Commentary Magazine


Topic: Medicare

The Left’s Ornery Adolescents

Why are those Americans who are most distrustful of the U.S. government, and so eager to undermine it, the same ones who are most desperate to give it control over their own lives? Michael Moore has made a big P.R. show of his pledge to pay Julian Assange’s bail. “WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions,” he writes, and puts the U.S. government on notice: “You simply can’t be trusted.” Moore offers advice to those of us who see something wrong with Assange. “[A]ll I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey.” Right. Instead, you should be naïve about how government works when it decides to take control of your health care, regulate your business, and spend your earnings. Moore, you may have forgotten, calls for the U.S. government to provide “free, universal health care for life” for “every resident of the United States” and demands that “pharmaceutical companies … be strictly regulated like a public utility.” That’s the old anti–Big Brother spirit.

When men like Michael Moore are not calling for the government to be undermined and defied, they’re petitioning for it to chauffeur them to the movies, cook their meals, and tuck them into bed. One news cycle finds HBO’s Bill Maher telling America not to allow the government to inject “a disease into your arm” in the form of a vaccine and that “I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.” The next, he’s calling for “Medicare for all” and lamenting the absence of a fully government-run health-care system that would operate like the U.S. postal service.

At the Nation, progressive totem Tom Hayden penned an article titled “WikiLeaks vs. The Empire,” defending Assange on the grounds that “the closed doors of power need to be open to public review” and noting that “the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us.” Oh, and about that secretive and untrustworthy “Empire”? Hayden wants to put it in charge of the health care of all Americans, naturally.

This paradoxical political posturing resembles nothing so much as middle-class adolescent rebellion. Troubled kids protest their parents’ dangerous values, their authoritarianism, their materialism, and the moral hypocrisy that keeps the whole farcical delusion afloat. But most of all, they protest the piddling allowance on which no self-respecting 13-year-old old can be expected to keep himself in the latest combat-based video games, faddish clothes, and instantly gratifying gadgetry.

The troubled kids of the left distrust the extraordinary powers wielded by their leaders in the name of safety and well-being — but it’s also a real bummer that the government won’t assert more power to keep us safe and well.

Why are those Americans who are most distrustful of the U.S. government, and so eager to undermine it, the same ones who are most desperate to give it control over their own lives? Michael Moore has made a big P.R. show of his pledge to pay Julian Assange’s bail. “WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions,” he writes, and puts the U.S. government on notice: “You simply can’t be trusted.” Moore offers advice to those of us who see something wrong with Assange. “[A]ll I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey.” Right. Instead, you should be naïve about how government works when it decides to take control of your health care, regulate your business, and spend your earnings. Moore, you may have forgotten, calls for the U.S. government to provide “free, universal health care for life” for “every resident of the United States” and demands that “pharmaceutical companies … be strictly regulated like a public utility.” That’s the old anti–Big Brother spirit.

When men like Michael Moore are not calling for the government to be undermined and defied, they’re petitioning for it to chauffeur them to the movies, cook their meals, and tuck them into bed. One news cycle finds HBO’s Bill Maher telling America not to allow the government to inject “a disease into your arm” in the form of a vaccine and that “I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.” The next, he’s calling for “Medicare for all” and lamenting the absence of a fully government-run health-care system that would operate like the U.S. postal service.

At the Nation, progressive totem Tom Hayden penned an article titled “WikiLeaks vs. The Empire,” defending Assange on the grounds that “the closed doors of power need to be open to public review” and noting that “the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us.” Oh, and about that secretive and untrustworthy “Empire”? Hayden wants to put it in charge of the health care of all Americans, naturally.

This paradoxical political posturing resembles nothing so much as middle-class adolescent rebellion. Troubled kids protest their parents’ dangerous values, their authoritarianism, their materialism, and the moral hypocrisy that keeps the whole farcical delusion afloat. But most of all, they protest the piddling allowance on which no self-respecting 13-year-old old can be expected to keep himself in the latest combat-based video games, faddish clothes, and instantly gratifying gadgetry.

The troubled kids of the left distrust the extraordinary powers wielded by their leaders in the name of safety and well-being — but it’s also a real bummer that the government won’t assert more power to keep us safe and well.

Read Less

Obama’s Not-So-Very-Good Week

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.” Read More

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.”

Second, David — in contrasting Obama favorably this week with “cluster liberals” — writes:

Cluster liberals in the House and the commentariat are angry. They have no strategy for how Obama could have better played his weak hand — with a coming Republican majority, an expiring tax law and several Democratic senators from red states insisting on extending all the cuts. They just sense the waning of their moment and are howling in protest.

They believe nonliberals are blackmailers or hostage-takers or the concentrated repositories of human evil, so, of course, they see coalition-building as collaboration. They are also convinced that Democrats should never start a negotiation because they will always end up losing in the end. (Perhaps psychologists can explain the interesting combination: intellectual self-confidence alongside a political inferiority complex.)

Some of this analysis I agree with. I would point out, however, that (a) during his press conference, Obama was as visibly angry as many people can recall seeing him, and (b) the term “hostage takers” was used by Obama against Republicans.

Finally, I disagree with David’s verdict that Obama had “a very good week.” Brooks’s argument is that Obama has put himself in a position to govern again, and I understand and have some sympathy with the point he’s making: Obama is distancing himself from his liberal base and, in so doing, embracing a policy that is both fairly popular and wise.

What’s going to damage Obama, though, is the manner in which the distancing was done. The president’s base is enraged at him; what we’re seeing looks very much like a political revolt within his own ranks. It’s stating the obvious to say that having members of your own congressional caucus cursing at you is not a very good thing. And as President George H.W. Bush found out with his violation of his “no new taxes” pledge, creating fury within your base in order to tack to the center can hurt one rather than help one.

Nor is it clear yet that Nancy Pelosi will even bring the legislation Obama has blessed to the floor for a vote without changes. I assume she will — but if the speaker decides not to, and if as a result Obama fails to get this deal signed into law, it will be a terrifically damaging blow to his prestige and his presidency. And even if Obama does succeed, he has created enormous unhappiness and mistrust among his base. This won’t be forgotten any time soon. Presidents, while needing to distance themselves from their base at times, don’t usually succeed when they are at war with it.

Democratic tempers will cool over time; new political battles will reconnect Obama to his party. And the key variable remains the economy. If in 2012 unemployment is going down, if the economy is growing at a brisk pace, and if people are confident about the trajectory the country is on, Obama will be in good shape with both his base and with independents. For now, though, the president is in a precarious position, having (for the moment at least) lost his base without having won over the rest of the country. It may be that the former is necessary to achieve the latter — but the way these things are done matters quite a lot. And this has been ugly all the way around.

If David Brooks is right and this week signaled the beginning of a fundamental change in Obama’s governing philosophy, then the president has helped himself. If, on the other hand, what Obama did this week was simply an anomaly, a tactical shift without a fundamental rethinking, then he has complicated his life and damaged his presidency.

Read Less

Three Months, Three Speeches

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

Read Less

Another Good Entitlement-Reform Plan

James Capretta explains why the entitlement-reform proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan and former Fed vice-chairman Alice Rivlin is so important:

In Medicare, the Ryan-Rivlin proposal would be transformative. It picks up on a key feature of Rep. Ryan’s “Roadmap” budget plan, which is that new enrollees in Medicare after 2020 would receive their entitlement in the form of a fixed contribution from the federal government rather than today’s defined benefit program structure. …

For Medicaid, Ryan and Rivlin propose moving toward a fixed block grant payment from the federal government to the states. The block grant payments would be indexed to grow with the size of the Medicaid population as well as per capita GDP growth plus one percentage point. …

Beyond Medicare and Medicaid, the plan would also impose limits on noneconomic and punitive damages in medical liability cases as well as repeal the ill-advised long-term care program (called the “CLASS Act”) that was created in the recently passed health care law.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has already issued a preliminary assessment of the budgetary implications of Ryan-Rivlin, and the results are impressive. Over the next decade, Ryan-Rivlin would cut federal deficit spending by $280 billion, and by 2030, federal spending on the major health entitlement programs would be about 1.75 percent of GDP below a reasonable baseline projection.

But Capretta is right that the importance of the plan is more political — the emergence of a responsible Democratic voice willing to work with the GOP’s guru on entitlements (Ryan) in a productive way. This will diffuse to a degree the alarmist rhetoric coming from the Dem side of the aisle. Moreover, it recognizes that we need to pursue “an across-the-board move toward more fixed federal financial support for coverage.”

In conversations I have had over the past week, Republicans on the Hill seem to recognize that there are important elements in both the debt commission plan and the Ryan-Rivlin plan. Neither is perfect, but parts of both represent some key concessions by the Democrats involved in formulating each. A flatter tax code, a lower corporate tax rate, and market-based entitlement reforms? Some would sign on the dotted line, warts and all. The Democrats? Well, by launching an assault on the debt commission, they risk appearing unserious about deficit control and real fiscal reform.

At the very least, the Ryan-Rivlin and debt commission plans will jump-start a key debate. If Republicans want to prove they are sober and mature lawmakers, they will start crafting proposals that extract the best from both plans.

