Commentary Magazine


Topic: House Budget Committee

The Future of Defense Spending

The Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee have a new chart out today that really clarifies what President Obama’s budget will mean for future national spending priorities. Under Obama’s budget, interest payments on debt will exceed national defense spending by 2019:

The reason for this is that under Obama’s budget, rapidly growing debt would lead to higher interest payments, and substantial cuts to the defense budget would cause defense spending to increase at a slower rate.

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The Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee have a new chart out today that really clarifies what President Obama’s budget will mean for future national spending priorities. Under Obama’s budget, interest payments on debt will exceed national defense spending by 2019:

The reason for this is that under Obama’s budget, rapidly growing debt would lead to higher interest payments, and substantial cuts to the defense budget would cause defense spending to increase at a slower rate.

Incidentally, the House Budget Committee office tells me the same thing doesn’t happen under chairman Paul Ryan’s budget. Here is their chart for comparison:

Under Ryan’s plan, the defense spending and interest payments are actually the inverse of the levels in Obama’s plan by 2022. As you can see, the interest payments still rise with Ryan’s budget, but at a slower pace, while defense spending increases at a healthy rate during the next decade.

This is a prime example of why getting the debt under control is crucial for the future of national security. But under the president’s budget, neither debt reduction nor defense spending are a priority. Liberals have argued that cutting defense is the best way to get the national debt problem under control, but as these two charts show, that’s not the outcome from Obama’s defense cuts. Even with defense reductions, the interest payments still rise faster than under Ryan’s plan.

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More Democratic Lies Greet Ryan’s Medicare Plan

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s latest budget plan includes a few deviations from last year, most notably to his Medicare reform proposal. Last spring, Democrats assailed Ryan and House Republicans for trying to “end Medicare” — a charge so false and prevalent that PolitiFact named it the “Lie of the Year.”

But the attacks from Democrats still hit their mark, and the new plan is a bit milder. Ryan still proposes a system in which senior citizens could purchase private insurance plans with Medicare vouchers. But this time around, he preserves the option for seniors to choose the public plan.

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House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s latest budget plan includes a few deviations from last year, most notably to his Medicare reform proposal. Last spring, Democrats assailed Ryan and House Republicans for trying to “end Medicare” — a charge so false and prevalent that PolitiFact named it the “Lie of the Year.”

But the attacks from Democrats still hit their mark, and the new plan is a bit milder. Ryan still proposes a system in which senior citizens could purchase private insurance plans with Medicare vouchers. But this time around, he preserves the option for seniors to choose the public plan.

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein raises a valid concern:

Preserving traditional Medicare as an option is politically safer. But I question whether there could ever be a truly level-playing field when a government plan is competing against private plans.

Ryan’s latest Medicare reform proposal borrows heavily from the plan he drafted with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden late last year. But the plan’s bipartisan pedigree hasn’t prevented Democrats from launching dishonest attacks. At Forbes, Avik Roy skewers some of the false claims making the rounds on left-wing blogs:

Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress argues, erroneously, that [Path to Prosperity II] would allow private insurers to “cherry-pick the healthiest beneficiaries from traditional Medicare and leave sicker applicants to the government.” Indeed, the plan risk-adjusts the premium support levels so as to prevent that practice: a well-established methodology. Igor also worries that the plan wouldn’t reduce costs, but rather increase them, because he ignores the cost-reducing effects of competitive bidding. Gene Sperling, President Obama’s National Economic Director, repeats the adverse selection critique in Politico. This is clearly going to be the go-to line of attack for progressive wonks.

Last year the major media outlets failed miserably when it came to holding Democrats accountable for flat-out lies about Ryan’s plan. This year, the false claims are already spreading, and so far there’s no indication that the media coverage will be much better.

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Paul Ryan’s Extraordinary Budget

Today Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his budget. (For the full budget, see here; and for a summary, see Ryan’s Wall Street Journal op-ed here). About this remarkable document, I want to say two things.

The first is that Ryan’s budget does what Americans generally, and the pundit class in particular, says politicians don’t do. It tackles head on the issue of entitlements. It offers a real path to re-limiting government (over the next 10 years it cuts more than $5 trillion dollars from President Obama’s budget). It makes the “hard choices” that elected officials often avoid.

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Today Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his budget. (For the full budget, see here; and for a summary, see Ryan’s Wall Street Journal op-ed here). About this remarkable document, I want to say two things.

The first is that Ryan’s budget does what Americans generally, and the pundit class in particular, says politicians don’t do. It tackles head on the issue of entitlements. It offers a real path to re-limiting government (over the next 10 years it cuts more than $5 trillion dollars from President Obama’s budget). It makes the “hard choices” that elected officials often avoid.

