Topic: Government and Politics

Bush Waxes Philosophical on Health Care

People sick of the big-government conservatism practiced by the Bush administration might be excited at the headline in today’s Washington Post: “Bush: No Deal On Children’s Health Plan/President Says He Objects On Philosophical Grounds.” But President Bush’s philosophical objection to the proposed expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program is in no way a reversal from his stance that big spending is okay as long as Republicans can take credit.

What philosophy does Bush subscribe to?  Apparently, it’s the philosophy that says the federal government should only expand the welfare state by billions of dollars, instead of tens of billions of dollars: “The president said he objects on philosophical grounds to a bipartisan Senate proposal to boost the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years. Bush has proposed $5 billion in increased funding and has threatened to veto the Senate compromise and a more costly expansion being contemplated in the House.” 

Later in the article Bush is quoted as saying, “I think it’s going to be very important for our allies on Capitol Hill to hear a strong, clear message from me that expansion of government in lieu of making the necessary changes to encourage a consumer-based system is not acceptable.”

He also said, “I’m worried that there will be a strong incentive for people to switch from the private sector to the government.” 

If only the president had adopted a similar attitude when he approved a $1.2 trillion expansion of Medicare in 2003 in lieu of consumer-based approaches.

Word Abuse

In Washington, no word is more overused and abused than “reform.” But a Washington Post story today shows the abuse taken to new heights:

Farm bloc lawmakers yesterday offered the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry $1.8 billion in new federal grants over the next five years as part of a farm bill that would leave in place far larger subsidies for grain, cotton and dairy producers.

The concessions were part of a balancing act by House Democrats to craft a bill that will satisfy politically powerful farm interests while also bearing a Democratic imprint of reform. The House Agriculture Committee was set to vote on the legislation late last night or today.

The package, unveiled yesterday by Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.), also increases funding for land conservation, wetlands protection and nutrition programs – popular with environmental groups and urban lawmakers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the package ‘a good first step toward needed reform.’

Let’s see: Congress is keeping all the old programs, creating new subsidies for fruits and vegetables, increasing funding for conservation and nutrition programs. That’s reform?

The story title is also worthy of The Onion: “Farm Bill Leaves Some Subsidies.” Some subsidies?!

Great Moments in Local Government, Part I

I became a libertarian in high school and college thanks to Ronald Reagan’s eloquent commentary against big government. I remain a libertarian because of Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Several years ago, I had to make four trips to the DMV to get my son his learner’s permit (I don’t remember all the details, but I periodically have flashbacks about Social Security cards, birth certificates, and DNA samples).

Today, I began a new odyssey in an attempt to renew the registration on one of my vehicles.

Theoretically, DMV was supposed to send something in the mail, but that never arrived and I was unaware that my registration expired until one of DC’s finest recently pulled me over (to his credit, he gave me a warning rather than impounding the car, which ostensibly is the law in such situations).  So I went online to find out about renewing the registration, and was horrified to discover that I had to make a visit to DMV because my registration had lapsed (needless to say, I can’t think of a single reason why this should require an in-person visit).

Resigned to an unpleasant experience, I woke up early so that I could avoid a three-hour line at the DMV office and managed to see someone after a wait of just 15 minutes. But when I attempted to register, I was told that Fairfax County had placed a hold on my registration because of unpaid taxes. I would like to claim that I was being a principled tax protester, but I meekly pay my car taxes…at least when I’m aware that a bill is due.  I don’t know whether to blame the Post Office or the vehicle bureaucracy, but there are no letters from Fairfax County in my inbox.

In any event, the logical next step should have been for me to pull out a credit card and take care of both the unpaid tax and the registration. Silly me. Not surprisingly (and this may be a good thing), there is no coordination between Fairfax County and the state government. So I had to surrender my spot at the counter and go look at a sign with numbers for various local tax offices. I called Fairfax County’s automated system, filled with naive thoughts about making an automated payment and then taking care of my registration.

