The whole Obama era to date has been wasted in a historic, amateurish botch of the health-care issue. This began as a crusade for social justice — to cover the uninsured, whose numbers were suitably exaggerated, as most of them are people changing jobs from one health-insuring employer to another, or foreigners resident in this country, legally or otherwise, or the indigent, who are eligible for Medicaid.
It wasn’t clear from this rationale, however, why Obama was also trying to take over the insurance of those already covered. He therefore pressed on to the need to take over health care to save money (by nationalizing it). The Congressional Budget Office blew that up, so the president moved crisply on to revenue-neutral health-care reform for its own sake. The corresponding promises of cost reductions proved to be shortchanging elderly Medicare recipients of hundreds of billions of dollars and chasing Washington’s oldest and most elusive will-o’-the-wisp, the last refuge of 220 years of desperate public officials, the ever-popular “waste and fraud.” And the “reforms” themselves are just aggravations of long-established mistaken practices.
The president’s reform plan has been seen by almost everyone to be bunk, and hackneyed bunk at that. His political capital is evaporating and, while it was disgraceful for a congressman to scream at him “You lie!” (which he was, about health care for illegal immigrants), this is more understandable and likely to be more habit-forming than an Iraqi journalist’s throwing shoes at his predecessor.
Instead of following the Roosevelt 1933 formula of squarely acknowledging a crisis and pledging an immediate plan of action with inspiriting calls for solidarity and national effort, he magnified the problems in order to try to create an appetite for a more radical turn to higher taxes and social benefits than the country wanted. Instead of sending precise bills to Congress and generating public support for them as Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan did, Obama left it to the Democratic congressional leadership, which festooned every bill with pendulous payoffs to key votes and interests.
The $787 billion stimulus plan was a monstrosity of patronage and logrolling. The money that was borrowed (to stimulate, in reality, Democratic reelection prospects) has been taken from purposes that would have stimulated the economy just as efficiently. Larry Summers could not have believed his promises of instant results that would confine unemployment to 8 percent. Two-thirds of the stimulus is for dispersal closer to elections, and meanwhile unemployment is knocking at the door of 10 percent. The whole misconceived idea should be scrapped and replaced with tax cuts, but it won’t be.
The cap-and-trade bill is so loaded with rebates and exemptions that the administration’s own spokesmen acknowledge that while it would sharply raise heating and air-conditioning costs in tens of millions of American homes, it would neither raise federal-government revenues nor reduce carbon emissions. It was based on the unproved Al Gore science-fiction vision of the environment, and it won’t pass.
It looks like a patchy health-care measure almost certainly adding substantially to the deficit may limp through via the politically hazardous reconciliation process. The president’s proposed tax increases, which have been the subject of an indecent amount of dissembling for over a year, will not pass either (and would be insane anyway).
And the forecast trillion-dollar annual deficits for a decade are allowed to fester in the thoughts of the financial world, unaddressed, pushing gold over $1,000 per ounce and dragging the dollar inexorably downward. This administration shows no will to pay down the debt accumulated by 15 years of borrowing trillions of dollars from China and Japan to buy trillions of dollars of non-essential goods from China and Japan, while outsourcing millions of jobs to China and Japan to produce these imports and admitting millions of unauthorized entrants who could have filled the vacated American mills and factories whose production was outsourced. Instead, it will just devalue the currency in which the debt is denominated and end America’s long reign as the world’s wealthiest per capita large country, an honor it already shares with six other advanced nations.
The political class of both parties legislated and ordered the issuance of trillions of dollars of worthless real-estate debt, eliminated savings, penalized those in rented accommodation, and promoted wild residential-real-estate speculation. It has now locked arms to over-empower the failed regulators who sat, mute as suet puddings, while this crisis developed, to save the Franks, Waxmans, Dodds, Rubins, and Greenspans from their just deserts. They have agreed to blame everything on private-sector greed: Attorney General Eric Holder will prosecute avaricious businessmen, as he will Republican-appointed intelligence officials. The criminalization of policy differences, a corrosive and self-destructive process that began with the Watergate crucifixion of one of the country’s most effective presidents, and continued through the Iran-Contra nonsense and the absurd effort to remove President Clinton for undignified but hardly unprecedented peccadilloes, has resumed. It will beget nothing good or just, and will be revisited on its perpetrators.