‐ An overreaching plan for government-run health care, big ideas from Newt Gingrich, Clinton and Netanyahu preparing to face off in the Middle East, the Dow at 6,700 . . . anybody heard from Monica Lewinsky lately?
‐ President Obama announced his plan to withdraw from Iraq. It’s noticeably more reasonable than his rhetoric from the campaign, when he at times seemed to be saying he would pull out entirely in 16 months. He now wants to go from the current 142,000 troops to roughly 50,000 in 18 months. He would not begin the drawdown in earnest until early next year, leaving the bulk of our force in place to provide order during Iraq’s national elections (scheduled for December). This plan contrasts with his campaign promise to bring a brigade or two home every month. It was nice to hear him acknowledge finally, and unmistakably, what we have accomplished in Iraq. In his telling, we have not just toppled Saddam; we have put a decent, stable Iraq, allied with us in the War on Terror, within the realm of possibility. Obama has made it clear that he will not throw out all that we have gained there, at great sacrifice, in a fit of anti-war purity. And that’s a start.
‐ President Obama brushed aside concerns about the stock-market crash that accompanied his first month in office, comparing its “fits and starts” to the fickle swings one sees in political tracking polls during campaigns. He missed a subtle difference: People put real money at risk in the market, and right now they are betting heavily against Obama’s recovery plans. The steepest dive occurred after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner revealed that his “plan” to stabilize the financial system was actually just a continuation of the chaotic, ad hoc approach that led us to the current juncture of uncertainty and fear. Instead of laying out clear rules for dealing with large, insolvent financial institutions, Obama laid out an agenda of big spending and tax increases, a new cap-and-trade plan, and a down payment on a national health-care system. He forges on without any realization that his promises from 2008 are irrelevant to the country’s pressing problems in 2009. His instinctual comparison of the stock market to a tracking poll was revealing: He’s still stuck in campaign mode.
‐ In response to a housing meltdown caused in part by 1) loose lending standards, 2) shenanigans at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and 3) perverse financial incentives, President Obama proposes to: 1) loosen lending standards, enabling homeowners to refinance mortgages that exceed the value of their homes, 2) shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with $400 billion in fresh capital, and 3) create new perverse incentives by offering lenders thousands of dollars in government handouts for each mortgage they refinance. Obama argues that this last policy will prevent foreclosures in numbers sufficient to arrest the slide in real-estate prices, but foreclosures are only one wound in that bleeding market. The other factors are arguably more meaningful and less tractable: Houses were overvalued to start with; there is a glut of supply on the market; few Americans are looking to buy a first house or to upgrade to a more expensive one; those who are shopping for houses have less access to credit than they did a year ago and must pay more for it; and the downturn has many Americans looking to pay down existing debts and hesitant to take on new ones. Obama’s program has a narrow band of eligibility, and the effect of preventing a few foreclosures at the margins will be overwhelmed by deeper economic tides. Probably this will result in the government’s burning through another half-trillion dollars to no benefit. The road to serfdom is paved with good intentions — and other people’s money in half-trillion-dollar installments.
‐ Several Republican governors have signaled that they will reject some stimulus money on the grounds that it would saddle them with new permanent entitlements to fund. (One Democratic governor is reportedly weighing the idea.) The stimulus bill included extensions of unemployment benefits and other programs that would have been politically impossible to discontinue after the stimulus money ran out, giving the states two options: raise taxes or ask Congress for another bailout. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Texas’s Rick Perry, and South Carolina’s Mark Sanford led a coalition of governors who objected to this “favor” from Washington. Unfortunately, they are outnumbered by governors who will take the cash now and worry about the long-term costs later. Kudos to Jindal & Co. for pointing out that with this bailout of the states, Washington is sowing the seeds for the next one.
‐ Rush Limbaugh delivered a stemwinder at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual conference. (Because Fox News broadcast it, he joked that it was his first address to the nation.) No one who listened to it can doubt his heartfelt love for America or his dedication to conservative principle. He carried on his running battle with those pundits who urge conservatives to adapt to new conditions, to adopt new policies, and to cater to subsets of the population. He was especially scornful of those who would appeal to “the Wal-Mart voter.” He sees all of this advice as coded efforts to abandon the Reaganite conservatism to which he subscribes. Some of the advice is no doubt given with that intent. But surely there can be no objection to applying the insights of conservatism to the challenges of the day, or explaining how the resulting conservative policies would benefit people who are not already rich. Ronald Reagan did both things — as Limbaugh has also done. The careers of both men ought to illustrate that tradition and innovation have never been polar opposites in the conservative mind.