To be specific, Mr. Ryan’s budget proposes structural reforms to Medicare, the highly popular program that is driving us toward fiscal ruin. The Ryan budget faces up to, rather than denies or ignores, certain mathematical and demographic realities. For a variety of complicated reasons, very few political leaders have been willing to do so.

In his 1986 book The Triumph of Politics, David Stockman, at the end of his 411-page lamentation, wrote this:

Why did the conservative, anti-spending party (GOP) end up ratifying a half-trillion dollar per year welfare state? In the answer lies the modern dirty little secret of the Republican Party: The conservative opposition helped build the American welfare state brick by brick during the three decades prior to 1980. The Reagan Revolution failed because the Republican Party decided to stick with its own historic handiwork. It could not and would not disown after November 1980 the “me-too” statism that had guided it for all those years in the political wilderness.

Now I strongly dissent from Stockman’s judgment that the Reagan Revolution failed; and I understand why people consider Stockman to be an unadmirable human being. But he was actually on to something important in his critique of Republicans, conservatives, and big government. An objective analysis of the Reagan years showed that the commitment to limited government was more rhetorical than real. There was no sustained effort to reform entitlement programs during the Reagan presidency. That may have been prudent, by the way. President Reagan was much more successful at, and much more committed to, cutting tax rates, reforming the tax code, and rebuilding the American military. There was simply no real public support for reforming the modern welfare state among the American polity.

Today we live in a different, and fiscally more perilous, moment. In the past, we could avoid dealing with entitlement programs, even if doing so wasn’t wise. But today dealing with them is a fiscal — and arguably a moral — imperative. That’s because right now we’re on a Greece-like trajectory.

More than any other single individual in American politics today — perhaps with the exception of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels — Ryan understands this and is willing to do something about it. That was true last year with his budget; and it’s true again this year with his budget. (The Path to Prosperity, it should be said, includes significant proposals to spur economic growth, including intelligent changes to our tax code and ways to contain and undo crony capitalism.)

The second point worth making about Chairman Ryan’s budget is that a year after he released The Path to Prosperity 1.0, Ryan and House Republicans have not only not been politically crippled, they are actually winning the argument, as well as converts (like Democratic Senator Ron Wyden) to their cause.

One of the most significant political facts of the last year has been that despite efforts by the president and his party to slander the GOP (including by claiming that Republicans were taking a Darwinian approach to autistic and Down syndrome children), it simply hasn’t worked. Ads showing Representative Ryan tossing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff are so ludicrous and discrediting that it’s mentioned these days far more often by Republicans than Democrats. That dog, having been unleashed for the last four decades, may no longer hunt. We may well be living in an era of uncommon fiscal sobriety and maturity. It is possible that what John Adams called stubborn facts — about the size, scope, and reach of government; about our structural deficits and debt; about how we will face a calamity unless we reform Medicare — are now driving our political debate, at least to a degree that has been missing in the past.

We’ll know more after the first Tuesday in November. But for now, Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan has done something quite remarkable. A Member of the House of Representative has shifted the political axis. He has filled the breach left by an unusually irresponsible chief executive. All honor is due him.

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ObamaCare Continues to Unravel

According to the AP, two of the central promises of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress today.

The landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. (Foster’s office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.)

Mr. Foster was asked by Republican Tom McClintock for a simple true or false response on two of the main assertions made by supporters of the law: that it will bring down unsustainable medical costs and it will let people keep their current health insurance if they like it.

On the costs issue, “I would say false, more so than true,” Foster responded. As for people getting to keep their coverage, “not true in all cases.”

Foster also sided with those who argue that moving toward a defined contribution model is much more likely to keep health-care costs down than the kind of centralized, top-down price controls that are in ObamaCare.

Finally, in an exchange with Representative John Campbell of California, Foster blew up the claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicare provisions could both reduce the deficit and extend the solvency of Medicare, as President Obama has claimed. Mr. Foster pointed out the obvious: this isn’t possible unless you double-count the savings.

“Is it legitimate to say,” Campbell asked, “that you can add a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare or that you can reduce the deficit, but it is not correct to say both simultaneously?”

“Both will happen as a result of the same one set of savings, under Medicare,” Foster said. “But it takes two sets of money to make it happen. It happens directly for the budget deficit, from the Medicare savings, and then when we need the money to extend the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, we have a promissory note — it’s an IOU, not a worthless IOU, but it is an IOU — and Treasury has to pay that money back. But they have to get it from somewhere. That’s the missing link.”

