From a conservative Republican perspective there seems to be little good from the outcome of the shutdown fight. ObamaCare remains funded, and that was the chief goal that concerned most conservative Republicans. However, sometimes it is a good idea to take a look at an event from the eyes of an adversary. Here is what things look like to liberal Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:
For their part, Democrats bristled at the prospect of a “clean” CR. Four days after Cantor’s memo, the Democratic-aligned Center for American Progress warned that by extending the sequester, Republicans were “trying to lock these additional spending cuts into place and create a new baseline from which future negotiations must begin.” CAP added that “It’s easy to see why this approach would be attractive to Speaker Boehner; it is much harder to understand why any progressive or centrist would support such an approach.”
Let’s pause for a moment to underscore the point. In early September, a “clean” CR—including sequester cuts—that funded the government into 2014 was considered a Republican victory by both the Republican House Majority Leader and Washington’s most prominent Democratic think tank. Now, just over a month later, the media is describing the exact same deal as Republican “surrender.”
Partly, that’s because of Ted Cruz. Starting last month, as we all know, the Texas Senator—in conjunction with his fellow Tea Partiers in the House—forced GOP leaders to abandon the very “clean” CR proposal they had once championed. The new Republican position became no funding for the government and no increase in the debt ceiling without the defunding (or at least delaying) of Obamacare.
Now that Republicans are backing off those demands, the press is saying they’ve caved. But that’s like saying that the neighborhood bully has caved because after demanding your shoes and bike, he’s once again willing to accept merely your lunch money.
Most of the press is missing this because most of the press is covering the current standoff more as politics than policy. If your basic question is “which party is winning?” then it’s easy to see the Republicans as losing, since they’re the ones suffering in the polls. But the partisan balance of power and the ideological balance of power are two completely different things. The Nixon years were terrible for the Democratic Party but quite good for progressive domestic policy. The Clinton years were, in important ways, the reverse. The promise of the Obama presidency was not merely that he’d bring Democrats back to power. It was that he’d usher in the first era of truly progressive public policy in decades. But the survival of Obamacare notwithstanding, Obama’s impending “victory” in the current standoff moves us further away from, not closer to, that goal.
It’s not just that Obama looks likely to accept the sequester cuts as the basis for future budget negotiations. It’s that while he’s been trying to reopen the government and prevent a debt default, his chances of passing any significant progressive legislation have receded. Despite overwhelming public support, gun control is dead. Comprehensive immigration reform, once considered the politically easy part of Obama’s second term agenda, looks unlikely. And the other items Obama trumpeted in this year’s state of the union address—climate change legislation, infrastructure investment, universal preschool, voting rights protections, a boost to the minimum wage—have been largely forgotten. Continue reading
In articles, interviews and addresses, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan is defending — not without controversy — his 2013 budget proposal (see “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal”) as an application of Catholic social teaching, inspired by his Catholic faith.
In an April 10 interview with CBN News, Ryan responded:
To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society of the principal of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.
Those principles are very very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence.
The U.S. Bishops Conference conveyed their thoughts on the FY2013 Budget and spending bills, which in their words “repeated and reinforced the bishops’ ongoing call to create a “circle of protection” around poor and vulnerable people and programs that meet their basic needs and protect their lives and dignity.”:
Bishops Blaire [chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development] and Pates reaffirmed the “moral criteria to guide these difficult budget decisions” outlined in their March 6 budget letter:
1.Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
2.A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
3.Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times…
Just solutions, however, must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs.
In April 16 and April 17 letters to the House Agriculture Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee addressing cuts required by the budget resolution, Bishop Blaire said “The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”
Marc Thiessen defended the congressman from “a bishop’s unjust attack” (Washington Post, 4/23/12) along with (Fr. Robert Sirico (of the Acton Institute) — the latter, however, disagreeting with Ryan’s equasion of subsidiarity with federalism.
This past week, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan further presented his case in a column for the National Catholic Register: Applying Our Enduring Truths to Our Defining Challenge, April 25, 2012):
As a congressman and Catholic layman, I am persuaded that Catholic social truths are in accord with the “self-evident truths” our Founders bequeathed to us in the founding ideas of America: independence, limited government and the dignity and freedom of every human person. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, I am tasked with applying these enduring principles to the urgent social problems of our time: an economy that is not providing enough opportunities for our citizens, a safety net that is failing our most vulnerable populations, and a crushing burden of debt that is threatening our children and grandchildren with a diminished future. … [read more]
On April 26th, Paul Ryan gave a lecture at Georgetown University, entitled “America’s Enduring Promise”, in which he once again addressed the challenge of America’s exploding federal debt, which he characterized as “the overarching threat to our society today”:
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities, and individuals running up high debt levels are “living at the expense of future generations” and “living in untruth.”
We in this country still have a window of time before a debt-fueled economic crisis becomes inevitable. We can still take control before our own needy suffer the fate of Greece. How we do this is a question for prudential judgment, about which people of good will can differ.
If there was ever a time for serious but respectful discussion, among Catholics as well as those who don’t share our faith, that time is now.
