“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, February 18, 2011

Municipal Unions Against State Budget Cuts & Reforms

It's been a big week for Republican governors who are trying to rein in budgets and raise public awareness concerning the special pension and benefit deals public sector unions have received. Here are two videos of Chris Christie speaking at the American Enterprise Institute.

Christie discussing being 'vaporized' for touching the third rail of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid insolvency as currently designed and operated....

Then we have newly-elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker moving decisively to have the now Republican-controlled legislature enact a law to revoke collective bargaining for non-wage issues by public sector unions, except for police and firemen, and require said employees to pay more equitable contributions for pension and healthcare benefits.

The result has been teachers walking out and converging on Walker's home. Plus the Wisconsin senate Democrats decamping outside the state to frustrate the quorum required to pass the law. And, to complete the comedy, Wonderboy stating that Walker is engaging in police and fire 'union busting,' despite the fact that those two unions aren't involved.

Hilariously, liberals are accusing Walker and the legislature of being undemocratic, comparing the union's role to that of Egyptian protesters. They overlook the fact that Walker and the legislature are duly elected. That's the process that has credibility and standing. Not Democratic state senators running away in an attempt to avoid facing reality.

Do you think those legislators will be re-elected for that behavior?

Even the political reporter on CNBC, Red John Harwood, and, appearing on CNBC, NBC's liberal Meet The Press host, David Gregory, both admitted that it's fairly clear that these actions are necessary if states are to avoid bankruptcy. Harwood said it's simply a matter of whether or not the political will now exists among voters to enforce the cuts and required pain on public union members in order to end the excesses.

What strikes me as notable is the tin ear Wonderboy is showing on this issue. It's becoming more apparent with each new crisis that he is less of an accomplished politician, and more of a sort of political sprinter. Good over a short course, but fades in the long distances. He just doesn't seem to realize that governing, especially now, in a too-long profligate US, requires honesty and making tough, unpopular choices. Not simply demonizing a governor who is trying to balance a state budget in the face of coddled municipal union employees.

Paul Ryan & Alice Rivlin's Defined Contribution Fix for Medicare

I have read a few references recently to Paul Ryan's and Alice Rivlin's new Medicare idea which is quite close to my own beliefs, expressed in earlier posts, that the program should never have been anything but a defined-contribution voucher approach. This National Review piece sheds more light on Ryan's and Rivlin's proposal. It reads, in part,

"Rep. Ryan has written an explanation of his approach for the Economix blog that you can find here:

In order to make good on Medicare’s promise, I’ve put forward reforms that offer future seniors the same health coverage options I enjoy as a member of Congress. My reform plan makes no changes for those 55 and older, as efforts to save this program ought not disrupt benefits for those in and near retirement. For those now under the age of 55, Medicare would provide seniors with a payment, a list of Medicare-approved coverage options and the ability to choose a plan that works best for them. The Medicare payment would be adjusted so that the wealthy receive a lower subsidy, the sick would receive a higher payment if their conditions worsen, and lower-income seniors would receive additional assistance to cover out-of-pocket costs.

It is possible that Rivlin-Ryan will prove so inadequate to providing decent coverage for Medicare beneficiaries that political pressure to make the benefit more generous will prove overwhelming, a charge that has been levied against the payment reductions under PPACA. It is also possible that a fixed subsidy and voucher-like structure will improve the cost-effectiveness of medical care. The real debate we’re having is over which approach is more likely to yield greater cost-effectiveness over time: a centralized, IPAB-driven approach or a decentralized discovery process.

I fear that Alice Rivlin and Rep. Paul Ryan are in for a bumpy ride. They are taking on deeply entrenched ideas and deeply entrenched constituencies. I’ve been told that some version of Rivlin-Ryan may become a central part of a Republican budget proposal. If that really is true, congressional conservatives will have proven those of us who’ve at various points doubted their seriousness and sincerity about reforming the welfare state wrong. We’ll see."

At issue, it seems, are two points.

One is that, left to decide how to spend scarce, defined contribution dollars from the government on their health care, people may actually choose to forgo things they'd otherwise consume if unconstrained financially.

Wow, is that a surprise?

The second is that we may just have to learn to live with overall national constraints on what government can afford to pay in subsidies to people for medical care. Not every person will be able to get the government to pay for fixing every ailment.

Which would be why it's wise to let people have control over the allocation of scarce resources for medical care provided by the government.

If people can't figure this out, then we're toast. A nation can't remain competitive when it's largest expenditures are transfer payments from younger, working taxpayers to older, retired, non-value-adding seniors.

