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PORTSIDE  December 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE December 2012, Week 2

Subject:

Money Can't Buy Them Love

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

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Date:

Mon, 10 Dec 2012 22:00:15 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (148 lines)

Money Can't Buy Them Love

Robert Kuttner Dec 9, 2012
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/fix-the-debt_b_2268952.html

It is literally possible to have more money than you
know what to do with. Take the case of the private-
equity billionaire Peter G. Peterson, who has
bankrolled much of the austerity crusade.

Peterson has now spent over half a billion dollars out
of his personal fortune to persuade Americans that
austerity is the necessary road to recovery. But the
debate seems to be getting away from him. Peterson was
heavily involved in the corporate-led group, "Fix the
Debt." That effort has increasingly backfired. In
Peterson's world, CEO spokesmen are a source of great
credibility. But out in America, it doesn't looks so
good when the millionaire CEOs who cut jobs and pay low
rates of taxes lecture others to tighten their belts.

Time for a new set of spokesmen. Peterson's latest
front group is something called the Coalition for
Fiscal and National Security, which ran full-page ads
in major newspapers last week. The gimmick, as the ad
declared, is that "U.S. National Security in the 21st
century rests on both economic and military strength."
So if you want to keep al-Qaeda at bay, it logically
follows that we need to cut Social Security and
Medicare. Well, it does in Peterson's circle.

The ad was signed by doddering former national security
officials such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski,
James Baker, Sam Nunn, et al. They should know plenty
about national security and the debt, having run up
trillions of dollars in excess military spending.

Poor Pete Peterson is running out of categories of
concerned citizens to associate with the austerity
cause. What will it be next? Poodle breeders to cut the
debt? Nascar racers?

At this rate, Peterson will soon join the club of
people like Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, and
Karl Rove, who spent hundreds of billions of dollars
and had just about zero influence for their trouble.
Sometimes, money can't buy you love. Sometimes, it only
buys poor judgment and makes you look faintly
ridiculous.

The idea that recovery depended on austerity was always
foolishness. Peterson's ploy was to make it a
bipartisan cause, with Democrats agreeing to slit their
own throats by agreeing with Republicans to cut Social
Security and Medicare for the same of reassuring the
bond markets. But the bond markets are doing just fine,
thanks to record low interest rates that turn out to
have a lot more to do with Federal Reserve policy than
with deficit projections. And President Obama has
belatedly realized that the Peterson-Simpson-Bowles
austerity axis doesn't exactly serve his political
self-interest.

Meanwhile, it is dawning on Peterson's Republican Party
allies that they are painted into a corner of their own
creation. The Bush tax cuts expire January 1. If the
Republicans hold out for tax cuts on the top two
percent, they are responsible when taxes go up on
everyone else -- and this time President Obama isn't
blinking first.

Today, on Fox News, one of the Republican leaders, Sen.
Bob Corker of Tennessee, went wobbly on taxes because
he had a Eureka Moment. If Republicans agree to raise
taxes on the richest, he said, that puts away the tax
issue, and "all of a sudden, the [debate] goes back to
entitlements and maybe it puts us in a place where we
actually can do something that really saves the
nation."

Uh, no it doesn't. Alas, the Republican version of
entitlement reform is built on some really unpopular
measures that don't even save much money, such as
raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67, while Obama
has moved away from the austerity kick.

Which is more popular and more sensible -- raising the
Medicare eligibility age, or allowing Medicare to
negotiate bulk discounts with drug companies? How does
a truly unpopular Republican position translate into
good politics? Look how quickly the Republicans dropped
the Medicare voucher idea.

Obama's old position, echoing the line of the Peterson
crusade, was that we needed to get $4 trillion in
deficit cuts over a decade. Now, however, Obama has
sensibly recognized that the budget has already been
cut by at least $1.5 trillion by recent budget deals,
most notably the very 2011 budget legislation that gave
America the fiscal cliff.

That means far less deficit reduction, Obama is
proposing to get most of it from tax increases on the
wealthy. If Republicans stick with a larger deficit
reduction number, that requires more unpopular cuts in
Social Security and Medicare, and more "reform" of tax
breaks that the middle class receives, such as the
mortgage interest deduction. Uh-oh.

The fiscal cliff has had the opposite effect from the
one that its too-clever sponsors intended. It has
revealed the backward economic assumptions of the
Peterson austerity crusade and the self-serving motives
of its sponsors. And it has thrown into sharp relief
the political unpopularity of Republican positions on
taxes and on social insurance.

As Republicans try to walk back their position of no
tax increases on anyone, any time (even billionaires,
even if the result is cuts in Social Security and
Medicare), watch for Republicans to turn on each other.

It's December. Maybe there is a Santa Claus.


Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect
and a senior fellow at Demos. Follow Robert Kuttner on
Twitter: www.twitter.com/rkuttner and on Facebook:
www.facebook.com/RobertKuttner

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