Moving The Goalposts
Now this is interesting:
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the Republican Party's bluff on the need for deficit reduction Wednesday, outlining a fiscal framework that involves broader cuts and revenue raisers than the GOP has proposed -- and warning that there will be no agreement on funding the government unless the GOP broadens its approach.
"A bipartisan compromise simply will not be found in the domestic discretionary spending cuts alone," Schumer said in a half-hour presentation at the Center for American Progress. Without a broader scope, Schumer said, "we won't be able to come to a compromise on a seven month budget."
Schumer's entreaty changes the frame of the debate on Capitol Hill, which for weeks has been driven by Republican leaders, who have isolated their focus to domestic discretionary spending. Democratic leaders, who are unwilling to countenance major cuts to government services, had little luck playing on GOP turf, but will now have a coherent alternative to point to when negotiations over how to fund the government continue in coming days.
Schumer noted that the GOP's plan for spending cuts does almost nothing to reduce the deficit -- a fact that runs at cross-purposes to their insistence that the deficit must be reduced
Schumer endorsed the approaches taken by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, both of whom reduced or eliminated deficits by cutting discretionary spending and addressing entitlements and tax revenues. He identified achievable savings on all three flanks, including cuts to defense spending, agriculture subsidies, and a surtax on millionaires and billionaires.
Now at first I was taken aback because I don't think cutting spending in a recession is the smart approach. However, if he's putting defense spending and farm subsidies on the menu along with millionaire surtaxes, I'm hard pressed to argue. I was also nervous because in in Village patois, "entitlements" means Social Security. I'm still not exactly sure what he means by it, but Schumer addressed Social Security directly and correctly:
Schumer left Social Security off the table, noting that it doesn't run into real actuarial problems for decades, and isn't a contributor to the deficit.
Give that man a round of applause. That's exactly the way to credibly talk about it.
And I would guess this is correct:
Republicans were caught off guard by the Democrats' new approach.
"Right now we need to crawl before we can walk, and that means finishing last year's business and complete a spending bill," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.
This is a fairly bold reframing of the budget talks and one that is probably unexpected, especially by the bipartisan group of safety net shredders. If the GOP doesn't shut this down, it could derail them too unless the president decides that long term deficit cutting is his ticket to re-election and legacy making --- a distinct possibility. But it's going to be much more difficult if the Democrats succeed in decoupling Social Security from current concerns in the popular imagination.
And check this out:
"I noted with interest last week's Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, the most popular proposal to reduce the deficit out of 23 options surveyed was a tax -- a surtax -- on millionaires and billionaires," Schumer said. "It's not only a popular thing to do, it's the right thing to do."
This is the first time in quite a while that I'm seeing something other than assurances that we have to "trust" somebody to have our best interests in mind behind closed doors. This is out front --- they're going on the record. Good for them.
I would guess that the Republicans will fight that like rabid dogs but at least the Democrats are out there fighting smartly for once. They aren't great at leading but at least they are showing that they're capable of following the people rather than the Tea Party crowd or the beltway conventional wisdom. Baby steps.
Who knows? It might even work.