Easier to Attack the Weak than the Wealthy

Easier to Attack the Weak than the Wealthy

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network.
I’m Paul Jay in New York City. As I’ve been saying in some of my other interviews, in
January 2009 President Obama met with some conservative columnists and apparently, according
to David Brooks, reassured them that after some period of stimulus he would take on the
big entitlement programs Medicare and Social Security. So this debate that was going on
for several months past, will they be on the table or not, apparently, at least in President
Obama’s mind, was settled quite some time ago, which means how much of all of what we’re
seeing is somewhat a political theater, on the other hand, with some very real and serious
repercussions. Now joining us to talk about all of this debt-ceiling debate is Rob Johnson.
He’s a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and is also the executive director of INET.
Thanks for joining us. ROB JOHNSON: My pleasure. JAY: So just let’s just start with what do
you make of, first of all, President Obama, his administration’s role in all of this,
how this negotiation’s going on? We’re told that there’s a bit of an uprising in Democrats
in the House that there’s going to be a package that Obama is going to propose or agree to
that would be mostly all about cuts and very little about revenue. JOHNSON: Well, Barack Obama spent very little
time in the Democratic Party [incompr.] what four years in the Senate. So even though he
is the Democratic president, he’s always sought to rise above. President Obama appears to
aspire to be the referee, the leader who is above it all, nonpartisan, as he says, the
president of the United States, not particularly a Democrat in this–in the budget negotiations. JAY: But if you go back to the promise, according
to David Brooks, or the commitment he makes to these conservative pundits that he is going
to take on entitlement programs, it seems he had quite a–he had a real agenda about
all of this, even though he didn’t talk publicly about it. He certainly didn’t campaign on
it. JOHNSON: Well, when you say he didn’t campaign
on it, not to the people. He may have campaigned to the fundraisers in the what you might call
Robert Rubin wing of the Democratic Party, economic policy team that he brought in in,
how do you say, lock, stock, and barrel, the whole group. They had always been in favor
of entitlement cuts and cuts of teachers pensions and the various things that we see playing
out in this slump. JAY: Why is this wing of the Democratic Party
wanting these cuts? I kind of fits–I understand from a straight Republican point of view,
at least, you know, in terms of their ideological framework, it’s–they’ve always been in this
sort of place. But why is this wing of the Democratic Party, why do they want these cuts? JOHNSON: Well, what you might call the DLC
(Democratic Leadership Council) wing of the Democratic Party view themselves as pragmatists.
These are people who say you’ve got to raise money. They don’t say that out on Main Street.
They talk nice, flowery, ideological stuff out on Main Street. But in the strategy room,
you’ve got to be practical. You’ve got to raise money–the Chamber of Commerce, all
those guys helping the other side. So when you’re going to do things to keep our fiscal
accounts in balance, you’re not going to beat up Wall Street, you’re not going to beat up
the military-industrial complex, you’re not going to beat up the medical complex. JAY: ‘Cause when you’re saying raise money,
you’ve got to raise campaign money. JOHNSON: You’ve got to raise campaign money
to keep the party vital, keep the party alive, keep the media budget that is necessary [crosstalk] JAY: Because agenda item number one is get
reelected. JOHNSON: Get–that’s right. You know, if you’re
not in power, it doesn’t matter. So to stay in power, you need money. To stay in power,
you need money. You start busting the budget by handing out candy to all your friends–some
would call corporate welfare. And when you’re doing that, you’ve got to be able to cut other
places. When you screw up and you have a big bank bailout, you just spent what Simon Johnson
says–40 percent of GDP will be the change in the debt-to-GDP ratio resulting from this
crisis. When you use that much, everybody’s afraid how are we going to have what you might
call capacity in reserve for the next crisis. So instead of going and taking on the tough,
like, pharmaceutical industry, insurance industry, or something, what you start doing is what
you might call using the logic of collective action and cutting those diffuse, weak interests,
like senior citizens, like the people who have paid for Social Security and run a surplus
all of these years, now get to run it down. JAY: And what do you think, in terms of the–we’re
told is opposition to this within the House, within the Democratic Party? And we saw that
on the public option. I remember the press conference when the Progressive Democratic
Caucus, the, like, 40, 50 of them came out in front of–on the Hill and said, we’re not
going to vote for anything that doesn’t have a vigorous public option in health care. And
then, when it–push came to shove, they did vote for the health care reform without the
public option. JOHNSON: I would say the logic of money in
politics is very strong. And those people, that progressive Caucus, represent you might
