Dec 11, 2013
Kucinich Says Obama Got the Deal He Wanted
Posted on Aug 4, 2011
Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Peter Scheer with Robert Scheer, and we’re speaking with Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio’s 10th District—I think it’s safe to say our favorite congressman. And we’re getting the inside scoop of what happened with this debt compromise, which will lead to trillions in cuts from the budget, mostly from social programs. So, Dennis, fill us in.
Dennis Kucinich: Well, you know, when the House passed this, Democrats were split on the vote 95-95. But I can assure you that any Democrats who voted for it had great misgivings, and many of the ones who did so did it only because they had a perception that to not vote for it would have been to cause a severe political problem for the president of the United States.
Robert Scheer: But Dennis, I mean, how bad is this? And when I interviewed you yesterday, when I was writing my column, you said “This is Clinton triangulation, but unfortunately in a time of Hoover.” What did you mean by that?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, I think that this idea that somehow the White House was forced into a bad deal is politically naive. When we saw the White House signal early on that it was ready for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by actually setting aside bedrock principles that the Democratic Party has stood on for generations, that signal indicated that they were ready for a deal that would involve massive cutting of social spending, and increasing or locking in increases for war, and helping further the ambitions of the Defense Department, not touching the Bush tax cuts. And that’s exactly what happened.
Dennis Kucinich: Well, you have to get below the numbers. And when you get below the numbers, the Department of Defense is actually going to end up with something like $50 billion more than they had actually bargained for. So the impression was that somehow there was going to be cuts in defense, but a report by Nancy Youssef at McClatchy points out—here’s what she says: Rather than cutting $400 billion in defense spending through 2023, as President Obama proposed in April, the current debt proposal trims $350 billion through 2024, effectively giving the Pentagon $50 billion more than it had been expecting over the next decade. In addition to that, the Congressional Budget Office has pointed out that there were no caps put on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let me explain to you the significance of that. The Pentagon can continue to load money into wars which we are told are winding down, and at the same time as they do that, money that is not spent on those wars can be backfilled into the Defense Department budget. So they’re going to benefit twice. Not only are they getting $50 billion more than they had been expecting over a decade, but they’re going to be able to plus their base budget by an accounting trick that lets spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or any overseas contingency operations, continue beyond any discretionary caps in the budget.
Robert Scheer: Dennis, let me cut in for a second. I want to cut to the chase here. Who are these people in the administration that many of our listeners voted for, had hopes for—beginning with the president? You’re sitting there with the Democrats in the House, half of whom vote against their own president; you’ve been around the block a lot of times; you know what’s going on. Who is this guy, who are these people, and you know … you don’t have to be Keith Olbermann to recognize that they’ve betrayed us. Even a New York Times editorial called it a disgrace.
Dennis Kucinich: Well, we have to … OK, let’s cut to the chase. The chase is that the American people are having impressed upon them an IMF-type structural adjustment in the guise of a deficit-cutting initiative. This is being done, quote, “voluntarily,” unquote. If you look at what’s happening all around the world, the IMF is using a punishing structural-adjustment regimen that is creating a backlash in countries like Greece, where people are facing sharp reductions in their standard of living—reductions in social spending for health care and retirement security, among other things. And why is this being done? In order to further the interests of an investor class. And frankly, I think this same … you know, the bottom line with respect to the United States of America—the bottom line is: Protect the investment class to the detriment of the rest of the country. It’s bailout politics 2.0, and it’s a continuation of a governmental structure that’s set up to accelerate the wealth of America upwards.
Peter Scheer: Let me ask you, Dennis—because that seems like what we keep hearing every time we have one of these negotiations, whether it’s on health care or this—that the president is just a terrible negotiator, and he gives away the store before negotiations even begin, or before he really has to. And what you’re suggesting seems to be that he wants to give away the store, that he …
Dennis Kucinich: Well, I don’t think the president of the United States ever accepted a deal he didn’t want.
Peter Scheer: Right.
