Robert Reich: Why Bill Clinton’s Favorable View of Obama’s Tax Deal Should Be Disregarded
Bill Clinton presided over an economic boom engineered by Fed chair Alan Greenspan, who felt confident he could drop interest rates far lower than anyone expected without risking inflation. The result was 4 percent unemployment in many parts of America, as well as the best jobs recovery in history.
The price Greenspan exacted from Clinton — and a resurgent Republican congress demanded — was a balanced budget. As a result, Clinton had to give up much of his “investment agenda” in education, infrastructure, and other long-neglected means of building the productivity of average working Americans. The economy enjoyed a huge cyclical recovery.
But the economy’s underlying structure remained as it had been before, including stagnant wages for most Americans. Within a few years the middle and working class was treating their homes as ATMs, borrowing trillions of dollars in order to maintain their standard of living, and at the same time demand enough goods and services to keep almost everyone in jobs.
Those days are over. The Democratic Party can no longer ignore critical investments in the productivity of average workers. Nor can it ignore the increasing concentration of income and wealth at the very top, and the inability of America’s middle and working class to get the economy moving again.
The GOP hasn’t changed their story or their strategy since the 1990s. It’s the fault of big government. That was false then, and it’s false now. The structural problems are now much worse, and the cyclical recovery from the Great Recession pathetically anemic.
If the Democratic Party has stood for anything over the years it is to maintain and restore upward mobility for the majority of working Americans, ensure that the playing field isn’t tilted in the direction of the privileged, and limit the power of the richest among us to entrench themselves and their heirs into a semi-permanent plutocracy.
Continuing the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, including a sharp cut in the estate tax, violates these core principles. Doing so in the midst of an economic emergency that demands bold measures to rescue America’s vast middle and working class adds further insult.
I don’t read that as Reich saying that Obama or Clinton has been suckered. I get more the feeling that Reich is saying that Obama is making the deal for short-term political benefit at the expense of fighting for the right thing.