Commentary Magazine


Topic: Budget Committee

The Whole World Is Watching

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

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Searching

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories. Read More

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who on paper might seem well-suited to the times (businessman, successful governor), is hobbled, maybe fatally, by his authorship of a health-care plan that bears a striking resemblance to the one which both Republican insiders and Tea Party activists are determined to obliterate. This is no small handicap.

So what’s the formula for success? Republicans supported and emerged victorious with serious-minded conservative candidates – Rob Portman in Ohio, Dan Coats in Indiana, and John Boozman in Arkansas – while finding new faces (Rubio, Ron Johnson) who avoided the hot-button rhetoric that derailed a number of the Tea Party candidates. Although ideologically not all that different from the Tea Party–preferred candidates, the GOP victors demonstrated how to meld fiscal conservatism with a more accessible brand of populism. They hardly disappointed the Tea Party crowd; but neither did they alienate independent voters.

Are there GOP hopefuls in 2012 who can fuse Tea Party populism with sober conservative governance? Many in the conservative intelligentsia pine for Gov. Chris Christie, who has become a rock star on YouTube; he won in a Blue State and now is battling against the Trenton insiders. And he’s doing it with showmanship that only Palin can top. But he joked that apparently only “suicide” would convince us that he wasn’t interested. I’m thinking he might be serious about not running.

Then there is Rep. Paul Ryan, soon to take over the chair of the Budget Committee. He excites many conservatives in and outside the Beltway. He’s brainy and articulate, with a shake-up-the-status-quo approach to entitlement and budget reform. He already matched up well against Obama, arguably winning a TKO in the health-care summit. And he will be front and center in the key legislative battles, in some ways the face of the GOP House majority, for the next two years. While he’s said he’s not interested in a 2012 run, he’s not been Christie-esque in his denials. As for the “rule” that House members can’t make viable presidential candidates, I think the rulebook was shredded in the last few years.

Of course, there is Marco Rubio, the party’s genuine superstar (with an immigrant story and deep belief in American exceptionalism), who proved to be an especially effective messenger of conservative principles. However, both he and his most fervent supporters seem to agree: it’s too soon.

So the search goes on. The good news for the GOP is that they have a slew of new governors (e.g., John Kasich) and senators and some retiring ones (Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels) who understand how to forge the center-right coalition needed to get elected. A few faces familiar to political junkies (Mike Pence, John Thune) are also considering a run, which will test whether a Washington insider can nevertheless take on the mantle of reformer/outsider. Can any from this group of Republicans — who frankly lack magnetic personalities — also engage Tea Partiers? We will see.

So conservatives keep looking and trying to persuade the reluctant pols to throw their hats into the ring. Those who imagine they can win back the White House without full engagement of the 2010 winning formula (Tea Partiers plus traditionalists) should think again. A plan by half of the Republican alliance to overpower the other half is a formula for a second Obama term.

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Predictions

On Tuesday, Democrats will suffer an epic defeat — worse even than in 1946, when Republicans gained 12 Senate seats and 55 House seats. The GOP will pick up at least 73 House seats, 10 Senate seats, and eight governorships. The GOP’s turnout will be huge and independents will break massively for Republican candidates across the country. Among Democrats, this will trigger despair and bitter recriminations. President Obama will immediately be placed on probation by his own party and may well face a serious primary challenge, just as Jimmy Carter did in 1979.

As Democrats sort through the rubble caused by Tuesday’s landslide — even Wisconsin will become a red state — they will realize what many of us have warned them of for quite some time: Barack Obama and his agenda are having a Kevorkian-like effect on the Democratic Party. If the economy doesn’t noticeably improve by next fall — and, at this stage, there are no signs that it will — more and more Democrats will find it in their self-interest to detach themselves from Obama. And Team Obama’s political strategy this cycle — in which they never settled on a consistent narrative beyond attacking huge swaths of the American people as being ignorant, unappreciative, and tinged with racism — will be judged as one of the most inept in American history.

The next two years will feature stalemate and confrontation between Capitol Hill and the White House. President Obama, unlike Bill Clinton, is not likely to tack to the center. Mr. Clinton was a New Democrat; Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a man of the left, through and through. The class of 2010 will be less interested in compromise with the president than the class of 1994. And the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, will have far less latitude to strike deals than did Newt Gingrich.

