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George Curry

Democrats Need a Hot Chocolate Party

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(NNPA) It is becoming increasingly clear that President Obama and Democrats need pressure from within the party to force them to stand their ground against the Tea Party insurrection in Congress. As was evident in the recent debt ceiling fiasco, conservative House Republicans have gravitated even farther to the right because of pressure from the Tea Party movement. Democrats are being towed along kicking and screaming. Well, screaming. That’s why there is an urgent need to form a Hot Chocolate Party to force Democrats to start acting like Democrats. Democrats control the White House and the Senate but they don’t act like the party in control. And that’s because they rarely control anything, including their own party members. The public agenda is being driven by the Tea Party, a small sect that has become so powerful that its members forced an embarrassed House Speaker John Boehner to withdraw his debt ceiling bill from the floor.

To his credit, Boehner was smart enough to regroup and give the Tea Party what it wanted. To their discredit, President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to give the Tea Party zealots nearly everything they asked for. In the end, that still wasn’t enough to satisfy them.

How did Democrats lose their way?

President Obama, the titular head of the party, has usually adopted sensible public policy stances on such issues as the public option in health care and letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire. In the face of withering Republican opposition, however, Obama has usually capitulated.

For example, candidate Obama campaigned for universal health care. At the time, the U.S. was the only industrialized country in the world that did not provide universal health care. Many progressives wanted a single-payer plan similar to the one in Canada. With such a powerful health care lobby in Washington, there was little chance of achieving that goal. So they agreed to go along with the public option, a government health insurance agency that competes with private insurance companies.

Thanks to a president eager to strike a deal with the Party of No, the public option was removed as an option before the legislation was passed and signed into law. This was the beginning of the end.

Last December, Republicans pretended to oppose extending long-term unemployment benefits, a major goal of Democrats. But the quid pro quo was that Republicans would go along with the extension if Obama would agree to a 2-year extension of all Bush tax cuts. That was another time I wanted President Obama to call the GOP bluff, but apparently fighting is not in his DNA.

With high unemployment in his native Ohio, Boehner could not afford to look into the eyes of jobless voters back home and tell them unemployment benefits should not be extended. But a deal was struck giving Obama the unemployment extension and allowing Boehner and his GOP comrades to protect the super rich. If the Hot Chocolate Party were in place, it could have insisted that the Bush tax cuts expire, something that would have cut the federal deficit by half. It also could have curtailed the practice U.S. companies hiding most of their assets overseas to keep from paying corporate taxes and ending the public subsidizing vacation homes, private jets and boats for the upper class.

As bad as past deals were, this deficit showdown was perhaps the worst example of Democrats being impotent.

An angry Barack Obama acknowledged how bad the deal was after Boehner walked out of their deficit reduction talks and refused to return his telephone calls.

Listen again to why Obama was angry: “Essentially, what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense,” Obama said in a July 22 news conference. “We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.”

Here’s the part that proved that the president was willing to give up too much: “We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six [a panel Democratic and Republican lawmakers]. We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was equally pathetic in trying to advance his deficit proposal. He said his bill did not require any new taxes, something he hoped would satisfy Republicans. It didn’t.

Enough of these wimpy Democrats. When challenged by Republicans, they roll over early and often. Democrats roll over so easily that they should be renamed the Roth IRA Party.

To let Democrats tell it, they roll over because they want what’s best for the country and avoiding default, for example, was achieved only because they were willing to give Tea Party fanatics what they wanted. Compromise is now a one-way street. It’s time to take another road.

Let’s put the Hot Chocolate Party in the driver’s seat to say no to the Party of No. If they again threaten to drive the country in a ditch, to borrow a quote from President Obama, provide them with the directions. I suspect that once they realize Democrats won’t keep giving in to their empty threats, we will find out that they are not as crazy as they appear.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Democrats Capitulate to Tea Party's 'Raw Extortion'

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Democrats blew it. They control the White House and the Senate. Yet, it was the Republican-controlled House – which is itself increasingly controlled by Tea Party zealots – that defined the terms of deficit debate and provided us with another example of Democratic ineptness.

