In all fairness, he promised he’d stop the seas from rising. He didn’t say anything about the debt ceiling.
The June jobs report was a dark cloud with dark linings. Only 18,000 jobs were created, estimates for the previous two months were revised downward by 44,000, and the unemployment rate increased to 9.2 percent. The Obama administration, in response, will not adopt the Left’s call for another, bigger stimulus package. Nor will it free the labor market from mandates, let the housing market find its bottom, or call for the Fed to anchor monetary expectations by announcing a clear rule — as conservatives suggest. Its implicit motto, “Stay the course,” is reminiscent of the Bush administration’s line on Iraq in 2006, and there is no surge in sight.
President Obama, while talking about the deficit, repeatedly pretended that Republicans’ attachment to a tax break for corporate jets is an obstacle to a deal. Republicans have no such attachment, and the break was actually expanded in Obama’s vaunted stimulus. It is also a trifle: Repealing it would save an estimated $3 billion over ten years. Perhaps Republicans should neatly illustrate the president’s mendacity by advancing legislation to repeal it while cutting the corporate tax rate by a fraction of a percentage point.
Sens. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) and Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) want to reform Medicare. Their bill would save $600 billion over ten years and extend the program’s solvency by 30 years by raising the eligibility age, increasing premiums and co-pays, and means-testing benefits so that wealthier beneficiaries pay more. The proposal could gain some Democratic support, and it makes a good bargaining chip for fiscal reformers in the debt-limit debate. But it is a complement rather than an alternative to the Ryan plan. It would achieve short-term cost reductions while leaving the fundamental problems of Medicare untouched — precisely the opposite of what the Ryan plan would do. Under Coburn-Lieberman, Medicare would still operate on a “fee for service” model, which pays doctors more whenever they perform additional procedures, regardless of the expected health benefit. The best way to fix this problem is to give seniors money to put toward premiums, and allow private insurance companies to compete for the money. This approach would reward insurance companies for designing plans that both cover important procedures and give doctors an incentive to control costs. That’s what the Ryan plan would accomplish, albeit years down the road. So, how can we enact both?
Pending before Congress are three important trade pacts: with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. These agreements are being held hostage by Democrats hoping to reanimate the corpse of President Obama’s failed stimulus program. At issue is something called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a collection of programs under which benefits are paid to workers, farmers, and business owners who claim that international trade has disadvantaged them. In reality, any connection of their misfortunes to trade is at best tenuous, and TAA is simply another slush fund out of which politicians make payments to politically connected businesses, union members, and other influential constituencies. Obama’s stimulus greatly expanded TAA funding. Republicans desire that TAA funding should revert to pre-stimulus levels, while Democrats hope to make the stimulus levels permanent. TAA is a waste at any price, and it is related only in the most tangential fashion to the South Korean free-trade pact to which it is attached. With unemployment at 9.2 percent, one would think that the Obama administration would be keen to expand American firms’ access to growing markets. (Colombia’s goods already enter the United States with negligible friction, making that deal particularly attractive to our exporters.) But a lot of Obama-voting union members are collecting TAA checks, to say nothing of the legion of drones employed in the bureaucracies that administer TAA subsidies.
Among the stimulus’s more laudable-sounding projects was the expansion of broadband Internet service in rural areas. Poor, benighted country folk needing ten minutes to download an episode of Scrubs — in a fair and equitable society this must not be. The trouble is that, as Nick Schulz wrote at Forbes.com, most rural areas already have extensive broadband coverage; in three remote regions that a pair of researchers studied, the few remaining unserved households were eventually connected through stimulus funding at a cost of about $350,000 apiece. In southwestern Montana, where half a dozen providers compete to offer broadband, only 1.5 percent of households had no wireline access; if you include wireless, then the stimulus made broadband available to exactly seven additional households, at $7 million per. (Besides, if we know Montanans, most of the seven probably enjoyed being beyond the reach of civilization.) Like too many congressional appropriations, especially when spending itself is the goal, this one consisted in letting good intentions light vaguely upon some objective and then thoughtlessly throwing a pile of money at it.
