There’s an old and worthy adage in politics: when your opponent is punching himself in the face, go sit in your corner.
The fact that the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits may well expire, at least for a few weeks, is generating considerable Republican infighting. House R’s are attacking Senate R’s. The WSJ editorial page went after the Tea Party faction this AM much like a stern teacher scolding their naughty students.
So, sure, lots of own-face-punching going on.
But instead of sitting in his corner as the adage would dictate, the President came out yesterday to urge Boehner and company to pass the Senate bill. He was right to do so, and he should keep it up.
I’m not talking the politics here, I’m talking economic policy. It’s curious to me that a standard issue, non-too-scintillating version of stimulus—a 2% cut in payroll taxes—has become a symbol for fighting for the middle class, but that’s what’s happened.
How did it happen? Because of a unique and telling confluence of events.
–trickle down vs. directly helping the middle class: I don’t think anyone’s fooled by the House R’s claim that their real problem here is that the Senate compromise only extends payroll and UI by a couple of months. People know they’re against such measures while being for big tax cuts for the wealthy. And in doing so, they really have established their message as: if you’re rich, you need a fat tax cut. If you’re not, you’re on your own.
–OWS and CBO: OK, those are two acronyms you don’t often see together, but Occupy Wall St has done the national debate a service by amplifying the issue of growing inequality. The economic timing is right in the sense that the middle class continues to slog along while corporate profits have surpassed their already historically elevated pre-recession peak. The Congressional Budget Office helped on the analytics, by recently publishing an authoritative and insightful report on the long-term trend toward higher inequality.
—good, old-fashioned overreach: For a while there, you could shake your head in disgust and dismiss the whole mess down here in DC as “there they go again.” But with one self-inflicted wound after another—the debt ceiling debacle, the failure of the supercommittee, the inability to reach a compromise on payroll/UI—it’s a lot harder to be blasé and dismissive.
–the failure of YOYO economics: We’re in the midst of dealing with fundamental market failure, and the YOYO agenda—privatize health and retirement security, deregulate, cut budgets, starve the beast, cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy—is losing whatever resonance it had with the public. People sense that this kind of thinking got us into this mess and it’s not going to get us out of it. Yet, YOYO economics is still the policy agenda of many conservatives—certainly House Rs, as well as most of the R presidential candidates.
So no, this isn’t the time to sit in the corner while your opponent smacks himself around. It’s the time to spend as many waking hours as you can underscoring the failure of their policy agenda and the promise of your alternative.