Maybe the deal isn’t as bad as I thought.

Chess Master or Pawn?

Chess Master or Pawn?

So I went and watched a silly movie (and thoroughly enjoyed it). I calmed down and decided to get back online for a bit. I read some reactions to the fiscal cliff deal from a different perspective, and now I think maybe I was wrong. Sure it’s a lousy deal, but it’s not over yet and at Obama did manage to preserve the social safety net programs, extend unemployment benefits, hold onto the earned income tax credit and child credits, and got some minimal revenue increases.

Look, I’m poor, but I’m not on unemployment. I was willing to go “off the cliff” in order to force the Republicans’ hand. But there are millions of poor and working class people out there would would really suffer if they lose their unemployment and those tax givebacks. Now those have been extended for a year at least. Yes, there will be another fight in two months, but there was going to be a battle royal in two months anyway. Now they will kill two birds with one stone–the debt limit and the sequester will be wrapped up in one fight.

Have I drunk the Koolaid? No, but I admit I really do want to hang onto some hope for the future. So beat me up in the comments all you want. I’m going to hold off judging this deal for two more months. Then if Obama completely sells out the poor and elderly, I’ll admit I made a big mistake. But for now, I’m willing to give Obama a chance.

My changed perspective came from reading a couple of diaries at DailyKos (so shoot me!) and then rereading pieces by Paul Krugman and Noam Scheiber. First up, a Kos diary by ban nock: “Obama’s Deal From a poor Person’s Perspective.”

As usual Obama looked out for us fairly well. All you folks in the financial industry who are weeping and wailing can just pound sand, cash in some stock options, sell your Lincoln, cry me a river.

The biggest thing is earned income tax credit and medicaid, neither of which were touched. Looks like we lost 2% on Social Security contributions but that is more than made up by the earned income credit (EIC)

I should do more to define poor. By poor I mean lower than median income down to, well, to really really poor. Median is around 40K.

The earned income credit is the thing that pulls the greatest number of people out of poverty in the USA. It’s an alternative to raising minimum wages.

You take your adjusted gross income and if you’re a family with a coupla kids making between $13K and $22K Uncle Sam is going to either reduce your taxes by around $5K or reduce them as much as possible and send you a fat check for the remainder. How cool is that? Chart to figure what you get here.… What is Adjusted Gross Income? That’s how much money you make, but it could come down for things like IRA contributions.

And then, as ban nock points out, there’s unemployment, which is the only thing between millions of Americans and abject poverty.

Now when I first read ban nock’s diary, I was somewhat skeptical. My point of view was that Obama is just warming up for the big kill, “entitlement reform.” But wait a minute. The Republicans were screaming for that in 2011 and again in this last fight. But they didn’t get it. In fact Harry Reid even took the Chained CPI off the table and Obama and Biden didn’t put it back on.

Then I moved on to this diary by Alexander Dukes AKA “Game Guru”: “Umm… We’re playing chess, not checkers. And we’re winning.” You really need to read the whole thing, but the gist is that Obama has been dealing with people who are utterly intractable–they’re actually buttfuck crazy!–so what Obama has done is to keep kicking the can down the road while each time getting something for nothing and at the same time preserving the social programs most needed by the poor and unemployed. Here’s an

First off, lets establish that we’re playing chess, not checkers. Our objective is not to win more battles than the Republicans, its to win the war. In this case its a war against the Republican objective to effectively dismantle Medicare, Social Security, Obamacare, the EPA and every other part of the government that doesn’t leave the people to the whims of the 1 percent. This is chess, so we can afford to lose a few pieces so that we draw our opponent in for the final blow. With every turn we attempt to move toward our ultimate goal, even if that means we take some blows along the way. Chess is a thinking man’s game, it takes a long time to play. Similarly, in these budget fights, Obama’s thinking about the long haul.

Lets examine the President’s strategy: In the first budget fight, Republicans wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone. The Democrats wanted to extend unemployment benefits and renew the START treaty. There was a great deal of debate… and something happened. What did we end up with? We got START, the unemployment extension, and what else…. what else… oh yeah, DADT was repealed! All for maintaining the tax status quo at the time. Essentially, we offered nothing, and the Republicans got nothing.

