Through the Looking Glass

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Olympia Snowe just announced that she isn’t going to run for office again this year.  She is one of the few Republican moderates left in the Senate.  Her decision is based on what she described as, “an overall process that lends itself to dysfunction and political paralysis that doesn’t allow problems to be solved.”

This was after yet another example of political theater in the Senate.  The Republicans had attached an amendment to a popular transportation spending bill.  The amendment would have allowed employers to opt out, based on religious objections, of a new federal health-care mandate to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees.  The amendment had nothing to do with transportation.  Both the Republicans and Democrats knew that the amendment would not pass.  So why was the amendment proposed at all?

Its sole purpose was political.  Both the Republicans and Democrats feel that this issue works to their advantage.  Democrats wanted to force Republican Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts to vote for the amendment in order to provide his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren another opportunity to criticize Republicans for their votes against women’s health issuesThe Republicans wanted the vote so that they could continue to suggest that the Democrats in general and President Obama in particular have overstepped their constitutional authority and are waging a war against religion.  In the meantime, the transportation bill which provides sorely needed funds for highway and bridge repair is stalled.  This bill could create or save as much as 2M jobs.

That leads us to the real issue.

The Republicans have a big problem and passing the transportation bill only makes the problem worse.

The economy is getting better and unemployment is going down.  The stock market just broke through the 13,000 point psychological barrier.  Auto manufacturing is booming and the hiring associated with that growth is driving recovery in the rust belt states that were already in recession toward the end of the Bush administration.  Unemployment in Ohio is now lower than it was when Obama took office.

Obama’s message in manufacturing states is easy.  He and the Democrats saved the domestic auto industry over the objections of the Republicans.  That industry is now leading the economic recovery that is driving down the unemployment rate and driving up the stock market.

This blows a big hole in the Republican strategy that the nation needs a successful business man in the White House.  Supposedly this business man knows something that Obama doesn’t, but he also opposed the auto bailout and supported the Wall Street bailout.  With the economy recovering, auto manufacturing booming, and unemployment going down – all Romney is left with is the weak argument that it would have been even better his way.  Obama on the other hand is able to make a simple direct statement that frames the choice for voters when he says, “I placed my bet on the American worker.”  

The bottom line is that the economy IS getting better and the Republicans are losing their biggest issue.

Unfortunately in the sort of political climate that we have today, facts on the ground have very little to do with political arguments.

Here’s just a small sample from non-partisan fact checking sites to illustrate the point.

From Factcheck.org

The exaggerated Republican claim that the new health care law “kills jobs” was high on our list of the “Whoppers of 2011.” But the facts haven’t stopped Republicans and their allies from making the “job-killing” claim a major theme of their campaign 2012 TV ads.

Does insurance coverage for contraception save money? We find lots of evidence. But it’s conflicting, and inconclusive.

A conservative group exaggerates the number of “Wall Street executives” in the Obama White House. In a major TV ad buy, the American Future Fund lists 27 people it claims are part of “Obama’s Wall Street Inner Circle.” But the ad is either flat wrong or greatly exaggerated in more than half of those cases.

Rick Santorum is off base when he criticizes college as a place where young people lose their “faith commitment.” In fact, the percentage of those with weakened religious affiliations is higher for those who don’t go to college.

Rick Santorum misrepresented what John F. Kennedy said in 1960 about church-state separation. According to Santorum, Kennedy said that religious people could “have no role in the public square” and “should not be permitted . . . to influence public policy.” But Kennedy didn’t say those things. He said he wouldn’t take orders from the Vatican if elected president.

From Politifact.com

The U.S. military is at risk of losing its “military superiority” because “our Navy is smaller than it’s been since 1917. Our Air Force is smaller and older than any time since 1947.” Mitt Romney

This is a great example of a politician using more or less accurate statistics to make a meaningless claim. Judging by the numbers alone, Romney was close to accurate. In recent years, the number of Navy and Air Force assets has sunk to levels not seen in decades, although the number of ships has risen slightly under Obama.