James Capretta explains why the entitlement-reform proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan and former Fed vice-chairman Alice Rivlin is so important:

In Medicare, the Ryan-Rivlin proposal would be transformative. It picks up on a key feature of Rep. Ryan’s “Roadmap” budget plan, which is that new enrollees in Medicare after 2020 would receive their entitlement in the form of a fixed contribution from the federal government rather than today’s defined benefit program structure. …

For Medicaid, Ryan and Rivlin propose moving toward a fixed block grant payment from the federal government to the states. The block grant payments would be indexed to grow with the size of the Medicaid population as well as per capita GDP growth plus one percentage point. …

Beyond Medicare and Medicaid, the plan would also impose limits on noneconomic and punitive damages in medical liability cases as well as repeal the ill-advised long-term care program (called the “CLASS Act”) that was created in the recently passed health care law.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has already issued a preliminary assessment of the budgetary implications of Ryan-Rivlin, and the results are impressive. Over the next decade, Ryan-Rivlin would cut federal deficit spending by $280 billion, and by 2030, federal spending on the major health entitlement programs would be about 1.75 percent of GDP below a reasonable baseline projection.

But Capretta is right that the importance of the plan is more political — the emergence of a responsible Democratic voice willing to work with the GOP’s guru on entitlements (Ryan) in a productive way. This will diffuse to a degree the alarmist rhetoric coming from the Dem side of the aisle. Moreover, it recognizes that we need to pursue “an across-the-board move toward more fixed federal financial support for coverage.”

In conversations I have had over the past week, Republicans on the Hill seem to recognize that there are important elements in both the debt commission plan and the Ryan-Rivlin plan. Neither is perfect, but parts of both represent some key concessions by the Democrats involved in formulating each. A flatter tax code, a lower corporate tax rate, and market-based entitlement reforms? Some would sign on the dotted line, warts and all. The Democrats? Well, by launching an assault on the debt commission, they risk appearing unserious about deficit control and real fiscal reform.

At the very least, the Ryan-Rivlin and debt commission plans will jump-start a key debate. If Republicans want to prove they are sober and mature lawmakers, they will start crafting proposals that extract the best from both plans.

Read Less

I’m Crazy Ponzi-Man, Now Gimme That Money

In a letter to the New York Times, CPA John Carrick succinctly summarizes a governmental scheme that would send private citizens to jail if they did the same thing:

Social Security is in effect a giant Ponzi scheme. Today’s contributions are used to pay beneficiaries who contributed yesterday, and the surplus of current contributions is “lent” to the federal government and used for general spending.

The Ponzi scheme underlying the Medicare system is even more blatant. Consider the new “Medicare Contribution,” enacted as part of ObamaCare in the name of “fairness,” which extended the 3.8 percent Medicare tax to the investment income of those making more than $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a couple). The legislation dispensed with the interim step of sending the money to the Medicare Trust Fund, to then be “lent” to the general fund and spent on non-Medicare programs. Instead, the money from the new “contribution” will go straight to the general fund; Medicare will not even get a government IOU to hold in “trust.” Privately run Ponzi schemes are generally less brazen.

Later this month, Democrats will attempt to increase the “fairness” of the most progressive income-tax system in the world (under which about half of American households pay no tax at all and the top 1 percent pay of earners pay about 40 percent of the total) by increasing taxes on the “rich” to help finance the trillion-dollar deficits Obama has made the new norm. The plan is to withdraw hundreds of billions more dollars from the private economy while assuring citizens that the economic consequences will be felt only by the targeted few. The public seems to understand that the economic effect will be somewhat broader.

It is a shame that there isn’t more money in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to “borrow.” That is such a simpler system — and there is no pesky criminal law to prevent it, since only private Ponzi schemes are banned. But the federal government has exhausted its current Ponzi possibilities and now seems more like Adam Sandler in a tax-fairness costume.

In a letter to the New York Times, CPA John Carrick succinctly summarizes a governmental scheme that would send private citizens to jail if they did the same thing:

Social Security is in effect a giant Ponzi scheme. Today’s contributions are used to pay beneficiaries who contributed yesterday, and the surplus of current contributions is “lent” to the federal government and used for general spending.

The Ponzi scheme underlying the Medicare system is even more blatant. Consider the new “Medicare Contribution,” enacted as part of ObamaCare in the name of “fairness,” which extended the 3.8 percent Medicare tax to the investment income of those making more than $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a couple). The legislation dispensed with the interim step of sending the money to the Medicare Trust Fund, to then be “lent” to the general fund and spent on non-Medicare programs. Instead, the money from the new “contribution” will go straight to the general fund; Medicare will not even get a government IOU to hold in “trust.” Privately run Ponzi schemes are generally less brazen.

Later this month, Democrats will attempt to increase the “fairness” of the most progressive income-tax system in the world (under which about half of American households pay no tax at all and the top 1 percent pay of earners pay about 40 percent of the total) by increasing taxes on the “rich” to help finance the trillion-dollar deficits Obama has made the new norm. The plan is to withdraw hundreds of billions more dollars from the private economy while assuring citizens that the economic consequences will be felt only by the targeted few. The public seems to understand that the economic effect will be somewhat broader.

It is a shame that there isn’t more money in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to “borrow.” That is such a simpler system — and there is no pesky criminal law to prevent it, since only private Ponzi schemes are banned. But the federal government has exhausted its current Ponzi possibilities and now seems more like Adam Sandler in a tax-fairness costume.

Read Less

Pence Raises His Profile

We had the Mitch Daniels flutter. Then it was the John Thune ripple (if you missed it, don’t worry — most of the country did). Now we are seeing some signs that Mike Pence is seriously considering a 2102 presidential run — and that movement conservatives are seriously looking him over. In my e-mail in-box I have word that “U.S. Congressman Mike Pence will give a major economic speech to members of the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, November 29th.”

There is this profile:

Pence identifies himself as a fiscal and social conservative and has the voting record to prove it. Elected in 2000, when compassionate conservatism was trendy, he has never been afraid to play the Grinch, voting against big-spending initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and TARP. Pence has displayed the same kind of consistency on social issues, establishing a solidly pro-life record over the last decade.

That will likely pass muster with the Tea Party crowd. And unlike Daniels, who has already alarmed social conservatives, value voters are rather comfortable with him:

“When I travel around the country,” says Gary Bauer, president of the social-conservative organization American Values, “conservative audiences seem to feel that they would love to see someone new emerge who had the sort of Reaganesque qualities that are so effective in American politics. I can imagine easily a scenario where Mike Pence could get traction and end up emerging as the candidate.”

The conventional wisdom is that a House member can’t win the presidency. I don’t buy that — the conventional wisdom also told us that Hillary Clinton would win and that a newly elected senator with no executive or foreign policy experience couldn’t be elected. As I’ve said several times, forget the election rulebook.

In a crowded field with no clear-cut front-runner, a candidate with a solid conservative record can, if he picks his spots, “break out” of the pack. A debate, a YouTube moment, or a face-off with the president can elevate a candidate like Pence. The greatest challenge he faces, I would argue, is to differentiate himself from the other, traditional Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney, John Thune, Mitch Daniels). Why him and not one of them?

The challenge, I would argue, for the GOP is to find a Tea Party–friendly figure who is still capable of expanding the base and capturing key independent voters. There aren’t many contenders who fit that bill — Chris Christie and Paul Ryan may be the most widely discussed among GOP activists and serious conservative wonks. But Pence, if he runs a smart race and can break through the clutter, might make it into that category. We’ll find out in the next few months how serious — and effective — he is convincing both Tea Party activists and mainstream Republicans that he can fuse the two wings of the GOP.

We had the Mitch Daniels flutter. Then it was the John Thune ripple (if you missed it, don’t worry — most of the country did). Now we are seeing some signs that Mike Pence is seriously considering a 2102 presidential run — and that movement conservatives are seriously looking him over. In my e-mail in-box I have word that “U.S. Congressman Mike Pence will give a major economic speech to members of the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, November 29th.”

There is this profile:

Pence identifies himself as a fiscal and social conservative and has the voting record to prove it. Elected in 2000, when compassionate conservatism was trendy, he has never been afraid to play the Grinch, voting against big-spending initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and TARP. Pence has displayed the same kind of consistency on social issues, establishing a solidly pro-life record over the last decade.

That will likely pass muster with the Tea Party crowd. And unlike Daniels, who has already alarmed social conservatives, value voters are rather comfortable with him:

“When I travel around the country,” says Gary Bauer, president of the social-conservative organization American Values, “conservative audiences seem to feel that they would love to see someone new emerge who had the sort of Reaganesque qualities that are so effective in American politics. I can imagine easily a scenario where Mike Pence could get traction and end up emerging as the candidate.”

The conventional wisdom is that a House member can’t win the presidency. I don’t buy that — the conventional wisdom also told us that Hillary Clinton would win and that a newly elected senator with no executive or foreign policy experience couldn’t be elected. As I’ve said several times, forget the election rulebook.

In a crowded field with no clear-cut front-runner, a candidate with a solid conservative record can, if he picks his spots, “break out” of the pack. A debate, a YouTube moment, or a face-off with the president can elevate a candidate like Pence. The greatest challenge he faces, I would argue, is to differentiate himself from the other, traditional Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney, John Thune, Mitch Daniels). Why him and not one of them?

The challenge, I would argue, for the GOP is to find a Tea Party–friendly figure who is still capable of expanding the base and capturing key independent voters. There aren’t many contenders who fit that bill — Chris Christie and Paul Ryan may be the most widely discussed among GOP activists and serious conservative wonks. But Pence, if he runs a smart race and can break through the clutter, might make it into that category. We’ll find out in the next few months how serious — and effective — he is convincing both Tea Party activists and mainstream Republicans that he can fuse the two wings of the GOP.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

“Soul-searching” at the White House? Not so much. “‘There isn’t going to be a reset button. That’s not their style,’ said a Democratic strategist who works with the White House on several issues. ‘They don’t like pivots, and they also believe they’re right.’”

