Douthat, Ornstein and Self-Execution

Recently two conservatives, Ross Douthat and Norman Ornstein, have come out against Republicans and talk radio for their strong opposition to the use of the “self-executing rule” to pass healthcare legislation.

Ornstein chastised Republicans for shamelessly accusing Democracts of using a legislative technique that they themselves have used numerous times.  He writes:

“Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

Linking to Ornstein, Ross Douthat weighed in on the matter:

“But I also think it’s appropriate that there exists, for an extremely determined but not-quite-super majority, mechanisms that allow legislators to overcome these hurdles and push a controversial piece of legislation through. ‘Hard but not absolutely impossible’ seems like the right bar to set for a bill of this nature. I wish the Democrats had chosen a different path, but in the end, we live in a republic, not a direct democracy: If our elected representatives can really muster enough votes, within the rules, to pass health care legislation even after everything that’s happened — if they believe that strongly, in other words, that this is absolutely and without question the right policy for America — then they have every right to go for it.”

Ornstein and Douthat’s points seem sensible except for one fact: the self-executing rule has never before been used in the way Democrats are proposing to use it.

That slight problem aside, Douthat and Orstein seem to misunderstand the nature of Republican opposition to the Democratic tactics.  The “self-executing rule” tactic allows Democrats to pass controversial legislation while enabling individual legislators to avoid voter accountability this coming fall; Republicans believe that individuals who vote to federalize 1/6th of the American economy ought be held accountable.

Even if it could be demonstrated that Republicans had, at some point in the party’s history, attempted to avoid accountability on a piece of legislation, I suspect it could also be demonstrated that Democrats chastised Republicans for the effort.  The point is that elected officials ought not to avoid accountability.  By no means are the Republicans feigning indignation at the attempt by their Democrat counterparts to avoid accountability.

So much for Ornstein’s objections.  Douthat simply spoke too soon and should have refrained from giving the Democrats a pass for their cleverness at the cost of sounding like he has admitted defeat at this crucial moment in the healthcare legislation battle.

For conservatives, this healthcare legislation is of the utmost importance; in the event that healthcare is federalized, this nation becomes, de facto, a center-left nation.  This healthcare legislation should not pass for reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere.  To ensure that it does not pass, Republicans and their allies on talk radio have been fighting a hard battle for nearly a year.  This is a critical moment if we are to preserve any semblance of limited government.  With a vote expected Sunday, the President is ramping up the rhetoric, the parliamentary trickery, and the back-room deals.  In this critical moment Misters Ornstein and Douthat have chosen to chastise and betray their allies on the front line much to the ravenous delight of conservatisms opponents.  For that, these conservative critics ought be ashamed.

For my part, I pass on for consideration by Mr. Douthat and Mr. Ornstein remarks made by a former President who fought hard and won many battles political and otherwise:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt ‘

Healthcare, Budgeting, and Student Loans – Time for Common Sense

The President, his economists, and the CBO defy common sense when they discuss the costs of the 2010 Budget and new entitlement programs such as health care reform and the federalizing of the student loan process.  A recent story in the Washington Post exemplifies the point; reporting on remarks by CBO director Dougles Elmendorf, Lori Montgomery summarized Elmendorf’s statements saying:

“Other policy changes, such as Obama’s signature health-care initiative and a plan to dramatically expand the federal student loan program, would have significant effects on the budget, Elmendorf wrote, but they generally would be paid for and therefore would not drive deficits higher.”

Yet, according to Montgomery, Elmendorf also argued:

“Obama’s tax-cutting agenda is by far the biggest contributor to those budget gaps, the CBO said. As part of his campaign pledge to protect families making less than $250,000 a year from new taxes, the president is proposing to prevent the alternative minimum tax from expanding to ensnare millions of additional taxpayers. He also wants to make permanent a series of tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration, which are scheduled to expire at the end of this year.”

