Friday, September 30, 2011

Mitch Daniels Dares GOP Candidates to Be Grown-ups

We face a threat to the survival of the America we have known.

From Michael Barone at NRO:

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels did not attract as large a crowd when he spoke at the American Enterprise Institute (where I am a resident fellow) earlier this week as he did several months ago, before he disappointed admirers by announcing that he wouldn’t run for president.

I saw no political reporters there — though a few may have been lurking in the back — and he got only one question (from me) about presidential politics. No, he said, he isn’t reconsidering his decision not to run, and he doesn’t think that Chris Christie is reconsidering, either. 

But Daniels’s message, based on his new book Keeping the Republic, was important — one that every presidential candidate should heed. It is about a looming issue, one that Barack Obama has so far decided to duck, but that one of them, if he is elected, may have to confront.

We face, Daniels said, “a survival-level threat to the America we have known.” The problem can be summed up as debt. The Obama Democrats have put us on the path to double the national debt as a percentage of gross domestic product, bringing it to levels that, aseconomists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart have written in This Time Is Different, have always proved unsustainable.

Daniels put it this way: Debt service will permanently stunt the growth of the economy. And that will be followed by a loss of leadership in the world, because “nobody follows a pauper.”

That growth in debt will continue to be driven by growth in programs labeled entitlements — though Daniels objects to that term. Congress, after all, can vote to cancel entitlement programs and deny promised benefits any time it wants, as the Supreme Court ruled in Flemming v. Nestor in 1960.

Daniels favors changes in Social Security and Medicare for tomorrow’s seniors that will give them choices and market incentives in buildingretirement income and seeking medical care. He insists that “average folks can make good consumerist decisions” and rejects the premise held by liberals from the New Deal to today that they can’t be trusted to navigate their way in our complex society.

This is quite a contrast with the Republicans out there running for president, who have had little to say about the problem of entitlements, in debates or in their platforms. Mitt Romney raises the problem but hesitates to advance solutions, and then attacks Rick Perry for making intemperate comments about Social Security in his book Fed Up!

On defense, Perry points out the success of public-employee pensionplans in three Texas counties that outperform Social Security. But these programs are impossible to scale up in a society where most employment is in the private sector, where most people will hold multiple jobs over their working lifetimes, and where many people move from state to state (often, as Perry points out, to Texas).

Daniels laments that the candidates “have not yet stepped out on these issues.” He says that he is “a little concerned that our nominee might decide, ‘I’ll just play it safe and get elected as the default option’” to an incumbent discredited by obvious policy failures.

“My question then is what matters — winning or establishing the base that enables you to make big gains?”

It’s a good question. When I worked as a campaign consultant, the candidates I admired most were those able to take hard stands on serious issues and make their positions work for them in the primary, in the general election, and then in governing. It sounds easy, but not many manage to do it.

Barack Obama sounded like such a candidate in 2008, and not just to his liberal admirers. He still tries to portray himself as the only adult in the room, the only one taking stands on principle and not for political gain.

But it’s increasingly obvious he is something more nearly the opposite. George W. Bush did campaign for Social Security reform in 2004, hoping for bipartisan support in a second term.

Obama is campaigning against “millionaires” and “corporate jets.” His “jobs program” includes higher taxes on job creators. He brushed aside his deficit commission’s recommendation for tax reform that eliminates preferences and lowers rates.

All this makes no sense as public policy and is dubious even as a campaign strategy. The question is whether the Republican candidates will dare to, in Daniels’s words, “speak grownup to citizens.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tea party gets bad rap for telling truth

From Nolan Finley at The Detroit News:

Democrats have effectively turned "tea party" into a pejorative, making the words conjure a rigid, uncompromising movement that is at the root of Washington's dysfunction.

You won't hear a Democratic mouth open today without a slur against the tea party spilling out.
What are these Republican revolutionaries doing that Dems find so divisive and dangerous?
Best I can tell, their major offense is holding Washington accountable. Listen to them, as I did on Mackinac Island last week during the Republican Leadership Conference, and the only demand you hear is that politicians stop mortgaging America's future to reckless spending and swelling deficits.

All they want is for politicians to finally do what both Democrats and Republicans always said they'd do — make the government live within its means — but never got around to doing until the tea party forced their hand.

In other words, the tea party is the adult in a roomful of overindulged children who resent the call to accountability. How much greater would the debt be today, how much larger the deficit, if the tea party hadn't shouted, "Enough!"

And yet the movement is demonized as un-American for trying to divert the United States from its road to Athens.