Nancy Pelosi is the right leader to show the country that the Dems “get it”? Not so much, according to Heath Shuler: “Shuler believes that his party didn’t get the message on Election Day when voters kicked Democrats out of majority control of the House if his caucus keeps Pelosi at the top of their leadership team. ‘I hope that with so many members that we need to go in a different direction, that we have to be able to recruit or get back those members of Congress that lost, and I just don’t see that path happening if she’s at the top of the Democrats,’ Shuler said.” He says he’ll run against Pelosi, but maybe he’s in the wrong party.

Would Russ Feingold be a formidable primary challenger to Barack Obama? Not so much, says Mara Liasson: “There’d have to be a real anti-war movement in the country for Russ Feingold to try to capture and lead. But there’s not even that.”

Have the Obami learned anything about their Middle East policy failures? Not so much. The U.S. is goading Bibi to offer a 90-day freeze (why should this freeze produce a different result than the last one?), but the PA is already grousing. “Earlier on Sunday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed strong reservations about the U.S. proposal, because it would only apply to the West Bank and not east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.”

Is Obama still the media’s darling? Not so much. “The Democratic president left for Asia just three days after his party suffered big defeats in mid-term elections at the hands of voters worried over the sputtering U.S. economy and unemployment stuck near 10 percent for more than a year. The trip was intended to counteract that frustration with a stress on opening new markets for American goods and improving the jobs picture, so the timing was especially tough. ‘The coverage has been quite negative. The dominant narrative is an embattled president representing a weakened nation,’ said William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘All in all, not the kind of trip a president who has just suffered an electoral rebuff needs,’ he said.”

So the Obama team is going to be more transparent and connect more successfully with the American people? Not so much. “From the administration’s stance on a presidential commission’s controversial recommendations for Social Security and Medicare cuts, to Republican demands that Obama veto any bills containing earmarks, Axelrod offered few specifics on administration plans during interviews on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Fox News Sunday.’” So why bother going on? It’s hard to solve the alleged “communication” problem if you don’t have anything to communicate.

Iran wants to negotiate about its nuclear program? Not so much. “They have yet to agree on venue, a length for the talks or even the subject. Iran says it is willing to talk about everything but its uranium enrichment program; the other countries – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – want to talk mostly about the entire nuclear program.”

“Soul-searching” at the White House? Not so much. “‘There isn’t going to be a reset button. That’s not their style,’ said a Democratic strategist who works with the White House on several issues. ‘They don’t like pivots, and they also believe they’re right.’”

Nancy Pelosi is the right leader to show the country that the Dems “get it”? Not so much, according to Heath Shuler: “Shuler believes that his party didn’t get the message on Election Day when voters kicked Democrats out of majority control of the House if his caucus keeps Pelosi at the top of their leadership team. ‘I hope that with so many members that we need to go in a different direction, that we have to be able to recruit or get back those members of Congress that lost, and I just don’t see that path happening if she’s at the top of the Democrats,’ Shuler said.” He says he’ll run against Pelosi, but maybe he’s in the wrong party.

Would Russ Feingold be a formidable primary challenger to Barack Obama? Not so much, says Mara Liasson: “There’d have to be a real anti-war movement in the country for Russ Feingold to try to capture and lead. But there’s not even that.”

Have the Obami learned anything about their Middle East policy failures? Not so much. The U.S. is goading Bibi to offer a 90-day freeze (why should this freeze produce a different result than the last one?), but the PA is already grousing. “Earlier on Sunday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed strong reservations about the U.S. proposal, because it would only apply to the West Bank and not east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.”

Is Obama still the media’s darling? Not so much. “The Democratic president left for Asia just three days after his party suffered big defeats in mid-term elections at the hands of voters worried over the sputtering U.S. economy and unemployment stuck near 10 percent for more than a year. The trip was intended to counteract that frustration with a stress on opening new markets for American goods and improving the jobs picture, so the timing was especially tough. ‘The coverage has been quite negative. The dominant narrative is an embattled president representing a weakened nation,’ said William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘All in all, not the kind of trip a president who has just suffered an electoral rebuff needs,’ he said.”

So the Obama team is going to be more transparent and connect more successfully with the American people? Not so much. “From the administration’s stance on a presidential commission’s controversial recommendations for Social Security and Medicare cuts, to Republican demands that Obama veto any bills containing earmarks, Axelrod offered few specifics on administration plans during interviews on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Fox News Sunday.’” So why bother going on? It’s hard to solve the alleged “communication” problem if you don’t have anything to communicate.

Iran wants to negotiate about its nuclear program? Not so much. “They have yet to agree on venue, a length for the talks or even the subject. Iran says it is willing to talk about everything but its uranium enrichment program; the other countries – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – want to talk mostly about the entire nuclear program.”

Read Less

The Entitlement Crisis

On Meet the Press, Sen. Jim DeMint – widely admired by conservatives and the Tea Party for his passionate advocacy for limited government – spent a good deal of time condemning earmarks. That’s a fine idea, but it would barely begin to right our fiscal imbalance. When asked about cuts in Social Security, however, DeMint was emphatic:

Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting–I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. …

We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big Obamacare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.

DeMint has been a relentless critic of big government and has rung the alarm bell on the size of our debt and the deficit. Yet on the overwhelming fiscal threat of our time – the entitlement crisis – DeMint not only doesn’t have anything constructive to say; he actually is arguing against any cuts for Social Security and Medicare. (Bear in mind that entitlements, excluding net interest, account for 56 percent of all federal spending and 14 percent of GDP — up from 10 percent of GDP three years ago.) Read More

On Meet the Press, Sen. Jim DeMint – widely admired by conservatives and the Tea Party for his passionate advocacy for limited government – spent a good deal of time condemning earmarks. That’s a fine idea, but it would barely begin to right our fiscal imbalance. When asked about cuts in Social Security, however, DeMint was emphatic:

Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting–I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. …

We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big Obamacare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.

DeMint has been a relentless critic of big government and has rung the alarm bell on the size of our debt and the deficit. Yet on the overwhelming fiscal threat of our time – the entitlement crisis – DeMint not only doesn’t have anything constructive to say; he actually is arguing against any cuts for Social Security and Medicare. (Bear in mind that entitlements, excluding net interest, account for 56 percent of all federal spending and 14 percent of GDP — up from 10 percent of GDP three years ago.)

DeMint might consider doing two things. The first is to be a bit less sweeping in his condemnation of government. I certainly share his concerns about the size, scope, reach, and cost of the federal government, especially in the Age of Obama. At the same time, precise, rigorous arguments are important, too – and so DeMint and other Republicans need to be careful not to use rhetoric that puts them in the company of “a small breed of men whose passionate distrust for the state has developed into a theology of sorts.” (The words are William F. Buckley Jr.’s).

At the same time, DeMint should do more to close the gap between his words and his willingness to act on his words. It is simply not tenable for public officials to portray themselves as courageous voices for fiscal sanity while simultaneously fencing off cuts and reforms for entitlements. This doesn’t argue for recklessness or doing everything all at once. And it certainly doesn’t mean promoting austerity at the expense of pro-growth economic policies. But it does mean one should not declare entitlement programs off-limits. We have to deal with them; there’s no way around it. So there’s no point in making things more difficult or making commitments that are contrary to the national interest. Those who do open themselves to the charge that they are fundamentally unserious on this matter.

On the same program, by the way, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was interviewed by David Gregory. In contrast to DeMint, Christie was able to say this:

We told everybody there has to be shared sacrifice among everyone, and let me be specific. We cut every department of state government. We cut funding to K to 12 education. We are proposed real pension and benefit reforms on public sector workers, increasing the retirement age, eliminating COLAs, things that are really going to bring the pension problem back under control. We cut all of this spending in the state in every state department, David, every state department. From environmental protection, to military and veterans affairs, all the way through had to sustain a cut. Those are the type of things you have to do to show people you really mean shared sacrifice. Everyone came to the table and everybody had to contribute.

When asked how he’s advising Republicans on Capitol Hill, Christie said, “What I told them was they’d better come up with a plan that’s credible like we did in New Jersey, and the public’s going to be able to smell real quickly if you’re not credible.”

Indeed. And credibility, once lost, is hard to regain.

Read Less

Finding Out What Is in ObamaCare

Obama said he is only interested in tweaking ObamaCare. But what if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do? What if employers start dumping people from their existing health care, premiums go up, and the cost projections — shockingly! — are proved to have been entirely fraudulent? Well, no never mind as far as the president is concerned. He’s not an evidence man. He didn’t want the generals coming back to tell him more troops were needed in Afghanistan. He doesn’t want to alter his failed approach to the Middle East. And he’s not about to mess with his “historic” achievement.