Unraveling the false claims of ObamaCare continues apace.

According to the AP, two of the central promises of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress today.

The landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. (Foster’s office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.)

Mr. Foster was asked by Republican Tom McClintock for a simple true or false response on two of the main assertions made by supporters of the law: that it will bring down unsustainable medical costs and it will let people keep their current health insurance if they like it.

On the costs issue, “I would say false, more so than true,” Foster responded. As for people getting to keep their coverage, “not true in all cases.”

Foster also sided with those who argue that moving toward a defined contribution model is much more likely to keep health-care costs down than the kind of centralized, top-down price controls that are in ObamaCare.

Finally, in an exchange with Representative John Campbell of California, Foster blew up the claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicare provisions could both reduce the deficit and extend the solvency of Medicare, as President Obama has claimed. Mr. Foster pointed out the obvious: this isn’t possible unless you double-count the savings.

“Is it legitimate to say,” Campbell asked, “that you can add a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare or that you can reduce the deficit, but it is not correct to say both simultaneously?”

“Both will happen as a result of the same one set of savings, under Medicare,” Foster said. “But it takes two sets of money to make it happen. It happens directly for the budget deficit, from the Medicare savings, and then when we need the money to extend the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, we have a promissory note — it’s an IOU, not a worthless IOU, but it is an IOU — and Treasury has to pay that money back. But they have to get it from somewhere. That’s the missing link.”

Unraveling the false claims of ObamaCare continues apace.

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Rep. Paul Ryan in Dialogue

Yesterday e21 and the Manhattan Institute co-hosted an event featuring Representative Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee. The interview, expertly conducted by the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, lasted 45 minutes; 15 minutes were set aside for questions.

The conversation is intellectually engaging and candid, timely and quite thoughtful. But take a look for yourself.

Yesterday e21 and the Manhattan Institute co-hosted an event featuring Representative Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee. The interview, expertly conducted by the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, lasted 45 minutes; 15 minutes were set aside for questions.

The conversation is intellectually engaging and candid, timely and quite thoughtful. But take a look for yourself.

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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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Alan Wolfe’s Silly Essay

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional. Read More

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional.

According to Wolfe, “the shift from polarization to nihilism is well illustrated by the pre-election fate of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s ‘A Roadmap for America’s Future.’” During the campaign, Wolfe writes, “conservatives shunned Ryan’s plan like a virus.”

“Will Ryan become a conservative hero in the new House? Don’t bet on it,” Wolfe writes. “Once your purpose is to say no to everything the other side proposes, you do not want to put yourself in the position of saying yes to anything else, lest you actually have to spend your energy defending a position.”

In fact, many conservatives not only don’t shun Ryan’s plan; they enthusiastically embrace it. Sarah Palin did so as recently as a week ago. And while it’s true that the GOP leadership in the House hasn’t fully embraced the Roadmap, it is open to key elements of it. Any hesitancy in fully blessing Ryan’s roadmap doesn’t have to do with nihilism; it has to do with fear that reforming entitlements will be politically catastrophic.

More important, Ryan, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, is going to present the GOP’s budget — in effect, its governing blueprint — in the spring. His plan will be far-reaching, bold, intellectually coherent — and it will have the support of the Republican caucus. Ryan will, in fact, be among the most important Republicans in America next year.

On the matter of judges, Professor Wolfe is terribly upset by the fact that fewer than half of Obama’s nominations for judgeships have been approved. “There can be little doubt that conservatives will now feel emboldened to continue and even ratchet-up their policy of judicial refusal in the next two years,” Wolfe writes. “It is, after all, a near-perfect expression of their nihilism; the best way to stop judges from interpreting the law, as conservatives like to call decisions they happen to disfavor, is to have fewer judges.” He goes on to say:

All this suggests that Elena Kagan will be the last judge Obama gets to place on the high court. This is not because openings are unlikely to occur. It is instead because Republicans, confident that Democrats will never come close to the 60 votes necessary to stop them, will use their veto power to block any Supreme Court nominee they dislike, which amounts to anyone Obama selects. On the court, if not in Congress, conservatives believe in an active government; they need judges who will say no to every piece of legislation they want to block.

It’s probably worth pointing out that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who did the most to politicize the appointment of judges and Supreme Court nominations, with their ferocious opposition to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. No recent liberal nominee has been treated as disgracefully as were Bork and Thomas. It’s worth asking, too: was Senator Obama a nihilist for not only opposing the confirmation of Samuel Alito but also for supporting the filibuster of his nomination?

