Monday, November 26, 2012

Bust a meme

I'm glad to see lefties like David Corn and Matt Yglesias finally coming around to bust the meme about President Obama "caving" on the tax cuts in 2010. I guess it takes some folks a while to catch on to the long game strategy. But better late than never, huh?

The next task for these guys will be to generalize that learning to some of the rest of the President's accomplishments. To aid in that process, I thought I'd repost something I wrote a year ago.


It all started right away from the get-go. Our country had just elected Barack Obama at the moment we were careening towards a second Great Depression. Something had to be done...and fast. Twenty-eight days after the inauguration, President Obama signed the Recovery Act (yes, that's right folks...28 days!) It was the largest stimulus package every passed by a U.S. Congress.

And yet the wails of "Obama caved" coming from the left were already well underway. Nevermind that time was of the essence and Democrats (who had 57 Senators at the time) had to negotiate with the likes of Lieberman, Snowe, and Specter (who was still a Republican back then) in order to get something passed. The myth was born.

Almost 3 years later, the myth persists. That's why I thought I'd take a few minutes and bust it up a bit.

The second stage in the development of the "cave" myth came, as everyone knows, when the public option was dropped from inclusion in health care reform. At that point, the Democrats had 59 Senators + Lieberman (who never supported the PO). But there were also moments like the day Sen. Blanche Lincoln - one of those 59 - took to the floor of the Senate and said she would join with a Republican filibuster of the bill if it contained a public option. We don't need to go any further than those 2 (although there were other Senators in opposition) to demonstrate that it NEVER had 60 votes in the Senate. That is sufficient to explain why it was dropped...not some other myth that President Obama gave it away in a secret deal or that he and the Democrats caved to Republicans.

Of course in the midst of all the hollering about the public option, way too many people missed that health care reform actually included one...Medicaid expansion.

Among all the changes and ramifications for health care forthcoming as a result of passage (and now law) of the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), none may be as large and impactful as the expansion of Medicaid. In terms of impact I am referring to economic, political, social and systemic (present access and delivery of care to the targeted population)...

Best estimates place the increase in additional enrollees at 16 million to 18 million.

Next comes the deal that was struck on the extension of the Bush tax cuts in December 2010. To many on the left, President Obama once again caved to Republican demands. But the truth is that he took a stand on the idea that we should not - in the midst of a recession - end the tax cuts for the middle class. He was also insistent that Congress needed to extend unemployment insurance for those who continued to be out of work. But once again, a small group of Democrats would not support that position and actually voted against extending the tax cuts only to the middle class.

Given that reality, what President Obama did was compromise on extending all of the tax cuts for two years while getting the Republicans to sign on to a second stimulus.

Mr. Obama effectively traded tax cuts for the affluent, which Republicans were demanding, for a second stimulus bill that seemed improbable a few weeks ago. Mr. Obama yielded to Republicans on extending the high-end Bush tax cuts and on cutting the estate tax below its scheduled level. In exchange, Republicans agreed to extend unemployment benefits, cut payroll taxes and business taxes, and extend a grab bag of tax credits for college tuition and other items.

The third so-called "cave" is actually one of my favorites. Its about the deal that was struck when the Republicans threatened to shut the government down over the 2011 budget. By then Republicans had taken over the House and were looking to cut $100 billion from the budget in one year. As negotiations wore on, that number jumped around. But Speaker Boehner mistakenly kept his eye on the figure of the moment while President Obama and the Democrats went to work looking at the details. In the end, it was announced that the deal they reached contained $78 billion in spending cuts. What was amusing was to watch many on the left rise up in outrage over the "cave" while folks on the right woke up to the reality that the deal only cut $352 million from the deficit.

Finally we come to the debt ceiling deal. I've been talking about that one quite a bit lately - especially about how the Democrats outsmarted the Republicans. But I'll just add that while many on the left have been howling about the potential gutting of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - not a penny has been cut from any of those programs yet and it looks increasingly likely that all the focus next year is going to be on how much we can afford to cut from defense. I don't know about you - but I hardly call that a "cave." Instead I call it rather genius strategy.

I think that about catches us up to the current situation. I hope its clear by now why many of us reject this mythology about President Obama and the Democrats caving all the time. What they've done in each and every case is to deal with reality, minimize the damages, and get some pretty incredible "wins" along the way. And folks, that about sums up what good progressive politics is all about.


  1. Finally somebody gets it. He lays in the cut and then....BOOM BABY!

  2. well written! Thank you. And one addition, the payroll tax cut deal was set for 1 year which left the GOP fighting against a tax cut extension for working folks in 2011 opening not a few eyes... absolutely brilliant.. the work of the hated Tim Geithner I hear.

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