Sunday, August 16, 2009

SUMMER REPEAT: Having A Serious Conversation

[Unfortunately, this one seems even more appropriate today than when it was first posted...]

I wasn't able to watch all of President Obama's town hall meeting in St. Louis today, and what I did see had me alternately shaking my head and wishing that, at least here in the Pacific time zone, it had been late enough to start drinking. One particular portion, though, actually managed to make my blood pressure start to rise...

I'm happy to have a serious conversation about these issues, too, Mr. President. So as you say, let's not play games, and let's stop pretending.

Let's stop pretending that the record deficits in your 10-year budget plan, approved earlier today by Congress, were inherited from George W. Bush. This is your budget, your stimulus, and your spending, Mr. President. A serious conversation would acknowledge this.

Let's stop pretending that asking your cabinet to find $100 million in spending cuts is "tightening our belts." A serious conversation would call this what it really is: A joke. And a bad one at that.

Let's stop pretending that we're going to lower health care costs, thus saving money and Medicare, not to mention reducing the deficits, by spending an additional $646 billion of money we don't have. And that's just for the "down payment." A serious conversation would acknowledge that your health care reform is going to cost us even more in the long run, not less.

Let's stop pretending that we can save Social Security without cutting benefits for future retirees or raising the retirement age, and that all we really need to do is just lift the cap on the amount of income that's subject to the payroll tax. A serious conversation would acknowledge that this won't even cover half of the unfunded Social Security obligations we're facing.

Let's stop touting that $400 tax cut you keep talking about, considering that the members of your own party in Congress just voted to end it after next year. A serious conversation would acknowledge that even the people voting for your budget understand that the numbers just do not add up.

And while we're at it, let's stop pretending that your $400 tax cut is actually a "tax cut." Because a tax cut means taking less of someone's money. It doesn't mean refunding money to people who don't even owe any income tax, which your $400 "tax credit" does. Even if you justify giving out this money by saying that those people still owe payroll tax, this is still a transfer payment, not a cut in their payroll tax, and transfer payments need to be paid for -- either by raising taxes in some other area or by borrowing still more money. Even the Congressional Budget Office scores these credits as "direct spending." A serious conversation would admit this.

Let's also stop justifying your policies by pretending that under the Bush administration, only the wealthy received tax cuts. Millions of people who previously had owed federal income tax each year ended up owing no federal income tax at all after the Bush tax cuts. Middle-income earners paid lower federal taxes under President Bush than they did under President Clinton. I know I did, and I'm far from wealthy. Not to mention that lowering the bottom rate from 15% to 10% is hardly a tax cut for the wealthy. If you want to argue that the wealthy got more than their share, then go ahead and make that case, but frankly, I'm tired of being told by any member of the "reality-based community" that I never received a tax cut under the Bush administration. And a serious conversation wouldn't ask me, "Who are you going to believe? The words on my teleprompter, or your lying checkbook?"

Let's also note the irony of touting a $400 tax credit as a major boost to families and the economy, Mr. President, when during the campaign, your own wife dismissed the $600 stimulus payments with the phrase "What can you do with that?" A serious conversation might include some explanation about how a payment of $200 less suddenly became so much more effective and meaningful.

Mocking those "folks waving tea bags around" might make for a good laugh line, Mr. President. I'll admit that, and also that after the first 100 days of your presidency, I'm rather tired of the dismissive, Jon Stewart-esque smirk you tend to bestow on anyone who disagrees with your policies. But those folks are voters, Mr. President. And not only do they understand everything discussed in this post, they're waiting for some indication that you do as well.

They're also waiting for that serious conversation, Mr. President, just as soon as you decide to get serious.