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Last fall, I had the opportunity to meet Rep. Jim Cooper (D, TN-5) at a small community gathering in East Nashville.  The gathering was an outdoor get-together in a new commercial redevelopment of some old commercial property in Inglewood, a quaint residential community set on the Cumberland River.

Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat and a self-described "nerd" who is a recognized expert on healthcare economics, has warned about deficits and PAYGO and budget crises since time immemorial.  He serves on the House Armed Services and Budget committees.  So, with record deficits and Republicans pushing for tax and spending cuts, I asked a simple question:

Do you think we have a spending problem or a revenue problem?

His answer?

Both.  But until we show we can control spending, we can't be trusted on the revenue side.

Cooper's answer has been echoing around in my head ever since.  Especially during recent talks about tax cuts for millionaires, I've been thinking, Why in the world would anyone support a proposal like this?  I mean, unless you're afraid of wealthy interest groups trying to Swift Boat you into oblivion, it would seem that during a time of war the last thing to do would be to continue the failed Bush tax cuts.  Nevertheless, Cooper seems poised to support an extension of all the Bush cuts and signed onto a letter in September where he opposed a House vote on the Obama-Pelosi tax cuts for income up to $250,000.

So, let's take Cooper at his word.  Curbing spending needs to be our top priority, so we can rebuild trust (as Democrats in leadership) that we are the party of fiscal responsibility.  If that's the case, then wouldn't it make sense to support Seneca Doane's proposal?

Pay for the war or end it.

Cooper himself was highly critical of President Bush and his handling of the budget:

Bush may be a strong leader in the war on terrorism, but on budget deficits he is missing-in-action.

He has criticized the windfall profits for Big Pharma in the Medicare Part D bill, which limits the ability of the government to negotiate prices for Medicare prescription drug benefits.  Cooper has been critical not only of the Medicare Part D plan but also of the arm-twisting and extended House vote which led to its narrow passage in 2003.

So, while Cooper has rightly criticized the Bush Administration and congressional Republicans for their spendthrift ways, he has been muted in his criticism of tax cuts that don't stimulate the economy or create jobs.  Perhaps Cooper shares the views of many fiscal hawks that by using a "starve the beast" strategy, the Federal Government will be forced to make difficult budget decisions and finally rein in the excesses and waste that have plagued Washington for 30 years.  Perhaps Cooper feels pressure to appease angry constituents who believe that the higher tax rates paid by the wealthy lead the higher tax brackets to a sense of entitlement over how government spends the people's money.

Whatever the case, Cooper shares President Obama's commitment to simplify the tax code, eliminate loopholes, and rewrite tax law.  Last month, he was quoted in a story by AP where he echoed the term "adult conversation" used by many on the right, and said, "It's 'put up or shut up' time."

President Obama has been clear about his plans to "call the Republicans' bluff" on taxes and spending, and it appears that the tax cut proposal is Obama's next gambit in a plan to stimulate the economy and force the GOP's hand on deficit control and spending cuts.  Cooper was an early supporter of the President and has been a loyal Obama Democrat since 2008.  As Republicans prepare to take over the House, Cooper's knowledge of the budget and his opposition to wasteful spending could make him an unlikely hero or a pariah within the House Democratic caucus.

Get your popcorn.

Originally posted to Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:32 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

    by Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:32:04 AM PST

  •  Uhm (8+ / 0-)

    If you take the defense budget and add on the interest that needs to be paid on the national debt you get a total higher than the total of federal income taxes paid. (That leaves less than no money left for everything else the government does).

    So yup .... spending is way out of control in comparison to how much people are willing to pay. If people want to spend $2,500 per person ($10,000 for a family of four) every year for defense, they have to step up and pay.

    http://wikileaks.ch/ or http://213.251.145.96/

    by taonow on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:37:33 AM PST

  •  Both (8+ / 0-)

    Deficits can be turned into surpluses and unemployment can reach 0. The issue is one of having the will to do it.

