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President Obama had a press conference yesterday in which he reaffirmed his desire to work with Republicans on the pressing issues of the day.  After a long day of compromising with the groundhogs about my vegetable harvest, I'm ready to offer some actual, serious suggestions about what to propose for discussion.  For the record--because it's not always clear with me--I'm not joking.

Let's start with health care reform, where Obama should propose the repeal of the individual mandate.  (Inland picked this up right away, by the way!)  If you'll recall, the individual mandate was a pragmatic recognition that in order to get insurers to do the good things (not dump people when they get sick, reduce the premium spread by age, etc.), we needed to expand their customer base of relatively young and healthy people.  Many progressives hated this because it was a mandate, one that put more money in the hands of private insurers.  Ironically but predictably, this sop to private interests (insisted upon by Ben Nelson and Max Baucus and by the least progressive people in the White House, I presume), was fodder for Republicans and made their claim about "government health care" at least 1% genuine and 10% compelling, which is all they needed.

Get rid of the mandate, then!  Nothing else, just the mandate.  This would, first of all, harm the profitability of insurers and I think that is a fantastic idea because they're very profitable and it's high time we tested the threats of private interests that they'll stop doing what they do unless we supply them with huge bags of money.  The most inefficient players will leave the market, and that's fine. Second, it would put Republicans in an awkward position: they'd have to say no (what, they like the mandate?), or insist on dumping the popular HCR provisions (what, you mean sick people should be jettisoned?), or say yes (see above).  I know there's a purely partisan argument that we shouldn't do this because if Republicans say yes they'll own it, and we'll have to admit error.  I can live with that, to get something that's a good in itself; and besides, when you have that picture of the bill getting signed, it's a smiling Obama who's signing it.  Especially since we're going after young voters, repealing the mandate is something to consider "very seriously," as the Very Serious People like to say.

Next up, our imperial network of military bases around the world, especially in Europe, otherwise known as the place where nothing in particular threatens US security.  Defending the world's wealthiest countries against a nonexistent threat is something that both Democrats and Republicans can recognize as a boondoggle of epic proportions.  Ronald Reagan won the Cold War, OK?  I'm fine with that--he can't come back to office.  Thank you, Republicans, and now let's get the savings we were supposed to get from that all along.  Republicans might, of course, say no, but people are tired of expensive and wasteful imperialism so they'd have a tough argument especially since these are expenses that no particular US community benefits from.

Third, let's start hacking away at ag subsidies.  Much as I'd like to hack away at the grain programs that are the basis of non-indigenous civilization on the High Plains (full of people who say they're deficit hawks but rely on government for absolutely everything), that's probably not viable so let's start with cotton and sugar.  Sugar programs and restrictions only cost the government $140 million a year, but it costs consumers almost $2 billion and it's devastating to the economies of poor countries.  Cotton subsidies cost the taxpayer $3 billion a year, plus costs to consumers, plus what US producers of other products are losing because countries like Brazil justly retaliate against us for our subsidies.  Worst of all, many of the world's poorest countries can't catch a break because their cotton production can't compete against our subsidized production.  And there's really no issue of US worker well-being here: in our country nobody's poorer than the people on the ground harvesting cotton and sugar.

I don't know the budget inside and out, or at all really, but I agree with my new crazypants senator Pat Toomey that it's simply got to be full of a lot of spending we could do without.  I don't imagine his Circle of Cuts overlaps with mine more than 10%, but that's a lot of money.  If Jerry Brown could run on his 30-years-old record of cutting California's budget, I think it's OK for progressives generally to get on board and take a look; after all, who better than progressives to understand that a lot of the federal budget is regressive spending to benefit the better-off?  Either we'll cut some spending, or we'll make Republicans put their real priorities on the table.  Either way, the country wins.

On the revenue side, my hobby horse is tax credits.  I'm a spending hawk but I'm not a deficit hawk per se: we're not going to default and the size of our debt vs. GDP isn't historically bad.  That means, logically, that I'm not a tax hawk with a purely fiscal need to find more and more money among the ranks of the wealthy and the corporate; to me that's more an ethical imperative than a strictly fiscal one.  Thinking this through, that means I'm OK giving the wealthy and the corporate their money back--as they would conceive of reduced taxes--but only if they do with it what they always promise they would do with it, which is to create jobs....in the US, that is. The problem with the Bush tax cuts, and low taxation of the rich and corporate generally, is that in our current climate of recession and deindustralization a plain old tax cut ends up fueling investment and production outside the United States: it's not just useless as stimulus, it's actually counterproductive.  I don't know how to design tax credits (yessiree, tax credits and fast breeder nuclear reactors, I never did master the design of either of those), but we do a lot of complicated things in our world and I can't believe this would rank up there among the most complicated.  Design something that gives the plutocrats "their" money back, but only for genuine additional investment in the US.  And make sure they don't just swap out their existing domestic investments for de-facto subsidized ones under what I'm proposing.  

