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Robert Reich

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, before the Senate passed a deal early Jan. 1, 2013, to head off the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect. The House still must approve the deal, which includes tax increases for couples earning more than $450,000 a year. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Senate 'fiscal cliff' deal is lousy

By Guest blogger / 01.01.13

The deal emerging from the Senate is a lousy one. Let me count the ways:

1. Republicans haven’t conceded anything on the debt ceiling, so over the next two months – as the Treasury runs out of tricks to avoid a default – Republicans are likely to do exactly what they did before, which is to hold their votes on raising the ceiling hostage to major cuts in programs for the poor and in Medicare and Social Security.

2. The deal makes tax cuts for the rich permanent (extending the Bush tax cuts for incomes up to $400,000 if filing singly and $450,000 if jointly) while extending refundable tax credits for the poor (child tax credit, enlarged EITC, and tuition tax credit) for only five years. There’s absolutely no justification for this asymmetry.

3. It doesn’t get nearly enough revenue from the wealthiest 2 percent — only $600 billion over the next decade, which is half of what the President called for, and a small fraction of the White House’s goal of more than $4 trillion in deficit reduction. That means more of the burden of tax hikes and spending cuts in future years will fall on the middle class and the poor. ( Continue… )

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters about the fiscal cliff negotiations at the Capitol in Washington in this December 2012 file photo. The combination of a weakened national party and more intense competition in primaries is making the Republican Party relatively impervious to national opinion, Reich writes. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

Will Republicans avert the fiscal cliff? Don't bet on it.

By Guest blogger / 12.28.12

Are House Republicans – now summoned back to Washington by Speaker John Boehner — about to succumb to public pressure and save the nation from the fiscal cliff?

Don’t bet on it.

Even if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cooperates by not mounting a filibuster and allows the Senate to pass a bill extending the Bush tax cuts to the first $250,000 of everyone’s income, Boehner may not bring it to the House floor.

On a Thursday conference call with House Republicans he assured conservatives he was “not interested” in allowing such a vote if most House Republicans would reject the bill, according to a source on the call. ( Continue… )

In this undated publicity still photo, James Stewart, center, is reunited with his wife, Donna Reed, left, and children during the last scene of Frank Capra's 1946 classic, "It's A Wonderful Life." Does modern America remember the importance of the public good? (AP/File)

Is US headed to 'A Wonderful Life' – or Pottersville?

By Guest blogger / 12.26.12

It’s easy to feel discouraged about the bullying by right-wing Republicans and their patrons over everything from gun control to taxes and social safety nets to trade unions and jobs.

Every year about now I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” again to remind myself what Frank Capra understood about America — its essential decency and common sense.

In many ways the nation is better than it was in 1946 when the movie first appeared. Women have gained economic power and reproductive rights; we enacted Civil Rights and Voting Rights and, through Medicare and Medicaid, dramatically reduced poverty among the elderly; we began to tackle environmental devastation; we stopped treating gays as criminals and have even started to recognize equal marriage rights. We elected and then re-elected the first black president of the United States. We have enacted the bare beginnings of universal healthcare.

But we are still in danger of the “Pottersville” Capra saw as the consequence of what happens when Americans fail to join together and forget the meaning of the public good. ( Continue… )

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) of Ohio speaks to reporters about the fiscal cliff negotiations at the Capitol in Washington, Friday. Hopes for avoiding the 'fiscal cliff' that threatens the US economy fell Friday after fighting among congressional Republicans cast doubt on whether any deal reached with President Obama could win approval ahead of automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts, which kick in Jan. 1. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Boehner's failure signals marginalization of GOP

By Guest blogger / 12.22.12

Remarkably, John Boehner couldn’t get enough House Republicans to vote in favor of his proposal to keep the Bush tax cuts in place on the first million dollars of everyone’s income and apply the old Clinton rates only to dollars over and above a million.

What? Even Grover Norquist blessed Boehner’s proposal, saying it wasn’t really a tax increase. Even Paul Ryan supported it. 

What does Boehner’s failure tell us about the modern Republican party?

That it has become a party of hypocrisy masquerading as principled ideology. The GOP talks endlessly about the importance of reducing the budget deficit. But it isn’t even willing to raise revenues from the richest three-tenths of one percent of Americans to help with the task. We’re talking about 400,000 people, for crying out loud.  ( Continue… )

President Barack Obama speaks about the fiscal cliff as he takes questions from reporters Wednesday at the White House in Washington. Obama is making unnecessary concessions in the fiscal cliff debate, Reich writes. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Fiscal cliffhanger: Obama's unwise concessions

By Guest blogger / 12.20.12

Why is the President back to making premature and unnecessary concessions to Republicans?

Two central issues in the 2012 presidential election were whether the Bush tax cuts should be ended for people earning over $250,000, and whether Social Security and Medicare should be protected from future budget cuts.

The President said yes to both. Republicans said no.  Obama won.

But apparently the President is now offering to continue to Bush tax cuts for people earning between $250,000 and $400,000, and to cut Social Security by reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments.  ( Continue… )

In this August 2012 file photo, Scott Marshall, top, of Calhoun, Ga., files for unemployment, in Dalton, Ga. Reich asks: Why are we debating how to cut the deficit when we should be debating how best to use the cheap money we can borrow from the rest of the world to put more Americans to work? (David Goldman/AP/File)

Why is Washington obsessing over deficits, not jobs?

