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Sunday, March 4, 2012

CHOICES

In this election year of 2012, the national electorate will have choices before it that will probably determine this country’s future direction for years to come.  So what are some of the choices that we will be making when we vote either for the President or for the Republican nominee?  Perhaps the number one choice for many Americans needs little explanation or comment.

Do I want a government that will actually establish needed jobs, or, do I want a government that believes only in supporting and funding rich “job creators” through tax loopholes and favoritism?
President Obama has tried in many ways to provide opportunities for the underemployed and the jobless (Jobs bill, infrastructure reform, auto industry bail-out, Stimulus bill), but he has been thwarted by Republicans at every turn. 
Republicans basically do not believe in government-created jobs (or even the saving of jobs); they would rather use government to tilt the playing field in the direction of multinational corporations hoping such measures will trickle down to help the larger economy.   Their ideology and tax loopholes for the rich have created the largest gap in prosperity between the 1-2% richest of us and the other 98-99% who have seen little if any increased prosperity.  The choice is a stark one.
 

Do I want government taking a measured approach to the deficit (cutting overspending and increasing tax revenues) or do I want a one-sided approach that further tilts the playing field in the direction of the richest 1%?
President Obama and the Democrats have consistently proposed targeted cuts in government spending, and even in the bloated bureaucracy, while also calling for fair and reasonable tax rates for all Americans, including the rich. 
Republicans have consistently balked when any tax rate increase is proposed for the richest 1% on the grounds that they are the job-creators (a fantasy proven false more than once by independent groups).  Their proposals of draconian cuts to “discretionary” programs (social programs intended to help the middle class and the poor), and their ill-advised suggestions for excising whole departments in the federal government, are constant reminders of their inability to plan carefully to meet the very complicated problems left behind by the Bush administration.  Republicans have yet to accept any of the President’s proposals for cutting the deficit, increasing revenues, and reforming government.  They not only reject his budgets, but have also rejected his call for a re-instatement of an Executive power that would allow him to merge certain departments and duplicative functions.  A do-nothing House under Republican control, and a Democratic Senate blocked by a super-majority vote rule, have been able to block a balanced approach to the economy and the question of raising revenues.  More importantly, a Republican-controlled House and Senate, with a Republican President, would bring an avalanche of measures designed to favor the richest 1-2%.

A reminder: Mitt Romney wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest among us.  He also wants to cut the tax rate for corporations from 35% to 25%.  He says he wants a 20% reduction in all marginal tax rates (tax brackets) across the board (which again favors those in higher brackets).  He will also seek lower tax rates for investment income, will seek to eliminate taxation on capital gains, dividends and interest (who will that benefit the most?), and will eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax.  Then, on top of all that, he will work to eliminate the estate tax.   Do we need to ask what this means for revenue generation?  David Frum of CNN answers for us:  “won’t such a big tax cut, piled atop the previous commitment to renew the Bush tax cuts when they expire in 2013, greatly add to the deficit?  How will the federal budget be balanced?  (Romney’s Detroit speech) suggests that the gap will be closed with big cuts to programs for the poor, such as food stamps, housing subsidies, and job training.”

The cat is out of the bag.  Romney has aligned himself with the GOP base, particularly as represented by the Tea Party members in the Congress.  Eric Cantor’s endorsement of Mitt Romney has sealed the connection.  Romney has fully eliminated any policy difference he may have had with the radical right congressional wing.  He will now be their lackey in piling the burden of deficit reduction on the poor, the disabled and the young, as well as on the broad middle class.   Romney is now the official candidate of the rich and the Right.  If you vote for Romney for whom and for what are you really voting?

Do I want government assuming some control over health care and insurance provisions (as it does with Medicare and the VA) or do I want private insurance companies dictating insurance provisions and medical policies?
President Obama and the Democrats passed the first comprehensive health reform Act since LBJ’s administration.  It left in place our private health insurance system, but  proposed reforms that will change health care delivery and health care coverage for most Americans.  In spite of Republican threats and attempts to repeal that Act, the positive results are beginning to reveal themselves, e.g. more children being protected, at least 2.3 million young people under age 26 able to stay on their parents’ insurance, raising of Medicare reimbursement rates paid to doctors, no more private insurance companies limiting coverage because of pre-existing or long-term conditions.  These are just a few of its many positive aspects that have received favorable comments from the CBO. (See my Blog for December 3, 2011).  One of the provisions rarely discussed is the establishment of state-based Affordable Insurance Exchanges which will “help ensure that every American can access high-quality, affordable health insurance coverage beginning in 2014.  These competitive marketplaces will provide millions of Americans and small businesses with ‘one-stop shopping‘ for affordable coverage in every State.” (FY 2013 Fiscal Year Budget).  HHS has been providing grants to nearly all States to plan for the establishment of these Exchanges.

