As Obama administration focuses on deficits instead of jobs, Democratic majority circles the drain

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 16:09

Quick thought experiment--which of the following two scenarios would put Democrats be in a better position for the 2010 midterm elections?

  1. Shrinking deficits, with stagnating unemployment;

  2. Shrinking unemployment, with stagnating deficits.
You would have to be living in a pretty walled-off, abstract world to think that voters care more about the deficit than unemployment.  Not only should the far greater importance of jobs be obvious on a gut level to anyone with a job in politics, but polling currently shows more than three times as many people citing jobs and the economy as the top national issue than cite spending and the deficit.

In order for Democrats to avoid a Republican landslide in 2010, creating jobs is far more important than reducing the deficit.  This is especially the case given that unemployment is not expected to drop at all until next summer, at the earliest.  If you think polling is worrying for Democrats now, and you would have good reason to think that it is, imagine what the polls will look like after another eight or nine months of 10% unemployment.  Wipeout city.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Obama administration has had enough of dealing with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.  In 2010, the administration is looking to institute a job-slashing freeze--or even a significant reduction--of government spending.  The plan is already in the works, as every government agency has been ordered to prepare for either a spending freeze, or for 5% spending cuts:

The Obama administration has alerted domestic agencies to plan for a freeze or even a 5 percent cut in their budgets, part of an election-year push to rein in record deficits that threaten the economy and Democrats' political prospects next fall.

How is freezing, or cutting, federal spending going to create jobs in 2010?  The answer is that it won't.  Such a move is more likely to cost a lot of jobs.  The Obama administration is also looking to use the remaining $210 billion in Wall Street bailout money to pay down the deficit, rather than to finance a new jobs bill.  The bottom line is that they are focusing on deficit reduction, not on creating new jobs.

If the Obama administration is not going to undertake any serious effort to improve the employment situation in 2010, and will instead focus on reducing the deficit, the Democratic majority in the House is now in serious danger.  If Democrats run for re-election in 2010 while facing 9-10% unemployment (and 16-17% underemployment), it doesn't take a polling expert to know what will happen.

This isn't to say that we should give up.  For one thing, we need to fight against the administration focus on the deficit versus employment.  For another, we need to make sure to defend the endangered progressive champions in Congress, so that the overwhelming brunt of losses are Democrats with whom we could live without.  However, no matter what we do, we do need to face the reality that unless the administration changes course, and focuses on jobs instead of the deficit, 2010 is going to be a continued disaster on the jobs market, and a complete disaster for the Democratic Party.

Chris Bowers :: As Obama administration focuses on deficits instead of jobs, Democratic majority circles the drain

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Since Obama's a Republican, what's your point? (2.67 / 3)

Republicans (4.00 / 4)
Well, as long as you are willing to concede those who call themselves Republican are actually fascists, then I think your point is valid.

[ Parent ]
Primary challenge in 2012? (4.00 / 2)

Stupidest. Idea. Ever. (4.00 / 10)
If they are so worried about deficits, just role back the Bush tax cuts as promised.

And roll back the Clinton cuts (4.00 / 6)
in capital gains taxes.

[ Parent ]
They're expiring anyway (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Sure (4.00 / 6)
But if right now is so important, get rid of them a year early.  The point is long term deficits matter, but short term not so much.  If they really worried about the short term, there are better, even promised, solutions.

[ Parent ]
the year is over (0.00 / 0)
they expire next year.  

[ Parent ]
Restore the Reagan tax brackets (4.00 / 6)

 Not only will it alleviate the deficit without screwing over the middle class, it would be a slam-dunk to pass.

 Make the Republicans argue against the Gipper. That'd be fun.

 Why is this so hard for our "leaders"?


"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
quick correction (0.00 / 0)
i think Chris meant "unemployment" in 1. and 2.

Yes indeed (0.00 / 0)
Thanks. Fixed.

[ Parent ]
I've been saying for months, ever since (4.00 / 10)
he gave the keys to the kingdom to Summers and Geithner that in the debate between progressives and Rubinites, Obama picked his side. And yet every time he does something like this I manage to be (a little) surprised, I guess because I assume that Obama is smarter politically than to go full Rubin during a jobs crisis. Maybe it's time for to stop giving his so much credit.

Look, maybe Obama wants to lose the House in 2010... (4.00 / 3)
Wasn't that the Clinton path to a second term? Time it so that its better right around 2012, get rid of that meddlesome house where a public option saw the light of day...Afterall, then you can be a true Bipartisan, that's where the republicans get pretty much anything they want and we get nothing, absolutely zippo...did I mention that I'm harping on this third party thing?

True, the rahm plan for an Obama two term is just swell and may work. Its horrific though for progressive causes. It really really is. We can't get anything done when republicans control either chamber. Ha. We can't get anything when they don't control either chamber. Pathetic really...

