Commentary Magazine


Topic: Heritage Foundation

Ben Nelson: Confused or Lying?

“I think it was a mistake to take health care on as opposed to continuing to spend the time on the economy.” Jim DeMint? Eric Cantor? Nope — it comes from the senator who cast the 60th vote, Ben Nelson. One is tempted to ask if he’s joking, for certainly it was within his power to make sure that health-care “reform” was put aside in favor of pro-growth, pro-jobs programs. But then Nelson also says that the Cornhusker Kickback was not about getting special treatment for his state. And he says that what really nailed down his vote was the elimination of the public option and the prevention of abortion subsidies. Except the bill doesn’t satisfy the latter condition and only offers a meaningless accounting gimmick to segregate funding, as well as an “opt-out” provision for states otherwise not required by law to fund abortions. As this Heritage Foundation analysis put it:

In the House bill, by virtue of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, there is a genuine firewall between federal funding and abortion coverage. In the Senate bill, by virtue of the agreement between Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senator Nelson, there is no such firewall; the bill allows federal taxpayer funding for abortion. For the pro-life advocates on both sides of the aisle, the Reid-Nelson language falls far short of the House language.

One wonders if Nelson is dim or thinks we are. He could have reordered the president’s priorities. He could have agreed to put his state on exactly the same footing as the others without a kickback. He could have insisted on the Stupak-Pitts abortion language. He did none of these things. But he wants to get a pass from the voters and be praised because he “took a bad bill and made it better.” Actually, he’s helping to pass a very bad bill. He may be genuinely confused, but the voters are not.

“I think it was a mistake to take health care on as opposed to continuing to spend the time on the economy.” Jim DeMint? Eric Cantor? Nope — it comes from the senator who cast the 60th vote, Ben Nelson. One is tempted to ask if he’s joking, for certainly it was within his power to make sure that health-care “reform” was put aside in favor of pro-growth, pro-jobs programs. But then Nelson also says that the Cornhusker Kickback was not about getting special treatment for his state. And he says that what really nailed down his vote was the elimination of the public option and the prevention of abortion subsidies. Except the bill doesn’t satisfy the latter condition and only offers a meaningless accounting gimmick to segregate funding, as well as an “opt-out” provision for states otherwise not required by law to fund abortions. As this Heritage Foundation analysis put it:

In the House bill, by virtue of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, there is a genuine firewall between federal funding and abortion coverage. In the Senate bill, by virtue of the agreement between Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senator Nelson, there is no such firewall; the bill allows federal taxpayer funding for abortion. For the pro-life advocates on both sides of the aisle, the Reid-Nelson language falls far short of the House language.

One wonders if Nelson is dim or thinks we are. He could have reordered the president’s priorities. He could have agreed to put his state on exactly the same footing as the others without a kickback. He could have insisted on the Stupak-Pitts abortion language. He did none of these things. But he wants to get a pass from the voters and be praised because he “took a bad bill and made it better.” Actually, he’s helping to pass a very bad bill. He may be genuinely confused, but the voters are not.

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Lies, Big Lies and Nancy Pelosi Press Conferences

Nancy Pelosi has had a her run of memorable moments — promising to drain the swamp of corruption (no, not anytime soon), warning that we were losing 500 million jobs a month and accusing the CIA of lying to her about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Then yesterday she comes up with a doozy in responding to a letter by C-SPAN that sought to televise the conference committee (which isn’t going to happen because it’s all to be done in secret cloakroom deals): “There has never been a more open process for any legislation.”

Well, we can’t say this sort of thing is out of character, can we? She seems not to recall that the Senate hid the bill until Sen. Bill Nelson’s vote had been bought and then rushed a bill to a 1:00 a.m. vote right before Christmas. She seems not to recall that the House staged a Saturday vote and broke her pledge to post the bill online 72 hours before the vote.

Mark Hemingway asks, “It’s no secret that Pelosi and Democratic leaders are desperate to pass health care reform, but do they really think delusional lies are the best way to win over the public?” Well, yes, I think they do. That’s why they keep saying things such as “we must pass it or go bankrupt.” That’s why they deny that there will be health-care rationing while they cut $500B out of Medicare. That’s why they refuse to call taxes “taxes.” That’s why they insist we are going to keep our insurance as the Mayo Clinic gets out of the Medicare business. That is why they boast that they are cutting spending on health-care when, as the Heritage Foundation points out, “total U.S. health care spending would increase by 0.7%, or $234 billion through 2019. . . and that’s after taking into account what little savings would be achieved by cutting Medicare benefits and encouraging employer to cut health benefits by taxing private insurance plans that are ‘too generous.'”