Dennis Kucinich: And in this case, I think that the telltale sign was when he put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the table—which, by the way, when the commission, the super Congress commission comes into effect, will become extremely vulnerable. So the idea of President Obama somehow being incapable of negotiating—excuse me. He knows exactly what he’s doing. If he had been in a political trap here, he would have immediately, as a constitutional scholar, resorted to the 14th Amendment. It says in section 4, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” And it goes on. But the 14th Amendment, section 4, basically empowered the president, if he had been put in a box by the Republicans, to play a trump card. He didn’t do that, and he never intended to do that. He got the deal he wanted. And that’s something that people need to think about, what the implications are of that.
Peter Scheer: Well then, do we—if Barack Obama really is this new Democrat who has so disappointed the left, then is Bernie Sanders right in that he needs a primary challenge?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, I think you have to first of all define terms. I don’t know if you can define what it means to be a Democrat anymore—or, for that matter, Republican, or labels like liberal conservative. I think it’s an appropriate time for all of us to begin to question the utility of labels which seem to defy the performance of public officials. And what’s conservative, for example, about extending the Bush tax cuts—which by the way will cost, through 2020, $2.56 trillion—what’s conservative about blowing billions of dollars on wars? On the other hand, what does it mean to be a Democrat if you’re willing to put social programs on a chopping block—put the cornerstone of the Democratic Party’s social ethic, which includes Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, on a chopping block—not come up with a massive jobs program, knowing that signing this deal would limit your ability to create jobs—what does that mean? What does it mean to be a Democrat? What does that mean? So we have to define terms. We’re trapped in a system where we somehow believe that all we have to do is change the players and we’re going to get a different outcome. Maybe not. Because within the logic of this system, now supported or buttressed by Citizens United and Buckley v. Valeo, is a system of corporate governance which impresses itself upon the people of the United States for its own benefit, to the people’s detriment, and has helped to create in government very efficient mechanisms to accelerate the wealth of the nation upward.
Robert Scheer: But, Dennis—this is …
Dennis Kucinich: So if then you’re going to ask me who’s going to be the next president, that assumes that we really are identifying who’s making the decisions right now.
Robert Scheer: Dennis, this is Robert Scheer. And I think I know you as well as just almost anybody does. I interviewed you for the L.A. Times when you still were the mayor of Cleveland, and for Playboy magazine, which didn’t sit so well with some of your …
Dennis Kucinich: Well, which ended my career.
Robert Scheer: … ended your [laughs]…but, Dennis, you know, everything you’re saying now is something you knew back then. Not because you were a Democrat or a liberal or any of those things, but because as mayor you tried to save the public power …
Dennis Kucinich: Well, we did. I did.
Robert Scheer: You did save it, I know. And it put you up in Cleveland. You saved public power, and they still have it, and that’s a check on gouging people. But you came smack up against the big banks, the big companies, the big utilities, when you were mayor. And somehow you survived, and you had a political career after that. But that’s a wisdom you had, what, almost 40 years ago, 30 years ago, right?
Dennis Kucinich: Right.
Robert Scheer: And so what I’m asking you—and the reason I really wanted to get you on our Truthdig show, and on Truthdig today—is what is different that’s going on, and why are people being bamboozled? And you have a crazy situation where the only people who seem to be in touch with the pain of people losing their houses and not being able to find jobs, and fighting in wars that make no sense at all, are some of these libertarian tea party people. Where is the progressive caucus? Where is the progressive voice? And why has it been so stifled?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, first of all, when you have a member of a party in the White House, there is an unspoken rule to not make his—and in the future, I suppose, her—life more difficult. So the Democratic Party has, unfortunately, as a party, been muted. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has been traveling the country on a jobs tour trying to identify what is, correctly, the No. 1 issue in America, which is unemployment and slow economic growth that goes with it. And there are people speaking out. But the White House has the biggest megaphone on the planet. It set the agenda, and when it has cooperation, as it does, in its policies, with members of the other party, it actually has a kind of relationship that seems to work for the White House’s politics but not necessarily for the politics of the Democratic Party.
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