The fact remains that incomes for most Americans aren’t growing very fast and haven’t been for years. Median inflation-adjusted income last year was still $2,100 lower than when President Obama took office in 2009 — and $3,600 lower than when President George W. Bush took office in 2001. That’s not just because of the financial crisis, either: Last month was another solid one for job growth and another weak one for average wage growth, the latest jobs report showed.And that's true enough. Actually wages have been in a "great slowdown" for several decades now but I guess we've finally reached a point where it might sort of matter to the New York Times' "very well-educated, worldly and likely affluent,” readership. So now it's time to do something about it. But who will do the something?
We’re living through the great wage slowdown of the 21st century, and nothing presents a larger threat to the Democrats’ electoral fortunes than that slowdown.
The Democratic Party fashions itself as the defender of working families, and low- and middle-income voters are indeed more favorably disposed to Democrats than to Republicans. Those voters have helped the party win the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. But if Democrats can’t deliver rising living standards, many voters aren’t going to remain loyal. They’ll skip voting or give a chance to Republicans who offer an alternative, even a vague alternative.It's not exactly correct to call what Republicans offer a "vague alternative." It's more like a heat sink of vituperative scapegoating and racist nonsense that absorbs the growing discontent among an increasingly dispossessed and worried middle class. That can be vague or specific as long as it sounds active. And Republican rhetoric during the age of the so called Tea Party has been nothing if not active.
As the 2016 presidential campaign begins to stir, the central question will be how both parties respond to the great wage slowdown. Neither has offered a persuasive answer so far — let alone a solution — which is why the public mood is so sour and American politics has been so tumultuous lately. The partisan makeup of the Senate has seesawed more over the past decade than in any time since just after World War II. The Republicans won big victories in 2004, 2010 and 2014, the Democrats in 2006, 2008 and 2012.
All the while, incomes keep stagnating, and nothing influences the national zeitgeist quite so much as income trends, for understandable reasons.
So Republicans are winning the dismal politics. What does that mean for policy? Well, Leonhardt thinks probably middle tax cuts.
A few years ago, a middle-class tax cut would have seemed a silly idea. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama had already cut taxes, and the federal budget deficit was enormous. But the deficit has since fallen sharply, thanks in part to lower health costs. Meanwhile, middle- and lower-income families are reaping a disproportionately small share of economic growth. Having the government try to rectify the situation doesn’t sound so silly now — and probably won’t in the 2016 presidential campaign.Ok. Maybe something like a "middle class tax cut" comes to the table. Leonhardt's description about how that might happen begins to evoke the mythos of "coming together and getting things done" establishment media loves to ply us with. But that doesn't really work. Not in the way we're supposed to imagine it working anyway.
Look, it's right here a few paragraphs down.
The details could be straightforward. The cut could be temporary or permanent. It could involve a decline in marginal tax rates for the middle class or an expansion of tax credits. Mr. Sperling, for example, has suggested giving middle-class and poor families some of the same tax incentives to save for retirement that wealthy people have. Any one of these plans would raise people’s effective income in a tangible way.Nope. Not gonna happen. Republicans will not trade "a tax increase for top earners" in exchange for real tax relief for middle and lower class earners. The reasons are these: 1) Republicans don't care about the deficit. 2) Republicans don't care about governing. What they're there to do is protect the privileges of their largely wealthy constituents.
Because the long-term budget deficit remains a problem, any such tax cut could be paired with a tax increase for top earners, who — even after the expiration of some Bush-era tax cuts — still face lower rates than they have for most of recent history. “Taxes for high-earning Americans are too low,” argues Roger Altman, the Wall Street executive and Democratic adviser. Most Americans favor tax increases on the well-off, polls show.
Sure, they'd like to bargain over a "middle class tax cut." That might be a fun thing for them to pretend Obama won't let them do. They might propose "tax incentives to save for retirement" if it means cuts to Social Security. But what they will not do is concede anything that looks like a tax increase on the "job creators."
All they really have to do is wait around to see what Obama is going to give them. If he gives them nothing then they can go to the voters in 2016 and say, "We really need the White House before we can cut your taxes." But if he makes concessions on some other stuff.. particularly anything that involves Medicare and Social Security.. then it's just a matter of figuring out how many blue dogs are going to help them clear away any obstacles. There seem to be several at the ready.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) made in clear in an interview published Monday that he has no plans to support Democrats who want to take a page out of the GOP playbook by obstructing the new Republican majority.Republicans don't actually care about governing but they will take whatever Manchin and McCaskill (and probably Landrieu if we send her back there) will give them. And that's called "coming together to get things done."
"That's bullshi—…. I'm not going to put up with that," Manchin told Politico when discussing the prospect of Democrats blocking the Republican agenda over the next two years.
Manchin didn't appear to be alone either. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) also talked about the need to get something done.
"Our caucus needs to take a hard look at the way we do things and make sure we are putting the policy issues first before politics," McCaskill told Politico. "The habit we got into in doing nothing, no one was happy with that. I hope that we never go back to that."