Rand Paul is right: we all work for the wealthy, basically.  That's capitalism for you.  The question is whether we're going to work for them out of the dregs of their wealth--the bulk of it having gone overseas--or out of some more substantial share of it.  That's something we can address with the tax regime, and this "expiring tax cuts" moment is a perfect time to start.  As with the spending issues above, it's potentially good policy and good politics: either Republicans say it's a good idea and they're all for it, or they have to explain why it's somehow better to give plutocrats a trillion dollars free and clear rather than in a way that benefits our country even as it benefits the plutocrats.  If Republicans want to complain that there are no worthwhile investments for private capital to make in our country, well, that's a complaint I'd love to hear out of the party of the City on the Hill!

All of these ideas may be lousy ones at a detail level, and I'm happy for more knowledgeable people to tell me so.  My meta-point is simply that we have a lot of opportunities to come up with proposals that obey the President's desire to engage the other side's alleged points of emphasis, without compromising our points of emphasis, on issues that aren't just vacuous symbolism.  I should never say something is win-win when it comes to Democrats since we have a gift for lousing up even the most favorable situation, but I'm hoping the White House and what's left of our congressional leadership start thinking along these terms rather than the existing polarity of total capitulation (tax cuts! indiscriminate spending cuts!) or a doubling-down on stereotypical themes (a totally impossible new stimulus, for instance).

Originally posted to Rich in PA on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:22 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (12+ / 0-)

    The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

    by Rich in PA on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:22:58 PM PDT

  •  I loved to see the faces of the "Freinds of the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA, aoeu

    Chamber" when they hear the suggestion to repeal the individual mandate!

    Or the defense contractors when we reduce our troops overseas.

    Umm, that's PRESIDENT Obama and SENATOR Franken, mr. o'reilly.

    by filby on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:29:38 PM PDT

  •  Yup. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA, 207wickedgood

    I agree with you on everything, especially ending agricultural subsidies. It just makes us seem very hypocritical to developing countries when we condemn protectionist policies but support our own.

  •  Rich, I just don't see (0+ / 0-)

    how repealing the individual mandate is anything but hellishly destructive.  I'm trying to think through how this could work...

    From Neocon to sane- thanks to Obama- and Kos.

    by satrap on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:43:38 PM PDT

    •  Well, that is the wildest thing in the diary (0+ / 0-)

      But let's think about it.  Is it destructive because it leaves some people without insurance?  By definition that's a population that doesn't want it, so politically it was always going to be a liability with regard to that population.  Is it destructive because it makes the new and more humane-to-sick-people private insurance model unviable?  Let's find out!

      The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

      by Rich in PA on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:46:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I suspect the OP means the latter (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        penguins4peace

        But there are plenty of libertarians who would gladly sacrifice the mandate.  Watching Orin Kerr over at Volokh debate the more rabid Federalist Society critics over the "unprecedented" mandate (how exactly is it unprecedented? I've never understood this part, since if I recharacterize the mandate as a tax credit for people who purchase insurance, and an overall tax increase on everyone else who doesn't, it hardly seems unprecedented to me) has been a source of endless pleasure and amusement for months.

        "All along the watchtower, princes kept the view..."

        by Alec82 on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:49:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The thing is, the mandate IS necessary because (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        penguins4peace

        not only will it leave the people who don't want it (the young and/or foolish) but it will inevitably make the middle aged and old bear a massive burden of paying for it, right??

        The middle aged and old will vote and they're going to ACTIVELY seek repeal of the whole kit and kaboodle if, instead of bending the cost curve, the cost curve lands right on their heads.

        From Neocon to sane- thanks to Obama- and Kos.

        by satrap on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:49:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's not like the HCR massively increased the... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          penguins4peace

          ...exposure of insurance companies when it comes to covering their already-insured affiliates.  It merely added some significant protections at the margins, against the most grotesque abuses.  I haven't seen any numbers, but from the earlier progressive critiques my sense is that insurance companies are slated to bring in revenue from many millions of healthier people for only the slightest uptick in spending on unhealthier people.  So I'm not ready to accept straight-up the assumption that without the mandate we'll see skyrocketing rates.  But like I said, this is the wildest part of my diary so feel free to skip to the rest of it :)

          The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

          by Rich in PA on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:58:09 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, Alec is right. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        penguins4peace

        But if this model is unviable without the mandate, the alternative- a return to the old (pre ACA) model- would be welcomed by 10s of millions of people and the entire Republican party and their voters.