The vitriol it is encountering is strange, since it isn't much involved in explosive social issues. While there are splinter groups motivated by social conservatism, as a whole the tea party has not been distracted by abortion, gay rights or religion.

Its members are mostly civil libertarians who want to restore the protections the Constitution grants individuals against an intrusive and powerful government. They want the government to do its assigned job — no more and no less. They're telling the truth about the dangers ahead.
For that they're accused of jeopardizing America's viability.

Are they single-minded in their mission? Sure. They don't compromise, and they don't forgive politicians who break their promises.

In that sense, they are most like the environmentalists who lead the Democratic Party around by its nose — but less destructive. Nobody has lost a job, at least not in the private sector, because of tea party activism.

Compare that to the pain wrought by the unyielding environmental movement, which has put light bulb makers out of work in Kentucky, coal miners out of work in West Virginia, oil riggers out of work in Alabama, and on and on.

Barack Obama promised to change how Washington works, and instead exploited the worst of Washington's ways to change America into something Americans don't want.
So along comes the tea party, and those vested in the status quo resent having to answer to the taxpayers.

That was well-illustrated at the Detroit Economic Club lunch last week, when Democrat Rep. Sander Levin complained tea party beholden Republicans were risking a government shutdown by demanding emergency relief spending be offset with cuts elsewhere. Said Levin: We've never paid for disaster spending. To which Republican Rep. Candice Miller replied: "We've never paid for anything. That's why we have a $14 trillion debt."

That's the tea party talking. And it's hard to see why anyone would be frightened by such a commonsense message of fiscal responsibility.

Postmodern Class Warfare

Today’s men of the people make no attempt to match their lifestyle with their rhetoric.

Victor Davis Hanson at NRO:

When President Obama’s approval rating hit 40 percent, he fumed at “billionaires and millionaires,” “fat-cat bankers,” and “corporate-jet owners.” In his sloppy targeting, Obama doesn’t care much that a billionaire has 1,000 times more than a millionaire — or that his new tax proposals will take a lot more from those making $200,000 than from the few making $1 million.

Instead, the president is in a populist frenzy to rev up his base against “them,” who supposedly “are not paying their fair share.” The president’s argument apparently is not that the top 5 percent haven’t paid enough in taxes. Indeed, they pay almost 60 percent of all income taxes collected, while nearly 50 percent of households pay no income taxes. Obama seems angry that the top 5 percent will still have more money after taxes than do others, and so they should pay a redistributive government still more taxes.

But 21st-century class warfare is a weird thing. 

Take the technology that gives most what only the few once could afford. Most Americans now expect as a birthright iPhones, iPods, laptops, DVDs, and big-screen televisions, thanks to cheap overseas fabrication and fierce price-cutting global competition. The typical welfare recipient now owns a sophisticated cellphone; a fat-cat corporate CEO not long ago did not.

For the president, riding on a private jet from New York to Los Angeles is supposed to be a privilege. But a poor person on a discount nonstop ticket can still get there as safely and almost as quickly for about one-thousandth of the cost in fuel and overhead. Once they land minutes apart at LAX, was the Gulfstream passenger all that blessed, the guy in steerage with headphones and a TV screen all that deprived?

The president believes that those who make more than $200,000 are synonymous with millionaires. But such income levels are not good barometers of wealth in a world where graduated taxes can eat up to 50 percent of a salary and high-income areas have sky-high housing costs. Some of the less well-off go to school nearly for free on scholarship packages to state universities. Other students pay $200,000 for a four-year private college — sometimes for the prestige of the degree rather than any quantifiably better education. Nor do we talk about off-the-books labor, where millions earn money without reporting either income or sales receipts — and often while on state subsidies.

In the old days, class warriors were proverbial men of the people who made an effort to match their lifestyles with their rhetoric. Not now. When President Obama rails about “millionaires,” we expect that in a few hours our class-warrior-in-chief will golf with Wall Street fat cats to hit them up for campaign money. We presume that the first family prefers Costa del Sol, Martha’s Vineyard, or Vail to a passé Camp David.

If director Michael Moore or New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg warns us about impending rioting and class strife, we assume both live in huge homes and are multimillionaires. The new class-warfare coalitions comprise mostly the less well-off and the very well-off, one wishing for ever more state help, the other rich enough to not mind bestowing it. No wonder both demonize as greedy and racist tea-baggers those in the middle, who are most likely to feel the cost of ever more government.

