The Morning Plum: A nation of Keynesians

As many have pointed out, the House progressive budget — which calls for substantial new spending to create jobs and defers deficit reduction until later — has been almost entirely marginalized from the Washington conversation. Instead, the outer ideological poles of the debate have been defined by the budget from Senate Dems, which contains as much in spending cuts as it does in new revenues — and a tiny fraction of stimulus spending as an afterthought — and the Paul Ryan budget, which purports to rapidly slash the deficit only through huge spending cuts and contains nothing in new revenues or spending.

In this context, it’s interesting that a new Gallup poll finds that public support for new federal spending to create jobs is simply overwhelming. Large majorities — and even majorities of Republicans — back the jobs creation policies Obama proposed in 2011 and renewed in this year’s State of the Union Speech:

* 72 percent support a “federal government program that would spend government money to put people to work on urgent infrastructure repairs.” This is also backed by 71 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans.

* 72 percent support a “federal jobs creation law that would spend government money for a program designed to create more than 1 million new jobs.” This is backed by 69 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans.

Public support for these ideas is high even though the questions explicitly use the phrase “spend government money.” Gallup notes: “Job creation proposals enjoy widespread public support, including majority backing among all party groups, even when the issue of government spending is raised in an era when deficit reduction is one of the major priorities for the federal government.” (Conservatives will object to the question wording, but many economists agree that those proposals would create jobs.)

At the same time, the public has been very clear on its desire to see the tax code made marginally more progressive, through new revenues derived from nixing tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. Yet the progressive proposal, simply because it can’t get through Congress, is not widely treated as “serious” or discussion-worthy. Meanwhile, the core proposals in Ryan’s fiscal blueprint — which would dramatically roll back the safety net and other government programs, while slashing tax rates on the rich without saying how that would be paid for — are deeply unpopular and mathematically questionable. Yet his plan is accorded significantly more attention (even though it, too, is a nonstarter) and deference (though that’s beginning to change).

Obviously Americans regularly tell pollsters they are deeply worried about the deficit and want spending cuts in the abstract. But that changes quickly when you talk specifics, particularly when it comes to retirement programs. And the above Gallup numbers reveal a public that’s receptive to the idea that government spending can create jobs. This, combined with other polling on taxes, drives home what Matthew Yglesias wrote the other day: The progressive vision — invest more now in education and infrastructure to boost the economy, defer dealing with the deficit until we’re on stronger economic footing, and raise taxes and cut defense so the burden of regaining fiscal balance doesn’t fall too heavily on the poor and elderly — really isn’t all that marginal or off the wall. As Yglesias notes, it may never happen, but that doesn’t make it a “wild and crazy dream.”

Unfortunately the current makeup of Congress has defined the choice we face as one between “balanced” austerity (a mix of spending cuts, including to entitlements, and tax hikes) and deeply unbalanced, ideologically unhinged austerity (the Ryan plan). But for the purposes of discussion, it doesn’t have to be this way. Our fiscal debate is deeply out of whack, and the progressive budget deserves to be taken seriously.

 * Obama in Israel: With the President already in Israel, Ben Smith has a very interesting look at Obama’s ongoing epiphany about the limits of what he can accomplish in the region:

Obama is now “a bit more humble” in his approach to the region, said Jeremy Ben Ami of the liberal Jewish group J Street, who was among the Jewish leaders who met with Obama on the issue four years ago and again last week. His group has pushed the president, largely in vain, to lean harder on Israel to make peace.

This week’s trip has no real agenda, which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a point. Its symbolism, including a trip to the grave of the creator of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, is clearly focused on reassuring the Israeli public that the president, and the United States, are firmly on their side — something that Republican politicians spent much of 2012 calling into question.

As Smith notes, Obama has discovered that in the region, the “laws of gravity apply.” Obama noted to Bibi that he’s glad to “get away from Congress,” a joke, perhaps, but also telling: Congress is another universe where, post-victory, Obama has discovered that those laws stil apply.

* Dems intensify attack on Paul Ryan budget: The Hill notes an interesting dynamic: Democrats are sharpening their attacks on the Ryan fiscal blueprint by focusing more directly than before on the message that it will harm the poor, women, and minorities. Dems are tailoring their message to the “coalition of the ascendent,” the demographics that reelected Obama and are increasingly the key pillars of the Dem coalition — groups the GOP absolutely must improve their standing among.

* Right wing mobilizes to block immigration reform: The New York Times reports that opposition to real immigration reform is crumbling fast among members of the GOP establishment, but at the same time, a coalition of over 50 conservative radio hosts is holding a two day session designed to mobilize opposition to anything that includes a path to citizenship.

One opponent sums up the situation well: ““Amnesty is that which rewards lawbreaking. An amnesty bill is going to split the party.” If this opposition proves real, it will again reveal the base’s reluctance to let the party evolve to keep pace with the changing face of America.

* Budgets are about choices and priorities: Dem Rep. Jan Schakowsky rolls out a new Web site that asks readers to weigh in on whether they would rather keep the sequestration cuts in place or replace them with new revenues garnered from closing loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy and corporations, as Congressional liberals have been urging. The site is designed to push the idea that budgets are about choices and priorities, and that in this case, the public sides squarely with the priorities underlying the progressive solution to our fiscal problems.

* Rand Paul, a Senator worth watching: Dana Milbank has a provocative look at how Rand Paul has broken with many members of his party on immigration, gay rights, drones, and Chuck Hagel’s nomination, and suggests Paul represents the Tea Party before it was “hijacked by religious and corporate interests.”

This quote from Paul is key: “I’ve never met a new immigrant looking for a free lunch.” Good to see someone aggressively challenging the “takers” framing of the immigration debate.

* Can Rand Paul really influence immigration debate? Roll Call posits an interesting question: Can Rand Paul bring along the rest of the Tea Party on immigration? If so, that would make the prospects for real reform brighter, but the outstanding question is whether the backlash against reform from the conservative media — which is already underway — will blunt Paul’s progress.

Also see Beth Reinhard on how Paul is using immigration to broaden his national appeal beyond the Tea Party. Given his 2016 ambitions, this is definitely worth watching.

* What do Americans mean when they say they’re worried about deficit? Must reads from Jonathan Bernstein and Kevin Drum.

* And did Ken Cuccinnelli airbrush away his immigration record? Fun times! The Post editorial board notes that documentation of national right wing hero and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinnelli’s extreme immigration record seems to have been quietly removed from his campaign web site. Let’s take this as a positive; perhaps these achievements are seen as no longer politically palatable as the GOP scrambles to change its posture on the issue.

What else?

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