In 2011, Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, will emerge as one of the five most important Republicans on Capitol Hill. Marco Rubio will become a GOP superstar. And wise Republicans will promote governors as the face of the Republican Party, reassuring both independents and conservatives who are skeptical about Congressional Republicans and their capacity to govern well.

The danger for Barack Obama is that in the wake of his party’s crushing defeat, he will show little genuine self-reflection. The president, David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett may well comfort themselves by telling each other, especially in their private moments, that the public — gripped by fear, irrationality, and a touch of bigotry — was not able to comprehend Obama’s true greatness. Tuesday’s results will be interpreted as a “communications” failure and laid at the feet of a bad economy, which (they will insist) Obama has nothing to do with.

In point of fact, the American people are seeing things for what they are. And if Mr. Obama continues to rationalize his party’s comeuppance by making excuses, blaming others, and lashing out at his “enemies,” the president’s problems — already enormous — will multiply.

Barack Obama’s political world is about to be rocked. We’ll see how he reacts to it.

On Tuesday, Democrats will suffer an epic defeat — worse even than in 1946, when Republicans gained 12 Senate seats and 55 House seats. The GOP will pick up at least 73 House seats, 10 Senate seats, and eight governorships. The GOP’s turnout will be huge and independents will break massively for Republican candidates across the country. Among Democrats, this will trigger despair and bitter recriminations. President Obama will immediately be placed on probation by his own party and may well face a serious primary challenge, just as Jimmy Carter did in 1979.

As Democrats sort through the rubble caused by Tuesday’s landslide — even Wisconsin will become a red state — they will realize what many of us have warned them of for quite some time: Barack Obama and his agenda are having a Kevorkian-like effect on the Democratic Party. If the economy doesn’t noticeably improve by next fall — and, at this stage, there are no signs that it will — more and more Democrats will find it in their self-interest to detach themselves from Obama. And Team Obama’s political strategy this cycle — in which they never settled on a consistent narrative beyond attacking huge swaths of the American people as being ignorant, unappreciative, and tinged with racism — will be judged as one of the most inept in American history.

The next two years will feature stalemate and confrontation between Capitol Hill and the White House. President Obama, unlike Bill Clinton, is not likely to tack to the center. Mr. Clinton was a New Democrat; Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a man of the left, through and through. The class of 2010 will be less interested in compromise with the president than the class of 1994. And the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, will have far less latitude to strike deals than did Newt Gingrich.

In 2011, Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, will emerge as one of the five most important Republicans on Capitol Hill. Marco Rubio will become a GOP superstar. And wise Republicans will promote governors as the face of the Republican Party, reassuring both independents and conservatives who are skeptical about Congressional Republicans and their capacity to govern well.

The danger for Barack Obama is that in the wake of his party’s crushing defeat, he will show little genuine self-reflection. The president, David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett may well comfort themselves by telling each other, especially in their private moments, that the public — gripped by fear, irrationality, and a touch of bigotry — was not able to comprehend Obama’s true greatness. Tuesday’s results will be interpreted as a “communications” failure and laid at the feet of a bad economy, which (they will insist) Obama has nothing to do with.

In point of fact, the American people are seeing things for what they are. And if Mr. Obama continues to rationalize his party’s comeuppance by making excuses, blaming others, and lashing out at his “enemies,” the president’s problems — already enormous — will multiply.

Barack Obama’s political world is about to be rocked. We’ll see how he reacts to it.

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Next Up: Reality-Show Politicians

The news that David Obey, the longtime Democratic House member from Wisconsin, is going to retire from his seat rather than attempt to secure reelection against a surging Republican named Sean Duffy is fascinating in many ways, particularly how, in this year, Obey’s seniority and chairmanship of the Budget Committee are clearly liabilities with voters rather than positives. But culturally, there’s something more telling. Duffy is a county district attorney in Wisconsin. Before he became a lawyer, he first came to prominence as a member of the cast of “The Real World,” the pioneering MTV reality series. (His wife Rachel Campos is also a veteran of “The Real World,” though they were not on the show together; they met as part of a reunion show, and they have six children.) If Duffy wins, he will be the first person to emerge in politics from reality television. That may sound like something silly, but there was a time when people scoffed at actors getting involved in politics (“Imagine Broadway Melody of 1984,” sang Tom Lehrer when the second-rank hoofer George Murphy made it into the Senate as a California Republican in 1962). Indeed, people still scoff, which led a great many people to smile dismissively at the possibility of Al Franken winning the Minnesota Senate seat. And yet there Franken is. The Duffy example, if he’s successful, may even incline some young go-getters to do whatever they can to get onto a reality show to launch a political career. You heard it here first.