Obama supporters, and those concerned that there own reputations may be at risk, are rushing forth to defend ObamaCare. However, the facts aren’t on their side. Veronique de Rugy takes issue with former OMB chief Peter Orszag, who declares that it is imperative to keep ObamaCare in order to control health-care costs. But de Rugy says that this is nonsense. Using CBO’s own data, she explains that ObamaCare will leave “the cost curve of federal healthcare spending virtually unchanged over the next 25 years.” In fact, ObamaCare makes things a whole lot worse:

The CBO finds that the effect of the healthcare legislation has been to increase government spending by $3.8 trillion between 2010 and 2020. From 2020 to 2035, federal spending under the two projections [ObamaCare and no ObamaCare] are equal percentages of GDP. If Orszag is arguing that the real cost-containment provisions kick in around 2036, such futuristic projections are simply not worth taking seriously. …

What we can be certain of is that this legislation increases the amount of money taxpayers will be forced by law to pay for health insurance to the tune of $420 billion over the next 10 years. Claims about ObamaCare’s deficit-reduction effects depend on new taxes growing even faster than new spending. Read More

Obama said he is only interested in tweaking ObamaCare. But what if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do? What if employers start dumping people from their existing health care, premiums go up, and the cost projections — shockingly! — are proved to have been entirely fraudulent? Well, no never mind as far as the president is concerned. He’s not an evidence man. He didn’t want the generals coming back to tell him more troops were needed in Afghanistan. He doesn’t want to alter his failed approach to the Middle East. And he’s not about to mess with his “historic” achievement.

Obama supporters, and those concerned that there own reputations may be at risk, are rushing forth to defend ObamaCare. However, the facts aren’t on their side. Veronique de Rugy takes issue with former OMB chief Peter Orszag, who declares that it is imperative to keep ObamaCare in order to control health-care costs. But de Rugy says that this is nonsense. Using CBO’s own data, she explains that ObamaCare will leave “the cost curve of federal healthcare spending virtually unchanged over the next 25 years.” In fact, ObamaCare makes things a whole lot worse:

The CBO finds that the effect of the healthcare legislation has been to increase government spending by $3.8 trillion between 2010 and 2020. From 2020 to 2035, federal spending under the two projections [ObamaCare and no ObamaCare] are equal percentages of GDP. If Orszag is arguing that the real cost-containment provisions kick in around 2036, such futuristic projections are simply not worth taking seriously. …

What we can be certain of is that this legislation increases the amount of money taxpayers will be forced by law to pay for health insurance to the tune of $420 billion over the next 10 years. Claims about ObamaCare’s deficit-reduction effects depend on new taxes growing even faster than new spending.

One benefit of the GOP House majority is that there can now be hearings on exactly the impact of ObamaCare. Nancy Pelosi said we’d have to pass it to find out what’s in it. Now we can. James Capretta gives us a peek at what we will find. No “death panels,” the Democrats insist?

But Obamacare does create the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB. … [T]he fifteen-member IPAB has the authority to implement cost-cutting mechanisms in Medicare without further congressional approval. Indeed, IPAB’s proponents have been quite explicit in their hope that the panel will use government-funded “comparative effectiveness research” as the basis to terminate Medicare reimbursement for items and services deemed not “cost effective” by budget cutters. So, here we have an unelected board of so-called experts with the authority to unilaterally decide that certain treatments should not be funded by Medicare.

Medicare will be just fine, they say? Capretta explains:

But Medicare’s chief actuary — who works for the president of the United States — has stated repeatedly that these cuts are so deep and arbitrary that they will force many hospitals and other institutions to stop seeing Medicare patients. In fact, the cuts in Obamacare would drive Medicare’s payment rates for services below those of Medicaid by 2019, and Medicaid’s network of willing suppliers of care and services is already very constrained. It’s quite clear that pushing Medicare’s rates to such low levels would drastically reduce access to care for many beneficiaries.

But don’t take de Rugy’s and Caparetta’s word for it. Beginning in January, the GOP Congress should explain exactly what is in the bill, how much it’s going to cost, how high the tax hike will be ($700B, most agree), and the short- and long-term impact on Americans’ health care. Will Democrats rush forth to defend their handiwork? Or will the evidence be compelling, and embarrassing? Pelosi’s rump liberal caucus in the House will never abandon ObamaCare, but will the Red State senators? Don’t bet on them going down with the ObamaCare ship. Especially after we find out what is in it.

Read Less

Time for Conservatives to Get Serious About Fiscal Responsibility

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

Read Less

Surprise: The Tea Party Is Important!

From ridiculed and ignored to influential. The Tea Party has made it above-the-fold in the New York Times, which accords grudging respect to those it once decried as racists and extremists:

Enough Tea Party-supported candidates are running strongly in competitive and Republican-leaning Congressional races that the movement stands a good chance of establishing a sizeable caucus to push its agenda in the House and the Senate, according to a New York Times analysis.

With a little more than two weeks till Election Day, 33 Tea Party-backed candidates are in tossup races or running in House districts that are solidly or leaning Republican, and 8 stand a good or better chance of winning Senate seats.

While the numbers are relatively small, they could exert outsize influence, putting pressure on Republican leaders to carry out promises to significantly cut spending and taxes, to repeal health care legislation and financial regulations passed this year, and to phase out Social Security and Medicare in favor of personal savings accounts.

And the Tea Party candidates have performed “better than expected” — umm, better than the Gray Lady expected — the report tells us. Yes, there is Christine O’Donnell, but the Times has figured out that there are many more viable Tea Party–backed candidates (e.g., Ron Johnson and Ken Buck). And it must have slipped the reporter’s mind, but that Marco Rubio looks pretty good, too.

This is yet another instance — the surge in Iraq was one of the more egregious examples — in which the media ignored or derided a conservative effort and then discovered that, by gosh (who could have expected it?), it’s pretty darn successful! If the media weren’t so busy telling liberals what they wanted to hear and ignoring conservative politics, they’d be surprised less.

From ridiculed and ignored to influential. The Tea Party has made it above-the-fold in the New York Times, which accords grudging respect to those it once decried as racists and extremists:

Enough Tea Party-supported candidates are running strongly in competitive and Republican-leaning Congressional races that the movement stands a good chance of establishing a sizeable caucus to push its agenda in the House and the Senate, according to a New York Times analysis.

With a little more than two weeks till Election Day, 33 Tea Party-backed candidates are in tossup races or running in House districts that are solidly or leaning Republican, and 8 stand a good or better chance of winning Senate seats.

While the numbers are relatively small, they could exert outsize influence, putting pressure on Republican leaders to carry out promises to significantly cut spending and taxes, to repeal health care legislation and financial regulations passed this year, and to phase out Social Security and Medicare in favor of personal savings accounts.

And the Tea Party candidates have performed “better than expected” — umm, better than the Gray Lady expected — the report tells us. Yes, there is Christine O’Donnell, but the Times has figured out that there are many more viable Tea Party–backed candidates (e.g., Ron Johnson and Ken Buck). And it must have slipped the reporter’s mind, but that Marco Rubio looks pretty good, too.

This is yet another instance — the surge in Iraq was one of the more egregious examples — in which the media ignored or derided a conservative effort and then discovered that, by gosh (who could have expected it?), it’s pretty darn successful! If the media weren’t so busy telling liberals what they wanted to hear and ignoring conservative politics, they’d be surprised less.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Quicker than we imagined: “By 47 to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. But that two point margin is down from a 23 point advantage one year ago. ‘Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush’s name while campaigning this year,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.’”

Sooner than either imagined: “Embattled Democrats are increasingly turning to former President Bill Clinton to prop up their campaigns in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections. The former president is far and away the biggest draw for the party less than a month out, hitting races in states where Democrats would rather President Obama stay away.”

A White House departure didn’t come fast enough for some. Peter Feaver: “The only thing surprising about Jim Jones’s departure is he survived this long.” His buffoonery was his defining characteristic.

About time that someone started debunking the president’s accusations about “foreign money.” The Gray Lady: “[A] closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the [Chamber of Commerce] does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents. In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.” Actually, it says more about the president’s penchant for telling untruths.

Belatedly, we learn that Jewish-American leaders had serious concerns all along about Obama’s Middle East policy. How brave of them to go public only when Obama’s political standing is in decline.

Democrats finally run out of patience with Jerry Brown and demand that he apologize for a campaign associate who called Meg Whitman a “whore.” Yes, there goes the Golden State. Again.

Much too late, Obama gets around to publicly calling for the release of Chinese dissident and now Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

No rush — the Arab League stalls, hoping the Obami might up the bribes incentives for Bibi to extend the settlement moratorium. “Arab countries will give the US one month to find a compromise which can save peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after negotiations stalled over the issue of Israeli building in West Bank settlements, AFP reported a diplomat at the Arab League meeting in Libya as saying on Friday. The unnamed diplomat said that a resolution to be approved later Friday by the Arab League Follow-up Committee on the peace process calls for the US administration to be given ‘a one month chance to seek the resumption of negotiations, including a halt to settlement [building].’”

Suddenly, David Broder discovers Rob Portman: “Now 54 and a fitness fanatic, Portman has achieved his status by being smart, disciplined and a team player. Business people know he does his homework, and Democrats find him approachable. Except for [Mitch] Daniels, there are few Republicans who have delved as deeply into fiscal and budgetary policy, trade and health care as has Portman, who notably expanded the Office of Management and Budget’s focus on Medicare and Medicaid, even when Bush showed little interest in the issue.”

An overnight sensation: Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Ron Johnson. “In this year of political surprises, Mr. Johnson inhabits a niche all his own. He emerged from the tea party without being fully of it. … Mr. Johnson says he employs 120 people at a single plant that makes specialized plastics. ‘I’m not some big corporation. I run the type of business [that] is the backbone of our economy, the engine of job creation.’ America’s prosperity stems from its ‘freedoms, the free market,’ Mr. Johnson says. ‘I think people get that.’”

Eventually, we come full circle. Bush administration critic Jack Goldsmith argues we shouldn’t have military tribunals or civil trials. Just lock ‘em up. Sounds good to me.

