Tag: Ezra Klein

Campaign Finance Proposals That Deter Speech Are Bad

Perhaps the first thing you should know about campaign finance “reform” proposals – at least those coming from the left – is that their ultimate goal is to deter speech about political issues.  Whether it’s limiting campaign donations or spending, restricting the ability of corporations or other groups to publicize their views, or imposing disclosure rules, the goal isn’t to have better-informed voters or a more dynamic political system, but to have less speech.   Those who advocate these things want the government to have the power to control who speaks and how much.

That lesson was repeated to me during two public events I participated in yesterday.  First, at a Senate hearing (which you can watch here; my opening remarks, a longer version of which you can read here, begin at 59:50) several senators seemed incredulous at my suggestion that we need more speech rather than less.  After Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) tried to get me to admit that I was a Koch pawn, a particularly laughable charge in a year when the Kochs sued Cato over management issues, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) were incredulous that I would want fewer restrictions and less disclosures than them.  If I favor certain disclosure rules for donations to campaigns – which I do, in conjunction with eliminating donation caps, as I wrote yesterday – why am I against the DISCLOSE Act, which would impose certain further reporting requirements on independent political spending (and which failed last week after getting zero Republican votes)?

I should’ve just referred the senators to John Samples’s analysis of an earlier version of the proposed legislation, but in any event, the answer boils down to the idea that the required disclosures (of expenditures – which shouldn’t be confused with donations) are so onerous as to burden and deter speech with negligible impact on voter information.  That is, as former FEC chairman Brad Smith explains in this video, disclosing that a TV commercial was paid for by Americans for Apple Pie, one of whose donors is the local chamber of commerce, one of whose donors is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of whose donors is the national widget manufacturers’ associations, one of whose donors is Acme Widgets … doesn’t tell a voter anything.  What it does do is require 20 seconds of the 30-second ad to be given over to disclosure rather than the actual political speech.  So what’s the purpose of the regulation if not to deter that speech?

Moreover, Super PACs already have to disclose their donors, and if their donors are corporations/associations rather than individuals, you can look up the people leading those entities in their corporate filings.  And if the problem is “millionaires and billionaires” – there was more than one reference to the Kochs during the hearing, and I helpfully suggested that I’m happy to defend Georges Soros and Clooney as well – then no law short of a complete ban on political speech by individuals will do.  Luckily, we have the First Amendment in place to stop self-interested incumbents from trying that.

My second public event was an unlikely appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show, where I joined Harvard law professor Larry Lessig, who also appeared at the earlier Senate hearing, to discuss campaign finance regulation.  I thought it went pretty well, and you can watch for yourself (segment titled “How to take American democracy back from the .000063 percent”).  What’s telling is that guest-host Ezra Klein was more even-handed than the senators at the earlier hearing.

Finally, here’s another nugget from yesterday: As I exited the Senate hearing room, a young “reform” activist said to me, “I think you’re a fascist.”  And here I thought that I did a decent job of getting across the point that we should have less government, not more.

‘The Problem with CLASS Is That It’s Voluntary.’

As I write, the House is debating a bill that would repeal the CLASS Act, one of two new entitlements created under ObamaCare. It’s hard express just how awful this program is. Here’s my attempt from back in October, when the Obama administration admitted CLASS is a bust:

The idea behind CLASS was that the government would run a voluntary and self-sustaining insurance plan to help the disabled pay for long-term care, including nursing home care…

Congress required CLASS to set each applicant’s premiums according to the average applicant’s risk of needing such long-term care, rather than her individual risk. But averaged premiums are only attractive to people with above-average risks. Since few people with below-average risks would enroll, the average premium would rise. That would encourage more people with below-average risks not to enroll, and the vicious cycle would continue until the program collapsed.

As it turns out, CLASS collapsed even before its 2012 start date. The same thing happened when Obamacare imposed the same sort of price controls on health insurance for children in September 2010: the markets for child-only coverage collapsed in a total of 17 states, and are slowly collapsing in even more.

Everyone with a rudimentary understanding of insurance saw this coming. The government’s non-partisan actuaries warned of “a very serious risk” that CLASS would be “unsustainable.” One wrote, “Thirty-six years of actuarial experience lead me to believe that this program would collapse in short order and require significant federal subsidies to continue.”

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee called CLASS “a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of.” An Obama administration official wrote, “Seems like a disaster to me.” One of President Obama’s own cabinet secretaries called the program “totally unsustainable” and echoed a presidential commission on fiscal responsibility by recommending it be “reformed or repealed.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has diagnosed the fatal flaw in this most ill-conceived government program. I swear, I am not making this up:

The problem with CLASS is that it’s voluntary.

Harkin isn’t the first person to wistfully lament that CLASS would be such a great program if only we could put non-participants in jail. He’s just the first person I know of who has said so explicitly. Others have said that the collapse of the CLASS Act should inspire confidence in the rest of ObamaCare, which imposes the same type of price controls on health insurance, and then threatens to put people in jail if they don’t buy it. Here’s how I described that strategy back in October:

Obamacare inspires confidence in its supporters, then, because one part of the law throws a Hail Mary pass to prevent another part of the law from stripping Americans of the insurance that currently protects them from illness and impoverishment. Feel safer?

