THE BLOG
11/29/2010 02:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Deficit Mantra for Dems (+Tea Party): 'End Corporate Welfare First'

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich"--JFK, Inaugural Address.

Of the many failures of the Obama messaging operation, one of the most damaging has been the conflation in the public's mind of long-term deficits/short-term spending/bailouts as all arising from some spending plan proposed by the president. All lies.

Indeed, as many studies (but who cares about facts anymore?) have demonstrated, the largest single factor in the deficit problem we have now and will have in the next 10 years is the Bush tax cuts; the impact on the debt of the short-term spending programs the president signed to combat the disastrous Bush economic legacy is negligible, and is likely to be positive as a worse recession, with deeper declining revenues and increased safety net costs would have occurred.

Let me state at the outset that some "corporate welfare" helps the economy both near and long-term, and that I personally favor those investments. But, not at the expense of the most needy and most vulnerable in our society. That cannot be allowed.

With no effective communications whatsoever from the Democrats, the default message heard by the American people is the right wing refrain that Obama is TARPing and bailouting and spending us to debt.

So, if we are indeed going to engage in a paroxysm of debt cutting, we have to begin somewhere, and where one begins often is where one ends... with some fig leafs added to make it appear comprehensive.

Let us, then, begin with "ending corporate welfare first."

No Democrat and, one might hope, no Tea Partier worth his Splenda™, should even be willing to consider reducing a single benefit to Main Street, the sick, the poor, the elderly, the young, family farmers, before squeezing every penny of corporate welfare out of the tax and appropriations' systems.

First step: Senate Finance Committee Hearings on Corporate Welfare. There are, we are told nearly every campaign season, 25,000 pages in the tax code written by and for special interests. Let us expose what those are (without having to read a 25,000 page set of regulations), and how much money the Treasury loses annually by maintaining them.

Perhaps oil companies like Koch Industries that funded the radical right in the 2010 elections might like to see what happens when their puppets are forced to vote on continuing the oil-depletion allowance. I, for one, would like to have a front row seat to witness that spectacle.

Or how about agribusiness? Let us see them defend spending taxpayer dollars subsidizing giant agricultural corporations. Or, for that matter, members of Congress such as Chuck Grassley and Michelle Bachmann who both grab federal dollars they decry for others.

Tax havens would be another interesting part of those hearings. How much money is being lost to Treasury from those cute tricks?

And so forth.

If there is not at least $2 trillion in savings from eliminating all those over the next decade, then corporations have been overpaying their lobbyists for a long time and deserve their money back.

Moreover, this exercise may serve as an object lesson to the positive role of government spending plays in our mixed economy (because that is what it is, and why it is successful), as we will hear one industry after another wail and moan that they are being cast to the wolves of the free market system. Just as the right wing is good at fomenting wars so long as other peoples' children are doing the fighting, they are also strong adherents of free markets -- for every other sector but their own.

But, such a lesson will never be learned unless we begin from the position, "end corporate welfare first."