Philip Shropshire

Copying Reagan? (4.00 / 3)
Obama said he was really impressed by Reagan.  Maybe he's following the Gipper playbook.  Tank the economy (Reagan did it on purpose to "break inflation") bringing unemployment over 10% (Reagan's numbers were real, Obama's are hugely understated).  Lose 27 House seats and a bunch of Senate seats.  Run for re-election when the economy is starting to stagger back under the "Morning In America" line and somehow win by a landslide.

Excuse me.  Use the real stats.  This is worse than Reagan.  This could be a five year dip like the Panic of 1893 and the the Panic of 1837.  Not as bad as the Depression but still fix the problem rather than counting on Reagan Redux.  Jesse Jackson was so right.  I'd rather have Franklin Roosevelt in a wheel chair than Ronald Reagan on a horse.

[ Parent ]
Fucking Unreal (4.00 / 5)
We can give hundreds of billions to the people that crashed our economy, and back trillions of their bad debts.  We can pass HCR that gives hundreds of billions to the people that made our current health care mess without a real public option or any serious cost controls.

But we can screw the middle class into the ground.

Does the Obama WH realize that maintaining the status quo is no longer the safe way to get re-elected?  Or are they going to change the laws so that only the rich can vote?

Barack Hoover Obama... (4.00 / 5)
... and the rest of the Dem leadership seem quite content to foment a tsunami of anti-incumbent sentiment. That worked out beautifully for Clinton, when he pushed NAFTA through in '93, eh? While having the GOP controlling congress made it a lot easier for The Big Dog to push the party to the right, the country paid terribly for that arrangement.

You're spot on, Chris. Progressives should vacate the Veal Pen at their earliest convenience and start running against the administration, lest they get thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

Screw the apparat. We have to look out for ourselves, because the righties in the White House sure as hell won't. Why on earth these people think putting the Democratic Party on a race to the bottom with the GOP is such a great idea... is anyone's guess.

They're putting the very legitimacy of the current regime into question. There's no telling where this is ultimately headed.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

A terrific article in the July "Harper's" (4.00 / 3)
by Kevin Baker: "Barack Hoover Obama: The Best and the Brightest Blow It Again."

For those who still read hard copy.

[ Parent ]
Why wait for the Administration? (4.00 / 5)
Why not push the House to get started on a jobs plan?  I seriously doubt that the President will veto a serious jobs plan if one passes.
And the GOPs look bad if they oppose it...

Sure they'll oppose it... (4.00 / 2)
And they'll get plenty of people to swallow their garbage about how Government jobs aren't real jobs and shit like that.

[ Parent ]
Whether voters buy this sort of nonsense (4.00 / 4)
depend heavily on whether Democrats treat it as if it is not nonsense.  When both parties (or the Republicans and important segments of the Democrats) fundamentally agree, the media tends to follow - if voters treat that as truth, the reason is because they are largely only receiving one message.

Members of the House should be pressured now so that they can begin work on this ASAP - spending money is a legislative responsibility - and they are far easier to pressure than either Senators or the White House.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
You must have them all confused with someone (4.00 / 3)
who cares.  They held up the unemployment extensions until they limited the time available until it undermined the intent of the bill.  

The part that blows me away is how stupid this makes him look.   We need a government spending stimulus or we'll die; and with absolutely zero to little impact from the stimulus, he now wants to flip flop and cut government spending.  If this is the best and brightest, this country is doomed.  

[ Parent ]
This is just depressing... (4.00 / 4)
I'm not much on conspiracy theories, and it still doesn't really make sense to me that Obama would actually want Democrats to lose a ton of seats in 2010, but this just makes no sense at all.  I doubt there's a single voter out there who will actually change their vote because Obama and the Democrats paid down the deficit during an employment crisis.  

You mean change their votes in favor of Obama/Democrats (4.00 / 1)
Because this news is starting to make me think about whether I should vote to reelect Obama in 2012.

[ Parent ]
Need a Bigger Crash (4.00 / 1)
I'm starting to think we need to go for four more years of Republican fuckery running the country so that the resulting crash totally upsets the existing status quo in DC.

But I'm also starting to realize that Democratic fuckery will get give us a bigger crash too.

[ Parent ]
You would've thought that Republican fuckery the last eight years (0.00 / 0)
would've been enough to turn people off to Republicans for the next generation at least.

But no, now apparently people trust Republicans to run the economy better than Democrats and want them to regain control of the House.  WTF?

[ Parent ]
Nope. Voters don't trust ReThuglicans to do anything (4.00 / 2)
Both parties are in a race to the bottom of public opinion, just as the middle classes are in a race to the economic bottom.

