Friday, August 12, 2011

Tea Party Unpatriotism

The Tea Party’s “blue deal” for America

By John F. Wasik

Imagine being elected to government even though you’re openly hostile to it.

Such is the perverse arrangement the Tea Party has with the electorate, which is foisting a “Blue Deal” on Americans. As opposed to a “New” deal or even “Square” deal, the Blue Deal and its prolonged pain will hurt most middle-class Americans through higher costs in retirement, health care and public health.

Tea Party affiliates’ nonchalant posturing on the potential debt default influenced the Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade U.S. debt and the ensuing turmoil.

Now that the Congressional super-committee has been named to begin

cutting more government spending — and hopefully raising revenues — it’s time to craft a balanced agenda that will preserve social programs while cutting government waste.

The Tea Party’s brash intrusion into U.S. politics was a needed wake-up call, although the movement will be more destructive than productive if it doesn’t create a tide that lifts all boats. Here are the major stumbling blocks that need to be addressed head-on by the committee:

Being the World’s Cop. If Congress is truly interested in the kind of debt reduction the ratings agencies and markets will take seriously, it has to end its role as gendarme to the world’s hotspots. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said as much on Tuesday in a National Public Radio interview in which he was cut off before he had a chance to fully explain why. Frank said overspending on needless military expenses is one reason U.S. debt was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated in 2008 that the Iraq and Afghan wars will cost the U.S. at least $3 trillion — double the cost of the Korean War and outpacing the 12-year Viet Nam war. Pull out of these countries and reduce spending on forces in Europe and Asia and Congress will not have to touch social programs.
Deregulation Will Cost Money and Lives. The epic dismantling of government regulation by conservative GOP members is going to result in more deaths and higher costs for everyone. Ralph Nader, who knows more than anyone how consumer regulation works, noted that at least 150 million workers will be adversely impacted by cuts in workplace safety and health regulation. There’s more: ”There are 307 million eaters in America,” Nader states. “More than 7,000 of them die from contaminated food and more than 300,000 are hospitalized each year. The Tea Partiers pushed cuts through the House to the already underfunded FDA food safety programs.” Add to that the assault on investor protection, unions, bank regulation and environmental protection, and it’s difficult not to conclude that the Tea Party’s unrelenting hostility toward government watchdogs will largely hurt the populace.
Tax Expenditures Cost the Treasury Billions. Tax breaks such as mortgage interest and health insurance deductions take away up to $1 trillion from the Treasury every year and do nothing to promote affordable housing or health care. Conservative economist Martin Feldstein at the Bureau of Economic Research proposes capping all personal write-offs at 2 percent of annual gross adjusted income. He estimates that would raise annual tax revenue by $278 billion annually. Isn’t this a tax increase? While those making $500,000 a year would likely pay $40,000 more in taxes, taxpayers in the $25,000 to $50,000 range would pay only $1,000. The theme here is restoring progressivity to the tax code instead of raising rates. The wealthiest taxpayers don’t get to lard up on breaks that most of the middle class won’t benefit from. In any discussion about taxes, the Tea Party needs to recognize that fairness in the tax code can partially eliminate the cuts in education and health care. Needless corporate breaks that don’t create any jobs and rob the Treasury should also be on the chopping block.
Rebuild the American Dream. A new social contract is needed. A mindless slashing of every government program isn’t the answer. Social Security and Medicare are enormously successful social programs that have kept millions out of poverty. When you cut benefits, the math is simple: It will increase costs for the retired. If anything, these programs should be expanded to cover more people. Government should be in the business of saving money on hospital stays, medicine and retirement fund management. Social programs should be part of a separate discussion that doesn’t demonize them and implements meaningful cost controls reached by a consensus of Americans. Another dialogue should begin on how to create jobs and involve the private sector, which is sitting on more than $3.6 trillion in cash. Activities that are harmful to society — such as pollution, junk food, smoking, gambling, alcohol and trading speculation — should be heavily taxed. Use the revenue to create 21st Century jobs that pay a living wage and fund public education and clean energy.

Compromise and social progress need to have a seat at the table. The alternative: Chaos, economic despair, social unrest and a lower standard of living. We need only look to the streets of England or the Arab world to see how gross social inequity eventually translates into anarchy.

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