According to the President and CBO, Americans are not to blame the forthcoming debt on increased government spending on existing programs and new entitlement programs.  Americans are to ignore deficits resulting from the government’s plan to: assume control and responsibility for 1/6th of the economy through healthcare, “dramatically” expand and control the student loan process, and pass a budget which will lead to economy killing deficits if not fixed by a newly appointed government commissions to be begun after the passage of the failed budget.  Instead we are to blame the looming deficits on ourselves for our unwillingness to pay more taxes.  Why?  Because Natoma Canfield needs insurance, the President’s healthcare plan will reduce the deficit, big banks are bad for little people, and the President feels that a lack of courage is the reason that congress hasn’t passed the combination budget/student loan/healthcare initiative.

Common sense tells us that in times of economic turmoil, spending must decrease otherwise debt will increase.  However, Elmendorf is saying that spending need not decrease, but revenue must increase.  Elmendorf, and the President, can make these shocking claims because the federal government has the power to force an increase in revenue by raising taxes.  Make no mistake, that is what they plan to do.  After all, Natoma Canfield needs insurance and the Congress needs courage.

Let’s take a moment to push-back on the notion that the President’s healthcare initiative and student loan program will not drive deficits higher.  Let’s also examine the President’s current budget.

Regarding the healthcare initiative, there are good reasons to doubt the numbers and the demand.  First, at the recent Healthcare Summit, Representative Paul Ryan leveled his devastating critique of the system in place to “pay” for healthcare.  According to Ryan and other Republicans, the President and congressional Democrats are using legislative gimmicks to hide costs, relying on “10 years of tax increases and Medicare cuts to pay for six years of spending,” and implementing stringent federal regulations that would prohibit doctors and hospitals from making necessary spending cuts.  Second, to cover the cost of the bill the new plan would impose a Medicare tax on investments which studies say will lead to 115,000 lost job opportunities per year, a lose of $1.37 in GDP for every additional dollar of revenue collected, and a reduction of household disposable income by $17.3 billion per year, among other things.  Third, the plan operates counter to the wisdom of the internet age.  In an age of open source (read free market) decentralized, problem solving and innovation, the President wants to eliminate private sector innovation, federalize decision making, and centralize and bureaucratize one of our nation’s biggest problems.  Finally, the bill is highly controversial and the American people do not like it.  Why else would House Speaker Nancy Pelosi think it a good idea to attempt to pass the wildly unpopular Senate bill through the house without the House voting on it?  Only those blinded by unrequited loyalty could see the maneuver as anything other than shady, un-American political slight of hand, perhaps even unconstitutional.

Regarding the student loan program, it is an unpopular and costly idea.  Student loans directly from the federal government have been available for decades, but poor customer service has lead the vast majority of students preferring loans from private institutions.  Furthermore, loan season is quickly approaching and students (as well as educational institutions) fear that the government will not be able to get a system in place in time to handle all the loans that they’d need to process for the upcoming Fall semester.  More importantly, a government takeover of student loans is costly and Congress, as well as the President, refuse to acknowledge the true costs.  According to the Wall Street Journal,

“[I]n a remarkable letter to Senator Judd Gregg, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf admits that government accounting is bogus. He writes that the statutory methodology ‘does not include the cost to the government stemming from the risk that the cash flows may be less than the amount projected (that is, that defaults could be higher than projected).’ Mr. Elmendorf further notes that the government’s accounting system is specifically skewed to make direct loans from the government appear to cost much less than guaranteed loans made by private lenders. He says the real ‘savings’ are only $47 billion, even though, in a deception that would be criminal fraud if it weren’t mandated by Congress, the official estimate remains at $80 billion.”

Not only will this takeover be financially costly, Matt Lewis at Big Government argues that it will also cost us thousands of private sector jobs.  At a time when only 1 available job exists for every 6 unemployed Americans, Congress cannot pass job killing legislation.

