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Posts Tagged ‘Tax the Rich’

NYPD Occupies Zuccotti Park; OWS Evicted in Night Raid

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

see livestreaming via GlobalRevolution ]         photographs © Levees Not War 2011

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What are their [NYPD’s] demands?” asked social historian Patrick Bruner. “They have not articulated any platform. How do they expect to be taken seriously?” 

“I suppose they have a right to express themselves,” said local resident Han Shan. “But I’d prefer it if instead they occupied the space with the power of their arguments.”          —“NYPD Occupying Liberty Square; Demands Unclear

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This Will Only Strengthen the Movement

After midnight Monday/Tuesday Nov. 15–16 the New York Police Department on orders from Mayor Mike Bloomberg, citing public health and safety concerns, roughly and abruptly cleared Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, where Occupy Wall Street protesters have been encamped since September 17. Starting about midnight hundreds of police surrounded the park, set up bright lights, and, using bullhorns, ordered everyone to take down their tents and evacuate or face arrest. About 100 protesters refused to evacuate, and locked arms around the kitchen area (see map), chanting “We are unstoppable / Another world is possible.” By 1:00 a.m. police and NYC sanitation workers began clearing, uprooting the settlement, arresting holdouts (see map and timeline). About 200 were arrested in the night raid (video of 3:30 a.m. arrests). When the sun rose, Zuccotti Park was occupied only by police.

We went to Zuccotti Park this morning, or as close as we could get: on the other side of steel police barricades where hundreds of NYPD officers formed a “thin blue line” inside a cage of their own. We talked to Robert and Steve, residents of New York City who have been among the Occupiers since the beginning. They have jobs, one of them is married, and apparently they do not sleep overnight in Zuccotti Park all the time, but Steve had his possessions, including a bedroll, wrapped up in several tote bags.

We talked with Robert (right) and Steve for a half hour or so, leaning against a building along Cedar Street on the south side of the park (see map). Robert, a former Wall Streeter (though not a money man), said he wore a suit for the first two weeks of the occupation.

As we talked, helicopters were hovering in locked positions a thousand or so feet overhead. They said that during the raid, the news media’s helicopters were blocked by police from the air space over Lower Manhattan so they could not film the raid. (“Media blackout,” reporters say on Twitter.) The subway system was also shut down (or the entrances to the stations in the area were blocked) and the Brooklyn Bridge was closed to keep people from coming to the occupiers’ defense.

Like the other reporters who’d swarmed to Lower Manhattan to cover the eviction, I’d quickly discovered that the media was not allowed here. The police had created a one-block buffer zone around the park—in some areas two or three blocks—and were refusing to admit even the most credentialed members of the press. A New York Times reporter had already been arrested, a member of the National Lawyers Guild told me. —Josh Harkinson, “Inside Police Lines at the Occupy Wall Street Eviction” (Mother Jones)

We asked if there had been any warning that the eviction was coming. None, though one of the occupiers yesterday noticed the police vans or buses driving by on Trinity or Broadway and sensed that something was up. “I used to be a police officer,” she told her fellow campers. “Something’s coming.” Something indeed. Now the NYPD occupies Zuccotti Park.

Meanwhile, attorneys representing Occupy Wall Street had won a judge’s approval of a restraining order on the city’s eviction, but still the police were there, inside the barricades, and we, representatives of the 99 Percent, were not. Word had gone out that around 8:30 a.m. people would be allowed back in the park, a 24-hour public park that is owned by Brookfield Properties, located across Liberty Street, adjacent to the park. On Tuesday afternoon, New York State Supreme Court Judge Michael D. Stallman ruled in favor of the city’s eviction. (Click here for a PDF of the ruling.)

Steve said that the three main issues that have brought most of the protesters to Occupy Wall Street are (1) that the elected officials in Washington are useless, sold-out properties of the corporations and the super-wealthy and are utterly unresponsive to the public interest; (2) a demand that the investment banksters who wrecked the economy be made to pay for their destructive ways just as the middle class and poor have been made to suffer for their recklessness, and . . . but before we could get to issue #3—

At about 10:45 we heard a sound coming from the west. “That’s the group that’s been at a park over near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, coming back to re-take the park.” We joined in with the big group carrying signs, blowing horns, chanting “Whose park? Our park!” and walking in a large loop around the police- barricaded park. One of the signs said “Obama, Say Something.” Another: “Pres. Obama: If You See Something, Say Something.”