The news that David Obey, the longtime Democratic House member from Wisconsin, is going to retire from his seat rather than attempt to secure reelection against a surging Republican named Sean Duffy is fascinating in many ways, particularly how, in this year, Obey’s seniority and chairmanship of the Budget Committee are clearly liabilities with voters rather than positives. But culturally, there’s something more telling. Duffy is a county district attorney in Wisconsin. Before he became a lawyer, he first came to prominence as a member of the cast of “The Real World,” the pioneering MTV reality series. (His wife Rachel Campos is also a veteran of “The Real World,” though they were not on the show together; they met as part of a reunion show, and they have six children.) If Duffy wins, he will be the first person to emerge in politics from reality television. That may sound like something silly, but there was a time when people scoffed at actors getting involved in politics (“Imagine Broadway Melody of 1984,” sang Tom Lehrer when the second-rank hoofer George Murphy made it into the Senate as a California Republican in 1962). Indeed, people still scoff, which led a great many people to smile dismissively at the possibility of Al Franken winning the Minnesota Senate seat. And yet there Franken is. The Duffy example, if he’s successful, may even incline some young go-getters to do whatever they can to get onto a reality show to launch a political career. You heard it here first.

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The Gamesmanship Is Nearly Over

Sen. Kent Conrad, the Senate budget chairman, had this to say Sunday on the subject of reconciliation:

I have said all year as chairman of the Budget Committee, reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform. It won’t work. It won’t work because it was never designed for that kind of significant legislation. It was designed for deficit reduction. So, let’s be clear. On the major Medicare or health care reform legislation, that can’t move to reconciliation. The role for reconciliation would be very limited. It would be on sidecar issues designed to improve what passed the Senate and what would have to pass the House for health care reform to move forward. So, using reconciliation would not be for the main package at all. It would be for certain sidecar issues like how much does the federal government put up to pay for the Medicaid expansion? What is done to improve the affordability of the package that’s come out of the Senate?

And in case anything was unclear, he repeated: “Well, health care reform at large would not be—I’ve just said. Health care reform the major package would not be done through reconciliation. That would be unreasonable. But that’s not going to happen here.”

Reconciliation has been the buzzword of late, but it is becoming apparent that it’s a dodge intended to keep the hopes of the liberal base alive and to force the House to go first, which then might produce some magic key to unlock health care. But if the Senate budget chair is forcefully calling foul on the process, what then is the point of the House vote? According to Conrad, whatever the House came up with will have to go back and be put through the normal legislative process, subject to the filibuster.

Well, as with so much else on ObamaCare, one has the sense that this is a charade. No bill, no clear process, no public support, and no House majority. Had the summit been the breakthrough moment the Obami had hoped for maybe a groundswell of support could have shaken the pieces loose and then sharp deal makers could have sifted among the debris and constructed an ObamaCare III or whatever they would have called it. But the summit was a bust for the Democrats, and we’re talking specifically about Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who proved to be just as unlikeable and ineffective as many suspected.

The end of ObamaCare isn’t here yet, but we’re getting close as the artifices fall one by one and the chattering class comes to suspect there simply isn’t any way for largely ineffective Democratic leaders to get a monstrous, hugely unpopular bill through both houses. And this, they will tell us, is a great sign of failure and of gridlock. Well, perhaps it’s simply the long-overdue triumph of popular will over elected representatives.

Sen. Kent Conrad, the Senate budget chairman, had this to say Sunday on the subject of reconciliation:

I have said all year as chairman of the Budget Committee, reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform. It won’t work. It won’t work because it was never designed for that kind of significant legislation. It was designed for deficit reduction. So, let’s be clear. On the major Medicare or health care reform legislation, that can’t move to reconciliation. The role for reconciliation would be very limited. It would be on sidecar issues designed to improve what passed the Senate and what would have to pass the House for health care reform to move forward. So, using reconciliation would not be for the main package at all. It would be for certain sidecar issues like how much does the federal government put up to pay for the Medicaid expansion? What is done to improve the affordability of the package that’s come out of the Senate?

