Some progressives are rushing to pat Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss on the back for breaking away from Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Addicting Info covered Chambliss’ announcement, where he said he cared more about his country than some twenty-year-old no-tax-increases-ever pledge than Norquist’s hurt feelings and opposition to his reelection in 2014. “If we do it his way,” said Chambliss, “then we’ll continue in debt.”
Jim Galloway at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Norquist’s response. Galloway believes that Chambliss’ rejection of the pledge could effect negotiations between President Obama and the Republicans in Congress who are scheduled to lock horns again on Monday, November 26th. As quoted by the AJC, Norquist’s reply read, in part:
If he plans to vote for higher taxes to pay for Obama-sized government he should address the people of Georgia and let them know that he plans to break his promise to them. The Senator’s reference to me is odd. His promise is to the people of Georgia.
In February 2011 he wrote an open letter addressed to me when he joined the Gang of Six saying he would not vote for any plan that raised taxes. He would support only tax revenue that resulted from higher growth. [...]
[The] only “plan” that I have endorsed is the Paul Ryan budget that brings the budget to balance and pays down the debt without any tax hikes. Sen. Chambliss voted for the Ryan plan. I miss his point in trying to attack me.
Zaid Jilani, reporting for The Daily Change at BoldProgressives.org, urges us not to be taken in by Chambliss’ rebuke to Norquist; the Senator has bigger plans in mind. Chambliss is not suddenly going to support demand-side economics, letting the Bush tax cuts expire, or making the wealthy or big corporations pull their weight by paying their fair share of taxes.
Chambliss is probably hoping to be reelected in 2014, and, on the surface, breaking with a powerful lobbyist like Norquist seems to be a risky move, but Chambliss is probably hedging his bets in a different way, by courting different powerful allies and giving the impression that he is considering bipartisan cooperation. Again, don’t be fooled. Jilani explains why Chambliss is probably not risking much, and why we shouldn’t be soothed by his current about-face on the Norquist pledge:
For more than a year, Chambliss has been involved with a group of senators who support the Bowles-Simpson plan to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits while lowering the corporate tax rate. This Bowles-Simpson plan closes a few token tax loopholes, and also reduces the popular mortgage interest deduction. Norquist is opposed to closing even the tiny loopholes that the Bowles-Simpson plan closes, so he staunchly opposes the plan altogether — which also means opposing Chambliss.
Chambliss is willing to deal with closing small loopholes in the tax code in order to get to the wider goals of the Bowles-Simpson plan: cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, cutting Medicare benefits by capping overall spending, and dramatically lowering corporate tax rates.
The Senator is likely trying to curry favor with Democrats in order to pass such a plan. Publicly denouncing Norquist is one way to do that. Some in the press have suggested that his feud with Norquist could cause him to lose his seat. But corporate lobbyists are huge fans of the Bowles-Simpson plan, and if Chambliss can get it passed, then he’ll have all the money he needs to be re-elected in 2014.
Seniors on Social Security and Medicare did not cause the Great Recession. Wall Street did. There is nothing honorable in forcing them to pay for the debt incurred by Wall Street’s recession, tax cuts for the rich, and two wars — as Chambliss wants.
The Bowles-Simpson plan–proposed by The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (NCFRR)–would slash Social Security and Medicare benefits while lowering corporate taxes, and the American people firmly rejected it, and proponents of the Bowles-Simpson plan like Charlie Bass, Brendan Doherty and Bob Kerrey (a Democrat) were defeated at the polls.
Economist Paul Krugman opposes the Bowles-Simpson plan, noting that, “Simpson-Bowles is terrible. It mucks around with taxes, but is obsessed with lowering marginal rates despite a complete absence of evidence that this is important. It offers nothing on Medicare that isn’t already in the Affordable Care Act. And it raises the Social Security retirement age because life expectancy has risen — completely ignoring the fact that life expectancy has only gone up for the well-off and well-educated, while stagnating or even declining among the people who need the program most.” Krugman is a Keynesian, and against austerity measures such as reducing government spending during hard economic times.
James K. Galbraith is another Keynesian economist against Simpson-Bowles. Speaking on behalf of Americans for Democratic Action, he noted that the bulk of our current deficits were caused by a deregulated financial industry and that cutting Social Security and Medicare would be harmful, and force innocent parties who did not contribute to the deficit to suffer.
