Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

4/27/2010

Really, Hoyer?

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 11:07 pm

Democratic House majority leader Steny Hoyer submitted this editorial to the Wall Street Journal and it's… amazing.  Even the world of disingenuous, self-serving, factually-challenged political pablum, this is some piece of work. Hoyer either has no shame, great chutzpah, or just thinks people are too stupid to notice the BS.  It deserves a nice fisking.

Americans are rightly outraged over our nation's fiscal situation. The course we're on will lead to public debt that will exceed the size of our entire economy, and a government that will eventually exist to do only two things: fund entitlement programs and make interest payments. Americans may be wondering whether the Greek financial crisis could happen here.

So now he tells us.  This is the guy who helped pass the health care reform that will add to the debt, whose party pushed and is pushing stimulus spending.  How nice that after spending like crazy over the past year and a half, they're suddenly becoming fiscal conservatives.  And only six months before a midterm election.  A midterm election they're looking good in because a majority of folks are concerned about the government's fiscal situation.  Hmmm… convenient.

It will—unless we change course. There's a myth that our budget deficit mess sprang into existence at the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009. But in truth, more than 90% of the projected deficit we will face over the next decade is the result of President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rescue of the financial sector he began in the last few months of his presidency, and lower revenues from the recession. And the greatest driver of our long-term deficit is rapidly growing entitlement and health-care spending.

Well, we can't expect something like this get published without blaming Bush.  Notice how much space he spends blaming Bush and then tacks on what the "greatest driver" is, though he doesn't relate those factors back to Bush.  Now, did Bush help things?  Nope, he spent plenty.  But Obama has doubled down on the spending.  If Bush got the popcorn chicken at KFC that he couldn't afford to eat and stay healthy, then Obama got the… well… the Double Down.

Both parties must learn: What is politically easy is often fiscally deadly. It's easier to hide the costs of war than to put those costs in front of the public. It's easier to promise 95% of Americans that we won't consider raising their taxes than to have a frank conversation about the realities of our balance sheet.

Costs of war?  But didn't he just say the biggest driver of long term deficits is entitlement and health care spending?  So why are we talking about other minor drivers?  As for the 95% comment, I genuinely wonder if he realizes he just slammed his party's boss, President Obama, who just two weeks ago was bragging about giving 95% of Americans tax cuts (which is itself a loose interpretation of 'tax cuts,' but nevermind) and who repeatedly said before and after becoming president that he wouldn't raise taxes on the vast majority of Americans.

Voters are demanding that Washington take fiscal responsibility seriously. Democrats agree. But the public has a responsibility, too: To understand that lower taxes and higher spending may be popular, but they are a dangerous combination that leads to exploding deficits.

Except those voters are wanting lower taxes and lower spending.

Health-care costs, as I noted, are one of our main challenges. According to the Congressional Budget Office the health-care bill will put us on a path to bring down those costs, incorporating many of the best ideas from both Republicans and Democrats. But Congress will need to ensure that as the law is implemented, it achieves the goal of containing costs. Congress will also need to stand strong against pressure to change cost-cutting provisions. We saw an example of the pressure early in the health-care debate, when critics of the legislation wrongly and knowingly portrayed its Medicare savings as a cut in benefits.

It's surprising to me that he's still trying to peddle to the line that CBO score actually has any bearing on reality.  Nobody really buys it and even his own party has been quietly backing off the idea that the reform bill will save the government money.  Can it cut costs?  Sure… by simply dictating how much they'll pay.

On a host of other issues, President Barack Obama also showed his seriousness about fiscal restraint. His budget freezes nonsecurity discretionary spending and cuts our deficit by more than half by 2013, and more than $1.3 trillion over the next decade. He signed a bill to reform weapons acquisition and target cost overruns at the Pentagon. And he joined me and others in the successful push to return to the pay-as-you-go law that requires Congress to find a dollar of savings for every extra dollar it spends on entitlements or tax cuts, except for legislation responding to a legitimate emergency.

The biggest driver of deficit spending is entitlements and health care, which are both mandatory spending, and I guess another big one is supposed to be the costs of war, which is security discretionary spending.  So naturally, in order to show his seriousness about fiscal restraint, Obama will freeze (kinda) nonsecurity discretionary spending.  Yeah, I guess that makes sense.  And pay as you go?  Dead letter.  Congress has repeatedly exploited the "emergency" loophole to ignore the law.  Just slap the label on and, poof!, no more pay as you go.

The next step is the president's bipartisan fiscal commission, which began meeting yesterday. Both parties must come to the table without preconditions, prepared to make a long-term compromise—our chance to end a pattern of partisan stalemate. Congress must act on the commission's proposals.

Translated: Republicans better not come with preconditions.  What exactly is the purpose of Congress if they must have commissions telling them what they're supposed to act on?  Isn't Congress, I don't know… supposed to do that on its own?

If the commission makes a proposal that focuses only on the spending or revenue side of the equation, it will likely fail to rein in deficits. Rather than the spending-cut-dominated plan of Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.)—which, as brave a step as it was, made sweeping and harmful changes to Medicare—I prefer a balanced approach that shares the burdens fairly. What would the options look like? When it comes to entitlement spending, the commission could recognize that Americans are living longer and raise the retirement age over a period of years. It might also make Social Security and Medicare benefits more progressive.

But… if the commission proposes only spending cuts, shouldn't Congress act on those proposals, like he just said?  And wasn't he just bragging about Obama's spending freeze, Pentagon cost-cutting, and pay as you go?  I didn't see any bragging about higher taxes.  And notice, he didn't actually advocate cutting spending, per se, he just advocated a slow down in increased spending over time (the higher retirement age) and moving more money to the poor (as if SS wasn't progressive enough already).

On the other side of the equation, nobody likes raising revenue—but sometimes it's necessary. President Bill Clinton raised taxes and cut spending in 1993 to balance the budget, and it paved the way for historic prosperity. We could also learn from the bipartisan collaboration of President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill. In 1983, they agreed on a package of reforms to save Social Security, and in 1986, they made our tax code simpler and more efficient.

"[N]obody likes raising revenue…"  By that, he means taxes.  And that's a weird causal relationship he's building between Clinton's actions and 90's era prosperity.  It's also funny that he brings up Reagan in a paragraph about the necessity of raising taxes when Reagan cut taxes.  As for SS, they didn't save it, they merely bought it time, about 30 years to be approximate.  The sort of Democratic reform will again only buy time and won't solve the inherent problem of Social Security that the demographic pyramid is collapsing.

Recovering from years of borrowing is one of the hardest tasks a nation can face. History is full of great powers brought low by unsustainable debt. Avoiding that fate isn't just the commission's or Congress's work. It's incumbent on all of us to resist easy answers and look reality in the face. Fiscal issues have always been tests of national character, and I trust that we have the character to pass.

The title to this editorial is "Shared Sacrifices Will Solve the Debt Crisis."  I just imagine the Aztecs telling their captives before marching them up to the top of the temple, "Shared sacrifices will solve the conquistador crisis."

1 Comment »

  1. The Health Care Reform bill is paid for and will, actually, reduce the deficit.

    Comment by JLSR — 8/22/2010 @ 4:26 pm

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