Why Democrats Should Embrace "Entitlement Reform"

If a baseball player was on a hot home run streak, and faced a pitcher who threw nothing but fastballs straight down the plate, wouldn't you be upset if the slugger let two perfectly good pitches go without swinging for the fences? If the batter struck out, would you walk out in disgust, or wonder which bookie paid off that batter?

The two issues dominating the "fiscal cliff" discussion have been the left's push to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent, and the right's push to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, which they and the mainstream media punditocracy dubiously refer to as "entitlements." But the Democrats are whiffing on the biggest issue that hasn't gotten any press -- corporate tax loopholes and Wall Street speculation. The only "entitlements" we should be talking about cutting are the billions of dollars in corporate profits we're allowing to be offshored to tax-free bank accounts in the Channel Islands, and Wall Street traders making risky, tax-free speculative bets. Whatever bad deal this lame duck Congress makes, can and should be undone by the 113th Congress.

It would be a home run for Democrats like Alan Grayson, or independents like Bernie Sanders, if they were to introduce a bill called the "Entitlement Reform Act of 2013," which could bring in the $1.5 trillion in corporate profits booked offshore but held in American banks and tax a third of it, and institute a $0.03 sales tax on risky Wall Street trading like the kind done in the derivatives and mortgage-backed securities markets. The first reform would be a $500 billion revenue boost over a ten-year period, the second would bring in between $350 billion and $1.5 trillion in a decade. And the best part would be that both of those reforms would only affect the top 1 percent of the top 2 percent while simultaneously providing enough money to both shore up the deficit and create new jobs.

Some pragmatists are arguing that the Republicans' expected caving on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy means that the Democrats will have to "give" them something in return. Since the expected "gift" is entitlement reform, the Democrats can simply answer with their dubiously-named legislation that targets the billions in corporate welfare that we give out to corporate tax dodgers and Wall Street speculators. If the Republicans are expecting us to cut back health care and pensions that people have been paying into their whole lives with each paycheck, in return for agreeing that the richest among us should pay a proportional share of their income in taxes like everyone else, then we should rightfully say, "tough luck."

When someone says "entitlement," I immediately think of the spoiled 15-year-old son of a Wall Street banker walking around a Bentley dealership, eagerly picking out their own birthday present. What I don't think of is a meager check that retirees need to meet their basic living expenses, which greedy CEOs and Wall Street bankers want for their own benefit.

If Democrats want to prove to us that they aren't the bought representatives of Wall Street and corporate America, they need to not only hold fast on Social Security and Medicare, but they need to stop whiffing on the word "entitlements," make that word synonymous with corporate and financial greed, and knock this "fiscal cliff" fastball out of the park.

If Republicans want their political opponents to promise them something, the only promise we should make is this -- the Republican Party won't be rendered completely irrelevant until after the 2014 midterms. Deal?

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