‐ Bobby Jindal got poor reviews for his response to Obama’s address to Congress. Some of the critics suggested that Jindal’s national aspirations had been badly damaged. We think that Jindal was quite strong in challenging Washington’s runaway spending, but did not do enough to show that conservatives have solutions to the economic problems that vex Americans. Those who wish him well, including us, should hope that both his content and his delivery improve. Those who wish him ill should remember that Bill Clinton took a worse beating for his Democratic-convention speech in 1988 — he had to go on late-night television to join in the jokes about his long-windedness — and got elected president four years later.
‐ Something pleasant is afoot in Connecticut — just possibly. Christopher Dodd has been senator from there for a very long time: since 1981. There is hardly a Democrat more obnoxious on all issues, foreign and domestic. He is tied only by Senators Kerry, Kennedy, and Leahy. (Remember that Biden has gone on to the vice presidency.) Larry Kudlow is one of the happiest Reaganite warriors in America. A sharp economist, an irrepressible spirit. Rumor has it that Kudlow may challenge Dodd for that Senate seat in Connecticut. And if he does, National Review, of course, will support him heartily: He is one of our own. Years ago, WFB asked his fellow Connecticut voters, “Does Lowell Weicker make you sick?” Plenty of them responded yes — and ousted that spectacularly obnoxious senator. Chris Dodd is another sick-maker. And Larry Kudlow is a wonderful cure.
‐ To lead the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, a post calling for nonpartisan, academic rigor, Obama chose Dawn Johnsen, a Bush-bashing, left-wing ideologue so extreme that she has analogized abortion restrictions to state “conscription” of the woman’s body and called them a form of “involuntary servitude” in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition of slavery. When pressed about this contention at her confirmation hearing, she attacked as “false” the profile about her that Andrew McCarthy wrote for NR’s March 9 edition before admitting that he had, indeed, quoted her accurately. Still, she insisted she’d “made no Thirteenth Amendment argument” when she told the Supreme Court: “Statutes that curtail [a woman’s] abortion choice are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest.” Johnsen now intimates that she never thought the Thirteenth Amendment was relevant. But in 1989 she told Glamour magazine, “Our position is that there is no ‘father’ and no ‘child’ — just a fetus. Any move by courts to force a woman to have a child amounts to involuntary servitude.” A confirmation vote has not yet been scheduled.
A World-Class Deficit
It’s time for a pop quiz. What is bigger than the combined economies of India, Russia, Brazil, Spain, and Canada? Answer: the U.S. budget deficit over the next ten years, if the Obama budget plan becomes law.
President Obama plans to borrow about $7 trillion over the next ten years to finance all of his spending plans. That is a big number, and a tough thing to put in perspective. To present an idea of the scale of the deficits, the attached chart compares Obama’s projected deficit with the 2007 GDPs of the eleven largest economies on earth other than that of the U.S.
The projected ten-year deficit is larger than the Japanese economy. It’s larger than the German economy. It’s larger than the bottom five economies on the list combined.
Obama accomplishes these enormous deficits by spending a lot early, and spending a lot late. The deficit this year in his budget is projected to be about $1.7 trillion, a bit larger than the entire Canadian economy and a bit smaller than the Italian one. But it’s not just near-term countercyclical Keynesian foolishness fueling the outlook. The deficit in 2019, the tenth year of his projected budget, is $712 billion, about two-thirds the size of the Indian economy.
It’s worth mentioning that these deficit numbers are likely much lower than what would occur if many of President Obama’s policies were adopted. The Obama budget has an astonishingly rosy outlook for the economy, especially if one considers the likely impact of all of this spending.
While the president likes to blame the Bush administration for all of his troubles, the fact is that the CBO ten-year budget forecast published in January 2008 called for a ten-year surplus of a few hundred billion dollars. The economy has taken some of the steam out of revenues in the first few years, but the mind-numbing spending increases do the majority of the work. The long-term economic outlook has not changed much since last January. Yet the Obama budget calls for a deficit that is roughly double the size of the one forecast by the CBO just over one month ago.
