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.