As the US Congress and the President head into negotiations over the
looming never-ending budget crisis to figure out how to avert hitting the debt ceiling again, the BBC’s US President editor (a more accurate description than his actual job title) is on the case to give you his muddled view of how US government should work.
America’s fiscal suicide pact
He starts right in with the violent imagery, just to set the proper tone in which you should understand the scene.
America might be forgiven for thinking they suffered a concussion, instead of holding an election, on Tuesday night. The country now has double vision.
The violent imagery is supported by the now-obiligatory context of a deeply divided country, most-polarized-ever-ever-omg. And you’ll never guess whose fault that is.
Republicans in Congress have other ideas. House Speaker John Boehner is insisting tax rises for the wealthy can’t be allowed to happen.
Typical dishonest, class-war rhetoric, straight out of the White House propaganda machine. Actually, this comes naturally to Mardell, no prompting necessary. Boehner is insisting that no tax rises for anyone should be allowed. But since that includes the evil rich, it’s “accurate” to say that he doesn’t want tax increases for them. It’s not a particularly honest description of the proceedings, but I suppose it fits the BBC requirement for “accuracy”. Impartial it is not. Here’s what Boehner actually said:
Boehner today maintained that Republicans want to avert the fiscal cliff without raising any taxes and “in a manner that ensures that 2013 is finally the year that our government comes to grips with the major problems that are facing us.” Next year, he said, “should be the year we begin to solve our debt through tax reform and entitlement reform.”
The speaker added that he had a “cordial,” short conversation with Mr. Obama earlier this week and is hopeful that “productive conversations” can begin soon on the fiscal cliff. As he has for more than a year, Boehner said that he’s open to creating more tax revenue, by closing tax loopholes and eliminating some deductions, just not raising tax rates.
That last line sure looks to me like someone talking about increasing tax payments for the wealthy. Only a highly partisan, disingenuous person would describe Boehner’s position as refusing tax rises for the wealthy. Unless we’re playing semantic games about an increase in income tax rates as opposed to just increasing the taxes actually paid. Mardell cleverly left all that out and quoted this instead:
Speaking before the president did so this afternoon, he said: “Everyone wants to get our economy moving again. Everyone wants to get more Americans back to work again. Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs that everyone says they want.”
He called on the president to lead.
So you really aren’t told at all the reality of what Boehner is thinking. Mardell continues:
Mr Obama did, but not in a direction that will delight Republicans. He is using the moral authority of his re-election to push his case. There is nothing new in his call for Congress to extend “middle-class tax cuts” at once. He’s said it repeatedly before the election.
But it’s different now. He has a renewed mandate and his demand has a fresh moral weight behind it. He pointed out even people who didn’t vote for him told opinion pollsters that taxes should go up for the richest.
And here’s where Mardell really starts to get it wrong. The President got fewer votes this time than in 2008. Almost 10 million fewer. Sure, Romney didn’t get as many as McCain did, but the difference wasn’t as great. So who actually did worse? Remember, we’re not talking about simply winning or losing: Mardell said “renewed mandate”, which requires much more than simply winning. Voter turnout was also substantially lower (except for places Philadelphia, which had a turnout that even Sadaam Hussein would have envied) The President may have dominated the Electoral College, but won the popular vote by only 2.5%. Boris Johnson won his race for mayor of London by a slightly larger amount – 3% – but the BBC described that as a “tight margin”. Go figure. Anyone here expect Mardell to declare that Boris has a renewed mandate? Some projected counts (they’re still counting actual votes in places like Ohio and Florida) expect the President to crack that 3% mark, but that’s it. Still no mandate when it’s a non-Left politician.
When journalists make value judgments like this, it leaves the door wide open to personal opinions influencing their reporting. This is a classic example. In 2004, George Bush defeated John Kerry by just over 3 million votes. The President’s popular vote victory over Romney was – you guessed it – just over 3 million votes. You will not find a BBC report saying that Bush had a renewed mandate in 2004. You’ll find analyses stating that Bush supporters and Christians were saying that, but you will not find a BBC editor or reporter stating it.
Now that he’s established that the President is supposed to get His way, Mardell lays out the doom and gloom if Republicans don’t let Him.
There has to be an agreement. If the two sides can’t get behind a plan to cut the deficit there will be pretty horrible consequences.
The ugly phrase “fiscal cliff” has stuck, but it is more like a ticking economic timebomb. The two sides agreed to a suicide pact if they couldn’t reach agreement – tax rises and defence spending cuts the Republicans loathe – as well as other spending cuts that are offensive to Democrats.
The trouble is if the bomb goes off, it is not just the politicians who will be hurt. It is American economy that would explode, probably taking what’s left of the world economy with it.
This is more or less true, and nobody’s denying that we’re looking at trouble here. We then get a bit of “balance”, where the President says this, and the Republicans say that. He even allows that some Republicans might think they, too, have a mandate.
President Obama said that people had voted for action but he would refuse to accept any approach that wasn’t balanced and made the middle class suffer alone. He said there shouldn’t be a long, drawn-out drama.
The Republicans won’t play along, and he will presumably portray them as churlish bad losers who won’t accept the people’s verdict. They will doubtless point out they too (or some of them) also have a fresh mandate.
Note the qualifier. You’re meant to understand that they really don’t have one. So Mardell wraps up with this:
While both Mr Obama and Mr Boehner sounded consensual they were in fact restating their mutually exclusive positions.
