STEVEN JONAS, MD, MPH
Is coming to a climax, as, instead of holding their stockinged feet to the fire, Pres. Obama gives away the store to the GOP.
You know Grover Norquist. He's the Washington insider who figured prominently in the movie about Jack Abramoff, "Casino Jack." Grover Norquist of the "cut taxes/shrink government" mantra that has so informed GOP politics for so many years, the mantra has become the rallying cry of that GOP front known as "The Tea Party." Grover Norquist who used to (and he has been around for many years) talk about "starving the beast" --- "the beast" referring to any Federal government programs that serve the interests of the people as a whole not just the ueber-corporate interests that Grover Norquist serves.
It was Grover Norquist who more recently told us that this aim was "shrink the Federal government to the size of a bathtub and then drown it in the bathtub." It is that Grover Norquist who is just having a grand old time right now. Indeed, the GOP, using its front-man puppet the Tea Party as an oh-so-handy excuse, is in the process of indeed shrinking the Federal government to the size of a bathtub and getting ready to drown it.
Drowning all of the small parts of government of course, that is those parts that serve the interests of the majority of the population, and its relatively larger parts like Social Security and Medicare that serve the elderly, not with that clever appellation "Entitlements" but with Pre-paid Retirement Benefits.
An "entitlement" is something that you get for nothing because of who you are, something like outrageous pay increases and outrageous tax cuts for the already outrageously rich who are just entitled to them because they are so outrageously rich and thus so much better than all the rest of us. Of course the government that Grover has been aiming to shrink all of these years does not include such elements as the military-industrial complex, the prisons-industrial complex, the support programs for corporate-agribusiness and the extractive industries, the bail-out programs for the banking industry, and the supports, as in the tax code, for the export of capital and global American imperialism.
Nor does "small government" mean such things as providing for freedom of religious or non-religious belief as to when life begins, freedom to take advantage of the civil law governing marriage, freedom to decide when is the right time to die should one be terminally ill, freedom to choose an addictive drug to use that does not happen to be nicotine in tobacco products or ethyl alcohol in alcoholic beverages. Actually "Tea Party" small government means quite the opposite when it comes to many matters of personal belief and action. Oh, and what a surprise it must be to some folks that the "fiscal" reactionaries of the TP are now very rapidly coming together with the "social" reactionaries of the Christian Right. As if Karl Rove, he of the state anti-gay marriage amendments of 2004, and the Kochs et al hadn't planned it all out that way.
So back to the cash, Grover must be jumping up and down (and raking it in) following the recent budget "deal" (otherwise known as the latest Obama-cave). And he may have well considered it a climax. But then again, maybe not, because his GOP/Tea Party front men are preparing another assault on all those Federal programs they don't like for one reason or another, over raising the debt limit. Oh my. Further excitement to come, Grover, as the country we love goes down the tubes.
Well, we all know all of this stuff, don't we? There have been tons of articles written on it, and the "it" hasn't really changed since the famous Reagan mantra which went something like "government isn't the solution to the problem; government is the problem." Which was followed by Bill Clinton saying, in his first State of the Union message, words to the effect of "the era of big government is over." Hmmm. The era of big government (except for all of those big government functions listed above and a few others to boot) is over? When the nation is falling apart, literally, roads, airports and air traffic control, railroads, water supply, national electric grid, flood control systems, and figuratively, the education and health systems? Yes. Go get 'em, Grover, and the GOP and its Tea Party front, which might be known collectively at the GOPTP.
But actually, I do agree with Grover about one thing: it is absolutely essential to shrink the Federal deficit (and not all leftists do), for several reasons. First of all, its present size gives the GOPTP the excuse it needs to continue to cut Federal programs they hate for one reason or another, like Community Health Centers (serve lots of non-white Americans) and the pollution-determining functions of the Environmental Protection Administration (highlights just what the extractive industries are doing to us in addition to exploding global warming). Second of all, what should be called "national domestic spending," not "social spending," has traditionally been the province on the Democratic Party (or was until the DLC took over). Programs that are developed under it, from Social Security to infra-structure rebuilding are generally popular. That makes the Democratic Party popular and that's something totally inimical to the politico/economic interests, like doing away with all (if they could) corporate and environmental regulation, of the GOPTP and the Corporate Power that it represents.
Third of all, the huge Federal debt requires ever-increasing interest payments, which take money away from useful spending. Fourth, and most importantly, the United States has enormous needs in the areas mentioned above, roads, bridges and tunnels, airports and air traffic control, railroads, water supply, national electric grid, flood control systems, the education and health care systems, which can only be met by massive Federal spending. For these reasons, and others too, indeed the deficit must be brought down and actually eliminated if possible, so that the national debt can be brought down and those interest payments reduced.
How to do this? Briefly, in theory it's pretty simple, politically virtually impossible because of the control that the GOPTP and its moneymen have over the Federal government, regardless of who is in office. But in summary, these are the major components to reducing the deficit and redistributing income equitably: 1. raise personal income taxes on the rich and raise the taxes on the large corporations, embracing "tax and spend" under the slogan "Tax the rich; spend for the Nation;" 2. Close all the tax loopholes for the same parties; 3. restrict the export of capital so that the tax base here will expand; 4. tax overseas profits; 4. create a separate national capital expenditure budget like the state and localities have, funded by specific bonding authority; 5. remove Social Security from the general Federal budget (Social Security runs a surplus; it helps to hide the true Federal deficit; it was put there by Lyndon Johnson so that he did not have to raise taxes to fund the Viet Nam War; fixing Social Security itself for the long run requires just a few simple adjustments in its tax rates); 6. end the war on certain drug users which commits billions of dollars annually to law enforcement which could otherwise serve other purposes the prison-industrial complex; 7. create a Medicare-for-all/single-payer health care financing system that would save several hundred billion per year in administrative costs; 8. end the subsidies for the agribusinesses and the extractive industries; 9. make massive cuts in military spending (while providing jobs in a re-industrialized United States for the 100s of thousands of displaced workers), beginning with the ending of the current US foreign wars and going on to a draw down of the massive overseas military base system. Shortly after I wrote the original version of this column I was introduced to The People's Budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus ( http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=70 -iontree=5,70 ). I am pleased to say that my program is very similar to theirs. Of course theirs has many more details and is well worth a review.
Don't hold your breath. I'm certainly not holding mine. But the problem is not what to do; it is how to do it, politically.
A slightly different version of this column was published as Dr. Jonas' Commentary No. 172 for BuzzFlash@Truthout on April 15, 2011; the URL for that version is: http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/12601