Regarding the budget, even the President acknowledges that it is broken and will bankrupt the nation unless fixed.  Common sense, and Republicans, argue that we should make fixes now and approve a future budget that will not bankrupt the nation.  The President argues that we should pass the bankrupting budget now then appoint a commission which will examine the budget and propose fixes.  His is an idea that would only make sense near the end of a long beer summit.  What is so broken about the budget?  First, even operating on its “optimistic projections” concerning GDP and interest rates, the budget is “unsustainable.”  In a recent exchange in Congress, California representative John Campbell pressured Dr. Peter Orzag, President Obama’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to flesh this point out in greater detail.  Orzag acknowledges that he, and the President, know the budget is broken, but insists that it is better than what was had prior, so the American people should be grateful.  Second, it would raise taxes for 3.2 million small businesses and upper-income taxpayers by an average of $300,000 over the next decade; in other words, it would place a heavy burden on job creators and innovators.  Finally, it would create an insurmountable mountain of debt:

  • By 2020, the CBO estimates debt held by the public would reach $20.3 trillion, or 90% of GDP. That’s up from 53% of GDP in 2009.
  • The federal government would add an estimated $9.8 trillion to the country’s accrued debt over the next 10 years- $5.6 trillion would be in interest alone.
  • It would borrow 42 cents for each dollar spent in 2010.

And the list goes on.

Common sense tells us that spending, and not the unwillingness of the American people to pay higher and more taxes, is to blame for the coming debt.  The President is acting in defiance of common sense and wants Congressional Democrats to have the “courage” to do likewise.

It’s time that President Obama got his priorities in line: reduce spending, control the debt, ease the tax burden on the private sector, eliminate wasteful spending projects like the high-speed railway from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and give us, the people responsible for the future of this country, time to read through and decide on important pieces of legislation that could potentially result in significant debt increases.  Don’t make us pass the bill in order to find out what’s in it, the idea defies common sense!  The President should stop defying common sense and give us good reason to hope for some change in our pockets upon the completion of his presidency.

**Author’s Note: If you want to take action, here’s one form, 30 seconds, click here to e-mail your elected representative and Blue Dog Democrats – tell them to use common sense and stop this bill.**

Decentralizing Healthcare – Lunch w/ TED

Eric Dishman, healthcare researcher for Intel, wants us to take medicine back to the future.  Dishman wants us to envision medicine as it was practiced before 1787, before it was centralized in hospitals that departmentalized the body and its problems, but he wants us to do so while employing cutting edge technologies enabling us to capture real-time data leading to diagnoses of everything from dimension to the onset of more serious diseases.

Dishman’s talk is remarkable because it exemplifies the kind of innovative thinking that people and companies in free markets are capable of; I’ll be you didn’t even know Intel, a computer chip company, had a full time paid position for someone like Dishman.

It is remarkable because Dishman, using the technology available to us, is opening up doors and challenging long held assumptions about medical care.  In the United Staes, we’ve been immersed in “healthcare” talk for over a year yet who has ever suggested that centralized medicine vis-a-vis hospitals might be responsible for some of our present difficulties?

Finally, it is remarkable because it might be the last of its kind.  TED talks do not move politicians to innovation;   government bureaucracy is a slow moving animal which does not adapt to change.  Ideas like these are tested, proved, and implemented by entrepreneurs in the free market.  Many ideas and entrepreneurial endeavors will fail, but some will succeed and their success will help millions.  If the President and Congress have their way, the free market will no longer have means and opportunity to affect change in healthcare; that power will belong to the government.  Imagine Dishman making his case before a government committee filled with politicians in kahootz with “Big Hospital” lobbyists.  Presently, bad medicine can fail.  Soon, it will receive permanent life support via American tax dollars.

Today I’m giving Evangelical Outpost readers a double-whammy on healthcare.  In my other essay, I argue how the current healthcare debate defies common sense.  Now, I want to present a positive vision for reform.  Imagine a world where ideas like Mr. Dishman’s were implemented; where doctors received all their patients medical data straight to their iPad before arriving at the patient’s home for a check-up; where patients paid only for what they needed, and preventative medicine meant scheduling a monthly appointment in ones own home.  Technology has forever altered the cost/profit structure of the music industry – millions of people download billions of songs and they pay much less than ever before.  Who’s to say that the same couldn’t happen with healthcare?

