Tag: subsidies

Have the Democrats Outsmarted the Republicans on Health Care?

In their attempt to defeat Obamacare, Republicans have focused their criticism on the public option, painting it as the most objectionable feature of existing proposals. Senator Max Baucus, (D-Mont.), has now proposed a plan without the public option. This leaves the Republicans in an awkward position, especially since Baucus’s plan is projected to cost less than earlier proposals.

If Republicans oppose the Baucus plan, they surely risk the ire of voters who will be told during the mid-term elections, “The Republicans blocked a plan that would have covered the uninsured and reduced the deficit.”

The problem is, the public option was never the crucial issue; instead, it was the mandate to purchase insurance. Once government mandates insurance coverage, it gets to define what constitutes insurance, which means it can ban pre-existing condition clauses and the like. The mandate also”justifies” large subsidies for insurance, to avoid non-compliance with the mandate. So, an individual mandate, which the Baucus plan includes, implies a rapid takeover of the entire health care system by the federal government.

Something like the Baucus plan will pass. It will either cost far more than existing projections, if government administrators fail to impose the restrictions on reimbursements that generate the projected cost savings, or it will involve massive rationing of care.

The Democrats played it perfectly. The Republicans got sucker-punched.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

Deficits, Spending, and Taxes

The White House and the CBO announced this week that:

The nation’s fiscal outlook is even bleaker than the government forecast earlier this year because the recession turned out to be deeper than widely expected, the budget offices of the White House and Congress agreed in separate updates on Tuesday.

The Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget raised its 10-year tally of deficits expected through 2019 to $9.05 trillion, nearly $2 trillion more than it projected in February. That would represent 5.1 percent of the economy’s estimated gross domestic product for the decade, a higher level than is generally considered healthy.

What is the right response to these deficits?

One view holds that most current expenditure is desirable — indeed, that expenditure should ideally be much higher — so the United States should raise taxes to balance the budget. Taxes are a drag on economic growth, however, and unpopular with many voters, so this view presents politicians with an unhappy tradeoff.

The alternative view holds that a substantial fraction of current expenditure is undesirable and should be eliminated, even if the revenue to pay for it could be manufactured out of thin air. To be concrete:

  • Medicare and Medicaid encourage excessive spending on health care.
  • The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan encourage hostility to the U.S. and thereby increase the risk of terrorism.
  • Drug prohibition generates crime and corruption.
  • Agricultural subsidies distort decisions about which crops to grow, and where.
  • And much, much more.

So, under this view, the United States can have its cake and eat it too: improve the economy and reduce the deficit without the need to raise taxes.

This approach is not, of course, politically trivial, since existing expenditure programs have constituencies that will fight their elimination.

But thinking about these two views of the deficits is nevertheless useful: it shows that discussion should really be about which aspects of government are truly beneficial, not just about the deficits per se.

C/P Libertarianism, A to Z

$12 Billion: Coming to a Community College Near You

The Obama administration insists that we have to “educate our way to a better economy,” and in a proposal expected today will call for a $12 billion effort to graduate 5 million more students from community colleges over the next decade. The administration justifies this by noting that many of the jobs projected to grow fastest in coming years will require some postsecondary education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, projects (scroll down to “Education and Training” in the link) that the jobs that will have the highest overall growth will mainly require on-the-job – not college – training. Of course, it’s quite possible that the main goal of Obama’s proposal is not really to improve the economy (a highly dubious proposition regardless of motive) but to get more dollars to community-college employees, an interest group that seems to be growing in clout.

All of which begs the question: When are we going to see the change in education that this president promised, instead of the same old, simplistic bromides about more degrees and more money that ultimately takes valuable resources away from taxpayers and gives it to ivory-tower types? When are we going to stop seeing the easy money and access policies that have fueled the out-of-control tuition skyrocket; severely watered down what a college degree means; and led the nation to produce many more college graduates than we have jobs for? And couldn’t employers provide the on-the-job training that will be crucial for most new jobs a lot more effectively if they didn’t have to send their money to Washington, where politicians will waste it in pursuit of worthless degrees?

Of course they could. But if that were to happen, it would be much harder for politicians to appear to care – to be “doing something” – and that is what really matters in Washington.