In short, the Democrats  are reduced to making up stuff, both on substance and on process, because what is in the bill is unpalatable to a majority of voters. And they certainly don’t want to discuss the details or put any of the final back-room bribery  . . . er . . .  legislative compromising . . . on C-SPAN.

Nancy Pelosi has had a her run of memorable moments — promising to drain the swamp of corruption (no, not anytime soon), warning that we were losing 500 million jobs a month and accusing the CIA of lying to her about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Then yesterday she comes up with a doozy in responding to a letter by C-SPAN that sought to televise the conference committee (which isn’t going to happen because it’s all to be done in secret cloakroom deals): “There has never been a more open process for any legislation.”

Well, we can’t say this sort of thing is out of character, can we? She seems not to recall that the Senate hid the bill until Sen. Bill Nelson’s vote had been bought and then rushed a bill to a 1:00 a.m. vote right before Christmas. She seems not to recall that the House staged a Saturday vote and broke her pledge to post the bill online 72 hours before the vote.

Mark Hemingway asks, “It’s no secret that Pelosi and Democratic leaders are desperate to pass health care reform, but do they really think delusional lies are the best way to win over the public?” Well, yes, I think they do. That’s why they keep saying things such as “we must pass it or go bankrupt.” That’s why they deny that there will be health-care rationing while they cut $500B out of Medicare. That’s why they refuse to call taxes “taxes.” That’s why they insist we are going to keep our insurance as the Mayo Clinic gets out of the Medicare business. That is why they boast that they are cutting spending on health-care when, as the Heritage Foundation points out, “total U.S. health care spending would increase by 0.7%, or $234 billion through 2019. . . and that’s after taking into account what little savings would be achieved by cutting Medicare benefits and encouraging employer to cut health benefits by taxing private insurance plans that are ‘too generous.'”

In short, the Democrats  are reduced to making up stuff, both on substance and on process, because what is in the bill is unpalatable to a majority of voters. And they certainly don’t want to discuss the details or put any of the final back-room bribery  . . . er . . .  legislative compromising . . . on C-SPAN.

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Just a Notch on a Belt

Buried deep inside an angst-filled column complaining that Obama is underappreciated and overly criticized, Richard Cohen concedes what many on both the Right and Left suspect: “He wanted a health-care bill. Why? To cover the uncovered. Maybe. To rein in the insurance companies. Maybe. To lower costs. Maybe. What mattered most was getting a bill, any bill. This is not a cause. It’s a notch on a belt.” We suspect that is true in part because Obama never really told us what he wanted in the bill. He never sent a proposal to Congress. He didn’t spell out specific requirements for his plan in that game-changing (not) speech in September. Each time Congress moved ahead with one version or another, Obama praised the effort without much comment on the content. Some thought it was tactical. But maybe he never really cared what was in it.

That conclusion is reinforced by the bill’s content and timing. As for the content, it doesn’t do what the president in broadest strokes said he wanted to accomplish. James Capretta points out that this isn’t “universal” care:

The House and Senate bills would add 15 million or more people to [Medicaid’s] rolls without any guarantee whatsoever that there will be doctors and hospitals that can see them. Ironically, the very Democrats who most frequently tout “universality” as the goal are also the ones who ensure it will never actually come about by insisting that America’s lower-income families enroll in government-run insurance — with no other options. Beyond the Medicaid expansion, Obamacare is really an obligation, not a right. Every citizen would be required to sign up with a government-approved health-insurance plan or pay a tax penalty for going without coverage.

And even its proponents concede there will still be 23 million or so uninsured. Nor does the bill meet the president’s goals of deficit neutrality or cost cutting:

[T]he claim that bill lowers the deficit means that, in addition to cutting Medicare by half a trillion dollars, the Senate would also raise half a trillion in new taxes — during a recession. Only a series of accounting gimmicks — such as implementing benefits beginning in 2014 but raising taxes starting in 2010, and double-counting Medicare savings — allowed Senate majority leader Harry Reid to get a CBO cost estimate that pretends to add “not one dime” to the deficit. Medicare actuary Foster found that the Senate bill would bend the cost curve up, not down, and that the new taxes on drugs, devices, and health-insurance plans would increase prices and health-insurance costs for consumers.