Reform is needed certainly!  But before we pull the lever to do the same as old Europe has done, let’s first see if we can’t imagine and implement a new world of medicine.  America is different, she is exceptional, full of enterprising people and big ideas that continue to inspire the world.  On this issue of great importance, let us not conform so quickly when the Dishman’s of the world have ideas that merit our attention and action; let us lead and be remarkable for our faith in ourselves and the values that have made us a nation charitable, strong, free, and prosperous. ‘

A Conservative Argument From Principle Against Universal Healthcare

The nature of the current debate surrounding the implementation of universal healthcare in America is troubling because it is comprised almost entirely of pragmatic arguments void of concern for the principles behind the project.  Before one asks how much a thing will cost, how it will be organized, or whether “the uninsured” will benefit, one should ask whether enacting universal healthcare is in keeping with the values and principles of the American experiment.  In other words, is universal healthcare good for America?

Universal healthcare is not good for America.  In America, universal healthcare would undermine principles important to the functioning of society; specifically, it would undermine individual liberty, free enterprise and free markets, and the right to life.

Inasmuch as the government bureaucracy mandated by universal healthcare makes decisions concerning the health habits and medical treatment of individual Americans, it undermines individual liberty.  The purpose of government in America is to provide a defense of the people’s right to life, liberty, and happiness.  By concerning itself with the health practices of citizens, the government extends its reach beyond defense into offense.  Instead of defending a free society wherein people are empowered to choose for themselves the manner and nature of their medical treatments, the government would become an active agent making decisions on behalf of individuals.  The government would do this by shifting personal medical decisions away from individuals to bureaucrats who would debate and decide which treatments each citizen ought to choose from.  If universal healthcare is enacted, one’s personal belief about the best treatment for oneself would become only a small variable plugged into a great calculus of statistics, studies, best practices, and popular political beliefs; an equation constructed to create stability for a medical system meant to care for all.  By the very nature of systems individuality gives way to universality, liberty to a supposedly benevolent tyranny.

As universal healthcare undermines personal liberty it causes our free market economy to malfunction.  In free markets, personal liberty provides two important functions.   First, it enables people to choose the products and services they think are best. Second, it empowers entrepreneurs to solve problems and meet needs, medical or otherwise.  Universal healthcare would render entrepreneurs unable to meet the medical needs of their neighbors.  Within free markets, competition serves as a mechanism to refine and reward good ideas while removing poor ideas.  Competition, being critical to the maintenance and preservation of free societies, would be eliminated in a system of universal healthcare where the government could not fail and other competitors, which could fail, would not be able to compete.  Instating universal healthcare would effectively remove free market influence from 1/6th of America’s economy; a large segment of our free market economy would no longer be free.  If 1/6th of a system is no longer functioning as designed, how can one reasonably expect that the entire system will remain stable?

Finally, universal healthcare would cause the government to violate its constitutional duty to defend the right to life.  Though intended to provide medical coverage to its citizens and therefore protect their lives, universal healthcare would make the government an active agent in deciding when to end patients’ lives.  End of life issues are an inextricable part of medical practice, whether they are related to elderly care, life-altering diseases, or controversial issues such as abortion or euthanasia.  Instead of making a principled defense of its citizens’ right to life, universal healthcare would force the government to make pragmatic, cost based decisions regarding the perseveration of life.  One can already see evidence for this in current debates about the cost of medical care for the elderly and serious discussions in the halls of congress about the economic value of euthanasia and abortion.  Such debates ought to act as a warning for all regarding the means by which life will be measured and valued in a system of universal healthcare.  Instead of defending one’s right to live, government would decide if one ought to live.  And even if universal healthcare permits one to live, that one would find himself living in a less free and entrepreneurial society; a society that is supposedly good for everyone else. ‘