If options A and B are both unpalatable, then what? To me, at least, that's the real question now.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

[ Parent ]
C. Any other (doesn't matter which) n/t (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
starting to think??? (4.00 / 2)
Democrats own the White House, Congress, have 60 votes in the Senate and delivered absolutely nothing, and you're wondering if you should re-elect them?   We don't have enough carats; but we do have a big stick.  I'm withholding money and votes until the Democrats remember who the hell they are.  

[ Parent ]
free market fundamentalism strikes again (4.00 / 1)
According to free market fundamentalist theory, which plenty of Dems, even some who call themselves progressive, buy into, budget deficits are a drain on the economy which means cutting deficits creates jobs by increasing confidence in the dollar thereby stimulating investment.

The counter arguments that a falling dollar would make products made in America more competitive on the international market, and that direct spending stimulates because it is investment. No need to wait for investors to invest, the Government could just start making necessary investments in our infrastructure. These arguments just don't carry any weight when your goal is to protect those who hold a tremendous amount of wealth in dollars.

Are we sure these are actual social spending cuts? (0.00 / 0)
and not, say, cuts in administrative waste?

Administrative waste? (4.00 / 3)
There's plenty of it in Wall Street and the corporates.  The myth that government can be cut 5% with no ill effects is a Republican lie.  Believe me, the "waste" is more likely to survive than the muscle.

You want to cut waste?  Get out of Afghanistan and Iraq pronto.

[ Parent ]
I'm just wondering if there are any specifics as to what will be cut (0.00 / 0)
cuz the article linked above provides none.  So it could be anything.

Also, Congress, not the President, is the one that appropriates money.  Let's not forget that when we consider what actions we can take.

[ Parent ]
To arms! To arms! and please kill phony healthcare reform now. (4.00 / 7)
One can rally to fight the impending disaster and go down shooting.  Keeps your progressive credentials intact.

Or we can recognize that the Democrats are not going to heed our wisdom, and will likely be taking serious hits in the next few years.  Then we can coordinate our current actions in that light.

Take healthcare reform (please).  Progressives pretend that it's okay to pass an anti-woman, anti-worker, pro-corporate healthcare bill now, since it gives us something to build on in coming years.  But:

(1) passing such a vile bill will only alienate the Democratic base further than the above alarming post forewarns; and

(2)  thinking that it is a foundation to improve on is a complete and utter fairy tale.  In fact, it is sure to have some kind of language restricting abortion, even if not Stupak.  And that will indeed provide a foundation for the right and the Democratic Party to continue their assault on abortion rights.

"Democratic Party to continue their assault on abortion rights," you cry.  Isn't that a bit extreme?  Stupak was in the House bill, and the Democrats voted for it.  I rest my case.

Full Court Press!

Bullshit (4.00 / 1)
I agree on Stupak, but that is the end of it.  Calling the bill "anti-worker" is pure bullshit.

[ Parent ]
anti-woman, anti-worker, pro-corporate, AND anti-immigrant (4.00 / 2)
pro-corporate.  It delivers a captive market to the insurance companies with no limits to what they can charge.

anti-worker.  Creates incentive for employers to cut their coverage, leaving their employees to the "free" market.  Mandate forces working people to buy policies they can't afford, or be fined, and certainly entangled with the IRS enforcers.

Oh yeah, I've been forgetting anti-immigrants, who tend to be workers.  And the measures to be put in place to screen out undocumented workers are a burden on those of who are documented.

Full Court Press!

[ Parent ]
You can count on there not being any action against mass illegal immigration... (0.00 / 0)
...big corporations have been for mass illegal immigration from the beginning.  It is in there best interests, so there will be no change.


Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me-and I welcome their hatred. - FDR

[ Parent ]
Bingo! (0.00 / 0)
Want to fix illegal immigration?   Start throwing the  the CEO's for companies that hire them (both direct and as sub-contractors) into jail.  Problem solved!

Why do big corporations love illegal immigrants?  Because they cannot buy slaves.

P.S. I've got nothing against illegal immigrants.  In fact, I'm not even proposing we throw them in jail!

[ Parent ]
Obama will do what he will do (4.00 / 6)

 And if that involves paralyzing the economy to "reduce the deficit" (something Nicolae Ceausescu also made a fetish of in Romania), then, as Chris says, the Democratic Party will be unsellable in 2010 and it WILL get slaughtered. And there's not a whole lot we can do about that.

 What we CAN do is pre-empt the narrative and make sure the blame for 2010 falls in the right direction. The 2010 bloodbath will predictably be blamed on "the left", never mind that the most liberal thing to come out of this administration was Lily Ledbetter. We need to make sure that narrative doesn't take hold, and the blogosphere is well-suited to do that.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

Save outr own (4.00 / 3)
If Democrats are going down in numbers we need to a) fill all open Democratic seats with outstanding liberals and b) protect the Better Democrats already in Congress.