Beyond that, assume that Obama nominates centrist-to-conservative judges. Republicans would support them in the blink of an eye. The problem Obama would face would be with his liberal base, not with conservatives. This explodes the theory that Republicans are nihilists; if they were, they would oppose for the sake of opposition, as a means to achieving anarchy. But, of course, Republicans have no interest in such a thing.

And note well: the tax bill that was just agreed to was the product of a compromise between President Obama and the GOP leadership — precisely the kind of compromise that Wolfe says Republicans and conservatives oppose in principle and in every instance.

Professor Wolfe’s essay is instructive in this respect: it shows the kind of paranoia and diseased thinking that afflicts some liberals and progressives. He acts as if no conservative policy world exists and exerts any influence on lawmakers. This is flatly untrue. Professor Wolfe might, for starters, consider visiting the website of National Affairs in order to become acquainted with arguments and ideas he is now blind to.

Moreover, progressives like Wolfe seem to genuinely believe the cartoonish image they have created of Republicans and conservatives, portraying them as if they were characters out of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. They cannot seem to fathom that the differences between conservatives and liberals, between the incoming GOP Congress and Barack Obama, are rooted in different governing philosophies, not nihilism vs. non-nihilism. They do not even entertain the possibility that opposition to ObamaCare is based on the belief that a more sustainable, market-based, and patient-centered version of health reform is better for our nation. Conservatives may be wrong about this; but to hold this view does not mean they are pining for anarchy.

The Alan Wolfe approach, of course, makes governing in America much more difficult. If you view your opponents not simply as wrong but as a disciple of Nietzsche, eager to burn down the village, it changes almost everything about politics. It would be all to the good, I think, if people on both sides resisted the temptation — unless the evidence is overwhelming and to the contrary — to refer to one’s political opponents as Nazis, as terrorists, as nihilists, and so forth. This is almost always a sign of the weakness, not the strength, of one’s arguments.

In Fathers and Sons, the protagonist, Bazarov, says to the woman he loves, and hated himself for loving, “Breathe on the dying flame and let it go out. Enough!”

The same can be said about Professor Wolfe’s essay.

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The Magic Bullet

Chris Van Hollen, who will be the ranking member of the House Budget Committee in the new Congress, was on Fox News Sunday this morning (transcript not yet available). To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, he decried extending the “tax cuts for the rich” and raising the estate tax from its present zero to 35 percent for estates over $5 million. That, too, according to Van Hollen, was an unconscionable giveaway of $26 billion to a few thousand families who already have far more than they need. John linked to Senator Bernie Sanders’s 8 1/2 hour rant on the Senate floor on Friday in which he said, less succinctly, the same. And Peter the same day linked to Congressman Alan Grayson (soon, mercifully, to be former congressman Alan Grayson) saying, again, much the same thing. Their animus against “the rich” is palpable and their adherence to the principle of high taxes on the rich (which dates back to Karl Marx in 1848) is religious rather than rational.

I carry no brief for “the rich,” although I’d be happy to be counted among them. But this all reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a close friend, now gone, on this subject. She was very liberal. (How liberal? In 1948, she not only voted for Henry Wallace; she went to the convention and worked in his campaign. That’s liberal.) I proposed a thought experiment. “Suppose,” I said, “there were an economic magic bullet — that if Congress would pass the necessary legislation and the president were to sign it, the effect would be to double everyone’s real take-home income. If you were living on $50,000 this year, you’d have $100,000 to spend next year.”

“Sounds great,” she said.

“But there’s a catch,” I answered. “The effect of the magic bullet would not double the take-home income of those earning over $1 million — it would quintuple it. In other words, the rich would make out far, far better than the average Joe. But there’s no way out, it’s all or nothing. Would you vote for the magic bullet if you were a member of Congress?”

“Certainly not!” she indignantly replied.

“Fine,” I said. “Now it’s six months later and you’re running for re-election. A constituent comes up to you and says, ‘I’m an English teacher at the local high school. I take home $50,000 a year. I have a daughter who needs serious orthodontics that’s not covered by insurance, my son has learning disabilities and has to be tutored, I’m driving a 10-year-old Buick that will have to be replaced very soon, and my mother-in-law will not be able to live on her own much longer. We never go away on vacation and seldom eat out. You voted against my earning an additional $50,000 a year because you objected to Mr. Bigbucks getting $5 million a year instead of $1 million. I don’t give a damn what the Rockefellers earn. I care about what I earn so I can take care of my family.’ What do you tell him, in order to win his vote?”

Her response: “It’s time for dinner.”