There was a time when the horrible Bush deficits were the center of Democratic rhetoric. But back when the first round of Bush tax cuts were passed, the CBO estimated that their ten-year cost would be $1.35 trillion. Bush gave us Spain. Obama is shooting for the world.
– KEVIN A. HASSETT
‐ The Rocky Mountain News, which began publication in April 1859 on Cherry Creek (later Denver), in the Kansas Territory (later Colorado), folded, two months before its sesquicentennial. The Rocky was an increasingly rare thing among daily newspapers, a feisty conservative voice. Not rare is its fate as we witness a die-off of print, like the extinction of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Era. The Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the Inquirer and Daily News of Philadelphia, have all gone bankrupt; the San Francisco Chronicle looks to be next. Technology is killing them, as ads and readers go online, and papers struggle to reincarnate themselves there. In many cases, journalists speed their obsolescence by forsaking local news for liberal good works. The last battle will be between the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, struggling to be the national high-end outlet. Rupert Murdoch is the better publisher, but if Arthur Sulzberger Jr. fails, some consortium of rich liberals will step up to save his family’s handiwork. Read all about it.
‐ William Rusher was publisher of this magazine from 1957 to 1988, a key lieutenant to WFB. From 1973 to just the other day, he wrote a syndicated column. His last column was devoted to conservatism and America. He said that, beginning in the 1960s, conservatism “earned the right to call itself a ‘movement.’” Conservatism earned that right because of the hard work of Rusher and his fellows — work that Rusher continued through the decades. In his final column he also noted of this country that “our actions have generally been just and courageous.” Bill Rusher is just and courageous himself. And he is one of the best friends we have ever had.
‐ Sen. Jim Bunning won reelection in Kentucky in 2004 by a whisker even as President Bush carried the state by 20 points. That’s one reason Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, also a Kentuckian, reportedly wants Bunning to drop out of the 2010 race. Bunning has responded by threatening to sue the Republican party, or resign from office and let the Democratic governor appoint his replacement, if Republicans do not back him. Bunning has also said, in public, that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will probably soon die from her pancreatic cancer. He has been a solid conservative vote, but he is certainly making life difficult for his dwindling band of defenders.
‐ Having ripped the Bush administration’s detention of enemy combatants as a top Obama campaign adviser, now–attorney general Eric Holder pronounced himself “impressed” upon finally visiting Guantanamo Bay. He gushed that the facility is very well run and that closing it (as Obama has pledged to do) will be difficult. Meanwhile, a Pentagon study ordered by Obama has confirmed that Gitmo is a model prison that meets Geneva Convention requirements for detainee treatment. Holder and the president have conceded that the nation is at war and that detaining captured enemy combatants in wartime is perfectly lawful. What’s more, they acknowledge that there are some extremely dangerous terrorists who cannot be prosecuted successfully in civilian courts because of the need to protect highly classified national-defense information. Therefore, what we need is an impressive, well-run model prison that complies with the Geneva Conventions in order to hold untriable jihadists who will otherwise plot to kill Americans. Any ideas?
‐ George Bush famously admonished, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Evidently the Obama doctrine is: “You’re either with us or . . . we’ll fund you.” The new administration will provide $900 million to Hamas-dominated Gaza — part of its new tone with the Islamic world (which Bush offended in the course of freeing 50 million Muslims from tyranny). Obama spokesmen insist this largesse will not go to Hamas, formally designated a terrorist organization under U.S. law. Rather, aid will be distributed through non-governmental agencies like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. But in Gaza the UNRWA is effectively an arm of Hamas: It employs Hamas members, knowingly allows funding to flow to Hamas (claiming it is too difficult to screen recipients for terror ties), teaches Hamas’s virulent brand of radical Islam in its schools, and allows its vehicles to ferry Hamas operatives and their weapons for attacks against Israel. Indeed, even when it does perform social-welfare functions, UNRWA relieves Hamas of those obligations, so its resources can be diverted to savagery. Historically, aid to Palestinians has generally resulted in more terrorism — and this is a record amount of aid.
