We can't afford to go on letting fake liberals who ask for our money and our votes hide behind empty rhetoric while consorting with the same old paymasters and special interests. They have enabled Tea Party Republicans and it is clear they intend to continue doing so. That leaves us, voters seeking progressive policy solutions to the problems of the day, with a Hobson's choice: defeat the pretenders on our side before we can defeat the reactionaries on the other side.
What follows is a short list of urgent matters I predict Congress will dither over or simply ignore in the coming weeks and months. Readers are invited to add to this list.
Sign #1 The filibuster –
Harry Reid and company used rhetorical flourishes about filibuster reform as a smokescreen to hide the shameful fact that they had no intention of fixing a rule that makes impossible to get any measures President Obama backs (and we voted for) passed. Senate Democrats have no desire to change the rules. As things stand, they can pretend to care and blame the filibustering Republicans for inaction. But don't take my word for it:
Exhibit A – From the Washington Post: "Senate leaders reached a deal Thursday that keeps the chamber’s long-standing, 60-vote threshold for halting a filibuster but streamlines some of the chamber’s more cumbersome procedures. ... [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid and [Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell are presenting the draft proposal to their caucuses Thursday afternoon, and if they get a positive response, the changes could come to a vote by the end of the day. ... The key new proposal allows the elimination of one filibuster vote during the 'motion to proceed' to a bill, when the chamber begins considering legislation. Republicans have increasingly filibustered the motion to begin debating legislation to either slow passage of or block bills altogether."
Exhibit B – Here's David Weigel with the real story that, sadly, says it all: "Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin has been backing filibuster reform packages for most of his Senate career. A group of reporters stopped him today on his way into the caucus meeting where the party will be told the virtues of what Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell agreed on. Harkin fluttered open his binder, pulled out the new rules, and read them slowly, grimly. 'They're baby, baby steps,' he said. He'd wanted the Democrats to go ahead and change the Senate rules with 51 votes, and Reid had forestalled that. ... Bloomberg's Jim Rowley asked the obvious follow-up: Should Obama go on vacation? 'He can go out and give wonderful speeches, things like that,' said Harkin. 'But with the House in the hands it's in, and the fact that the Senate, now, you have to have 60 votes to pass anything... well, I daresay that Obama's package, his very aggressive proposals, will not get very far. They'll be so watered down that they won't be recognizable.'"
Exhibit C - An email from Elizabeth Warren "I'm disappointed by the filibuster reform deal we passed in the Senate last night." The "deal" passed by a vote of 86-9…
Sign #2: Gun control –
President Obama struck the right chord on gun control in his inaugural speech, but there is one big difference between the president and every Democrat in the House and Senate: he doesn't ever have to stand for re-election again. (Note that he, too, was careful not to offend the NRA before the November election.) The fact that our legislators love being in Congress more than they love any principle or obligation, that there is no honor among these thieves, will be displayed in tawdry Technicolor if even a pale imitation of gun-control legislation gets to the floor of either house.
Consider, for example, this story in the New York Times: "During a lengthy and at times emotionally wrenching news conference, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California on Thursday announced legislation that would ban the sale and manufacture of 157 types of semiautomatic weapons, as well as magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The bill, which Ms. Feinstein [a fine Democrat, be it noted] said she would introduce in the Senate on Thursday afternoon, would exempt firearms used for hunting and would grandfather in certain guns and magazines. The goal of the bill, she said, would be 'to dry up the supply of these weapons over time.' ... Since the expiration of a ban on assault weapons in 2004, there has been a deep reluctance among lawmakers to revisit the issue. They cite both a lack of evidence that the ban was effective and a fear of the powerful gun lobby, which has made significant inroads at both the state and federal level in increasing gun rights over the last decade."
Sign #3: Bank regulation –
Here's William Black, a leading authority on control fraud in the financial industry and corporate crime: "…President Obama intends to appoint Jacob Lew as Treasury Secretary Geithner's replacement. Most people assume that Geithner is a creature of Wall Street through direct employment, but Geithner never drew a paycheck directly from Wall Street. Geithner worked for a wholly-controlled subsidiary of Wall Street - the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Lew is the real deal, another brick in Obama's creation of Wall Street on the Potomac."
What it means (Black again): "…(1) Obama prefers to have Wall Street guys run finance (despite coming to power because Wall Street blew up the world), (2) the revolving door under Obama that connects Wall Street and the White House has been super-charged, and (3) even very short stints in Wall Street have made Obama's finance advisers wealthy. The obvious is vitally important, and it is largely ignored by the most prominent media. The obvious aspects help explain why Obama's economic policies have been incoherent, ineptly explained, inequitable, and often slavishly pro-Wall Street at the expense of our integrity and citizens."
If Black is correct – and if (as the inscription at the entrance to the National Archives says) "the past is prologue" – don't expect the President or Democrats in Congress to initiative tough action to re-regulate banks "too big to fail" or the Justice Department to go after CEO's "too big to prosecute" any time in the next four years.
