Thursday, March 18, 2010

Budget follies short-takes:
False premises


Washington Post policy blogger Ezra Klein needs to stop blithely reinforcing false premises. Here's what he just posted about the politics of the latest iteration of the health care reform bill in the House.

Won't it be substantively difficult for many House Democrats to vote no?

If you're a liberal House Democrat, here's what you'd be voting against: Legislation that covers 32 million people. A world in which 95 percent of all non-elderly, legal residents have health-care coverage. An end to insurers rescinding coverage for the sick, or discriminating based on preexisting conditions, or spending 30 cents of each premium dollar on things that aren't medical care. .... [etc.]

If you're a conservative House Democrat, then probably you support many of those policies, too. But you also get the single most ambitious effort the government has ever made to control costs in the health-care sector. ... [etc.]

But hey, wait a minute ... that's not the entire story. Let's try telling this another way.

If you're a liberal House Democrat, you probably are interested in cutting the deficit and avoiding waste -- you just have different ideas than the conventional wisdom about how to do it. You might like to raise the top tax bracket on gazillionaires -- after all, that's where the money is. You might like to hit Wall Street with a transaction tax so that people who insist on treating the nation's business as a betting pit at least have to pay for something useful in some other arena. You might like to cut back on wasteful government procurement of unnecessary weapons systems. You have ideas about how to save taxpayer money -- you are just not taken seriously by the permanent Washington establishment.

If you're a conservative House Democrat, you probably run for office in a district where your constituents are suspicious of government, a district where it takes a lot of money to sell them on the idea that you are a good guy. So you are really grateful that there are interests who will contribute to your campaigns. Of course you listen to the people who give you the dough -- you also try to listen to the other people who don't come in with checks, but there are only so many hours ... Your constituents are scared -- of Commies or terrorists or Washington -- whatever is the bugaboo of the moment. You are scared -- of your constituents. They get mad. The Washington establishment shares your fear of raving populists, so you are treated as a "very serious person."

There are more axises on which these people are playing than Klein's glib dichotomy.

(Since we're in national budget season, I'm not going to to resist offering occasional short comments on budget matters and process under this headline, just as I have done about health care reform. I have strong foundational views on what the U.S. government ought to be doing about and with taxpayers' money that I've laid out in this post.)

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