In one of the more embarrassing episodes of recent corporate rent-seeking, the nation’s restaurateurs and shopkeepers have prevailed upon the Federal Reserve to spare them the labor of negotiating with the nation’s debit-card processors for better prices. Instead, Bernanke & Co. have by fiat halved the “swipe fees” that card processors charge merchants when customers use plastic rather than paper. Swipe fees today average about 44 cents per transaction, but the Fed is imposing a complicated cap amounting to — here’s regulatory genius in its great glory — 21 cents per transaction, plus five basis points multiplied by the total price of the transaction, plus an optional penny per transaction to fund antifraud efforts. Which is to say, the Fed has just made buying a bag of groceries into an exercise in structured finance. The Fed did not act unilaterally, having been ordered to come up with a price-fixing scheme under the mandates of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Merchants displeased with swipe fees already had alternatives, among them seeking out the services of competing providers or accepting only cash, which is backed by the full faith and credit of the . . . okay, but there’s no swipe fee.
Enthusiasts call it “libertarian paternalism” or “the nudge,” by which they mean offering people choices in such a way that it is easier for them to make the choice that one wants them to make. The textbook example of this model is the employer-sponsored savings program: Don’t make people opt in to a 401(k), the nudgers argue, enroll them automatically and make them opt out if they don’t want in. Human inertia being the most powerful force on earth, the theory holds, replacing the opt-in with the opt-out means more savings, and the micromanagers are convinced that more savings would be a good thing. (For whom? Under what circumstances? Based on what information? Oh, shut up.) That fine theory has run up on the rocky shoals of fact, as the Wall Street Journal discovered in a recent study: In aggregate, nudged employees saved less than the non-nudged. The nudgers set the default level of savings at 3 percent of salary, but employees who choose to save rather than being nudged into it typically save 5 to 10 percent of salary. The nudge model produced more savers but less savings, which brings to mind the political incentives provided to the housing market, which produced record numbers of homeowners but very little home equity. Paternalists of all species, from the company H.R. office to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, want humility and require constant reminders about the final resting place of the best-laid plans of mice and micromanagers.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security held a hearing June 28 on the DREAM Act, which would grant amnesty to illegal immigrants attending college. The hearing room had been packed with members of the public: carefully and selectively packed, perhaps, for when Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) asked “DREAM Act students” — presumably illegals — to rise, half the room stood up. Senator Durbin thanked the youngsters for their “sacrifice” in attending the hearings, then said: “When I look around this room, I see America’s future, our doctors, our teachers, our nurses, our engineers, our scientists, our soldiers, our congressmen, our senators, and maybe our president.” So the cult of salad-bowl sentimentality has apparently now advanced to the point where a very senior lawmaker — Durbin is Senate majority whip — can look forward complacently to an illegal immigrant’s becoming president. True, Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution bars even legal immigrants from the presidency; but perhaps mere constitutional obstructions count for nothing to Senator Durbin when set against the goal of replacing America’s present unsatisfactory electorate with one more reliably Democratic.
This Week’s Constitution
Sunday, July 3, 2011. This, for me, was a somewhat momentous day, for it marked an epiphany. For years, I’ve been writing about the “living Constitution,” perhaps not with as much perspicacity as Ramesh Ponnuru, but probably with a few more cartoon references.
Indeed, I’ve long described the living Constitution as akin to Felix the Cat’s magic bag. If a liberal looks in there long enough and hard enough he’ll find anything he wants.
I bring this up to make it clear I’m not some ingénue, some babe in the woods whose naïveté allowed him to think that liberals simply have a more generous reading of the Constitution than conservatives do.
And yet, I wasn’t prepared for the special edition of ABC’s This Week (special editions of Sunday shows tend to cluster around major holiday weekends; I’m sure it’s just a coincidence). The topic: “the Constitution.” I put scare quotes around it because at times it seemed like all the panelists, save George Will, talked that way about, you know, the quote-unquote Constitution.
Will asked the assembled “experts” a simple question: “Obviously, obesity and its costs affect interstate commerce. Does Congress have the constitutional power to require obese people to sign up for Weight Watchers? If not, why not?”