        How would that be a victory?

        From Neocon to sane- thanks to Obama- and Kos.

        by satrap on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:52:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  You know, at one point I went to a dentist and (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rich in PA

        he told me that I need some pretty expensive dental work. At the time my employer didn't cover dental insurance. So I bought dental insurance, got all that work done and immediately dropped it. I don't see any reason for people not to do the same thing with the health insurance in the absence of mandate (since preexisting conditions must be covered).

  •  Funny, my very conservative dad was just in (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA, Alec82

    town and insisted we needed to trim spending.  I brought up military bases and ag spending as things that should be cut but that the (R)s simply never will.  

    •  Yeah, this kind of stuff (0+ / 0-)

      always gets brought up; actually, the US military has closed tons of bases over the years but I just don't see the budget ever getting cut.

      Ag stuff?  Sure.

      From Neocon to sane- thanks to Obama- and Kos.

      by satrap on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:45:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The overarching principle, and trope... (0+ / 0-)

        ...has to be that defense and non-defense spending are all in the budget together, with the same rules.  The core difficulty is that defense has an assumed upward arc such that reductions of increases are touted as cuts, while for the rest of the budget a cut isn't a cut unless it's a cut from today's baseline.  Since there is no objective externality that increases our need for defense spending every year, their model has to cede to the general model.

        The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

        by Rich in PA on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:49:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I totally agree. I just (0+ / 0-)

          see it as not happening.  You can fearmonger the shit out of defense/military but it's hard to fearmonger some Iowan NOT getting rich off of subsidies.

          From Neocon to sane- thanks to Obama- and Kos.

          by satrap on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:54:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  You may be right (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            satrap

            But right now we're in the worst possible position when it comes to these things: nothing is spoken, everything is visceral and assumed.  Maybe I have too much of Obama's rationalism, but I suspect that if we can start an actual debate on these issues, the other side will be obliged to define itself in ways that are electorally unattractive.  We haven't pressed them about the assumptions of their model.

            The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

            by Rich in PA on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 06:00:08 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  In complete agreement (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kurt, dadadata, worldlotus

              let's find out.

              I have nothing against farmer's or ranchers, but they don't seem to understand they get government 'help' just like scary black people, city dwellers, the elderly...  My local teabagger Candidate for State Rep.(he won, damn it!) railed on & on about Obama being a Socialist, but...he's the one getting paid by the Government $15,000.00/year to be a sheep rancher. He's claims to be less free under Obama, but please don't touch his 1/10 the going rate for grazing fees he pays the Forest Service instead of a private landowner. Taxes are too high he says-but he pays about 1/20 of the amount I do on a per acre basis-because his land is zoned agricultural, and mine is residential. The guy couldn't possibly live on what he is able to make without gov't help, but he wants to cut everyone else's safety net.

              Let's have a national debate on all AG subsidies.

              "The better I know people, the more I like my dog."

              by Thinking Fella on Fri Nov 05, 2010 at 10:28:39 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Rich it would be great (0+ / 0-)

          if we could get people in government to use the real meaning of words. A cut would only be a cut if it actually reduced the amount from year to year. I have always thought that the definitions of government budget changes and changes in year to year executive compensation should be the same.

          "let's talk about that"

          by VClib on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 10:54:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  In a parliamentary democracy... (0+ / 0-)

      ...government would bring in a budget and the opposition would bring in a shadow budget.  Obama should (at least in my fantasy world) bring in a budget along the lines I've described, and then we should ask where the Republican shadow budget is.  They've never had to do one (nor did we, back in the day), and I'm sure the contrast would be fascinating to a lot of people.

      The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

      by Rich in PA on Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 05:51:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  this is great stuff, Rich-- (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Salo, SBandini, Rich in PA, satrap

    I always thought the Mandate was a pretty close call (see Obama vs Clinton), and that was before the extent of the political liability became clear.  And certainly it would be absolutely fascinating to watch the fight over repealing it, once the Insurance industry realizes that the miracle teat might actually be withdrawn. Could be some crazy alignments.  