They are heading for confrontation, but this is only the first act – they are both stating a hard line, before the give and take of negotiations. They do have to get a move on. The drama can’t run for long before it turns into tragedy for all of us.
Except we already know whom to blame, don’t we? Mardell has already told us: Republicans who want to protect the wealthy. (I remember back when this budget agreement was passed. The US President editor was singing a slightly different tune then.)
But spot the missing upper house of Congress. This happens over and over again with both Mardell’s “reporting” and other BBC coverage: they leave out the Democrat-controlled Senate. Again and again we hear about how it’s all Republicans blocking Him. What about the Senate? And you’re expected to ignore Democrats who side with Republicans on certain issues.
While actual spending is really allocated by the House of Representatives, the Senate also has to pass an agreed version of the budget for the country to actually have one. Yet, unbeknownst to BBC audiences because you were never told, the Democrat-controlled Senate never passed one. In fact, even the Democrat-controlled Senate (it’s worth repeating) unanimously voted against the joke budget proposed by the President Himself. Oh, and let’s not forget either – no matter how much biased Beeboids like Daniel Nasaw would like you to – that the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for His first two years in office. No budget then, either. And Mardell once actually referred to that as a Golden Age, because the President was able to ram some things through without a single Republican vote. Who’s really to blame here?
But that’s just the bias part. Now here’s where Mardell really gets muddled. The real problem with Mardell declaring the President has a mandate is that he’s presenting the whole thing as if the President is king. He does not appear to understand – or perhaps just doesn’t approve – of the way the US government is set up.
There are two issues here. First, is the way the government is split into three separate branches: the Executive (the President and Administration), the Legislative (Congress – both Houses), and the Judicial (the Supreme Court and the lower Federal system). This is what’s known as “Checks and Balances”, the idea being that no one branch has too much power. Never mind that one of the Democrat operatives the BBC had on the panel of their election night coverage didn’t understand that, and thought it meant Republicans weren’t allowed to vote for what they wanted, and the Beeboids were too ignorant to correct her. Mardell certainly doesn’t understand it, and thinks if the President wins – even by a “tight” Boris Johnson-style margin – He has a “mandate”, and the Republicans should bow to it.
The House of Representatives is what is says on the tin: a group of legislators who are there to represent their individual constituencies. They’re not State-wide representatives, like Senators are: they represent a single collection of 500,000 voters in their State. Same as the Electoral College. Representatives are not elected to do the President’s bidding: they’re there to represent their own constituency. If a Republican gets elected on whatever issues, that’s his or her mandate, not a directive to obey the President. Because different States have dramatically different population totals, some have a much greater presence in the House than others. When a State loses population, they lose representation in the House. If more people move there, they get more Reps. The total number of Reps. in the House can change with each election if the national population does. If it seems a bit unfair, it’s meant to be. Sort of.
But New York and California do not run the country, even if the popular vote makes it appear that they might. Nor should they. The House of Representatives is not a mirror of the Electoral College vote, even though their numbers are the same. The House – ideally – represents the wishes of their individual constituencies. Representatives are not meant to be a reflection of some national conscience. This is all connected to another US concept the BBC neither likes nor fully understands: States’ rights. I use the upper case “S” here and always to emphasize the point that most Founding Fathers considered their State to be their country, and wanted that independence preserved. Some of us still understand that. The individuality inherent in the House of Representatives is part and parcel of that concept.
This is also why the Senate, the upper house, exists. Each State gets two Senators, and that’s it. In this way, each State has equal representation. But that’s also why real spending is decided in the House. The Senate is much more than a rubber stamp, though, as they have their own agenda and powers. But that’s all for another time.
What I’m talking about here is the idea that – contrary to how Mardell presents it – an election victory for a President does not actually translate into carte blanche. To really be successful, a President must also bring his political party along for the ride to victory as well. Failing that, he must compromise, triangulate, as, for example, Bill Clinton did. Funny how you don’t see much comparison of The Obamessiah to Clinton these days. That would make Him look petty and partisan and incompetent, though, so the astute BBC analysts tend to refrain from doing it.
The Republicans in the House are there to do the job they were sent to do, not merely the President’s bidding. If they were voted in to avoid taxing us all into oblivion, that’s what they need to focus on. They’re also not required to bend over backwards to compromise if it means doing something they believe will damage the country. Politicians get voted out when they do too much their constituents don’t like. Just ask all the Dems and Big-Government Republicans who got kicked out in 2010 for voting for ObamaCare.
The other party must try to compromise as well. But you never hear the BBC complaining about President “I won”, or that the President is the one drawing a line in the sand with His tax rises for the wealthy. Mardell may write a sentence saying both sides must work together – and he even admits that the President only sounds like He wants to compromise, but doesn’t appear to be just yet – but only after he’s already set you up to assign blame for who won’t. And again: what about the Senate? And why has neither Mardell nor anyone else at the BBC examined why the President never got a budget passed while He had both houses under Democrat control? Could it be because that might force them to learn that Congress isn’t simply a vehicle for a President’s policies? Or perhaps because they might be forced to admit that the President’s own fiscal policies are so ludicrously extreme that even the Democrats won’t vote for it?
Mardell either doesn’t understand how the US government is meant to work, or simply doesn’t care. He pays lip service to the notion that both sides must compromise, but he’s already framed it in the context of Republicans being in the wrong. Yet he’s the man the BBC wants you to trust most on US issues. Don’t.