Richard Stengel, the editor-in-chief of Time magazine and author of a much-derided cover story about the Constitution (“Does It Still Matter?”), replied, “Everything having to do with health care does cross state boundaries. Even that notion of the Commerce Clause as regulating among the states is a kind of antiquarian idea. The government can ask you to do things. . . . It asks us to pay our taxes. It asks us to register for the draft. . . . It’s unconstitutional if the Supreme Court decides it’s unconstitutional.”
Will pressed Stengel: “Well, does Congress have the power to mandate that obese people sign up for — do they have the power to do this?”
Stengel responded, “I don’t know the answer to that.”
But Michael Eric Dyson did. Normally a logophilic go-to guy for bookers who want angry-yet-polysyllabic explanations for why everything is racial, he answered, “It’s open. If they decide that they will, they will have the power to do so.”
Then Will asked Jill Lepore, a liberal historian. She dodged the question entirely by noting that the First Amendment is great because it lets people argue about what the Constitution means. So, “the Constitution is working.” It made you want to pat her head for even trying.
Now you may recall that when Sen. Tom Coburn asked then–Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan whether Congress has the power to make Americans eat broccoli, Kagan was equally flustered, sounding like a teenage boy busted for having girlie magazines under his bed. “Um . . . I . . . I . . . I . . .” I had always assumed that Kagan was afraid to answer because of the byzantine rules and politics swirling around her nomination.
And then the epiphany. These people are embarrassed by their own core convictions. Richard Stengel isn’t up for confirmation for anything. The other two have tenure. And yet they’re all afraid to say openly what they obviously believe: that anything is constitutional if the government says it is. Stengel’s even ashamed to use the word “require” — an essential part of Will’s question. Instead he says the government “asks” us to pay our taxes. No, it doesn’t. It tells us to pay our taxes, and if you refuse long enough, someone with a gun will come to your house and put you in jail.
Will’s is a hard question if your answer is anything but “No,” because normal people will think you’re crazy. That’s both a good sign about the American people and a reminder of how crazy these people are.
In early July, the House considered (but did not pass) a bill to repeal the ban on old-style incandescent light bulbs. The 2007 measure under attack requires bulbs sold within the United States to meet certain efficiency requirements, including lasting longer and using less energy to run. Against the backdrop of ever-increasing federal regulation and micromanagement, the statute has become a shibboleth, dividing two philosophies of government. Republicans, who inexplicably acquiesced to the bill four years ago, are now overwhelmingly pushing back against government compulsion. Energy Secretary Steven Chu summed up the philosophical divide well, arguing against repeal by claiming that — with the federal light-bulb rules — the Department of Energy is “taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.” On that rationale, may we please rid ourselves of the Department of Energy?
When NASA’s space shuttle made its first flight in 1981, space aficionados found the event exciting for its very dullness, like the 8:23 pulling in from Chicago — space flight had become so advanced that it was routine. Yet contrast this with Apollo, when you had the moon to conquer and a Cold War to win, and the problem becomes evident: With NASA’s heroic era ended, the lack of showy feats greatly decreased public enthusiasm, and the agency never quite explained what all that commuting back and forth to the space station was for. So the shuttle’s final flight was an occasion for wistful reflection. Whatever the shuttle program’s accomplishments, it’s clear that it had reached the end of its useful life, marking another transition for NASA. It will be hard for NASA to come up with a mission for manned spaceflight that will stir Americans as much as the lunar landing did. So the figure of the astronaut, which decades ago was the most powerful embodiment of the future, may instead come to symbolize a quaint and bygone era.
Alcee Hastings, a federal judge, was impeached and removed from office in 1988–89 for bribery and perjury. In 1992 he won election to Congress from the 23rd district of Florida. Now he is under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics on charges that he sexually harassed a staff member. If Representative Hastings gets tossed out of this job, he will have to seek employment (and maybe a Triple Crown) in the executive branch.