But the telltale sign that Obama doesn’t really much care about the merits of the bill or any of the bill’s promised benefits is the timeline. The Heritage Foundation lays this out in detail:

2010: Physician Medicare payments decrease 21% effective March 1, 2010

2011: “Annual Fee” tax on health insurance, allocated according to share of total premiums. Begins at $2 billion in 2011, then increases to $4 billion in 2012, $7 billion in 2013, $9 billion in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, and eventually $10 billion for 2017 and every year thereafter. Two insurers in Nebraska and one in Michigan are exempt from this tax.

2012: Medicare payment penalties for hospitals with the highest readmission rates for selected conditions.

2013: Medicare tax increased from 2.9% to 3.8% for incomes over $250,000 (joint filers) or $200,000 (all others). (This is stated as an increase of 0.9 percentage points, to only the employee’s share of the FICA tax.)

2014: Individual mandate begins: Tax penalties for not having insurance begin at $95 or 0.5% of income, whichever is higher, rising to $495 or 1% of income in 2015 and $750 or 2% of income thereafter (indexed for inflation after 2016). These penalties are per adult, half that amount per child, to a maximum of three times the per-adult amount per family. The penalty is capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan.

2015: Establishment of Independent Medicare Advisory Board (IMAB) to recommend cuts in Medicare benefits; these cuts will go into effect automatically unless Congress passes, and the President signs, an override bill.

2016: Individual mandate penalty rises to $750 per adult ($375 per child), maximum $2,250 per family, or 2% of family income, whichever is higher (capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan). After 2016, the penalty will be increased each year to adjust for inflation.

2017: Itemized deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses is limited to expenses over 10% of AGI for those over age 65.

Bottom line: nothing but taxes and Medicare cuts begin before 2014. This is not a serious plan to address a health-care “crisis,” is it? No. It is an effort to throw something up against the wall and clean up the mess later. It won’t be proven “not to work” before Obama’s last election because it isn’t designed to really do anything, other than raise taxes, for the next four years. It is the ultimate placeholder that Obama can check off on his to-do list without the responsibility for actually solving the crisis he told us we had to fix urgently — before Christmas 2009.

It is hard, then, to quibble with Cohen. This isn’t a serious effort to reform health care. It’s lazy governance from a president who couldn’t face failure or craft a coherent bill. He and Democrats in the House and Senate imagine that the voters are too dumb to figure this out. We’ll test that proposition in November.

Buried deep inside an angst-filled column complaining that Obama is underappreciated and overly criticized, Richard Cohen concedes what many on both the Right and Left suspect: “He wanted a health-care bill. Why? To cover the uncovered. Maybe. To rein in the insurance companies. Maybe. To lower costs. Maybe. What mattered most was getting a bill, any bill. This is not a cause. It’s a notch on a belt.” We suspect that is true in part because Obama never really told us what he wanted in the bill. He never sent a proposal to Congress. He didn’t spell out specific requirements for his plan in that game-changing (not) speech in September. Each time Congress moved ahead with one version or another, Obama praised the effort without much comment on the content. Some thought it was tactical. But maybe he never really cared what was in it.

That conclusion is reinforced by the bill’s content and timing. As for the content, it doesn’t do what the president in broadest strokes said he wanted to accomplish. James Capretta points out that this isn’t “universal” care:

The House and Senate bills would add 15 million or more people to [Medicaid’s] rolls without any guarantee whatsoever that there will be doctors and hospitals that can see them. Ironically, the very Democrats who most frequently tout “universality” as the goal are also the ones who ensure it will never actually come about by insisting that America’s lower-income families enroll in government-run insurance — with no other options. Beyond the Medicaid expansion, Obamacare is really an obligation, not a right. Every citizen would be required to sign up with a government-approved health-insurance plan or pay a tax penalty for going without coverage.

And even its proponents concede there will still be 23 million or so uninsured. Nor does the bill meet the president’s goals of deficit neutrality or cost cutting:

[T]he claim that bill lowers the deficit means that, in addition to cutting Medicare by half a trillion dollars, the Senate would also raise half a trillion in new taxes — during a recession. Only a series of accounting gimmicks — such as implementing benefits beginning in 2014 but raising taxes starting in 2010, and double-counting Medicare savings — allowed Senate majority leader Harry Reid to get a CBO cost estimate that pretends to add “not one dime” to the deficit. Medicare actuary Foster found that the Senate bill would bend the cost curve up, not down, and that the new taxes on drugs, devices, and health-insurance plans would increase prices and health-insurance costs for consumers.