It was a mild, overcast autumn morning with bright yellow leaves on the trees in the park and a dampness in the air. The people, mostly young, but of all ages, really, walked in a steady stream around the park. Steve from time to time said in a loud voice, “Keep moving, please, no civil liberties to be seen here. Move it, people—no freedom here.” Seriously, Steve advised in a lower voice, you’re less likely to draw unwanted attention from the cops if you keep moving.

Around 11:30 there was a sudden rush of camera crews to the south side of the park, on Cedar Street, when one of the protesters planted an American flag in the park soil, on the police side of the barricade. There was a struggle over the barricade as the police tried up uproot the flag, and a group of protesters loudly fought to keep it planted. The police pulled the flag out of the ground and took it over to lean against a tree in the middle of the park. We heard protesters yelling at the police, who stood stone-faced and unresponsive all around the perimeter, clearly instructed not to engage with the civilians, but no further rowdiness ensued. Later, the New York Times City Room blog reported, a protester jumped the railing and ran to grab the flag. He was grabbed and escorted to the exit. The new occupation was reinforced by the judge’s ruling later in the afternoon.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, and other occupations to come . . . (Read our account of the big Oct. 5 march, “Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class”).

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Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

We are the 99% . . . You are the 99%.”

“Banks got bailed out / We got sold out!”

“Whose street? Our street!”

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This Is Not the Fringe.
This Is the Middle Class.

Yesterday into last night we gathered near New York’s City Hall and marched with what looked and felt like at least 100,000 “marginal fringe elements” such as nurses’ and teachers’ unions, the New York City Transit Workers’ union, the AFL-CIO, and innumerable others through Lower Manhattan to Zuccotti Park near Wall Street, the home base of Occupy Wall Street. We’ve been on numerous protest rallies in Manhattan and Washington and London with hundreds of thousands, and this felt as jam-packed as the anti–Iraq War marches in 2003, 2004, 2005.

But this—this feels like a revolution.

Yesterday’s marchers in the tens of thousands were nurses, teachers, professors, bus drivers, subway track workers, secretaries, students, at least one World War II veteran on an aluminum walker (according to the sign around his neck), many children on foot and in strollers, and so on. This is the middle class. As the signs and chants say, “We are the 99%. You are the 99%.”

Among the unions that announced their support and sent members to the march were National Nurses United, AFL-CIO (AFSCME), United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, Service Employees International Union, SEIU 1199, the Transport Workers Union, Transit Workers Union Local 100, Working Families Party, Communications Workers of America, United Auto Workers, and Writers Guild East. (Click here for a longer list.)

A Few Things to Know about Occupy Wall Street 

•  Whatever you see on TV or read in the newspaper is probably a distortion, a minimizing dismissal, a marginalizing caricature. If you want the view of a seasoned journalist who has spent a lot of time with the OWS activists, read Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize–winning former New York Times reporter, at Truthdig and hear this interview with him. He describes the Occupy Wall Street activists as “the best among us.” See the video of Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Jeff Madrick, author of Age of Greed, talking with the Occupants last weekend through the “people’s microphone” (bullhorns are forbidden).

•  The OWS organizers, a loose-knit, non-hierarchical network, are not fringey radicals, but mostly well-educated, social media–savvy young people, creative and resourceful, and organized. They have worked hard in school but there are no jobs. The system—both the economy down to its foundations and the government—is not working for anyone but 1%. It’s over.

•  The Occupation was inspired by both Tahrir Square, Cairo, and the Arab Spring, and by Adbusters.org. See New York magazine’s revealing findings in “Meet the Occupants.” Learn more at OccupyWallSt.org.

•  This Occupation is not limited to Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. Occupy Together lists meetups in 588 cities. L.A. Chicago. Philadelphia. Boston. Seattle. Albuquerque . . . Tomorrow, more. London, you’re next. See map below.

•  The activists are not “unfocused” or lacking in specific aims. They have some very specific demands, including raising the tax rates on upper incomes; calling on the federal government to protect homeowners from arbitrary foreclosures by banks; establishing a financial transactions tax; and closing the “carried interest” and “founders stock” loopholes that, in the words of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, “allow our wealthiest citizens to pay very low tax rates by pretending that their labor compensation is a capital gain.”

•  Americans prefer Occupy Wall Streeters to Congress. New York magazine reports: “A new Rasmussen poll shows that 33 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Wall Street protesters, compared with the 14 percent or so who said the same about the legislative branch. A whopping 79 percent also agreed with what Rasmussen characterized as the movement’s main statement: ‘The big banks got bailed but the middle class got left behind.’ ”

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The Social Contract, Explained by Elizabeth Warren,
Paul Krugman, and Robert Kuttner

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

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“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. . . . You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.”