It took long enough. Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that Matthew Yglesias is an ignoramus when it comes to Israel.

Quicker than we imagined: “By 47 to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. But that two point margin is down from a 23 point advantage one year ago. ‘Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush’s name while campaigning this year,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.’”

Sooner than either imagined: “Embattled Democrats are increasingly turning to former President Bill Clinton to prop up their campaigns in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections. The former president is far and away the biggest draw for the party less than a month out, hitting races in states where Democrats would rather President Obama stay away.”

A White House departure didn’t come fast enough for some. Peter Feaver: “The only thing surprising about Jim Jones’s departure is he survived this long.” His buffoonery was his defining characteristic.

About time that someone started debunking the president’s accusations about “foreign money.” The Gray Lady: “[A] closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the [Chamber of Commerce] does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents. In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.” Actually, it says more about the president’s penchant for telling untruths.

Belatedly, we learn that Jewish-American leaders had serious concerns all along about Obama’s Middle East policy. How brave of them to go public only when Obama’s political standing is in decline.

Democrats finally run out of patience with Jerry Brown and demand that he apologize for a campaign associate who called Meg Whitman a “whore.” Yes, there goes the Golden State. Again.

Much too late, Obama gets around to publicly calling for the release of Chinese dissident and now Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

No rush — the Arab League stalls, hoping the Obami might up the bribes incentives for Bibi to extend the settlement moratorium. “Arab countries will give the US one month to find a compromise which can save peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after negotiations stalled over the issue of Israeli building in West Bank settlements, AFP reported a diplomat at the Arab League meeting in Libya as saying on Friday. The unnamed diplomat said that a resolution to be approved later Friday by the Arab League Follow-up Committee on the peace process calls for the US administration to be given ‘a one month chance to seek the resumption of negotiations, including a halt to settlement [building].’”

Suddenly, David Broder discovers Rob Portman: “Now 54 and a fitness fanatic, Portman has achieved his status by being smart, disciplined and a team player. Business people know he does his homework, and Democrats find him approachable. Except for [Mitch] Daniels, there are few Republicans who have delved as deeply into fiscal and budgetary policy, trade and health care as has Portman, who notably expanded the Office of Management and Budget’s focus on Medicare and Medicaid, even when Bush showed little interest in the issue.”

An overnight sensation: Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Ron Johnson. “In this year of political surprises, Mr. Johnson inhabits a niche all his own. He emerged from the tea party without being fully of it. … Mr. Johnson says he employs 120 people at a single plant that makes specialized plastics. ‘I’m not some big corporation. I run the type of business [that] is the backbone of our economy, the engine of job creation.’ America’s prosperity stems from its ‘freedoms, the free market,’ Mr. Johnson says. ‘I think people get that.’”

Eventually, we come full circle. Bush administration critic Jack Goldsmith argues we shouldn’t have military tribunals or civil trials. Just lock ‘em up. Sounds good to me.

It took long enough. Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that Matthew Yglesias is an ignoramus when it comes to Israel.

Read Less

Lots and Lots of People Will Lose Their Current Coverage

Obama promised that if you liked your health-care coverage, you could keep it under ObamaCare. But not really. Not remotely close, actually:

McDonald’s Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers’ health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn’t loosen a requirement for “mini-med” plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

It’s not simply the mini-med plans (which don’t meet the ObamaCare regulation “to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care” because of high turnover and administrative costs). ObamaCare is already wreaking havoc throughout the health-care system:

McDonald’s move is the latest indication of possible unintended consequences from the health overhaul. Dozens of companies have taken charges against earnings—totaling more than $1 billion—over a tax change in prescription-drug benefits for retirees.

More recently, insurers have proposed a round of double-digit premium increases and said new coverage mandates in the law are partly to blame. HHS has criticized the proposed increases as unwarranted.

We also learned this week:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

The administration kept promising that the public would like what they found in ObamaCare. However, the more they see, the more they are likely to conclude they were scammed.

UPDATE: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Wall Street Journal’s story is false.  But her denial is suspect: “Sebelius suggested that McDonald’s may in fact get a waiver from HHS that would enable the fast-food giant to continue offering limited benefits plans to its employees. But neither Sebelius nor McDonald’s officials have ruled out the possibility that the company would drop such insurance coverage, which is what the Journal claimed.”

Obama promised that if you liked your health-care coverage, you could keep it under ObamaCare. But not really. Not remotely close, actually:

McDonald’s Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers’ health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn’t loosen a requirement for “mini-med” plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

It’s not simply the mini-med plans (which don’t meet the ObamaCare regulation “to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care” because of high turnover and administrative costs). ObamaCare is already wreaking havoc throughout the health-care system:

McDonald’s move is the latest indication of possible unintended consequences from the health overhaul. Dozens of companies have taken charges against earnings—totaling more than $1 billion—over a tax change in prescription-drug benefits for retirees.

More recently, insurers have proposed a round of double-digit premium increases and said new coverage mandates in the law are partly to blame. HHS has criticized the proposed increases as unwarranted.

We also learned this week:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

The administration kept promising that the public would like what they found in ObamaCare. However, the more they see, the more they are likely to conclude they were scammed.

UPDATE: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Wall Street Journal’s story is false.  But her denial is suspect: “Sebelius suggested that McDonald’s may in fact get a waiver from HHS that would enable the fast-food giant to continue offering limited benefits plans to its employees. But neither Sebelius nor McDonald’s officials have ruled out the possibility that the company would drop such insurance coverage, which is what the Journal claimed.”

Read Less

Want Immediate Certainty and Comfort? Give Me $700 Billion

In response to Eric Cantor’s Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for current tax rates to be extended for all taxpayers “and most importantly for small businesses and investors,” the White House posted a response on its blog yesterday. Written by its deputy communications director and entitled “No Excuse for Holding Middle Class Tax Cuts Hostage,” the response argued Republicans are preventing Obama from giving “immediate certainty and comfort” to the middle class:

Under the Obama plan, every middle class family would receive the immediate certainty and comfort of knowing their [Bush] tax cuts were permanently extended. … And here’s what [the Republicans] are holding middle class tax relief hostage for: having our nation borrow $700 billion that we can’t afford to provide an average tax cut of $100,000 to millionaires and billionaires.

There is another way to phrase the issue: should $700 billion be transferred from the private economy to the government, or should the government be required to cut spending by $700 billion to allow those who earned it to invest in their businesses and the broader economy? To put it in less subtle terms: should $700 billion be transferred to the organization that runs the post office, has yet to produce a budget for the current year, was unable to forecast accurately the impact of the $787 billion it used for “stimulus,” is already spending too much, and threatens to borrow $700 billion “that we can’t afford” if the private economy won’t cough up the money?

The reference to “millionaires and billionaires” (and the much greater number of non-millionaires who would face significantly higher taxes) is a little like a spendthrift teenager arguing his generous allowance ought to be increased because Dad has the money and won’t miss it. The teenager’s argument is a bit beside the point.

The White House threat to borrow $700 billion more unless its allowance is increased comes on top of the 3.8 percent tax increase inserted into Obama’s health-care legislation earlier this year as a new “Medicare contribution” – one that, as noted here, (1) is not a “contribution,” (2) has nothing to do with Medicare, and (3) was given its misleading name to hide the fact that Obama is currently seeking his second substantial tax increase on investment income.

It is a little unclear who is holding whom hostage in this debate, but the “immediate certainty and comfort” the middle class and others desire may be not Obama’s Chicago-style bargain but rather an end to one-party government seeking more tax increases to support an “unsustainable” level of deficits its own spending has produced.

In response to Eric Cantor’s Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for current tax rates to be extended for all taxpayers “and most importantly for small businesses and investors,” the White House posted a response on its blog yesterday. Written by its deputy communications director and entitled “No Excuse for Holding Middle Class Tax Cuts Hostage,” the response argued Republicans are preventing Obama from giving “immediate certainty and comfort” to the middle class:

Under the Obama plan, every middle class family would receive the immediate certainty and comfort of knowing their [Bush] tax cuts were permanently extended. … And here’s what [the Republicans] are holding middle class tax relief hostage for: having our nation borrow $700 billion that we can’t afford to provide an average tax cut of $100,000 to millionaires and billionaires.

There is another way to phrase the issue: should $700 billion be transferred from the private economy to the government, or should the government be required to cut spending by $700 billion to allow those who earned it to invest in their businesses and the broader economy? To put it in less subtle terms: should $700 billion be transferred to the organization that runs the post office, has yet to produce a budget for the current year, was unable to forecast accurately the impact of the $787 billion it used for “stimulus,” is already spending too much, and threatens to borrow $700 billion “that we can’t afford” if the private economy won’t cough up the money?

The reference to “millionaires and billionaires” (and the much greater number of non-millionaires who would face significantly higher taxes) is a little like a spendthrift teenager arguing his generous allowance ought to be increased because Dad has the money and won’t miss it. The teenager’s argument is a bit beside the point.

The White House threat to borrow $700 billion more unless its allowance is increased comes on top of the 3.8 percent tax increase inserted into Obama’s health-care legislation earlier this year as a new “Medicare contribution” – one that, as noted here, (1) is not a “contribution,” (2) has nothing to do with Medicare, and (3) was given its misleading name to hide the fact that Obama is currently seeking his second substantial tax increase on investment income.

It is a little unclear who is holding whom hostage in this debate, but the “immediate certainty and comfort” the middle class and others desire may be not Obama’s Chicago-style bargain but rather an end to one-party government seeking more tax increases to support an “unsustainable” level of deficits its own spending has produced.