The battleground of class warfare has moved from the streets of yesteryear to the TV-studio green room, the golf links, and the seaside hotel retreat. And when we really do see street violence — looting in Britain or flash-mobbing in America — angry youths usually target high-end electronics stores and fashion outlets, not food markets or bookstores. They organize on social networks from their laptops and cellphones, not from soup kitchens, bread lines, or dank basements.

Class warfare is now not about brutal elemental poverty of the sort Charles Dickens or Knut Hamsun once wrote about. It is too often the anger that arises from not having something that someone else has, whether or not such style, privilege, or discretionary choices are all that necessary. Endemic obesity, not malnutrition, threatens America — including the nearly 50 million Americans who are on food stamps.
These are hard times, with high unemployment rates and economic stagnation. But we are not a nation of the malnourished and starving who are preyed upon by idle rich drones who pay no taxes. And a government that borrows $4 billion a day and spends $2 trillion more a year than it did just ten years ago is hardly stingy.

Beyond 'Repeal and Replace'

Paul Ryan's new health-care roadmap

Too often, the Republican Party health-care agenda seems to consist of incanting "repeal and replace" and then to stop thinking—if the thinking ever begins at all. Certainly the current Presidential field is saying little beyond promising to repeal ObamaCare, but in the nick of time Paul Ryan has provided some intellectual guidance in an important speech yesterday at Stanford's Hoover Institution.
The Wisconsin Republican didn't stint on the damage that will be done by national health care, but he did locate ObamaCare in the context of America's long-running market and government dysfunctions that President Obama inherited, even if he made them worse. Mr. Ryan then put some flesh on the "replace" bones, because he said "we cannot simply revert to the status quo."
The core challenge, as Mr. Ryan laid out, is that "the health-care sector lacks most of the basic building blocks of a functioning market." The two major government health programs, Medicare and Medicaid, will pay for nearly anything regardless of value but then attempt to restrain costs through price controls. ObamaCare will do the same.
Meanwhile, what's left of the private insurance market is shaped by the tax preference for job-based coverage. This artifact of World War II-era wage controls creates a subsidy for open-ended tax-free benefits instead of taxable higher wages, and the third-party health-payment system that resulted has over the years suppressed the price signals that discipline other markets.
The irony, as Mr. Ryan put it, is that "the system that shields us from the cost of services has actually left us paying more." The "premium support" Medicare reform he proposed and the House passed this year would bring down the entitlement's high and rising costs through choice and competition, much like 401(k)s have arisen to replace increasingly unaffordable and impractical defined-benefit pensions.
Mr. Ryan's larger contribution in the Hoover speech was to highlight the problems in today's employer-sponsored insurance market, which can't be solved through, say, tort reform alone—or even by repealing ObamaCare alone.
Associated Press
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan
This reality was underscored by yesterday's Kaiser Family Foundation survey that found employer-sponsored premiums have jumped 9% for families and 8% for individuals since 2010, when the growth rate was about 3% over 2009. Much of this surge is due to ObamaCare's new coverage mandates, and in anticipation of insurers becoming public utilities with government imposing price controls on rates. But it also shows that health care exists in a different economic universe than other businesses, even amid the current stagnation, due in large part to the tax subsidies for third-party payers that don't exist for individuals who buy insurance.
Mr. Ryan's plan goes to the heart of this dysfunction by proposing a refundable tax credit for any insurance policy, allowing workers to shop outside of the company store without penalties if they prefer. As tax policy we'd prefer an individual tax deduction rather than a tax credit. But a tax credit might be easier to sell politically, and the key point is to change the incentives so the market for individual insurance policies will rebound and provide more options and competition.
Washington's wisemen/cynics think that even talking about the tax treatment of health insurance, let alone changing it, is a political loser. And it's true that Mr. Obama pounded John McCain on the issue in 2008, only to get pounded himself during the health reform debate by the unions that favor public subsidies for their gold-plated benefits.
But among the virtues of Mr. Ryan's speech is a political optimism that treats voters with more respect: People will listen if the political class tries to make an educational, serious argument. "Fear and demagoguery are the last refuges of an intellectually bankrupt party," he said.
This is good advice for any intractable policy issue, but it is especially useful for GOP House and Senate caucuses that are notoriously fractious and risk-averse on health care. Mr. Obama had the political opening he did on health care in 2009 in part because the Tom DeLay Republicans did nothing when they ran Congress and the White House in 2005-2006.
They even bowed to oligopolistic state insurers like Blue Cross-Blue Shield by refusing to let insurance be sold across state lines or to let associations like the Chamber of Commerce offer insurance to their members. In 2003, they also blinked on more far-reaching reform of Medicare when they added the prescription-drug benefit.
Especially if Republican dreams come true and they control all of Congress and the White House in 2013, the GOP will have to do more than merely repeal ObamaCare. Mr. Ryan is giving Republicans a policy guide that is more than a political slogan, if they have the wit to follow.