  •  It might be fascinating for some. (0+ / 0-)

    But not for those of us who are going to endure it. A minimum wage childless worker in states with a higher min. wage will not be eligible for any subsidies.  There is no way they will be able to afford the premiums and co-pays.  They will then be taxed, what, $600, $900 out of their subsistence earnings, and still receive no health care.  

    What is wrong with this picture?

  •  I think the troops would in favor of this (5+ / 0-)

    Next up, our imperial network of military bases around the world, especially in Europe, otherwise known as the place where nothing in particular threatens US security.  Defending the world's wealthiest countries against a nonexistent threat is something that both Democrats and Republicans can recognize as a boondoggle of epic proportions

    Yes as the troops would rather not spend so much time deployed and overseas. It is bad enough they do multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. But then to have to ship out to these other overseas bases and eithr move their families to some of them or be away from their families is a hardship.

    Being from a military family with family serving active duty now; I can pretty much comfortably say that many in our military would applaud shuting down some of those bases overseas.

    And it would save a ton of money.

  •  I like the constructive message here. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, Thinking Fella, Rich in PA

    I'm sure you're right that the devil is in the details -- but nobody ever said that what stands now is perfect.

    Excuse me but who are the fascists?

    by SuzyQ60 on Fri Nov 05, 2010 at 09:45:10 PM PDT

  •  I'm sorry time has run out to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, Rich in PA

    tip or rec your diary, I certainly would have.

    I agree with your ideas, or, at least your logic. I'm sick of all the Teabaggers around here not realizing that the $15,20,or 100 thousand dollars they get every year from the USDA is Guvmint spendin. And don't get me started on Milk prices...

    Very clever with your 'cut the individual mandate' idea. Either fuck the insurance companies, or make the Repub's vote for the mandate specifically. Nice.

    "The better I know people, the more I like my dog."

    by Thinking Fella on Fri Nov 05, 2010 at 10:15:22 PM PDT

  •  Getting rid of the mandate... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    the fan man, Rich in PA

    I'm ALL for that.  (So was Keith Olbermann, bless his heart, wherever he is tonight).  However, there are a lot of people in the Whitehouse that would oppose it.  Their argument is that health care reform won't work without it.

    HOWEVER, over on Andrew Sullivan's blog, there was an interesting post yesterday saying that the Republican's probably will offer a bill to remove the individual mandate.  It's a clever move, if you think about it.  First, if Obama argues that it will kill his health care bill, all the Republicans will go HELL YEAH!  And those Democrats who have not benefited in any way from HCR may just as well say, hell, I don't want to be forced to pay some corrupt HMO with a gun to my head.  They will be in favor of removing the individual mandate.  A bitter feud over this would leave the White House looking very bad if it resists.  

    About gophers:  (You do mean gophers, not groundhogs, don't you?  Groundhogs are BIG.)  What you need is a deadly gopher-killing machine like my lil' kitty Dora.  

    She's the smallest adult cat I have ever had, but she is fucking deadly.  Recently, she stopped bringing the dead gophers to me and progressed to the eating them stage, a more logical and enterprising approach.  I can't fault her for doing it, although it's rather gross.  She has become almost feral, always outside, hovering over some spot on the lawn where she senses a gopher.  

    I miss having a housecat, but it's worth it to finally have something that can kill these fuckers.  I grow heirloom tomatoes (usually -- this year I had to redo an outside wall, so no tomatoes this year), and pocket gophers drive me bonkers.  

    •  I'll come clean with you, Dumbo (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo, kurt

      I don't really have a groundhog problem--it just seemed like a good mini-parable of fruitless negotiation. I'm fortunately not to have any pest problems in my garden, at least of the mammalian sort.  My parents, however, have huge issue with moles or voles or something, which can burrow in clay soil they can't sink a subterranean barrier into.  So they're impressive, I'll give them that.

      I had an inside cat which was fine; many years ago I house-sat for a week with an outside cat and I was constantly amazed and disgusted with what it brought it.  And that was in San Francisco!

      The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

      by Rich in PA on Sat Nov 06, 2010 at 04:42:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good ideas, Rich! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA

    You've got my vote for Senate Majority Leader!

  •  Why not keep the mandate, but change the penalty (0+ / 0-)

    Instead of making the penalty for not getting health insurance monetary, make it exclusive: have an open enrollment period every year, and if you don't sign up, you won't be able to buy health insurance till the next year (or two years, etc).

    This would put the risk for not getting insurance on the person who refuses to buy it, rather than on the insurance companies.

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