call the other human issues. But the logic of survival in Congress and strength of party
means they often get rolled, they often get defeated, to the detriment of a large portion
of the population and to the benefit of a very small proportion that essentially is
the wealthy. JAY: So let’s talk about sort of underpinnings
of the substance of the argument, which is that the debt’s getting too big, and because
you have to fill this hole. JOHNSON: Given that we’re on The Real News
Network, we should talk about the fake debt crisis first, right? JAY: Okay. JOHNSON: I don’t think that we have an acute
problem with default anytime in the next 15 to 20 years. I think the biggest danger to
what you might call, say, public solvency of America is out-of-control, runaway medical
care costs coupled with the demographics of the baby boom. But you can go two directions
to cut that deficit. You can reduce the cost of medical services by eliminating monopolies
in pharmaceuticals, monopolies in insurance, monopolies in hospital costs and hospital
systems, or you can cut back the quality of services. Obama passed a health care bill
where he essentially codified all the monopoly practices, which was the bad thing. And the
good thing is he brought about 47 million people who were uninsured onto the scrolls.
These people are now covered. But that’s something that’s on the budget, and that’s something
that portends, as I mentioned, with the demographics of the baby boom, to be a real source of concern,
a potential debt problem 20, 30 years out. JAY: One of the things President Obama did
during the whole health care passing of his legislation is he made a deal with pharma. JOHNSON: Yes. JAY: So tell us a little bit about what that
deal was and how codified is that deal. I mean, can that deal be undone? JOHNSON: The deal was that medical care that
comes from this what you might [incompr.] upcoming–whatever they call it, the American
ACC–ACCRA, the health care bill, will not allow negotiated prices, things like generic
drugs from Canada, negotiated prices in large bulk for senior citizens. And so the pharmaceutical
guys will make enormous profits. The pharmaceutical lobby agreed to put forward many, many millions
of dollars in advertising and to support this bill, provided their pricing monopoly was
protected. JAY: And agreed not to put millions of dollars
of advertising against it. JOHNSON: Against it. That’s right. That’s
right. So that, coupled with dropping the public option, which would have created competition
in the insurance industry, made medical care much more expensive in America. And you can
go to data from the OECD. On a per capita basis, American medical care right now is
more than double the cost of the OECD average, more than double the cost of Germany, France,
and the Netherlands. All three of those countries, and Switzerland, are in the top ten of the
best quality health care, according to the World Health Organization. America’s running
around number 38 in that ranking while paying twice as much. JAY: Now, the deal that the president made
with pharma at that point is never talked about anymore. But is it–I mean, can that
deal be undone? It’s not a piece of legislation, right? JOHNSON: What do they say? Never say never.
I mean, the contours of the legislation about not negotiating on pharmaceutical prices could
be challenged in the future. On the other hand, if we stay with this structure of money
politics, it’s much easier to block than to pass. When you think about things going through
House committee, Senate committee, House floor, Senate floor, conference committee, passage
back to the president, there are a lot of notes for interventions, to stop things from
changing. That’s in a positive sense called checks and balances. But it allows vested
interests a great deal of ability to obstruct progress. So I would say the pharma guys have
a pretty good chance of holding on to their pricing power. JAY: Are in fact the real negotiations about
security, Social Security, not to leave the money there but to use the money elsewhere? JOHNSON: Much of what happened in recent years
is the Social Security system, when the baby boom was in its prime working years, ran big
surpluses. And those surpluses were used, were, you might say, consolidated with much
larger deficits in the other categories–military spending, tax cuts, wars, and what have you.
So now, as that demographics reverses, Social Security can be for itself, but it’s not going
to be cross-subsidizing everything else. And how you say the temptation to cut their benefits,
to continue the cross-subsidy, is part of the logic of this politics of concentrated
interests against the diffuse interests of the population. JAY: So when you look at the polling, it looks
like the majority of polls show that Americans would rather tax the wealthy than make cuts
to social programs. They would rather see much bigger cuts to the military. There was
a recent poll came out (I think it was from the University of Maryland) with significant
majority for taxing the wealthy, massive cuts on the military side. None of this is getting
through into the politics. JOHNSON: Politics of the United States in
this crisis period does not represent the people. It represents a very narrow segment
of the population who does the fundraising. JAY: Thanks for joining us. And thank you
for joining us on The Real News Network.


