Topic: General

Testifying to the Joint Economic Committee about “Debt Limit Brinksmanship”

As we get closer to the debt limit, the big spenders in Washington are becoming increasingly hysterical about the supposed possibility of default if politicians lose the ability to borrow more money.

I testified yesterday to the Joint Economic Committee on “The Economic Costs of Debt-Ceiling Brinkmanship” and I explained (reiterating points I made back in 2011) that there is zero chance of default.

Why? Because, as I outline beginning about the 3:10 mark of the video, annual interest payments are about $230 billion and annual tax collections are approaching $3 trillion.

I actually made five points in my testimony. The first three should be quite familiar to regular readers.

First, America’s main fiscal problem is that government is too big. That’s the disease. Deficits and debt are symptoms of that underlying problem.

Second, you achieve good fiscal policy by following “Mitchell’s Golden Rule” so that government grows slower than private sector economic output.

Third, we’ve made some progress in the last two years thanks to genuine fiscal restraint, and we can balance the budget in a very short period of time if lawmakers impose a very modest bit of spending discipline in the future.

The fourth point, which I already discussed above, is that there’s no risk of default - unless the Obama Administration deliberately wants that to happen. But that’s simply not a realistic possibility.

My fifth and final point deserves a bit of extra discussion. I explained that Greece is now suffering through a very deep recession, with record unemployment and harsh economic conditions. I asked the Committee a rhetorical question: Wouldn’t it have been preferable if there was some sort of mechanism, say, 15 years ago that would have enabled some lawmakers to throw sand in the gears so that the government couldn’t issue any more debt?

Debt limit jokesYes, there would have been some budgetary turmoil at the time, but it would have been trivial compared to the misery the Greek people currently are enduring.

I closed by drawing an analogy to the situation in Washington. We know we’re on an unsustainable path. Do we want to wait until we hit a crisis before we address the over-spending crisis? Or do we want to take prudent and modest steps today - such as genuine entitlement reform and spending caps - to ensure prosperity and long-run growth.

Seems like the answer should be simple…at least if you’re not trying to get reelected by bribing voters with their own money.

P.S. My argument for short-term fighting today to avoid fiscal crisis in the future was advanced in greater detail by a Wall Street expert back in 2011.

P.P.S. You can enjoy some good debt limit cartoons by clicking here and here.

It’s Amazingly Simple to Balance the Budget

I’m testifying tomorrow to the Joint Economic Committee about “The Economic Costs of Debt-Ceiling Brinkmanship.”

I won’t give away what I’m going to say (though you can probably figure out my views rather easily by reading this, this, and this), but I do want to share a chart from my testimony.

It shows that it is remarkably simple to balance the budget with a modest amount of spending restraint.

Based on Congressional Budget Office data, we can balance the budget in just three years if spending grows by “only” 1 percent per year.

Balanced Budget with Spending Restraint

The chart also shows that you can balance the budget in just four years if spending is allowed to grow “just” two percent annually.

And if you for some reason think that the burden of government spending should rise faster than inflation, then we can balance the budget in seven years by restraining spending so that it grows 3 percent each year.

Here are a couple of relevant observations.

Goldhill: ObamaCare to Hurt Those It Purports to Help

Another excerpt from David Goldhill’s new book Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father – And How We Can Fix It:

If the ACA places more of the burden of health care on the poor and the middle class, diverts resources into waste and unnecessary treatments, coddles an industry culture of dangerous sloppiness, and crowds out all other social priorities, then it will have actively hurt the very people it was intended to help.

Goldhill is the CEO of the Game Show Network, a member of the board of the Leapfrog Group, and will speak at a Cato forum on his book tomorrow, Wednesday, September 18, from 12-1:30 p.m. at the Cato Institute. The Brookings Institution’s Kavita Patel and I will provide comments.

Click here to register.

A Democrat Reexamines His Party’s Position on Health Care

An excerpt from David Goldhill’s new book, Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father – And How We can Fix It

I’m a Democrat and once held views about health care common in my party. But the more I’ve looked at our system, the more I’ve come to believe that the obsessions of our political debate – universal access, health insurance regulation, cost control – are irrelevant to the real problems that have created our mess…

[T]he frustrating reality is that despite more than sixty years of government efforts – representing the work of both political parties – we are moving further and further away from what we want. Prices are higher, more people are excluded from needed care, more excess treatments are performed, and more people die from preventable errors. Why?

Goldhill explains why at a book forum on Catastrophic Care this coming Wednesday, September 18, from 12-1:30pm at the Cato Institute. Click here to register.

