Robert B. Reich, a co-founder of The American Prospect, is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His website can be found here and his blog can be found here.
The Washington Post The Great American Debate about how to use the largest budget surplus in history has come to a choice between the giant $1.2 trillion tax cut recently passed by the Senate and the gargantuan $1.6 trillion cut passed by the House. This week House-Senate conferees begin picking a figure between these two. If future historians ever want to illustrate both the pathetic paucity of political debate at the start of the 21st century and the near-bankruptcy of the Democratic Party, they could do no better than to use this example. A few years ago Democrats championed such things as universal health care. Now that there's money to pay for it, they're rooting for the smaller of the two huge tax cuts instead. The Democrats' own budget alternative put aside just $80 billion for expanded health coverage. By the time Senate Democrats finished compromising on the tax cut, health care was whittled to $28 billion. The dirtiest little secret about the Roaring Nineties is that average...
The New Republic Last week the Congressional Budget Office confirmed what every semiconscious observer of the budget process had known for months: that proposed spending by President Bush and Congress would force the government to take $9 billion from the ostensibly sacrosanct Social Security surplus. And over the following three years, CBO projected, the government would swipe another $21 billion--assuming, optimistically, that the president and Congress didn't spend even more money. In reality, these are piddling amounts. The federal budget will be nearly $2 trillion this year, meaning that a few billion here or there are hardly worth a second thought. But you wouldn't know it from listening to leading Democrats. Virtually without dissent, party leaders have announced that they are prepared to protect every single penny in the Social Security surplus, even if it means slashing the programs they consider most important. "You can go down the whole list--education, health care," House...
The New York TImes
The way a debate is framed and choices are posed is often more important than which
option is chosen. That's because the framing of the debate sends a powerful message to
the public about what's at stake. It sets the boundaries of discourse. For politicians to stray
beyond requires too much explaining and runs the risk of appearing irrelevant or radical.
The debate over what to do with the Federal budget surplus offers a case in point.
Congressional Republicans want to use almost all of it for a tax cut. President Clinton
argues that it should be used to pay off present and future obligations. "Save Social
Security. Save Medicare.... And get America out of debt for the first time since 1835," he
said last week in response to the Republican proposal.
Both alternatives cutting taxes and paying off obligations are attractive, if done equitably.
Once the posturing is over, any final compromise...
In Washington, a "gaffe" occurs when a high-level official accidentally says what he means. The Bush administration has been remarkably gaffe-free so far, with almost everyone sticking to the same bland script. All except Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, that is, whose gaffes offer a glimpse into the real philosophy of the Bush corporation that now runs the United States. O'Neill's latest occurred in a recent interview with the Financial Times in which he questioned why the government should provide Social Security, Medicare or any other social insurance. "Able-bodied adults should save enough on a regular basis so that they can provide for their own retirement and, for that matter, health and medical needs," he said. The Treasury secretary's candor goes a long way toward explaining why Bush's giant $1.3-trillion tax cut--most of whose benefits will go to multimillionaires like O'Neill--hasn't caused more worry in the White House about what will happen to Social Security and Medicare...
The Washington Post The economy is slowing, yet the surplus keeps growing. President-elect W. wants to use both to justify a big tax cut. How should the Democrats respond? (A) Warn once again that a big tax cut will jeopardize Social Security and that a better use for the surplus is to pay down the nation's debt. (B) Reject any fiscal stimulus and trust Alan Greenspan alone to achieve a "soft landing." (C) Agree with Bush that a fiscal stimulus would be useful and appropriate, but argue that it should take the form of new spending on education, health care, child care and public transit rather than a tax cut. (D) Concur with Bush that a tax cut is appropriate but demand that it favor poor and working families instead of the rich. Answer: (D). Bush doesn't have a prayer of getting his touted $1.3 trillion tax cut through the next Congress, of course. Not even the Republican leadership is in favor. But unless Democrats counterpunch with one of the above, the betting is that a good-sized...