Thursday, November 11, 2010

Who won in the elections?

As I'm not registered w/either party, I voted for candidates from both parties. But did the GOP really "win"?

We all received negative ads and flyers in our mailboxes. The nattering nabobs of negativism won. The political consultants, the media gurus, the pollsters and the lobbyists. It’s all sound and fury signifying nothing but the inchoate anger of the American voter.

In the political hubris of an off-year election victory where the GOP took the U.S. House, won eight Senate seats, and captured governorships and legislatures, it’s easy for the GOP to claim they have a mandate to govern. I'm not so sure.

The turnout of voters, as is the norm in such elections, was ~40% of registered voters nationwide (even less of those eligible to vote). So the voters who bothered to go to the polls were an "unrepresentative" sample of Americans. They were older, whiter and more upper class - i.e. the classic GOP demographic.

In the 2008 presidential election, turnout was over 60%. This "turnout factor" is the normal yin and yang of American politics. I will readily admit the GOP winning back the House with 60 more members and reducing the Democratic majority in the Senate is an historic victory.

But I disagree with those who claim the GOP has a mandate to wipe out Obamacare, extend the Bush across-the-board tax cuts and whack away at federal programs.

And to embrace the Tea Party’s mantra of "constitutional government" – a return to Hoover’s pre-Great Depression America – is troubling.

President Obama said it well in his press conference. To use his own words, he and the Democrats suffered a "shellacking." But Reagan and Clinton had the same experience in their second year in office and survived to win a resounding re-election. What appeared to be a mandate turned out to be a major bump in the road, not a vehicular "total."

This election is the a halfway post in a "political" Kentucky Derby now headed into the 2012 campaign - which started Nov. 3, 2010. The key to the nation’s health is whether this GOP victory can lead sober minds to reach across the aisle to do the people’s business or whether the incivility of the campaign will give us a winter of discontent.

The president seems willing to reassess and to reset his agenda in recognition of the new reality. The question is, will the GOP leadership be up to the task of meeting the president halfway? Their record over the last two years is not promising. And the divisions within the ranks of the "Tea Party-ed" GOP makes this even less likely.

The president has offered the GOP leaders an olive branch. Will they reciprocate? The NPR talking heads on election night concluded by asking a very important question: who wins? Is it those who want to change the culture of DC, or "Washington?" The answer was instantaneous: "Washington" always wins. Get ready for 2 years of gridlock.

Election politics is all about demographics. The GOP victory can be attributed to the 60/40 phenomenon. The GOP victory came because only 40% of registered voters showed up for the dance. In 2012, it could turn when 60% show up. Elections are all about simple math. This year GOP math trumped. In 2012 with Obama on the top of the ticket, Democratic math could very well trump.

That is small comfort to progressives now. But it’s just a matter of time before there is a political backlash. Many of those GOP governors and legislators who just got elected will be forced to make huge budget cuts at the state level with no stimulus money to soften the blow.

You think folks are mad now. Wait until 2012. Public employees, the new & continued unemployed, senior citizens, college students and people who depend on human services programs will be on the march. You will then see a “progressive” Tea Party movement rise up and say enough is enough - throw the bums out.

My message to the GOP and the Tea Party: be careful what you wish for.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Can top earners really afford elimination of Bush tax cuts?

Last month's Census data showed the widest income gap ever between the most and least affluent in the U.S.  This also confirms recent IRS data showing the greatest income disparity since the Great Depression.  Why then *DID* Congress recess without eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the top 3% of U.S. income earners, families earning more than $250k/year?  Based on this past year's tax returns, scrapping the Bush tax cuts would realize another $700 billion over the next decade.

"Trickle down" apologists claim those income earners in the top 3% will cut jobs or be unable to grow businesses unless the marginal tax rate stays at 35% instead of increasing to 39.6%, same as it was in the prosperous 1990's.  But what happened to all the job growth since we've been at the 35% marginal tax rate?  According to the Institute for Policy Studies, in 1980 the CEO to worker average pay ratio was 30-1.  As of 2009 that ratio had grown to 263-1, yet as the Census shows, the burden of the Great Recession has fallen mostly on those at the bottom of the employment chain.  In 2009 we had the largest number of U.S. citizens, 43.6 million, living in poverty in the 51 years that poverty has been measured along with the highest poverty rate, 14.3%, since 1998.  Millions more would have been in poverty without the cash safety net: the expansion of unemployment insurance kept 3.3 million out of poverty.

While incomes at the top have soared, Congress has gone in the opposite direction by cutting tax rates on the top earners.  The highest tax rate was 70% in 1980, as compared with 35% today.  Recent census & IRS data clearly shows our country's movement towards a wealth-concentrated feudal society is just being stoked by our existing tax structure.

The idea that a 4.6% increase in the marginal tax rate on the wealthiest U.S. citizens will somehow eliminate jobs is unsupported by any credible evidence.  In fact, given the significant rise in disparity between average CEO vs. worker pay and the increase in U.S. citizens living in poverty, it appears the tax cuts merely allowed top earners to simply keep more of their income.  If the intent of the tax cuts was to create jobs, that memo evidently never reached CEO's desks, or they simply deleted the email thinking it was SPAM.

Corporate America gets rewarded for 1 thing: keeping Investors and Majority Shareholders happy.  And the easiest way to keep Investors and Shareholders happy is by keeping conservative in all business ventures, not taking risk, and reducing costs by workforce reduction or keeping workforce numbers steady.  If CEO's were creating jobs and helping get our economy back on the road to recovery through job creation I'd be all for keeping the Bush tax cuts.  Profits continue to increase while job creation does not.  I advocate we eliminate the Bush tax cuts and require our government use the extra tax income to directly create more jobs.  I also challenge CEO's, Investors and Stockholders to consider short term profit pain to help the economy grow such that the long term gain will be even better when the economy recovers.

I have no doubt some (many?) will disagree with my stance to eliminate the Bush tax cuts.  I ask this question in response: since the tax cuts clearly haven't led to economic growth or jobs creation and in fact we've seen an increase in workforce reduction, how could we guarantee top earners create significant job growth if we keep the Bush tax cuts in place?