Missouri Lawmakers Override Veto to Enact Good Samaritan Law

In January, Missouri legislators introduced the “Volunteer Health Services Act.” The bill expands health care access for low-income residents by eliminating the regulatory barriers Missouri previously imposed on out-of-state doctors and other clinicians who want to provide free charitable care to Missouri’s poor. Yes, every state government prevents some doctors from giving away free medical care to the poor. As I wrote in “50 Vetoes:” 

Volunteer groups like Remote Area Medical engage doctors and other clinicians from around the country to treat indigent patients in rural and inner-city areas. States often prevent these clinicians from providing free medical care to the poor because, while they are licensed to practice medicine in their own states, they are not licensed to practice medicine where Remote Area Medical is holding its clinics.

Remote Area Medical has had to turn away patients or scrap clinics in California, Florida, and Georgia…After a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri, Remote Area Medical arrived with a mobile eyeglass lab, yet state officials prohibited the visiting optometrists from giving away free glasses.

It appears that Missouri legislators, if not the governor, have learned their lesson. The legislature approved the Volunteer Health Services Act in May, and sent it to Gov. Jay Nixon (D), who vetoed it. But yesterday, both the Missouri House and Senate voted to override the governor’s vetoMissouri now joins states like Tennessee, Illinois, and Connecticut that have enacted similar Good Samaritan laws. 

The Missouri law also shields clinicians from liability for simple negligence in malpractice actions. I’m not a really a fan of letting legislatures shield doctors from liability for their own negligence. In my view, doctors and patients should choose and adopt their own med-mal rules via contract. But this part of the law may have little effect. Missouri’s Volunteer Health Services Act still leaves clinicians liable for injuries resulting from gross negligence, and judges and juries may weaken this shield by stretching the definition of “gross” negligence.  

Rather than enact massive and unaffordable new entitlement programs like ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, states should follow Missouri’s lead and eliminate this and other barriers that government puts in the way of getting health care to the poor.

(HT: Patrick Ishmael of the Show-Me Institute.)

Halbig Plaintiffs Request Preliminary Injunction

Halbig v. Sebelius is one of two federal lawsuits challenging an illegal IRS rule that attempts to issue ObamaCare’s tax credits in the 34 states that have opted not to establish one of the law’s health insurance “exchanges.” Yesterday, attorneys for the Halbig plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, requested a hearing on that motion before October 1, and filed a second motion also seeking to expedite the case. The first motion requests:

an Order enjoining [the government], pending resolution of the litigation, from applying the IRS regulations extending eligibility for premium assistance subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to individuals who purchase health coverage through Exchanges established by the federal government.

If the court grants that request, ObamaCare implementation will come to a screeching halt.

The Halbig plaintiffs make a compelling case that the IRS is violating federal law, and that the court must resolve the issue before January 1, 2014. If a resolution comes after that date, the plaintiffs will be irreparably injured because they “will be forced either to comply with the ACA’s individual mandate or risk incurring a penalty, and…will further be entirely and forever precluded from purchasing catastrophic coverage for 2014.” In addition: 

the balance of the equities and public interest both cut strongly in favor of resolving the legal validity of the IRS Rule now, before billions of taxpayer dollars are illegally expended and before employers make unalterable benefit decisions premised on the Rule. If a ruling invalidating the IRS Rule is delayed until after these events, the result would be utter chaos…It serves everyone’s interests—those of Plaintiffs, the Government, and the public alike—to obtain a prompt ruling on the legal validity of the IRS Rule, so that there will be no need subsequently to confront the logistical nightmare of trying to unscramble and undo the unlawful expenditure of billions of federal dollars. [Emphasis in original.]

Even if the government ultimately prevails, as health-benefits expert Thomas Haynes explains in a supplemental filing, it would unnecessarily and irreparably injure some employers and employees if that happens in 2014 instead of 2013. Brokers who are aware that the availability of these tax credits is uncertain in 34 states will counsel employers not to adjust their employee benefits to take advantage of that still-uncertain new landscape. Those employers and employees would then be locked into spending more on health insurance in 2014 than they would if the litigation had been resolved in 2013. 

The Obama administration, however, is in no hurry. In Halbig, for example, government lawyers have blown through the legal deadlines for responding to key plaintiff motions, deadlines that passed months ago. Indeed, they appear to be using every tactic at their disposal to guarantee these cases will not be resolved this year.

Whether the Obama administration’s lawyers simply have a lot on their plate, or are intentionally trying to prejudice judges against ruling for the plaintiffs – by guaranteeing that such a ruling would result in maximum chaos – a preliminary injunction is in order.