But the telltale sign that Obama doesn’t really much care about the merits of the bill or any of the bill’s promised benefits is the timeline. The Heritage Foundation lays this out in detail:

2010: Physician Medicare payments decrease 21% effective March 1, 2010

2011: “Annual Fee” tax on health insurance, allocated according to share of total premiums. Begins at $2 billion in 2011, then increases to $4 billion in 2012, $7 billion in 2013, $9 billion in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, and eventually $10 billion for 2017 and every year thereafter. Two insurers in Nebraska and one in Michigan are exempt from this tax.

2012: Medicare payment penalties for hospitals with the highest readmission rates for selected conditions.

2013: Medicare tax increased from 2.9% to 3.8% for incomes over $250,000 (joint filers) or $200,000 (all others). (This is stated as an increase of 0.9 percentage points, to only the employee’s share of the FICA tax.)

2014: Individual mandate begins: Tax penalties for not having insurance begin at $95 or 0.5% of income, whichever is higher, rising to $495 or 1% of income in 2015 and $750 or 2% of income thereafter (indexed for inflation after 2016). These penalties are per adult, half that amount per child, to a maximum of three times the per-adult amount per family. The penalty is capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan.

2015: Establishment of Independent Medicare Advisory Board (IMAB) to recommend cuts in Medicare benefits; these cuts will go into effect automatically unless Congress passes, and the President signs, an override bill.

2016: Individual mandate penalty rises to $750 per adult ($375 per child), maximum $2,250 per family, or 2% of family income, whichever is higher (capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan). After 2016, the penalty will be increased each year to adjust for inflation.

2017: Itemized deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses is limited to expenses over 10% of AGI for those over age 65.

Bottom line: nothing but taxes and Medicare cuts begin before 2014. This is not a serious plan to address a health-care “crisis,” is it? No. It is an effort to throw something up against the wall and clean up the mess later. It won’t be proven “not to work” before Obama’s last election because it isn’t designed to really do anything, other than raise taxes, for the next four years. It is the ultimate placeholder that Obama can check off on his to-do list without the responsibility for actually solving the crisis he told us we had to fix urgently — before Christmas 2009.

It is hard, then, to quibble with Cohen. This isn’t a serious effort to reform health care. It’s lazy governance from a president who couldn’t face failure or craft a coherent bill. He and Democrats in the House and Senate imagine that the voters are too dumb to figure this out. We’ll test that proposition in November.

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Obama’s Year of Living Blamelessly

Barack Obama has figured out what went wrong with Homeland Security this past Christmas: George W. Bush. “It’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have,” Obama said Wednesday.

When you’re president of the United States, you can’t pass the buck to your superior. In response to this frustration, President Obama has developed what systems people like to call a “workaround”: He passes the buck to his predecessor. A lot.

He started blaming Bush during the presidential campaign, which was natural enough. Here is candidate Obama on Iran, for example: “It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.” But after becoming president, Obama just kept on going. On climate change: “After eight years in which there was resistance to even acknowledging the problem, I think my administration has been very clear that we intend to be a leader on this issue internationally.” On trying terror suspects: “The decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable.” And now, on the failed Christmas Day terror attack.

Here’s a prediction: Obama will find that he’s gone to the Blame Bush well one too many times. With the Christmas Day fiasco something has “become clear,” alright. But it’s not the failings of George W. Bush.  James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation notes, “Since 2001, there have been 28 failed terrorist attacks against the United States. That averages out to about three foiled attempts per year. That was until this year. This year there were six failed attempts that make 2009 a banner year — the most in one year.”  Unprecedented, as Obama likes to say. A historic first, as his supporters are fond of putting it. Well, you might say, that doesn’t mean that the Obama administration has necessarily opened us up to more attacks, right? Isn’t it fair to say that it has stopped more attacks? Not exactly.

Click here to read the rest of this Web Exclusive on COMMENTARY.

Barack Obama has figured out what went wrong with Homeland Security this past Christmas: George W. Bush. “It’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have,” Obama said Wednesday.

When you’re president of the United States, you can’t pass the buck to your superior. In response to this frustration, President Obama has developed what systems people like to call a “workaround”: He passes the buck to his predecessor. A lot.