  1. rugbyf0rlife says:

    considering the wealthy already pay 60%+ of their earnings. The super wealthy should pay a lot more (those with over hundreds of millions in personal wealth)


    Money talks and bullshit rides in a limo.

  3. blackiron60 says:

    "Checks and balances" were designed to prevent genuine democracy from ever taking hold in America. The American plutocracy is far older than Reagan, in fact it's been there from the start. Read "Democracy for the Few" by Michael Parenti and you'll see what I mean.

  4. IChoseTheRedPill says:

    wall street and the pentagon are enemies of the people… kick wall street in the teeth, they caused the financial situation we find ourselves in…

    Dennis Kucinich has some awesome ideas, he would make an excellent president… too bad the power structure ignores a man like him… the people need to develop courage to elect men and women with new ideas

    we need people like Paul's guest in Washington helping establish dynamic policy

    our country needs protection from the greed…


  5. borderlord says:

    America…looks like you're screwed!
    Rise up before it's too late…maybe it already is.

  6. wotan20 says:

    This is the sort of interview, which the viewer will never going to see in the plutocrats owned and managed mass media outlets. Moreover this Rob Johnson (senior) fellow, is a likeable fellow. He answers questions with calm and concise lucidity, avoiding ideological colorization along the way.

  7. MrNiceHk says:


  8. kroovyandcal says:

    Robert Rubin watches pedophile snuff films and is extorted. Rubin is fucking obsolete with regards to policy-making

  9. partymariner says:

    What is about to occur is what happened to Russia when "shock therapy" was implemented in the 90's. State enterprises & wealth was robbed , given to criminal gangs and laundered to New York &Tel Aviv banks under Clintons and R.Rubins direction. Drug use,alcoholism, suicide and prostitution skyrocketed. The ave. lifespan decreased by about 15yrs to 55.It was a genocide waged against the peasants.

  10. RedGaribaldi says:

    It makes me so sad when I speak to good, kind, well-intentioned people who still defend and support Obama. How far does this President have to go before they finally see him for what he is?

  11. randall petermann says:

    mostly people who vote are the people this is going affect show your displeasure at the booth wake up people

  12. rctube1958 says:

    @RedGaribaldi People have been conditioned to accept the false Democratic vs. Republican debate. So it's felt that to oppose one party they have to support the other. It's a sad situation.

  13. rctube1958 says:

    @blackiron60 Genuine democracy needs checks and balances; otherwise it's just a majoritarian dictatorship. No?

  14. rctube1958 says:

    @partymariner I agree. So how do we fight back?

  15. rctube1958 says:

    Good interview.

  16. Blaxsaidwhat? says:

    America is a joke!

  17. goldengyrl2010 says:

    @blacksncommercials sure is:(

  18. blackiron60 says:

    @rctube1958 The only minority that the Founding Fathers were interested in protecting was the rich.

  19. chewycandy666 says:

    They steal all the money from the SSI account that was self sufficient and use it for tax breaks for the rich, wars, out right lost trillions of dollars(pentagon), bail out banks and just plain pilfured the money,and now they want to rape the structure and restrict what millions have grown to expect, by overhauling something that, if left alone would be ok.People you are outright stupid if you cannot see anything wrong with the system, seriously.Steal from the poor and needy, give to the rich?

  20. duezeri1968 says:

    Fantastic interview!
    Horrible title!
    The issue is LESS about personal wealth than it is about CONSOLIDATED CORPORATE POWER.
    Please pay more attention to your headlines, I almost skipped over this video because the headline smacks of cliche', but I'm glad I didn't. Please feature this guest more often. He's clear, concise and level headed. Thanks.

