By Steve Southwell
As you know, we had an election this past Tuesday. I don't like to gloat, and I won't. There is plenty of that on Facebook, and I know how it hurts to lose an election. But I do have some comments.
I have had the biggest smile on my face since Tuesday. While it's clear that our country is still divided, it's also clear that the Republican Tea Party hate machine only further turned people away from their flawed ideology. In spite of their voter suppression efforts, and their relentless flat-out lies, funded by unlimited money from billionaires, criminals, and foreign nationals, the Republicans only managed 48.65%.
Now, I don't think that 51.35% of the vote constitutes a landslide, or a mandate, but it is a clear majority. It's a majority that I think would have been even higher if Sandy hadn't suppressed voter turnout on the Eastern seaboard.
It is time for the belligerent ignoramuses on the far right to gather up their lawn chairs and take their illiterate hate signs, their wackadoodle conspiracy theories, their fear-mongering lies, their regressive doctrine du-jour, and go somewhere else to impose their dystopia. It's time for the few remaining adult Republicans to quit pandering to their idiotic demands.
Most of all, it's time for our leaders to quit taking orders from talk radio's hyperbolic blow-hards and start listening to the American people. It's time to put Country before ideology and get back to the business of truthful, sincere debate about the best way to move our country forward.
It's also pretty clear that the American people are done with the far right's formerly reliable wedges of demonizing gays and minorities. They are on the wrong side of history on that, and will only be more so as the next generation of Americans come of age, and their old white racist homophobes die off.
It's time for the Republicans to shed their radical ideas on women's rights, and their obsession with saying dumb things about rape. It's time for them to end their assault on reproductive health and choice that is ironically leading to more abortions. It's time for them to accept the fact that their ideas with regards to reproductive choice have lost in the free marketplace of ideas. It's time for those who cite religious grounds as their mandate to impose their morality on others to show some actual faith in their God, and believe that he can sustain justice.
Most of all, regardless of public opinion, there exist certain truths that are known and undisputable, based on simple math. The Republican War on Arithmetic has got to end. Tax cuts plus massive spending increases don't reduce the deficit, no matter how badly you want them to.
In the coming weeks, our nation faces a fabricated and self-imposed, but consequential deadline, in the so-called "fiscal cliff". Without action, we will face the following:
• Caps on discretionary spending with automatic across-the-board sequestration.
• Social security withholding will increase back to its normal rate, increasing by two percentage points.
• Federal emergency unemployment benefits will expire.
• The Bush tax cuts expire for everyone.
• There will be sharp reductions of 27% in Medicare payment rates to physicians.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office analysis predicts that this will lead to a new recession, increasing the unemployment rate, and decreasing GDP. It is important to reduce the federal deficit and debt, but sharp cuts in spending will be a shock to the system, resulting in layoffs in the federal government as well as its contractors. Add in reduced consumer spending because of sudden increases in their taxes, and we go in the exactly the wrong direction. Consumers, after all are the true job creators, spending most of what they earn, and driving actual demand for products and services, rather than parking money in off-shore accounts.
Of course, lawmakers from both sides know this, and that was the point. The "cliff" is a game of chicken, brought on by the Republicans' brinksmanship over the debt ceiling, and their belief that they could win the presidency and impose their ideology of austerity - because that has worked so well in Europe.
I look at it like this: The economy is like the air we breathe, and the federal budget is like water. Without air, you can live for only a matter of minutes. Without water, you can live for a matter of days. Republican economic policy has been somewhat like pushing the nation's head under water, in the hopes that it stays hydrated, while ignoring the basic need to breathe.
What we need in the coming weeks - sooner rather than later - is for our President and Members o f Congress to come together as adults and as Americans, and quit viewing this crisis as something to be exploited for the advancement of their partisan goals. The triage needs to put the economy first, because we can't fix our government's fiscal problems without a strong economy and the tax revenue that provides.
Most importantly, these leaders need to put aside wishful thinking and focus on the cold hard facts, and unyielding arithmetic. We're going to have to work on long-term spending cuts, and we'll always have to seek more efficiency in government, but we're also going to need more revenue. Everyone would prefer that revenue to come due to GDP growth alone, but for now, the arithmetic simply doesn't work out. You have to have some increase in revenue, which means that you have to extract a little more. The challenge will be for lawmakers to have the courage to do that in the fairest way.
President Obama wants to simply let the Bush tax cuts expire for those who clear more than $250,000 per year. That's one way to raise revenue, but it doesn't have to be the only way. Republicans have suggested leaving rates alone, but removing frivolous exemptions and credits. Yet, when pressed, they've yet to name a single exemption or credit they would eliminate. What I know is that there is something fundamentally wrong with a scenario where millionaires and billionaires pay a lower rate than schoolteachers.
As for myself, I don't think it's unfair to ask folks like me, earning less than $250,000 to pitch in too. But if I'm going to do so, and knowing that it will impact my family's budget for necessities and basic comforts, then I want to know that guys like Mitt Romney will have that same responsibility, when his impact might be the difference between buying another vacation home or not, or outfitting another dressage horse.
It's important that in this process, whether we're talking about spending or taxation, we avoid shocks and make changes gradual and predictable. It's important to avoid pendulum swing, and the uncertainty that brings to the market, and to our household budgets.
There is no slam-dunk answer to this. There are no plausible pain-free alternatives. It's time for politicians to rise to the situation and work honestly and openly, telling truth, rather than what we want to hear. I believe that if the Republicans can come to the table without their Tea Party baggage, and work in good faith, then we'll have a better solution than what Democrats could do on their own. We don't just need compromise; we need collaboration. And it needs to happen immediately.