Dean Baker, author and co-director for The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), is annoyed that Simpson-Bowles neglected to include the International Money Fund’s proposed tax on the financial industry (colloquially known as the Robin Hood Tax). He also noted that Erskine Bowles (co-chair of the NCFRR) might have a conflict of interest, given his ties to Morgan Stanley (he served on their board) and suggests that this might be why the Robin Hood Tax was not even considered.
The deficit report put out by the commission’s co-chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, had one striking omission. It does not include plans for a Wall Street speculation tax or any other tax on the financial industry.
This omission is striking because the co-chairs made a big point of saying that they looked everywhere to save money and/or raise revenue. As Senator Simpson said: “We have harpooned every whale in the ocean – and some minnows.” Wall Street is one whale that appears to have dodged the harpoon.
This omission is made more striking by the fact that at least one member of the commission, Andy Stern, has long been an advocate of such taxes. Presumably he raised this issue in the commission meetings and the co-chairs chose to ignore him.
This tax on the financial sector has the power to raise hundreds of billions every year to provide funding for jobs to kickstart the economy and get America back on its feet. It could help save the social safety net in the US and around the world. [...]
H.R. 6411, the Robin Hood tax, introduced in Congress by Rep. Keith Ellison, one of the most progressive voices in Washington. H.R. 6411, formally known as the Inclusive Prosperity Act, would require the unaccountable Wall Street financiers and gamblers to begin to pay some restitution for all the damage they’ve caused to Main Street communities across the U.S.
Not coincidentally, the bill was introduced on the eve of the one year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, that historic convergence that provided a critical reminder of the pervasive disparity in incomes and wealth in the U.S., and the salient point that the bankers got bailouts and bonuses while so many others were left behind. [...]
Imagine, the average sales tax rate in the U.S. that consumers pay on almost all goods and services is 9.6 percent – yet J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and the other financial giants on Wall Street pay no sales tax on the thousands, even tens of thousands of trades, they carry out every second. [...] H.R. 6411 begins to provide some redress. With a small tax, just 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades, and a lesser amount on other trades of bonds, derivatives, and other financial instruments. Even at those rates, H.R. 6411 could generate as much as $350 billion every year.
Other groups opposed to the Bowles-Simpson plan include union leaders, liberal politicians, and seniors’ organizations.
The Gang of Six is a group of three Republicans and three Democrats. The current line-up includes Democrats Mark Warner from Virginia, Dick Durbin from Illinois, and Kent Conrad from North Dakota. The Republicans include Chambliss from Georgia, Mike Crapo from Idaho and Tom Coburn from Oklahoma (who temporarily left the Gang but later returned to the fold). The Gang of Six proposed a compromise that, over a decade, would slow the growth (while not being an actual reduction) of the deficit by $3.7 trillion. President Obama felt that they were moving in the right direction and was supportive, but congressional Republicans and The Heritage Foundation rather predictably opposed the plan, claiming it required heavy tax hikes.
Chambliss is willing to piss off Norquist in order to curry favor with other powerful lobbyists, and willing to make a few token feints in the direction of closing some small tax loopholes, all so he can go after Social Security and Medicare: two programs most Americans–especially the elderly–cherish and appreciate, but which Republicans have opposed (or tried to privatize, which would enrich bankers–thanks to administrative fees–at the expense of everyone else who has paid their FICA payroll taxes with each paycheck all their working lives, and place Social Security funds at the mercy of the vagaries and vacillations of the stock market) since day one.
Jilani proposes that we should listen to Elizabeth Warren, who has a “credible approach to dealing with the deficit over the long term”:
Warren has an alternative, truly “balanced approach” to tackling the deficit. During a campaign debate [in October], she laid out a popular vision for dealing with the deficit: cut back on wasteful military and agriculture subsidy spending, and make the rich pay their fair share.
Here’s the video:
Warning: it is not just Republicans who are warming to the idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare.
Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD):
On Capitol Hill, it isn’t clear how strenuously Democrats will resist cutting entitlements. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) said he and others were open to changes as long as they were done in a measured way and were part of deal that included tax increases. Mr. Van Hollen also said changing Social Security and increasing the Medicare eligibility age above 65 should be part of negotiations.
