Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blumenthal Crosses The Progressive Bar

Paul Choiniere, the editorial page editor of The Day in New London, seemed mildly disappointed by the news that U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal had crossed the Rubicon and become an aggressive progressive. The increasing willingness of some progressives to challenge presidential leadership, Mr. Choiniere believes, will make the prospect of compromise in the congress yet more remote.

Could it be true?

Mr. Blumenthal had just met with the editorial board of the paper. Given the substance of the interview, Mr. Choiniere noted in a recent editorial, the readers of The Day could reasonably “count Sen. Richard Blumenthal among a growing number of liberal lawmakers who believe that the old Bill Clinton formula, which called upon Democrats to move toward the center on economic and fiscal policy, no longer applies. Income disparities have become so great, the plight of many low-income and young people so severe, it is time to ‘get back to a good, progressive, populist message,’ Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa told the New York Times.

Blumenthal appears to agree.”

Mr. Blumenthal’s progressive horns appeared as the conversation at The Day turned to student loans. Students are finding it difficult to pay off their loans; the loans are high, it should be noted, because the cost of a university education has increased precipitously since Mr. Blumenthal graduated from Harvard.

The U.S. House and Senate had agreed on a measure that would temporarily tamp down “interest rates on the loans for the next couple of years, but could allow them to rise dramatically in future years.”

At long last, Democrats and Republicans in the Congress had compromised on an issue, a cause for celebration among moderates who have been arguing for years that politics in the United Sates has become unnecessarily polarized owing to the absence in the Congress of moderate politicians. In New England, moderate Democrats are as rare as Dodo Birds, and moderate Republicans in Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional delegation have been extinct for years.

In Mr. Blumenthal’s view, the White House – insufficiently progressive -- “had caved.”

Said Mr. Blumenthal, “I really thought that we should stand and fight this thing because there is a premise at the heart of this bill that is so wrong, which is that we should make a profit off the backs of students - $51 billion this year … the federal government will profit from students. So when they talk about the revenue neutrality of this bill, it just means … the federal government makes 700 million more dollars at the expense of students."

We should be investing in students, Mr. Blumenthal argued, “we shouldn't be profiting off them.”

It took but a few moments for Mr. Blumenthal, who is on the top ten list of the Senate's most liberal members, to unfurl his made-in-Washington all-purpose Democratic progressive campaign script:

“From the standpoint of economic growth and job creation, this group is going to be the economic drivers. They are the ones who have to buy homes, start businesses, build families. If they come of out of school deeply in debt … how can they do any of that?"

When Mr. Blumenthal proposed debt forgiveness as a solution to burdensome loan pay-offs – “He is also pushing for a massive student loan forgiveness program, including community service provisions in return for debt relief” – cooler heads at The Day pointed out that “Debt forgiveness would stand no chance of winning approval in the Republican House.”

“Blumenthal said he doesn't care,” Mr. Choiniere tells us. Instead, Mr. Blumenthal unfurled his campaign flag:

"The great challenge of these next two years will be to make the American people understand what that extreme right Tea Party view of the world means to them in their lives. In the House they are on a kamikaze mission against government, they want government to fail, they want it to be reduced small enough to - how do they say it? - to be drowned in a bath tub."

In the real world outside the Washington beltway there is no such thing as the forgiveness of a student loan – if by “forgiveness” one means that banks will simply absorb the loss. The banks will pass losses on to other people who will absorb the costs that students were contractually obligated to pay, pretty much in the way companies pass on to purchasers of goods and services taxes that are imposed by economic morons who think bank loans can be forgiven without predictable repercussions.

What Mr. Blumenthal’s progressive flag really signifies is that Connecticut now has in the US Senate two progressive senators, both of whom could profit greatly from a course in basic economics. By pinning on themselves the “progressive” red badge of courage, both Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy are now, by definition, far left senators and very much out of the political mainstream in Connecticut, something editorial writers should take note of when both later attempt to moderate their courses in time for their reelections.

Mr. Blumenthal’s effort also is ethically maladroit. It is simply wrong for students to dodge the payment of their debts. Colleges should not be platforms from which students side-step their moral obligations. Then too, there’s always this: If Murphy and Blumenthal are successful in forcing banks to forgive student loans, how many banks do they suppose will in the future issue loans for which they will receive no payments?

That is a serious question, and it is one than any serious reporter in the state should put to both senators.

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