The President and Democratic Leaders obviously have a huge responsibility in the debt ceiling talks. But if there's ever been a time to drive a hard bargain, this is it. There's nothing irresponsible about staring down the Republicans and making them blink. These negotiations boil down to fundamental choices and priorities, and the differences between the sides could not be more stark. Democrats are for working and middle-class families. The Republicans are for rich people and big corporations. Seniors and middle-class families need to win this time.
That's why it was encouraging to hear White House spokesman Jay Carney sum it up so well on Monday: "Do we perpetuate a system that allows for subsidies in revenues for oil and gas, for example, or owners of corporate private jets, and then call for cuts in things like food safety or weather services?"
Carney's question was spot on, and Democrats should forcefully answer it with a resounding "no." Democrats should insist on cutting spending on things like tax breaks for Big Oil and owners of corporate jets before agreeing to any other cuts (as Drew Westen has suggested). There's no basis for whacking seniors and middle-class families by cutting vital programs before ending outrageous tax loopholes for people and companies that don't need them. When it comes to Medicare and Medicaid, there's no rationale for taking a meat ax to these programs at all.
Deep Medicaid cuts, for example, will cause serious, irreparable harm to people. Millions of seniors would be thrown out of nursing homes. Middle-class families would be slammed with crushing health care costs for their parents while struggling to make ends meet, save for retirement and send kids to college. Children and people with disabilities will go without needed care. Huge costs will be shifted to state governments, jobs will be lost and the economy will be hurt.
Democrats have to resist the Republican plan to destroy Medicaid as fiercely as they are fighting the Republican proposal to end Medicare as we know it. They shouldn't cave in on this issue. That would be devastating for people and for the political fortunes of Democrats.
As for tax loopholes for the corporate jet set and others, Democrats should never agree that eliminating tax breaks is the same as increasing taxes. It's not. It's a cut of wasteful, obscene and unaffordable government spending on people and corporations that are awash in money and don't need more - especially in the form of handouts paid for by middle-class taxpayers. It's worth shouting this every minute of every day.
These tax breaks are as pointless and unconscionable as they are extravagant. Can we really afford to spend $21 billion of our tax dollars giving a break to Big Oil, the most profitable companies in the history of the world? Or spend $3.7 trillion continuing the Bush tax cuts for the rich? The Bush tax cuts are responsible for about a third of the national debt. And there are obviously more important things to spend tax dollars on - like a real jobs program that puts people back to work.
America can't afford useless tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires and big corporations. It's been shown repeatedly that cutting taxes for the super rich does nothing to create jobs and grow the economy. Tax cuts for high-income people and companies only make rich people richer at a time when middle-class families are struggling to hang on. Instead, we should be raising revenue by increasing taxes on folks in the highest income brackets, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois has sensibly proposed. Asking America's wealthiest people to pitch in and pay their fair share is good policy and politics.
The Republicans aren't interested in deficit reduction or the budget. They are mounting a frontal assault on the middle class. It's about shrinking government and remaking our society so millionaires and corporations get even richer while the rest of us are left with crumbs.
People are hurting and understandably angry. Some Republicans don't know this, and most don't care. But Democrats do. That's why it's worth fighting so hard for seniors and the middle class in the debt limit talks. The stakes are high. The federal government can't default on its debt obligations. We also can't tear apart the programs that preserve and expand the middle class. We can't default on the American Dream. Democrats must keep alive the promise of economic security and opportunity for the people who built this country and make it work.