I’m not an economist. Math and I don’t get along. So I don’t have anything intelligent to add to the specifics of the current Progressive Freakout™ over the fiscal cliff negotiations. But one thing I’ve learned over the past couple years is that those screaming loudly about President Obama caving on this or that tend to be wrong, and embarrassingly so.
The biggest example is the Bush tax cut deal from December 2010. Mainstream progressives screamed that Obama had sold us out, totally ignoring that Obama made the deal with an obstructionist GOP in order to extend unemployment insurance that millions of American relied upon to, you know, live. (Notably, those screaming the loudest had no skin in the game.)
Another example is the debt ceiling negotiations from last summer. Again, mainstream progressives yelled that Obama put Social Security on the table and cited that as proof that he was trying to stick it to his base. Outrage! Betrayal! (One noted “Bold Progressive” even attacked Gabby Giffords for daring to vote for the debt ceiling compromise on her first day back to Congress after recovering from her shooting injury. Classy. That same “Bold Progressive” began fundraising for his organization based upon a misrepresentation of what Obama was trying to negotiate. (Joy-Ann Reid wrote about it here and Extreme Liberal wrote about it here.) Even Lawrence O’Donnell got fed up with these shouty progressives, pointing out that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”) And, of course, once everything was agreed to, these shouty progressives were left standing with their asses hanging out — again. Same as it ever was.
Oh, and the biggest example is the Great Public Option Freakout™. Remember that? No, me neither. That’s because I’ve blocked that period of time from my memory.
So the fact that Adam Green and Bold Progressives are screaming about the fiscal cliff and demanding three dollars for whatever it is that they do is simply more of the same. They are yelling about Obama cutting Social Security because of something called chained CPI. Noticeably absent from their screaming is any discussion of chained CPI as part of the larger deal that President Obama is currently negotiating. Also noticeably absent from their screaming is any discussion of negotiation strategy itself. They want Obama to walk up to the table and say, “This deal or no deal.” Welp, that’s not how negotiating works. Trust me. I’m a lawyer. And of course, absent from boldly progressive screaming is any discussion of GOP chaos or the fact that Boehner does not have control of his caucus.
So considering that mainstream progressives don’t know what the full fiscal cliff deal is, and that they don’t seem to have a clue as to how negotiations work, and that no one seems to have a clue as to what the fuck Boehner is doing, let me pose a few questions: Is it possible that President Obama’s negotiating strategy is aimed at revealing Republicans to be the fail parade they are? Is it possible that he intends to protect the downtrodden from any pooch-screwing effects chained CPI will have? (To the extent you believe that chained CPI has a chance of becoming part of the deal — I don’t, because Boehner is incompetent.) Is it possible that people simply don’t know enough to be freaking out as much as they are?
I think it’s highly likely.
Considering that it is unclear how the chained CPI will dovetail with other policies that are on the table (which are as yet unreported), I’d say it makes sense to calm the hell down a little bit. Whether or not you view chained CPI as a “cut” (as most do) or as a reduction in total lifetime benefits (as Deaniac at The People’s View does), as long as the outcome of the fiscal cliff deal, chained CPI and all, won’t screw seniors or the poor in the pooch, won’t you be satisfied? How about if I tell you that President Obama favors such non-pooch-screwing deals (as Deaniac has written here and here) and as Greg Sargent points out here:
However, according to an official familiar with the talks, the White House continues to insist on various ways of softening the blow of “chained CPI” that are supported by progressive economists, though the details are still unclear. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is willing to support “chained CPI” if it is offset with a small increase in Social Security benefits for longtime beneficiaries and an exemption of of Supplemental Security Income, which is geared towards the poor and disabled. And so, a lot will depend on what the final agreement on Social Security looks like.
So, even assuming that chained CPI is a cut, it won’t have the effect that Grayson and PCCC and the others screaming about this shit say it will have because it will be coupled with other mechanisms that will offset any bad effect chained CPI will have, as Deaniac explains here:
Let’s keep in mind that the president would accept such a deal, only if seniors and other recipients closest to poverty can be protected from adverse effects, while boosting benefits for the most needy. And, as with each of the previous iterations of this proposal, it will likely come with a new special minimum benefit to ensure that for the first time ever, no senior on social security has to live in poverty. Actual liberal policy think tanks (as opposed to screamtastic loudmouths) like the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for American Progress have endorsed approaches exactly along these lines.And Leader Pelosi, who has more progressive bona fides in her left toenail than all the howling “Left” groups combined, just let the cat out of the bag:
Asked whether she considers chained CPI a benefit cut, Pelosi told reporters Wednesday, “No. I don’t. I consider it strengthening of Social Security.”
But but but… won’t this still reduce the total lifetime benefit of a senior? Yes, insofar as each additional year lived is an increase in one’s lifetime benefits. The only way you can honestly term the Chained CPI measure a “cut” is if you are willing to also make the case that every additional year lived is an “increase” in benefits. Which of our beloved defenders of Social Security would like to make this case to seniors, please step forward.
Chained CPI is not a cut in baseline benefits in Social Security. Even Paul Krugman – the Professional Left’s greatest self-proclaimed bearded professor – admits that initial benefits are determined by one’s earnings, but that chained CPI would reduce the rate of growth of those benefits by about 0.3%. For every “progressive” who believes that such slowing of the rate of growth is a “benefit cut,” I would like them also to step forward and with a straight face, tell me that cutting the rate of growth of defense spending is a “cut” in defense spending. If you think you’re a liberal, go ahead and try to say that. Out loud. With a straight face. You can’t do it, can you?
Yes, I know — I just threw a lot of wonky political jibber-jabber at you, and you probably didn’t read it, so I guess the bottom line is this: We don’t know what the final agreement will look like, and nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. Sign petitions. Make your opinion heard. Scream at someone you don’t know on Twitter. But when you start dipping into the “Obama Caved He Sold Us Out OMG What’rewegonnado?!” pool, it might be time to slow your roll. When you start accusing people of having no idealogical core (as one “Bold Progressive” did to me last night because I had the temerity to tweet Deaniac’s above-quoted post), you might need to reevaluate some things, because screaming about Obama selling out his base and Obamabots when you’re not even discussing the full deal because no one knows what the full deal even is?
Ultimately, I think Chris Savage of Eclectablog nailed it in July of last year when he wrote about the debt ceiling shenanigans:
But, hey, it all goes back to the whole preemptive whinging thing I wrote about before. To recap, here’s how it goes:
- Read the day’s headlines.
- Determine a spin that characterizes the President and his administration in the worst possible light.
- If such a spin does not exist, postulate what the President and his administration’s response will be. Make sure that it is as negative as possible, even if it contradicts his past behavior.
- Write endless blogs on how the President has once again sold his “base” down the river and kicked hippies in the teeth (after punching them, of course.) It is not necessary for him to actually have done this. Your prediction that he WILL do this is sufficient.
- When what you predicted turns out to be quite wrong, ignore that and focus on the next day’s news item. No point in issuing a mea culpa. Just raise a fuss about something new and nobody will notice.
- Lather, rinse and repeat.
Right now, emails are flooding my inbox demanding that I sign this or that petition expressing my outrage about “Obama’s proposed Social Security Benefit Cut.” Right –except the cut is part of a package, and we don’t know what that package is. (If Greg Sargent doesn’t know what it is, it’s safe to say that nobody does.) So while I’m happy to stand up and shout “no cuts to Social Security,” if the ultimate deal “cuts” Social Security in a way that doesn’t measurably harm seniors, the middle-class, or the poor, then I’m fine with it.