Topic: Government and Politics

Will the Blue Dogs Ever Bite?

We’ve written more than once about the Democratic “Blue Dogs” and the lack of any actual evidence for their supposed fiscal conservatism.

Now Merrill Mathews in The Wall Street Journal tells the sad story of the Blue Dogs in the Obama era. They call in the journalists, and they moan and complain about their concerns over the deficit and rising federal spending. And when the rubber meets the road, what happens?

• The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). One of the first things the Democratic leadership wanted the newly inaugurated President Obama to sign was a huge expansion of SCHIP. Democrats have been trying to pass the expansion for over a year, with some bipartisan support. President George W. Bush vetoed the legislation twice, and Congress sustained his veto both times by a hair.

SCHIP was created for low-income uninsured children not eligible for Medicaid. Under the old bill, children whose family incomes were 200% of the federal poverty level were covered. With the new bill, Democrats increased funding to cover children whose family incomes are up to 300% of the federal poverty level—or $66,000 a year for a family of four. The Bush administration and most conservatives thought it should remain at 200%. Did the Blue Dogs agree? Only two voted against the expansion.

• The $787 billion stimulus. The next major spending package was Mr. Obama’s stimulus bill. Not one House Republican voted for the bill. The Blue Dogs? Only 10 of 52 voted against it.

• President Obama’s 2010 federal budget. In April, Congress took a vote on the president’s $3.5 trillion budget for 2010—by far the biggest spending package in history. Again, not one House Republican voted for the bill, but only 14 Blue Dogs joined them in opposition.

Matthews says the health care bill is the Blue Dogs’ last chance to show that they actually do care whether the federal government spends us into bankruptcy.

Using ‘Cash For Clunkers’ Money to Buy a Muscle Car

chevelleABC News reports that the “Cash for Clunkers” scheme, a government program that offers a rebate to people who trade in vehicles with low gas mileage for more fuel efficient cars, is  gaining popularity:

The program is off to a fast start. In less than a week, 8,000 cars have been traded in for new ones – deals that might not have happened if Washington were not offering people $3,500 to $4,500 to get their aging gas guzzlers off the road.

In June, Cato senior fellow Alan Reynolds explained  how you can use that money to buy the muscle car or truck you always wanted:

Consider how easy it would be to game this giveaway program by using that $4,500 voucher to buy a big SUV or V-8 muscle car.

First of  all, with Chrysler and GM dealerships folding, it should be easy to buy a mediocre Chevy Cobalt or Dodge Caliber for about $10,000 more than the voucher.

What you do next is sell that boring econobox, even if you end up with $1,000 less than you paid — that still leaves you with $3,500 of free money, courtesy of taxpayers.

As this  process unfolds, the flood of resold small cars will make it even  harder for GM, Chrysler and Ford dealers to get a decent price for small cars, because of added competition from new cars being resold as used.

That’s their problem, not yours.

So, take the $9,000 net from reselling the crummy little car plus the $4,500 from Uncle Sam.  Then use that $13,500 to make a big down payment on a used Cadillac Escalade,  Toyota Tundra pickup or Corvette.

File this under “unintended consequences” (my own file is running out of space).

More Evidence on the Turning Tide

america-store_2065_6501360I wrote recently about the anti-Obama T-shirts on display at Washington’s Dulles Airport. This week I can report that at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, there are big cut-outs of Barack and Michelle Obama. But they’re standing by a display of shirts reading “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for McCain and Palin” and another reading “NOPE (with the Obama campaign logo) – keep the change.” The times they are a-changin’.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that out in the real America, the airports of Albuquerque and San Diego, there are no T-shirts on display for or against any politician. It’s like they don’t think Americans care about politicians.

Senate Panel Endorses Sotomayor

The judiciary committee’s vote to endorse Sonia Sotomayor is not surprising. None of the Democrats are from red states and so have little to fear from voters, while the quixotic Lindsey Graham—in what can only be described as a triumph of hope over experience—was the only Republican to have set aside legitimate qualms and voted for the “wise Latina.” But voting on a Supreme Court nomination is more than a matter of deciding whether a nominee is “qualified”—even if Sonia Sotomayor had been a leading light of the judiciary rather than just the best available Hispanic woman—or deferring to the president. Instead, Senator Dick Durbin had it right when he said during John Roberts’s confirmation hearings that “no one has a right to sit on the Supreme Court” and that the “burden of proof for a Supreme Court justice is on the nominee.”