Sorry, but that's just common sense. There's no way we can afford this notion, as I explained in this post, that the aged or retired are somehow above sharing economic sacrifices with the rest of the nation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jeb Hensarling & Steny Hoyer On CNBC This Morning

If you wanted to see a really clear example of the difference in philosophies of the liberal Democrats in Congress versus the more conservative wing of the Republican party, this morning's long, argumentative exchange between former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and GOP Texas Congressman Jeb Hensarling. Hensarling was on the Bowles-Simpson Commission, and is vice-chair of the committee on financial services in the House.

Hensarling was excoriating the Democrats' lack of even passing a budget for this fiscal year, and Wonderboy's 2012 budget proposal. In response, Hoyer immediately launched into a predictable, hacked-up whine, complaining that our deficits were all the fault of Republican presidents and, gosh, you know, the Democrats just want to 'invest' in important things. It's not really 'spending' if you swear it's 'investment.'

Joe Kernan, the CNBC co-anchor moderating the melee, asked Hoyer why we couldn't leave it to private sector sources to invest in infrastructure? Hoyer, of course, had no response.

Then Kernan mentioned how the deficit and over-spending has been the rule for over 30 years, back when Hoyer was already in Congress. Steny couldn't resist another whine, claiming that when Clinton was in office, so many million jobs were created, but George Bush destroyed them, and and more, making Democrats better on budgets and economics.

Nowhere did Hoyer admit to the contexts of Clinton having the vaunted 'peace dividend' from the fall of the Soviet Union, while George W Bush fought two wars. Hoyer also accused Republicans of permissive financial sector regulation, carefully omitting Barney Frank's role in swelling the GSEs over time.

My point is, Hoyer reflexively just went into a whine, tossing out all sorts of accusations spread over past decades, as if to excuse high level of spending now. He simply couldn't admit that the past two years have seen more new debt accumulated, to no good purpose, than the all the prior years of the Republic.

Even in the midst of an obvious fiscal problem, and widespread public acknowledgement thereof, Hoyer and his ilk simply cannot stop themselves. They still think a budget that adds another $1.3T of debt this year is okay.

I wish more people could have seen Hoyer's disgraceful grandstanding.

Is Jeff Flake Jon Kyl's Replacement?

Within a day or so of Jon Kyl's retirement announcement, GOP House budget hawk Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced that he will run for the seat.

There doesn't seem to be much to keep Flake from securing Kyl's base. And, just now, I think Arizonans are probably more concerned with economics than with fringe social issues. But, then again, I don't live there, nor do I travel there frequently.

With the GOP's overwhelming majority, they can afford to send an economic true believer up to the Senate to assist Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint.

Let's hope Flake gets the nomination and the seat in 2012.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Administration's 2011 Budget

This week's release of the administration's budget seems to indicate how cynical Wonderboy is when it comes to the American electorate.

You can read or listen to the many pundits who believe that the president purposely backed away from any significant budget cutting in order to play a straight political game of 'gotcha' with House GOP leaders and any/the potential Republican nominee for the White House in 2012. This line of thinking goes that, rather than be first to actually cut entitlement spending, Wonderboy punted, waiting for the GOP to do so. Then he'll have the predictable budget tussle with Boehner's House members and dare him to shut down the federal government over the impasse.

If it worked for Bubba with Newt, why not try it again?

Maybe because Bubba hadn't just borrowed and spent more in two years than all presidents prior to him, cumulatively? And maybe because Newt didn't have a Paul Ryan or Eric Cantor on his team? Yes, I like and admire Dick Armey, but somehow these new guys seem more in earnest.

And they have such a huge target at which to shoot. The details of Wonderboy's pathetic budget are easily available from various sources. Consider some of the more indefensible elements:

- balanced budgets are promised by mid-decade, but only by excluding interest costs
- government revenues from new taxes of roughly $300B actually outweigh cuts in discretionary spending of only $280B over the period of the budget forecast
- despite promises prior to election, and his own deficit commission's recommendations, Wonderboy's budget fails to tackle entitlements at all
- the 2012 deficit remains huge, at $1.3T, a record only approached by the 1945 budget.

It's instructive to recall that Newt's era, beginning in 1994, is now nearly 20 years ago. No high-speed internet back then of serious size. No social networking, blogs, or much in the way of cable news. No smart phones, iPads or texting.

All that is changed now. Those who wish to be are completely plugged into breaking news and communicating about it with kindred voters.

Further, last November's elections were a complete rebuke to the excessive spending of this administration and the Democratic Congress. To behave as he is doing now, Wonderboy is making a huge gamble that voters weren't really serious about deficits and spending.

I suppose that he figures whereas the House power change came from 435 independent races, he only has to beat one Republican. And as an incumbent, and the first black president, he has built-in advantages which will let him win without much trouble.

