Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 26, 2009

Bad Policy, Worse Politics

James Capretta and Yuval Levin make a key point about the health-care bill snaking its way through Congress:

This timeline of tax and spending implementation corresponds rather awkwardly to the political calendar confronting the Democrats. The new entitlement, insurance rules, and other elements of the plan will not go into effect until well after the 2010 congressional elections and even the next presidential election, but some serious tax hikes will take place by then.

Meanwhile, again to make for a palatable CBO score, the bill envisions radical cuts in Medicare beginning quite soon. For instance, steep cuts in Medicare Advantage start in 2011, which means millions of seniors will begin hearing the bad news in 2010 as their plans withdraw from the program, cut their benefits, or raise their premiums.

So how exactly does this play out in the 2010 elections? Republicans will be holding up the Medicare cuts and urging seniors to run to the polls and vote the Democrats out. The Democrats will either savage their own bill by undoing the cuts or defend it as is, while explaining that other voters should be happy because by 2014 they will get subsidized health care. (“Essentially all of the spending provisions and insurance reforms–including the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, the employer mandate to provide it, the state insurance exchanges, the federal subsidies for coverage, and the Medicaid expansion–would only go into operation in 2014.”) Gosh, who has the better argument?

Then let’s break that down on a race-by-race level. In states where voters overwhelmingly oppose ObamaCare, Republicans running against incumbents like Byron Dorgan, Blanche Lincoln, and Harry Reid will run against the taxes, mandates, fees, and corruption. Republicans running in Blue states like California will question why someone like Barbara Boxer didn’t do a “better job” and allowed Nebraska or Iowa to get Medicare carve-outs, leaving their seniors to scrounge for doctors (who won’t make ends meet on Medicare’s reduced fees) and to live without their much-loved Medicare Advantage benefits. What exactly are the Democrats going to say to voters in an off-year election who are generally older, more conservative, and more politically savvy than the masses who turn out for a presidential election? I’m sure aggrieved voters will be delighted to hear that the bill is “historic.” But that means nothing to most of them, who have insurance and whose benefits and taxes are going to be impacted in a huge government power grab.

So if the bill makes no sense on the merits, it makes even less sense politically. The only question remains whether nervous incumbents figure this out and grudgingly agree to return to the drawing board. If not, they better figure out how they are going to defend this in front of enraged voters.

James Capretta and Yuval Levin make a key point about the health-care bill snaking its way through Congress:

This timeline of tax and spending implementation corresponds rather awkwardly to the political calendar confronting the Democrats. The new entitlement, insurance rules, and other elements of the plan will not go into effect until well after the 2010 congressional elections and even the next presidential election, but some serious tax hikes will take place by then.

Meanwhile, again to make for a palatable CBO score, the bill envisions radical cuts in Medicare beginning quite soon. For instance, steep cuts in Medicare Advantage start in 2011, which means millions of seniors will begin hearing the bad news in 2010 as their plans withdraw from the program, cut their benefits, or raise their premiums.

So how exactly does this play out in the 2010 elections? Republicans will be holding up the Medicare cuts and urging seniors to run to the polls and vote the Democrats out. The Democrats will either savage their own bill by undoing the cuts or defend it as is, while explaining that other voters should be happy because by 2014 they will get subsidized health care. (“Essentially all of the spending provisions and insurance reforms–including the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, the employer mandate to provide it, the state insurance exchanges, the federal subsidies for coverage, and the Medicaid expansion–would only go into operation in 2014.”) Gosh, who has the better argument?

Then let’s break that down on a race-by-race level. In states where voters overwhelmingly oppose ObamaCare, Republicans running against incumbents like Byron Dorgan, Blanche Lincoln, and Harry Reid will run against the taxes, mandates, fees, and corruption. Republicans running in Blue states like California will question why someone like Barbara Boxer didn’t do a “better job” and allowed Nebraska or Iowa to get Medicare carve-outs, leaving their seniors to scrounge for doctors (who won’t make ends meet on Medicare’s reduced fees) and to live without their much-loved Medicare Advantage benefits. What exactly are the Democrats going to say to voters in an off-year election who are generally older, more conservative, and more politically savvy than the masses who turn out for a presidential election? I’m sure aggrieved voters will be delighted to hear that the bill is “historic.” But that means nothing to most of them, who have insurance and whose benefits and taxes are going to be impacted in a huge government power grab.

So if the bill makes no sense on the merits, it makes even less sense politically. The only question remains whether nervous incumbents figure this out and grudgingly agree to return to the drawing board. If not, they better figure out how they are going to defend this in front of enraged voters.

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Why Should They Applaud Corruption?