“I’m willing to consider all of these ideas as part of an overall plan,” Mr. Van Hollen said Tuesday at the Journal’s CEO Council.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL):
Sen. Dick Durbin said today that his Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate should be willing to address entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid in deficit reduction negotiations.
“From my side of the table, bring entitlement reform into the conversation,” Durbin said on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “Social Security – set aside … doesn’t add to the deficit. But when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid, protect the integrity of the program, but give it solvency for more and more years.”
But Durbin ruled out raising the age of Medicare eligibility as a potential reform. ”We’ve got to make sure that there is seamless coverage of affordable health insurance for every American,” Durbin said. “My concern about raising that Medicare retirement age is there will be gaps in coverage or coverage that’s way too expensive for seniors to purchase.”
Steven Pearlstein, the Washington Post business columnist, often writes insightful pieces on the economy, not today. The thrust of his piece is that we all should be hopeful that a group of incredibly rich CEOs can engineer a coup. [...]
The plan is that we will get the rich folks’ deal regardless of who wins the election. It is difficult to imagine a more contemptuous attitude toward democracy. The deal that this gang (led by Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles) is hatching will inevitably include some amount of tax increases and also large budget cuts. At the top of the list, as Pearlstein proudly tells us, are cuts to Social Security and Medicare. At a time when we have seen an unprecedented transfer of income to the top one percent, these deficit warriors are placing a top priority on snatching away a portion of Social Security checks that average $1,200 a month. Yes, the country needs this.
The most likely cut to Social Security is a reduction in the annual cost of living adjustment of 0.3 percentage points. While that might sound trivial, the effect accumulates through time. After ten years, a typical check will be about 3 percent lower, after 20 years it will be 6 percent lower, and after 30 years it will be about 9 percent lower. Social Security amounts to 90 percent or more of the income for one-third of seniors. For this group, the proposed cut in benefits would be a considerably larger share of their income that the higher taxes faced by someone earning $300,000 a year as a result of the repeal of the Bush tax cuts on high income earners. The latter is supposed to be a big deal, therefore the proposed cuts to Social Security are also a big deal.
The most likely Medicare cut is an increase in the qualifying age from 65 to 67. Those who pay attention to policy issues know that the health insurance market for people in their sixties is a disaster. And, if they could be bothered to look at the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis, they would know that this change would hugely increase the cost of care for the country as a whole, even if it saved the federal government money. In other words, it is exactly the sort of budget cut we would expect from a group of cynical rich people.
Tell them to leave Social Security and Medicare alone: tell them that you, the voter, say NO.
It has been particularly entertaining reading outraged conservatives’ comments about Chambliss’ rejection of Norquist. Some have gone so far as to call Chambliss a RINO (Republican In Name Only), which is laughable. Chambliss is a hard-core conservative. There are few further to the right than he.
Some of Chambliss’ greatest hits, lest we forget while showering him with unearned laurels for a brief moment of reasonable behavior:
Chambliss on the Patriot Act:
- YES on extending the PATRIOT Act’s roving wiretaps.
- YES on extending the PATRIOT Act’s wiretap provision.
- YES on reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act.
- NO on preserving habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees.
- NO on requiring CIA reports on detainees & interrogation methods.
Chambliss on immigration:
- Secure our borders; opposed to any amnesty.
- Rated 100% by USBC, indicating a sealed-border stance.
- Government services in English only.
- Declared English the official language of the US.
- NO on giving Guest Workers a path to citizenship.
- YES on building a fence along the Mexican border.
- NO on comprehensive immigration reform.
Chambliss on making taxation more progressive:
- Abolish IRS–replace income tax with national sales tax.
- Taxpayer Protection Pledge: no new taxes. (Norquist’s pledge)
- YES on making the Bush tax cuts permanent.
- YES on raising the Death Tax exemption to $5M from $1M.
- NO on increasing tax rate for people earning over $1 million.
- YES on extending the tax cuts on capital gains and dividends.
- NO on $47B for military by repealing capital gains tax cut.
- YES on permanently repealing the `death tax`.
Chambliss on alternative energy:
- Rated 0% by the LCV, indicating anti-environment votes.