‐ The Obama administration reversed an 18-year-old ban on photographing flag-draped coffins of servicemen arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The ban was originally instituted by George H. W. Bush, in response to media exploitation: The networks had run a split-screen image of him joking with reporters as coffins returned from the American invasion of Panama. The ban was maintained by Bill Clinton, and became contentious again under George W. Bush. The press wanted images of industrialized death to blacken the Iraq War. Obama agreed, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who must agree with the president, has lifted the ban, saying that the decision to photograph should be left to the families of the slain. It is not clear how this will work in practice: Will one family’s veto preclude a shot, or one family’s request allow it? Suppose family members disagree? Look for there to be enough wiggle room so that when the Afghan war, to which President Obama says he is committed, heats up, the practice of recent presidents can be resumed.
‐ It was a pleasant surprise when the Senate voted 87–11 to prohibit the FCC from reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on America’s broadcasters. The vote is not binding without the House’s consent, which does not seem forthcoming; and in any event, separate rules mandating “diversity in communication-media ownership” could achieve the same end by different means. Still, it’s refreshing to see that even some Democratic senators understand that stifling views they disagree with is not only unfair but unwise.
‐ Congress is on the verge of granting the District of Columbia statehood on the cheap, by awarding it a permanent seat in the House of Representatives. The current proposal would increase the size of the House from 435 to 437 members. The first seat would go to the District. The other would belong to the state that’s next in line to receive one, based on existing formulas of apportionment. Right now, this happens to be Utah. Its House delegation would expand by one member — at least until 2012, when the results of the next census take effect. Some call this a praiseworthy example of bipartisan compromise. Whereas D.C. certainly would elect a Democrat, Utah presumably would elect a Republican. Such political scale-tipping should have nothing to do with it, however. The Constitution is explicit: “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not . . . be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.” As a non-state, the District is forbidden to enjoy the full benefits of congressional membership. Senators and representatives who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution should vote down this unconstitutional ruse.
‐ “We will end education programs that don’t work,” promised Obama in his address to Congress. Perhaps congressional Democrats misheard him, because they’re working hard to kill the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which helps nearly 2,000 low-income children attend private schools. By all accounts, parents whose kids participate in this school-choice demonstration project are strongly satisfied. Moreover, a study by the Department of Education last year found that “achievement trends are moving in the right direction.” For teachers’ unions, however, school choice is always a step in the wrong direction because it empowers parents rather than bureaucrats. In February, their handmaidens in the House passed a spending bill that cuts off funding for the D.C. program after the 2009–10 school year. Obama saw fit to enroll his daughters at one of the most prestigious and expensive private academies in Washington. He should at least get behind this modest plan to help poor kids escape the public schools that weren’t good enough for Malia and Sasha.
‐ A year ago, Candidate Obama endorsed the “concept” of medical marijuana, and promised to stop federal raids on dispensaries in states that have passed medical-marijuana laws (14 at the latest count). Two days after his inauguration, the Drug Enforcement Agency raided a dispensary in Lake Tahoe, Calif. (a medical-marijuana state). When a reporter recently asked Eric Holder if such raids would continue, the attorney general said, “No. What the president said during the campaign . . . is now American policy.” A victory for common sense, if Holder and Obama mean what they say. Also, alas, the only federalism we’re likely to see in this administration.
‐ Washington State is about to put into effect a referendum, passed by voters in November, to allow the terminally ill to ask physicians to assist their suicides. The activists behind the initiative have already made clear that they want euthanasia to be even more widely available: They next want to legalize assisted suicide for people with incurable, but not terminal, diseases. Physicians in Washington should redouble their efforts to palliate the pain of their terminally ill patients, but resist any pressures to become killers rather than healers.
‐ To shape the intelligence on which policy is made, Obama has chosen Charles W. “Chas” Freeman to run the National Intelligence Council. A staunch critic of Israel and lackey for Saudi Arabia, Freeman argues that Americans “should examine ourselves” to understand what “caused” the 9/11 attacks. Appalling, but it pales next to Freeman’s shilling for Communist China, which he faults only for failing to move swiftly enough in 1989 to crush democratic reformers at Tiananmen Square. “The truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities,” wrote Freeman in a 2006 e-mail, “was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than — as would have been both wise and efficacious — to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility.” Ah yes, the “domestic tranquility” of tyranny. Ferdinand Peroutka, the late Czech democrat persecuted by the Nazis and Soviets, sagely observed that tyrants always need their Freemans. Following the “rowdies who beat the nation,” they are the “rowdies who give thanks for the beating in the name of the nation. The policeman is followed — and sometimes also preceded — by the liar.”