We have lowered the marginal rates on high incomes four times since the inception of the income tax — in the 1920s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. In each case, the result was a much more prosperous national economy, lower unemployment, and higher tax revenues for the government. If you do A (lower marginal rates) four times, and four times, despite differing economic circumstances, B (increased prosperity) happens, a rational person might conclude, at least tentatively, that B is the result of A. Not liberals.

As I said, high tax rates on the rich is a religious principle with the left. If the poor have to suffer because of it, so be it.

Chris Van Hollen, who will be the ranking member of the House Budget Committee in the new Congress, was on Fox News Sunday this morning (transcript not yet available). To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, he decried extending the “tax cuts for the rich” and raising the estate tax from its present zero to 35 percent for estates over $5 million. That, too, according to Van Hollen, was an unconscionable giveaway of $26 billion to a few thousand families who already have far more than they need. John linked to Senator Bernie Sanders’s 8 1/2 hour rant on the Senate floor on Friday in which he said, less succinctly, the same. And Peter the same day linked to Congressman Alan Grayson (soon, mercifully, to be former congressman Alan Grayson) saying, again, much the same thing. Their animus against “the rich” is palpable and their adherence to the principle of high taxes on the rich (which dates back to Karl Marx in 1848) is religious rather than rational.

I carry no brief for “the rich,” although I’d be happy to be counted among them. But this all reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a close friend, now gone, on this subject. She was very liberal. (How liberal? In 1948, she not only voted for Henry Wallace; she went to the convention and worked in his campaign. That’s liberal.) I proposed a thought experiment. “Suppose,” I said, “there were an economic magic bullet — that if Congress would pass the necessary legislation and the president were to sign it, the effect would be to double everyone’s real take-home income. If you were living on $50,000 this year, you’d have $100,000 to spend next year.”

“Sounds great,” she said.

“But there’s a catch,” I answered. “The effect of the magic bullet would not double the take-home income of those earning over $1 million — it would quintuple it. In other words, the rich would make out far, far better than the average Joe. But there’s no way out, it’s all or nothing. Would you vote for the magic bullet if you were a member of Congress?”

“Certainly not!” she indignantly replied.

“Fine,” I said. “Now it’s six months later and you’re running for re-election. A constituent comes up to you and says, ‘I’m an English teacher at the local high school. I take home $50,000 a year. I have a daughter who needs serious orthodontics that’s not covered by insurance, my son has learning disabilities and has to be tutored, I’m driving a 10-year-old Buick that will have to be replaced very soon, and my mother-in-law will not be able to live on her own much longer. We never go away on vacation and seldom eat out. You voted against my earning an additional $50,000 a year because you objected to Mr. Bigbucks getting $5 million a year instead of $1 million. I don’t give a damn what the Rockefellers earn. I care about what I earn so I can take care of my family.’ What do you tell him, in order to win his vote?”

Her response: “It’s time for dinner.”

We have lowered the marginal rates on high incomes four times since the inception of the income tax — in the 1920s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. In each case, the result was a much more prosperous national economy, lower unemployment, and higher tax revenues for the government. If you do A (lower marginal rates) four times, and four times, despite differing economic circumstances, B (increased prosperity) happens, a rational person might conclude, at least tentatively, that B is the result of A. Not liberals.

As I said, high tax rates on the rich is a religious principle with the left. If the poor have to suffer because of it, so be it.

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Conservatives Must Govern with Prudence and Patience

In a recent interview with Philip Klein of the American Spectator, Representative Paul Ryan spoke about the limits of the strategy to defund ObamaCare:

Obviously, I’m in favor of anything we can do to stop it, to halt it, but the problem we have is, he [Obama] has to sign those bills. I get this question every single day, ‘If you take back Congress, you have the power of the purse, just defund the thing.’ Well, yeah, technically speaking, we can put riders in appropriations bills that say, ‘No such funds can go to HHS to do x, y, or z in implementing ObamaCare.’ He’s gotta sign those things. And he doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would sign those things. And so that means we go to a continuing resolution or something like that. So I see a lot of stalemate — not over just whether we defund ObamaCare and cap and trade and FinReg or whatever — because he’s not going to agree to our spending levels anyway. We’re going to cut spending way below where he would go. So I don’t see him signing our spending bills, which are the bills you’d have to pass into law to defund ObamaCare.