Read Less

The Tea Party’s Challenge

There is a lot of chatter these days about the effect of the Tea Party movement on American politics. In the short term, the answer is blindingly obvious: It’s a huge boost for Republicans. The energy and enthusiasm the Tea Party movement is generating will work for GOP candidates and against Democratic candidates in almost every race in the country. Democrats are on course to be administered an epic defeat, one that will exceed, perhaps by a sizeable margin, even the one they experienced in 1994.

What the longer-term effects of the Tea Party will be on the GOP and the country is harder to know. The Tea Party is, at this stage in its development, much more of a protest movement than a governing philosophy. There is plenty of talk about “constitutional conservatism” — an encouraging impulse that seeks to ground political efforts in the American tradition — but what that means in practice isn’t always clear. To the extent that we can discern what the fuel is behind the Tea Party movement, it has to do with bringing the deficit and debt under control and checking the size, role, and reach of the federal government.

That is, I think, all for the better. But the Tea Party’s passions need to be channeled in constructive ways, beyond simply electoral politics. It eventually needs to become a force in how we govern the nation. And in this respect, work still remains to be done.

Candidates will tell you that at town-hall meetings Tea Party activists aim their fire against the Department of Education, earmarks, bailouts, and congressional salaries. That’s fine as far as it goes; President Obama increased nondefense discretionary spending by 10 percent for the last half of fiscal year 2009 and another 12 percent for fiscal year 2010. That certainly can be trimmed back. But we all know that the solution to our fiscal crisis can only be found in reforming and cutting entitlements. And here the picture begins to blur a bit.

Take as an example Christine O’Donnell, who is now the toast of many Tea Party supporters and conservatives from coast to coast. Much of her support is based on understandable unhappiness with the man she defeated, Mike Castle. But what do we really know about O’Donnell’s governing philosophy? Well, one thing we do know is that she ran an ad late in the campaign against Castle claiming this: “Keeping ObamaCare and cuts in Medicare: Castle for it, O’Donnell against it.”

The first part of that equation is fine; it’s the second part — the one about cuts in Medicare — that troubles me.

Today an estimated 47.4 million people are enrolled in Medicare, up by 38 percent from 1990. And by 2030, the number is projected to be 80.4 million. And as Representative Paul Ryan points out in “A Roadmap for America ’s Future,” Medicare has an unfunded liability — the excess of projected spending in its programs over the amount of revenue currently estimated to be available for them — of $38 trillion over the next 75 years. In just the next 5 years, by 2014, Medicare’s unfunded liability is projected to grow to $52 trillion. And when Social Security and Medicare are taken together, the total unfunded liability in the next five years will grow to $57 trillion.

Yet when asked in a poll question, “Overall, do you think the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs of those programs for taxpayers, or are they not worth the costs?” 62 percent of Tea Party respondents answered “worth it” while only 33 percent answered “not worth it.” This won’t do.

Authentic political leadership means confronting the facts as they are, explaining to people the magnitude of the fiscal problems we face, and showing the wisdom and skill to build a political coalition that will begin the hard work of going after weak claims and not just weak clients, to use David Stockman’s formulation.

It won’t be easy. Cutting the deficit and the debt is undemanding and effortless in the abstract; it gets a good deal harder when you begin to talk about raising the retirement age, progressive indexing (meaning linking the initial Social Security benefits of high- and middle-income earners to prices rather than to wages, as is currently the case), and gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

Yet this is what the times demand of our political class — and, frankly, it is what the times demand of the citizenry itself. The American people cannot will the end without willing the means to the end. The Tea Party can play a useful and constructive role in all this, I think; but that means it has to be serious about governing, not just spouting vague slogans embracing easy cuts, “constitutional conservatism,” and reciting the failures and evils of “big government.”

In that sense, my concern isn’t that the Tea Party is too conservative; it is that it’s not conservative enough.

There is a lot of chatter these days about the effect of the Tea Party movement on American politics. In the short term, the answer is blindingly obvious: It’s a huge boost for Republicans. The energy and enthusiasm the Tea Party movement is generating will work for GOP candidates and against Democratic candidates in almost every race in the country. Democrats are on course to be administered an epic defeat, one that will exceed, perhaps by a sizeable margin, even the one they experienced in 1994.

What the longer-term effects of the Tea Party will be on the GOP and the country is harder to know. The Tea Party is, at this stage in its development, much more of a protest movement than a governing philosophy. There is plenty of talk about “constitutional conservatism” — an encouraging impulse that seeks to ground political efforts in the American tradition — but what that means in practice isn’t always clear. To the extent that we can discern what the fuel is behind the Tea Party movement, it has to do with bringing the deficit and debt under control and checking the size, role, and reach of the federal government.

That is, I think, all for the better. But the Tea Party’s passions need to be channeled in constructive ways, beyond simply electoral politics. It eventually needs to become a force in how we govern the nation. And in this respect, work still remains to be done.

Candidates will tell you that at town-hall meetings Tea Party activists aim their fire against the Department of Education, earmarks, bailouts, and congressional salaries. That’s fine as far as it goes; President Obama increased nondefense discretionary spending by 10 percent for the last half of fiscal year 2009 and another 12 percent for fiscal year 2010. That certainly can be trimmed back. But we all know that the solution to our fiscal crisis can only be found in reforming and cutting entitlements. And here the picture begins to blur a bit.

Take as an example Christine O’Donnell, who is now the toast of many Tea Party supporters and conservatives from coast to coast. Much of her support is based on understandable unhappiness with the man she defeated, Mike Castle. But what do we really know about O’Donnell’s governing philosophy? Well, one thing we do know is that she ran an ad late in the campaign against Castle claiming this: “Keeping ObamaCare and cuts in Medicare: Castle for it, O’Donnell against it.”

The first part of that equation is fine; it’s the second part — the one about cuts in Medicare — that troubles me.

Today an estimated 47.4 million people are enrolled in Medicare, up by 38 percent from 1990. And by 2030, the number is projected to be 80.4 million. And as Representative Paul Ryan points out in “A Roadmap for America ’s Future,” Medicare has an unfunded liability — the excess of projected spending in its programs over the amount of revenue currently estimated to be available for them — of $38 trillion over the next 75 years. In just the next 5 years, by 2014, Medicare’s unfunded liability is projected to grow to $52 trillion. And when Social Security and Medicare are taken together, the total unfunded liability in the next five years will grow to $57 trillion.

Yet when asked in a poll question, “Overall, do you think the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs of those programs for taxpayers, or are they not worth the costs?” 62 percent of Tea Party respondents answered “worth it” while only 33 percent answered “not worth it.” This won’t do.

Authentic political leadership means confronting the facts as they are, explaining to people the magnitude of the fiscal problems we face, and showing the wisdom and skill to build a political coalition that will begin the hard work of going after weak claims and not just weak clients, to use David Stockman’s formulation.

It won’t be easy. Cutting the deficit and the debt is undemanding and effortless in the abstract; it gets a good deal harder when you begin to talk about raising the retirement age, progressive indexing (meaning linking the initial Social Security benefits of high- and middle-income earners to prices rather than to wages, as is currently the case), and gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

Yet this is what the times demand of our political class — and, frankly, it is what the times demand of the citizenry itself. The American people cannot will the end without willing the means to the end. The Tea Party can play a useful and constructive role in all this, I think; but that means it has to be serious about governing, not just spouting vague slogans embracing easy cuts, “constitutional conservatism,” and reciting the failures and evils of “big government.”

In that sense, my concern isn’t that the Tea Party is too conservative; it is that it’s not conservative enough.

Read Less

Dems in Fantasyland

In a Washington Post symposium on the Tea Party, Bob Shrum (who never figured out how to win a presidential race), Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (who lost a gubernatorial race in Maryland), and Donna Brazile (who vouched for Obamanomics) — what, Michael Dukasis wasn’t available to share his political genius? – are in agreement: the Tea Party is great news for Obama. Seriously. Well, are they?

When Shrum writes this sort of hooey, you wonder if he believes it or if he is desperately trying to pep up the disillusioned liberal base:

The Tea Party will prove to be the best thing that’s happened to Barack Obama and the Democrats since, well, Sarah Palin, the media-hyped 2008 vice presidential nominee who turned out to be a bursting bubble, not a lasting bounce, for the McCain campaign.

Raising the bogeywoman of the left, I suppose, suggests he’s in the base-boosting business.

Townsend is practically unintelligible:

So the Tea Party may help the president not only in this election but, most interestingly, with policy. By constantly raising the issue of the long-term deficit, it is forcing a discussion on how we pay for programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which take up a large part of the federal budget. During the Bush years, these questions went unanswered. A drug benefit was given without paying for it. In fact, taxes were cut, creating a $1.3 trillion hole.

Of course, Bush was an amateur on spending compared to Obama; but more to the point, how does focusing on spending help Obama?

Weighing in on the side of sanity, Ed Rogers explains:

The Democrats and some of their media elite allies seem to believe that the Tea Party’s rise has diminished Republican prospects in the midterm elections this fall. In fact, the Tea Party is a big problem for President Obama and his party this year and probably through 2012.

Think of the Tea Partyers as the tip of an iceberg. The visible part. … The much larger, submerged part is the roughly two-thirds of the electorate who think America is headed in the wrong direction, disapprove of Congress and believe the president is handling the economy poorly. The Democrats are about to hit the whole iceberg.

