Topic: Government and Politics

In Canada You Need Wait-List Insurance!

Governments love to promise benefits.  But politicians prefer not to have to raise the funds necessary to provide the promised services.  The result for nationalized medical systems is political rationing … and long waiting lists.  The Mackinac Institute, located in Michigan, has produced a series of videos on Canadians speaking about how their system works.  The British Columbia Automobile Association even developed medical access, or wait list, insurance, before abandoning the program under pressure.

A Tax That Would Finance the Road to Serfdom

Michael Tanner and Michael Cannon are working nonstop to derail government-run health care, but they better figure out how to work more than 24 hours per day, because if they fail, it is very likely that politicians will then look for a new revenue source to finance all the new spending that inevitably will follow. Unfortunately, that means a value-added tax (VAT) will be high on the list. Indeed, the VAT recently has been discussed by powerful political figures and key Obama allies such as the Co-Chairman of his transition team and the Speaker of the House.

The VAT would be great news for the political insiders and beltway elite. A  brand new source of revenue would mean more money for them to spend and a new set of  loopholes to swap for campaign cash and lobbying fees.  But as I explain in this new video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, the evidence from Europe unambiguously suggests that a VAT will dramatically increase the burden of government.  That’s good for Washington, but bad for America.

Even if the politicians are unsuccessful in their campaign to take over the health care system, there will be a VAT fight at some point in the next few years. This will be a Armageddon moment for proponents of limited government. Defeating a VAT is not a sufficient condition for controlling the size of government, but it surely is a necessary condition.

Peace? The Promise of Peace? Eh, Close Enough

Worse choices have been made than Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize.

There was Woodrow Wilson in 1919, an award that rates as one of history’s more grotesque international jokes. Wilson promised to keep us out of war and promptly got us into it, meanwhile laying the ideological and geopolitical foundations for 90 years of war-nationalism, war-liberalism, and war-socialism. To say nothing of saddling us with the terrible idea of world government. Among those who weren’t Nazis or communists, Wilson may have done more than any other individual to promote human suffering in the last hundred years.

So yes, there have been worse choices. (Next to Wilson, I’d have to give Al Gore and Yasser Arafat both honorable mentions. We could go on, of course.) But still, Barack Obama? Seriously? I doubt the committee has any idea how badly their choice will be mocked in the United States.

Over here, the prize will be a disappointment to the anti-war left, the anti-war right, and, of course, the pro-war right. The only contingent I can see taking pride in it over here is the establishment left, which hasn’t had much time lately for substantive work on peace, but which is always happy to make speeches and receive awards. Sometimes, the American image abroad is just that important.

Rather than piling on in what is sure to be a bipartisan laugh-fest, let’s think about what Barack Obama actually could have done for world peace. And weep.

Like Wilson, Obama ran a campaign promising peace and the international rule of law. Politically, peace is a winning message, and the advocates of peace would do well to remember this. Decade after decade, American voters are willing to give peace a chance.

Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq and to close the illegal Guantanamo Bay prison camp. He promised to end the Bush-era detention and rendition policies that have tarnished America’s reputation abroad and weakened trust among nations.

Americans embraced those promises, which are fully consistent with the ideals of the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize, recall, is awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Ending wars, treating prisoners of war humanely, and ensuring international criminal suspects’ due process of law are exactly the sorts of things that the peace prize was designed for. They’re just what you’d expect a laureate to do.

But once in office, Obama didn’t deliver. The promises disappeared, replaced by vigorous defenses of virtually every presidential power that the Bush administration invented for itself, including not only those that subvert domestic civil liberties, but also those that threaten the international rule of law.

And the withdrawal from Iraq? Delayed and partial. The latest word — received just as the peace prize was announced — is that it’s “complicated.” Sort of like a bad Facebook relationship.

