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Politics & Policy

Ex-Obama Adviser Delivers Eye-Opening Warning to Democrats

Steven Rattner speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, November 19, (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

All over National Review today, we’ve got looks at the Biden presidency after 100 days: Rich on how Biden created his own crisis at the border, Charlie on how Biden has abandoned his promises of unity and bipartisanship at the first opportunity, Alexandra on Biden’s expansion of abortion on demand, Robert VerBruggen on Biden’s proposed $6 trillion in new spending, Jimmy Quinn on Biden’s outreach to China, David Harsanyi on the media’s new attitude about “resisting” those in government authority, and I wrote a long, long analysis of the Biden administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I apparently say far too frequently on the Three Martini Lunch podcast, “There’s a lot to unpack here.”

Meanwhile, on the menu today: Former Obama adviser Steven Rattner offers an eye-opening warning for Democrats; the fully vaccinated President Biden says he’s going to keep wearing his mask, even when he’s around other fully vaccinated people; and for once, I’m happy with the Jets’ moves in the NFL Draft.

‘If It Fails . . . It Will Set Back the Cause of Progressivism for Several More Decades’

Maybe the most interesting comment of the past 24 hours — or maybe the week, or the month — comes from former Obama economic adviser Steven Rattner on Morning Joe yesterday, telling Democrats something they don’t want to hear and pouring some cold water on progressive dreams of the federal government’s being bigger and better than ever:

“Sure, I worry about inflation,” Rattner said in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “Sure, I worry about the deficit and the debt. But I also worry about the execution job here. This is a massive execution job. The last plan, the jobs plan alone, had 76 separate initiatives in it. All have to be created and executed. . . . The potential for mistakes, failure of execution here is high.

“And if it fails . . . I think it will set back the cause of progressivism for several more decades,” he added. “Getting it executed, I think, in some ways, is going to be the president’s biggest challenge. He’s got to deliver, not just passage, but actual real results for Americans, and programs that people perceive are working or else we go back to government being the enemy again.”

Democrats should be worried, because history tells us that Biden is not, in fact, a particularly sharp-eyed and unflinching watchguard against waste.

Back in the early days of the Obama administration, as Democrats passed the stimulus, Obama announced that Biden would be in charge of making sure the money wasn’t wasted: “With a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right. That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort — because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend.” Obama later added, “To you, he’s Mr. Vice President, but around the White House, we call him the Sheriff — (laughter) — because if you’re misusing taxpayer money, you’ll have to answer to him.”

(By the way, if you think generous coverage of Biden is a recent phenomenon, here’s an actual headline from ABC News, June 23, 2009: “Nobody Messes with ‘Sheriff Joe’ Biden; VP’s wide policy portfolio makes him a key player in Obama’s decisions.” Jeez, even the official White House press releases take a more modest tone.)

It will probably not surprise you that “Sheriff Joe” let a lot of things slide. The Obama administration unveiled a website to track how all the money was spent . . . and then found that lots of people had entered bad data and lots of spending was attributed to congressional districts that didn’t exist.

You probably remember Solyndra and its $535 million in loan guarantees that left taxpayers footing the bill. You may or may not remember the funding for drunken mice at Florida Atlantic University, the $3.4 million “turtle tunnel” in Florida, the $25,000 for a Che Guevara–inspired puppet theater in Minnesota, the $4.7 million to research supersonic corporate jets, the $384,949 grant from the National Science Foundation for a Yale University study looking at ducks’ sexual behavior, the tree giveaway program for wealthy neighborhoods in Denver, the nearly $1 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a private cruise company to protect the company’s vessels from terrorists . . .

Gobs of money went to stupid little programs such as these; it is just about impossible to argue it was a wise and prudent use of taxpayer dollars. By January 2010, a CNN poll found that 63 percent of the public thought that projects in the plan were included for purely political reasons and would have no economic benefit, with 36 percent saying those projects would benefit the economy.

Democrats can argue that those sums represent only a small fraction of the overall $787 billion. But people still hate to hear about that kind of stuff. Stories such as these make them feel like suckers for paying their taxes. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump sounded very similar when they described Washington as a rigged game, where the wealthy and well-connected benefit at the expense of everyone else. If you thought populism was a growing force in American politics for the past decade, just wait until we throw a few more Solyndras on the pile.

And that’s just the waste. By 2014, “investigators [had] proven 1,268 cases of fraud in the $840 billion stimulus program, resulting in $57 million in recovered funds.” The Obama administration scored that as a win — because they caught the fraud itself.

A lot of Democrats convinced themselves that the only reasons the 2009 stimulus isn’t remembered as a success is because it wasn’t big enough and because Obama didn’t talk about it enough, which is self-serving nonsense. As the party of government, the Democrats are always going to look at how the government operates more sympathetically and less critically. Government work is harder than it looks from the outside, particularly honest government work. In many Democrats’ eyes, a certain amount of waste, fraud, and abuse is just part of doing business; it’s worth criticizing when discovered, but one shouldn’t let it affect the belief in all the good that government can do. A belief that the federal government should do and spend more, even if some of the money will be wasted, is more or less what makes a Democrat a Democrat.

Republicans have their flaws, but they generally recognize that government institutions are far too insulated from the consequences of their own bad decisions. A private company that wastes a lot of money will end up losing its profits, and unless it changes its course, that company will eventually go out of business. Companies can’t borrow ever-higher sums of money forever, or print their own money — and they have competing companies trying to do the same job. The federal government has no such competition; we’re stuck with it.

Earlier this year, Biden and congressional Democrats already passed the $1.9 trillion “pandemic relief” bill that included an extra $30.4 billion for grants from the Federal Transit Administration, $4.5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, an extra $77 million for the Government Accountability Office, $50 million for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an extra $3 million for the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General, and an extra $12.8 million for the White House budget. You can credit Democratic representative Tom Suozzi of New York for conceding, “There’s some waste in there. There’s no question there’s some waste in there,” but he reassured Americans that “there’s less than $100 billion in waste in there.”

Biden: I’ll Still Wear My Mask around Vaccinated People

Apparently, President Biden intends to keep wearing his mask for the foreseeable future, even when interacting with other vaccinated people, “because the likelihood of my being able to be outside and people not come up to me is not very high. . . . If we were, in fact, sitting there talking to one another close, I’d have my mask on . . . even though we’ve both been vaccinated.”

This stance makes no sense and inadvertently communicates to the public that vaccination does not change the risk of catching COVID-19 or suffering ill effects, which is hot garbage.

As many of us suspected, Biden’s “Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days,” comment shortly before inauguration was meaningless.

ADDENDUM: So how was your team’s first round of the NFL Draft? For the first time that I can remember, the Jets more or less did what I wanted them to do: After drafting a baby-faced quarterback, they used part of that colossal stockpile of picks to move up and get the guy they really wanted to protect him.


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