The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the “equal protection of the laws,” and according to the Sixth Circuit, that means states may not ban racial discrimination at public schools: A three-judge panel recently ruled that Michigan’s Proposal 2, which forbids universities to consider race and sex in admissions, is unconstitutional. As precedent, the majority opinion relied on a 1982 case that struck down a statewide anti-busing law on the grounds that it “remove[d] the authority to address a racial problem — and only a racial problem — from the existing decisionmaking body [local school districts], in such a way as to burden minority interests.” And so we reach the familiar absurd conclusion that nondiscrimination requires discrimination. In this case the supporters of racial preferences have tripped over themselves. The modern legal defense of preferences rests on the alleged benefits of “diversity” for the public at large — and emphatically not on their advancement of “minority interests.” The ruling will likely be overruled on appeal. It deserves to be.
One can debate whether our schools put too much emphasis on high-stakes testing, but one thing that’s clear is that they do a poor job of supervising the testing that does happen. Recently, a scandal broke in Atlanta when it was revealed that the city’s rapidly improving test scores — which had won educators numerous awards — were the result of fraud. Many teachers had simply corrected students’ tests before submitting them. Some were so brazen as to host “changing parties” to make the time go by faster. Some schoolteachers, like some students, will cheat if it serves their interests — and so the testing process needs more safeguards. Another problem is that federal policy puts unreasonable expectations on teachers: If an underperforming school doesn’t accomplish the extremely lofty goal of raising scores every year, it can lose funding. No Child Left Behind has made more cheaters than golf.
Being a bankruptcy-court judge must have its longueurs, especially for those who entered the law seeking to change society to conform to liberal precepts. Twenty such judges in California took the unusual step of jointly signing an opinion declaring that the Defense of Marriage Act could not prevent a same-sex couple “married” in California from filing for joint bankruptcy under federal law. Their theory is that federal law must accept each state’s definition of marriage as its own: a theory of “federalism” that can be refuted by being stated. The Obama administration, though led by a man who claims to believe that marriage should be defined in law as the union of a man and a woman, is going along. Same-sex marriage is supposedly a civil-rights cause, yet all the massive resistance to DOMA is being conducted by government officials.
George Washington University law professor John F. Banzhaf III is best known for his crusade against the tobacco industry and his battle for “potty parity” (i.e. requiring more public toilets for women, who are disparately impacted by long lines to the ladies’ room). In late June, Banzhaf served Catholic University of America with an intent-to-sue notice following president John Garvey’s announcement that the school would begin a return to single-sex dormitories in the fall. According to Banzhaf, housing men and women in separate residences would violate Washington, D.C.’s Human Rights Act and is equivalent to racial segregation: “Suppose a university decided that there would be less racial tension if all the blacks were in a black dorm, all the whites were in a white dorm. . . . Surely no one would suggest that it’s lawful.” Anyone who sees a problem with this analogy perhaps ought to enroll in what Banzhaf calls his “unique world-famous course” on legal activism.
New defense secretary Leon Panetta declared victory over al-Qaeda to be “within reach.” All we have to do is kill or capture its remaining 10 or 20 top leaders. Panetta is right that we’ve made major progress: We’ve mostly routed al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and Iraq, and its safe haven in Pakistan is not so safe anymore. Bin Laden is dead. But indigenous al-Qaeda groups are on the rise in Yemen and Somalia, the terrorist group could yet make a comeback in Iraq if the endgame of the war there is mishandled, and the situation in Pakistan is always dicey. Panetta’s optimism is welcome so long as it’s a spur to continued resolve, not complacency.
The Mediterranean has been buzzing with a whole crowd out to embarrass Israel. They are certainly inventive. Israel allows goods into Gaza overland, but to prevent smuggling of weaponry maintains a blockade on ships. Last summer a Turkish ship ran this blockade, ostensibly bringing in only medical supplies and other necessities. Israeli commandos boarded to inspect this cargo, and nine people were killed in the skirmishing. This summer the plan was broader. A flotilla of a dozen ships with about 300 enthusiasts aboard was supposed to set sail from Athens or other Greek ports and break through the blockade once and for all. More hundreds of enthusiasts had the novel idea of synchronizing with a “flytilla,” arriving at Tel Aviv airport to swamp the authorities. Something went wrong with the propellers of a couple of ships, insurance of others was not in order, and the Greek government finally played spoilsport by prohibiting the whole lot from sailing. Those who arrived by air were put straight on return flights, much to the annoyance of airlines that had to carry the costs. Unkind observers wonder why these people should be giving Gaza the benefit of their charity when up the coast Egypt and Syria suffer real distress from real violence. But this sort of Israel-bashing is the political equivalent of the Olympic Games, international in scope, always open to new events, and obsessively gripping for participants.