Given Sotomayor’s repeated rejection of the idea that law is or should be objective or discernible from written text, her inability in oral and written testimony to even state a position on important cases and legal doctrine beyond an acceptance of precedent—by which she would no longer be bound in her new role—leaves me with an abiding concern about the damage she could do to the rule of law in this country. I am similarly hard-pressed to accept hearing-seat conversions that contradict over 15 years of speeches and articles: most notably on the idea that judges’ ethnic backgrounds—and even “physiological differences”—should affect their rulings and on using foreign law to inform constitutional interpretation. Because of her evasion, obfuscation, and doubletalk, I like Sotomayor less now than when she was first nominated.

And so, in following the “burden of proof” paradigm and also respecting the logic of Senator Arlen Specter, who curiously evoked Scottish law at President Clinton’s impeachment trial to vote “not proven,” I would vote that the case for confirming Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is “not proven”—under American law.

Nader Supports Health Savings Accounts?

In a recent article Ralph Nader attacks several critics of Obama’s health care reform proposal, including Cato:

Now enters the well-insured libertarian Cato Institute with full-page ads in the Washington Post and The New York Times charging Obama with pursuing government-run health care. A picture of Uncle Sam pointing under the headline “Your New Doctor.” Nonsense. The well-insured people at Cato should know better than to declare that this “government takeover” would “reduce health care quality.”

I agree that Cato employees are “well-insured” – a description so appropriate that Nader used it twice in a single paragraph. At Cato we have Health Savings Accounts, which are probably the closest thing to free market health insurance allowed by law.

It’s nice to see Nader, a proponent of socialized medicine, praise HSAs. But it’s unfortunate that his preferred options for health care would abolish HSAs entirely.

Brainstorming for (Your) Dollars

The Wall Street Journal reports [$]:

President Barack Obama’s health-care plan is in jeopardy because of serious concerns that costs will spin out of control. As much as anyone, it’s White House budget director Peter Orszag’s job to save it…

After his TV appearances, he went straight to the Senate Finance Committee, where he spent three hours with committee aides brainstorming about how to pay for the trillion-dollar legislation. At one point, they flipped through the tax code, looking for ideas.

Note, of course, that finding new sources of tax revenue doesn’t do anything about cost concerns. But for those “fiscal conservatives” who worry more about the deficit than about the government ending up with all our money, new revenue to match new spending may alleviate their concerns. (By the way, this WSJ article also has interesting vignettes about Orszag’s encounters with libertarian writer Virginia Postrel and my former colleague Andrew Biggs.)

For a review of some of the ideas Orszag and his friends have found as they flipped through the tax code — such a charming metaphor for the reality of the ruling class looking for opportunities to extract more of the money we earn — click here.

The Price of Universal Coverage Just Went Up

Since at least February, President Obama and other elders of the Church of Universal Coverage have labored to create the impression that universal coverage is inevitable, because a sense of inevitability reduces its cost.  If interest groups think this train is leaving the station, they are less likely to stand in its way.  Lobbyists are more likely to cut whatever deal they can if their clients believe, “It could have been much worse.”  That’s why Obama has demanded haste: the longer the process, the harder it is to maintain a sense of inevitability.

Here’s a sampling of today’s health care headlines from the non-partisan Bulletin News, which summarizes news media coverage:

  • Senate, Obama Back Off Healthcare Reform August Deadline.
  • Obama Rakes In Cash For DNC, Criticizes Media Coverage Of Healthcare Debate.
  • Obama’s Performance At Wednesday’s Press Conference Comes Under Fire.
  • President’s Media Strategy Raises Eyebrows.
  • House Democrats Consider Sidestepping Committee.
  • Democratic Caucus Holds “Contentious” Meeting.
  • Black Caucus Blasts Blue Dogs; AARP, Unions Also Criticize Group.
  • Freshmen Senators Ask Baucus To Hold Costs Down, Praise His Efforts.
  • More Criticism Of Obama.

Now that reform seems less inevitable, interest groups will be less likely to settle for a bad deal.  Instead, they will be more likely to demand higher payoffs than before, because their clients believe the expected cost of alienating Church elders has moved away from “getting punished” and toward “the status quo ante.”

So, good luck paying for this thing.