He started blaming Bush during the presidential campaign, which was natural enough. Here is candidate Obama on Iran, for example: “It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.” But after becoming president, Obama just kept on going. On climate change: “After eight years in which there was resistance to even acknowledging the problem, I think my administration has been very clear that we intend to be a leader on this issue internationally.” On trying terror suspects: “The decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable.” And now, on the failed Christmas Day terror attack.

Here’s a prediction: Obama will find that he’s gone to the Blame Bush well one too many times. With the Christmas Day fiasco something has “become clear,” alright. But it’s not the failings of George W. Bush.  James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation notes, “Since 2001, there have been 28 failed terrorist attacks against the United States. That averages out to about three foiled attempts per year. That was until this year. This year there were six failed attempts that make 2009 a banner year — the most in one year.”  Unprecedented, as Obama likes to say. A historic first, as his supporters are fond of putting it. Well, you might say, that doesn’t mean that the Obama administration has necessarily opened us up to more attacks, right? Isn’t it fair to say that it has stopped more attacks? Not exactly.

Click here to read the rest of this Web Exclusive on COMMENTARY.

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But What About the Jobs?

The Heritage Foundation has an informative guide to the differences between the Senate and House health-care bills. It includes this eye-catching explanation of the employer mandates:

The Senate bill imposes a $750 penalty per worker on employers of 50 or more who do not offer federally qualified coverage. Even if the employer does offer federally qualified coverage, if a worker obtains the federal subsidy to buy coverage in the health insurance exchange, the employer would have to pay an annual penalty of $3,000 for each worker who obtains a subsidy (up to a maximum of $750 times the total number of full-time workers). The House bill imposes a direct requirement on employers to offer federally qualified health care coverage to their employees and pay a specified percentage for single and family premiums or pay a payroll tax of up to 8 percent.

Well, it’s a good thing we don’t have double-digit unemployment and widespread reluctance to hire new workers, because this is going to really make each new hire expensive. Oh, wait. Well, yes we do have a problem here. And this highlights the inanity of the president’s pitiful “jobs summit” and other small-potatoes measures to induce hiring. All of that — limited tax credits and weatherizing schemes, for example — pales in comparison to the expense we are adding to each additional hire and the incentive we are providing to either increase the workload of existing workers or use overseas labor (or both).

And then there are the tax provisions:

Financing for the House bill depends on a heavy new income tax targeted at “wealthy” income taxpayers and small businesses. The House-passed bill would impose a 5.4 percent tax on individuals with incomes above $500,000 and on families with incomes above $1 million, and would yield $461 billion in new revenues (according to CBO) over 10 years. As noted by analysts at The Heritage Foundation, the tax is structured in such a way that over time more and more Americans will be hit by this tax, and small business owners would be particularly affected.

In short, if the president really believes the private sector is where the jobs are, he should be concerned, because we are placing very significant financial obstacles in the way of those on whom we must depend to create jobs. When the president “pivots” to the issue of jobs in January, conservatives would do well to point out that his “historic” health-care bill is (now that cap-and-trade appears nearly dead) the single greatest legislative impediment to job creation.

The Heritage Foundation has an informative guide to the differences between the Senate and House health-care bills. It includes this eye-catching explanation of the employer mandates:

The Senate bill imposes a $750 penalty per worker on employers of 50 or more who do not offer federally qualified coverage. Even if the employer does offer federally qualified coverage, if a worker obtains the federal subsidy to buy coverage in the health insurance exchange, the employer would have to pay an annual penalty of $3,000 for each worker who obtains a subsidy (up to a maximum of $750 times the total number of full-time workers). The House bill imposes a direct requirement on employers to offer federally qualified health care coverage to their employees and pay a specified percentage for single and family premiums or pay a payroll tax of up to 8 percent.

Well, it’s a good thing we don’t have double-digit unemployment and widespread reluctance to hire new workers, because this is going to really make each new hire expensive. Oh, wait. Well, yes we do have a problem here. And this highlights the inanity of the president’s pitiful “jobs summit” and other small-potatoes measures to induce hiring. All of that — limited tax credits and weatherizing schemes, for example — pales in comparison to the expense we are adding to each additional hire and the incentive we are providing to either increase the workload of existing workers or use overseas labor (or both).