Our other war, in Afghanistan, continues to escalate, even as its strategic goals seem further and further removed. As Cato author Glenn Greenwald notes, U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan continue to kill and maim the innocent, with very little to show in the way of stabilizing the country or defeating international terrorism. Withdrawal from Afghanistan is both possible and desirable, as my colleagues Malou Innocent and Ted Galen Carpenter argue. Yet our latest Nobel laureate doesn’t see peace as an option here either.

How sad. Not to sound bitter or anything, but when does the Cato Institute get a peace prize?

“Read the Bill” = Deliberative Process, Please

The debate about whether members of Congress and senators should read bills has been getting highly literal lately. It’s capped off by Angie Drobnic Holan’s article, “Speed-Reading the Health Care Reform Bill?, on Politifact (a St. Petersburg Times site) this morning.

Faced with a 1,000-or-so-page health care reform proposal, “a person could conquer the bill in seven to 13 hours.”

There you have it! That’s what it takes if you want ‘em to read the bill!

Of course, the “read-the-bill” concept is a stand-in for others:

One is simply having a more deliberative process in Congress. It’s dawning on the American public that bad things happen when Congress operates in haste—the derivatives debacle, for example. Oh, and also, government takeovers. Oh yeah, and spending orgies.

But “read the bill” is also about power.

“Waiting periods … tend to disperse power to people who might otherwise be at the margins of the debate,” reports Holan. “Centrist Democrats in the Senate, for example, have asked for waiting periods after amendments and conference reports.”

It goes beyond that, too. Letting the public read finalized bills before they become law allows the public to second-guess Washington, D.C. and transfers power back home. People want to use the Internet to have more say in governance.

And there is far more knowledge, sense, and brain-power out there in the land than on Capitol Hill (I say as a former legislative staffer). Given a regular process for doing so, the people (and lawyers) faced with implementing proposed federal laws would examine and critique proposals in Congress much more than they do now. This would help improve results, though Members of Congress would surely chafe at being overseen by the lowly public.

Speaking of waiting periods, recall that President Obama promised to post the bills coming out of Congress for five days before he signs them. Let’s take a look at how he’s done with this promise so far:

Still only one of 68 have been posted online for five days before signing. Forty-six of 68 (nearly 68%) have been held at the White House for five days after presentment. There is nothing stopping the president from posting these bills online for the time he promised.

It might be that the folks in the White House don’t want to reveal the trivialities that Congress and the president deal with. Eighteen of the 68 new laws this year (26%) have renamed post offices and courthouses.

Also, five bills have been temporary extensions of existing laws (plus one temporary government funding measure). These are all examples of Congress and the president failing to manage existing government programs and spending. It’s possible that the White House doesn’t want to give exposure to these laws and bring discredit on the federal government generally.

Whatever the case, here’s the list so far of new laws and the president’s adherence to the “Sunlight Before Signing” pledge.

