Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Even Stuart Taylor Is Catching On...

As lawyer, columnist, and all-around smart guy Stuart Taylor writes in National Journal:

Having praised President Obama's job performance in two recent columns, it is with regret that I now worry that he may be deepening what looks more and more like a depression and may engineer so much spending, debt, and government control of the economy as to leave most Americans permanently less prosperous and less free.

Other Obama-admiring centrists have expressed similar concerns. Like them, I would like to be proved wrong. After all, if this president fails, who will revive our economy? And when? And what kind of America will our children inherit?

But with the nation already plunging deep into probably necessary debt to rescue the crippled financial system and stimulate the economy, Obama's proposals for many hundreds of billions in additional spending on universal health care, universal postsecondary education, a massive overhaul of the energy economy, and other liberal programs seem grandiose and unaffordable.

With little in the way of offsetting savings likely to materialize, the Obama agenda would probably generate trillion-dollar deficits with no end in sight, or send middle-class taxes soaring to record levels, or both.
The "centrists are catching on" theme just continues gaining steam, along with the still mostly ignored by the major media "Tea Parties." I can't even hope to keep up with all of them at this point, and I won't even try.

I've seen harsh criticism thrown at new presidents before, of course, but usually from their own base, not from the swing-voting centrists who actually put them in office. And I have never seen anything like I see happening between President Obama and so many of us who want to find reasons to give him the benefit of the doubt. It's almost as if President Obama, when he was studying history, missed the part about the 1994 mid-term elections. Or the entire presidency of Jimmy Carter.

The political junkie in me loves what I'm seeing, and I say that with a small amount of shame. These are interesting times, especially politically, and like none I've ever seen before. But the American -- not to mention the adult -- in me is scared as hell. Partly because the mask has come off the Obama administration so early, and partly because the Obama administration isn't even showing itself to at least be filled with competent ideologues, and partly because we still have a long, long way to go until even the 2010 mid-term elections.
This is not to deny that the liberal wish list in Obama's staggering $3.6 trillion budget would be wonderful if we had limitless resources. But in the real world, it could put vast areas of the economy under permanent government mismanagement, kill millions of jobs, drive investors and employers overseas, and bankrupt the nation.

Meanwhile, liberal Democrats in Congress are racing to gratify their interest groups in a slew of ways likely to do much more harm than good: pushing a union-backed "card-check" bill that would bypass secret-ballot elections on unionization and facilitate intimidation of reluctant workers; slipping into the stimulus package a formula to reimburse states that increase welfare dependency among single mothers and reduce their incentives to work; defunding a program that now pays for the parents of some 1,700 poor kids to choose private schools over crumbling D.C. public schools; fencing out would-be immigrants with much-needed skills.
The devil is always in the details, and what better place to hide those details than in massive stimulus packages and omnibus spending bills? Should our policy toward Cuba be changed after a full and open debate on the issue, or should it be changed by a few lines that someone attaches to "must pass" spending legislation? Should the welfare reform of the 1990s -- an achievement President Clinton never misses a chance to take credit for -- be changed after an honest discussion of its successes and its failures, or should it be repealed almost silently, by a technicality inserted somewhere in the more than 1,000 pages of an unread economic stimulus bill?

I know what my answers are.
Obama can take credit for keeping campaign promises (which he might have been wiser to defer) on health care, energy, and more, and for ending some of George W. Bush's budget gimmickry. But he has been deceptive in basing his deficit projections on phantom expenditure cuts and wildly optimistic revenue estimates, and in proclaiming "a new era of responsibility" to be paid for by raising taxes only on "the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans."

The numbers don't add up -- and still won't if and when, as seems almost certain, Obama ratchets up his so-far-fairly-modest new taxes on the top 2 percent. "A tax policy that confiscated 100 percent of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue," according to a February 27 editorial in The Wall Street Journal. "That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable 'dime' of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion."
Math is hard.
As for the budget's $2 trillion in projected net "savings," Obama's budget director, Peter Orszag, admitted in testimony on Tuesday under questioning by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that $1.6 trillion comes from phantom cuts of the money that would be needed to sustain the troop surge in Iraq for another decade -- money that nobody ever intended to spend.
Math is really hard.
Other supposed savings -- especially from Medicare -- seem unlikely to materialize absent benefit cuts, which Obama has not proposed. And the cost of any health care legislation -- to be drafted largely by a Congress that is allergic to the kind of cost-cutting necessary to make universal care sustainable -- is likely to be two or three times the $634 billion over 10 years that Obama has budgeted.
Need I say it again?
And I hope that the president ponders well Margaret Thatcher's wise warning against some collectivist conceits, in a 1980 speech quoted by Wehner: "The illusion that government can be a universal provider, and yet society still stay free and prosperous.... The illusion that every loss can be covered by a subsidy. The illusion that we can break the link between reward and effort, and still get the effort."
I also hope President Obama ponders that. I hope he ponders that one hard.