Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Euphemisms and the grand bargain hunt

By Frank Moraes

Last week, Joshua Green wrote, Obama's Top Economic Adviser Tells Democrats They'll Have to Swallow Entitlement Cuts. He went to a Q&A session with Gene Sperling and concluded that the administration is trying to soften up the liberal base for a deal that offers entitlement cuts in exchange for Sequester cuts—no new revenue at all. There are a couple of things wrong with this.

The big thing wrong with this is that I don't know any liberals who are actually in favor of the Grand Bargain. Maybe at one time, it wasn't such a bad idea. But now the deal has been reduced to limiting loopholes in exchange for decreasing entitlement spending. We all know that the loopholes will quickly come back while the entitlement cuts will go on and on. So regardless of what proponents say, it is a short term tax increase in exchange for long term spending cuts. That's a bad deal for liberals!

Now Green is pushing the idea that the White House is going to take long term entitlement cuts for nothing—or maybe a couple of years of Sequester cuts. Even I don't think that the administration is that clueless. Instead, what seems to be happening is that Green is reading the tea leaves wrongly. I don't know much about him, but I assume that he's a typical upper middle class Washington reporter who really wishes to see entitlement cuts. You know what they say: wish in one hand...

But my reason for even talking about this is a comment that Green quoted from White House spokesman Amy Brundage in response to Sperling's comment, "Gene was reiterating what our position has been all along: that any big budget deal is going to have to include significant revenues if Republicans insist on entitlement reforms." I really hate the euphemisms. And even more, I hate how they favor the conservative reading of what's going on.

The word "revenues" is not really wrong. But it has been used so often as a euphemism for "taxes" that I think people get the wrong idea. Again: these would simply be the elimination of loopholes, not new taxes. This is then contrasted with "entitlement reform," which is the biggest euphemism this side of "collateral damage." No one is talking about reform. We are talking cuts—pure and simple.

What we ought to be asking is this, "Are you willing to exchange the rich having their taxes go up by a very small amount for a couple of years in exchange for having your Social Security cut each year of your retirement?" In fact, as bad as that "deal" sounds, it is even worse. Chained-CPI would also throw more and more lower and middle class people in higher tax brackets going forward. So many people of modest means would see their taxes go up. What a brilliant idea that would be. Conservatives would clearly love it, but I don't see what is there for liberals at all.

What Joshua Green is offering up is even worse than this. But like most Washington reporters, I doubt he's thought much about it. In the group he runs with, there are all kinds of things people know that just ain't so. And that's the basis of "objective" reporting!

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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