Liberals, Tea Party Seem United In Ire For Debt Commission Proposal

The immediate reactions from left and right to the proposals from the Chairmen of the Debt Commission are about what you'd expect.

Not unexpectedly, the draft proposal put forward Wednesday by the Chairmen of the Debt Commission is drawing fire from both the left and the right:

By putting deep spending cuts and substantial tax increases on the table, President Obama’s bipartisan debt-reduction commission has exposed fissures in both parties, underscoring the volatile nature and long odds of any attempt to address the nation’s long-term budget problems.

Among Democrats, liberals are in near revolt against the White House over the issue, even as substantive and political forces push Mr. Obama to attack chronic deficits in a serious way. At the same time, Republicans face intense pressure from their conservative base and the Tea Party movement to reject any deal that includes tax increases, leaving their leaders with little room to maneuver in any negotiation and at risk of being blamed by voters for not doing their part.


The liberals are already frustrated with the White House on issues like the Afghanistan war and what to do about the Bush-era tax cuts, which expire Dec. 31, and are increasingly uncertain about Mr. Obama’s willingness to fight for long-held party priorities. That question loomed over a meeting at the White House on Thursday between progressive activists and administration aides about strategy for dealing with the Bush tax cuts in the Congressional lame-duck session that begins next week.

Several activists who attended said in interviews that they sought reassurance after a report Thursday suggesting that the White House was prepared to acquiesce in extending the tax cuts for income above $250,000, as Republicans have demanded.

While David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior strategist, subsequently denied that the White House position had shifted, the immediate suspicion among liberals that the administration was abandoning them reflected broader insecurity among the president’s allies on the left that he would move to center for the rest of his term.

On the right, meanwhile, anti-tax and Tea Party groups are objecting to the fact that the plan would lead to increased taxes:

The Web site of Americans for Tax Reform, which is led by the influential antitax activist Grover Norquist, warned Republicans bluntly, “Support for the commission chair plan would be a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which over 235 congressmen and 41 senators have made to their constituents.”

Republicans would also be looking over their shoulders at the growing ranks of the Tea Party. Ryan Hecker, from the Houston chapter, said it would be “a big mistake” for Republicans to go along with tax increases. “I think that is something that would not sit well with members of the Tea Party,” he said.

Emboldened by their victories, Tea Party members are mobilizing for 2012 to work against any Republican who shows signs of compromising. Among Republicans who may well face rivals in the 2012 party primaries are Senators Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah.

Mr. Lugar, who began his long Senate career as indisputably conservative but is now seen by many as a moderate as the party has turned further right, said the Tea Party was no “irresponsible fringe” in an essay this week for a publication of the Ripon Society, a moderate Republican group. But, he added, Republicans must not reflexively oppose everything Democrats propose.

“Opposing unsound administration policies remains important,” Mr. Lugar wrote, adding, “But simple, unadorned ‘opposition’ is mistaken, from both the policy and political perspectives.”

This is precisely the reaction I anticipated when I wrote about this draft report on Wednesday.

Is it possible that some of the ideas that Erskine and Simpson have included in their report can be improved on? Most likely yes. Personally, I think their plan isn’t ambitious enough and takes far too long to bring the debt under control, but that’s only one possible criticism of it. Rather than attacking the proposal, one would have hoped that we’d see people come up with substantive criticisms and alternative ideas. I have no expectations that whatever ends up coming out of the Debt Commission will become anything other than fodder for the talking heads on MSNBC and Fox, both of whom are likely to find more than enough to complain about.

Not everyone is being a demagouge, though. Witness these comments from Senator Kent Conrad:

The Senate’s top Democrat on budgetary issues said that colleagues should be willing to “sacrifice” their political careers in order to get the U.S. on a better fiscal path.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said that bringing down deficits and debt would require tough choices like the ones proposed on Wednesday by the leaders of President Obama’s fiscal commission, recommendations that have already been met with a chilly reception.

“There is no way of doing it that’s not controversial or difficult,” Conrad said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” of the panel’s recommendations. “If some of us have to sacrifice a political career to get this country back on track, then so be it.”

This is the kind of adult response I was referring to on Wednesday. Unfortunately, I think that Senators like Conrad, and Richard Lugar as his quote above demonstrates, are in the minority today.

Update: Over at Hot Air Jazz Shaw steps up to the plate and hits one out of the park:

It seems to me that this is the opportunity for those claiming to care about our fiscal future to wo/man up. It’s time, as others have less artfully phrased it, to put on the man pants. (Or woman’s pant suits? This analogy is going down faster than Obama’s approval ratings.) The point is, we don’t have to accept every line item of this proposal without proper debate and adjustment, but the rudimentary formula seems to be in place. Somebody is going to have to take the political risk of fixing the entitlement system and refreshing the tax code.

Sacrifices are going to have to be made, and they’re going to hit all of us to some degree or another. If you envision an America of a more socialist nature, you’re going to have to admit that somebody has to pay for the required corrections. The most die hard capitalists will need to acknowledge that everyone, at every level of wealth, will have to pitch in to fix this. And in the end, the fault lies with all of us. You voted for the people who got us into this mess. (And if you didn’t vote, then you chose to let the rest of us choose for you, so sit down and shut up.) We’re all going to have to pay to fix this, but it’s better to swallow some strong medicine today then allow it to turn into a fatal overdose for the next generation.