A New Regulation I Can Support

Normally I would be happy to leave labelling decisions to retailers and manufacturers, but here’s a proposal for a new mandatory labelling scheme that I can get behind.

James Gibney, a reporter from the Atlantic, called me last week to ask some questions about dairy supports. He was preparing a blog post to propose a new labelling idea that might help break the frustrating stranglehold that the farm lobby has over U.S. agricultural policy. Here’s James’ idea:

To wit, every product whose ingredients benefit from a subsidy should include the following language on the label:

“This product has been subsidized by the U.S. government at taxpayer expense. For more information, please visit usda.gov.”

And every product that benefits from tariff protection should have the following language on the label:

“This product is protected from foreign competition by U.S. import tariffs. Its price is higher as a result. For more information, please visit usitc.gov.”

I like it. For more on Cato’s work on agricultural policy, see here and here.

States “Creating” Jobs - One Corndog at a Time

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about the foolishness of press release economics: states “creating” jobs by handing out taxpayer money to select businesses.  I concluded by saying that “journalists should be on the lookout for more press-release economics schemes coming from the states as revenues remain tight and politicians become desperate to demonstrate they’re “doing something.”  Journalists should examine a state’s tax structure when a taxpayer giveaway is announced to see if perhaps the governor is masking economic-unfriendly fiscal policies.”

Sure enough, the Pew Center’s Stateline.org has an article up detailing the efforts of state governors dealing with the recession by giving businesses taxpayer money to “create” jobs.  Of course, it would make more sense for a state to simply reduce the tax and regulatory burden on a businesses looking to expand or relocate operations within its borders.  But then state politicians might miss out on the short-term benefit of issuing fluffy press releases that are particularly helpful when a state is bleeding jobs.

Stateline notes that “You’d never know Michigan has the nation’s highest unemployment by visiting the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Web site, which trumpets a string of successes in recent months that have resulted in thousands of jobs in a state battered by the decline of auto manufacturing.”  And in neighboring Indiana, the state’s economic central planners are celebrating the “creation” of 50 jobs at a corndog and fritter manufacturer.  Anyone familiar with Hoosier waistlines knows there’s no shortage of corndogs in the state to justify taxpayers having to subsidize their production.

However, Stateline reports that Wisconsin officials are targeting Minneapolis-St. Paul manufacturers with a study that shows relocating to west central Wisconsin would save the Minnesota businesses millions of dollars due to lower worker’s compensation costs, corporate income taxes, and property taxes.  Whatever else Wisconsin’s economic development bureaucrats are up to, this is the right idea.

Kennedy’s Health Bill: A First Look

A draft of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s health care reform bill is finally available, and it is difficult to overstate how far he would move us to a government-run health care system. An initial read-through reveals among the key provisions:

  • An individual mandate, requiring that every American purchase a “qualified” insurance plan. (Sec. 161(a)) The mandate will be enforced through the tax code with Americans required to pay a penalty if they fail to comply.  In an extraordinary delegation of congressional authority, the Kennedy bill would give the Secretaries of Treasury and Health and Human Services the power to determine what this penalty should be. Individuals would be required to submit information on their insurance status over the previous year to the Secretary of HHS, along with “any such other information as the Secretary may require.” (Sec. 6055(b)(2) and (3)). Individuals who already have insurance could keep it. However, if they changed plans (or presumably changed jobs), their new insurance would have to meet the definition of “qualified.”
  • A “pay or play” employer mandate requiring employers to provide all workers with health insurance and pay a minimum amount of the premium, or pay a tax (Sec 162). Again, the amount of the new tax is left to the discretion of the Secretaries of HHS and Treasury. Some small employers would be exempt from the mandate, but the size of those firms remains TBA. (Sec. 3113(g)) Companies with fewer than 250 workers would be forbidden to self-ensure. (Sec. 2720)
  • A new federal bureaucracy, the Medical Advisory Council, which would determine what benefits will be required to be part of your “qualified” insurance plan. (Sec. 3103(h) and (i)). Lest anyone think Congress won’t get involved. The Council’s decisions can be disapproved by Congress if, say, they don’t mandate inclusion by a favored provider group or disease constituency. (Sec 3103(g)).
  • Massive new federal subsidies. Medicaid would be expanded to individuals earning 150 percent of the poverty level, and the federal government would pay all incremental costs of the increased enrollment. (Sec 152.) Single, childless adults would become eligible for Medicaid. Even more egregious, individuals and families with incomes between 150-500 percent of the poverty level ($110,250 for a family of four) would be eligible for subsidies on a sliding scale-basis.(Sec. 3111(b)(1)(A-G)).
  • Insurers would be required to accept all applicants regardless of their health (guaranteed issue) and forbid insurers from basing insurance premiums on risk factors (Community rating). There does not appear to be any exception for lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol or drug use, diet, exercise, etc. Thus, not only will the young and healthy be forced to pay higher premiums to subsidize the old and unhealthy, but the responsible will be forced to pay more to subsidize the irresponsible.
  • A “public option” operating in competition with private insurance (Section 31__). How this plan would be funded, the level of premiums, etc. is left mostly TBA. In response to criticism, the Kennedy bill does require that the public plan pay providers 10 percent above Medicare reimbursement rates. (Sec 31__(B)). That would still allow for a considerable degree of cost-shifting to private insurance. And, we should recall that such promises are ephemeral. When Medicare began, proponents promised it would reimburse at the same rate as insurance. That promise didn’t last long.
  • States would be prodded to set up “gateways,” similar to Massachusetts’ “connector.” (Sec 3104(a)) If a state fails to do so, the federal government will set one up for them. (Sec. 3104(d)) The federal government would provide grants to states to help them set up these gateways. The amount of the grants is, you guessed it, left to the discretion of the Secretary of HHS. Gateways may also fund their operations by assessing a surcharge on insurers. Sec. 3101(b)(5)(A)/
  • A new federal long-term care program (Sec 171).

Kennedy does not include any estimate of how much his plan would cost, nor any proposal for how to pay for it.

More details will undoubtedly emerge, but it is very clear that the Kennedy plan would put one-sixth of the US economy and some of our most important, personal, and private decisions firmly under the thumb of the federal government.

Should You Vote on Keeping Your Local Car Dealership?

There are lots of reasons Washington should not bail out the automakers.  Whatever the justification for saving financial institutions – the “lifeblood” of the economy, etc., etc. – saving selected industrial enterprises is lemon socialism at its worst.  The idea that the federal government will be able to engineer an economic turnaround is, well, the sort of economic fantasy that unfortunately dominates Capitol Hill these days.

One obvious problem is that legislators now have a great excuse to micromanage the automakers.  And they have already started.  After all, if the taxpayers are providing subsidies, don’t they deserve to have dealerships, lots of dealerships, just down the street?  That’s what our Congresscritters seem to think.

Observes Stephen Chapman of the Chicago Tribune:

The Edsel was one of the biggest flops in the history of car making. Introduced with great fanfare by Ford in 1958, it had terrible sales and was junked after only three years. But if Congress had been running Ford, the Edsel would still be on the market.

That became clear last week, when Democrats as well as Republicans expressed horror at the notion that bankrupt companies with plummeting sales would need fewer retail sales outlets. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., led the way, asserting, “I honestly don’t believe that companies should be allowed to take taxpayer funds for a bailout and then leave it to local dealers and their customers to fend for themselves.”

Supporters of free markets can be grateful to Rockefeller for showing one more reason government shouldn’t rescue unsuccessful companies. As it happens, taxpayers are less likely to get their money back if the automakers are barred from paring dealerships. Protecting those dealers merely means putting someone else at risk, and that someone has been sleeping in your bed.

The Constitution guarantees West Virginia two senators, and Rockefeller seems to think it also guarantees the state a fixed supply of car sellers. “Chrysler is eliminating 40 percent of its dealerships in my state,” he fumed, “and I have heard that GM will eliminate more than 30 percent.” This development raises the ghastly prospect that “some consumers in West Virginia will have to travel much farther distances to get their cars serviced under warranty.”

Dealers were on hand to join the chorus. “To be arbitrarily closed with no compensation is wasteful and devastating,” said Russell Whatley, owner of a Chrysler outlet in Mineral Wells, Texas.

Lemon socialism mixed with pork barrel politics!  Could it get any worse?  Don’t ask: after all, this is Washington, D.C.