Last year at this time, many governors and state legislators were imploring Congress to let them spend more money by expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Since the states share the cost of the program with Washington, the expansion would have allowed them to cover families with incomes up to 300% of the poverty level (more in some cases). It also would have meant hundreds of millions in additional state spending, and an estimated $24 billion in additional federal spending. President Bush vetoed the bill.
Today, governors and state legislators are singing a different tune. Unable to pay their bills as tax revenues shrink, they're imploring Washington to bail them out. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had been grappling with a $15 billion budget deficit, wrote to Congress on Oct. 21 applauding plans for $14 billion in aid for states in the latest proposed federal economic stimulus plan. New York Gov. David Paterson has twice traveled to Washington, most recently on Oct. 29, to ask for federal aid. The Empire State's budget deficit is now estimated at $12 billion over the next two years.
You remember the battle over SCHIP don't you? Where state governments and Democrats tried to sell an expansion of the program as something 'for the [poor] children', even though the expansion included "children" up age 24 in some states and households making up to $80,000 in others.
If states are hurting now, just imagine the deficit increased by 24 billion had SCHIP been passed.
The systemic problem? The focus of politicians is short-term (what can we do now that will impress voters and help me stay in power?) vs. long-term (what should we do which is in the best for the country, state, city on down the road?). And the election system has evolved to favor those who look short-term and reward them with continued power. Stand up and deliver, if you will.
That's especially exacerbated in the House, where members stand for election every two years. So their focus is really in the short term as, in modern times at least, they pretty well start running for reelection the day after the win their current election.
And that's only part of the problem, in reality. The rest of the problem is systemic as well - entrenched career bureaucrats. Their two priorities are protecting their fiefdom and increasing its power.
As long as the politician's priority is the next election and bureaucrats are left to actually run government, all the hopeychangitude in the world won't make any difference. There are to many vested interests involved in keeping it just like it is for any real reform to be accomplished.
Oh, and one other minor problem - as long as those who are charged with reforming it also run it, nothing will change.
So look for a lot of cosmetics in the next few years - or lipstick on a pig if you prefer - but no real change. And that's especially true if the Fed insists on bailing out states, cities and businesses and refusing to let them learn the hard lessons of failure and mismangement.
But isn’t the real problem with the electorate? We sanction this. We have the ability to change it all but we don’t. Is the electorate indifferent or ignorant or both? I think both. And, like most other human responses, there will not be a critical mass of action until the situation is much worse.
Not entirely, perhaps not even principally. The politicians have rigged the system to make it very, very hard for anyone except the two major parties to compete. That makes the choices in many cases so unappealing that a big chunk of the electorate has just given up and stopped voting. They rightly perceive that even electing their choice doesn’t make any real difference.
Then there’s the problem of finding out what’s really going on in government. Our media are not disinterested observers on that. They have steadily moved to a default position of being less and less likely to report the costs and negative results of more government, and stressing the short term benefits of more government.
This is partially due to laziness; it takes less effort to just report what came out in Congress yesterday than to try to tie that to a chain of events over years. But is’s also because they lack any motivation to connect the dots if that would make government look bad. Their own faith in government makes them very hard to convince that more government action is a problem and less government action is a solution.
Lack of such information serves to disconnect actions from results, and thus from responsibility. Voters literally don’t know who’s responsible for bad effects. You could call that ignorance, I guess, but unless they are political junkies, how could they find out about this stuff?
We saw a great example of that on the Fannie Mae meltdown, in which the party primarily responsible was the Democrats, and at least some Republicans tried and failed to take earlier action. The mainstream media mostly left out any such context, and tip-toed around it with a hint of moral equivalence when they did mention something.
Without that kind of information readily available, voters have no good way to punish perpetrators of stupid actions, because they don’t really know who’s responsible.
I hope this effect is temporary, and will fade as the left-leaning mainstream media continues to diminish in audience, but it’s still what we have to contend with right now.
Last week I was looking for some data unrelated to your post when I came across this. And it now seems pretty related to your post. I think the program, especially with the problems we have with immigration, has the potential to make Medicare seem—ehhh, not so bad.