However, a wide range of experts told us it’s wrong to assume that a decline in the number of ships or aircraft automatically means a weaker military. Quite the contrary: The United States is the world’s unquestioned military leader today, not just because of the number of ships and aircraft in its arsenal but also because each is stocked with top-of-the-line technology and highly trained personnel.

 

The Obama campaign said, “Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich all say they would cut foreign aid to Israel — and every other country — to zero.” We find that a ridiculous distortion of their positions on this extremely sensitive issue.

 

Mitt Romney continues to repeat the talking point that the United States is “only inches away from no longer being a free economy.”

It’s true that the government’s footprint on spending has grown over the past few years, due in large part to the recession. But while the statistics show that the government continues to have a large influence on the economy, there is little indication that the government’s role has risen dramatically enough over the past few years to threaten the kind of free market that the U.S. has operated under in recent decades. And international comparisons show that the U.S. ranks low in both total tax burden and high in economic freedom — at least as measured by a prominent conservative think tank.

And so it goes.

The basic question that each campaign should be asking the country is what is the role of government?

Do we want a government that bails out the auto and financial industries or do we want a government that depends on the free market to sort out economic winners and losers?

We should be asking the voters to choose which we should do first, create jobs or reduce debt?

If it is jobs, voters should choose between direct action by the government through investment in things like infrastructure (which is the single most effective job creating thing government can do) versus reducing taxes and regulation on employers and investors.

If it is debt, voters should choose between reducing spending and increasing taxes.

Unfortunately none of these issues will be framed in this simple a manner.

Instead the Republicans will continue to paint the Democrats as untrustworthy immoral big spenders.

The Democrats will continue to portray the Republicans as the heartless party of the special interests – out of touch with the working man.

The campaign will turn on misrepresentations, gaffes, distortions, and narratives unsupported by the facts.

Ultimately the candidate who spends the most money and is most effective in getting their message out will win.

Not a good way to run a country.

6 Responses to “Through the Looking Glass”

  1. keith says:

    Hey Jeff,
    Hope you’re well. Very busy here, that’s good!

    Some passing thoughts for your consideration from the past week or so.

    I don’t agree with the republicans who are blaming president Obama for the higher gas prices. Market forces are in place. They have nothing to do with the Keystone pipeline either. (I would however approve that if I were him) will you join me in condeming the rupubs for this nonsensical stratigy. Will you also asked the dems to join the repubs so we can togather condem them also since this is exactly what they did to Bush, though even more strongly. Interestingly Obama is says much the same things Bush did lead by “do you think is in my interest to raise gas prices this high in an election year. Enough unreasonableness from both sides I say.

    Will you ask Nancy P if the great jobs growth we are experiancing passes the same test for job growth and good wages she held Bush to?

    Can you use your great skill of nuance to tell me who Sandra Fluck is, why she is at G-Town, how she got before congress, who is getting her all the air time on tv, besides Rush, and how all this relates to George Stephanopolus’ question to Mitt several months ago about contraception/abortion in the ABC debate in which Mitt had no clue as to what and why George was asking in detail such a question?

  2. keith says:

    Also, can you explain or have any thoughts as to why Kathleen Sabelious was not able to answer or speak coherently about the effects, costs and waivers relating to the healthcare bill under questioning from congress?

    I persoanlly am still stuck on “if you like your current coverage then you are free to keep it.” This inspite of the bill offering huge incentives to companies to dump their employees and pay a fine….

  3. Keith says:

    Jeff,

    President Obama’s national health care law will cost $1.76 trillion over a decade, according to a new projection released today by the Congressional Budget Office, rather than the $940 billion forecast when it was signed into law.

    Democrats employed many accounting tricks when they were pushing through the national health care legislation, the most egregious of which was to delay full implementation of the law until 2014, so it would appear cheaper under the CBO’s standard ten-year budget window and, at least on paper, meet Obama’s pledge that the legislation would cost “around $900 billion over 10 years.” When the final CBO score came out before passage, critics noted that the true 10 year cost would be far higher than advertised once projections accounted for full implementation.