Rupert Murdoch sailed into the perfect storm of his long career. He was bidding to control British Sky Broadcasting, which would require a regulatory waiver. But a Murdoch-owned newspaper, the News of the World, was caught hacking the voice mail of thousands of cell phones, belonging not only to celebrities, but to terror victims, war dead, and (in one case) a murdered 13-year-old girl. One News veteran, Rebekah Brooks, is now chief executive of Murdoch’s British operations; another, Andy Coulson, worked for Prime Minister David Cameron. Before dropping his bid, Murdoch closed the News of the World in an effort to contain the damage. A desperate effort, for two reasons. His employees’ misdeeds have aroused popular wrath. They have also emboldened political enemies. Murdoch, whose endorsements sustained Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and New Labour, supported Cameron in 2010. Labour is out for revenge, and Cameron’s Liberal Democratic coalition partners see a chance to play their own hand. For over a decade Murdoch dictated to Britain’s political class; now the politicians may resume their accustomed role of controlling ambitious subjects.
Britain’s experience with wind power illustrates how engineering truths always triumph over green dreams. Proponents admit that erecting the turbines and other necessary equipment is expensive, but say that once installed, it generates clean energy with no fuel costs and no carbon emissions: a windfall, so to speak. The problem is that the wind bloweth where it listeth, not to mention when it listeth, and if there is no wind, you have to replace the lost power with something else. So Britain’s largest power company is set to build 17 natural-gas generating plants, at a total cost of 10 billion pounds, for the specific purpose of backing up wind generation. This makes windmill power even less economical. Still, if it doesn’t save money, at least it will reduce carbon emissions, right? Not so, it turns out. To be available at a moment’s notice, gas generators need to run on standby — burning fuel but producing no power — 24 hours a day, and the emissions from this more than outweigh the savings from using wind. So even accepting the environmentalists’ most optimistic estimates and most dire assumptions, wind power doesn’t make sense as anything except a feel-good measure for sentimental greens.
Bono, the Irish rocker, is a well-known political activist and humanitarian, with a special interest in Africa. In his recent U.S. concerts, he has said some interesting things. In Miami, he paid tribute to Dr. Oscar Biscet, the democracy leader in Cuba. “We are watching. We are watching,” he said. Your typical celebrity pays tribute to Biscet’s chief tormentor, Fidel Castro. In Baltimore, Bono thanked the American people for our medical aid to Africa. And he thanked, specifically, former president George W. Bush. According to a reader of ours, the crowd in the stadium, which had been cheering, went silent. Rockers with a cause are everywhere; rarer are those who know something about theirs.
Sudan, a vast nation, larger than Greenland, almost as large as Argentina, split in two, with South Sudan (new capital: Juba) going its own way. The parturition was the result of decades of warfare, as the north, Arab and Muslim, was loath to let the south, black, animist, Christian (and oil-rich), go. The struggle was raised to genocidal frenzy by Sudan’s dictator, and sometime host of Osama bin Laden, Omar Hassan al-Bashir; curiously, he attended the independence ceremony, and behaved himself. One sign at the festivities thanked George W. Bush, who made relief for the south Sudanese a priority. South Sudan is riven by its own ethnic divides; wars of liberation do not typically breed constitutionalists; sources of friction with Sudan remain. But the new country could not be worse off, and will now make its own mistakes.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the tabs’ favorite Frenchman, got a break when the district attorney for Manhattan, Cyrus Vance Jr., announced that he had lost confidence in the hotel maid who had accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her. The Guinean immigrant lied about her past and about criminal associates. The New York Post went so far as to accuse her of being a prostitute (she is suing the paper for libel). The affair remains murky as we write. Bad girls can be raped; bad guys can be innocent. The latter category still fits Strauss-Kahn, who, in the best scenario for him, had a junketeer’s romp with the help, which should not boost his standing either as a husband or as a leader of France’s Socialist party. Edmund Burke, in a famous purple passage in Reflections on the Revolution in France, said that at Versailles “vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.” No one will say that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Time hangs heavy on one’s hands when one is languishing in a correctional facility serving 25 to life for homicide. Why not cook up a frivolous lawsuit, or have one’s family do so? It’s not a new idea, but Marie Domond’s filing in Brooklyn federal court plumbs new depths of audacity. Miss Domond seeks $50 million from New York State as compensation for distress caused to her brother Gerard, a prisoner of the state since his conviction in 1988 for shooting a man in the head when a drug deal went bad. The cause of the distress, Miss Domond claims, is the word “inmate,” which “implies that our brother is locked up for the purpose of mating with other men.” The lady is ill-informed: “Mate” simply derives from an old Germanic word for “dinner companion.” And in ordinary parlance the word refers only to Mr. Domond’s conviction for murder, so the Domonds can rest easy.