There is no more committed budget cutter on Capitol Hill than Ryan, which is why his words are worth taking into account for conservatives who, once Republicans retake the House (as I fully expect they will), insist that the GOP repair much of the damage President Obama has done. It won’t be easy — and conservatives should internalize that fact sooner rather than later. There are certain governing and political realities that cannot be wished away. Repealing ObamaCare is impossible so long as Obama sits in the Oval Office — and even defunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is going to prove to be exceedingly difficult. Those in the conservative movement who set that up as the standard of success are setting themselves and their closest political allies up for failure. Read More

In a recent interview with Philip Klein of the American Spectator, Representative Paul Ryan spoke about the limits of the strategy to defund ObamaCare:

Obviously, I’m in favor of anything we can do to stop it, to halt it, but the problem we have is, he [Obama] has to sign those bills. I get this question every single day, ‘If you take back Congress, you have the power of the purse, just defund the thing.’ Well, yeah, technically speaking, we can put riders in appropriations bills that say, ‘No such funds can go to HHS to do x, y, or z in implementing ObamaCare.’ He’s gotta sign those things. And he doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would sign those things. And so that means we go to a continuing resolution or something like that. So I see a lot of stalemate — not over just whether we defund ObamaCare and cap and trade and FinReg or whatever — because he’s not going to agree to our spending levels anyway. We’re going to cut spending way below where he would go. So I don’t see him signing our spending bills, which are the bills you’d have to pass into law to defund ObamaCare.

There is no more committed budget cutter on Capitol Hill than Ryan, which is why his words are worth taking into account for conservatives who, once Republicans retake the House (as I fully expect they will), insist that the GOP repair much of the damage President Obama has done. It won’t be easy — and conservatives should internalize that fact sooner rather than later. There are certain governing and political realities that cannot be wished away. Repealing ObamaCare is impossible so long as Obama sits in the Oval Office — and even defunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is going to prove to be exceedingly difficult. Those in the conservative movement who set that up as the standard of success are setting themselves and their closest political allies up for failure.

An alternative conservative governing agenda to Obamaism should commit to repealing ObamaCare; that is an entirely reasonable demand to make. But insisting that this commitment be legislated into law within months of the GOP’s retaking control of the House is simply fanciful. So long as Obama is president, the best that conservatives may hope for between now and 2012 is to stop the leftward lurch that has occurred during the past 21 months. That would itself be a significant achievement. Cauterizing the wound of a bleeding patient counts for something.

Beyond that, next spring Representative Ryan, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, will lay out an alternative to what Obama and Democrats have proposed. My guess is that it will be quite bold and ambitious. Still, what happens in 2011 needs to be seen as setting the stage for 2012. Ryan refers to this period as a “shadow boxing match” to the real fight — “2012,” Ryan says, “is the fight for the soul of America.”

The November 2 election will hopefully bring to Washington a large number of lawmakers who care more about the conservative cause than they do about a political career, who are skilled at tactics and strategy, and who are serious about reversing the trajectory of things. But the wise ones among them will also understand that the 2010 election results will probably set the stage for an intense, protracted, and at times frustrating struggle. Things rarely happen in politics as neatly, cleanly, and quickly as we like; this is in part the results of our Madisonian form of government.

In the aftermath of the midterm elections, the conservative movement should keep pressure on members of Congress to propose a governing blueprint that is equal to this moment — one that limits government and champions a growth agenda. At the same time, conservatives need to show some measure of maturity, sobriety, and patience. They cannot demand that everything be done all at once. They should not confuse lack of results (repealing or defunding ObamaCare) with lack of will. And for some conservative commentators to write “I have a feeling that if the GOP d/n repeal or defund Obamacare in 2011, there will be no GOP in 2012” is both unwise and apocalyptic. One of the characteristics of conservatives is prudence — “the god of this lower world,” in the words of Burke. In this instance that means pushing an agenda that re-limits government while rejecting utopian dreams and utopian demands. That’s worth keeping in mind as conservatives find themselves on the cusp of power again.

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What’s It Going to Take in 2012?

On the Fox News Sunday roundtable, the panel discussed the 2012 GOP presidential front-runners. It is interesting that, aside from Sarah Palin, lesser-known Republicans seem to have gained top-tier credentials:

KRISTOL: … I think it won’t be the usual situation of nominating the next in line or the most senior person, the Bob Dole or the John McCain. So I think right now Palin is the frontrunner. We can say it’s a geological era away. It’s 17 months till Iowa. It’s not that long, you know? And she’s more — she probably has a slightly better chance than anyone else. She’s not an odds-on favorite, but she goes off with lower odds, better odds, than anyone else.

If I had to do win, place and show at this point, I would say Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan. If I could make my trifecta bet, I think I would bet on them. But you know, there are 10 other people. …

WALLACE: Wait a minute. That’s really interesting…

KRISTOL: … who could be the nominee.