Okay, so we gave up the hope for more revenue from taxing the rich, but as Republicans keep pointing out, that new revenue won’t even keep the government going for very long. It’s mostly a symbolic effort to restore some fairness to the tax system.

After that was the debt ceiling fight. Well, Obama almost got to a deal back in 2011, but to no avail. So to raise the debt ceiling congress created the sequester. Nothing for nothing there. Not a bad or good deal, because there wasn’t really a deal at all. But in the sense that there was a deal, both sides agreed to a lame duck rematch, betting that their side would win the election and have the leverage in the sequester fight. Obama won the election, so he had the leverage.

Again, Republicans basically got nothing–just a fake deadline that everyone knew all along was just kicking the can down the road.

Lets discuss what happened (and is still happening) today. Yesterday, Mitch McConnell and Obama reached a deal that did 3 main things: It ends the Bush tax cuts for those making over $400K, it raised the estate tax for those with estates greater than 5 million, and extends unemployment benefits for another year. For this, the Republicans gained… nothing.

That’s right, nothing. Yes, the sequester is extended for only 60 days, but that bumps right up against the debt ceiling… something the Republicans were going to fight over anyway. The media common wisdom is that the Republicans gained “leverage” in this deal. How so? Obama just combined two potential clusterf*cks into one! He gained a years worth of unemployment benefits, tax hikes on the 1%, and an estate tax hike; all for making his job easier in the long term.

Next time Obama may have to cave on the Chained CPI, which would be horrible, but better than privatization of Social Security. But maybe he won’t have to give that up, who knows? All we know for now is that Social Security hasn’t been changed yet.

Obama wanted the debt limited to be raised with the elimination of the sequester. This is essentially raising the limit along with eliminating the sequester, only now he’s getting more of what he wants when the debate starts because he’s already got the tax hikes and the unemployment extension!

Not only that, but now he has two major speeches between now and then to set the debate squarely in his favor.

It makes sense to me. Frankly, I buy it for now. And you know why I’m willing to string Obama along for another two months? Because of what happened in his second debate with Mitt Romney:

Please proceed, Governor.

Please proceed, Speaker.

Maybe I’m nuts, but maybe I’m not. I’m going to wait two months and find out. Now let’s look at what Krugman had to say about the upside of the deal:

To make sense of what just happened, we need to ask what is really at stake, and how much difference the budget deal makes in the larger picture.

So, what are the two sides really fighting about? Surely the answer is, the future of the welfare state. Progressives want to maintain the achievements of the New Deal and the Great Society, and also implement and improve Obamacare so that we become a normal advanced country that guarantees essential health care to all its citizens. The right wants to roll the clock back to 1930, if not to the 19th century.

There are two ways progressives can lose this fight. One is direct defeat on the question of social insurance, with Congress actually voting to privatize and eventually phase out key programs — or with Democratic politicians themselves giving away their political birthright in the name of a mess of pottage Grand Bargain. The other is for conservatives to successfully starve the beast — to drive revenue so low through tax cuts that the social insurance programs can’t be sustained.

The good news for progressives is that danger #1 has been averted, at least so far — and not without a lot of anxiety first.

Romney lost, so nothing like the Ryan plan is on the table until President Santorum takes office, or something. Meanwhile, in 2011 Obama was willing to raise the Medicare age, in 2012 to cut Social Security benefits; but luckily the extremists of the right scuttled both deals. There are no cuts in benefits in this deal.

And Scheiber’s take on the upside:

I think a reasonable person can defend the bill on its own terms. The fact is that nudging up the tax threshold to $450,000 only sacrifices $100-200 billion in revenue over the next decade (against the $700-800 billion the administration would have secured with its original threshold), while allowing unemployment benefits to lapse would cause real pain to both the 2 million people directly affected and, indirectly, to the economy. Yes, Obama could have gotten the latter without giving up the former had he just waited another few days—at which point what the GOP considers a tax increase suddenly becomes a tax cut. But these things are always easier to pull the trigger on when you, er, don’t actually have to pull the trigger. I can’t begrudge Obama his wanting to avoid some downside risk for only a marginally better deal.

In other words, we are dealing with insane people–the Republicans in the House and Senate–and so far we haven’t given away the real farm, the social safety net. Unfortunately we don’t have enough revenue for a real stimulus either, but we go back to the table in two months and the Republicans are scoring that as a win for them.