Public Law Date Presented Date Signed Five Days? Posted (Linked)? Posted Five Days?
P.L. 111-2, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 1/28/2009 1/29/2009 No 1/29/2009 No
P.L. 111-3, The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 2/4/2009 2/4/2009 No 2/1/2009 No
P.L. 111-4, The DTV Delay Act 2/9/2009 2/11/2009 No 2/5/2009 Yes and No
P.L. 111-5, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 2/16/2009 2/17/2009 No 2/13/2009 No
P.L. 111-6, Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes 3/6/2009 3/6/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-7, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the “Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building” 2/26/09 3/9/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 3/11/2009 3/11/2009 No 3/6/2009 No
P.L. 111-9, To extend certain immigration programs 3/18/2009 3/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-10, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 3/19/2009 3/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-11, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 No 3/30/2009 No
P.L. 111-12, The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 3/24/2009 3/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-13, The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act 4/20/2009 4/21/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-14, To designate the United States courthouse under construction at 327 South Church Street, Rockford, Illinois, as the “Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse” 4/14/2009 4/23/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-15, The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009 4/14/2009 4/24/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-16, The Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-17, A joint resolution providing for the appointment of David M. Rubenstein as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 4/28/2009 5/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-18, A bill to repeal section 10(f) of Public Law 93-531, commonly known as the “Bennett Freeze” 4/28/2009 5/8/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-19, The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-20, The Protecting Incentives for the Adoption of Children with Special Needs Act of 2009 5/5/2009 5/15/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-21, The FERA 5/19/2009 5/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-22, The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-23, The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 5/21/2009 5/22/2009 No 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-24, The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-25, The Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act 5/21/2009 6/2/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-26, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 12877 Broad Street in Sparta, Georgia, as the “Yvonne Ingram-Ephraim Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-27, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 300 East 3rd Street in Jamestown, New York, as the “Stan Lundine Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-28, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 103 West Main Street in McLain, Mississippi, as the “Major Ed W. Freeman Post Office” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-29, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 3245 Latta Road in Rochester, New York, as the “Brian K. Schramm Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-30, The Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 Extension Act 6/19/2009 6/19/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-31, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act 6/16/2009 6/22/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-32, The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 6/19/2009 6/24/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-33, The Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009 6/16/2009 6/26/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-34, To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 306 East Main Street in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as the “J. Herbert W. Small Federal Building and United States Courthouse” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-35, To designate the Federal building located at 799 United Nations Plaza in New York, New York, as the “Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-36, The Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-37, The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 6/25/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-38, A bill to provide additional personnel authorities for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 6/24/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-39, To make technical corrections to the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes 6/26/2009 7/1/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-40, A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (”WASP”) 6/24/2009 7/1/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-41, The Korean War Veterans Recognition Act 7/27/2009 7/27/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-42, Approving the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 7/28/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-43, A bill to provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 7/30/2009 7/31/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-44, The New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal Act 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-45, To authorize the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to use funds made available under the Trademark Act of 1946 for patent operations in order to avoid furloughs and reductions-in-force, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-46, To restore sums to the Highway Trust Fund, and for other purposes 8/4/2009 8/7/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-47, Making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2009 for the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program 8/6/2009 8/7/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-48, The Miami Dade College Land Conveyance Act 7/31/2009 8/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-49, The Judicial Survivors Protection Act of 2009 8/3/2009 8/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-50, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 46-02 21st Street in Long Island City, New York, as the “Geraldine Ferraro Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-51, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 601 8th Street in Freedom, Pennsylvania, as the “John Scott Challis, Jr. Post Office” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-52, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2351 West Atlantic Boulevard in Pompano Beach, Florida, as the “Elijah Pat Larkins Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-53, The Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-54, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 41 Purdy Avenue in Rye, New York, as the “Caroline O’Day Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-55, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 431 State Street in Ogdensburg, New York, as the “Frederic Remington Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-56, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 123 11th Avenue South in Nampa, Idaho, as the “Herbert A Littleton Postal Station” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-57, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1300 Matamoros Street in Laredo, Texas, as the “Laredo Veterans Post Office” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-58, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 702 East University Avenue in Georgetown, Texas, as the “Kyle G. West Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-59, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 19190 Cochran Boulevard FRNT in Port Charlotte, Florida, as the “Lieutenant Commander Roy H. Boehm Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-60, To extend the deadline for commencement of construction of a hydroelectric project 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-61, Recognizing the service, sacrifice, honor, and professionalism of the Noncommissioned Officers of the United States Army 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-62, A joint resolution granting the consent and approval of Congress to amendments made by the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Regulation Compact 8/7/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-63, The WIPA and PABSS Reauthorization Act of 2009 9/10/2009 9/18/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-64, A joint resolution providing for the appointment of France A. Cordova as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 9/11/2009 9/18/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-65, To provide for the award of a gold medal on behalf of Congress to Arnold Palmer in recognition of his service to the Nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship in golf 9/21/2009 9/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-66, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 9/30/2009 9/30/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-67, The Defense Production Act Reauthorization of 2009 9/24/2009 9/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-68, The Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2010 9/30/2009 10/1/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-69, The Fiscal Year 2010 Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act 9/30/2009 10/1/2009 Yes No No

The Problem Is Spending, not Deficits

Speaking recently a Steamboat Institute conference, I explain that big government is America’s fiscal challenge, not whether the spending is financed with taxes or borrowing.