By Guest blogger / 12.14.12

It was the centerpiece of the President’s reelection campaign. Every time Republicans complained about trillion-dollar deficits, he and other Democrats would talk jobs.

That’s what Americans care about — jobs with good wages.

And that’s part of why Obama and the Democrats were victorious on Election Day.  

It seems forever ago, but it’s worth recalling that President Obama won reelection by more than 4 million votes, a million more than George W. Bush when he was reelected — and an electoral college majority of 332 to Romney’s 206, again larger than Bush’s electoral majority over Kerry in 2004 (286 to 251).The Democratic caucus in the Senate now has 55 members (up from 53 before Election Day), and Republicans have 8 fewer seats in the House than before.

So why, exactly, is Washington back to obsessing about budget deficits? Why is almost all the news coming out of our nation’s capital about whether the Democrats or Republicans have the best plan to reduce the budget deficit? Why are we back to showdowns over the deficit?  ( Continue… )

In this April 2012 file photo, Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson speaks at a news conference for the Sands Cotai Central in Macau. Adelson and other billionaires will keep pouring in as much money as it takes to eventually win, Reich writes. (Kin Cheung/AP/File)

Why billionaires will still pour millions into politics

By Guest blogger / 12.12.12

I keep hearing that the billionaires and big corporations that poured all that money into the 2012 election learned their lesson. They lost their shirts and won’t do it again.

Don’t believe that for an instant.

It’s true their political investments didn’t exactly pay off this time around.

“Right now there is stunned disbelief that Republicans fared so poorly after all the money they invested,” said Brent Bozell, president of For America, an Alexandria-based nonprofit that advocates for Christian values in politics.

“Congrats to @KarlRove on blowing $400 million this cycle,” Donald Trump tweeted. “Every race @CrossroadsGPS ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money.”  ( Continue… )

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington in this December 2012 file photo, to discuss the pending fiscal cliff. The debate over the fiscal cliff is really about tactical maneuvers preceding a negotiation about how best to reduce the federal budget deficit, Reich writes. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File)

Fiscal cliff overshadows inequality in the heartland

By Guest blogger / 12.11.12

Washington has a way of focusing the nation’s attention on tactical games over partisan maneuvers that are symptoms of a few really big problems. But we almost never get to debate or even discuss the big problems because the tactical games overwhelm everything else.

The debate over the fiscal cliff, for example, is really about tactical maneuvers preceding a negotiation about how best to reduce the federal budget deficit. This, in turn, is a fragment of a bigger debate over whether we should be embracing austerity economics and reducing the budget deficit in the next few years or, alternatively, using public spending and investing to grow the economy and increase the number of jobs.

Even this larger debate is just one part of what should be the central debate of our time — why median wages continue to drop and poverty to increase at the same time income and wealth are becoming ever more concentrated at the top, and what should be done to counter the trend.

With a shrinking share of total income and wealth, the middle class and poor simply don’t have the purchasing power to get the economy back on solid footing. (The wealthy don’t spend enough of their income or assets to make up for this shortfall, and they invest their savings wherever around the world they can get the highest return).  ( Continue… )

Job seekers wait to meet with employers at a career fair in New York City, in this October 2012 file photo. Friday's jobs report is a reminder that job creation must be the country's first priority, Reich writes. (Mike Segar/Reuters/File)

Jobs report shows why job growth trumps deficit reduction

By Guest blogger / 12.07.12

Today’s jobs report shows an economy that’s still moving in the right direction but way too slowly, which is why Washington’s continuing obsession with the federal budget deficit is insane. Jobs and growth must come first.

The cost of borrowing is so low — the yield on the ten-year Treasury is near historic lows — and the need for more jobs and better wages so high, and our infrastructure so neglected, that a reasonable government would borrow more to put more Americans to work rebuilding the nation.

Yes, unemployment is down slightly and 146,000 new jobs were created in November. That’s some progress. But don’t be overwhelmed by the hype coming out of Wall Street and the White House, both of which would like the public to believe things are going quite well.

The fact is some 350,000 more people stopped looking for jobs in November, and the percent of the working-age population currently employed continues to drop — now at 63.6%, almost the lowest in 30 years. Meanwhile, the average workweek is stuck at 34.4 hours.  ( Continue… )

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, faces reporters during a news conference following a closed GOP strategy session at the Capitol in Washington Wednesday. The US government no longer responds to the biggest challenges because it’s paralyzed by intransigent Republicans, Reich writes. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

America's other cliffs: poverty, healthcare and the environment

By Guest blogger / 12.06.12

The “fiscal cliff” is a a metaphor for a government that no longer responds to the biggest challenges we face because it’s paralyzed by intransigent Republicans, obsessed by the federal budget deficit, and overwhelmed by big money from corporations, Wall Street, and billionaires.

If we had a functional government America would address three “cliffs” posing far larger dangers to us than the fiscal one:

The child poverty cliff.

Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of American school-age children living in poor households grew from 17 to 21%. Last year, according to the Agriculture Department, nearly 1 in 4 young children lived in a family that had difficulty affording sufficient food at some point in the year.

Yet federal programs to help children and lower-income families – food stamps, aid for poor school districts, Pell grants, child health care, child nutrition, pre- and post-natal care, and Medicaid – are being targeted by the Republican right. Over 60 percent of the cuts in the GOP’s most recent budget came out of these programs.  ( Continue… )

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