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United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Elizabeth Warren, the consumer protection reformer and Harvard law professor who is now campaigning to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate, has given one of the most direct and cogent explanations of the social contract we’ve ever heard. (It’s an idea that is not talked about often enough.) One way of describing the social contract, also known as the social compact, is of putting the Golden Rule into practice in society through the mechanisms of government for the benefit of all: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Share and share alike. It’s something children can understand, but not many bankers or senators.

Briefly, the idea of a social contract is of a mutually beneficial system that serves both the ordinary folk and the wealthy, and makes demands on all, a two-way street of reciprocal obligation and fulfillment. The closest the U.S. has ever come to enacting a social contract is through FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. It is an ideal, never quite reached completely, but its essentials were in place not so long ago and could be restored by determined, sustained effort. Robert Kuttner has written about how during the boom decades after World War II a “managed, rather than laissez-faire, brand of capitalism . . . delivered broadly shared prosperity, as well as greater security for both the system and individuals” (The Squandering of America [2007], p. 6). More from Kuttner below.

Let’s go straight to Dr. Warren herself.

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No!

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear.

You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.

You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.

You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.

You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.

But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Isn’t this more or less the idea behind “United we stand, divided we fall”?

As Steve Benen at Washington Monthly notes of Warren’s remarks, “First-time candidates don’t usually articulate a progressive economic message quite this well.”

We have written lately about how the Democrats seriously need to sharpen and toughen up their communication skills. We hereby nominate Elizabeth Warren as one of the chief instructors and exemplars at the Democrats’ School for the Mute. The school also needs a disciplinarian. The Democratic party cannot depend on the skills of Barack Obama alone—though he has lately been showing signs of improvement. Every senator, every representative who wears a D after his or her name should be in intensive training. Dr. Warren—whose talk about economic fairness prompted Jon Stewart to say, “I want to make out with you!”—is the Teacher of the Week. (Click here for her Huffington Post blog posts.)

 

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We were alerted to the good professor’s comments by Paul Krugman’s well-titled column “The Social Contract” (see below, after the jump, for a full version, highlighted and underlined as a convenience for our readers). After explaining why President Obama is right to assert that the wealthy should bear part of the burden of reducing the budget deficit, Krugman cites the “eloquent remarks” made this week by Elizabeth Warren, now on the campaign trail in Massachusetts, countering the assertion that the rich should get to keep all their wealth. It’s hardly “class warfare.” Summarizing Warren’s argument, Krugman writes:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” she declared, pointing out that the rich can only get rich thanks to the “social contract” that provides a decent, functioning society in which they can prosper.

This column follows several days after President Obama, in remarks in the Rose Garden (Sept. 19) on Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction, asserted with welcome clarity, “Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. We can’t afford to do both. . . . This is not class warfare. It’s math.”

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“They Need to Do Their Job.”

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Obama Bitch-Slaps G.O.P. Deficit Hardliners, Hell-Bent Extremists

“Before we ask our seniors to pay more for health care, before we cut our children’s education, before we sacrifice our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs in the economy, I think it’s only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys. I don’t think that’s real radical. I think the majority of Americans agree with that.”

“I’ve said to some of the Republican leaders, you go talk to your constituents, the Republican constituents, and ask them are they willing to compromise their kids’ safety so that some corporate jet owner continues to get a tax break. And I’m pretty sure what the answer would be.”

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Wednesday’s presidential press conference—the first since March—showed a combative President Obama chopping at the Republicans for a lack of fiscal seriousness and a slack work ethic. “They need to do their job” is right. And he’s doing his: defending social contract programs like Medicare and Social Security against the ideology-driven slasher nightmare of a “fiscally conservative” party that enabled a doubling of the deficit under George W. Bush (remember Dick Cheney’s “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter”?). From 2001 to 2009 the current G.O.P. leaders voted 19 times to increase the debt limit by $4 trillion. When Bush took office after Bill Clinton the budget was in the black and the Congressional Budget Office projected a $5.6 trillion surplus over 10 years. Then came the cuts.

Anyway, this Barack Obama is the man we campaigned for long ago, the fighter we feared had evaporated forever in a sweet dream of (illusory) bipartisanship. We just wish Barack had bared his knuckles like this last year when the “fiscal conservatives” were pushing like hell for the Bush tax cut extension, and had fought hard before that in the unnecessarily protracted struggle for the health care reform act, and before that for the helpful but insufficient Stimulus (ARRA) of 2009.