But what if it’s not? What if dealing both issues at once–the debt ceiling and the sequester–and sooner, is an advantage for Democrats and the White House? We can’t know for sure until the next fight.  But Obama did get a year of unemployment, those tax givebacks, and some symbolic concessions from the super-rich.  And he does have the State of the Union and Inauguration speeches to call out the Republicans and make his case.

So that’s why I’m going to give this deal a chance for now. It’s not a great deal, but the important stuff has been protected for the time being. Now go ahead and hammer me in the comments, I don’t mind.

Top Romney Surrogate John Sununu Says Obama Lost the Debate Because He’s “Lazy”

Nasty, evil troll John Sununu once again does Mitt Romney’s racist dirty work:

From Politico:

“What people saw last night, I think, was a president that revealed his incompetence, how lazy and detached he is, and how he has absolutely no idea how serious the economic problems of the country are, and how he has failed to even begin to address them,” Sununu — a top Romney surrogate — said on MSNBC Thursday.

“I think even the liberal press reacted with shock at this revelation, and I find it fascinating now this morning, after they’ve slept, to watch them all scrambling around to clean up the mess the president left on the floor last night,” Sununu said.

It’s time for the media to force Mitt Romney to own up to the racist dog whistles his campaign has been using for months. John Sununu is a disgrace. No self-respecting media outlet should ever allow him on the air again.

This is an open thread. Do with it what you will.


Live Blog: First 2012 Presidential Debate

Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch

Finally the big night has arrived!

The first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will take place tonight at 9PM in Denver, Colorado. The moderator will be Jim Lehrer of PBS. You can watch the debate on CNN, C-Span, or live stream it at multiple sites around the internet. Lots of people are boycotting CNN because they haven’t fired Erick Erickson. I plan to stream it on the C-Span site.

This has to be one of the most hyped presidential debates in history. I know all you Sky Dancers are extremely knowledgeable and don’t need to be told what to watch out for in the debate, but I’ll provide a few links just so you can see what different blogs are saying about it.

Talking Points Memo:

What to What To Look For In The Debate — And How To Unspin It. Brian Beutler will be watching for what the candidates say about a number of issues from a liberal point of view.

health care reform – How will Romney differentiate Obama care from Romney care?

Medicare and Medicaid – These have become difficult issues for Romney. Beutler doesn’t say this, but I’ll be watching to see if President Obama uses this to his advantage and especially if he makes a real commitment to protect these important programs.

Welfare – Romney made a big issue of welfare based on a blatant lie about Obama’s policies. Will Obama call him out on it? How will Romney try to fudge his lies?

Taxes – Romney claims he can lower taxes for everyone and still cut the deficit. Everyone knows that’s impossible. Can Obama force him to get into specifics and defend the indefensible?

Tax Returns – Journalists have been digging out lots of embarrassing tidbits from Romney’s recently released 2011 return. Will Obama get into the nitty gritty? How will Romney defend his low tax rate?

47 Percent – This will be huge for Obama to hit Romney on. Can Romney defend his ugly remarks? Polls show they have had a powerful effect on voters around the country.

The Wall Street Journal

has a piece today that reflects expectations for the debate from the conservative side. Apparently the Romney campaign is mostly focused how how they’ll spin the debate to best effect.

Wednesday’s debate will offer an important moment to help shape the Romney campaign’s message moving forward. Here’s a look at how they plan to capitalize on it.

Team Romney’s debate-monitoring strategy is, essentially, broken into three parts. A group of staffers in an annex office in Boston have their own version of a war room to monitor televisions, debate transcripts and Twitter. That helps feed the rapid response effort – a group of some two dozen staffers in a second-floor conference room in Boston.

Unlike past debates where the response crew pumped out lengthy research documents, this time they’ll focus on pithier push-back using Twitter and Tumblr. The strategy is partly to inform the media, but it’s also designed to provide supporters with simple talking points.

Politico spells out the Republican point of view 

on what to watch for in the debate. I’ll just give you some brief excerpts. They say Romney has to

be aggressive without attacking the president, who has high personal approval ratings too fiercely. He has to seem tough but also presidential, assertive but not snide. He has to accuse Obama of not being honest with voters, without sounding shrill.