Republicans have no health plans to offer other than those that would diminish or destroy Medicare and the VA system of care, and repeal the Affordable Care Act.  For instance, Romney has laid out a plan for dismantling “Obamacare,” and claims that, on his first day in office, he will issue an Executive Order paving the way for all 50 states to claim waivers from “Obamacare.” 

Do I want a government that is run for and by millionaires or do I want a government run for and by the other 99% of us? 
Although this may not come first in our list of choices, it is perhaps the question that gets at the heart of our current problems.  As long as millionaires and billionaires (including mega-rich corporations) have the power to access the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government in such a measure as to be able to tilt the activities of governing in whatever way will be to their benefit, we will not have a representative democracy, but a plutocracy (rule by the rich) or even an oligarchy (governance by a small elite). 
The current Republican primary battles presage the terrible results of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  We now have a few billionaires giving to Super PACs which are able to control and win elections for their candidates by the sheer volume of ads and propaganda they can produce. One billionaire can even keep one candidate in the running long after his (or her) star has dimmed on the national stage.  This is an abomination in a representative democracy.  Yet, the Republican Party has said or done nothing to overturn this ascent into the depths of a non-representative oligarchy.  So, you have a choice: vote with Democrats to overturn Citizens United and to reform our election process, or, vote with Republicans who have no intention of overturning that same decision because for them it is capital cronyism at its very best.
(Yes, I realize that President Obama has now encouraged moneyed sources to support a Super-Pac, but he is the only candidate for President who advocates a repeal of Citizens United and more basic reforms of our electoral system.  Republicans will have no inclination for such reform).

Do I want a government that is opposed to organized labor, and collective bargaining, or a government that supports labor and business as partners?
Need we do more than look at Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, etc.?  Republican governors have provided a spectacle of destruction of labor rights akin to the attitudes of countries like China, Russia, Iran and Syria.  Not only have they promoted legislation destructive of bargaining rights, of protection of children, and protection of workers in dangerous occupations, they have passed legislation that affects rights to unionize.  Anti-union demagoguery is not just bad for fair play, it is destructive of the middle class that was partly built in this country because unions built a system of  benefits that enabled people to become part of the American Dream of home ownership, car ownership, and higher education for their children, and expanded opportunities for recreation and leisure, and even of investment that had not been an integral part of  worker’s lives in the past.  A new partnership between business and labor is a key to being competitive, and the Republican Party is devoid of such vision.

Do I want a government that favors the development of new sources of energy or a government that favors large subsidies for Big Oil companies, offshore drilling, hydro-fracking, and drilling for oil and natural gas on government lands?
President Obama’s Budget for FY2013 continues his administration’s commitment to the development of diverse and clean sources of energy.  It eliminates unwarranted tax breaks for big oil companies, extends incentives to spur investment in clean energy manufacturing, and for renewable energy production.  His Budget also invests in R&D to boost clean energy technologies.  In addition, such investments will: help reach goals for increasing electricity from clean energy sources; encourage use of natural gas in the transportation sector; reduce oil imports by one-third by 2025; and, position the U.S. to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

In contrast, Mitt Romney’s Plan puts almost all it’s emphasis on domestic oil and coal production increase which solves nothing.  He states up-front:  “We must vigorously embrace and develop all of our domestic energy sources.”  He even says that the environmental concerns -- concern over global warming -- of the Obama administration in regard to the Keystone pipeline is undercut by whether the US or China will receive that oil from Canada.  His first step would be to facilitate “rapid progress” in development of domestic reserves of oil and natural gas, and further investment in nuclear power.  He would “fast-track” all permits and approvals for such exploration and development.  He wants to “overhaul” the Clean Air, Clean Water and other environmental laws to the advantage of the energy industry.  He wants to allow several types of nuclear reactors to be built in spite of the fact that many of these designs are inadequate and could lead us to disasters as occurred in Japan.  And finally, he wants to encourage “hydraulic fracturing” to extract natural gas from shale deposits.  And he says clearly:  “In a Romney administration, the EPA would not pursue overly aggressive interventions designed to discourage fracking…the environmental impact of fracking should be…evaluated in comparison to the impact of utilizing the fuels that natural gas displaces, including coal.”  In other words, the impact of fracking on people’s lives and their environment is not an important part of the equation. 

In the end, I believe Barack Obama has already increased the breadth of our choices in many ways, as described above, and at other points on this Blog.  We need to give this President a second term so that he can continue his mission of balance, reform, restructuring, investment, and greater opportunity for all, not for just an elite few.