WALLACE: … because what you’re saying is, you know, that a lot of the — frankly, all of the conventional names we had on there, like Pawlenty and Romney and Barbour, you’re saying that they’re going to go for somebody that — none of the above?

KRISTOL: Look, those people could also win, and they’re impressive politicians in their own right, and have been good governors, in the case of someone like Haley Barbour. And there are senators who want to run, like John Thune. There are former governors like Pawlenty, Mitt Romney.

I just think — I don’t know. My sense is someone new, someone different, either someone who’s governing successfully, like Mitch Daniels — really a striking contrast with Obama — Paul Ryan, who will be at the center of things in 2011.

He’ll probably be chairman of the House Budget Committee if Republicans win the House. He will be articulating the Republican — he’ll set forth the Republican budget, articulating the Republican national vision against President Obama. And then Palin, who’s impressive, so — but you know, that could easily — I mean, this will shock you, but I could be wrong and one of those three will not be — will not be the nominee.

CHENEY: I think some of the people that Bill mentioned. I think Mitch Daniels is a clear, very interesting potential frontrunner. Paul Ryan is very interesting. I think you’ll have people who emerge after these 2010 elections as real challengers. You’ve got fascinating governors out there. Chris Christie is terrific. I think, you know, it’s impossible to sort of say it’s going to be the establishment guys.

With the Iowa caucuses (which we’ve learned aren’t very predictive of much, as Mike Huckabee can attest) well over a year away, it is nearly impossible to predict where the country, the economy, and the GOP base will be. If ObamaCare is defunded and/or repealed, does this boost the chances of Mitt Romney (whose biggest handicap is RomneyCare)? If Paul Ryan becomes the president’s chief nemesis in the new Congress, does his star rise? If Palin’s endorsees all win in 2010, does she take on an aura of invincibility — or if many of them lose, does her mojo evaporate?

The complications and permutations are endless. (And recall that Rudy Giuliani was the “front-runner” in the GOP polls until his campaign imploded and his Florida-first strategy proved to be a bust.) But we do know that the GOP base wants to offer an un-Obama. So look for a candidate who can connect emotionally with voters, advocate American exceptionalism, articulate who our enemies are, defend American capitalism, demonstrate executive acumen, point the way to fiscal sanity, and embody the values and outlook of the American heartland.

The candidates(s) who can do these things well and convince Republicans, who are desperate to recapture the White House, that they can go toe-to-toe with Obama will be at the top of the heap. And remember, many of the old rules (e.g., that a congressman can’t run, a presidential candidate has to look like a professional pol, an Ivy League background is a plus) simply don’t apply. It’s going to be one heck of an exciting ride.

On the Fox News Sunday roundtable, the panel discussed the 2012 GOP presidential front-runners. It is interesting that, aside from Sarah Palin, lesser-known Republicans seem to have gained top-tier credentials:

KRISTOL: … I think it won’t be the usual situation of nominating the next in line or the most senior person, the Bob Dole or the John McCain. So I think right now Palin is the frontrunner. We can say it’s a geological era away. It’s 17 months till Iowa. It’s not that long, you know? And she’s more — she probably has a slightly better chance than anyone else. She’s not an odds-on favorite, but she goes off with lower odds, better odds, than anyone else.

If I had to do win, place and show at this point, I would say Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan. If I could make my trifecta bet, I think I would bet on them. But you know, there are 10 other people. …

WALLACE: Wait a minute. That’s really interesting…

KRISTOL: … who could be the nominee.

WALLACE: … because what you’re saying is, you know, that a lot of the — frankly, all of the conventional names we had on there, like Pawlenty and Romney and Barbour, you’re saying that they’re going to go for somebody that — none of the above?

KRISTOL: Look, those people could also win, and they’re impressive politicians in their own right, and have been good governors, in the case of someone like Haley Barbour. And there are senators who want to run, like John Thune. There are former governors like Pawlenty, Mitt Romney.

I just think — I don’t know. My sense is someone new, someone different, either someone who’s governing successfully, like Mitch Daniels — really a striking contrast with Obama — Paul Ryan, who will be at the center of things in 2011.

He’ll probably be chairman of the House Budget Committee if Republicans win the House. He will be articulating the Republican — he’ll set forth the Republican budget, articulating the Republican national vision against President Obama. And then Palin, who’s impressive, so — but you know, that could easily — I mean, this will shock you, but I could be wrong and one of those three will not be — will not be the nominee.