Even Yankee-haters can’t help their grudging admiration for the way Derek Jeter plays the game. The consummate professional and longtime Yankee captain reached the milestone of 3,000 hits in vintage Jeter fashion — with a rare home run in the course of a 5-for-5 day that included the game-winning hit. He’s slowed down a step, but has already earned his spot in Monument Park, a credit to his franchise and to the game.
In 1790, Gouverneur Morris wrote Pres. George Washington, “It is . . . my wish that everything about you should be substantially good and majestically plain.” Last month, Mark Halperin, pundit for Time and MSNBC, called President Obama an anatomical slang term on Morning Joe. Halperin apologized immediately and profusely; MSNBC banned him, and Halperin accepted his punishment. But . . . are we all nuts? Or five-year-olds? Or thick-necks in the locker room? Is it impossible to be sprightly or energetic without also being stupid? NR has probably not disliked a president as much as this one since LBJ, but we would not speak of him as Halperin did, because we don’t speak of people that way. What a nation of slobs and bozos we have become.
Will Phillips of West Fork, Ark., age 11, is a keen and busy “gay activist.” Two years ago — when he was in fifth grade, mark — Master Phillips refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in his classroom because “gay people don’t have the same rights as everyone else.” This brought him to the attention of the homosexualist lobbies, which promptly adopted young Will as a mascot. He led a “gay pride” parade in his home state last year. This July 2, he served as one of the grand marshals of the San Antonio gay-pride parade, marching among the drag queens, bearers of obscenely worded placards, and bottom-wiggling celebrants clad in nothing but leather thongs. Eleven years old. Social activism is sometimes necessary, as the Tea Party is reminding us; but when it is long-established matters of sexual custom and propriety you seek to change, could you please leave the kids at home?
Betty Ford, who shot to prominence when husband Gerald suddenly became vice president, then president, inaugurated a bad trend. “Perhaps it was unusual for a first lady to be as outspoken about issues as I was,” she said in later years, but “when people asked me, I said what I thought.” The world learned that Mrs. Ford was for legal abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment. Her opinions helped create the expectation that political spouses would express opinions; it was a step in the Praetorianization of the presidency, spreading its aura to family, friends, and hangers-on. She made up for it with two corporal works of mercy: discussing her 1974 mastectomy, urging women to be examined for breast cancer; and founding the Betty Ford Center in 1982, to help others recover, as she had, from addictions to alcohol or drugs. “I’ve been at meetings where someone turned and thanked me, and I hugged the person and said, ‘Don’t thank me, thank yourself, you’re the one who did it, with God’s help.’” There spoke the woman at her best. Dead at 93. R.I.P.
Otto von Habsburg was destined by his birth in the long-lost world of 1912 to be emperor of Austria and king of Hungary. His ancestors had ruled their great central European empire for six and a half centuries, but after the Great War, the new republican Austria forced the family into exile and put an end to the dynasty. Otto was not prepared to abandon the responsibilities that he felt still belonged to his station in life. He learned the main European languages, and could speak Latin, appropriate for the devout Catholic that he was. Hatred of Hitler’s Nazism and then of Soviet Communism inspired him to find a platform in journalism for expressing the conservative views that he thought were the bedrock of political stability. National Review was an outlet for his think pieces and book reviews. His home finally was in Bavaria, and for 20 years he sat in the European parliament in Brussels, combining the natural authority of the would-have-been emperor with modern hopes for a better world order. Everything had conspired to prevent him from being a statesman, but he was one all the same. At the age of 98 he died. R.I.P.