The last-minute deal between President Obama and congressional leaders amounted to, in the words of economist Paul Kaufman, “raw extortion on the part of a party that, after all, controls one house of Congress.”

Writing in Monday’s New York Times, Krugman said the deficit deal amounts to “an abject surrender on the part of the president. First, there will be big spending cuts, with no increase in revenue. Then a panel will make recommendations for further deficit reduction – and if these recommendations aren’t accepted, there will be more spending cuts.”

Krugman argued, “Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to the raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.”

Me, too.

From the beginning, Republicans took control of the debate. The Government Accountability Office explains: “The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, the debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since 1962, including 18 times under Ronald Reagan. Until now, neither House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to lifting the debt ceiling.

Now that Barack Obama is president, they have made it a major issue. House Speaker John Boehner, for example, asserted that President Obama was seeking a blank check.

“This is a straight-up lie. Not the everyday, casual fudging that politicians do, but a straight up lie,” Adam Serwer wrote in the Washington Post. “This isn’t a perfect metaphor, but not raising the debt ceiling is more like refusing to pay your credit card bill than it is akin to asking for a blank check. Congress appropriates funds; if they don’t want Obama to spend more, it’s within Congress’s power to withhold that money.”

That wasn’t the only straight-up Republican lie.

The Republican mantra became, “We have a spending problem, not an income problem.” Actually, we have both. It’s true that federal spending this current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, is expected to equal 24.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the second-highest percentage of GDP since 1945.

It is also true federal revenues are expected to be 14.8 percent of GDP this year, the second- lowest level since War II.

But the most conservative of conservatives prefer to ignore that reality. Letting the Bush taxes expire would slash the deficit in half, but that’s an item that Republicans insisted was off the negotiating table.

In his July 22 press conference, Obama acknowledged he had been exceedingly generous in his overtures to Republicans.

“Essentially, what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense,” Obama said. “We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.”

Here’s the kicker: “We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six [a panel Democratic and Republican lawmakers]. We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed.”

Boehner responded to Obama’s gesture by ending the negotiations and refusing to return Obama’s phone calls. Therein lies the difference between Obama and Boehner. The latter listens to his base and then moves quickly in its direction. Obama, on the other hand, repeatedly boasts that he is willing to ignore the wishes of his base when attempting to strike a deal with House conservatives.

“The president got the only thing that was nonnegotiable from his perspective: a big enough increase in the debt limit to ensure he doesn’t have a repeat of this fiasco during the 2012 campaign, which would make him look fatally weak,” wrote Matt Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

In the wake of the deficit deal, Obama has tried to put a happy face on the ugly deal. The administration has put out a “fact sheet” that claims the agreement, “ Stays true to the President’s commitment to shared sacrifice by preventing the middle class, seniors and those who are most vulnerable from shouldering the burden of deficit reduction. The President did not agree to any entitlement reforms outside of the context of a bipartisan committee process where tax reform will be on the table and the President will insist on shared sacrifice from the most well-off and those with the most indefensible tax breaks.”

We’ve heard similar talk for the past two years. And the end result has been the president giving in to political extortion.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge

Republicans Have a Memory Deficit

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(NNPA) How did we get into this budget mess?

Republican lawmakers want you to believe it was because of the two years President Barack Obama has been in office? But it was Republicans – the professed party of fiscal responsibility – who have presided over the largest splash of red ink.

According to Investment Watch blog:

· The deficit was raised 18 times under Ronald Reagan – three times in 1981, twice in 1982, twice in 1983, three times in 1984, twice in 1985, twice in 1986 and four times in 1987 – or once every five months;

· Under Clinton, the debt was raised only four times – twice in 1993 and once each in 1996 and 1997 – an average of once every 24 months;

· George W. Bush presided over seven increases in the deficit – once each in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and twice in 2008 – or once every 13 months;

· Under Obama, the deficit was raised twice – in 2009 and 2010 – or once every 15 months.