(Obama must have been doing something right to prompt Time writer and MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin to remark Thursday on Morning Joe, with some prompting from Joe Scarborough, “I think he was kind of a dick yesterday.”)

Last year when Obama and congressional Democrats allowed themselves—and thus the nation—to be extorted into an extension of the Bush Tax Cuts for Millionaires, the president seemed not to grasp the terrible truth that the job-killing extremists controlling the G.O.P. are fully willing to drive the U.S. economy into severe crisis in order to inflict maximum damage on this president and his party.

The President now shows signs of understanding that the Republicans really are willing to destroy the United States’s credit and economic functionality in order to inflict pain severe enough to intensify voters’ rejection of the president and his party next November.

The same so-called conservatives who cracked the whip for extension of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires—which will add some $700 billion more to the deficit over the next 10 years—now scream that the deficit is strangling America and killing jobs. (The chart at left illustrates the Bush tax cuts’ contribution to the deficit.) They nearly forced a government shut-down in April (how disappointed they were that the crisis was averted by Democrats’ concessions) and now are forcing another crisis. Many of them actually want a shutdown, as is happening at this moment in the stalemated state of Minnesota. (Minnesota-based G.O.P. candidates Pawlenty and Bachmann approve.)

If the U.S. were to crash through the debt ceiling after August 2, would John Boehner and Mitch McConnell’s publicly funded security detail be laid off?

Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times (“To the Limit”) that a failure by Congress to raise the debt ceiling is not at all unthinkable:

Failure to raise the debt limit—which would, among other things, disrupt payments on existing debt—could convince investors that the United States is no longer a serious, responsible country, with nasty consequences. Furthermore, nobody knows what a U.S. default would do to the world financial system, which is built on the presumption that U.S. government debt is the ultimate safe asset.

But wait, it gets worse:

Failure to raise the debt limit would also force the U.S. government to make drastic, immediate spending cuts, on a scale that would dwarf the austerity currently being imposed on Greece. . . . slashing spending at a time when the economy is deeply depressed would destroy hundreds of thousands and quite possibly millions of jobs.

Krugman adds, ominously:

G.O.P. leaders don’t actually care about the level of debt. Instead, they’re using the threat of a debt crisis to impose an ideological agenda. . . . what’s really going on is extortion pure and simple. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute puts it, the G.O.P. has, in effect, come around with baseball bats and declared, “Nice economy you have here. A real shame if something happened to it.” . . . [Republicans] believe that they have the upper hand, because the public will blame the president for the economic crisis they’re threatening to create. In fact, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that G.O.P. leaders actually want the economy to perform badly.”

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY)—a careful politician who is not prone to exaggeration—made the same point this week when he said Republicans’ “slash-and-burn approach” may be part of a plan “to slow down the recovery for political gain in 2012.” Schumer cited Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s surprisingly candid remark to a reporter before the 2010 midterm elections—“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The senior New York senator asserted, “Republicans aren’t just opposing the president any more, they are opposing the economic recovery itself . . .”

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Republican War on Working Families

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

It’s Not Only in Wisconsin, America

This TV ad is being launched today in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans. Please help Democracy for America spread the word by clicking here to contribute. Thank you.


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Taxing the Rich: Still a Good and Fair Idea

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Budget cutting is all the rage; a recent attempt to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire was defeated by Obama’s deal with the Republican congressional leadership. (See our reaction to that regrettable deal here and here.) In this time of (unnecessary) revenue shortfalls and budget crises, who speaks for raising taxes? We do. And we’re not alone. (For example, Bill Gates Sr., a wealthy man, believes the rich should pay more.)

Recent letters to the New York Times in response to a superficially reasonable column by David Brooks spoke well about the need to raise revenues by taxing the wealthy, reducing tax breaks for the rich and for corporations, and, when cutting the budget, to include defense spending. (As is often the case, the best part of the paper is the Letters to the Editor.) The writers convey their views well, so we’ll say no more except to commend their good sense.

 

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If you feel the same way, please write letters to the editors of your own local papers, and phone your local news stations and the news networks listed here (lower page) and say so. Demand that producers present the views of proponents of fair taxation of upper-income Americans—such as the Citizens for Tax Justice and the National Priorities Project—rather than only presenting the arguments of “fiscally conservative” budget-slashers. Thank you.

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A Letter from Senator Mary Landrieu

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

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Landrieu on Her Reluctant Vote for the Republican Obama Tax Deal

In December during the fight against renewal of the Bush tax cuts (now the Republican Obama tax cuts) for millionaires and billionaires, we posted a tribute to Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s strong condemnation of the immoral giveaway and wrote to her to say thank you

for your strong words . . . against the Obama-McConnell tax plan. Levees Not War has posted a ‘tip of the hat” (“If we had three hats we’d tip them all to Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu . . .”) and we’ve urged our readers to contact your office to thank you for standing up for “justice and doing what’s right.”