‐ A World Conference on Racism is due to be held in Geneva at the end of April, under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council. There has been one of these before, in 2001 at Durban, and it was a vile public display of anti-Semitism. The United States walked out. The committee preparing for Durban II has Libya in the chair, with Iran and Cuba as deputies, and the notion that these countries might promote genuine human rights is rich, not to say comic. The State Department sent delegates to sound out the preparations under way for the agenda of Durban II. Israel, they discovered, is about to be singled out for another bashing, and under the guise of protecting religion Muslim countries may not be criticized. On one hand, the United States is therefore deciding not to participate in Durban II, and on the other it will attend as an observer and might even join in if the Libyans and others amend the agenda. So influence and moral example are both forfeit.
‐ The headline read, “Jewish Leaders: She’s Not the Hillary We Knew.” Hmm. CBS reported, “In a swift about-face from her views as New York’s senator, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now hammering Israel over its treatment of Palestinians in Gaza.” Yes, HRC is not a senator from New York anymore — and she is freer to indulge her true views on the Middle East. When she moved to New York before the 2000 election, she came out as gung-ho pro-Israel. Given her past, that was more surprising than her embrace of the Yankees.
‐ Geert Wilders had a busy month, with little or no time to focus on his duties as a member of the Dutch parliament and leader of the Party for Freedom. He’s really a single-issue politician, with the platform that Islam is less a religion than a totalitarian ideology like Communism or fascism. Fitna (the Arabic for strife or sedition) is a short documentary film of his, whose purpose is to link acts of jihadi terror to the Koran and its injunctions. In Rome, he received a prize named in honor of Oriana Fallaci, the late Italian journalist who was every bit as critical of the Islamization of Europe. He also accepted an invitation to show the film in London, in the House of Lords no less, but was refused entry to Britain on the grounds that Muslims were threatening to react to his presence with violence. He then visited Washington, where Sen. Jon Kyl sponsored a showing of Fitna in the LBJ Room on Capitol Hill. Under the circumstances, the senator’s move was a blow for free speech.
‐ President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu are already performing an awkward two-step, and this will determine the future of Israel, the Palestinians, and perhaps the wider Middle East as well. Center-right Netanyahu ideally would like to form a national government with center-left Tzipi Livni, and so present a united front to the new administration in the White House. But Livni so far has refused all offers, obliging Netanyahu to invite other, more right-wing and nationalist parties into the governing coalition. In the likely event that such a coalition proves unwilling to make major concessions to the Palestinians, American displeasure will be manifest, and Livni’s chance may then come. In the past Netanyahu was damaged when Bill Clinton’s dislike of him became public knowledge. Anxious to avoid a repeat with Obama, he has been quick to say that their two recent meetings were “excellent.” But Obama’s entire Middle East team is preparing to push Netanyahu into peace processes of their own devising, satisfying the demands of Syria, the Palestinian Authority, and even Hamas at the expense of Israeli security. Wishful thinking appears set to trump pragmatic politics once again.
‐ One of history’s quaintest mathematical curiosities is the Indiana pi bill of 1897. Introduced in the state’s lower chamber by Rep. T. I. Record, the bill declared the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter to be either 3.2, or 4, or sixteen-sevenths of the square root of two, whichever section of the bill was taken to be applicable in any case. The bill unfortunately died in committee. Its spirit has been revived next door in Illinois, however, where the state senate has unanimously approved a bill declaring Pluto a planet. This is in defiance of the International Astronomical Union, which downgraded Pluto to a “dwarf planet” in 2006 and a “plutoid” in 2008. The Illinois legislators were moved by affection for a native son, Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. The day of that discovery, March 13, will henceforth be Pluto Day in the Land of Lincoln. The Hoosiers — and, so far as we know, all other jurisdictions — are still stuck with pi at a tad over 3.14159 and Pi Day at March 14 (3/14, see?).