- Rated 17% by the CAF, indicating opposition to energy independence.
- Open the Outer Continental Shelf for oil & gas leasing.
- NO on starting implementation of Kyoto Protocol.
- NO on raising CAFE standards; incentives for alternative fuels.
- NO on banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
- NO on prohibiting oil drilling & development in ANWR.
- YES on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
- NO on targeting 100,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2010.
- NO on reducing oil usage by 40% by 2025 (instead of 5%).
- NO on disallowing an oil leasing program in Alaska’s ANWR.
- NO on factoring global warming into federal project planning.
- NO on removing oil & gas exploration subsidies.
- NO on tax incentives for energy production and conservation.
- YES on requiring full Senate debate and vote on cap-and-trade.
- NO on $2 billion more for Cash for Clunkers program.
Chambliss on school vouchers:
- Rated 27% by the NEA, indicating anti-public education votes.
- Support the goals and ideals of Charter Schools.
- YES on vouchers for private & parochial schools.
- YES on allowing vouchers in DC schools.
- NO on $5B for grants to local educational agencies.
- Rated 0% by the ARA, indicating an anti-senior voting record.
- NO on strengthening the Social Security Lockbox. (This keeps the government from raiding Social Security funds.)
Chambliss on healthcare issues:
- Fight the federal takeover of health care. (Opposing Obamacare.)
- Rated 0% by APHA, indicating an anti-public health voting record.
- YES on subsidizing private insurance for Medicare Rx drug coverage.
- YES on allowing tribal Indians to opt out of federal healthcare.
- YES on the Ryan Budget: Medicare choice, tax & spending cuts.
- NO on increasing Medicaid rebate for producing generics.
- NO on expanding enrollment period for Medicare Part D.
- YES on limiting medical liability lawsuits to $250,000.
- NO on expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
- NO on adding 2 to 4 million children to SCHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) eligibility.
- NO on regulating tobacco as a drug.
Chambliss on gun control:
- Rated A+ by the NRA, indicating a pro-gun rights voting record.
- Ban gun registration & trigger lock law in Washington DC.
- Allow firearms in National Parks.
- Apply concealed carry permit to all other states where legal.
- YES on prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers.
- YES on prohibiting foreign & UN aid that restricts US gun ownership.
- YES on allowing firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains.
Chambliss on Mandatory Three Strikes Laws:
- Rated 10% by CURE, indicating anti-rehabilitation crime votes.
- YES on more prosecution and sentencing for juvenile crime.
- NO on funding for alternative sentencing instead of more prisons.
- NO on reinstating $1.15 billion funding for the COPS Program.
Chambliss on the death penalty:
- More prisons, more enforcement, effective death penalty.
- YES on making federal death penalty appeals harder.
- NO on maintaining right of habeas corpus in Death Penalty Appeals.
Chambliss on First Amendment issues like teacher-led prayer in public schools:
- Supports anti-flag desecration amendment.
- Supports requiring schools to allow prayer.
- Rated 100% by the Christian Coalition.
- Rated 0% by the AU, indicating opposition to church-state separation.
- Supports a Constitutional Amendment for school prayer
- YES on recommending Constitutional ban on flag desecration.
Chambliss on gay rights:
- Rated 0% by the HRC, indicating an anti-gay-rights stance.
- Amend Constitution to define traditional marriage.
- YES on banning gay adoptions in DC.
- YES on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage.
Chambliss on abortion rights:
- Rated 0% by NARAL, indicating a pro-life voting record.
- Rated 100% by the NRLC, indicating a pro-life stance.
- Prohibit federal funding for abortion.
- YES on banning partial-birth abortions.
- YES on banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad.
- YES on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion.
- YES on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP.
- YES on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life.
- YES on criminal penalty for harming unborn fetus during other crime.
- NO on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives.
- YES on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions.
- NO on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines.
- YES on barring HHS grants to organizations that perform abortions.
- YES on restricting UN funding for population control policies.
Chambliss on welfare and poverty:
- Voted YES on instituting National Service as a new social invention.
- Voted YES on treating religious organizations equally for tax breaks.
- Limit welfare to 2 years & cut welfare spending.