As for Obama, they say he needs to attack Romney aggressively while still maintaining his nice guy image.

Fact one: Obama’s surge against Romney was powered by a relentless, pounding summertime assault — led by surrogates and staff for the most part — on his challenger’s fitness to lead and capacity to comprehend the struggles of regular working people.

Fact Two: Obama’s surge was also fueled by a huge lead over Romney on personal approval — and that edge could disappear if he appears too negative tonight.

Politico says the 47 percent issue and Libya will be the biggest vulnerabilities for Romney and Obama respectively.

There is a substantial chance that either candidate will say something new, and memorable, when answering a question about one of those topics, which have posed problems for Romney and Obama, respectively, over the past few weeks. There’s a moderate chance both will.

Romney is well aware that he will be asked about his remarks, secretly videotaped at a fundraiser last May, that 47 percent of Americans — those backing the president in his reelection bid — considerer themselves “victims” and expect free things from government.


The administration’s initial claim, that the Benghazi protest was modeled after one taking place in Egypt against a video that expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, has been disputed. Nine days after the attack on the Sept. 11 anniversary, White House press secretary Jay Carney described it as a “self-evident” terror attack, but one of “opportunism,” not premeditation.

That description has also changed. While the issue is not dominating all cable news coverage as it did in the first few days after the death of four American diplomats, for Republicans, it cuts to the heart of Obama’s strength on foreign policy, historically a Republican calling card in national elections but an area that has favored the president since the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Politico also suggests that Obama “may not be ready for prime time,” and that Romney may have a chance to “get under Obama’s skin” early on. Finally, they expect both candidates to bring up Bill Clinton.

As with the WSJ, Politico–which gets plenty of leaks from the Romney campaign–is more focused on style than substance. We have to assume that is Romney’s focus as well. No mention of the famous “zingers” that Romney has been rehearsing for months.

Romney made a little news in the past few days.

Today he said that he will not continue Obama’s program of giving work permits to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, but he wouldn’t take away any permits that have been given out before he became president.

If elected president, Mitt Romney would not continue the new program that grants work permits and suspends deportation for two years for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors, his campaign says, according to the Boston Globe.

Romney would not revoke work permits for people who obtain them by the time he would take office, on Jan. 20, but he would not grant any after that, the campaign says, according to the Boston Globe report.

Critics of Romney’s latest position on the initiative say it will doom the vast majority of the more than 1 million people who could be eligible for it. Since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, began accepting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications on Aug. 15, only 29 people have been granted deferred action and work permits.

Romney has also been talking about a cap on tax deductions as a way to pay for his tax cuts on top earners.

The Obama campaign seized on Romney’s comments in an interview with a local TV station in Colorado Monday night, saying that his mention of a possible $17,000 cap on itemized deductions would mean higher taxes for “many families.”

The campaign used the example of a family of four making $125,000 a year, and another of a family of three with an annual income of $85,000. Both, the Obama campaign said, would claim more than $17,000 a year in tax deductions, meaning that under Romney’s idea of a cap they would pay more than they do now.

But a Romney campaign adviser not authorized to speak publicly said that the biggest number used by the Obama campaign to come up with its result was one not included under a cap system: the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance. This was a $16,000-a-year value under the Obama campaign example, but without that number, in its scenarios the two families would get a tax cut, instead of paying more, according to the Romney advisor.

An Obama campaign adviser, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, said that “even if health is not included, it’s very easy to get to the same math starting with the mortgage interest deduction.”

So those two issues might come up in the debate.


I expect Romney to come out swinging like he did against Newt Gingrich in the Florida Primary debate. If he’s too wired, I think he could hurt himself early on by coming across as a boor, which is never difficult for him. I think he’ll also hurt himself badly if he doesn’t come out with some straight talk about the numbers in his tax plan.

For Obama, I agree with Politico that he needs to be aggressive, and I don’t think he needs to worry about coming across as mean. He would have to go a long way for anyone to think he has a nastier attitude than Romney. I also want to see Obama stand up strongly for the social safety net and make a real commitment to protect it. I’m sure Jim Lehrer will bring up Simpson-Bowles, and I’d like to see Obama explain why there are serious problems with the media’s favorite hobby-horse. Finally, I think he needs to push Romney hard on abortion and birth control.

What will you be watching for tonight?