And in case anything was unclear, he repeated: “Well, health care reform at large would not be—I’ve just said. Health care reform the major package would not be done through reconciliation. That would be unreasonable. But that’s not going to happen here.”

Reconciliation has been the buzzword of late, but it is becoming apparent that it’s a dodge intended to keep the hopes of the liberal base alive and to force the House to go first, which then might produce some magic key to unlock health care. But if the Senate budget chair is forcefully calling foul on the process, what then is the point of the House vote? According to Conrad, whatever the House came up with will have to go back and be put through the normal legislative process, subject to the filibuster.

Well, as with so much else on ObamaCare, one has the sense that this is a charade. No bill, no clear process, no public support, and no House majority. Had the summit been the breakthrough moment the Obami had hoped for maybe a groundswell of support could have shaken the pieces loose and then sharp deal makers could have sifted among the debris and constructed an ObamaCare III or whatever they would have called it. But the summit was a bust for the Democrats, and we’re talking specifically about Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who proved to be just as unlikeable and ineffective as many suspected.

The end of ObamaCare isn’t here yet, but we’re getting close as the artifices fall one by one and the chattering class comes to suspect there simply isn’t any way for largely ineffective Democratic leaders to get a monstrous, hugely unpopular bill through both houses. And this, they will tell us, is a great sign of failure and of gridlock. Well, perhaps it’s simply the long-overdue triumph of popular will over elected representatives.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Hardly a record the Democrats want to run on: “The 2010 federal budget deficit will be $1.35 trillion, nearly as large as last year’s record $1.4 trillion budget shortfall, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office. The CBO, in its budget outlook released Tuesday, also projected a ‘muted’ economic recovery over the next few years. The unemployment rate will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year and then decline at a slower pace than in past recoveries, the CBO said. The jobless rate won’t return to a sustainable level of 5 percent until 2014, the budget office predicted.” No wonder “blame George W. Bush” is the crutch of choice for the Obami.

In the latest CNN poll, 50 percent of adults (not even registered voters) disapprove of Obama’s performance, and 55 percent think he didn’t focus on the most important problems in his first year.

Allan Metzer is skeptical on the “spending freeze”: “Why should one think the president is serious if he first increases discretionary spending by almost 30%, then proclaims a freeze. And he follows the freeze by announcing a pitcher full of new entitlements. I will treat his statement as the start of a serious effort to control spending when he proposes to cut entitlements.”

Sen. John McCain has a challenge: “If you really believe in freezing spending, then come out in the State of the Union address and promise to veto the Senate Democrats’ $80 billion spending bill, which they’re drawing up right now, and say you’ll veto the House’s $154 billion spending bill, too.”

But the Left really hates the idea: “Liberals are denouncing the spending freeze across blogs and airwaves. Many believe the move is all about politics, not policy. And the politics, many say, are just as clumsy as the policy.”

Meanwhile, the Senate defeated an amendment to create the Conrad-Gregg deficit-reduction commission, which Obama backed. “Supporters garnered 53 votes for the plan, which was co-sponsored by Gregg and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D. But 60 votes were required under procedural rules. Thirty-six Democrats and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted for the plan, as did 16 Republicans.” Obama can’t get even that through the Senate, but maybe on this one he wasn’t trying. (It’s getting hard to tell.)

And Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh oppose using reconciliation to pass health care. It seems Scott Brown has sent a shiver through the Congress, halting action on just about everything. Well, if the first rule of lawmaking is “do no harm,” this is a positive development.

James Taranto observes that “intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom or sense. Very intelligent people have been known to advance very compelling arguments on behalf of very bad ideas. What’s more, there is a particular type of stupidity to which intelligent people are uniquely prone: intellectual snobbery, or the tendency to cultivate an attitude of contempt toward those who are not as bright. This may appeal to New York Times readers or voters in, say, Hyde Park–that is, to people who think they’re better than everyone else too. But it may prove Barack Obama’s undoing as a national politician.” Well, that and his not accomplishing anything.