This issue is important because the statists are trying to create the conditions for a big tax hike. We got huge spending increases under Bush, and now Obama has picked up the baton and is racing in the same direction. Needless to say, the politicians don’t care about deficits when they are spending money. But when it is time to discuss tax policy, deficits suddenly become a giant threat to the economy and turning more of our money over to the political class is the only solution.

The Q&A session also is interesting, as I pontificate about the financial crisis, Keynesian economics, the rule of law, and tax competition(both videos courtesy of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity).

Hurting the Sick Is Not Good Politics

I was glad to see James Pinkerton engage my criticism of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) endorsement of federal price controls for health insurance.  I was even more pleased to see that Pinkerton has his own blog devoted to developing a Serious Medicine Strategy.

If I understand Pinkerton, his argument is essentially: it’s all well and good for some unelectable wonk in the “citadel of libertarian thinking” to “uphold ivory-tower free-market purity” by opposing price controls.  But Republicans need “art-of-the-possible solutions” to win elections, and 90 percent of the public support those price controls.  “Everyone has a right to his or her principled position,” Pinkerton writes, “but the majority has rights, too.”

Two problems.

First, Pinkerton suggests that libertarians oppose price controls for reasons that only matter to libertarians, and therefore may be safely ignored.  Problem is, price controls hurt people.  Were Pinkerton to explore the merits of Jindal’s proposal, he would soon conclude that imposing price controls on health insurance taxes the healthy, reduces everyone’s health insurance choices, and creates even greater incentives for insurers to shortchange the sick.  (Turns out that what Larry Summers said about price controls applies to health insurance, too.)  As John Cochrane explains, those price controls also block innovative products that would provide more financial security and better medical care to the sick.

But Pinkerton’s advice for Republicans is, essentially: “Do what’s popular now, even if it hurts people and voters end up blaming Republicans for it later.”  How is that a good strategy?

Second is this idea that “the majority has rights.”  Majorities don’t have rights.  Individuals have rights.  For example, you have the right to negotiate the terms of your health insurance contract with the individuals at this or that insurance company.  Majorities may attain power, but that’s the opposite of rights.  (See the Bill of Rights.)

Finally, a couple of important odds and ends.  Pinkerton suggests it is “un-libertarian” to be “pro-life,” or to “support the police, the military, and other upholders of public order,” or to “support government restrictions on…euthanasia.”  Writing from the “citadel of libertarian thinking,” I can assure him he is wrong.  Might I suggest Pinkerton read the relevant chapters from The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism?  (The health care chapter is a page-turner!)  Also, I did not “denounce Jindal” any more than Pinkerton denounced me.  I criticized his ideas, and I respect the man.

(Cross-posted at Politico’s Health Care Arena.)

Eyewitness to Government’s Robbery of Chrysler Creditors

Further to Ilya Shapiro’s post this morning, let me also point you to a concise chronology of events culminating in the government’s robbery of Chrysler creditors.

The story is that of Richard Mourdock, Treasurer of the State of Indiana and the man responsible for stewardship of the state’s pension funds, some of which were victimized by the Obama administration’s pre-packaged and then forced-fed bankruptcy deal for Chrysler. I strongly urge you to read Mr. Mourdock’s testimony, which is at once revealing, sobering, compelling and, regrettably, a frightening sign of the times.

Mourdock will be speaking on this very topic at Cato, along with bankruptcy law expert David Skeel, on Thursday, October 15 at noon. Reserve your seat now.