It's good news that government is stalled

William Bennett at CNN:

Editor's note: This is one in a series of CNN Opinion articles on the question, "Why is our government so broken?" William J. Bennett is the Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute. He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and was director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.
(CNN) -- There is a popular misconception in politics today that the American political system is broken because Washington can't accomplish anything meaningful. This is not true. The system is working entirely as intended -- bumps, bruises, and all.
One must not confuse broken government with slow government. Washington is stalled. It's being pulled in opposite directions by competing visions of government. In 2008, the American people elected a liberal president, House and Senate. What resulted was anything but gridlock. Democrats passed an unprecedented stimulus package, Obama Care, and the Frank-Dodd bill. In 2010, the country revolted, swung back to the right and elected a conservative House, the likes of which has not been seen before.
As a result, we are in the midst of a serious philosophical battle over the future of this country -- a battle between a small, limited government system and a big government entitlement state. The nature of our Constitution requires that the American people decide the direction of this country, not Washington. And until the American people decide, there will be arguments, division and gridlock.
William Bennett
William Bennett
Our country does not undergo dramatic changes in political philosophy, for better or for worse, overnight. It is a slow, painful process and has been throughout our history. Our Founding Fathers foresaw this.
In Federalist No. 10 James Madison wrote, "The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man. ... A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power ... have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good."
For this reason, the Founders constructed a democratic republic that requires national dialogue in order to form consensus on crucial issues. At stake today are two serious debates: one over a nationalized health care system that will fundamentally change the direction of this country, and a second over record levels of government spending sure to redraw our political landscape for many years to come.
The arena for that debate is not always pretty and the results are not always good, but the American people get it right over time. As Charles Krauthammer recently wrote, "This is the future of government-worker power and the solvency of the states. It deserves big, serious, animated public debate."
Much of the ire of this debate is directed at the tea party, a grass-roots conservative populace whose arrival has put a restraining order on Washington's spending and growth. Since the historic Republican victories in the 2010 elections, the tea party and Democrats have locked horns over every major policy decision, from taxes to spending to health care.
Critics of the tea party lay the blame on them as the do-nothing obstructionists. But unlike the events we saw in Madison, Wisconsin, the tea party has slowed and even reversed the course of Washington all within the bounds of the political system. Other critics of the tea party have gone so far as to label their resistance to President Obama's agenda as racist, most recently actor Morgan Freeman. Those accusations do nothing to help improve the national debate and "fix" Washington. It is odd, too, when the tea party just helped Herman Cain surge to victory in Florida's latest straw poll.
Moreover, there are steps that both parties can take to improve the status quo in Washington. Bipartisan agreements are on the table, such as free trade agreements and corporate tax reform, which can, and should, be passed. But the real debate over spending, entitlement reform and health care will not be settled anytime soon.
Without this debate, which is sure to get uglier and nastier, we wouldn't be having a national discussion about the long-term sustainability of ballooning entitlements. We wouldn't recognize the crisis of our exploding federal deficit. And we wouldn't acknowledge the need for fiscal restraint and responsibility.
Don't mistake broken government for the growing pains of a democratic republic. In the end, a slow, restrained government is a more thoughtful, careful, and hopefully good, government.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


John Hinderaker at Powerline:

If the 2012 election is run on the issues, the GOP will win in a landslide. The Left’s strategy for avoiding this outcome is to create as many distractions as possible. We saw it first with the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party poses a serious threat to liberalism. It is the most authentic grass-roots political movement of the last half-century, and its emphasis on limited government, fiscal responsibility and individual freedom resonates with most Americans. The last thing the Left wants to do is debate limited government and fiscal responsibility, so instead it resorted to demonization, with the absurd claim that the Tea Party is racist. False though it was, the smear campaign probably influenced some unsophisticated voters.
Now the Republican presidential race is taking shape, and again voters are hearing themes that appeal to most Americans; not only that, they are seeing candidates who, in most cases, know how to make sense without a teleprompter. That will never do. So, once again, the Left is resorting to distraction–anything to make the news cycle focus on something other than the message of the Republican candidates.
We saw it in the Florida debate on September 12, when a moderator asked Ron Paul whether “we” should let people without health insurance die. The question was a dumb one, and Paul answered it well: “we,” meaning religious and other private groups, not the government, should aid such people. In the meantime, however, three people in the auience–by my count–yelled “Yeah.” In all likelihood, the reaction by those three was the same as Paul’s; that is, they objected to the identification of “we” with the federal government. But news sources, as I wrote here, headlined “Debate crowd cheers letting uninsured die.”
It happened again at the Orlando debate on September 22. A man introduced himself as a gay soldier, and someone in the audience booed. It sounded to me like there may have been as many as two people booing, but Ann Althouse is convinced that there was only one. Someone who was there describes what happened:
I was at the debate, in the audience on the right hand side about halfway back…. The person who booed was just a few rows in front of us. The booing got an immediate and angry reaction from nearly everyone sitting around him, who hissed and shushed at him. Lots of loud gasps, “Shhhh!” “No!” “Shut up, you idiot!” etc.
The media, of course, won’t let the facts get in the way. Thus, The Hill writes that when the soldier identified himself as gay, “The Orlando crowd began booing.”
What is almost as bad, I think, is the weak reaction from the Republican candidates themselves. To my knowledge, each one who has been asked about the incident has been caught flat-footed and has reacted defensively. Thus, the Hill headlines, “GOP candidates seek distance from booing of gay soldier at debate.” Republicans need to push back hard against this distraction tactic. On a near-constant basis, Democratic Congressmen blurt out outrages far worse than those attributed to anonymous citizens who attend GOP debates, yet the newspapers will never try to make those absurdities the dominant narrative of the Democratic Party. Republicans need to call the Left’s tactic out for what it is–a disgraceful effort to smear the Republican Party and to distract voters from the key issues of the 2012 campaign.

New EPA regulations would require 230,000 new bureaucrats to administer

These are the kind if jobs the President wants to create, read it at Hot Air:

The president has found a way to add jobs, after all — 230,000 of ‘em, all within the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s the number of new bureaucrats the federal government will need to hire to implement new proposed greenhouse gas regulations, according to a report by The Daily Caller:
The Environmental Protection Agency has said new greenhouse gas regulations, as proposed, may be “absurd” in application and “impossible to administer” by its self-imposed 2016 deadline. But the agency is still asking for taxpayers to shoulder the burden of up to 230,000 new bureaucrats — at a cost of $21 billion — to attempt to implement the rules.
The EPA aims to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Air Act, even though the law doesn’t give the EPA explicit power to do so. The agency’s authority to move forward is being challenged in court by petitioners who argue that such a decision should be left for Congress to make.
The proposed regulations would set greenhouse gas emission thresholds above which businesses must file for an EPA permit and complete extra paperwork in order to continue operating. If the EPA wins its court battle and fully rolls out the greenhouse gas regulations, the number of businesses forced into this regulatory regime would grow tremendously — from approximately 14,000 now to as many as 6.1 million.
Keep in mind that the $21 billion figure doesn’t include the economic cost of the regulations themselves.
Is it fair to criticize the president for the type of job these bureaucratic open positions would offer? Well, sure — the left constantly says Texas’ McJobs don’t count. These paper-pushing jobs grow the administrative state and come at a high cost to taxpayers. They burden the economy rather than add value to it.
But public-sector jobs seem to be the only kind of jobs the president knows how to create. From the beginning of the recession in January 2008 to the middle of 2010, for example, the private sector lost some 7.9 million jobs, while the public sector gained 590,000 jobs.  From the passage of the stimulus bill in February 2009 to the middle of 2010, the private sector lost more than 2.6 million jobs, while the government workforce grew by 400,000.
In case the president does care to create more private-sector jobs (and my fingers are almost numb from typing this solution repeatedly), he might consider opening up the Gulf. According to the Consumer Energy Alliance, increasing the pace of permit approvals for oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico would create 23,000 new jobs in virtually every state in the country, bolster GDP by $44 billion and generate nearly $12 billion in revenue to state and federal treasuries. From drilling products producers to truck drivers, from tug boat operators to farmers, Americans across the country stand to benefit from this ever-so-simple solution.
P.S. This is only tangentially related, but I’m still so annoyed by it that I have to squeeze it into some post somewhere. In case you missed it, the Obama administration banned over-the-counter asthma inhalers because of environmental concerns. Like regulations that require hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats to administer (or, more popularly, the light bulb ban), this inhaler ban is yet another example of a type of environmentalism that becomes so pervasive as to be lifestyle control — i.e. it’s yet another example of environmentalism run amok.