    Big spending cuts in defense and moving to single payer for medicine will go a long way. Collecting social security on all earned income. Implementing a progressive tax scheme as opposed to the regressive scheme we now, will go a long way towards turning the deficits into surpluses.

    Unemployment can be cured with aggressive large spending on education, infrastructure, green energy, R&D, . . .

    Wages need to be raised so that gains in productivity are realized by workers. Also trade agreements need to be renegotiated.

    Practice tolerance, kindness and charity.

    by LWelsch on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:40:54 AM PST

  •  "a recognized expert on healthcare economics" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ssgbryan, TomP

    Quoting Jim Cooper on Health Care is pretty damn amusing. The man helped scuttle the Clinton's plan and very nearly did the same with the Obama version.

    Really, if Jim Cooper is your own representative you're being badly served.

    Here we are now Entertain us I feel stupid and contagious

    by Scarce on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:41:08 AM PST

    •  Cooper teaches Healthcare Economics at (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Scarce, agent

      Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, which is 3 blocks from the headquarters of HCA, the world's largest healthcare company.

      Say what you want about Cooper, but he's no dummy when it comes to healthcare economics.

      Having said that, being a bean counter doesn't give you a moral compass.

      Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

      by Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:45:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's almost a moot point (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ferg, Marie, Pluto, NearlyNormal, bushondrugs

    Nobody is willing to pay taxes and no politician can get elected by ending wars.  The eventual bankruptcy is inevitable.  As it stands, crowing about the deficit is just a rhetorical device for Republicans to destroy social programs.

    They tortured people to get false confessions to justify invading Iraq.

    by yet another liberal on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:47:53 AM PST

  •  More to the point. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Reino, agent

    We have a massive money supply shortfall.  We need enormous infusions of new cash into the economy.  Everything else is just debates on how best to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Happy Fucking Monday. -- irony from Colorado is the Shiznit, after a long rant.

    by dov12348 on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:49:49 AM PST

  •  as a member of the armed services committee (8+ / 0-)

    how many wasteful weapons programs has he voted to fund? the wars? missile "defense"?

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:50:47 AM PST

    •  That is my question as well. (4+ / 0-)

      He is also on the House Oversight Committee, so he knows about Warlord Inc. - the report from Rep. Tierney on military contractors in Afghanistan who are paying bribes to tribal warlords in return for safe passage of fuel convoys.

      Talk about a racket...

      Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

      by Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:52:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  these supposed fiscal hawks (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Marie, NearlyNormal, tardis10, orestes1963

        almost always turn out to be hypocrites who only talk about deficits to justify cutting spending that helps other people. particularly less affluent and less politically connected people.

        The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

        by Laurence Lewis on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:55:31 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  That has been my experience as well. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Laurence Lewis

          Ironically, Cooper was out of Congress from 1994 to 2002, the time during which the budget was balanced and tough choices were made on deficits.

          Cooper gets a free pass in Nashville, largely because there's no one else to challenge him.  Former House member Bob Clement was challenged by current party chair Chip Forrester back in the 1990s but that ended badly for a lot of people.  Forrester burned bridges that remain unbuilt today and the business community exerted a major push that undermined progressive politics in Nashville.

          Hard to say how things would go if Cooper was challenged in 2012.  I'd imagine that Obama's support of Cooper would make it pretty easy for him to overcome any kind of primary challenge, but Cooper's far better than the GOP alternatives.  Nashville Republicans are compassionate conservatives without the compassion.

          Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

          by Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 11:02:54 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  i wouldn't think (0+ / 0-)

            a liberal could get elected from his district.

            The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

            by Laurence Lewis on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 11:04:05 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You'd be surprised. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Lawrence, SoCalSal

              Nashville is a very progressive community where a libertarian could do well.  A strong progressive base, combined with a solid African-American and growing Hispanic population, could make Nashville a good spot for a progressive candidate.

              But Cooper dodged a bullet in 2010 as 3 other Blue Dogs lost in Tennessee and he only garnered about 55% of the vote.  It was definitely a Republican wave in Tennessee and the lack of coherent Democratic message (combined with a willingness to throw Obama-Pelosi under the bus) made it pretty messy for Democrats, but not because Nashville isn't progressive.  (There was huge untapped political capital and a lot of disgruntled voters stayed home.)