And then there are the tax provisions:

Financing for the House bill depends on a heavy new income tax targeted at “wealthy” income taxpayers and small businesses. The House-passed bill would impose a 5.4 percent tax on individuals with incomes above $500,000 and on families with incomes above $1 million, and would yield $461 billion in new revenues (according to CBO) over 10 years. As noted by analysts at The Heritage Foundation, the tax is structured in such a way that over time more and more Americans will be hit by this tax, and small business owners would be particularly affected.

In short, if the president really believes the private sector is where the jobs are, he should be concerned, because we are placing very significant financial obstacles in the way of those on whom we must depend to create jobs. When the president “pivots” to the issue of jobs in January, conservatives would do well to point out that his “historic” health-care bill is (now that cap-and-trade appears nearly dead) the single greatest legislative impediment to job creation.

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Gates on Low-Intensity Warfare

As the Iraq War has gone on and on, serious doubts have been raised within the military about whether we are becoming overly focused on low-intensity warfare. Many officers fret that skills at conventional warfighting are deteriorating, and this is cited by some as cause to pull more forces out of Iraq faster. Defense Secretary Bob Gates offered a trenchant rebuttal to those critics in a speech today at a Heritage Foundation event in Colorado.

He rightly warned against “a tendency towards what might be called “Next-War-itis–the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict.” While the military has to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios, he noted that “it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional terms–ship to ship, fighter to fighter, tank to tank–for some time to come.”

On the other hand, the threat from unconventional forces of the kind we’re facing in Afghanistan and Iraq is real, and it’s not going away. “The implication, particularly for America’s ground forces,” he continued, “means we must institutionalize the lessons learned and capabilities honed from the ongoing conflicts….What we must guard against is the kind of backsliding that has occurred in the past, where if nature takes it course, these kinds of capabilities –that is counter-insurgency–tend to wither on the vine.”

He closed with a powerful point that military critics of the war effort need to come to terms with: “The risk of overextending the Army is real. But I believe the risk is far greater–to that institution, as well as to our country–if we were to fail in Iraq. That is the war we are in. That is the war we must win.”

One might think that what the defense secretary is saying is simply common sense–except that it runs counter to the view of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who was very much in thrall to “Next War-itis.” On this matter, as on so many others, Gates has been a welcome and refreshing change.

As the Iraq War has gone on and on, serious doubts have been raised within the military about whether we are becoming overly focused on low-intensity warfare. Many officers fret that skills at conventional warfighting are deteriorating, and this is cited by some as cause to pull more forces out of Iraq faster. Defense Secretary Bob Gates offered a trenchant rebuttal to those critics in a speech today at a Heritage Foundation event in Colorado.

He rightly warned against “a tendency towards what might be called “Next-War-itis–the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict.” While the military has to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios, he noted that “it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional terms–ship to ship, fighter to fighter, tank to tank–for some time to come.”

On the other hand, the threat from unconventional forces of the kind we’re facing in Afghanistan and Iraq is real, and it’s not going away. “The implication, particularly for America’s ground forces,” he continued, “means we must institutionalize the lessons learned and capabilities honed from the ongoing conflicts….What we must guard against is the kind of backsliding that has occurred in the past, where if nature takes it course, these kinds of capabilities –that is counter-insurgency–tend to wither on the vine.”

He closed with a powerful point that military critics of the war effort need to come to terms with: “The risk of overextending the Army is real. But I believe the risk is far greater–to that institution, as well as to our country–if we were to fail in Iraq. That is the war we are in. That is the war we must win.”

One might think that what the defense secretary is saying is simply common sense–except that it runs counter to the view of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who was very much in thrall to “Next War-itis.” On this matter, as on so many others, Gates has been a welcome and refreshing change.

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Arnold’s Failure Is The GOP’s Gain

Aside from the Florida primary, the biggest news this week, and the event with the most potential to affect the 2008 presidential race, was the defeat in California of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s healthcare proposal. It foundered when the Democratic state legislature figured out that it would have cost a boatload of money. Just how much? $14.9 billion.

The Wall Street Journal points out that this is an important policy lesson. An individual or government mandated health care system is very expensive and does nothing to stem rising healthcare costs, which are the real issue. The Journal‘s editors explain:

What the California collapse should discredit in particular is the individual mandate as a policy tool for Republican reformers. This was Mr. Romney’s enthusiasm for a time, helped along by the Heritage Foundation. But in order to be enforceable, such a mandate inevitably becomes a government mandate, and a very expensive one at that.
Voters are rightly concerned about health care, but they also don’t want to pay higher taxes to finance coverage for everyone. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s spectacular failure shows that there’s an opening for Republicans to make the case for health-care reform based on choice and tax-equity, not mandates and tax hikes.