I wonder what Shrum, Brazile, and Townsend will have to say on election day. When the results come in, how will they explain that the Tea Party was really good news for Obama? They’ll no doubt move on to another explanation. Americans are crazy. Or Obama wasn’t liberal enough. It’s always something — except a repudiation of liberalism.

In a Washington Post symposium on the Tea Party, Bob Shrum (who never figured out how to win a presidential race), Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (who lost a gubernatorial race in Maryland), and Donna Brazile (who vouched for Obamanomics) — what, Michael Dukasis wasn’t available to share his political genius? – are in agreement: the Tea Party is great news for Obama. Seriously. Well, are they?

When Shrum writes this sort of hooey, you wonder if he believes it or if he is desperately trying to pep up the disillusioned liberal base:

The Tea Party will prove to be the best thing that’s happened to Barack Obama and the Democrats since, well, Sarah Palin, the media-hyped 2008 vice presidential nominee who turned out to be a bursting bubble, not a lasting bounce, for the McCain campaign.

Raising the bogeywoman of the left, I suppose, suggests he’s in the base-boosting business.

Townsend is practically unintelligible:

So the Tea Party may help the president not only in this election but, most interestingly, with policy. By constantly raising the issue of the long-term deficit, it is forcing a discussion on how we pay for programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which take up a large part of the federal budget. During the Bush years, these questions went unanswered. A drug benefit was given without paying for it. In fact, taxes were cut, creating a $1.3 trillion hole.

Of course, Bush was an amateur on spending compared to Obama; but more to the point, how does focusing on spending help Obama?

Weighing in on the side of sanity, Ed Rogers explains:

The Democrats and some of their media elite allies seem to believe that the Tea Party’s rise has diminished Republican prospects in the midterm elections this fall. In fact, the Tea Party is a big problem for President Obama and his party this year and probably through 2012.

Think of the Tea Partyers as the tip of an iceberg. The visible part. … The much larger, submerged part is the roughly two-thirds of the electorate who think America is headed in the wrong direction, disapprove of Congress and believe the president is handling the economy poorly. The Democrats are about to hit the whole iceberg.

I wonder what Shrum, Brazile, and Townsend will have to say on election day. When the results come in, how will they explain that the Tea Party was really good news for Obama? They’ll no doubt move on to another explanation. Americans are crazy. Or Obama wasn’t liberal enough. It’s always something — except a repudiation of liberalism.

Read Less

The Role and Purpose of Government

On the website e21, Representative Paul Ryan has responded to a column by David Brooks, who in turn was commenting on an op-ed by Ryan and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Charles Murray added his thoughts as well.

The subject they are addressing is the role and purpose of the state in our lives. I would add only a few thoughts to what these razor-sharp minds have written.

The first is this: more than at any point in our lifetime, the sheer cost and size of government matters. We face an entitlement crisis. The level of our deficit and debt are unsustainable. Demographics are working against us rather than in our favor. And the Obama presidency has made our fiscal problems more, not less, acute. Unless we begin to reverse this trend fairly significantly, America will change in deep and lasting ways. We cannot continue on our present course and remain a strong, vibrant society. There is an urgent need, then, to re-limit government simply as a matter of dollars and cents, quite apart from philosophy and the effects the nanny state has on human character and self-reliance.

That said, conservatives also need to engage in a thoroughgoing examination of the core purposes of programs and policies. And in considering how to reform government programs, we need to think in terms of what we want them to do rather than simply how large and costly they are.

Consider four successes by government in the past 20 years: welfare reform; crime reduction (including the transformation of New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani); the campaign against illegal drugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s led by William J. Bennett; and the surge in Iraq. In each of these instances, the key to success wasn’t limiting the size of government; in each case, after all, government spending went up, not down. What transformed failure into success was acting smarter, creating the right incentives and disincentives, attacking the problems in a comprehensive way, and thinking in terms of what works.

What we need, then, are policymakers who believe in accountability; who judge results based not on inputs (expenditures, number of caseload workers, police officers, or troops) but outputs (cutting the number of people on welfare, decreasing drug use, reducing crime rates, lowering the number of ethno-sectarian deaths, car bombings, suicide attacks, and terrorist safe havens); who are passionately empirical; and who understand that we need to craft programs so as to take into account human nature and human behavior.

When it comes to entitlement programs, our task is different from, say, an anti-crime strategy. On entitlements, our first priority needs to be cutting costs in order to avoid a fiscal calamity. That will require us to alter the way we think about the basic aims of these programs. And here, I think, is where we eventually need to go: gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

All these matters need to be examined in more depth. My hope is that Messrs. Brooks, Ryan, Brooks, and Murray continue to deepen this discussion and, in the process, pull other thoughtful voices into it. They could hardly perform a more useful intellectual and civic role.

On the website e21, Representative Paul Ryan has responded to a column by David Brooks, who in turn was commenting on an op-ed by Ryan and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Charles Murray added his thoughts as well.

The subject they are addressing is the role and purpose of the state in our lives. I would add only a few thoughts to what these razor-sharp minds have written.

The first is this: more than at any point in our lifetime, the sheer cost and size of government matters. We face an entitlement crisis. The level of our deficit and debt are unsustainable. Demographics are working against us rather than in our favor. And the Obama presidency has made our fiscal problems more, not less, acute. Unless we begin to reverse this trend fairly significantly, America will change in deep and lasting ways. We cannot continue on our present course and remain a strong, vibrant society. There is an urgent need, then, to re-limit government simply as a matter of dollars and cents, quite apart from philosophy and the effects the nanny state has on human character and self-reliance.

That said, conservatives also need to engage in a thoroughgoing examination of the core purposes of programs and policies. And in considering how to reform government programs, we need to think in terms of what we want them to do rather than simply how large and costly they are.

Consider four successes by government in the past 20 years: welfare reform; crime reduction (including the transformation of New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani); the campaign against illegal drugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s led by William J. Bennett; and the surge in Iraq. In each of these instances, the key to success wasn’t limiting the size of government; in each case, after all, government spending went up, not down. What transformed failure into success was acting smarter, creating the right incentives and disincentives, attacking the problems in a comprehensive way, and thinking in terms of what works.

What we need, then, are policymakers who believe in accountability; who judge results based not on inputs (expenditures, number of caseload workers, police officers, or troops) but outputs (cutting the number of people on welfare, decreasing drug use, reducing crime rates, lowering the number of ethno-sectarian deaths, car bombings, suicide attacks, and terrorist safe havens); who are passionately empirical; and who understand that we need to craft programs so as to take into account human nature and human behavior.

When it comes to entitlement programs, our task is different from, say, an anti-crime strategy. On entitlements, our first priority needs to be cutting costs in order to avoid a fiscal calamity. That will require us to alter the way we think about the basic aims of these programs. And here, I think, is where we eventually need to go: gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

All these matters need to be examined in more depth. My hope is that Messrs. Brooks, Ryan, Brooks, and Murray continue to deepen this discussion and, in the process, pull other thoughtful voices into it. They could hardly perform a more useful intellectual and civic role.

Read Less

ObamaCare Bending Up the Cost Curve

During his press conference on Friday, Jake Tapper, ABC’s excellent senior White House correspondent, asked President Obama about a new CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) report that shows that the health-care cost curve is actually bending up — not down, as during the health-care debate Obama had promised it would. In response, Obama said this:

With respect to health care, what I said during the debate is the same thing I’m saying now and it’s the same thing I will say three or four years from now. Bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of providers and doctors and systems and insurers. And what we did was we took every idea out there about how to reduce or at least slow the costs of health care over time.

But I said at the time, it wasn’t going to happen tomorrow, it wasn’t going to happen next year. It took us decades to get into a position where our health care costs were going up 6, 7, 10 percent a year. And so our goal is to slowly bring down those costs. … I haven’t read the entire study. Maybe you have. But if you — if what — the reports are true, what they’re saying is, is that as a consequence of us getting 30 million additional people health care, at the margins that’s going to increase our costs, we knew that. We didn’t think that we were going to cover 30 million people for free, but that the long-term trend in terms of how much the average family is going to be paying for health insurance is going to be improved as a consequence of health care.

And so our goal on health care is, if we can get, instead of health care costs going up 6 percent a year, it’s going up at the level of inflation, maybe just slightly above inflation, we’ve made huge progress.

The president should read the report, which can be found here. It incorporates the effects of health-care reform and estimates annual spending growth to be 0.2 percentage points higher than its February 2010 estimate, increasing from 6.1 percent to 6.3 percent. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The report by federal number-crunchers casts fresh doubt on Democrats’ argument that the health-care law would curb the sharp increase in costs over the long term.”

In 2009, the report reads, national health-care spending, public and private, totaled $2.5 trillion and accounted for 17.3 percent of the economy. The report predicts that health-care spending will rise to $4.6 trillion and account for 19.6 percent of the economy in 2019. By contrast, in February — before the passage of ObamaCare — the same team of government experts, using the same economic and demographic assumptions, predicted that national health-care spending would reach $4.5 trillion, or 19.3 percent of the gross domestic product, in 2019. The report also anticipates a big increase in health-care spending in 2014, when major provisions of the new law, including a requirement for most Americans to have insurance, take effect. From 2013 to 2014, for example, overall health-care spending is expected to increase by 9.2 percent, which is significantly more than the 6.6 percent increase predicted before ObamaCare became law. (For more, see this story.)

Beyond that, the report assumes that the law’s sweeping reduction in Medicare payments to doctors — 30 percent over the next three years — will actually take place. As Grace-Marie Turner points out, “Congress will not let payment rates be reduced to these levels, so health spending will increase further.”