In their 50 seasons of baseball, the New York Mets have had three stadiums, 20 managers, and more than 140 third basemen. But through all the Rod Kanehls and Roy Staigers and Super Joe McEwings, there has been one constant: “Meet the Mets,” a cheerfully bouncy little tune written by Ruth Roberts and Bill Katz. Fans in the 1960s delighted in the invitation to meet the Mets long after the team had become all too wearily familiar. In the 1980s, marketing executives decided the song was too old-fashioned and its lyrics were sexist (“bring the kiddies, bring your wife”) and Manhattan-centric (“East Side, West Side, everybody’s coming down”), so it replaced them with a gender-neutral remake that dutifully name-checked every part of the New York region. It was soon abandoned. Other updates have been tried through the years, but the team always comes back to the corny but catchy original. Mets fans may have fewer championships to boast of than their crosstown rivals, but even most Yankee fans will admit that the Mets have the better song (though the composer herself was neutral, having also written “I Love Mickey” for Teresa Brewer in Mickey Mantle’s Triple Crown year of 1956). Ruth Roberts, dead at 84. R.I.P.
The bipartisan deal on the debt ceiling that makes sense is the same one that has made sense all year: The debt ceiling ought to be increased, because there is no responsible way to bring the deficit to zero this summer. But the increased debt ceiling should be accompanied by spending cuts and pro-growth reforms to address the underlying causes of the growing debt burden. For both political and ideological reasons, the Republicans were bound to be more reluctant than the Democrats to increase the debt ceiling this year. But they ought to be willing to do it in exchange for a significant rightward shift in budget policy.
Raising the debt ceiling and increasing taxes in return for spending cuts is a less attractive offer, and Speaker John Boehner has rightly rejected that deal. The constant media-Democratic drumbeat for a “balanced” package of spending cuts and tax increases ignores two important facts. The first is that Washington has repeatedly shown that legislation to increase spending is easier to enact than legislation to cut taxes — indeed, legislation is not even necessary to increase spending, because existing law allows it to grow automatically. So the ratio of spending cuts to tax increases in any deal is likely to deteriorate as time passes. The second is that taxes are already scheduled to increase, albeit by less than spending is. The scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the incomplete indexation of the tax code to inflation, and the long-run effect of growth on tax brackets will all see to that. Both spending and taxes are on their way up, and the balance we need is spending cuts and tax cuts to counter that upward pressure on the budget.
The Democrats say that tax increases have to be part of any “big” deal. If Republicans refuse to raise taxes by $1 trillion, the Democrats say they will not offer $3 trillion in spending cuts. If the Democrats will not reconsider that unfortunate decision, the way forward becomes clear: a smaller, but still substantial, deal that consists of spending cuts, an equivalent increase in the debt ceiling, and changes to tax policy that leave the overall level of taxes unaffected. Other issues involving the future of American tax and entitlement policy can then be deferred until after the 2012 elections.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, has apparently despaired of reaching such a deal, and therefore has advanced a convoluted scheme to raise the debt ceiling in increments, require the president to submit specific budget cuts to Congress, and then reduce the government’s borrowing authority if a two-thirds majority of Congress judges the cuts inadequate. Within hours of McConnell’s overture it became clear to everyone that if Republicans followed this course they would be voting to increase the debt limit without really getting any spending cuts in return. It seems unlikely that Republicans will go along.
But neither can they accept a situation in which President Obama gets simultaneously to preen about how grown-up and responsible he is, to offer no specific spending cuts or even a budget that can win the support of either party, and to suggest that Republican intransigence is threatening a default on the federal debt and the interruption of Social Security checks. Their best option is probably to continue to seek a deal while also moving legislation through the House to raise the debt ceiling, cut spending, and make it clear that if the government ever does hit the debt limit, bondholders and Social Security recipients will be paid off first.
Democrats can then either block the Republican proposal in the Senate, or get more serious in the negotiations. President Obama does not appear willing or able to lead the country away from default. So by default it is up to the Republicans.