Politics & Policy

A Taxing Duplicity

On Lamont's laughable overtures to fiscal conservatives.

Ned Lamont has written an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal editorial page attempting to convince you that he is “a fiscal conservative.” Don’t believe a word of it.

Lamont’s advisers must have told him that fiscal conservatives are really stupid. How else to explain his attempt to sneak this passage by us:

Second, entrepreneurs invest in human resources. Our business strives to pay good wages and provide good health benefits so that we can attract employees that give us an edge in a competitive marketplace. Well-trained and well-cared-for people are essential for every business these days, particularly in a global economy. It’s getting harder and harder for American businesses to compete on price, but we innovate and change better than any economy on the planet. The quality of our work force is one of America’s competitive advantages — if our education system fails our children and our employers, we’ll lose the future.

That’s why I talked about my work as a volunteer teacher in the Bridgeport public schools, which can’t afford to be open later than 2:30 p.m., schools that send children home to an empty house. That’s why my campaign offered a strong alternative to standardized tests and No Child Left Behind. That’s why I believe in an employer-based health-care system that covers everyone, and providing tax benefits to small businesses so they can provide insurance without risking bankruptcy.

As someone who sat through Ned Lamont’s stump speech more than once during his recent primary campaign, let me tell you about the policies Ned Lamont is hiding beneath his friendly “entrepreneurial” rhetoric:

Lamont favors a MUCH bigger federal role in public education: When he’s not writing for the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Lamont is telling left-wing blogs stuff like, “I’d like to see the federal government gets more involved in early childhood education, preschool,” and “I think preschool would be one of the best investments we could make. My hunch is that’s going to have to be a federal responsibility.”

Lamont opposes school vouchers: When it comes to public education, Lamont opposes the truly entrepreneurial solution, which is to let parents use their tax dollars to send their kids to the school of their choice. Vouchers not only give kids in the worst schools a way out, they introduce competition into the system and provide public schools with an incentive to improve. During the primary, Lamont relentlessly attacked three-term incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman for even flirting with the idea of supporting a school-voucher program for D.C. — a program that has become phenomenally popular in the District and even earned the support of Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams. (Lieberman ended up not voting on the bill at all.)

Lamont backs “universal health care”: Though Lamont acknowledges that “It’s getting harder and harder for American businesses to compete on price,” he favors a coercive regime of mandatory employer-provided coverage that would make it… even harder for American businesses to compete on price. For everyone else, he envisions a dramatically expanded role for Medicaid and Medicare. How are we going to pay for all this? Why, “by leveraging the government’s bulk purchasing and regulatory power” to force health insurance and pharmaceutical companies to lower their prices. I guess they don’t count as “entrepreneurs.”

“Tax benefits” vs. “Tax incentives”: At first I was sure I was reading this sentence wrong:

That’s why I believe in…providing tax benefits to small businesses so they can provide insurance without risking bankruptcy.

Lamont couldn’t be offering this policy, I thought, because he was quoted in the Wall Street Journal just three months ago criticizing Lieberman for proposing the same thing!

When it comes to universal health care for everybody in this country as a basic right, that’s a principle of the Democratic Party that Sen. Lieberman has never quite embraced. He’s come up with tax incentives for businesses to see if they might be a little more inclined to insure their people. So he generally has not embraced a lot of the Democratic goals and certainly the Democratic methods to achieving where we want to go.

I didn’t understand the difference between “tax incentive” and “tax benefit” until I read more on Lamont’s position. Then I got it. A tax incentive rewards a business that voluntarily provides a health plan. A tax benefit is a consolation prize for a business that’s forced to.

Give Lamont credit for trying: In his first post-primary appeal to moderates and conservatives, he was absolutely right to start with spending. Washington has indeed “utterly lost touch with fiscal reality,” as he wrote, and conservatives are especially fired up about it.

But the problem we’ve had for the past six years is that President Bush believes in all kinds of big-government solutions where they aren’t really appropriate. So how is adding one more big-government Senator to a roster of big-government legislators going to solve our big-government problems?

As far as I can tell, Lamont has a couple of ideas. The first is to raise taxes, about which there is nothing conservative, fiscal or otherwise. The second is to eliminate earmarks. That’s a good position and Lamont should be applauded for taking a stand. But there seems to be a general consensus among economists that you could eliminate all earmarks tomorrow and it wouldn’t do anything to save us from a fiscal meltdown over entitlement spending. Unfortunately, that’s the type of spending Ned “fiscal conservative” Lamont seems most gung-ho about expanding.

Joe Lieberman may be wrong about a lot of things, but he is a serious man. “There is a whole attitude out there, ‘Just say No!’” Lieberman told The New York Times last year during the fight over Social Security reform. “In other words, ‘Let the president sink with this proposal. We are winning.’ But we are not winning because the victory here is to solve the Social Security problem.”

The question Connecticut’s real fiscal conservatives have to ask themselves is: What would Ned Lamont have done? Try to solve the biggest fiscal problem we face? Or let the president sink with his proposal and sing along with his friends at Daily Kos: “We are winning”?

 – Stephen Spruiell is NRO’s media blogger. He frequently reports on politics for both NRO and NR.

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