Here's an excerpt from a recent Real News interview with Bill Black –
Interviewer: "So, Bill, President Obama says that banks are no longer to be able to take risks with your money, and they're going to have a living will. So they're not going to be too big to fail, 'cause, he says, we're not bailing you out again. So are we really now protected from all these things that triggered the 2008 crisis?"
Black: "No, you're not protected from any of those things. And it's because both parties refuse to protect us against either of those things. So let's take it in pieces.
Of course they're using other people's money, because that's what banks do. They use other people's money. So our money is still at risk. The major issue is with regard to the systemically dangerous institutions. These are about the 20 largest banks in the United States, and maybe about 15 outside the United States. And the administration is telling us that as soon as the next one fails—and it's a question of when, not if—it will cause a global, systemic financial crisis.
So the fairly obvious question we asked was: why would you allow that? Why wouldn't you get rid of the 20 largest banks' systemic danger? And it turns out that is not particularly hard to do, because these banks are massively too big to be efficient. In other words, we've got a tremendous win-win-win.
…And we've run a real-world test, right? We had a global disaster, a global, worldwide—nearly worldwide recession. In the United States alone the household sector lost $11 trillion. And we still have nobody in either party seriously willing to take on and shrink the banks."
Sign #4: Campaign finance reform –
Five Supreme Court justices say giving money to political candidates to steal elections and thwart majority rule is a form of free speech. It's right there in the First Amendment. Go have a look! No mention of corporations in the First Amendment? Look again. It clearly references "the right of the people" and corporations are people if The Five say so…
"The growing wealth gap, the power of television to shape public perceptions of reality, and the unrestricted flow of private funds into political campaigns combine to transform Madison’s “commercial republic” into a republic so corrupted by billionaire bankers, hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, and casino moguls that voters can expect no honesty, truth, or even serious discourse from the politicians who run for office. Under such circumstances elections are a farce.
How did we get to this impasse? There’s no simple answer, but the Reagan Revolution that eulogized the 'free' market and deregulated business and banking while cutting taxes and pursuing a costly futuristic 'Star Wars' military fantasy played a big role in radically changing the distribution of wealth and power in this country. The Bush tax cuts finished what Reagan started. Since the early 1980s, the rich have gotten fabulously richer while the middle class has gone sideways or backwards. But even this widening wealth gap that now defines and drives the US economy doesn’t explain what’s happened to the political system.
The fact that wealth easily translates into political power is nothing new. But it’s never been so easy as it is now. In 2010 five judges sitting on the United States Supreme Court opened the floodgates, ruling that any amount of private money spent to influence the outcome of public elections counts as a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment. According to the reasoning of the five 'deciders' in the Citizens United case, campaign finance reform aimed at protecting or restoring the integrity of elections is therefore unconstitutional!"
Try to imagine a scenario wherein this Congress moves to counter a Supreme Court that has clearly gone off the constitutional rails. (If you can, help me out 'cause I can't.)
Sign #5: The battle of the budget –
A few facts: "Partly as a result of the Bush tax cuts of 2001, 2003 and 2005, taxation of the wealthy, in President Barack Obama's words, 'is at its lowest level in half a century'…
1) In the past 10 years the income of the top 1% has risen by 18%, while that of blue-collar male workers has fallen by 12%.
2) In the early 1950s, the federal-state-local revenue structure changed from one in which high income tax returns on average paid over 4 times the percentage of the average for the bottom fifty percent; today, the bottom half pay one-fourth more as a percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI) than the top one percent.
3) Based on estimated gross income the lowest fifty percent of tax returns, on average, now pay nearly two-thirds more as a percent of total income than the top one percent of tax returns.
4) At least half the nation’s wealth has been effectively excluded from the tax rolls."
Obama was right to focus on our unfair loophole-riddled tax system. Unfortunately, he waited until he was campaigning for re-election and he failed to note that he was part of the problem: after all, had he not agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts?
Why does Washington continue to ignore the advice our best and brightest economists who urge stimulus not austerity – more, not less spending – in times of high unemployment and slow growth? And why not state the obvious: that revenues (taxes) are vital to the state and society? In other words, what's needed now is targeted deficit reduction (cut defense, not Social Security), targeted tax increases (on the rich and corporations, not the middle class), and, yes, targeted spending hikes (on infrastructure, education, and health care).
A debt-ceiling band-aid allows Congress to back away from the "fiscal cliff" for a few months but doesn't fix anything. Nor does it commit the Republican to giving an inch taxes or spending. A prediction: there will no serious tax reform nor deep cuts in "defense" spending . But the Tea Party caucus in Congress will whittle away at Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and will relentless denounce "Obamacare" and any attempt control the skyrocketing cost of medical care.
There will eventually be a showdown – or charade – over the federal budget. Given the Republicans' intransigence and the Democrats' disposition for duplicity don’t expect a big Wall Street sell-off any time soon. Rather, expect a Washington sell-out.