Riding with Thelma & Louise over the fiscal cliff

Susan Sarandon must be in Seventh Heaven. And probably Geena Davis too. For the past few months one of the persistent story lines from our political leaders has been the fiscal cliff. As of Jan. 1, 2013, we will go off the fiscal cliff.

The first Democrat who said she was willing to go off the fiscal cliff was Senator Patty Murray from the state of Washington. Oh dear … So her colleague in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “You might call it ‘Thelma & Louise’ economics — right off the cliff.” Voila! Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are indelibly linked to the Democrat’s latest cause. Which is probably okay for both of them because they have been indelibly linked to Democratic causes for decades.

Now, the two news channels and FoxNews are showing that clip from the last moments of the film, “Thelma & Louise” and frankly, I’m getting tired of seeing it.

  • You’re probably going to consider me soulless and superficial, but one of my first thoughts when I first saw that movie was, “What a waste of a great car.” It was a 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible. In cherry condition. If you’re gonna go off the cliff, leave the car parked for someone else and just jump. Just sayin’ …
Why couldn’t they be driving in a minivan?

So, the Democrats are embarked on a Thelma & Louise approach to the economy, except that Congress is on this journey too and the House of Representatives is controlled by the GOP. So, for all practical purposes, both the Executive and Legislative branches of government are taking the Thelma & Louise approach. As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango.

  • Which brings to mind Ted Nugent and his song, “Wango Tango.” It’s a good song, but you wonder: what’s up with the Nuge? Is he still among the living? If so, is he incarcerated? Just asking.

The president himself has embarked on an actual journey to meet directly with we the people to get public opinion on his side in this debate. Speaker of the House John Boehner called it the president’s victory tour, which it really isn’t. A victory tour would have the president celebrating his victory at every stop, dancing on an effigy of the vanquished elephant. What he is doing is using his bully pulpit, the mobile one that comes with a really big, tricked out plane, to make his case to the American populace. That’s in the job description.

After he was elected, George W. Bush did the same thing, only his message was to get rid of Social Security and have people give their money away to Wall St. investors instead. It didn’t really work out for Bush (43) because the vast majority of Americans like Social Security and don’t want to even hear talk of doing away with it.

Republicans know they are at a distinct disadvantage with the president. Besides a weekly radio address, the president can make these trips around the country promoting his policies. For a Congressman or Senator, having to deal with the phone calls and other correspondence is daunting, especially if they oppose the president’s policies. Which are: raise the income tax level for people making $250,000 a year or more and make cuts of about 1.4 trillion dollars. President Obama does not want to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

What to cut? What to cut?

The Republicans, on the other hand, want to drastically cut spending, especially on “entitlements,” those misnamed programs that primarily benefit the poor and middle class: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the like. In fact, their proposed cuts in the budget are more than twice that proposed by President Obama.

For increasing revenue, the GOP wants to cut some tax deductions and limit the others. Both would affect the poor and middle class more than the wealthiest. Having those tax credits saved about 15 percent of my income, which is a big deal. For someone making a million or more per year, those deductions might only be one percent or less of their income. It’s a big difference.

Where’s Monty Hall when you need him? C’mom, Mitch be Monty.

The Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell laughed when Tim Geitner, Secretary of the Treasury, laid out the president’s budget proposal to Congressional leaders. Speaker Boehner went in front of the cameras and claimed no progress had been made. Even though the president laid out a budget proposal. It’s available on the White House website if you would like to peruse it. You might be a little shocked at what the president offers to cut. It should scare you that as substantive those cuts are, it isn’t enough for the GOP.

Actually, reading the budget, with the ending that the Republicans want to slash eve more spending, could make the budget plan a scary bedtime story.

