The Iowa caucuses will be in full swing by the summer of 2015. In September we will attend what may be the last of the wonderful Harkin Steak Fry gatherings in Indianola. All the Democratic candidates will speak. Two of the contenders from 2007 may be there. One of them will have a large piece of baggage in tow, and I'm not talking about Bill Clinton.
Nobody can talk about the kitchen table conversations of American families the way Joe Biden can. But Joe Biden has a lot to answer for if he comes back to Iowa to talk to American families about why he may want to be President.
I became a Biden supporter in the 2008 caucuses because I thought he had the best grasp of foreign policy, and of the real lives and struggles of ordinary people. He said he would end the Iraq War, including in a memorable speech at the Steak Fry. He warned against war with Iran, which the neocons are still pushing for today. But he was really at his play-on-the-heartstrings best when he talked about growing up in a family that didn't have much, how he understood how hard people work, and how tough life can be for so many.
He also was a stalwart advocate for veterans. His son Beau is in the Delaware National Guard and has since deployed to Iraq and come home. He told us that we should be warned that veterans would be his first priority, and if there wasn't enough funding to go around, they would take first. He liked to talk about his efforts to force the military to provide adequate armor for vehicles against IEDs, to keep so many of them from coming home wounded or dead.
I remember him standing outside a bar in Osage, Iowa late one evening, talking to a former county supervisor and activist he seemed to know well. Social Security was easy he said. Just raise the cap. He said the same thing to an Iowa Public Television audience.
My, how times change.
That same Joe Biden has been deeply involved in bringing us where we are this week. Not just the President's budget, with its cuts--cuts--to Social Security and veterans' benefits, but the long setup that got us here. It looks as though the Vice President was advocating for something other than the families around the kitchen table. And it increasingly looks as though the Administration wanted a crisis to force a "grand bargain," and has tried repeatedly to ensure that there was one. One consequence of Biden's deal with McConnell: ending the Bush tax cuts at Obama’s original $250,000 level, rather than the compromise $400,000 number, which would have brought $183 billion in revenue. The White House has said the chained CPI will result in much less than that--$122 billion in benefits not paid out over ten years. The chained CPI, which has become the substitute for raising taxes on people making between $250,000 and $400,000, will come out of the hides of wounded veterans as well as seniors living on $15k/yr. And it will raise taxes on the real middle class, especially earners in the $40-50k range.
Some Democrats in Congress are anguished about the Sophie's choice presented by the Administration between the sequester and cuts to beloved social insurance programs--cuts that the American people have said unequivocally they do not want. Like Digby, I think that Democrats should just say no. It's a phony crisis. The Republicans are fine with just saying no and have people scramble to give them what they want. We should try it. Here are some things that are not on the table:
Close capital gains loopholes: $174 billion.There have been a lot of diaries this week on the introduction of chained CPI into the President's proposed budget. AARP has a new poll out that shows that nobody likes it. In particular, older voters don't like it. Iowa's population skews older than some states, and its Democrats who vote in caucuses tend to skew a bit left. Although the poll did not include Iowa, here is what respondents thought about chained CPI:
End the Bush tax cuts at Obama’s original $250,000 level, rather than the compromise $400,000 number: $183 billion.
Cut overseas military bases by 20 percent: $200 billion.
Negotiate with drug companies: $220 billion.
Enact “Defense-friendly” Pentagon cuts: $519 billion.
End corporate tax loopholes (without being “revenue neutral,” as the President’s proposing): $1.24 trillion.
Enact a financial transaction tax on the folks who ruined our economy: $1.8 trillion.
Voters age 50+ oppose the chained CPI as a way to reduce the budget deficit.
Seven in ten voters 50+ (70%) oppose changing the way the Social Security cost of living adjustment is calculated (75% Democrat, 63% Republican, 69% Independent).
Almost eight in ten voters age 50+ (78%) oppose changing the way the cost of living adjustment is calculated for retired and disabled veterans’ benefits (80% Democrat, 72% Republican, 79% Independent).
Over half of 50+ voters (52%) oppose changing the way the tax code is adjusted for inflation to reduce the deficit (47% Democrat, 61% Republican, 50% Independent). However, 13% said they do not know if they support or oppose this, indicating there is little public understanding of how the chained CPI would affect a person’s taxes.
Voters less favorable to lawmakers supporting Chained CPI: Sixty-six percent of 50+ voters say they will be less favorable towards their Member of Congress if he or she votes for the chained CPI proposal (69% Democrat, 60% Republican, 67% Independent).
Of the Democrats, 69% would be less favorable toward a politician who votes for it. Translated to Iowa, that means that if caucus goers hold Joe Biden partly responsible for the policies of this Administration, he's going to have a lot of 'splaining to do.
But if Biden is one of the architects of this attack on Social Security and veterans, what about Hillary Clinton? Surely she opposes it, right? Can we expect a video any day now denouncing cuts to Social Security? Or does she subscribe to her husband's Third Way deficit hawkery and admiration for Paul Ryan? If she is elected, will we have another four years of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup alums running economic policy, or could we look forward to a President who puts the people before Wall Street?
My current plan for the 2016 election is to help some great state legislators get reelected. I do have some questions for Joe Biden though, if he shows up in a venue near here.
If the point of the Administration's plan is to ask for revenues in exchange for cuts to government, why not make one of those revenue increases an increase in the payroll cap in order to protect Social Security?When we sit around the kitchen table these days, we talk about how the attack on Social Security and Medicare will take away income we would have had in our old age. The chained CPI will make life bleaker for those wounded veterans who were going to come first if we caucused for Joe Biden. And we wonder what happened to him when he went back to Washington with Barack Obama. He doesn't seem so concerned about those kitchen table conversations any more.
If the point is to secure revenues in exchange for cuts to government spending, why not make those cuts to corporate welfare, big agriculture and oil subsidies, and military spending, instead?
Why go after Social Security of all things, since Social Security is funded longer than many other earned benefit programs?
And if Social Security must be paid for by directly tied payroll revenues, why not ask for them instead of unrelated revenues? Since Social Security doesn't increase the deficit, why make it part of the conversation at all?