Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Progressives vs. the Democratic Party


How do you define the term “liberal”? And how big do you think the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is these days? If you happened to flip on MSNBC on Friday, these questions may have bubbled through your mind during a powerfully revealing exchange over President Obama’s nomination of Jack Lew to head the Treasury Department.

To appreciate exactly what was revealed, it’s worth first reviewing the key parts of Lew’s recent past.

As the Washington Post reports, from 2006 to 2008 the former corporate lobbyist and Clinton budget official “worked at Citigroup in two major roles, a notable line in his résumé given that as Treasury secretary, he would be charged with implementing new rules regulating Wall Street.” Notable, indeed, as the Post notes “Lew did not have just any position at the bank” — he was “a top executive in the Citigroup unit that housed many of the bank’s riskiest operations” that ultimately “helped drive Citigroup into the arms of the federal government’s” $45 billion bailout (some of which was used to pay Lew’s own eye-popping Citigroup bonus).

Soon after that debacle, Lew was rewarded with an offer to walk through the Wall Street-Washington revolving door and become President Obama’s budget director. Not surprisingly, during his confirmation hearing, he loyally did the bidding of his pals in the banking industry by publicly insisting that the financial deregulation bills he once backed as a top official in the Clinton administration had nothing to do with the financial meltdown that pulverized the American economy at the end of President George W. Bush’s term.

Once confirmed as Obama’s budget director, it was much the same ideology from Lew.

He was Obama’s budget Svengali when, as the Huffington Post recounted, the president agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts to the very wealthy and then, two months later, “proposed a spending plan to Congress that cuts funding to programs that assist the working poor, help the needy heat their homes, and expand access to graduate-level education.” Channeling the ideology he championed at the Wall Street-funded Hamilton Project, Lew sculpted a budget blueprint to reduce the deficit by $1.1 trillion mostly through draconian cuts to spending rather than by returning to Clinton-era tax rates. Among those proposed cuts was a massive $400 billion cut to non-defense discretionary programs — otherwise known as social safety net programs. Yes, that’s right, in a nation where the rich are paying the lowest tax rates in decades, Lew spearheaded a plan whereby more than a third of deficit reduction would come through cuts to the tiny 10 percent of the budget devoted to discretionary social safety net programs.

Taken together, whether you like Lew or hate him, think his career is sterling or disgusting, believe his close relationship with Wall Street is great or awful, want him to be Treasury secretary or not, it’s pretty clear his record is not one thing: liberal, progressive or, according to public opinion polls, representative of the views of most self-identified members of the Democratic Party.

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