[ Parent ]
we are only one part (0.00 / 0)
the gas that passes for "conventional wisdom" in DC matters because people make real policy choices based on it. and the blogosphere is limited in how much it can affect that. it's Peter Daou's triangle metaphor: we have to work with political players who in turn get a message into the media chatter. for sure coordinating with the Progressive Caucus folks right now, as a start, seems called for. but are people feeling too burned at the moment to care?

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

[ Parent ]
thanks chris (0.00 / 0)
excellent post and focus.

Every now and then... (4.00 / 7)

 ...I wonder if it would have been better if McCain had won last year. He'd have inherited the same mess Obama did, and (much like Obama) he would have applied "conservative" solutions (or non-solutions) to our problems, to the same disastrous effect. Except that it would have been Republicans and conservatives who would have been permanetly discredited with the public, not Democrats.

  Then I remember Sonia Sotomayor is on the SCOTUS, and that feeling passes, for the most part.

  Obama's knee-jerk neoliberalism isn't just jeopardizing the Democratic majority; it's endangering the credibility of progressivism as a whole. Even as Obama leaves the left behind for "centrism" (as defined by beltway elites), he's still perceived as a liberal Democrat, and his self-inflicted failures will be seen as failures of "liberalism", when in fact they will be failures of a LACK of liberalism. We've already gotten a taste of that dynamic with Creigh Deeds.

  Is it time to treat this President as hostile?  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

Very good point (4.00 / 2)
Liberals need to stand out as Republicans have and say that we would be doing things differently.  Unfortunately, we need elected officials to be doing that too, and that'd mean they'd have to go against Obama.

[ Parent ]
not hostile. just different. (4.00 / 1)
the Administration has its agenda. we have ours. when they mesh, great. when they don't, then we can't defer to their goals just because of this big mess called the Democratic Party.

i think you're right, and the response has to be to create an independent identity for the left. that means finding politicians who won't run in fear from being labeled "left wing", any more than hardcore Republicans are seriously bothered by being called "right wing".

in a sense, the only reason losing Democratic control of the House matters to us is that some key positions of power there now are in the hands of the people who come closest to being real members of the liberal faction. Pelosi, for instance, for all her faults has been a much better ally for us than anyone in the Senate or the Administration. the same goes for some of the committee chairs.

but is that enough of a reason for us to put our resources towards helping people who are only sometime allies? i don't know, i think it's a real question.

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

[ Parent ]
Well (4.00 / 1)
I really do believe that if McCain had won, we'd be at war with Iran right now.

That alone is enough to make me glad that Obama is in the White House, even when he does stuff like this.

[ Parent ]
For what? (4.00 / 1)
To torture everybody in this country for four more years in order to elect a Democratic majority to do what?  Torture everybody for another eight years?  Face it.  This party is the new Republican Party and nobody is going to change that.    

[ Parent ]
Surely an administration (0.00 / 0)
that has put so much effort into winning over independents, right leaning Dems and moderate Republicans instead of inspiring the base that elected Obama will have no problems winning an overwhelming majority now and for the foreseeable future. I sure hope I am not an object of the sure to come appeals to prevent the GOP takeover. You can have my vote, and even that is not entirely sure, but you surely are not getting my support with this kind of crappy policies.

Independents (4.00 / 5)
Americans are fed up with both parties.  What better time than now to not only primary Democrats but run independent liberals in the general. Denying them votes is the only message they'll understand.  

Consider the howling about Ralph Nader costing Democrats 1 or 2%.  They need some candidates costing them 10-20% to make them learn how important that 20% is.  And to those who say Nader elected Bush, I say he defeated Joe Lieberman.

I'd rather have had Joe Lieberman (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
I cannot say for sure, (4.00 / 1)
but I do believe we would now be at war with Iran if Lieberman had become President. Of course he was VP candidate, but that is still a gloomy and scary thought.

[ Parent ]
independent liberals (4.00 / 2)
this has become my choice. we could sure use some bernie sanders clones.

[ Parent ]
None of this has happened yet (0.00 / 0)
I'm hoping the administration is not (collectively) that stupid.

Forget hope (4.00 / 6)

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
What did you expect? (4.00 / 1)
What did you expect from a President who feels insecure and therefore puts his trust in the Ivy-League educated Goldman Sachs crowd. If they went to Harvard, they must be the brightest and the morally best, right? And they do control major institutions, so they must be trustworthy, right?  Of course not a one of them understand that wealth is based on the Labor end of the economic model. But that's OK,they equate wealth with the Capital factor: with the increase in capital among the super wealthy, the expansion of businesses without increasing employment, and the reduction of deficits (to increase the value of capital).

Poor Obama, the "please everyone" isolated President whose advisors listen with respect to criticism from the right but dismiss criticism from the left with contempt.


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