‐ “Livestock-emissions research” is a fast-growing topic among global-warming propagandists. We have reported before in this space on the planet-threatening issue of bovine flatulence, which releases methane — a greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere. But scientists in New Zealand think they may have been concentrating on the wrong animal, and the wrong end. The belching of sheep, we are now told, is at least as deleterious to the environment. After the borborygmi of beeves and the eructations of ewes, what’s next on the barnyard-threat agenda? Horse halitosis? Pig perspiration? Can’t domesticated livestock be left as in our childhood books and songs, friends to man? Did Old MacDonald have a Livestock Emissions Researcher on his farm? Feugh!
‐ Squeamish readers might want to skip this paragraph, in which we pass on a sudden flush of news stories relating to . . . evacuation. Item: Environmentalists are promoting urine-diversion toilet bowls, which have two outlets — number one and number two, so to speak. The snag is that males have to sit for both functions. Item: While gents must now sit for the lesser function, ladies need not. GoGirl, a popular product with feminists, allows women to relieve themselves while standing. Item: Soft toilet tissue can be made only from wood, not from recycled paper. The New York Times reports that America’s preference for fluffiness destroys untold acres of forest annually — “the Charmin effect.” Those same environmentalists urge us to switch to “reusable wipes” (think of old-fashioned cloth diapers). Item: Ryanair, a budget airline serving the U.K., is considering charging passengers one British pound to use the loo in flight. What are things coming to? Men sit; women stand; wipes are reusable; and all must pay. The world is upside-down — the position Ben Franklin experimented with to lessen the pain of his kidney stones while urinating. Let’s hope the busybodies don’t try to make us do that.
‐ The first week in March was No Cussing Week in Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous. This was the inspiration of McKay Hatch, a 15-year-old at South Pasadena High. He started the No Cussing Club when he was in junior high. Cussing was omnipresent and demoralizing, he thought. And club members “could help each other by reminding and supporting each other not to cuss.” Soon, other clubs sprouted, throughout the country and even the world. McKay and his fellows have received some harassment: Some people are offended at their commitment, and express their feelings, sadly, in the terms one would expect.
‐ Fr. Francis Canavan, S.J., was a Jesuit of the old school; he had little time for the theological heterodoxy and left-wing political radicalism for which his order became notorious in the last century. He was a brilliant scholar: a respected professor of government at Fordham and an associate editor at America magazine. He was perhaps best known as an authority on the writings of Edmund Burke, and his essays on politics embody a Burkean suspicion of the philosophical underpinnings of the liberal project. Above all, as those who knew him can attest, he was a man of great personal holiness. Dead at 91. R.I.P.
‐ Wilbert Tatum was a newspaper publisher who made his mark with imaginary news: His Harlem-based New York Amsterdam News played a key role in furthering the Tawana Brawley hoax. Ignoring emergent facts, Tatum exploited the tall tale for inflammatory purposes well past the time when its fraudulence was debatable. Married to a Jewish refugee, he nonetheless trafficked opportunistically in anti-Semitic paranoia, explaining Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s vice-presidential nomination as an appeal to Jewish lucre: “Gore and his minions did it for the money.” His newspaper helped poison black-Jewish relations leading up to the Crown Heights riots, denounced “white-bread naysayers,” and cultivated the careers of Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton. As a consequence of the publisher’s taste for fiction, Tatum’s newspaper left its readers knowing less than they did before. A regrettable career comes to a close. Wilbert Tatum, dead at 76. R.I.P.
‐ “Surprised by joy,” William Wordsworth turned to share it with his daughter Catharine, only to realize with a double shock, as memory caught up with reality, that she was dead. How many times over the last year have we been surprised — by the success of the surge, the financial collapse, Obama’s hubris and liberals’ infatuation with it — and thought, “What will WFB think about this?” only to remember that he is gone. Death stops even a commentator as tireless as Bill. Time makes the moments of shock for the living less frequent, and less sharp. We are left with his voluminous recorded thoughts, many pertinent to any day’s events, many timeless, and with our loving memories, which bind us over a distance, until, God willing, we rejoin him once more.
Perhaps there is nothing in President Obama’s budget that better illustrates his priorities than his proposal to cap deductions on money donated to charity. “Don’t worry about giving,” this proposal seems to say. “That’s what the government is for.”