Then again, Gerry Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush all had the incumbency and still lost. And that's in just the past 35 years. Ford pardoned Nixon, Carter performed badly on all fronts, and Bush lost the luster of retaking Kuwait as the US economy spiraled into recession.

Wonderboy has spent too much on a useless stimulus, angered most voters with a sweeping, expensive health care bill they didn't want, while making a mockery of legislative rules to get it passed, while performing badly on the international front, as well.

Don't you think he'll have to answer for "losing Egypt?" And how his vaunted 'I'm not W' and 'I'm a Muslim like them' spiels haven't worked anywhere in the Mideast?

While some pundits view the First Rookie as simply, yet shrewdly, engaging in time-tested incumbent politics for re-election, I think he's just being himself- clueless, arrogant and detached. I think we're seeing less intelligent calculation and more solipsistic inward smugness and insularity.

So, to me, this budget, technically for the year of the next election, leaves Wonderboy vulnerable on the one front Americans always understand- domestic economic issues.

I think this is a huge miscalculation on his part, and will ultimately lead to his defeat in 2012.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Glenn Beck's Warnings Become Mainstream

It hasn't been even two weeks since I wrote this post concerning Glenn Beck's warnings about the Egyptian revolution that deposed Hosni Mubarak last week. His use of the term 'Caliphate' drew criticism from mainstream media outlets.

No more.

In fact, as I watched various news programs last week, it became clear that most pundits possess a serious concern that the Muslim Brotherhood will, over the next year or so, manage to gain control of Egypt's government. Meanwhile, other north African countries continue to simmer in sympathetic response to recent events in Tunisia and Egypt.

It's also worth noting, thanks to the scope of information available in today's media, that veteran pundits are reminding Americans of several long-forgotten aspects of the Carter-era Iranian hostage crisis.

First, hard as this is to believe, the US welcomed the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran from France after the Shah's downfall. Yes, we thought it would help the situation.

Second, the Iranian military, then I believe the fourth-largest in the world, or, in any case, quite large and well-trained, by the US Army, was thought to be a stabilizing bulwark against chaos the country. Just like people speak of the Egyptian military today.

However, in just a year, the military leaders were pushed out by Muslim radicals who ultimately took control of the revolution and the Iranian government.

Thus, the current Egyptian revolution, viewed with this historical perspective in mind, has a long way to go. And comforting bromides concerning how things have turned out so far, in fact, may mean nothing at all.

Between the shock wave of revolutionary energy against regional dictators, the Islamic zeal for a Caliphate, and the knowledge that Western energy needs depend so heavily on the region, it's far too early to breathe a sigh of relief that oil prices won't soar even higher.

There's a deeper moral to this story, of course. One we could have, as a nation, chosen to learn when the Shah was deposed. That is, backing dictators anywhere ultimately puts the US in a morally untenable position. Even now, Egyptians in the streets, when interviewed, say the admire American freedom and liberty, but despise our government for propping up a dictatorial, embezzling strongman.

How do we keep getting it so wrong when it comes to foreign relations with dictators? Was the last 30 years of relative calm in Egypt, at a $70B price tag, really worthwhile if it all comes unglued now? And results in justified anti-American sentiments across so much of the so-called 'Arab street' for backing regional dictators who suppressed individuals' desires for more freedom and liberty?

Regardless of party, the US has to figure out a better, more effective and moral approach to interacting with regimes which suppress their people unjustly, or we'll continue to be on the losing end of populist uprisings around the globe.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jon Kyl's Retirement

Many will probably express regret that conservative GOP Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona has announced that he won't stand for re-election in 2012.

In contrast, I am rather pleased that he's not waiting to be carried out feet first, or until he's nearly senile. Moreover, I appreciated his sentiment that it's time someone else had a turn in his seat.

Yes, the Senate is rather narrowly balanced now. Conservatives and Republicans can easily complain that every seat needs to be protected Democratic contenders.

But I feel it's more important for members of both parties to stop viewing Congress and, in fact, politics in general, as a lifetime career. According to one source, Kyl served in the House from 1986, then for the Senate in 1994. That makes 8 years in the lower chamber, and 18 years in the upper one. Long enough, indeed.

It's high time that citizens came to expect Representatives and Senators to make such service a temporary interlude in their lives. As such, Kyl's retirement sets a good example, regardless that he's been sensible, intelligent and, by most accounts, a good Senator.

Hopefully, Arizona's Republican party has a worthy successor ready to replace Kyl. If not, well, they should. And maybe there would be, were Congressional members not expected as lifetime office-holders.