19 Apr 2011

David Frum has been doing a series of post on Yuval Levin’s essay on ending the welfare state.  I have yet to read Levin’s essay so I can’t comment on it, but Frum does note that much of what was in the budget plan offered by Paul Ryan takes some of Levin’s ideas to heart.  That doesn’t set Frum’s heart ablaze and he admits that after the Great Recession there is still a need for the welfare state: Speaking only personally, I cannot take seriously the idea that the worst thing that has happened in the past three years is that government got bigger. Or that money was borrowed. Or that the number of people on food stamps and unemployment insurance and Medicaid increased. The worst thing was that tens of millions of Americans – and not only Americans – were plunged into unemployment, foreclosure, poverty. If food stamps and unemployment insurance, and Medicaid mitigated those disasters, then two cheers for food stamps, unemployment insurance, and Medi...

04 Apr 2011

The Cato Institute is now advertising a “let’s get serious” message aimed towards Congressional efforts to reduce the deficit.  This is commendable.  Cato’s view is that both Republican efforts at $60 billion reductions for 2011 and the Democrat’s at a much lower number are clearly not meaningful and totally insincere. In the ad Cato lists some $1.4 trillion in cuts which would reduce the current $1.6 trillion deficit significantly.  I cannot comment on the practicality or unintended consequences of most of these cuts.  I will comment on two which in turn make me worry about the rest. Cato addresses Social Security and claims a potential $40 billion in yearly savings.  Their approach is to tie future benefit increases to increases in prices, not wages.  They also want to establish a voluntary private investment sector where citizens could voluntarily opt for private (re Wall Street) accounts. This recommendations begs the question for what ...

17 Mar 2011

Apparently there is an internal Cold War going on inside the Obama administration, over those who would actually do what the President was elected to do, namely lead, and those who want to continue to punt our problems down the field. So far it seems that our President has, as he has done with so many other things lately, decided to punt, rather than join in the effort to fix the long term solvency problems of Social Security. From The Hill: “There are two camps,” the source added. “One camp wants to be able to throw a bone to Republicans and some [centrist] Democrats. “The political people would prefer not to be accused of being the party that cuts Social Security in those ways. Some political people would like to see the president out there defending the program and making the case that it has nothing to do with the deficit.” A second Democratic source, who has pushed to reform Social Security by increasing the flow of revenues to the tr...

06 Mar 2011

In a post of mine at WNYC's Its a Free Country, I talked a bit about how the selfishness of the Baby Boomer generation has directly led to a situation where the generation that is growing up now will face problems that the Baby Boomers' choices caused: They propped up parties that differ widely in political priorities, but who share an undying love of spending money they don’t have, to pay for things they promise they can deliver to their constituents without having to pay for them in higher taxes or substantial cuts in spending. When you talk about these things to the types of young, politically active types I have the pleasure of meeting all the time, you see in them a sort of frustrated disbelief. I’m not removed from their situation by all that much, and I share in this disappointment. Their parents and grandparents love them, and want them to succeed, but have supported politicians who have ensured that they will see a job market that is...

18 Feb 2011

A flaw in our two party system is that both the Democratic and Republican parties put their political interests, including service to special interests with money, before the public interest. That fatal weakness in the two parties shows itself from time to time. I am not alone in questioning the loyalties of the two parties - Solomon here also poses similar questions in this and other contexts. According to a CNN report, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused president Obma of a "lack of seriousness" on fiscal issues. CNN quoted Mr. McConnell as saying "I have said repeatedly -- and I know Speaker (John) Boehner has as well -- that with regard to .... entitlements, we're waiting for presidential leadership. We know and will say again that entitlement reform will not be done except on a bipartisan basis with presidential leadership. . . . . . It doesn't have to be in public. We all understand there are some limitations to negotiatin...

11 Jan 2011

The Concord Center, as always a shining light of common sense on budgetary issues, highlights a Urban Institute study that sheds light on why Social Security and Medicare are leading us into Bankruptcy in a recent post. The kicker: Medicare payroll taxes, which only go towards Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), combined with premiums (which are set at levels to pay for about 25 percent of Medicare Part B costs), only cover 51 to 58 percent of total Medicare expenditures over time. This is basic mathematics. We're not paying enough in, and spending too much. Its childish to think we can go without either drastically cutting, drastically raising taxes, or a mixture of the two. Since neither of the first two are at all politically possible, the real question is how much taxes need to be raised, and where we can trim. No longer can we just accept that we're going to just borrow the difference between what we want and what we're willing to pay in...

15 Nov 2010

I stumbled across this fantastic blog post at some paper called The Livingston County News... the following quote struck me as something that could have been ripped right out of my own head: Neither party will stand up, look the citizens in the eye, and tell us the truth. Both sides have just spent billions in campaign ads telling us that the other side is little better than a coven of witches or a howling pack of socialists. Would that they would have talked about issues in 2010. Talk about Nero fiddling while Rome burned! Who is going to tell us that Social Security is unsustainable and that if it is not fixed (not fiddled with but fixed) soon, we will not be able to fix it so that it still is worthy of its name–providing old folks in our society with security? Who will say that the system that made post-World War II folks comfortable in retirement, a system of pensions in both private and public sectors, is dead and not coming back to life...

07 Nov 2010

One of the more strange developments of the last few years, in my mind, has been the series of bizarre flip-flops Republicans have made in regards to entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. When I was first getting into politics in college, the Republican Party was still of the mind that these programs needed to be pared back, but recently it was the Republican Party that vehemently campaigned against the paring back of Medicare cost growth by Democrats this cycle. Not to be chained in by their own logic, the GOP is now starting to talk about none other than deeply cutting entitlement programs again. The most drastic of this is, not terribly surprisingly, in Texas, where some among the Republican caucus there are arguing that the state should drop the Medicaid program altogether. Via Emily Ramshaw at the Texas Tribune: "Far-right conservatives are offering that possibility in post-victory news conferences. Moderat...

25 Aug 2010

Matt Bai, one of the best commentators around these days in my opinion, at the New York Times has a great piece out today, profiling Earl Blumenauer, a liberal congressman from Oregon, and his view that dealing with the budget deficit is of utmost importance. But Mr. Blumenauer sides with the White House on the notion that Democrats need to do something now about the federal debt, starting with cuts in wasteful federal spending (like some farm subsidies and military outlays) and with changes to cherished entitlement programs. Mr. Blumenauer doesn’t argue that government does too much, or that programs like Social Security and Medicare aren’t vital. Rather, in two recent conversations about the nation’s finances, Mr. Blumenauer argued that if Democrats really want to protect a vast array of federal programs from repeated Republican onslaughts, then they need to bring the costs of the programs in line with reality. Its not just from Republican on...