  21. USASecretHistory says:

    @blackiron60 That's a great book. I used it in my student teaching before I received my teaching credential. He is a great author with a brilliant political mind.

  22. Atheus Militans says:

    America is a Plutocracy.

  23. USASecretHistory says:

    "Politics of the United States in this crisis period does not represent the people. It represents a very narrow segment of the population who does the fundraising." What a great line! It clearly captures what is going on. This guy should be a poet.

  24. chewycandy666 says:

    @choobie12 There is no doubt that the economy is not a topic of discussion in the way the people think it is. They discuss it, but do so in a manner inwhich they can implode it not save it.This is for sure a bad time for all human life on this planet. The wealthy have a goal and intend on reaching it. They have one problem, the people of the world are understanding their goal and are beginning to resist. We have a chance but it relies on the American people to finally awake.

  25. Joe Brown says:

    Wall St. has wanted to get its fingers into the social security fund since day one.

  26. partymariner says:

    @rctube1958 My friend the information about what is going on is out there and, based on what I read on the internet, there is plenty of people realize what'sup and are pissed off about it. The next step would be to unite and organize, get off our asses and on to the streets. The '99 anti-globalist Seatle riot was a promising sign, but the anti might have to be upped at this point.We know who the bad guys are, so ones needs to put pressure on the bastards, take away their imperviousness!

  27. Guadalupe Isadro says:

    A summery of the debt debate.
    Default? Default on what?
    Make your interest payments to your bondholders first…PERIOD! And there is plenty of tax revenue to do this. Should you default on this payment then yes, an economic Apocalypse, and rapid decline in the empire will occur.
    Default on anything else is possible (Military, SS, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, etc) Default or defer any of these payments, and life for Americans goes on.
    You choose the first…game over, we get nothing.

  28. NoCommentChick says:

    @PRIVATEAYEIEYE Let's make sure that limo's destination is Hell.

  29. yourtreat2 says:

    Jay, you and Ron nailed it. You guys called out the industries I've been talking about for years, the medical system, and the way the politics works in the US.

    This stuff should be mandatory viewing for everyone in Middle and High School. However, as Americans are so goddamn ignorant, showing it to the entire population helps.

    Great interview. Great guest.


    @NoCommentChick According to the recorded visionary states of various spiritual experts across history and around the world, that just may be it's destination. It's also made quite clear that that it's not my decision to make.
    My job is to make sure I'm not the chauffeur or trussed up in the trunk.
    It's harder than it sounds.

  31. burnindownthehouse says:

    This is what it all comes down to in our current broken political system in the United States. When the politicians negotiate, it is much easier for them to side with big business because, of course, big business owns them. They heavily funded their campaigns. This effectively makes them corporatists. And it's only getting much worse thanks to the recent Citizens United ruling in the Supreme Court which allows for corporations to anonymously donate unlimited funds to political campaigns.

  32. Licmycat says:

    Bust those crooked insurance companies who obey NO LAWS!

  33. The World As It Is says:

    I think you would get more views if your guests didn't sound like they were gargling phlegm when they spoke.

  34. schmoukiz says:

    I've noticed there's no talk about the African famine on this channel. Since those countries are practically Chinese colonies, guess "the Real" News knows who pays the bills for their anti-American / Marxist propaganda.
    Africa is relevant for leftist hypocrisy. You don't want redistribution of wealth with them, don't you?

  35. GeorgeNoiseless says:

    The kind of people that use the term MARXIST in this day and age don't know what it actually means. Pray tell, do you consider that China follows ideas of Marx, or heck even the early Marxist-Leninist ideology of the Soviets?

    Haven't you noticed that China is the world's second largest economy? №1 capitalist economy by 2020. And who has done everything they could to help them get there? Stars with U, ends with A and has an S somewhere in the middle. How's that for Anti-American?

  36. Miklos Halasz says:

    Disgusting politics they are representing the banks not the citisens
    vho are paying tax the corporates are trying to avoid paying tax .Bailing out them was not expensiv? The us are spending ten times more

  37. Elin48 says:

    @blackiron60 I have learned much from Michael Parenti. He's observant and a very good writer.

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