The Democrats have time on their side. If we go over this fiscal cliff, all the draconian spending cuts will be triggered. Along with that, the Bush tax cuts end. And that is why the GOP wants to hammer out a deal before December 31 — if the Spending Controls Act of 2011 goes into effect, it would be easy enough to put the genie back in the bottle on nearly everything; restore funding for various programs and even restore tax levels for the poor and middle class. But the GOP knows they will never get the top two tiers of the tax cuts back and they won’t get the spending cuts they want. The president wouldn’t sign any such legislation. And once again they would be the obstructionists

Plus, the Democrats control the Senate, as much as they can with the filibuster. But, the Democrats are going to change the rules for the filibuster, which will make it harder to use the tactic. In his six years as Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) has had to face 386 filibusters, more than any majority leader in U.S. history. That’s about 220 more than his immediate Republican predecessors — combined.

Ezra Klein gives us an interesting graph of the filibuster since the adoption of the cloture rule in 1918. The graph was created by Todd Lindeman. Although I have no idea who he is and no inclination to find out, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. You know, cease and desist orders, charges of plagiarism, and just plain, down right bad manners. I don’t want to be accused of being ill mannered — again.

Speaker John Boehner: Can’t we figure this out?

And here’s the thing: senators don’t even have to filibuster anymore. All they have to do is threaten to filibuster and then call for a cloture vote. And if the Dems don’t think they can get 60 votes or more to bring a bill to a vote, they won’t even schedule the cloture vote. What Harry Reid and the Democrats want to do is return the filibuster to the pre-1975 rules, which would force people to actually filibuster, i.e., get out on the floor of the Senate Chambers and talk.

So, controlling the Senate with new filibuster rules in place, the Democrats will have a much easier time passing legislation. Not really an easy time because some yahoo Republicans will actually try it, but we won’t see 50-plus filibusters a year.

So this fiscal cliff thing is coming up in about 30 days and everyone knows the president and the Democrats have the winning hand. If time runs out on the Spending Controls Act of 2011, the Democrats can wait until the next Congress starts when they can restore the funding to all the programs they favor, maybe a few more and bring back the tax cuts for the poor and middle class. What are the Republicans gonna do? Tell their constituents they’re holding up their tax cuts and government checks for the benefit of the wealthiest? They can’t even sell the story now

Republicans up and down the dial are ditching the Grover Norquist “no new taxes” pledge, saying they aren’t opposed to tax hikes if they get the spending cuts they like. But even they know they won’t be able to end Medicare and Social Security, which is their ultimate plan.

Even Speaker Boehner signaled his acceptance of tax hikes on the rich when he had Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma go on TV and say he would push his fellow Republicans to go along with the president’s plan on taxes. Cole is a Boehner loyalist and wouldn’t have gone on CNN and MSNBC with that message without Boehner’s approval at least. And there’s a lot of speculation that Cole went on TV at the behest of Boehner, take one for the team, so to speak. The team being, the Republicans willing to compromise.

The Young Guns rather just shoot from the hip.

The other team is the so-called “Young Guns,” Eric Cantor (R-VA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI), who will stand firm for Norquist and the Tea Partiers. They say there will be no tax increases … unless the Spending Controls Act of 2011 goes into effect. But they know the writing is on the wall.

So we have John Boehner telling us we have a stalemate and the president saying the Republicans are going to give the poor and middle class a “Scrooge Christmas.” This is just the beginning of the negotiations.

This fiscal cliff thing will be over before Christmas because the GOP knows it won’t get any deal they like once the little ball drops in Times Square on New Years Eve.

The Democrats have already won on this fiscal cliff thing — or bump, or slope, or curb, or whatever the pundits are calling it today — and the proof is: the number of Republicans who have said they are willing to go along with the president’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Once the deal is signed the president will owe Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon — not to mention Ridley Scott and Callie Khouri, the director and writer respectively of Thelma and Louise — a sleep over in the White House. Their image has been exploited enough, to good effect for the president.

After all these years I still can’t remember which one is Thelma and which one is Louise. I guess I could Google it — again — but I’d most likely forget — again.

Thelma & Louise: why did you have to wreck that car?