              The big issue is the money chase.  Cooper has phenomenally deep roots in Tennessee (son of a governor) and is unabashed in his support of the business community in Nashville.  He really perceives Nashville as the Wall Street of the South with more conservative economic instincts.  And bear in mind you've got a couple billionaire families (Frists and Ingrams) with a lot of clout and a lot of roots.  The Cheek family is also quite strong (heirs of the Maxwell House fortune).

              Someone who is willing to stand up to the military's spendthrift ways would have a legitimate shot.  But there's no evidence that Cooper is ready to go that direction.

              Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

              by Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 11:11:17 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  This is extremely significant. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Marie, agent

      Levin, for one, obviously doesn't give a shit how many pointless wars he funds.

      Happy Fucking Monday. -- irony from Colorado is the Shiznit, after a long rant.

      by dov12348 on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:53:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's a bit extreme. (0+ / 0-)

        But in practice, that's certainly how it's coming out.

        $895 billion military budget for FY2011 and we're more focused on whether DADT gets repealed as part of the Defense Authorization Bill.

        Meanwhile, Big Brother is watching your internet usage and listening to your cell phone conversations.  But as John Ashcroft argued, you have nothing to worry about if you're not guilty of a crime...

        Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

        by Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:55:00 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  give him credit (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TomP

        he voted against the aumf on iraq.

        The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

        by Laurence Lewis on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:57:14 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  So... (0+ / 0-)

          ...he gets one point for that.  Now how many negatives? Yep - innumerable.

          And he rubber-stamped Petraeus, the new de facto Commander-in-Chief. The hearing was laughable.

          Happy Fucking Monday. -- irony from Colorado is the Shiznit, after a long rant.

          by dov12348 on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 11:00:43 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  certainly plenty of negatives (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Lawrence

            but that was one HUGE point in his favor.

            The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

            by Laurence Lewis on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 11:02:28 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  dov - rubber stamp? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Lawrence

            The President asked General Petraeus to take a demotion and serve as theater commander in Afghanistan. What would you have proposed that Levin do, deny him the promotion so he could stay in the more senior position as the head of Central Command?

            "let's talk about that"

            by VClib on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 11:36:07 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Regardless of the practical consequences... (0+ / 0-)

              ...Levin has a choice.  He is to judge whether or not Petraeus merits the promotion independent of the practical point of his current duties.

              Happy Fucking Monday. -- irony from Colorado is the Shiznit, after a long rant.

              by dov12348 on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 11:57:04 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Good diary. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lawrence, Pluto, NearlyNormal, agent

    We will see.  We need to pay the taxes necessary for decent government services, and all need to pay, but we also need a more progressive tax system.  And cutting the Defense Department and wars will help. Also subsidies to business and Big Ag.

    Trumka: "Absolutely Insane" to Extend Tax Cuts for Millionaires

    by TomP on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:51:20 AM PST

    •  This woulda coulda shoulda been done already (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      agent, TomP

      if not for the total obstruction by the Senate GOP.

      It's depressing when you can't even get 9/11 responder healthcare through the Senate.

      Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

      by Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:53:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Both. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomP

    We have a cultural problem and it doesn't just afflict our federal government. It goes all the way down to the individual American and that is an unwillingness to live within our means. We want what we can afford and we'll borrow to acquire it.

    During lean times like this the individual has cut back a lot but that's mostly because access to credit is limited and the individual can't print money. The federal government, free from those restrictions (it can print as much as it wants, w00t!) has not really changed its ways. Of course, it has been argued before that since we have a fiat currency there is very little reason to be worried about debt and that we ought to print as much as we need to. Try explaining that to an individual who doesn't have that option and has to pick between buying meds and paying their mortgage.

  •  Bwuh-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dov12348, bushondrugs

    you said

    President Obama's commitment

    That's hilarious!!!