Ryan’s appearance at Georgetown was prefaced by a scathing letter from some 80 members of the faculty irate over his alleged “continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.” An organized protest of Ryan on the actual day of the event was distinguished by a notable lack of participation. Continue reading
I have to say, I’m not the biggest fan of the GOP or most of its politicians. Of course I consider the party to be marginally better than the Democrats on most issues, and so if I grace the polls with my presence, I tend to prefer GOP candidates. But this is hardly a ringing endorsement. Nor can I possibly count my political support for Ron Paul as support for the GOP, since he rejects significant parts of the party platform, rhetoric and practice.
Paul Ryan, however, is someone I have begun paying attention to. Since he has invoked Catholic Social Teaching (CST) as the basic foundation of his approach to the federal budget, he has become quite the person of interest among combatants in the Catholic media and blogosphere.
Ryan recently penned a column which appeared in the National Catholic Register titled “Applying Our Enduring Truths To Our Defining Challenge.” It is worth reading. I will quote some of the highlights here. His main point:
As a congressman and Catholic layman, I am persuaded that Catholic social truths are in accord with the “self-evident truths” our Founders bequeathed to us in the founding ideas of America: independence, limited government and the dignity and freedom of every human person.
Absolutely! Human dignity and freedom are indivisible; every assault on a legitimate right or liberty is an affront to human dignity. It is no coincidence that those philosophers who have most despised liberty have also most despised man himself, viewing him as little more than a machine comprised of pleasure and pain receptors.
Reading a rather cursory opinion piece this morning (calling for federal spending to be decreased) it occurred to me that there’s an interesting symmetry to what the more aggressive advocates of tax increases and spending cuts suggest:
The most passionate tax increase advocates frame their calls for tax increases in terms of some prior level of taxation: “We should roll back all the Bush tax cuts and return to the tax rates people payed under Clinton. We all remember the ’90’s; the world didn’t end when the top marginal tax rate was 39.6%” or “By golly, we should go back to the tax tables that were in force under that ‘socialist’ Eisenhower. 91% top marginal rate. That’ll teach those corporate fat cats to vote themselves bonuses.”
Similarly, when passionate spending cutters explain their plans, they tend to phrase it in terms of rolling back to a previous level of spending: “These ‘draconian’ cuts in fact only represent a return to 2006 spending levels. Did we starve in the streets then? Did the world end?” Continue reading
There has been a fair amount of useless discussion among pundits and Obama administration officials about a Value Added Tax, a National Sales Tax, the mainstay of the crumbling welfare states in Europe. I say this discussion is useless, because Congress would never pass it, as the 85-13 vote in the Senate on an anti-Value Added Tax non-binding resolution indicates.
Today in the Washington Post Robert Samuelson explains why a VAT wouldn’t solve our budgetary woes:
The basic budget problem is simple. For decades, the expansion of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — programs mostly for the elderly — was financed mainly by shrinking defense spending. In 1970, defense accounted for 42 percent of the federal budget; Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were 20 percent. By 2008, the shares were reversed: defense, 21 percent; the big retirement programs, 43 percent. But defense stopped falling after Sept. 11, 2001, while aging baby boomers and uncontrolled health costs keep retirement spending rising.
Left alone, government would grow larger. From 1970 to 2009, federal spending averaged 20.7 percent of the economy (gross domestic product). By 2020, it could reach 25.2 percent of GDP and would still be expanding, reckons the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of President Obama’s budgets. In 2020, the deficit (assuming a healthy economy with 5 percent unemployment) would be 5.6 percent of GDP. To cover that, taxes would have to rise almost 30 percent.
A VAT could not painlessly fill this void. Applied to all consumption spending — about 70 percent of GDP — the required VAT rate would equal about 8 percent. But the actual increase might be closer to 16 percent because there would be huge pressures to exempt groceries, rent and housing, health care, education and charitable groups. Together, they account for nearly half of $10 trillion of consumer spending. There would also be other upward (and more technical) pressures on the VAT rate.
Does anyone believe that Americans wouldn’t notice 16 percent price increases for cars, televisions, airfares, gasoline — and much more — even if phased in? As for a VAT’s claimed benefits (simplicity, promotion of investment), these depend mainly on a VAT replacing the present complex income tax that discriminates against investment. That’s unlikely because it would require implausibly steep VAT rates. Chances are we’d pay both the income tax and the VAT, making the overall tax system more complicated.
Critics of the Bush Administration often complained (especially during his first term) that Bush used 9/11 as a justification for nearly everything he did. Given that the country was widely supportive of the administration in the years right after the attack, this was (the complaint went) a way for Bush to do things he’d wanted to do anyway under the guise of responding to an emergency. While I think this complaint was overstated, there is an element of truth to it. For instance, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of question that many within the administration (rightly or wrongly) wanted to get rid of the Baathist regime in Iraq even prior to taking office.
In this respect, Obama seems to have found his 9/11, his excuse for doing all the things he and his party want to do while assuring everyone it would be a Very Bad Idea it not Downright Unpatriotic for them to disagree. Obama’s 9/11 is the recession, or as the media seems to have named it “The Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression”. (This is, to my mind, a rather unwieldy name. Perhaps we could just call it the “Big Recession” or the “Little Depression”?)
Thus, in his presentation of a new budget which is heavy on partisan measures (big tax increases on “the rich” and preparation for major changes in social service structure and spending) and racks up the largest deficit (as percentage of GDP) since 1942, Obama assured people that this was necessary in order to restore the economy: