Perhaps you’ve heard about Joe Biden’s latest gaffe regarding his task of overseeing the Recovery Act:
How can the public know that the money is allocated correctly? That’s the question CBS’s Maggie Rodriguez asked.
“We’re going to put every bit of this transparently up on a website. You’re gonna know. You’ll be able to go on a website. Every single bit of this will be on a website,” he explained.
“You know, I’m embarrassed. Do you know the website number?” he asked looking offstage. “I should have it in front of me and I don’t. I’m actually embarrassed.”
He was able to get the website “number” from someone off camera.
“Recovery.gov. It’s Recovery.gov. It’s up and running,” he said with newfound confidence.
If that doesn’t inspire confidence, then maybe you should just go visit the “number” VP Joe suggested. Before you do, however, keep in mind that, from far to wide and low to high, the Obama administration has been touting not just the need for transparency,
Orzag said the two goals are to spend stimulus money “quickly” and “wisely,” adding, “We have to go beyond normal procedures to a higher level of transparency.”
But also on the determination and ability of the administration to deliver it:
“I [Pres. Obama] am also proud to announce the appointment of Earl Devaney as Chair of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board. For nearly a decade as Inspector General at the Interior Department, Earl has doggedly pursued waste, fraud and mismanagement, and Joe and I can’t think of a more tenacious and efficient guardian of the hard-earned tax dollars the American people have entrusted us to wisely invest.”
Apparently, the whole point of Recovery.gov is to show where your tax dollars are going, and what they are being spent on. So let’s have a gander.
On the front page, my eyes were immediately drawn to the large graph dominating the left side of the page:
Wow! According to that chart, the largest expenditure by far ($288 Billion) is going to tax relief. Heck it’s twice as much as the next category of State and Local Fiscal Relief which is only get a paltry $144 Billion. That’s fantastic news. I feel so bad now for thinking that the bill was nothing more than a huge wealth transfer and goodies giveaway. Tax relief is always a good idea when it comes to pulling ourselves out of a recession.
But wait? What’s that asterisk? I click on the chart and am taken to a lovely bubble graph that displays the same information. But with more bubbles, which are always nice. And bubble are transparent too, right?
Yep. There it is again, that $288 Billion in tax relief, dwarfing all the puny spending bubbles. Of course, being an intelligent person, I know that you have to add all of the spending bubbles together to see how they compare to the tax relief, but it’s strangely comforting to see that giant, transparent bubble named Tax Relief making all the other bubbles seem, somehow, insignificant.
Unfortunately, that asterisk is still there as well. I follow it down to the bottom of the page where, in tiny print, I see these words:
* Tax Relief – includes $15 B for Infrastructure and Science, $61 B for Protecting the Vulnerable, $25 B for Education and Training and $22 B for Energy, so total funds are $126 B for Infrastructure and Science, $142 B for Protecting the Vulnerable, $78 B for Education and Training, and $65 B for Energy.
I think my bubble has burst. But that’s how government works now I guess: making bubbles bigger than they ought to be.
According to Ezra Klein, the Obama administration intends to finagle universal health care coverage out of its budget proposal, including an individual mandate:
I’ve now been able to confirm with multiple senior administration sources that the health care proposal in Obama’s budget will have a mandate. Sort of.
Here’s how it will work, according to the officials I’ve spoken to. The budget’s health care section is not a detailed plan. Rather, it offers financing — though not all — and principles meant to guide the plan that Congress will author. The details will be decided by Congress in consultation with the administration.
One of those details is “universal” health care coverage.
Some of you may recall that Obama, while in campaign mode, consistently denied that he wanted to introduce mandates as part of his health care package. Paul Krugman cited that opposition as the major difference between Obama and Hillary Clinton:
Let’s talk about how the plans compare.
Both plans require that private insurers offer policies to everyone, regardless of medical history. Both also allow people to buy into government-offered insurance instead.
And both plans seek to make insurance affordable to lower-income Americans. The Clinton plan is, however, more explicit about affordability, promising to limit insurance costs as a percentage of family income. And it also seems to include more funds for subsidies.
But the big difference is mandates: the Clinton plan requires that everyone have insurance; the Obama plan doesn’t.
Mr. Obama claims that people will buy insurance if it becomes affordable. Unfortunately, the evidence says otherwise.
Now that he’s been elected it’s presto hope’n change-o, and voila! Mandates!
Ezra Klein notes that the difference between the pre- and post-election plans is based on one word in the budget — “universal”:
That word is important: The Obama campaign’s health care plan was not a universal health care plan. It was close to it. It subsidized coverage for millions of Americans and strengthened the employer-based system. The goal, as Obama described it, was to make coverage “affordable” and “available” to all Americans.
But it did not make coverage universal. Affordability can be achieved through subsidies. But without a mandate for individuals to purchase coverage or for the government to give it to them, there was no mechanism for universal coverage. It could get close, but estimates were that around 15 million Americans would remain uninsured. As Jon Cohn wrote at the time, “without a mandate, a substantial portion of Americans [will] remain uninsured.”
In essence, unless everyone is forced to buy insurance, there is no “universality,” and the benefits of large participation in the insurance pool cannot be realized. An even shorter version is, if healthier people opt out, then sicker people can’t sponge off them.
The budget — and I was cautioned that the wording “is changing hourly” — will direct Congress to “aim for universality.” That is a bolder goal than simple affordability, which can be achieved, at least in theory, through subsidies. Universality means everyone has coverage, not just the ability to access it. And that requires a mechanism to ensure that they seek it.
Administration officials have been very clear on what the inclusion of “universality” is meant to communicate to Congress. As one senior member of the health team said to me, “[The plan] will cover everybody. And I don’t see how you cover everybody without an individual mandate.” That language almost precisely echoes what Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus said in an interview last summer. “I don’t see how you can get meaningful universal coverage without a mandate,” he told me. Last fall, he included an individual mandate in the first draft of his health care plan.
The administration’s strategy brings them into alignment with senators like Max Baucus. Though they’re not proposing an individual mandate in the budget, they are asking Congress to fulfill an objective that they expect will result in Congress proposing an individual mandate. And despite the controversy over the individual mandate in the campaign, they will support it. That, after all, is how you cover everybody.
So it looks like you better start scarfing down those cheeseburgers, eating transfats, smoking cigarettes, or whatever it is you do that’s not considered healthy, because once the federal government pays for health care (which is what individual mandates essentially works out to), then it also has the power to determine what “healthy” means. After all, since everyone will be pulling from the same health care pot, and since each claim on that pot diminishes what someone else can get, then each claim must be a legitimate one as weighed against all the competing interests. Because the viability of the system depends on healthy people making much fewer claims than sick people against the collective health care resources, the government now has a vested interest in making people healthier, whether they like it or not.
Another way to put it is that we will have entered a Pareto optimal world where no one can change their position for the better (i.e. receive more of the pooled benefits) without hurting someone else. Whereas in a competitive market system, each person can get at least as much health care as he or she wants to buy and can afford, in a Pareto optimal world, we are competing for the same scarce resources (health care dollars), and our claims are granted based on a a third party’s (the government’) determination of worthiness. No longer can we get what we can afford, we get a predetermined portion of what the government decides to pay for. That, of course, is why there are 6+ month waiting lists for routine health care in places like Canada and the UK.
Possibly the most depressing result of yoking America with universal health care, is that we can pretty much kiss medical and pharmaceutical innovation good bye.
Government run health centralizes the risks of exploring new technologies, medicines, techniques, etc. Centralized risk translates into (i) observing a very cautious approach to advances, and (ii) the politicization of research … From a purely capitalist point of view, opportunites that might have been pursued otherwise, are foregone since those who accept the risks of pursuing them do not get to maximize their reward, so instead those advances must come from the government. With government as the sole innovator, there are now two types of risk (1) the risk of failure (i.e. spending gobs of money on something that does not deliver as promised, or that costs significantly more than the benefit), and (2) the political risks (i.e. what politicians face for advocating spending on projects that either fail or that don’t disproportionately benefit favored voters). The result is that risk is increased overall, and fewer innovations are realized.
America is pretty much the last industrialized nation to still have a (semi) private health care system, which should be understood to include the pharmaceutical industry (as a supplier of that health care system). What would happen to the growth and advances we’ve realized over the past few decades if (when?) we adopt universal health care? Where will the innovation come from? Who will take the risks? Without the proper incentives, and indeed with some of the worst possible incentives as the only driving force to creation, I fear that the scientific and medical Atlas will shrug.
I don’t mean to say that there will be no breakthroughs ever again, but the pace will be slowed dramatically. That’s because, one the government is in charge of paying for health care, it will also be in charge of paying for medicines. As we’ve already seen around the world, drug companies will be forced to sell their wares for much less than the (legal) monopoly prices they charge now. The result, therefore, will be much less risky and expensive research into new drugs that may never come to market, and much more emphasis on improving old drugs so as to continue to pay for further research.
Surely the federal government will pony up money for research into some diseases. But then the government will be in charge of picking winners and losers when it comes to whose diseases will get cures and whose won’t. To imagine what this would look like, just think back to how AIDS and breast cancer research dollars were successfully lobbied for, despite neither affecting anywhere near as many people as other deadly diseases.
In the end we will be left with less individual freedom, worse health care, and fewer prospects for any improvement in either. That is not the change I was hoping for.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire helpfully reminds us of how the health care debate progressed during the Democratic primary season:
For folks whose memories have blessedly erased any recollection of the endless Democratic candidates debates, let me toss in a brief reminder. Obama claimed that he would offer health insurance subsidies so generous that most folks would volunteer to sign up. Hillary mocked that, insisting that the young and healthy would decline to subsidize the rest of us, especially since they could not subsequently be denied coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions; her plan included a mandate obliging everyone to buy health insurance, like it or not (as in Massachusetts). Hillary then diligently ducked the “or else” question of what penalties she would inflict on the young, helathy and recalcitrant who would prefer to hold off on buying insurance until they were sick. As a nostalgia piece here is a link to a lefty wondering why his party was so committed to forcing young, healthy members of the working class to subsidize the rest of us on health care; that seems like a good question but I am long resigned to not being smart enough to be a lefty.
Aww, Tom. You’re plenty smart enough. Just not angry, bitter or jealous enough.
As for the “or else” question, Obama and the Congress won’t be able to duck that one. I can only imagine what sort of sword they intend to dangle of recalcitrant ,
comrades citizens who refuse to sign up for the program.
In my last post, I argued that the Seventeenth Amendment should be repealed. Once upon a time, Americans from across the political spectrum could agree on at least one principle of good governance: federalism, or more generally, localized decision-making.
To put a fine point on it:
- Your state knows its own values and interests better than the national government does.
- Your county knows its own values and interests better than the state government does.
- Your city knows its own values and interests better than the county government does.
- Your neighborhood knows its own values and interests better than the city government does.
- Your household knows its own values and interests better than the neighborhood does.
- And you arguably know your own particular values and interests better than other members of your household do.
Depending on who’s won lately, the people in power at higher levels of organization may approximately reflect your values and interests, but the further away they get, the less likely this is to be the case. Simply put, the more people you have to represent, and the further they are away from you, the harder it is to faithfully represent them all.
Even if your Congressman is a tremendously intelligent and virtuous man, what he doesn’t know about his constituents’ beliefs and circumstances could fill libraries.
So as a general rule, it makes sense that we should want matters to be decided at the most local level possible. If you have a personal problem, you have the greatest incentive to fix the problem, your values will determine what trade-offs you’re comfortable with, and the matter probably shouldn’t leave your household — or at worst, your peer groups. If it doesn’t naturally spill over into other people’s lives, they don’t want you to make it their problem.
Largely because so much power has accrued at higher levels of government, people increasingly turn to the impersonal and ignorant forces of those higher levels to handle their problems. Today, the federal government has so much power, reaching down to the most local possible decisions, that people focus an inordinate amount of their attention and aspirations on who controls it and what they do with it. Everyone’s fate is determined by whose collective hand controls the Biggest Lever.
I cannot stress enough how dangerous a development this is. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, how centralized control and planning tend to double down on mistakes rather than correct them. They have much more insidious effects.
Making everything a national issue has poisoned the national debate. It is a significant cause of the Culture War (see Roe v Wade, or Defense of Marriage Act). It has contributed to making politics personal, and it’s why so many people have become emotionally invested in the person of the President. Think about how much more common it has become for both parties to use the language and imagery of dictators to describe the president — usually when we disagree with him.
Bottom line: it is difficult to tolerate your neighbor’s difference of opinion if his opinion controls your life. It has become too difficult to mind one’s own business.
Let that marinate for a minute, and I’ll move on to my suggestion for one solution. Continue reading
Remember the organization that refused to pay its own workers a “living wage” even while it agitated for higher minimums for other businesses? The same organization that has been the subject of several voting fraud investigations? And the same one to receive $2 Billion from the stimulus bill? Well, its now in the process of “peacefully” occupying homes that are in the process of foreclosure. That organization, of course, is ACORN:
A community organization breaks into a foreclosed home in what they are calling an act of civil disobedience.
The group wants to train homeowners facing eviction on peaceful ways they can remain in their homes.
“The mortgage went up $300 in one month,” said Hanks, former homeowner.
She says the bank refused to modify her loan and foreclosed, kicking her out of the house in September.
The community group ACORN calls Hanks a victim of predatory lending.
“This is our house now,” said Louis Beverly, ACORN.
And on Thursday afternoon, they literally broke the foreclosure padlock right off the front door and then broke into the house, letting Hanks back in for the first time in months.
“We are actually trespassing, and so this is a way of civil disobedience to try to stay into our house,” said Beverly. “Legally it’s wrong, but homesteading is the only means that she has left to stay into her house. And we feel as though this is the right thing to do at this particular time to save this family.”
So even though they know it’s “legally wrong” ACORN is going to go ahead and do it anyway? Maybe they could take some of the $2 Billion they received and help Ms. Hanks pay her mortgage or even renegotiate it. Presumably ACORN received the stimulus money to do something other than commit criminal acts. Didn’t it?
[HT: Rick Moore]
Political Wire writes that tomorrow might be an interesting day in Congress, corruption-wise. It seems that some things have been going on around Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) which may not be entirely copacetic.
There’s a potentially big story brewing on Capitol Hill… Apparently 104 members of Congress of both parties — 42 Republicans and 62 Democrats — secured earmarks for a lobbying firm linked to Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) in a single bill. The earmarks were inserted in a bill Murtha controlled as the defense appropriations subcommittee chairman.
It looks like business as usual, of course, until we learn that the company’s executives and clients seem to be big, big political donors to Rep. Murtha.
So, I guess it is business as usual.
If they can get this passed, it might shake things up in the states rights arena:
This week the Oklahoma House of Representatives Rules Committee voted unanimously to support House Joint Resolution 1003 authored by state Rep. Charles Key. Key’s proposal should now be headed to the floor of the House where I look forward to supporting it.
HJR 1003 seeks to reassert Oklahoma’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and according to the resolution’s language, serves as “Notice and Demand to the federal government, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.”
The 10th Amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
Of course it will end up in court if passed, but I would love to see it upheld and it lead to more 10th amendment exceptions leading toward a reestablishment of more states rights.
Read the rest of the article – Rep. Jason Murphey makes a good case concerning levels of influence and representation. His point about those with money driving national politics is well taken.
You’ve got to hand it to former IL Governor Rod Blagojevich. He’s the anti-Midas. Everything he touches turns to…not gold, anyway. His magical touch has once again appeared, and this time the touchee is the senator he appointed to replace Barack Obama, Roland Burris. Apparently, Blagos Magic Touch™ caused Sen. Burris to, uh, misremember things.
The governor’s brother, Rob Blagojevich, asked Burris three times to help with fundraising, according to a Feb. 4 affidavit the senator filed with state Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, who chaired the Illinois House panel that impeached Blagojevich.
Burris told the House panel on Jan. 8 that the governor hadn’t asked for money or favors in exchange for the Senate seat. In a letter accompanying the affidavit, Burris’s lawyer said the senator hadn’t been able to “fully respond” to questions.
He didn’t mean to give contradictory testimony. But it was all so confusing and difficult.
“While Senator Burris testified truthfully and to the best of his recollection before the Impeachment Committee, given the fluid nature of the questions and answers between the Senator and the committee, and based upon our subsequent review of the hearing transcripts, the Senator was unable to fully respond to several matters that were included in questions during his testimony,” lawyer Timothy Wright wrote in the Feb. 5 letter.
You see, he meant to tell the committee that Robert Blagojevich, the governor’s brother had asked him to do some, uh, fund-raising to the tune of $10,000, on three separate occasions, but he just wasn’t given a chance to testify to all these things fully. So, it’s really the committee’s fault, with their slipshod procedures and what not. That’s why he told the committee that he had not been asked for any fund-raising at all.
You’d think that a former state Attorney General would be able to negotiate the shoals of testimony, but I guess not.
Still, he told the committee that he had no contact with anyone connected to the governor in association with the appointment. And he specifically denied having been asked to raise any money. That’s a difference that would seem difficult to explain, but Sen. Burris is having a press conference today in which he will, presumably, clarify these matters to everyone’s satisfaction.
The press conference has started. “I was never inconsistent in my statements”.
He says he answered affirmative when asked if he’d had contact with Gov Blagojevich’s cronies, and provided Lon Monk’s name as an example, after which, the questioning moved on to another subject.
He says his testimonies are fully consistent.
The Chicago press corps is asking him some pretty tough questions. They don’t seem to be buying his schtick.
This should be interesting to follow.
I‘ve spoken before about the political brilliance that running on nebulous catch phrases can accrue for the politician. Lay them out there, let the voting public decide what they mean to each of them and then ride the wave to elected office.
Obama did precisely that. And many who are marginally on the right, were fooled by that. Those who voted for him projected their “hope” for “change” on the blank screen he provided. But, as you’ll see in this example, the reality of who Barack Obama really is may be clearing up, and it appears it is a huge disappointment to many of his more conservative/libertarian supporters.
Silicon Valley, where I live, is home to both political liberals and conservatives–more liberals of late, but not by a huge margin. The lopsidedness occurs on the freedom-statist divide. An overwhelming majority of Valley residents would place themselves on the freedom side and against the state. This should not surprise anyone. Silicon Valley is a land of immigrants, both foreign and from other American states. What draws people to Silicon Valley is the freedom to go out and commit industrial revolution and make the future.
Thus it was always odd that Silicon Valley voted for the most statist-inclined presidential candidate since FDR. Silicon Valley fell in love with Barack Obama. His youth and multicultural cool, along with the Web superiority of his presidential campaign, had Silicon Valley going googly for Obama.
In the eyes of Silicon Valley, Obama was like the Apple Macintosh. John McCain was like Windows.
Now comes the reckoning. Obama may be the coolest guy ever to hold the office of U.S. president. He may be the personification of an Apple Mac, iPod and iPhone. But this week Obama proved he is a big-state liberal, through and through.
My Silicon Valley friends who supported Obama are weirdly silent about this. I suspect they are in denial, still hoping for the closet libertarian Obama to emerge. Throughout the 2008 campaign, Silicon Valley Obama voters would tell me that Obama was really an economic centrist. Forget his liberal Senate record and Saul Alinsky-conditioned career as a community organizer. Forget the Chicago-style thug politics. That was in the past. Obama did what he had to do to rise. Once in the Oval Office, Obama will really govern more like John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.
Say it enough times, and you can almost believe it. Well, sorry about that, you Obamacons. You just got thrown under the bus.
The $790 billion stimulus headed for Obama’s desk is statist. It is also backward looking. Sure, there are some forward-looking initiatives, such as a few billion for broadband. But the bill is overwhelmed by “shovel-ready” projects aimed at school building improvement, road repair and so forth, and by bailouts to profligate state governments.
Very disturbingly, the bill has the stench of protectionism in it. This is antithetical to the interests of trade-happy Silicon Valley.
What is becoming clear is the Obama we can expect to govern is the big government statist liberal and not a “closet libertarian” as they hoped. Note the word. They fooled themselves into thinking that was actually a possibility. Yet as I pointed out below, this huge and unfocused spending plan being touted as a “stimulus” is nothing more than a massive expansion of government. It is also just the prelude for further intrusion, essentially a down-payment which paves the way for massive intrusion in health care and the energy sector.
For those who cast a jaundiced eye on the candidate and his blank slate campaign, none of this comes as a surprise. A creature of the most liberal political machines in America, a student of Saul Alinski’s method and someone who consistently saw government as the answer and not the problem during his political rise, the Barack Obama the folks are suddenly discovering in Silicon Valley and other parts of America is precisely the guy we expected.
His “youth and multicultural cool” may have been part of sales job, but now it comes down to performance. Thus far his performance has been directed at expanding government. Two of the first three bills passed in his administration have massively increased government. And as I’ve noted, he promises even more.
In less than a month, Obama has signaled that there isn’t a libertarian leaning bone in his body. The question remains as to how people, like those in Silicon Valley, managed to fool themselves enough to vote for a candidate who so obviously didn’t fit their “hope”. And are they, as this particular piece seems to indicate, feeling a little buyer’s remorse?
Well yeah - now:
President Barack Obama on Friday warned that economic recovery in the United States “will be measured in years, not months” as he scored a major victory in his young presidency with the approval in Congress of a $787 billion (£542) bill to revive the economy.
How unfocused is this mess? Well here’s a nice example:
Sec.1421 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gives employers a tax incentive for hiring people (I hesitate to call them “workers,” given it’s not likely they’ve ever held a job for more than a couple days) who fit the following description. Betcha can’t wait to hire this person!
DISCONNECTED YOUTH . –The term ‘disconnected youth’ means any individual who is certified by the designated local agency as having attained age 16 but not age 25 on the hiring date, as not regularly attending any secondary, technical, or post-secondary school during the 6-month period preceding the hiring date, as not regularly employed during such 6-month period, and as not readily employable by reason of lacking a sufficient number of basic skills.
I wonder if the Democrats who voted for the stimulus bill realize they just voted to give a tax break to McDonald’s and WalMart.
Of course, they have no idea of who or what they’ve given breaks too (although I doubt McD’s and Wal-Mart are eager to take on workers with no skills).
And the bill is rife with examples like the above. What is doesn’t have at all are the things economists know work and work immediately – like marginal tax cuts.
Fact Check takes a look at the bill and finds problems with many of the basic promises made (and certainly takes issue with the claim there are “no earmarks” in the bill).
A couple of things Fact Check notes include the claim that digitizing health records and modernizing the electrical grid will be quickly done and provide great savings:
The president also says electronic health records will save billions of dollars. But the Congressional Budget Office says that even a decade of expected savings are unlikely to pay back the government what the government will spend on health IT.
The president said the bill will modernize the nation’s electricity grid, reducing consumption by 2 percent to 4 percent. That’s optimistic. Industry reports say that a new grid could reduce energy consumption by up to 4 percent, but not until 2030 and at a cost much greater than the stimulus bill would cover.
But what this does is get the proverbial government nose under the tent and set up more spending with future bills:
Mr Obama will also propose a budget to lay the groundwork for sweeping health care reform and present a major green energy bill. Mr Obama will also propose a budget to lay the groundwork for sweeping health care reform and present a major green energy bill.
The mistake of the paragraph above is the “groundwork” is being laid with this “stimulus” bill.
So, we’ve added 789 billion to the 750 billion TARP and the possible 1.2 trillion Geithner plan and are contemplating spending hundreds of billions more for “sweeping health care refomr and … a major green energy bill”. And we haven’t even mentioned the coming “AGW” spending debacle.
What generation are we up to now? Have we dragged my great, great, great grandchildren’s generation into to this yet?
President Obama has been waving a quote from Jim Owens, CEO of Caterpillar, “said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off.”
Asked if the stimulus package would be able to stop the 22,000 layoffs or not, Owens said, “I think realistically no. The truth is we’re going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again”
“It is going to take some time before that stimulus bill” means re-hiring, he said.
Amateur hour continues.