The New York Times observed in an editorial: “In 2001, President George W. Bush inherited a surplus, with projections by the Congressional Budget Office for ever-increasing surpluses, assuming continuation of the good economy and President Bill Clinton’s policies. But every year starting in 2002, the budget fell into deficit. In January 2009, just before President Obama took office, the budget office projected a $1.2 trillion deficit for 2009 and deficits in subsequent years, based on continuing Mr. Bush’s policies and the effects of recession. Mr. Obama’s policies in 2009 and 2010, including the stimulus package, added to the deficits in those years but are largely temporary.”

The editorial noted that Republican policies, two wars and economic downturns are responsible for our economic quagmire.

“Under Mr. Bush, tax cuts and war spending were the biggest policy drivers of the swing from projected surpluses to deficits from 2002 to 2009. Budget estimates that didn’t foresee the recessions in 2001 and in 2008 and 2009 also contributed to deficits. Mr. Obama’s policies, taken out to 2017, add to deficits, but not by nearly as much,” the Times article stated. “…The Bush tax cuts have had a huge damaging effect. If all of them expired as scheduled at the end of 2012, future deficits would be cut by about half, to sustainable levels.”

Republicans are featuring deficit reduction as their central political campaign yet refuse to let the Bush tax cuts expire. And though Democrats don’t agree, they can’t muster the backbone to stand up to the GOP.

Republican leaders have adopted the mantra: We have a spending problem, not an income problem.

According to FactCheck.org, we have both.

“Federal spending is expected to equal 24.1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30,” the Web site notes. “The figure was 25 percent in fiscal year 2009, highest since 1945.

“On the other hand, federal revenues are expected to drop to 14.8 percent of GDP this year, lower than the 14.9 percent attained in both 2009 and 2010. There has been only one year since World War II when revenues have been as low as any of these years: 1950, when the figure was 14.4 percent.”

In fiscal 2000, the year before the first of two Bush tax cuts took effect, receipts from federal income tax on individuals represented 10.2 percent of GDP. Last year, that figure had dropped to 6.2 percent of GDP. Corporate taxes have also been steadily lowered, now making up only 8.9 percent of the federal budget.

David Stockman told talkingpointsmemo.com: "I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn't part of the solution. It's a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes."

Rather than dealing with a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, GOP leaders are proposing drastic spending cuts in what is called domestic discretionary or non-security discretionary spending. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says that portion of the budget “provides vital services to people in need, protects Americans from corporate abuses and environmental degradation, and keeps the government itself operating.”

EPI stated, “Despite its important functions, the domestic discretionary budget represents only 15 percent of the total budget, and accounts for only 14 percent of the inflation-adjusted increase in federal outlays over the last decade.”

A chart created by EPI shows that the non-security discretionary share of the federal budget averaged 3.3 percent from 1962 to 2008. Under Reagan, it averaged 3.4 percent, 3 percent under Clinton, and 3.5 percent in fiscal 2011. The proposed Obama budget proposed a drop to 2.2 percent. A GOP plan would slice domestic spending to 1.5 percent.

Clearly, domestic spending isn’t out of control, as Republicans argue. And the aging of Americans will only add to the problem.

“Frankly, if you want to blame our looming deficits on policy changes, you would look not to spending but, rather, taxes – specifically, to President Bush's huge tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 that Congress recently extended until 2012 and will likely extend either wholly or in large measure again after that,” Lawrence Haas wrote in Fiscal Times. “Simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire would reduce annual deficits to about 3 percent of GDP (which is considered economically sustainable) over the next decade, though they would start rising again later on due to soaring health care costs.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Obama Budget Concessions to the Right of Republican Voters

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(NNPA) A recent Gallup poll shows that most Americans support President Obama’s plan to raise the nation debt ceiling, set to expire Aug. 2, with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, especially on corporations and the wealthy. Republican leaders, on the other hand, are resisting any tax increases, a position not favored even by Republican voters.

In the poll, taken July 7-10, only 20 percent of Americans say deficit reduction should be achieved solely through spending cuts. Another 30 percent say it should be done mostly with spending cuts and 32 percent believe the goal should be reached equally with spending cuts and tax increases.

