In an August 13 op-ed in the Boston Globe on controlling the debt, Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) echoed the disgust many feel with the bickering in Washington, stressing the need for bipartisan policies to control the debt. Having voted for Senator Brown myself, I was hopeful that the proposals he outlined might indeed represent the type of bipartisanship he ran on during his campaign. I was sorely disappointed to find that his idea of reaching across the aisle was the same as Speaker John Boehner’s: unwilling to accept anything less than 98 percent of his demands.
His three suggestions taken together would achieve a “controlled budget” purely through spending cuts, as Republicans wanted during the debt ceiling debate. Sen. Brown asserts on multiple occasions that taxes should not be raised; on the contrary, he suggests that a tax reform package should lower rates! Raising taxes is never popular, but sometimes it is necessary. And when the choice is between either raising the lowest tax rates since at least the year 1950 or gouging Medicare, Medicaid, and education funding, it seems pretty clear which option is the right one.
The most ironic part of Sen. Brown’s piece is his desire to both cut taxes and focus on addressing the long-term drivers of the debt. Well, Senator, I have some inconvenient facts for you: by 2019, the Bush tax cuts will be the largest single contributor to the U.S. debt, and taken together, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would account for nearly half of our national debt. I am all for addressing the drivers of the debt, but this would mean ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the very top-tier earners. Take a walk through Boston sometime and talk to the average citizen of Massachusetts; you’ll find that the majority of your constituents are not multi-billionaires and would be in support of raising taxes on the wealthy. Recent polls have found that the country as a whole agrees with me; roughly two out of three Americans support such tax increases.
Of course, in your eyes, this would put even more strain on businesses and mega-corporations, which are sitting on their piles of cash because they’re “nervous” about the economic outlook and are already “over-regulated.” If only you and your colleagues expressed the same concern for the other “nervous” constituencies that you are supposed to be representing: the single mother working two jobs trying to make ends meet so she can feed her children; the college student who, even if he or she manages to find enough loans to pay for school, will be starting his or her post-undergraduate life with over $100,000 in debt; the countless individuals who have had their homes foreclosed by robo-signers.
I apologize if I have a difficult time finding sympathy for corporations who have made record profits and awarded record bonuses to their executives, but refuse to hire because they’re “nervous.” It would be quite a healthy experience for one of these billionaires to trade places with an average citizen to discover what it actually feels like to be “nervous.” In fact, I’m willing to bet that they’d be terrified.
Republicans like Scott Brown can claim all they want that over-regulation kills business. You can deny to your heart’s content that lack of regulation and oversight was not responsible for the economic quagmire we find ourselves in today, stemming from the 2008 financial crisis. But once again, facts beg to differ. It was the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act by two Republicans, Senator Phil Gramm from Texas and Rep. Jim Leach from Iowa, that broke down the walls between investment banks and depository institutions. One of the arguments against doing this was that risky investments can lead to enormous losses, which could threaten deposits. And because the government insures deposits, it could be required to pay large sums if depository institutions collapsed as a result of speculation. Sound familiar? It should, because this played a role in the larger crisis of 2008, as did lax regulation of predatory lending and a lack of oversight of the credit rating agencies — one of which is now so bold as to downgrade the credit of this country over a crisis it is largely responsible for.
Deregulation of business will not solve the unemployment crisis. If anything, it will exacerbate it, only speeding us more rapidly toward the next crash, which the weak Frank-Dodd Act will do little to prevent. We have a consumer economy; we depend upon individuals spending their money. When they do not have money, it is difficult to spend it. We do not need a supply-side solution, we need a demand-side answer. If Sen. Brown truly wants to create jobs and lower the unemployment rate, then he should invest in education and create jobs through the repair of this country’s infrastructure, which desperately needs attention. Invest in clean energy and biotechnology — not only is this increasingly becoming the future of Massachusetts, but if you let it, it could play a role in the future economy of this country. And certainly, make cuts in spending — but do not cut education and other social programs. Instead, cut the bloated defense budget, larger than what the next 19 countries in the world spends on defense combined.
Senator Brown has the right general ideas — cut spending, reform the tax code, and change regulations on banks and businesses. However, every one of his specific solutions is in the wrong direction. We need to slash the defense budget, not social programs. We need to raise taxes on the obscenely rich, not cut them. We need to strengthen regulations on Wall Street if we want to prevent another 2008 collapse. Like the Senator wrote in his piece, all of us, myself included, need to accept that we will not get everything we want. But this means legitimate compromise instead of Republicans issuing a list of demands, willing to crash the entire economy if they don’t get what they want. And it also means that Democrats need to be more confident in standing their ground; the people are on their side, particularly in regards to raising taxes. Let me assure you Senator: Unless you start paying more attention to what the majority of your constituency wants and less to those who give you the most campaign funding, you will lose in 2012. Remember, you win an election by earning the most votes, not the most funding.