If John McCain is indeed the nominee, he will have clean hands on this issue and a market-based healthcare plan that even the Cato Institute, which has led the charge against healthcare mandates, could love. McCain will now have some powerful examples to highlight why the healthcare approach of the two potential Democratic nominees is a recipe for failure.

Aside from the Florida primary, the biggest news this week, and the event with the most potential to affect the 2008 presidential race, was the defeat in California of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s healthcare proposal. It foundered when the Democratic state legislature figured out that it would have cost a boatload of money. Just how much? $14.9 billion.

The Wall Street Journal points out that this is an important policy lesson. An individual or government mandated health care system is very expensive and does nothing to stem rising healthcare costs, which are the real issue. The Journal‘s editors explain:

What the California collapse should discredit in particular is the individual mandate as a policy tool for Republican reformers. This was Mr. Romney’s enthusiasm for a time, helped along by the Heritage Foundation. But in order to be enforceable, such a mandate inevitably becomes a government mandate, and a very expensive one at that.
Voters are rightly concerned about health care, but they also don’t want to pay higher taxes to finance coverage for everyone. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s spectacular failure shows that there’s an opening for Republicans to make the case for health-care reform based on choice and tax-equity, not mandates and tax hikes.

If John McCain is indeed the nominee, he will have clean hands on this issue and a market-based healthcare plan that even the Cato Institute, which has led the charge against healthcare mandates, could love. McCain will now have some powerful examples to highlight why the healthcare approach of the two potential Democratic nominees is a recipe for failure.

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Whose New Gilded Age?

The New York Times recently ran a lead Sunday Magazine article on the “The New Gilded Age.” The article tastefully failed to note that most of the monied people discussed were Democrats. It’s further evidence, I’d say, that liberal Democrats are having a hard time owning up to the nature of their party. In his new book The Squandering of America (reviewed in the November issue of COMMENTARY), liberal economist Robert Kuttner describes his dismay at discovering that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has gone upscale. “I have attended Democratic fund-raising events in the Park Avenue homes of investment bankers,” he writes, “where there was plenty of enthusiasm for human rights, morning-after pills, and climate change, but nary a word about financial regulation or social investment.” Kuttner’s ideological soulmate, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, lodges a similar complaint about the Democrats’ refusal to close “the hedge fund tax loophole—which allows executives at private equity firms and hedge funds to pay a tax rate of only 15 percent on most of their income.” The Democrats, he concludes are “wobbled by wealth.”

What’s striking about their complaints is that none of this is new. Writing in COMMENTARY in 1972, Joshua Muravchik and the late Penn Kemble noted that “The purpose of the McGovern quotas (for the delegations to the Democratic National Convention) was not to make the convention more representative of the Democratic electorate as a whole, but to favor the affluent liberals within the party and to diminish the influence of its lower-middle and working-class constituents.” The McGovernites succeeded and the Democrats became far more of an upper-middle-class party.

And they’ve only become more of one since then. Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation, writing yesterday in the Financial Times, notes that “Democrats now control the majority of the nation’s wealthiest congressional jurisdictions. More than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the eighteen states where Democrats control both Senate seats.” This pattern holds in the House as well. Iowa’s three richest districts are represented by Democrats, the two poorest by Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents a San Francisco district containing more than six times as many high-end households as her Republic counterpart, John Boehner. Nor is this just a matter of wealth. Democrats, notes economist Joel Kotkin, predominate in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, where income inequality is the most pronounced in the nation.
“The demographic reality is that, in America,” says Franc, the Democratic Party is the new “party of the rich.” The question for 2008 is whether that economic reality will enter into the political debate.

The New York Times recently ran a lead Sunday Magazine article on the “The New Gilded Age.” The article tastefully failed to note that most of the monied people discussed were Democrats. It’s further evidence, I’d say, that liberal Democrats are having a hard time owning up to the nature of their party. In his new book The Squandering of America (reviewed in the November issue of COMMENTARY), liberal economist Robert Kuttner describes his dismay at discovering that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has gone upscale. “I have attended Democratic fund-raising events in the Park Avenue homes of investment bankers,” he writes, “where there was plenty of enthusiasm for human rights, morning-after pills, and climate change, but nary a word about financial regulation or social investment.” Kuttner’s ideological soulmate, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, lodges a similar complaint about the Democrats’ refusal to close “the hedge fund tax loophole—which allows executives at private equity firms and hedge funds to pay a tax rate of only 15 percent on most of their income.” The Democrats, he concludes are “wobbled by wealth.”

