With twelve days left before debt default, lawmakers are rushing to hash out a deal that cuts long-term spending and raises the debt limit. As of today, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are mulling this “compromise,” a deal focused on sharp cuts to discretionary spending and regressive changes to entitlement programs, aimed at saving $3 trillion over the next decade. In addition, the deal would include tax reform that would lower income tax rates while reducing or eliminating tax breaks and expenditures. The actual legislation to lift the debt ceiling wouldn’t include tax increases, and the tax rewrite would be postponed until next year.
Even for those who respect President Obama, this looks like capitulation. Right-wing Republicans will get a grab bag of painful cuts to the social safety net, as well as lower income tax rates on individuals and corporations. Other than the satisfaction of saving the country from a second economic collapse, Democrats get nothing. It’s possible that Obama will let the full Bush tax cuts expire next year, thus raising trillions in additional revenue, but given his unshakeable commitment to middle-class tax cuts, it’s more likely that we lose the tax cuts on the rich, while maintaining the unsustainable tax cuts on middle-class Americans.
Not only is this a deal a disaster for liberal interests, but it’s impossible not to notice the extent to which this process is profoundly undemocratic. In short, the Obama administration and Congressional Republicans have provoked an economic crisis to force unpopular policies that voters would otherwise reject. Indeed, if healthcare reform required nine months of continuous debate, then certainly these cuts—which are three times the size of the Affordable Care Act—warrant more than a few weeks of discussion.
Of course, with a little less than two weeks before default, that’s not possible. Instead, Congress will pass a “deal,” Washington pundits will cheer it, and President Obama will sign the largest cuts to the welfare state in history. So much for liberalism.