Marty Peretz catches Obama editing Israel out of the list of countries assisting in Haiti. “The fact is that, next to our country, Israel sent the largest contingent of trained rescue workers, doctors, and other medical personnel. … So didn’t Obama notice? For God’s sake, everybody noticed the deep Israeli involvement. I understand that Obama doesn’t like Middle East narratives that do not contain ‘one side and the other side’ equal valence. But he couldn’t have that here. The Arabs don’t care a fig, not for their impoverished and backward own, and certainly not for strangers. That’s why their presence in Haiti amounted to a couple of bucks from Saudi Arabia and maybe from some other sheikhs. … Yes, I think that the labors of the Israelis were edited out of Obama’s speech, either by his speechwriters (who have made dissing Israel their forté) or by his own oh-so-delicate but dishonest censoring mechanism.”

Hardly a record the Democrats want to run on: “The 2010 federal budget deficit will be $1.35 trillion, nearly as large as last year’s record $1.4 trillion budget shortfall, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office. The CBO, in its budget outlook released Tuesday, also projected a ‘muted’ economic recovery over the next few years. The unemployment rate will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year and then decline at a slower pace than in past recoveries, the CBO said. The jobless rate won’t return to a sustainable level of 5 percent until 2014, the budget office predicted.” No wonder “blame George W. Bush” is the crutch of choice for the Obami.

In the latest CNN poll, 50 percent of adults (not even registered voters) disapprove of Obama’s performance, and 55 percent think he didn’t focus on the most important problems in his first year.

Allan Metzer is skeptical on the “spending freeze”: “Why should one think the president is serious if he first increases discretionary spending by almost 30%, then proclaims a freeze. And he follows the freeze by announcing a pitcher full of new entitlements. I will treat his statement as the start of a serious effort to control spending when he proposes to cut entitlements.”

Sen. John McCain has a challenge: “If you really believe in freezing spending, then come out in the State of the Union address and promise to veto the Senate Democrats’ $80 billion spending bill, which they’re drawing up right now, and say you’ll veto the House’s $154 billion spending bill, too.”

But the Left really hates the idea: “Liberals are denouncing the spending freeze across blogs and airwaves. Many believe the move is all about politics, not policy. And the politics, many say, are just as clumsy as the policy.”

Meanwhile, the Senate defeated an amendment to create the Conrad-Gregg deficit-reduction commission, which Obama backed. “Supporters garnered 53 votes for the plan, which was co-sponsored by Gregg and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D. But 60 votes were required under procedural rules. Thirty-six Democrats and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted for the plan, as did 16 Republicans.” Obama can’t get even that through the Senate, but maybe on this one he wasn’t trying. (It’s getting hard to tell.)

And Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh oppose using reconciliation to pass health care. It seems Scott Brown has sent a shiver through the Congress, halting action on just about everything. Well, if the first rule of lawmaking is “do no harm,” this is a positive development.

James Taranto observes that “intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom or sense. Very intelligent people have been known to advance very compelling arguments on behalf of very bad ideas. What’s more, there is a particular type of stupidity to which intelligent people are uniquely prone: intellectual snobbery, or the tendency to cultivate an attitude of contempt toward those who are not as bright. This may appeal to New York Times readers or voters in, say, Hyde Park–that is, to people who think they’re better than everyone else too. But it may prove Barack Obama’s undoing as a national politician.” Well, that and his not accomplishing anything.

Marty Peretz catches Obama editing Israel out of the list of countries assisting in Haiti. “The fact is that, next to our country, Israel sent the largest contingent of trained rescue workers, doctors, and other medical personnel. … So didn’t Obama notice? For God’s sake, everybody noticed the deep Israeli involvement. I understand that Obama doesn’t like Middle East narratives that do not contain ‘one side and the other side’ equal valence. But he couldn’t have that here. The Arabs don’t care a fig, not for their impoverished and backward own, and certainly not for strangers. That’s why their presence in Haiti amounted to a couple of bucks from Saudi Arabia and maybe from some other sheikhs. … Yes, I think that the labors of the Israelis were edited out of Obama’s speech, either by his speechwriters (who have made dissing Israel their forté) or by his own oh-so-delicate but dishonest censoring mechanism.”

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