What’s striking about their complaints is that none of this is new. Writing in COMMENTARY in 1972, Joshua Muravchik and the late Penn Kemble noted that “The purpose of the McGovern quotas (for the delegations to the Democratic National Convention) was not to make the convention more representative of the Democratic electorate as a whole, but to favor the affluent liberals within the party and to diminish the influence of its lower-middle and working-class constituents.” The McGovernites succeeded and the Democrats became far more of an upper-middle-class party.

And they’ve only become more of one since then. Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation, writing yesterday in the Financial Times, notes that “Democrats now control the majority of the nation’s wealthiest congressional jurisdictions. More than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the eighteen states where Democrats control both Senate seats.” This pattern holds in the House as well. Iowa’s three richest districts are represented by Democrats, the two poorest by Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents a San Francisco district containing more than six times as many high-end households as her Republic counterpart, John Boehner. Nor is this just a matter of wealth. Democrats, notes economist Joel Kotkin, predominate in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, where income inequality is the most pronounced in the nation.
“The demographic reality is that, in America,” says Franc, the Democratic Party is the new “party of the rich.” The question for 2008 is whether that economic reality will enter into the political debate.

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Hot Air in Aspen

Imagine going to the Heritage Foundation to see Ronald Reagan in the late 1980’s. Or listening to Margaret Thatcher at a National Review dinner at around the same time. Or applauding Charlton Heston at the NRA’s annual meeting. This must be the feeling that liberals get during a week of activities at the Aspen Festival of Ideas. A mix of political camaraderie, self-righteousness, and triumphalism oozed from every panel discussion and roundtable.

Only in its third year, this week-long conference, co-sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly and the Aspen Institute, has quickly established itself as the intellectual Woodstock for the wealthy and well-meaning. Bill Clinton made his annual pilgrimage—Aspen is his new Renaissance festival, apparently—and was reliably greeted as healer and seer for those who have had to endure two terms of Republican rule. This year Hillary joined him for some nighttime high-dollar fund-raising. The old Clinton crowd showed up, too: there rarely seemed to be a panel without Rahm Emmanuel, Gene Sperling, Madeline Albright, David Gergen, or Justice Stephen Breyer. True, there were a few Republicans thrown in for appearances, but mostly of the safe variety: Colin Powell or Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Karl Rove showed up on the final day for a ritual yet respectful skewering, just so everyone could feel bi-partisan and open-minded.

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Imagine going to the Heritage Foundation to see Ronald Reagan in the late 1980’s. Or listening to Margaret Thatcher at a National Review dinner at around the same time. Or applauding Charlton Heston at the NRA’s annual meeting. This must be the feeling that liberals get during a week of activities at the Aspen Festival of Ideas. A mix of political camaraderie, self-righteousness, and triumphalism oozed from every panel discussion and roundtable.

Only in its third year, this week-long conference, co-sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly and the Aspen Institute, has quickly established itself as the intellectual Woodstock for the wealthy and well-meaning. Bill Clinton made his annual pilgrimage—Aspen is his new Renaissance festival, apparently—and was reliably greeted as healer and seer for those who have had to endure two terms of Republican rule. This year Hillary joined him for some nighttime high-dollar fund-raising. The old Clinton crowd showed up, too: there rarely seemed to be a panel without Rahm Emmanuel, Gene Sperling, Madeline Albright, David Gergen, or Justice Stephen Breyer. True, there were a few Republicans thrown in for appearances, but mostly of the safe variety: Colin Powell or Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Karl Rove showed up on the final day for a ritual yet respectful skewering, just so everyone could feel bi-partisan and open-minded.

But what struck me in the four days of sessions I attended was not Bush-hatred (or any particular display of partisanship), but rather the insipid and anodyne quality of the ideas under such grave discussion. After just two days, it was clear that the assembled crowd of the good and the great strongly believed that teachers should be paid more, that more investments need to be made in early childhood education, that energy and environment issues ought to be at the top of the national agenda, and that far too many college graduates want to become hedge fund managers. In dozens of panels, there were certainly exceptions, but I would refer anyone interested to the Aspen Festival blog posts by Ross Douthat, whose dry yet incisive commentaries captured the hollowness of this gathering of worthies.

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