Rather than make the CLASS Act compulsory, Congress should make the rest of ObamaCare voluntary:

[Ezra] Klein writes, “One way of looking at the administration’s [CLASS] decision is that it shows a commitment to fiscal responsibility.” If so, then let’s handle the rest of Obamacare exactly the same way. Congress should require Obamacare’s health insurance provisions to be voluntary and self-sustaining, just like CLASS: no individual mandate, no taxpayer subsidies. Or is fiscal irresponsibility part of the plan?

Harkin and other ObamaCare defenders have a profound lack of respect for other people’s freedom and dignity. The problem with that is that it’s voluntary. If it were a medical condition, it might be excusable.

The CLASS Act: This Is Confidence-Inspiring?

In the Daily Caller, I explain how the failure of ObamaCare’s “CLASS Act” highlights the fatal flaws in the rest of the law:

As it turns out, CLASS collapsed even before its 2012 start date. The same thing happened when Obamacare imposed the same sort of price controls on health insurance for children in September 2010: the markets for child-only coverage collapsed in a total of 17 states, and are slowly collapsing in even more…

In the face of this setback, Obamacare supporters are naturally declaring victory. Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic sees “vindication.” Kevin Drum of Mother Jones proudly announces, “What happened here is that government worked exactly the way it ought to.” The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein instructs, “The CLASS experience should, if anything, make us more confident in the underlying law.” It’s hard to argue with such logic, but let’s try…

Obamacare inspires confidence in its supporters, then, because one part of the law throws a Hail Mary pass to prevent another part of the law from stripping Americans of the insurance that currently protects them from illness and impoverishment. Feel safer?

So if you’d like secure protection from illness and impoverishment, repeal ObamaCare. Or say your prayers.

Ezra Klein vs. the Secretary of Agriculture

It seems that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took exception to Ezra Klein’s recent blog post on “Why we still need cities”. Someone at the USDA emailed Ezra, outlining the Secretary’s concerns and to set up a time for the two of them to talk. Ezra took notes during their discussion and, yesterday, posted a “lightly edited” transcript of their conversation.

The Secretary had plenty of the standard talking points on hand – and some new ones, like the fact that we should support farm subsidies because rural America has good values and farmers don’t feel appreciated – but Ezra expertly took him to task, deftly pushing back on the non-sequiturs, questionable assumptions and enduring myths about the need for farm subsidies.  He even gets in a worthy swipe at sugar tariffs and the “need” to produce all our food in America. Read the entire thing; it is worth your time.

(HT: Justin Logan)

What on Earth Is Ezra Klein Talking about?

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes:

It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Republicans. They managed to make it through the health-care debate without offering serious solutions of their own, and - perhaps more impressive - through the election by promising to tell us their solutions after they’d won. But the jig is up. They need a health-care plan - and quickly.

The GOP knew this day would come.

Say what?  Exactly what political factors are forcing the GOP to put up or shut up?  Their base is happy; it wants an all-out assault on ObamaCare, and congressional Republicans are giving it to them.  Republicans are even winning the ObamaCare debate among the broader public:

So why should Republicans all of a sudden stop attacking ObamaCare and start talking about their own refor–ohhhh…I see.  Klein is trying to talk the dog off the meat wagon.  Good luck with that.

Why Ryan-Rivlin Beats ObamaCare on Costs — and Spending

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein asks of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) Medicare voucher proposal (co-authored with former Congressional Budget Office director Alice Rivlin):

Why are the cost savings in his bill possible, while the cost savings in the Affordable Care Act aren’t?…when it comes to the ACA, Ryan firmly believes that seniors will quickly and successfully force Congress to reverse any reforms that degrade their Medicare experience. That’s a fair enough concern, of course. What’s confusing is why it isn’t doubly devastating when applied to Ryan-Rivlin.

Set aside that Klein violates Cannon’s First Rule of Economic Literacy: Never say costs when you mean spending.  And that he uses the word “affordable” to describe ObamaCare.

There are two reasons why the Medicare spending restraints in the Ryan-Rivlin proposal are more likely to hold than those in ObamaCare.

First, ObamaCare’s restraints amount to nothing more than ratcheting down the price controls that traditional Medicare uses to pay health care providers.  Structuring Medicare subsidies in this way – setting the prices that Medicare pays specific providers – makes it very difficult to lower those prices, because the system itself creates huge incentives for providers to organize and lobby to undo those restraints.  As I explain more fully in this op-ed from September 2010, Medicare vouchers would change that lobbying game by reducing the incentives for provider groups to expend resources in the pursuit of higher Medicare spending.  That gives the Ryan-Rivlin restraints a much better shot at surviving.  (Seriously, it’s a pretty cool feature.)

Second, Klein predicts a backlash against Medicare vouchers because he says it amounts to “giving seniors less money to purchase more expensive private insurance.”  The notion that Medicare is less costly than private insurance is pure, uninformed nonsense.  Medicare and a “public option” are attractive to the Left precisely because such programs hide the full cost of their operations from enrollees and taxpayers.  It is a virtue of vouchers that they would reveal to Medicare enrollees the actual prices of the coverage and services they demand, because that information will spur enrollees to be more cost-conscious when selecting a health plan and consuming medical services.  That, in turn, will force insurers and providers to compete on the basis of cost to a degree never before seen in this nation, competition that will generate the sort of cost-saving innovations that Jim Capretta discusses here.

Both of these reasons boil down to the truism that nobody spends other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own.  We’ll make a lot of progress in this country when the Left realizes how much damage they’ve done by ignoring that truism.