, Port Arthur, Texas

November 14, 2012

Foundations laid for change

Ronald C. Spooner
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Well, the elections are over.  Democrats — and Republicans who vote for Democrats — have much to be proud of and hopeful for.  Voters have said with their votes and responses to polls that they want taxes of the wealthy raised.  Many wealthy people have even asked for their taxes to be raised.  House Republicans, ignoring victories by Democrats for the presidency and control of the Senate, are saying that their holding on to the House of Representatives was the people's telling House representatives stay the course on taxing the wealthy.

While the substantial victory by President Obama was compelling, and Democrats gaining Senate seats encouraging, failure to win over the House left House Republicans with a false sense of security.

Republicans are trying to spin that the small victory by the President cast a shadow on the significance of his overwhelming victory in the electoral college.

But they forget that many Democrats don't even bother to vote in states — notably most southern states — where this Democratic president has no chance to win.  If presidents were elected based on the total votes for candidates, most of those stay-at-home voters would have voted.  And the Obama team would have campaigned differently, targeting all states in a different way.

There are several possible reasons for the successes of Democrats in this year's elections, among them:  (1) attempts to suppress votes of minorities and poor people outraged fair-minded Republican voters who decided to show their outrage by voting for Democrats, (2) suppression attempts motivated those targeted to vote — even those who otherwise might not have voted, and (3) many other Republicans voted Democratic to voice their opinions that money is not speech and corporations are not people.

But this is the beginning of a new election cycle.  The President has committing himself to continue trying to reach across the aisle.  Speaker Boehner is saying the House will only reach back if Obama and the Senate Democrats are ready to surrender.  Votes have said continually that the big deal should be balanced between spending cuts and tax increases.  But the problem may not be just Republicans.  Democrats' supporters are publicly calling for the Senate to reject the President’s intension to place the "big three" on the table toward addressing the national debt and deficit problems.  That is a call for gridlock.

So is the reason why there was no grand bargain reached between President Obama and Speaker due to the fact that the President could not deliver on his part of the compromise he had worked out with Boehner?   Was that a political strategy to characterize the Ryan Medicare plan as "pushing Grammy over the cliff"?

Medicare and Social Security solutions are simple at the start:  End them at some levels of income where people can afford to pay for their own insurance and supplement their retirement incomes with personal savings.  They could also be phased-out, beginning at some yearly income such as $60,000 and phase it out at the incomes where people would be responsible for their own insurance.

Privatizing Social Security is a bad idea, primarily because worker taxes help pay retiree benefits, and because of the potential for invested moneys to suffer substantial and untimely loses.  But their may be something to the idea of private investments made in addition to regular SS taxes. This money would not be used to pay toward other retirees' benefits.  The additional money would be for private investments in some combination of stocks, bonds, or index funds, and would not be optional — as 401k investments are.  These additional Social Security investments would force workers to supplement their other retirement incomes.

But what will be done about the "fiscal cliff" that the country is scheduled to begin falling over in January?  Voters had a chance to return the House to control of Democrats but they didn't, likely because no Democratic candidate campaigned on the promise to help break the legislative deadlock about the fiscal cliff and debt-reduction by raising taxes on the wealthy.  No candidate told voters why it was necessary to have the House controlled by Democrats.  Many people, especially Democrats, have hopes that the days when the GOP contributed to rational government have returned.

But the fact that mainstream Republicans did not vote for mainstream Republicans during Republican primaries suggests that the Tea Party is more than just a fringe of the party.  However, Tea Party Republican candidates were defeated by Democrats, frustrating Republican intensions to regain control of the Senate.  We can only guess — and hope — that those defeats were due in no small part to the votes of traditionally moderate Republicans whose candidates were swept out of contention during the primaries by the Tea Party.  We will see if enough moderate Republicans have the courage, the desire for further revenge or the determination to re-establish their role as the core and compass of the party by joining  Democrats in making some crucial fiscal decisions that Congress must make either this year or early next year.  Will what is left of the old-time type Republicans stand up?

Grover Norquest says that members of Congress signed a pledge to the American people not to raise taxes.  No poll says that most Americans wanted members of Congress to sign raise-no-tax pledges to them.  Polls suggest that most Americans want taxes raised in a balanced approach to addressing the nation's debt and budget deficits.  But the pledge has an expiration date: January 1, 2013, when the Bush tax cuts expire and tax rates revert back to the Clinton tax rates, which produced record increase in job creation and balanced the budget and produced a budget surplus.

Whatever are the causes of the Democrat's victories, there is an old saying: all is well that ends well.  Democrats must make it happen alone if necessary.

Ronald C. Spooner of Port Arthur is a retired educator. Contact him at Spooner blogs at