David Broder thinks we should be applauding a health-care bill that stinks. He nevertheless acknowledges:

Forced to bargain for every vote among the 60 in his caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did what he usually does: He reduced the negotiations to his own level of transactional morality. Incapable of summoning his colleagues to statesmanship, he made the deals look as crass and parochial as many of them were — encasing a historic achievement in a wrapping of payoff and patronage. The taint has rubbed off on the bill.

But really, it is much more than that. The “taint” has not simply rubbed off on the bill; it is at the heart of it and has created separate classes of health-care recipients based on the political sway of their state’s senator. Nebraska seniors will get better health care than will those from California, whose senators didn’t manage to snag any carve-outs or extra goodies. Imagine if an amendment were introduced that all states must have the same reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid and that spending for health centers and other facilities will be done by an independent commission (like the BRAC). How quickly before the deal would unravel? Well, that sounds like a fine amendment for the Senate when and if the bill returns to the Senate for a vote (provided the House isn’t forced to simply swallow the Senate version).

The Christmas recess, like the August recess, affords lawmakers the chance to hear from their constituents. There are many groups to hear from. Jeffrey Anderson reels off a list:

They’ll get to hear from people who don’t want to pay higher taxes, higher premiums, and higher overall health costs; who don’t want to lose their consumer-driven health plans; who don’t want to see colossal sums of money siphoned out of Medicare and spent on Obamacare; who don’t want a health-care system based on political cronyism (witness the shameless exemption of the longshoreman’s union from the tax on ‘Cadillac plans,’ and the survival of Medicare Advantage in Florida but not anywhere else). They’ll get to hear from people who don’t want to see a trillion dollars over 12 years be transferred from taxpayers to insurers; who don’t want to see deficits rise and the quality of care fall; and who don’t want to have the federal government inject itself into the historically and rightfully private relationship between patient and doctor.

In other words, there are constituents who hate nearly ever aspect of the bill, and lawmakers should understand there are few voters who share Broder’s view that this is acceptable, meritorious legislation.

What next, then? If Rep. Bart Stupak is serious about voting “no” on the bill with the Reid-Nelson abortion-subsidy language and has a core group who will follow him, Nancy Pelosi is going to have to go looking for votes to make up for loss of these votes. The job of ObamaCare opponents will be to make sure the bill’s noxious elements are so well known that Pelosi will run out of members willing to walk the plank. Can it be done? We’ll find out.

David Broder thinks we should be applauding a health-care bill that stinks. He nevertheless acknowledges:

Forced to bargain for every vote among the 60 in his caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did what he usually does: He reduced the negotiations to his own level of transactional morality. Incapable of summoning his colleagues to statesmanship, he made the deals look as crass and parochial as many of them were — encasing a historic achievement in a wrapping of payoff and patronage. The taint has rubbed off on the bill.

But really, it is much more than that. The “taint” has not simply rubbed off on the bill; it is at the heart of it and has created separate classes of health-care recipients based on the political sway of their state’s senator. Nebraska seniors will get better health care than will those from California, whose senators didn’t manage to snag any carve-outs or extra goodies. Imagine if an amendment were introduced that all states must have the same reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid and that spending for health centers and other facilities will be done by an independent commission (like the BRAC). How quickly before the deal would unravel? Well, that sounds like a fine amendment for the Senate when and if the bill returns to the Senate for a vote (provided the House isn’t forced to simply swallow the Senate version).

The Christmas recess, like the August recess, affords lawmakers the chance to hear from their constituents. There are many groups to hear from. Jeffrey Anderson reels off a list:

They’ll get to hear from people who don’t want to pay higher taxes, higher premiums, and higher overall health costs; who don’t want to lose their consumer-driven health plans; who don’t want to see colossal sums of money siphoned out of Medicare and spent on Obamacare; who don’t want a health-care system based on political cronyism (witness the shameless exemption of the longshoreman’s union from the tax on ‘Cadillac plans,’ and the survival of Medicare Advantage in Florida but not anywhere else). They’ll get to hear from people who don’t want to see a trillion dollars over 12 years be transferred from taxpayers to insurers; who don’t want to see deficits rise and the quality of care fall; and who don’t want to have the federal government inject itself into the historically and rightfully private relationship between patient and doctor.

In other words, there are constituents who hate nearly ever aspect of the bill, and lawmakers should understand there are few voters who share Broder’s view that this is acceptable, meritorious legislation.

What next, then? If Rep. Bart Stupak is serious about voting “no” on the bill with the Reid-Nelson abortion-subsidy language and has a core group who will follow him, Nancy Pelosi is going to have to go looking for votes to make up for loss of these votes. The job of ObamaCare opponents will be to make sure the bill’s noxious elements are so well known that Pelosi will run out of members willing to walk the plank. Can it be done? We’ll find out.