CHENEY: I think some of the people that Bill mentioned. I think Mitch Daniels is a clear, very interesting potential frontrunner. Paul Ryan is very interesting. I think you’ll have people who emerge after these 2010 elections as real challengers. You’ve got fascinating governors out there. Chris Christie is terrific. I think, you know, it’s impossible to sort of say it’s going to be the establishment guys.

With the Iowa caucuses (which we’ve learned aren’t very predictive of much, as Mike Huckabee can attest) well over a year away, it is nearly impossible to predict where the country, the economy, and the GOP base will be. If ObamaCare is defunded and/or repealed, does this boost the chances of Mitt Romney (whose biggest handicap is RomneyCare)? If Paul Ryan becomes the president’s chief nemesis in the new Congress, does his star rise? If Palin’s endorsees all win in 2010, does she take on an aura of invincibility — or if many of them lose, does her mojo evaporate?

The complications and permutations are endless. (And recall that Rudy Giuliani was the “front-runner” in the GOP polls until his campaign imploded and his Florida-first strategy proved to be a bust.) But we do know that the GOP base wants to offer an un-Obama. So look for a candidate who can connect emotionally with voters, advocate American exceptionalism, articulate who our enemies are, defend American capitalism, demonstrate executive acumen, point the way to fiscal sanity, and embody the values and outlook of the American heartland.

The candidates(s) who can do these things well and convince Republicans, who are desperate to recapture the White House, that they can go toe-to-toe with Obama will be at the top of the heap. And remember, many of the old rules (e.g., that a congressman can’t run, a presidential candidate has to look like a professional pol, an Ivy League background is a plus) simply don’t apply. It’s going to be one heck of an exciting ride.

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Taxes Are Taxes

Democrats wary of pushing for a “surtax” for the war in Afghanistan are tiptoeing into an argument that they may want to avoid. Steny Hoyer was the most recent example:

Hoyer said he is generally in favor of legislation that would institute a surtax to pay for congressionally mandated war efforts. But he pointed to the sagging economy as a primary reason not to levy new taxes on Americans.

Sen. Evan Bayh made the same argument over the weekend.

Well, it’s nice to see that Democrats appreciate the link between tax hikes and the recession. But wait: they’re considering hundreds of billions of new taxes as part of health-care reform. There’s no difference from an economic standpoint whether you’re “paying” for health-care subsidies for your neighbor or salaries for troops in Afghanistan. Taxes are taxes. If it’s a dumb idea to pass a surtax to pay for a war, then it’s equally dumb to pass taxes as part of ObamaCare. And come to think of it, until we’re out of the economic woods, it would be equally dumb to let the Bush tax cuts expire.

I’m not sure why Democrats have wandered into this minefield. But those opposed to hundreds of billions in new taxes — for whatever purpose — might want to collect these quotes. They may come in handy — if not in a debate, then in the 2010 elections.

UPDATE: Another Democrat joins the “Don’t raise taxes in a recession!” chorus: “House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt on Tuesday (D-S.C.) said he could not support a proposed ‘war surtax’ to fund troop increases in Afghanistan. Spratt said that the measure introduced by Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) would raise taxes during a recession, an uptick he believes the country cannot afford.”

Democrats wary of pushing for a “surtax” for the war in Afghanistan are tiptoeing into an argument that they may want to avoid. Steny Hoyer was the most recent example:

Hoyer said he is generally in favor of legislation that would institute a surtax to pay for congressionally mandated war efforts. But he pointed to the sagging economy as a primary reason not to levy new taxes on Americans.

Sen. Evan Bayh made the same argument over the weekend.

Well, it’s nice to see that Democrats appreciate the link between tax hikes and the recession. But wait: they’re considering hundreds of billions of new taxes as part of health-care reform. There’s no difference from an economic standpoint whether you’re “paying” for health-care subsidies for your neighbor or salaries for troops in Afghanistan. Taxes are taxes. If it’s a dumb idea to pass a surtax to pay for a war, then it’s equally dumb to pass taxes as part of ObamaCare. And come to think of it, until we’re out of the economic woods, it would be equally dumb to let the Bush tax cuts expire.

I’m not sure why Democrats have wandered into this minefield. But those opposed to hundreds of billions in new taxes — for whatever purpose — might want to collect these quotes. They may come in handy — if not in a debate, then in the 2010 elections.

UPDATE: Another Democrat joins the “Don’t raise taxes in a recession!” chorus: “House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt on Tuesday (D-S.C.) said he could not support a proposed ‘war surtax’ to fund troop increases in Afghanistan. Spratt said that the measure introduced by Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) would raise taxes during a recession, an uptick he believes the country cannot afford.”

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