Taking, too. Obama’s budget increases taxes by $1.3 trillion. On the giving side, it increases discretionary spending by 12 percent and makes a $634 billion down payment on a national health-care system. Obama leaves the details of the system to Democrats in Congress, but he is specific about how to pay for it: He would cap itemized deductions for those in the top income-tax bracket and simultaneously raise their tax rates. The idea seems to be: Turn more of your money over to us, and we’ll give it away for you.
While Obama’s tax increases will almost certainly become law, his spending cuts will almost certainly not — particularly in the case of agriculture. Obama says he will save $10 billion by capping payments to wealthy farmers and billions more by scrapping other costly and inefficient farm programs. But don’t tell that to Rep. Collin C. Peterson, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. “We just finished the [latest five-year] farm bill last year, and I don’t think we’ll open it up,” he informed the Washington Times. If Obama had really wanted to reform farm subsidies, he would have taken a stand when it mattered and voted against that bill in the Senate. Instead, he supported the subsidizers.
For his other proposed cuts to take effect, Obama will have to make credible threats to veto appropriations bills that increase spending where he has called for decreases. If he is able to pull this off, we will be among the first to congratulate him. But neither party has an outstanding record of controlling spending when it controls both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and judging by the bloated bulk of the stimulus bill there is little reason for optimism that Obama-era Democrats will fare better than their predecessors. In fact, Obama’s spending increases are larger than the new revenue from his tax hikes. His deficit-reduction plan is to hope that the economy improves.
What spending cuts we are likely to see are not necessarily ones that we should cheer. Obama would fund his health-care plan in part by gutting Medicare Advantage, the program that lets seniors choose privately administered health-care plans that are paid for by Medicare. Eliminating Medicare Advantage has been a liberal priority for years, because it is a roadblock to instituting a single-payer system. Obama promised to go through the budget “line by line,” looking for spending to cut. But in this task, as in others, he has sought the path of least resistance. The Left’s sacred cows appear to be safe.
In short, Obama’s budget raises taxes, increases spending, and creates programs that are likely to put a drag on our economy, such as cap-and-trade. Democrats like to point to Bill Clinton’s tax increases in the early 1990s as evidence that higher taxes are not incompatible with growth. But Clinton’s hikes coincided with the advent of the Internet, a revolutionary new technology that boosted productivity. What’s more, Clinton signed several growth-promoting trade agreements — good luck getting such a policy out of today’s “Buy American” Democrats. Unfortunately, Obama is adopting Clinton’s worst economic policies (high taxes, government-run health care) and eschewing his best ones.
Tax and Spin
George Stephanopoulos did the nation a small service recently when he got President Obama’s budget director to admit that the cap-and-trade provision in the current budget will increase energy prices for most Americans.
If it becomes law, this provision will have the government set a quota for total U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions and then sell the ration cards to companies that emit them. In all but name, this is a tax on fossil fuels. It is projected to collect about $650 billion between 2012 and 2019.
According to the budget-preview document, the revenues from the hidden climate tax will be split between $15 billion for alternative-energy-research subsidies and about $52 billion per year to help pay for the “Making Work Pay” tax cut/welfare check of $800 for “95 percent of all American workers.” Of course, the same people receiving these checks will now pay more for gas, utilities, and every product they buy that has material energy content. How much more? According to Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the typical family should expect to pay about $870 more per year, almost exactly offsetting the check from the government.
So the net fiscal effect of the combined program of cap-and-trade and Making Work Pay is for the federal government to take about $75 billion per year surreptitiously with one hand, cycle it through the government apparatus, and give most of it back through explicit checks to individuals with the other hand — with a mere $15 billion per year siphoned off to fund Son of SynFuels. Not to be crassly political, but it will also have the effect of transferring wealth from states that disproportionately vote for Republicans to those that disproportionately vote for Democrats. We suspect there might be some administrative costs involved as well.
The theoretical benefit of all of this activity is to ameliorate climate-change costs by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. As we have argued previously, this is, even in the theoretical case, cost-prohibitive. Further, the practical reality is that the amount of emissions reductions that this measure will achieve in isolation is trivial. Proponents argue that by preemptively limiting our emissions (and therefore reducing our negotiating leverage) we will increase our ability to convince China, India, and other major developing nations to sacrifice economic growth by joining a global regime of emissions reduction. They are invited to our regular office poker game.