Among Republicans, 24 percent favor an equal split between spending reductions and tax cuts, 26 percent favor only spending cuts and 41 percent favor reaching the target with mostly spending cuts. Among independents, 30 percent favor mostly tax increases, 28 percent support an equal share of spending cuts and tax increases and 23 percent prefer mostly spending cuts.

The largest share of Democrats – 42 percent – favor an equal split between spending cuts and additional taxes, followed by 23 percent who mostly want spending cuts and 12 percent who favor mostly tax increases.

Writing in the New York Times, Nate Silver noted: “Much to the chagrin of many Democrats, the mix of spending cuts and tax increases that Mr. Obama is offering is quite close, or perhaps to the right of, what the average Republican voter wants, let alone the average American.”

Make no mistake about it, this posturing over the deficit is directly related to the 2012 presidential election. Republicans have concluded that making a deal with a Democratic president, even one who is willing to give them most of what they want, will not help them in the next election cycle. For his part, Obama has concluded that a deal on raising the debt ceiling, even a bad deal, bodes well for his re-election campaign.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, an economist, said, “President Obama has made it clear that he’s willing to sign on to a deficit-reduction plan that consists overwhelmingly of spending cuts, and includes draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility.

“…If a Republican president had managed to extract the kind of concessions on Medicare and Social Security that Mr. Obama is offering, it would have been considered a conservative triumph. But when those concessions come attached to minor increases in revenue, and more important, when they come from a Democratic president, the proposals become unacceptable plans to tax the life out of the U.S. economy.”

Obama has public opinion on his side yet he is caving in to conservative Republican leaders who are being forced to move even more out of the mainstream by right-wing Tea Party fanatics.

A June 9 poll by Quinnipiac University found that voters will blame Republicans over Obama by a margin of 48 percent to 34 percent if the debt limit is not raised. Additionally, by a margin of 67-25, voters believe that the agreement to raise the debt ceiling should include tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts.

The public debate is being framed in the context of lowering the deficit, but that’s a smokescreen. The real GOP goal is to shrink the size of the federal government, especially agencies with regulatory power.

Even with public opinion on his side, Obama is unlikely to force Republicans to take a stand. It is part of an increasingly disturbing pattern: President Obama makes major concessions to Republicans in hopes of reaching a bipartisan agreement, but in the end GOP leaders walk away from the table, with the administration gaining nothing in the process.

Mark my word: Republicans are not going to agree to even minor increases in taxes to accompany the draconian cuts in social spending that Obama has put on the table. They know by now that they can always play a game of chicken with Obama and he invariably blinks.

More than likely, Obama will accept the scheme of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – the man who said his top priority is denying President Obama a second term – to empower the president to raise the debt ceiling without Republican support.

Under the so-called Plan B, which has been endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid [D-NV], Congress would empower the president to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in three increments over the next year. Republicans in the House and Senate would seek to pass a resolution of disapproval, allowing them to blame Obama for raising the debt limit. Obama would veto resolution of disapproval, if it passes both chambers. Congress is unlikely to have the two-third votes needed to override the president’s veto.

No-drama-Obama is likely to go along with the scheme and defend it by saying America’s economic health was at risk. But Republicans share that responsibility. Obama should reject the McConnell proposal and have a showdown with Republicans more interested in their political fortunes than the future of the country. They should not be given an easy way out.

If Obama walks into the political trap set by McConnell, he will give Republicans the cuts in domestic programs they wanted, no tax revenue will be added to the pot, and the GOP will be able to blame Obama in 2012 for raising the debt. That’s not the change we’ve been waiting for.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Michele Bachmann: The John Wayne of Political Lies

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(NNPA) Whether making the round of Sunday morning talk shows, giving the Tea Party response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, or announcing her own presidential candidacy, Michele Bachmann does one thing consistently – lie.

The Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, who has been described as Sarah Palin with a brain, has enjoyed a dramatic rise in public opinion polls following the latest debate among GOP candidates seeking the party’s presidential nomination. But Bachmann’s comments are a reminder of the adage: Figures can lie and liars can figure. Here are some of the most egregious examples:

BACHMANN [CBS “Face the Nation,” June 26]: The Congressional Budget Office estimated Obamacare will cost economy 800,000 jobs, probably the –

HOST BOB SCHIEFFER: Again, that is data that other people would question.

BACHMANN: That’s – well, that’s what the Congressional Budget Office, that’s not Michele Bachmann, that’s Congressional Budget Office figures saying that we’re – we have the potential of losing 800,000 jobs.

FACTS: As Factcheck.org noted, “The CBO didn’t say that. Instead the CBO said that the law would cause a reduction in the amount of labor workers choose to supply. Some Americans would decide to work fewer hours or retire earlier because their ability to get health insurance would be more secure. And low-income workers would receive subsidies to purchase insurance, putting more money into their pockets. Overall, the CBO said the impact on jobs would be ‘small.’”

BACHMANN [Jan. 25 Tea Party Response to the State of the Union address]: Unfortunately, the president’s strategy for recovery was to spend a trillion dollars on a failed stimulus program, fueled by borrowed money…Not only did that plan fail to deliver, but within three months the national jobless rate spiked to 9.4 percent. And sadly, it hasn’t been lower for 20 straight months. While the government grew, we lost more than 2 million jobs. Let me show you a chart. Here are unemployment rates over the past 10 years. In October 2001, our national unemployment rate was 5.3 percent. In 2008…it was just 6.6 percent. But, just eight months after President Obama promised lower unemployment, that rate spike to a staggering 10.1 percent.

FACTS: The watchdog group Media Matters, on its politicalcorrection.org site, stated: “From December 2007 to July 2009 – the last year of the Bush second term and the first six months of the Obama presidency, before his policies could affect the economy – private sector employment crashed from 115,574,000 jobs to 107,778,000 jobs. Employment continued to fall, however, for the next six months, reaching a low of 107,107,000 in December of 2009. So, out of 8,467,000 private sector jobs lost in this dismal cycle, 7,796,000 of those jobs or 92 percent were lost on the Republican watch or under their policies. Some 671,000 additional jobs were lost as the stimulus and other moves by the administration kicked in, but 630,000 jobs came back in the following six months. The tally, to date: Mr. Obama can be held accountable for the net loss of 41,000 jobs (671,000-630,000), while the Republicans should be held responsible for the net losses of 7,796,000 jobs.”

BACHMANN [Tea Party State of the Union response]: But instead of cutting, we saw an unprecedented explosion of government spending and debt, unlike anything we have seen in the history of our country. Deficits were unacceptably high under President Bush, but they exploded under President Obama’s direction, growing the national debt by an astounding $3.1 trillion dollars.

FACTS: The rising debt can be attributed to Bush-era policies and the recession that began before Obama took office. As the conservative Washington Times observed, “The Congressional Budget Office announced a projected fiscal 2009 deficit of $1.2 trillion even if Congress doesn’t enact any new programs…About the only person who was silent on the deficit projection was Mr. Bush, who took office facing a surplus but who saw spending balloon and the country notch the highest deficits on record.”

BACHMANN [Tea Party response]: We need to start making things again in this country. And we can do that by reducing the tax and regulatory burden on job creators. America will have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Think about that.

FACTS: Researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have thought about it and what they realize is that to grasp the corporate tax burden, one needs to look beyond statutory tax rates to the effective tax rate, which takes into account tax deductions. Judging by that standard, the Center notes, “The U.S. corporate tax burden is smaller than average for developed countries. Corporations in 19 of the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development paid 16.1 percent of their profits in taxes between 2000 and 2005, on average, while corporations in the United States paid 13.4 percent.”

Appearing on Fox News after officially declaring her candidacy for president, Bachmann said on June 27: “What I want them to know is, just like John Wayne is from Waterloo, Iowa, that’s the kind of spirit that I have too.”

John Wayne wasn’t from Waterloo. He was born in Winterset, Iowa and grew up in California. Bachmann apparently got John Wayne mixed up with another John Wayne – John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer who was from Waterloo.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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