And former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin has written a paper arguing that ObamaCare provides strong incentives for employers to drop employer-sponsored health insurance for as many as 35 million Americans, funneling far more workers into taxpayer-funded health insurance, thereby raising the gross taxpayer cost of the subsidies by roughly $1.4 trillion in the first 10 years.

A core promise of the president’s signature legislative achievement, then, has been exposed as false. And for Obama, in light of the CMS report, to be talking about the cost of health care going up at or just above the level of inflation, which is running below 2 percent this year, is utterly fanciful. Moreover, the American people can be excused if during the health-care debate they didn’t pick up Obama’s warning that “bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do” and that he knew ObamaCare would increase costs in the short run. Those warnings were omitted, for example, in the president’s September 10, 2009 health-care speech to Congress, when Obama claimed that his plan “will slow the growth of health-care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.” Obama even pointed out that “if we are able to slow the growth of health-care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year, it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.” To reiterate: the new CMS report predicts an annual increase by two-tenths of one percent each year over the status quo — even accepting the Obama administration’s own ludicrously optimistic assumptions. The reality will be a good deal worse than the CMS report anticipates.

This is all of a piece. Claim after claim the president has made — on the stimulus package, on unemployment, on the deficit and the debt, on the “recovery summer,” on ObamaCare, and on so much more — is being shattered by events. The expectations he set were extraordinarily high and his performance so far is inept. That is one reason why Obama and his party will suffer enormous electoral losses seven weeks from now.

During his press conference on Friday, Jake Tapper, ABC’s excellent senior White House correspondent, asked President Obama about a new CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) report that shows that the health-care cost curve is actually bending up — not down, as during the health-care debate Obama had promised it would. In response, Obama said this:

With respect to health care, what I said during the debate is the same thing I’m saying now and it’s the same thing I will say three or four years from now. Bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of providers and doctors and systems and insurers. And what we did was we took every idea out there about how to reduce or at least slow the costs of health care over time.

But I said at the time, it wasn’t going to happen tomorrow, it wasn’t going to happen next year. It took us decades to get into a position where our health care costs were going up 6, 7, 10 percent a year. And so our goal is to slowly bring down those costs. … I haven’t read the entire study. Maybe you have. But if you — if what — the reports are true, what they’re saying is, is that as a consequence of us getting 30 million additional people health care, at the margins that’s going to increase our costs, we knew that. We didn’t think that we were going to cover 30 million people for free, but that the long-term trend in terms of how much the average family is going to be paying for health insurance is going to be improved as a consequence of health care.

And so our goal on health care is, if we can get, instead of health care costs going up 6 percent a year, it’s going up at the level of inflation, maybe just slightly above inflation, we’ve made huge progress.

The president should read the report, which can be found here. It incorporates the effects of health-care reform and estimates annual spending growth to be 0.2 percentage points higher than its February 2010 estimate, increasing from 6.1 percent to 6.3 percent. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The report by federal number-crunchers casts fresh doubt on Democrats’ argument that the health-care law would curb the sharp increase in costs over the long term.”

In 2009, the report reads, national health-care spending, public and private, totaled $2.5 trillion and accounted for 17.3 percent of the economy. The report predicts that health-care spending will rise to $4.6 trillion and account for 19.6 percent of the economy in 2019. By contrast, in February — before the passage of ObamaCare — the same team of government experts, using the same economic and demographic assumptions, predicted that national health-care spending would reach $4.5 trillion, or 19.3 percent of the gross domestic product, in 2019. The report also anticipates a big increase in health-care spending in 2014, when major provisions of the new law, including a requirement for most Americans to have insurance, take effect. From 2013 to 2014, for example, overall health-care spending is expected to increase by 9.2 percent, which is significantly more than the 6.6 percent increase predicted before ObamaCare became law. (For more, see this story.)

Beyond that, the report assumes that the law’s sweeping reduction in Medicare payments to doctors — 30 percent over the next three years — will actually take place. As Grace-Marie Turner points out, “Congress will not let payment rates be reduced to these levels, so health spending will increase further.”

And former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin has written a paper arguing that ObamaCare provides strong incentives for employers to drop employer-sponsored health insurance for as many as 35 million Americans, funneling far more workers into taxpayer-funded health insurance, thereby raising the gross taxpayer cost of the subsidies by roughly $1.4 trillion in the first 10 years.

A core promise of the president’s signature legislative achievement, then, has been exposed as false. And for Obama, in light of the CMS report, to be talking about the cost of health care going up at or just above the level of inflation, which is running below 2 percent this year, is utterly fanciful. Moreover, the American people can be excused if during the health-care debate they didn’t pick up Obama’s warning that “bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do” and that he knew ObamaCare would increase costs in the short run. Those warnings were omitted, for example, in the president’s September 10, 2009 health-care speech to Congress, when Obama claimed that his plan “will slow the growth of health-care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.” Obama even pointed out that “if we are able to slow the growth of health-care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year, it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.” To reiterate: the new CMS report predicts an annual increase by two-tenths of one percent each year over the status quo — even accepting the Obama administration’s own ludicrously optimistic assumptions. The reality will be a good deal worse than the CMS report anticipates.

This is all of a piece. Claim after claim the president has made — on the stimulus package, on unemployment, on the deficit and the debt, on the “recovery summer,” on ObamaCare, and on so much more — is being shattered by events. The expectations he set were extraordinarily high and his performance so far is inept. That is one reason why Obama and his party will suffer enormous electoral losses seven weeks from now.

Read Less

Obama Unplugged — and Unintelligible

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

Read Less

The Budget Fudge

In a portion of last night’s speech that rankled many conservatives, Obama pointed the finger at defense spending as the cause of our fiscal woes: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.” This is hooey.

The Washington Post explains:

Federal domestic spending increased a record 16 percent to $3.2 trillion in 2009, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, largely because of a boost in aid to the unemployed and the huge economic stimulus package enacted to rescue the sinking economy.

The rise in spending was the largest since the Census Bureau began compiling the data in 1983. The Washington region was among the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s spending.

With congressional elections looming this fall, the spike in federal spending has emerged as one of the nation’s most contentious political issues.

Many Republicans accuse President Obama and his Democratic allies of being reckless spenders who are harming the nation’s long-term economic prospects by inflating the deficit.

It doesn’t appear that defense spending is the problem:

Overall, the largest chunk of federal spending – about 46 percent of the $3.2 trillion – went to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, entitlement programs that are projected to swell as the population ages.

Pay for federal employees accounted for nearly $300 billion of the spending and nearly half of that went to the Defense Department payroll.

In July, Gary Schmitt debunked the idea that defense spending is driving our deficits:

Right now, Defense’s share of federal outlays—including those for Iraq and Afghanistan—is 18 percent.  That’s the same level it was at during the Clinton years.  In contrast, mandatory spending eats up some 56 percent of federal spending, while discretionary non-defense spending is 19 percent.  Core entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) is now double that of defense. And while entitlement spending and debt service will continue to explode, the Pentagon’s share of federal spending will be shrinking to 15 percent within the next few years. While the Obama administration has already cut some $300 billion in defense programs, it has been spending nearly $800 billion to (supposedly) stimulate the economy.

This is yet another example of two Obama traits. First, he makes stuff up. Really, what he said last night is not remotely true no matter how you do the math. And second, he stretches the truth to sustain an ideological preference: he wants to spend more and more on domestic programs, so he’s anxious to trim as much from our defense budget as possible. And to do that, we can’t make open-ended commitments.

In a portion of last night’s speech that rankled many conservatives, Obama pointed the finger at defense spending as the cause of our fiscal woes: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.” This is hooey.

The Washington Post explains:

Federal domestic spending increased a record 16 percent to $3.2 trillion in 2009, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, largely because of a boost in aid to the unemployed and the huge economic stimulus package enacted to rescue the sinking economy.

The rise in spending was the largest since the Census Bureau began compiling the data in 1983. The Washington region was among the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s spending.

With congressional elections looming this fall, the spike in federal spending has emerged as one of the nation’s most contentious political issues.

Many Republicans accuse President Obama and his Democratic allies of being reckless spenders who are harming the nation’s long-term economic prospects by inflating the deficit.

It doesn’t appear that defense spending is the problem:

Overall, the largest chunk of federal spending – about 46 percent of the $3.2 trillion – went to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, entitlement programs that are projected to swell as the population ages.

Pay for federal employees accounted for nearly $300 billion of the spending and nearly half of that went to the Defense Department payroll.

In July, Gary Schmitt debunked the idea that defense spending is driving our deficits:

Right now, Defense’s share of federal outlays—including those for Iraq and Afghanistan—is 18 percent.  That’s the same level it was at during the Clinton years.  In contrast, mandatory spending eats up some 56 percent of federal spending, while discretionary non-defense spending is 19 percent.  Core entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) is now double that of defense. And while entitlement spending and debt service will continue to explode, the Pentagon’s share of federal spending will be shrinking to 15 percent within the next few years. While the Obama administration has already cut some $300 billion in defense programs, it has been spending nearly $800 billion to (supposedly) stimulate the economy.

This is yet another example of two Obama traits. First, he makes stuff up. Really, what he said last night is not remotely true no matter how you do the math. And second, he stretches the truth to sustain an ideological preference: he wants to spend more and more on domestic programs, so he’s anxious to trim as much from our defense budget as possible. And to do that, we can’t make open-ended commitments.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.