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The Politics of Peevishness

Charles Hurt observes Obama’s snippiness about the Constitution. Well, at least the part of the Constitution that sets out a bicameral legislature and establishes a Senate designed to cool the passions and slow the race to pass ill-advised legislation. Obama recently whined about the Senate’s refusal to pass cap-and-trade and about the extended debate over his planned takeover of a sixth of the economy: “If this pattern continues, you’re going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us.” Yes, all that discussion, so many minority rights, and then the annoyance of listening to the sixty percent of Americans who oppose his signature legislation. Who can bear it?

Hurt writes: “His casting aspersions on the very genius of the American government because he can’t get his way is cause for alarm.” But it is nothing new. The Obami have little patience for opposition or dissent, whether it comes from town-hall attendees, Fox News,  the Chamber of Commerce, or the U.S. Senate. They have mastered the art of the Friday-afternoon news dump on major developments (e.g., KSM’s civilian trial), have stiffed congressmen and an independent commission on inquiries regarding the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case,  and won’t release data on Guantanamo recidivism. They need not answer to anyone, it seems. And they have little or no patience with the process of lawmaking so long as they get a bill, any bill, to tout as a win.

It is the impatience of a president frustrated with the pace of democracy, unwilling to explain what his administration is up to, and annoyed that the country no longer falls at his feet. He can no longer inspire or convince with rhetoric so he rails and pouts. Perhaps we should have elected someone with a superior temperament.

Charles Hurt observes Obama’s snippiness about the Constitution. Well, at least the part of the Constitution that sets out a bicameral legislature and establishes a Senate designed to cool the passions and slow the race to pass ill-advised legislation. Obama recently whined about the Senate’s refusal to pass cap-and-trade and about the extended debate over his planned takeover of a sixth of the economy: “If this pattern continues, you’re going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us.” Yes, all that discussion, so many minority rights, and then the annoyance of listening to the sixty percent of Americans who oppose his signature legislation. Who can bear it?

Hurt writes: “His casting aspersions on the very genius of the American government because he can’t get his way is cause for alarm.” But it is nothing new. The Obami have little patience for opposition or dissent, whether it comes from town-hall attendees, Fox News,  the Chamber of Commerce, or the U.S. Senate. They have mastered the art of the Friday-afternoon news dump on major developments (e.g., KSM’s civilian trial), have stiffed congressmen and an independent commission on inquiries regarding the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case,  and won’t release data on Guantanamo recidivism. They need not answer to anyone, it seems. And they have little or no patience with the process of lawmaking so long as they get a bill, any bill, to tout as a win.

It is the impatience of a president frustrated with the pace of democracy, unwilling to explain what his administration is up to, and annoyed that the country no longer falls at his feet. He can no longer inspire or convince with rhetoric so he rails and pouts. Perhaps we should have elected someone with a superior temperament.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Good for the Senate. The nomination of lefty extremist Dawn Johnsen for the Office of Legal Counsel and two other nominations were returned to the White House. One of those is Mary Smith, nominated to head the tax division. She is not a tax lawyer, has never practiced tax law, and has never even taken continuing legal education in the subject area. But she is a Native American who worked on multiple Democratic campaigns. Perhaps we can finally begin to de-politicize the Justice Department.

Nebraska Gov. David Heineman blasts Sen. Ben Nelson. “The reason he’s in hot water right now is that he’s not listening to Nebraskans – it’s very unusual for him. . . I am shocked.” Sounds like the stump speech for Nelson’s 2012 opponent. But Michael Gerson suggests that Nelson is a sweet man who doesn’t understand what he agreed to on abortion subsidies. Maybe once he finds out, his mind can be changed.

Smart advice on the John Kerry trip to Tehran: “The Kerry mission would also look like a panicky effort to persuade the Ayatollah Ali Khamanei to accept the increasingly plaintive U.S. offers of engagement. Mr. Obama has set the end of this month as his latest deadline for progress on nuclear talks before he says he’ll seek tougher sanctions against Iran at the U.N. . .  The regime would probably exploit the visit for its own domestic purposes, perhaps adding to its P.R. coup by releasing to Mr. Kerry the three hapless American hikers it has promised to put on trial for having ‘suspicious aims’ as they wandered across the border with Iraq.”

Give the military option a chance, suggests Alan Kuperman from the pages of the New York Times: “Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try. They should be precision attacks, aimed only at nuclear facilities, to remind Iran of the many other valuable sites that could be bombed if it were foolish enough to retaliate. . . Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.”

The U.S. launches a successful strike in Yemen, but Major Nadal Hassan’s favorite iman survives. So why is it that we are releasing Guantanamo detainees to a country so stocked with terrorists?

