is likely to happen" as some kind of betrayal of conservatism. And you're entitled to think whatever you please, but I don't agree that your interpretation is the only reasonable one.

I understand your position, but don't agree with it.

Posted by: Cass at December 11, 2012 06:00 AM

OK, so now that the blog princess has gotten Eric all stirred up, what do you think the real problem is here?

Obama's intransigence is a real factor, but I think the biggest problem is public opinion. From everything I've seen, the public simply does not support cutting benefits.

And they see nothing wrong with raising taxes on the so-called rich (sorry, but a dual-income couple earning 250K in a metropolitan area is NOT wealthy). Neither do they understand (or care) that raising taxes on the "rich" won't raise enough revenue and will hurt the economy.

So how do we change that?

Will going over the fiscal cliff change public opinion? I think it's quite possible that it will. But sequestration would be really ugly. It will hurt the economy and negatively impact national security.

Would giving Obama what he wants change it? Again, possibly, because that was the only "solution" he offered, and it is not going to work. But this tactic would be very painful for the country.

Would negotiating some budget cuts in exchange for allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on the top 2 brackets change public opinion? I doubt it, because there's no binding way to keep the Dems from proposing new spending we can't afford. It's better than the status quo but unlikely to drive home the seriousness of the debt problem to the public. It's a Band-aid.

Would a complete smackdown (we get entitlement spending cuts with no tax increase) be likely to change public opinion?

Posted by: Cass at December 11, 2012 07:19 AM

I think the real problem may be a collapse in the public morality of the American public, broadly speaking. People know what's right, but more and more we don't apply moral lessons to the public space. It's wrong to steal, but it's fine as long as you pass it through the 'rule of law' -- that is, as long as you pass a law to justify taking from X and giving to Y, it's valid.

Something very similar is going on with black churches, who are quite opposed to gay marriage, backing the administration in supporting something they believe to be morally wrong. As long as it is 'their guy' doing it, and he's speaking for the government, then they'll license what they would otherwise oppose.

Something very similar is going on with liberals who are deeply opposed to violence, and even to targeted killing by drones, who continue to support President Obama even though he's done more of that than anyone. Even though he shows no sign of stopping or slowing down, and even though it entails no trial nor really any due process outside a small panel of hand-picked administration officials.

We've already given up on divorce, adultery, respect for one's father and mother, and certainly on respect for God in the public space. Why not dispose of the norms against theft and murder, and well, all the rest of them?

So in terms of taxes and spending, I don't think you can 'teach them a lesson' -- not a moral lesson. They've left morality behind them. What remains is 'This is what we want to have, and we must therefore find someone who can pay for it.'

Posted by: Grim at December 11, 2012 08:01 AM

As long as it is 'their guy' doing it, and he's speaking for the government, then they'll license what they would otherwise oppose.

Something very similar is going on with liberals who are deeply opposed to violence, and even to targeted killing by drones, who continue to support President Obama even though he's done more of that than anyone. Even though he shows no sign of stopping or slowing down, and even though it entails no trial nor really any due process outside a small panel of hand-picked administration officials.

Grim, you have nailed it. I see this in my Dem friends, who often remark to me that they really, really disagree with the Obama administration and are downright alarmed by its fecklessness... and then they turn around and vote for Obama again.

Allow me to pull out one thread from what you've said - it's the "my team" vs. "your team" thing. We will often forgive in family or close friends things we would never tolerate from a stranger or acquaintance.

That's why I've been saying for a very long time that we need to keep the arguments (the appeals to morality) and lose the invective and name calling.

I have one relative who I know - for a fact - agrees with more Republican positions than Dem ones. But she hates Republicans with a white hot burning fury... immediate family excepted, of course :p

I think we *can* teach lessons and I think you touched on the way a long time ago in a post about art providing a vision. We use the term "narrative" all the time to describe what the media does or the Dems do. But people think in narratives: stories. We learn our morals by storytelling - Aesop's fables, childhood stories, etc.

That's what we need to learn to do. If our narrative casts Dems and anyone who has ever voted for them as stupid/evil, it will be rejected.

There *is* a way to use stories to point out the morality or immorality of various public policy options without antagonizing the people we want to persuade. I think the best possible narrative would be a positive one that stresses that we stand on the shoulders of previous generations - our forebears were pioneers who braved danger and hardship to build a great nation.

We are the inheritors of that nation. What are we leaving our children?

And I think ads like that, especially ads featuring women asking those questions, would be quite effective at influencing public opinion. We have to appeal to the better angels - to lead, not try to drive people like cattle with prods.

I don't think just telling stories is enough, but I do think it's the method most likely to win supporters who now identify with the other team (and therefore have a personal stake in not feeling bad about themselves for having done so in the past, nor about changing their mind when circumstances change).

Posted by: Cass at December 11, 2012 08:21 AM

I thought one of the Romney/Ryan ticket's most effective messages was that it's wrong to leave crushing debt for our children and grandchildren.

The hard part is translating that easy-to-hear message into something concrete like "I have to do without this goody right now so that my children won't have to pay for it later."