. . . We’re concerned that if the tax cuts are extended, their cost to the Treasury will be used (again) as a rationale for cutting Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, and other social safety-net programs. As Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont has written in his letter to Speaker Pelosi, “Without a doubt, the very same people who support this addition to our debt will oppose raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.” This is wicked policy and cannot be abetted by Democrats.

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Senator Landrieu sent a reply, and we wanted to share some of her remarks:

On December 17, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Authorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, extending the lower income tax rates enacted in 2001 and 2004 for two more years.

Although this tax package was not perfect, I strongly supported portions of the legislation directed towards extending tax relief to middle-class families and small businesses including the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and the employer-provided child care tax credit, which were set to expire on December 31, 2010. You may be interested to know that this legislation provides income tax relief for more than 98% of Louisiana families. In addition, the legislation also contains a necessary extension of long-term unemployment benefits to help Americans who are out of work pay the rent, keep the lights on and feed their families while they look for a job. For these reasons I voted in favor of this legislation.

This bill also extended several Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone tax provisions that will mean almost $1 billion in Gulf Coast construction activity and jobs. In the next Congress, I will continue to work with my colleagues to pass a bipartisan provision that will extend the GOZone Low-Income Housing Tax Credit through 2012 so that critical recovery projects will not be stalled or completely shelved.

Even with the benefits for the middle class and the people of Louisiana, this legislation has much room for improvement and I hope that changes can be made during the next Congress. Please rest assured that I will keep your views in mind as Congress debates tax legislation in the future. . . .

P. S. : I am excited to announce that my office is launching new e-newsletters to keep you updated on what I am working on here in Washington, D.C.

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When Vermont senator Bernie Sanders held the floor of the Senate for eight and a half hours on Dec. 10 to denounce the tax cut extension—a diatribe so popular that it temporarily shut down the Senate’s web video server—Ms. Landrieu was one of the Democrats, along with Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who joined Mr. Sanders in speaking out against Obama’s misguided deal with Senate Republicans. We salute their stand. We vote for Democrats Who Fight.

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Sanctimonious Purists Unite

Friday, December 10th, 2010

“People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves, and sanctimonious about how pure our intensions are and how tough we are.”

President Obama, in reply to a question about “what your core values are, what specifically you will go to the mat on”

White House press conference, Tues. Dec. 7, 2010

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An Open Letter to Obama and Biden

NO DEAL

Unfair, Unaffordable  |  No “Kumbaya” for Billionaires

Dear President Obama and Vice President Biden:

You can denounce us “sanctimonious purists” if you like, but one thing you should understand is that we’re not just disgusted with the deal you’ve struck with the Republicans; it’s your timing, and the fact that this desperate compromise did not have to happen. What we oppose is your habitual over-readiness to compromise, your unwillingness to fight before you get backed into a corner. We’re not interested in your readiness to fight Republicans next year (we’ll believe it when we see it); we’re angry about your failure to fight them on these issues in 2010. For the past year you could have been speaking out loudly, publicly, in a sustained fighting-mode campaign, for the continuation of unemployment insurance benefits and against the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Instead you signaled a willingness to find “common ground.”

You never pushed for the unemployment extension when you had a chance, and when you had big Democratic majorities in Congress. You didn’t take the lead to embolden Congressional Democrats before the midterm elections, making big speeches in the districts of the wavering, cautious members of Congress up for reelection. (They weren’t bold, either, but had you taken the lead they would have had more calcium in their spines.) You didn’t meet with Congressional Democrats before you cut this deal with the Republicans, according to Senator Mary Landrieu, who denounces this deal’s “almost moral corruptness.” Now, if Mary Landrieu is disgusted, then the outrage cannot be said to be limited to “liberals.”

Why should a Democratic-majority Congress vote for a measure Republicans want, a deficit-deepening measure for which the GOP will later hypocritically blame them? This is part of the GOP strategy. Let Dems do the lifting, then blame them. You know how Republicans operate.

We’re very concerned that if the tax cuts are extended, their cost to the Treasury will be used (again) as a rationale for cutting Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, and other social safety-net programs. As Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont has written in his letter to Speaker Pelosi, “Without a doubt, the very same people who support this addition to our debt will oppose raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.” You didn’t address this, and you can’t blame the “sanctimonious purist” liberals for this predicament.

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