And although the Obami seem not to want to recognize it, we are in a war: “A Nigerian man, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, allegedly tried to set off an incendiary device aboard a transatlantic airplane Friday as it descended toward Detroit’s airport in what the White House called an attempted act of terrorism.” This would be the second domestic terrorist attack (Hassan, the first) this year. Oh, and the suspect claims he was given assistance in Yemen.

J Street Board member Hannah Rosenthal, now the Obami’s “anti-semitism czar(ina)” takes a shot at Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for criticizing her J Street pals.

Jewish organizations respond with surprising vehemence. (Could the days of gritting their teeth over outrageous administration statements may be finally at an end?) The administration responds with a statement: “The Department of State values its close relationship with Ambassador Michael Oren and his staff at the Embassy of Israel in Washington. The United States and Israel enjoy extraordinarily close ties based on shared values, interests, and history, as well as the deep bonds between the Israeli people and the American people.” And so forth. So what about Rosenthal — if she is out of step with those she ostensibly serves (the Obama administration, not the J Street gang) what is she doing there?

Sen. Mark Warner insists he wants to be a radical centrist. But he keeps voting for Obama’s leftwing agenda including the government takeover of healthcare so he’s not doing much to differentiate himself from the run-of-mill liberal Democrats. Virginia voters have figured it out: “An automated poll conducted by SurveyUSA shows that Warner’s approval rating has fallen among independents and Republicans since January.”

Good for the Senate. The nomination of lefty extremist Dawn Johnsen for the Office of Legal Counsel and two other nominations were returned to the White House. One of those is Mary Smith, nominated to head the tax division. She is not a tax lawyer, has never practiced tax law, and has never even taken continuing legal education in the subject area. But she is a Native American who worked on multiple Democratic campaigns. Perhaps we can finally begin to de-politicize the Justice Department.

Nebraska Gov. David Heineman blasts Sen. Ben Nelson. “The reason he’s in hot water right now is that he’s not listening to Nebraskans – it’s very unusual for him. . . I am shocked.” Sounds like the stump speech for Nelson’s 2012 opponent. But Michael Gerson suggests that Nelson is a sweet man who doesn’t understand what he agreed to on abortion subsidies. Maybe once he finds out, his mind can be changed.

Smart advice on the John Kerry trip to Tehran: “The Kerry mission would also look like a panicky effort to persuade the Ayatollah Ali Khamanei to accept the increasingly plaintive U.S. offers of engagement. Mr. Obama has set the end of this month as his latest deadline for progress on nuclear talks before he says he’ll seek tougher sanctions against Iran at the U.N. . .  The regime would probably exploit the visit for its own domestic purposes, perhaps adding to its P.R. coup by releasing to Mr. Kerry the three hapless American hikers it has promised to put on trial for having ‘suspicious aims’ as they wandered across the border with Iraq.”

Give the military option a chance, suggests Alan Kuperman from the pages of the New York Times: “Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try. They should be precision attacks, aimed only at nuclear facilities, to remind Iran of the many other valuable sites that could be bombed if it were foolish enough to retaliate. . . Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.”

The U.S. launches a successful strike in Yemen, but Major Nadal Hassan’s favorite iman survives. So why is it that we are releasing Guantanamo detainees to a country so stocked with terrorists?

And although the Obami seem not to want to recognize it, we are in a war: “A Nigerian man, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, allegedly tried to set off an incendiary device aboard a transatlantic airplane Friday as it descended toward Detroit’s airport in what the White House called an attempted act of terrorism.” This would be the second domestic terrorist attack (Hassan, the first) this year. Oh, and the suspect claims he was given assistance in Yemen.

J Street Board member Hannah Rosenthal, now the Obami’s “anti-semitism czar(ina)” takes a shot at Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for criticizing her J Street pals.

Jewish organizations respond with surprising vehemence. (Could the days of gritting their teeth over outrageous administration statements may be finally at an end?) The administration responds with a statement: “The Department of State values its close relationship with Ambassador Michael Oren and his staff at the Embassy of Israel in Washington. The United States and Israel enjoy extraordinarily close ties based on shared values, interests, and history, as well as the deep bonds between the Israeli people and the American people.” And so forth. So what about Rosenthal — if she is out of step with those she ostensibly serves (the Obama administration, not the J Street gang) what is she doing there?

Sen. Mark Warner insists he wants to be a radical centrist. But he keeps voting for Obama’s leftwing agenda including the government takeover of healthcare so he’s not doing much to differentiate himself from the run-of-mill liberal Democrats. Virginia voters have figured it out: “An automated poll conducted by SurveyUSA shows that Warner’s approval rating has fallen among independents and Republicans since January.”

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