 I was surprised to learn that Fairfax County thinks I have four cars. Unfortunately, the system does not tell you the cars you ostensibly own, or which car has the unpaid tax bill. But the amount was not very large, so I was willing to pay it - even if it was for a car I didn’t own. Like any sensible person, my top goal was to avoid having to make a repeat visit to the DMV. So I spent the next five minutes typing in a bunch of numbers in response to about 10 different prompts, only to be told that my credit card was not accepted. So I then typed in the information for another credit card and got the same rejection message. Since I know my credit cards are good (I used one of them last night and used the other one after leaving DMV just to make sure), I opted out of the automated system and eventually got to speak to live bureaucrat. For reasons that I will never understand, though, the bureaucrats can only process payments if you have a Discover card.

Utterly defeated, I tucked my tail between my legs and went to work. At some point, before a less-friendly cop pulls me over, I will now have to visit the Fairfax County tax office and then make a second visit to the DMV. And if that is all that I have to do, I will consider myself lucky.

But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. I now am fully re-energized in my disdain for government.

Farm Fibs

My toddlers have recently been having fun with the phrase “liar, liar, pants on fire.” I’d like to set them loose on the farm bill debate in Congress. 

Take a comment today in a Michigan news source by Rep. Timothy Walberg, a member of the House Agriculture Committee: “We want our food cheap, and we’ve become used to that, and that’s where the farm bill comes in. It guarantees cheap and plentiful food.”

But numerous farm programs raise food prices. I’ll give you three: milksugar and related products such as chocolate, and infant formula. And don’t forget about federal ethanol policies, which are pushing up prices for corn and derived products. 

Heck, Why Not Just Burn Him At The Stake?

Just when you thought partisan idiocy in Washington couldn’t get any worse, the House voted last night to cut off the salary of Andrew Biggs, the new Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. No one doubts Biggs’ qualifications for this position. But his sin is having supported proposals to allow younger workers to privately invest a portion of their Social Security taxes through individual accounts. Apparently holding a position that Democrats disagree with is now so abhorrent that it disqualifies you from public office.

Get Rid of the Surgeon General’s Office

The Surgeons General have been in the news recently, complaining that they are forced to follow the policies of the Presidents who give them their appointments (gee, what a radical notion). But the real question is why this national-nanny position still exists. As argued in a column for National Review Online, the office of Surgeon General should be retired:

When the position of surgeon general, then called supervising surgeon, was first created in 1781, the appointee actually had something tangible to do. … Since then, the duties of the surgeon general have been demoted so many times he’d barely be a buck private if his title kept up with the changes. In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson took away the responsibility of overseeing the PHS and made the position of surgeon general into one of a glorified adviser who is answerable to the assistant secretary to the secretary of Health and Human Services. … The position of surgeon general today has become mostly one of a bully pulpit to serve as a federally funded advocate for various health causes… Today, the office has a budget of $3 million and the surgeon general is paid close to $200,000 annually. However they have little or no authority to coordinate the federal government’s public health activities. This coordination is already being done by more than 50 different federal offices. …to save the taxpayers’ money, to eliminate yet another unneeded voice in the health-care cacophony, to free up a uniform for the local high school’s Pirates of Penzance performance and to save C-SPAN viewers from any more surgeon-general alumni reunion tours like last week’s hearings — eliminate the Office of Surgeon General today.

Taxpayers Lose Again

In Maryland, as in many other states, legislators have to wait a year before becoming lobbyists.  The idea is to put some distance between being a member of the legislature and turning around and immediately lobbying your colleagues. Maybe it helps to reduce the impression that some legislators are thinking about their next job as they make legislative decisions.

So how can Sen. P. J. Hogan go directly from the State Senate to a cushy job as the chief lobbyist for Maryland’s university system? Because “the one-year prohibition on legislators lobbying state officials does not apply to someone moving from one state post to another.”

So if you want to lobby for the private sector, for businesses or unions or environmentalists, you have to wait a year to alleviate any appearance of impropriety. But if you want to lobby on behalf of the government itself, you can use your contacts immediately, before they get cold and distant. Indeed, you’d have to wait a year to lobby on behalf of a taxpayers group, but you can start lobbying against the taxpayers the next day. Just another way that government stacks the deck against taxpayer interests.