    Today, the CBO released new projections from 2013 extending through 2022, and the results are as critics expected: the ten-year cost of the law’s core provisions to expand health insurance coverage has now ballooned to $1.76 trillion. That’s because we now have estimates for Obamacare’s first nine years of full implementation, rather than the mere six when it was signed into law. Only next year will we get a true ten-year cost estimate, if the law isn’t overturned by the Supreme Court or repealed by then. Given that in 2022, the last year available, the gross cost of the coverage expansions are $265 billion, we’re likely looking at about $2 trillion over the first decade, or more than double what Obama advertised.

  4. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Please don’t use the “everybody knows” argument.

    The ONLY thing that the CBO has posted with regard to the healthcare law estimates were revisions based on the fact that the economic recovery is going slower than was originally projected two years ago when the law was passed.

    I posted a link to an article from reuters about that yesterday.

    Here’s another post with a summary from the Trib.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-rt-us-usa-budget-deficitbre82c19q-20120313,0,6695000.story

    If you’ve got other numbers from other credible sources that support your argument, please post them. Otherwise it think it wise to continue to use the CBO as the source of truth.

    “The fundamental story about the federal budget has not changed: Although the deficit is starting to shrink, it remains very large by historical standards,” the CBO said in the report.

    “How much and how quickly it declines will depend in part on how well the economy performs over the next few years. Probably more critical, though, will be the fiscal policy choices made by lawmakers as they face the substantial changes to tax and spending policies that are slated to take effect within the next year under current law.”

    Here’s also another post from the Washington Post fact check site with some more detail on how difficult it is to craft these apples to apples comparisons.

    This speaks to your question of why it was difficult for the Sec of Health to respond to Sen Johnson’s questions.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/is-the-health-care-law-already-running-a-deficit/2012/03/12/gIQArxEF8R_blog.html

  5. Keith says:

    Here’s what you missed rightly or wrongly;

    “Before the revenue and tax effects, the gross cost for that period hits a new high: $1.762 trillion, and Republicans wasted little time in pouncing on it and the lower coverage estimate.”

    #1) The CBO scores what you ask them to. You provide the data and assumptions, they tell you the result.

    #2) The original Obama CBO scored event took into account 6 years of rspending and 10 years of revenue.

    #3) The new score is 9 years of spending and 10 years of revenue.

    The goal as I see it – Single payer. You are not free to remain on your current healthcare program, as Obama promised, if your employer no longer offers it. (The govt is/will incentivies employeers to drop you) In time few will. Thus the govt will have control of it all and single payer will be the natural conclusion.

    Also I hope you watched MSNBC last night. They spent the entire evening making fun of the people of Alabama and Mississippi. Hatred and discussed are the most accurate words I can use to discribe what I was hearing.

  6. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Again, please provide the data to support your claims.

    As you saw in my earlier reply, it is very easy to mix data and dates on what is a very complicated issue. Just one example of that is your use of a gross cost number and comparing that to a net number.

    The CBO does need a starting point, but as you’ve seen in their recent update, they also amend their original estimates based on how reality stacks up to forecast. As a result, I think it safe to say that their current estimate is more accurate than the estimate they provided several years ago.

    This new forecast does include changes in their original estimates with regard to how many employers will choose to pay the penalties rather than offer the insurance. That’s one of the reasons why they forecast an increased savings for this plan versus their previous projection.

    I think the number of employers that ultimately drop coverage for their employees depends on how competitive these employers feel they are going to have to be to attract employees. Remember that this whole system began after WWII as a benefit to improve employee recruitment and retention. There are plenty of disincentives in the law today for both employers and employees to drop or opt out of coverage. Employers pay a fine. Employees get the equivalent money in their paychecks to cover the employers portion of the insurance cost, but that money is taxable. As a benefit, as long as it isn’t “gold plated”, that money is tax free.

    Let’s also not lose track of the goal. At the end of the day it isn’t about whether you get your insurance from your employer, from a private company, or from the government. It is about how we can bring the cost down for providing healthcare. According the CBO, we are on track to do that.

Leave a Reply