  •  so what does he want to cut? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marie, bushondrugs

    I mean, if the government has a spending problem, it should be easy to identify 100s of billions in cuts, right?

    And if he talks earmarks, he's incapable of basic arithmetic.

    •  Yup. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bushondrugs

      That remains the open question that Nashvillians want answered.  Fact is, no one in Tennessee seems particularly serious about cutting anything except Social Security for future generations.

      Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

      by Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 11:03:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Spending. BUT with NEW money. (0+ / 0-)

    Happy Fucking Monday. -- irony from Colorado is the Shiznit, after a long rant.

    by dov12348 on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 10:57:46 AM PST

  •  Spending? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ferg

    The deficit for 2010 is $1.56T

    Defense spending is $0.89T

    Interest on the debt is $0.19T

    If you had no debt, and no defense, we'd still be overspending by $0.48T

    But what's a half trillion here or there.

  •  We can't be trusted on the revenue side (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, bushondrugs

    means in plain english, there is some slight chance that the Democratic party might raise taxes enough to fund the government.

    "Play it LOUD Robbie, Play it fucking loud" Dylan

    by NearlyNormal on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 11:12:04 AM PST

  •  It's mostly a revenue problem (0+ / 0-)

    But spending is also a problem in some areas.

    The military would be a prime example of that.

    "The perfect is the enemy of the good." - Voltaire

    by Lawrence on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 12:02:11 PM PST

  •  Re: Pay for the war or end it (0+ / 0-)

    To see how the combined direct costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars affects you see the National Priorities Project's costofwar.com and select your state and city.  
    ***

    Build Infrastructure:  Volunteer!  List of State and Local Democratic Parties

    ***
    Watch the this hilarious and scary comedy/documentary of the connection between oil, war and debt:

    Robert Newman’s History of Oil Thanks to GreyHawk for recommending this.

    Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. -Frank Zappa

    by TheGrandWazoo on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 12:59:37 PM PST

  •  Ben, a phone call to Cooper's office is worth (0+ / 0-)

    knowing what his reasons are. Al Franken has an article on huffingtonpost, The Hardest Vote I've Taken. Franken sums up my feelings about the tax proposal: continuing wealthy tax cuts stinks, even in the short term, but if that's what it takes to protect the unemployed and get some economic stimulus then it's worth it. I don't have confidence that a Republican-controlled House and divided Senate will accomplish either of those goals in the next two years.

    I'm all for curtailing military spending and ending the Afghanistan war. But that won't resolve the annual budget deficit of $1.27 trillion. Here's what the CBPP says on the military budget (link):

    Defense and security: In 2010, some 20 percent of the budget, or $715 billion, will pay for defense and security-related international activities. The bulk of the spending in this category reflects the underlying costs of the Department of Defense and other security-related activities. The total also includes the cost of supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is expected to total $172 billion in 2010.

    I strongly disagree with Cooper that spending controls must come first, tax increases second. Instead we must take a holistic approach to the budget, keeping in mind the progressive principle of "people first". Establish a primary goal of correcting income inequality, bringing social services, including education and infrastructure, in line with those of other developed countries, and the secondary goal of a regulated free enterprise system that will support the primary goal. National security expenditures have to be relative to risk and to the expenditures of allied countries.

    Set those goals and tax changes become more clear: reduce or eliminate corporate welfare, reduce military spending, shore up social services, contain health care costs with Medicare for all with limits on service costs and negotiations on pharmaceuticals. Establish the messaging and use it relentlessly.

    Okay.... I got carried away.

    Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person. -Jan Edwards

    by SoCalSal on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 05:42:53 PM PST

    •  Already called... many times... (0+ / 0-)

      his press secretary knows who I am and I gave him a chance to review this before posting.

      His Chief of Staff knows me.

      I've called and they know where I stand.

      But I'm not particularly important in the broad scheme of things.

      Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

      by Benintn on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 08:00:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well... (0+ / 0-)

        I appreciate your persistence and diaries. ;-)

        Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person. -Jan Edwards

        by SoCalSal on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 08:39:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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