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Morning Feature – Budget Negotiations Are not a Game

December 27, 2012

Morning Feature

Morning Feature – Budget Negotiations Are not a Game

There should be a buffer between MSNBC’s Bashir Live and Hardball. Maybe a half-hour of band saws cutting metal, to help the ears prepare for Chris Matthews discussing the ongoing budget negotiations as if they were merely political sport. (More)

Every MSNBC host has a niche, and Martin Bashir’s gentle voice and dry wit offer a change of pace from the usual fast-paced chatter. Al Sharpton brings both warmth and righteous outrage. Ed Schultz speaks the language of working class anger with the timbre of that guy at the end of the bar who has an opinion on every topic. Rachel Maddow provides the brilliant analysis you would expect from a Rhodes Scholar, leavened by sparkles of snarky humor.

How many of ‘Them’ see it:

And then there’s Chris Matthews, the former political operator who – for better and for worse – gives us an Inside the Beltway perspective on politics as sport:

Note the frames he uses: which political actors and parties stand to win or lose from resolving the ongoing budget negotiations, and whether a recession if no deal can be found would mar President Obama’s legacy. Toting up points on the scoreboard.

I understand Matthews’ schtick: this is how the Players see the issues. But while I’m sure many political leaders see things through that lens, I hope not all of them do. I’d like to think that at least some of them realize this isn’t just a game.

How I see it:

I don’t like the term “fiscal cliff,” but I basically agree with George Lakoff’s explanation of why that metaphor stuck. It is, like most political challenges, a complex problem with lots of moving parts. The Bush tax cuts, extended for two years in December 2010, expire at on December 31. So do other elements of the budget deal President Obama negotiated in that package, including extended unemployment insurance benefits, the payroll tax cut, expansion of credits for Obamacare, the Alternative Minimum Tax patch, and the Medicare “doc fix.” The mandatory budget cuts in the August 2011 debt ceiling deal – intended to force both parties to reach some other agreement in the failed “supercommittee” – also kick in on January 1st.

The total of those provisions would be, as the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog FAQ summarized it in a single sentence:

Much too much austerity, much too quickly.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that their net effect would bring the slowly strengthening economic recovery to an immediate halt, if not plunge us back into recession. But mere projections of Gross Domestic Product changes miss the point. Billionaires and big corporations won’t notice any change, nor likely most of those who blithely call for us to “jump off the cliff.”

But I worry about hardworking families who don’t have parachutes. An estimated two million people stand to lose their unemployment benefits on January 1st. Millions more will see their tax rates rise and some deductions and credits shrink. For many, that may be the difference between paying and missing the rent, or scrimping even more on groceries, or putting both off for a trip to the doctor.

It’s easy to shrug off that human suffering as being “better than a generation of buffered decline where the U.S. guts its private wealth to pay its public sector to provide an illusion of prosperity” when the pain won’t hit you or those in your circle. Such comments remind me of gun industry supporters who shrug off the deaths of others’ children as the price of their freedom.

Where we stand:

Although President Obama returned from Hawaii yesterday to get back to work on the budget negotiations, he has no House Republican with whom to negotiate. Speaker John Boehner punted the problem to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, perhaps hoping Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad will hold out for a bill that splits the difference between President Obama’s and Speaker Boehner’s last proposals. Slate‘s Matthew Yglesias argues that Speaker Boehner intends to use the Senate bill as the baseline for negotiations with House Republicans.

By that strategy, if President Obama asked for four and Speaker Boehner asked for zero, the Senate bill would split the difference at two … and House Republicans would then demand the difference be split again … to one.

Writing for The Hill, Rick Manning of the right-wing Americans for Limited Government pleads for Speaker Boehner to “be the Speaker” and demand a deal on his terms, concluding:

So, Speaker Boehner, be of good cheer. You actually hold the cards, if you are only willing to play them.

But there are no ‘cards.’ This isn’t a mere game. This is a serious challenge, with hardworking families facing serious hardship. President Obama seems to understand that, perhaps more than any other voice in the “fiscal cliff” din. That’s why he has tried to negotiate a deal, and why he cut short his holiday vacation to get back to work on the problem.

If only the Inside the Beltway heads would realize that. We don’t need Players. We need Leaders.


Happy Thursday!

  • addisnana

    Speaking of “straw men” and tweety…. well actually this applies to many members of the punditry…


    I also noticed that Geithner has sent a letter to Congress giving Dec. 31 as the date to hit the statutory debt ceiling.

    Hello Republican House….this is NO way to run a country. There are millions of Americans who need you to get down off the scarecrow stand and think about the rest of us.

    • NCrissieB

      I love that photo, addisnana. 😀

      I hadn’t heard about the letter from Secretary Geithner, and thank you for sharing that news here. That puts the issue in starker relief, as previous reports had the debt ceiling limit hitting sometime in February. That pushes the effects of budget negotiations beyond our borders, as a default on U.S. debt could have global financial implications.

      It’s time for House Republicans to swallow their pride (and set aside their ideology) and accept that: (a) we need a deal soon; and, (b) they will not get everything they want in that deal.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • LI Mike

    Amazing the damage the tea party has created. Those 2010 elections! Can’t call for a re-do either. Truly amazing part about this is that Europe stands as an everyday reminder of austerity leading to non-prosperity.

    • NCrissieB

      This is an important observation, Mike:

      Truly amazing part about this is that Europe stands as an everyday reminder of austerity leading to non-prosperity.

      Despite the callous claims like the one I linked above, austerity will not solve our economic woes. We still face a demand slump, with too many Americans still unemployed and too many who do work earning too little. We need to stop pampering billionaires and big corporations and start giving hardworking families the security that will allow them to restart the engine of our economy.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • winterbanyan

    Excellent article, Crissie. You make very clear what’s in the balance here, but I don’t know how we get it through Republican heads. None of them will suffer if the economy takes a nose dive because of their intransigence. No, they will gleefully blame Obama and claim no responsibility for the mismanagement of our government.

    And the freaking media will parrot them brainlessly. Enough. I am so full of anger I can’t continue.

    • NCrissieB

      I share your anger, winterbanyan. Too often the Players treat these problems as exercises in the Blame Game, where the only real concern is who will pay the political price for failure. Here’s a thought … how about not failing?!? 😯

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

      • Jim W

        I would rather see reward for success. 😉

        • NCrissieB

          Exactly, Jim! Instead of “Sure we’ll have another recession, but The Other Party will get blamed for it” … how about “Let’s not knowingly put ourselves into another recession” as a better goal?

          Good morning! ::hugggggs::

        • addisnana

          Me Too!