I’d like to think that there are a majority of Americans who basically agree with this. The problem is that the politicians, the pundits, and the loudest voices are largely immature blowhards who would rather demagogue than discuss.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    Rather than attacking the proposal, one would have hoped that we’d see people come up with substantive criticisms and alternative ideas.

    It seems more a time for anyone anywhere near center to simply support it.

    The alternative seems really to double-down on the split, the widening gap, the barbell “solution.” The President is apparently willing to extend all Bush tax cuts, while no spending cuts are on the horizon. That simply means more debt, and yet they tell us on TV that it is “moving to the center.” All I can say to that is, WTF.

    Grover Nordquist wins again. “I don’t care, as long as my tax is cut.”

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Opposition from both ends of the political spectrum would seem to suggest that it’s a centrist proposal.

    I think that part of the problem is that we don’t have agreement on basic principles. As I see it there are several. Here are two of them. In order to achieve balance if you spend 21% of GDP you’ve got to have revenues, i.e. taxes, of 21% of GDP. You can dicker about whether it’s necessary to balalnce exactly. But that’s a basic principle. You can’t spend 40% of GDP and tax 20%. That will be a disaster.

    The second principle is how high that percentage should be. It deserves a national dialogue. That 21% is just the federal government. When you add state and local governments into the mix, the figure will be much much higher—right now state and local government spending are about 20% of GDP.

    You want a higher proportion? Say how you’ll finance it. You want lower? Say what you’ll cut.

    If you don’t like those principles, I have others.

  3. Andre Kenji says:

    I like Conrad, but he voted for Bush tax cuts and for Medicare Part D.

  4. steve says:

    I could live with the commissions recommendations, but the part about controlling Medicare spending was mostly just magical thinking. That needs to be more concrete


  5. Andre Kenji says:

    The problem is that everyone is a socialist when they have to require something from the government, and everyone is a anarchocapitalist when they have to pay taxes.

  6. john personna says:

    I think these guys passed on the Medicare problem, lest the thing really be DOA.

    IMO, something like this needs to be done and health care still needs to be fixed.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    It seems clear to me that there is more ire on the Left, than the Right. Or as Derek Thompson has written “the thoughtful right has been better on this than the thoughtful left. the crazies on either side are just being themselves.”

    I think the timing, right after a difficult election, had liberals feeling their backs were against the wall.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    I agree with Steve and john personna, above, that Medicare is the dog in the manger. While I’m generally favorably disposed to the proposals outlined in the chairmen’s draft, I’m uncomfortable with the assumptions of reductions in Medicare spending and with what I think are overly optimistic assumptions about growth.

  9. Part of the problem is the right needs to eventually recognize that if you’re running a deficit, you can’t really raise or lower taxes. You just shift what portion is taxed directly and what portion is taxed indirectly in the form of devaluation of the currency. Letting me keep more dollars with significatly less buying power doesn’t actually improve my situation.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    Letting me keep more dollars with significatly less buying power doesn’t actually improve my situation.

    You might want to mention that to Ben Bernanke.

  11. john personna says:

    Letting me keep more dollars with significatly less buying power doesn’t actually improve my situation.

    Yes, but the connection is opaque to most people.

    I was actually surprised when Sarah Palin came out against QE2, just because I thought the Tea Party folk would let the Fed fly, with its back-door solution.

    Of course, if you genuinely cut spending in a recession, and contract the money supply, it would seem a hard road on jobs.

  12. wr says:

    Of course Kent Conrad supports this monstrosity — it slashes the tax burden of the rich while imposing a greater one on the middle class, which is his sole political philosophy.

    I’ve got no problem with people who support this thing, but please stop calling it “centrist.” Or “adult.” It’s just one more attempt to redistribute this nation’s wealth upwards.

  13. TG Chicago says:

    PD Shaw: That’s one interpretation. Another one is that this proposal favors the right’s priorities more than the left’s.

  14. John Personna says:

    I really don’t get how quick people are to claim the net-net, lower rates with fewer deductions, disproportionately favors the rich.

    Won’t it be great to end the subsidy from renters (the genuine poor) to the rich house buyers?

  15. PD Shaw says:

    JP, because they haven’t looked at the proposal, which has a graph showing that the tax credits/expenditures to be eliminated go disproportionately to the rich.

  16. john personna says:

    PD, slide 25?

    I’m not sure I get it, but I thought it was saying that the status quo favors the rich.

    “Tax expenditures are losses to the U.S. treasury from granting certain deductions, exemptions, or credits to specific categories of taxpayers.”

  17. PD Shaw says:

    jp, that’s what I was saying though I can see that I wasn’t clear. Eliminating the tax expenditures would make the tax code more progressive. As one blogger wrote somewhere, it’s almost as if progressives are solely invested in having a high tax rate, not whether it’s progressive.