Thursday, October 27, 2005

How To Snatch Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory!

by Tom Bozzo

That's the shorter version of David Broder's frankly wankerish column on a Democratic Leadership Council panel trying to forge a "bipartisan" course to a less-unbalanced federal budget through "some short-term tax increases in return for long-term savings on entitlement programs and improvements in the administration of government."

The DLC'ers were reportedly getting advice from ex-McCain Social Security adviser Maya MacGuineas, who
...urged the Democrats to begin examining ideas she and others have put forward that would not simply reduce future benefits or postpone the age at which retirees could claim them but would instead adapt the whole social insurance concept of the 1930s to the realities of a new millennium.

Her concepts include mandated programs of individual savings for the predictable expenses of child-rearing, education and retirement; social insurance for the costs of catastrophic but unforeseeable medical bills; and some guarantee of safety-net income for people who, through no fault of their own, lose jobs or retirement benefits because of broad economic changes.

In short, enact the Ownership Society Lite. I've always been amused to see how the alternative to tax-funded social programs is saving... enforced by the coercive power of the government.

Democrats of the New and Old persuasions alike should recognize that the "realities of the new millennium" are that corporations can't — or, more accurately, won't — offer economic security through the "free" market. Additionally, as this week's remarkably shrill Time cover story notes, contracts between corporations and workers are less sacred than other contracts in important ways that affect both retirement and general economic security. As a result, the "social insurance concept" behind entitlements like Social Security is as relevant as ever. The idea that social insurance programs are outdated relics of the 1930s is patently false. Workers need them, and that's no small reason why they're popular.

Meanwhile, the idea that there is a bipartisan consensus to form around any tax increases, however necessary they may be to realign federal revenues and spending, is also fantasy. Reality is that "moderate" Republican budget hawks and far-right spend-and-don't tax Republicans alike have been more than happy to preside over the fiscal debacle. Moreover, the Republican leadership specifically twisted arms within their caucus to pass the biggest unfunded entitlement in recent memory. Funding Social Security in its present form is almost trivial in comparison.

One of the lessons I'd hope Democrats would absorb from recent elections is that no amount of necessity or bipartisanship will insulate them from the stock Republican attack that they're a bunch of weak-kneed traitors and tax-lovers (not necessarily in that order, depending on the intensity of the electoral imperative that Iraq be cut loose next fall). The implications are that there is little political gain to triangulation for its own sake, and that it doesn't hurt Democrats to remember that progressive policies are popular.

They can start with easy steps: Don't take advice from Republican consultants.

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