How debates are framed is critical because the "center" or "middle ground" is supposedly halfway between the two extremes.
We continue to hear that the Great Budget Debate has two sides: The
President and the Democrats want to cut the budget deficit mainly by
increasing taxes on the rich and reducing military spending, but not by
privatizing Medicare. On the other side are Paul Ryan, Republicans, and
the right, who want to cut the deficit by privatizing Medicare and slicing
programs that benefit poorer Americans, while lowering taxes on the
By this logic, the center lies just between.
According to the most recent Washington Post-ABC poll, 78 percent of
Americans oppose cutting spending on Medicare as a way to reduce the
debt, and 72 percent support raising taxes on the rich -- including 68
percent of Independents and 54 percent of Republicans.
In other words, the center of America isn't near halfway between the
two sides. It's overwhelmingly on the side of the President and the
I'd wager if Americans also knew two-thirds of Ryan's budget cuts
come from programs serving lower and moderate-income Americans and over
70 percent of the savings fund tax cuts for the rich -- meaning it's
really just a giant transfer from the less advantaged to the super
advantaged without much deficit reduction at all -- far more would be
And if people knew that the Ryan plan would channel hundreds of
billions of their Medicare dollars into the pockets of private
for-profit heath insurers, almost everyone would be against it.
The Republican plan shouldn't be considered one side of a great
debate. It shouldn't be considered at all. Americans don't want it.
Which is why I get worried when I hear about so-called "bipartisan"
groups on Capitol Hill seeking a grand compromise, such as the Senate's
so-called "Gang of Six."
Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, a member of that Gang,
says they're near agreement on a plan that will chart a "middle ground"
between the House Republican budget and the plan outlined last week by
Watch your wallets.
In my view, even the President doesn't go nearly far enough in the
direction most Americans would approve. All he wants to do, essentially,
is end the Bush tax windfalls for the wealthy -- which were designed to
be ended in 2010 in any event -- and close a few loopholes.
But why shouldn't we go back to the tax rates we had 30 years
ago, which required the rich to pay much higher shares of their incomes?
One of the great scandals of our age is how concentrated income and
wealth have become. The top 1 percent now gets twice the share of
national income it took home 30 years ago.
If the super rich paid taxes at the same rates they did three decades
ago, they'd contribute $350 billion more per year than they are now --
amounting to trillions more over the next decade. That's enough to
ensure every young American is healthy and well-educated and that the
nation's infrastructure is up to world-class standards.
Nor does the President's proposal go nearly far enough in cutting
military spending, which is not only out of control but completely
unrelated to our nation's defense needs -- fancy weapons systems designed
for an age of conventional warfare; hundreds of billions of dollars for
the Navy and Air Force, when most of the action is with the Army,
Marines, and Special Forces; and billions more for programs no one can
justify and few can understand.