People tend to focus on dire need and the impossibility of denying others relief from it. No matter what, we're not going to get comfortable with denying expensive medical care to desperate people, for instance. At most, we'll tolerate it if we don't have to look at it too closely, but we won't vote for it affirmatively. But what we don't look at is the non-essentials we ought to give up in order to have enough resources to meet the dire needs. More free heart transplants for that guy in the barrio means fewer iPods and vacations in the cushy neighborhoods. You can't give money to charity and keep it for baubles for yourself at the same time.

So part of the problem, as Grim says, is an electorate that says "I want this, so you guys figure out a way to pay for it." The person who says this can be identified as a moocher and perhaps even be brought to feel shame about it. But almost a harder problem is the person who says, "I don't want this for myself. I want it for those terribly needy people over there, because I'm so morally evolved. Now, you guys figure out a way to pay for it." Such a person revels in his compassionate generosity and is hard to dislodge from his views. He wants the feeling of charity without the sacrifice, and any attempt to use logic on him is like ripping a scab off of a wound.

Posted by: Texan99 at December 11, 2012 08:38 AM

Entertaining ruminations on what they're calling "cliff diving" over at Ace, or perhaps "Let It Burn":

http://minx.cc/?post=335557

Posted by: Texan99 at December 11, 2012 08:52 AM

There may be a difference between 'the composition is worthless,' and ' this vote... overrides the value of all the others,' but I'm not seeing it.

That's not surprising, since the worthless composition is Cassandra's construction, not mine. I've simply said that a particular wrong vote overrides the value of those 90%. Would "exceeds the value of" work better for you?

Do you believe (I haven't seen you argue this, but it's one logical interpretation of your position) that Republicans should vote a certain way regardless of what they think the effect of that vote will be.... and
Should they vote the way you want them to regardless of what their constituents (the ones they're actually responsible to) think?

As you note on the first, I've never argued this. Your second, along with your question of my view of Corker's responsibility to me, implies you think I have argued this. Where have I done so?

What I have said is that I think Corker should be fired--but that's for Tennesseans to determine. I have argued that, on this vote, since Republicans will both lose and get the blame for the outcome anyway (my opinion, as you've pointed out--redundantly, it seems to me, since I've never presented my positions as anything other than my opinions), they should vote against any tax increases at all. Indeed, yes, they should all vote as I want them to, but they're beholden to their constituents, not to me--I'd thought that clear all along, not just here but in all of my writings.

And Republicans should vote against tax increases on principle, too--it's the vote they were hired to cast when the majority of relevant voters returned to the House a significant Republican majority on a low-tax platform. But wait--Americans think it's OK to raise taxes on the rich to work the deficit? Depends on the poll. The exit polls last month asked that question and 60% of respondents said no to raising taxes--at all--to address the deficit/debt. I've seen nothing since that invalidates that outcome. Moreover, it's been pointed out in a number of places that Americans are conflicted on what they think they want. This neither validates nor invalidates any particular poll, but it does mean no particular poll (not even my favored ones) should get any particular weight.

Certainly, a Democratic minority was returned to the House, and a Democratic majority to the Senate on a raise taxes platform. Those are bound by their duty to their constituents to vote for taxes.

That brings us to impasse, which suits Obama just fine. Either pass gets Obama the two things he wants: higher taxes and the destruction of the Republican Party; although impasse gives Republicans two more election cycles to figure out how to talk to ordinary Americans.

If Obama wanted an actual deal, he'd take the one on offer from the Republicans--which is a combination of what he said a year ago--he can get by on $800 billion in tax deduction reform--and his Simpson-Bowles commission recommendations. Instead, with 98% of what he claims to want in hand--no raised taxes on the bottom 98% of earners--he's willing to blow the whole thing up for an additional 2 per centage points: a tax rate increase on the top 2% of earners and a total tax increase of $1.6 trillion. He's now explicitly rejecting his own earlier deal of deduction reform.

What do you think Obama's goal is?

Principle matters, but so does the practical effect of various policy proposals.

But when the "practical effects" have primacy, there is very little, if any, principle left. Especially when the economic practical effects are well understood from the history of the last 100 years, and those policies are pushed anyway.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 11, 2012 12:00 PM

Obama's intransigence is a real factor, but I think the biggest problem is public opinion.

I think public opinion is a symptom, not the problem. Obama's intransigence is a parallel symptom of the same problem. I think the underlying problem is that only one group knows how to talk to ordinary Americans. The Republicans--and conservatives--have functionally ceded this ground to the Progressives.

The Democratic Party, for decades, if not for the last 80 years, have been the ones to shape public opinion, and without opposition. This control of the public's thought is what lets Obama be intransigent.

The means of access include shaping the conservative message in the way described by Cassandra, T99, et al. But it also includes actually accessing the folks. Take that reshaped message into their neighborhoods--including minority neighborhoods--and talk to them in their community centers, in their diners, in their living rooms. Do interviews with the local TV and radio stations. Talk to the local newspapers. And do this in the neighboring Democratic Party-controlled districts, too.

As I've said elsewhere, tossing a speech over the podium at an NAACP convention, or making a couple of Spanish language speeches in a state at large venues doesn't cut it. Grass roots means go to the people, not hold "rallies" and hope the right cross section shows up. The big ops are important, but they lose effectiveness without the rest.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 11, 2012 12:11 PM

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