In short, there was no realpolitik case whatever for DiFi’s vote, and when it comes to meeting the real needs of her state — home to 7 million medically uninsured and the site of more overcrowded housing than any other state, to mention just two such needs — voting to throw over half a trillion dollars at the very rich seems highly counterintuitive. One hesitates to conclude that the mega-rich Feinstein — who’s married to centi-millionaire Dick Blum, and who just bought a $6 million D.C. home to complement her San Francisco mansion and her Aspen lodge — voted for the cut for primarily personal reasons. One hesitates, but the list of plausible alternative explanations is, to put it charitably, short.
Feinstein did provide a rationale when she voted for the cut last spring: “The budget is in balance and we have surplus projections for the next decade,” she said. “We are in a position to return some of the hard-earned money of the American taxpayers back to the American people.”
Okay, DiFi, taking you at your word: The budget, according to the way you guys measure it, is no longer in balance, and the surplus projections have vanished in the mists. In an ideal world, you and your colleagues would say that responding to the recession by stepping up debt retirement — which is what setting aside the Social Security lock box really means — makes as much sense as increasing your mortgage payments at the very moment that your kid is bound for college and you can barely afford the tuition (a line I’ve stolen from Robert Reich). In an ideal world, you’d repeal all but the rebate portion of the tax cut, which was the one part of the legislation created by congressional Democrats. But you’re all so thrilled at playing the party of fiscal austerity that your current program is simply to gloat and do nothing.
Here’s a modest suggestion, then, for a non-ideal world: Senate Democrats should bring the prescription-drug benefit to the floor and propose to fund it by repealing that 38 percent of the tax cut headed toward the mega-rich. The only reason the cut got through at all is that W. and congressional Republicans brought it up well in advance of any consideration of programs like the drug benefit that actually have far greater public support. Now, you and your Democratic colleagues control the Senate: How about forcing moderate Republicans, and even wavering Democrats like — well, like you — to choose between a necessary and popular public benefit, and the care and feeding of the wealthy? Once emboldened, you could increase the funding for schools by reinstating the estate tax, and maybe, just maybe, put the brakes on rising unemployment by re-designating some of that lock box for public works.
Or you could insist that the larder is bare, and that the only responsible federal policy is an epic twiddling of thumbs. Think it over, while moving into your nice new digs.