Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday Times opinions 

The Sunday Times had two interesting op-ed pieces looking at the successes and failures of past attempts at significant bipartisan legislation, contrasted with the editorial page, which asked for a cram-down in the current health care reform debate.

The first op-ed article was written by former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, who looks back on the 1986 tax reform legislation, and notes that the Republicans very much wanted the top personal income tax rate slashed, and the Democrats wanted to close loopholes in the tax code.
"In the end, the tax bill passed because each party got something it wanted: Republicans got a lower marginal tax rate, and Democrats eliminated special-interest loopholes. By adhering to the principles of equity (equal incomes should pay equal taxes) and efficiency (the market is a more efficient allocator of capital than Congress), the bipartisan coalition produced a bill that lowered the top tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent, eliminated $30 billion annually in loopholes and resulted in the wealthy contributing a higher percentage of income-tax revenues than they had before the reform."
(emphasis added -- as an aside, I wonder how many members of the current Congressional Progressive Caucus, numbering over 80 elected representatives, would agree with their fellow Democrat about the market and its capital allocating abilities).

Bradley goes on to draw a parallel between the top tax rate and loophole compromise struck 23 years ago, and a possible compromise now on universal coverage and tort reform:

"Since the days of Harry Truman, Democrats have wanted universal health coverage, believing that if other industrialized countries can achieve it, surely the United States can. For Democrats, universal coverage speaks to America’s sense of decency and compassion. Democrats also believe that it will lead to a healthier and more productive country.

"Since the days of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have wanted legal reform, believing that our economic competitiveness is being shackled by the billions we spend annually on tort costs; an estimated 10 cents of every health care dollar paid by individuals and companies goes for litigation and defensive medicine. For Republicans, tort reform and its health care analogue, malpractice reform, speak to the goal of stronger economic growth and lower costs.

"The bipartisan trade-off in a viable health care bill is obvious: Combine universal coverage with malpractice tort reform in health care."
Senator Bradley's op-ed is worth reading in its entirety, though I would say that, while I think it is a neat concept, his suggested compromise is not likely to happen -- I have heard any number of Republicans say that universal coverage is not a problem for them (that is how far the ball has been moved since 1993), but I have not heard any Democrats willing to touch the notion of malpractice litigation reform.

The second op-ed was written by R. Glenn Hubbard, formerly the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, and currently the dean of Columbia Business School. Hubbard compares the failure of the Bush administration to achieve Social Security reform with the problems that the Obama administration is having with health care reform:

"In the case of Social Security, we should have had two debates. The first would have been about how to shore up Social Security’s long-term standing. Again, reductions in benefit growth for middle- and upper-income individuals offered a budget-neutral progressive solution. The second should have been about how to accomplish the president’s goals of more private saving for retirement. There, enhanced savings incentives — including for lower-income households — offered a solution.

"In the case of health care reform, we also need two debates. The first is over how to reform insurance arrangements to reduce cost growth and provide better value for the money spent. The second should be about access to health care. To achieve these goals, the president could embrace a compromise of tax and regulatory reform for cost containment, and progressive intervention to offer assistance to low-income individuals. But President Obama, like his predecessor, has been unwilling to let go of his campaign goals even as his words fuel intense partisan debate and obstruct his ultimate objective of improving health care value."
As an AEI Scholar, among other things, Hubbard has pretty solid conservative credentials, and writes a forthright op-ed, and does propose limiting the tax exclusion for employer-provided insurance, something many conservatives might find objectionable.

Finally, the voice of the Grey Lady herself, just a couple of pages away in the print edition, entitled "Majority Rule on Health Care Reform":

"The talk in Washington is that Senate Democrats are preparing to push through health care reforms using parliamentary procedures that will allow a simple majority to prevail in their chamber, as it does in the House, instead of the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster that Senate Republicans are sure to mount.

"With the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, the Democrats do not have the votes just among their 57 members (and the two independents) to break a filibuster, and not all of these can be counted on to vote in lock step. If the Democrats want to enact health care reform this year, they appear to have little choice but to adopt a high-risk, go-it-alone, majority-rules strategy.

"We say this with considerable regret because a bipartisan compromise would be the surest way to achieve comprehensive reforms with broad public support. But the ideological split between the parties is too wide — and the animosities too deep — for that to be possible.

"In recent weeks, it has become inescapably clear that Republicans are unlikely to vote for substantial reform this year. Many seem bent on scuttling President Obama’s signature domestic issue no matter the cost. As Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, so infamously put it: 'If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.'"
Short version: "ehhh, screw the thoughtful bipartisanship presented on our other pages, go for the cram-down."


By Blogger Georgfelis, at Mon Aug 31, 05:12:00 PM:

Agreed. The far-left loons of the Democrat party will cling to inflicting some version of Public Option and Magical Universal Coverage that will Cover Us All for Less Money (thru some repeal of the laws of reality) right up until the crash in Nov 2010. Since the Left will tolerate absolutely no *real* Medical Tort Reform, look for the next step where Obama/Pelosi/Reid glue on about a hundred pages of pure gibberish to the bill that they claim is even better than Republican tort reform, and start breaking arms in the Senate.

Joe Barton (R-Texas) on the Energy and Commerce committee has already said if Obamacare is passed, the Republicans will repeal it when they take office.


Compromise is well and good, provided you are compromising to come to a mutually agreeable solution for a problem. ERTA Tax reform in 1981 was one of those. Republicans got lower marginal rates *and* reduced complexity of tax law. TEFRA in 1982 was a mixed message/disaster, where taxes went up now, in exchange for spending cuts later. Well, the taxes happened, and the cuts never did.

Hopefully we still have enough Republicans (and conservative Democrats) to recognize the second coming of TEFRA and ignore those voices calling for frantic immediate action. “We must pass this bill now, to save the children. We can fix any problems it has later.” Here’s the news, people. Later never comes.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Aug 31, 05:19:00 PM:

Shorter is better when it comes to posting. Edit!  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Mon Aug 31, 05:47:00 PM:

True. The 1000+ page health care reform bill should be more like 50 pages or so. That way Congress could actually understand it, and might actually read it.  

By Blogger randian, at Mon Aug 31, 06:04:00 PM:

Any tort reform the Democrats would agree to would be so watered down as to be useless, or if it did have real teeth they'd sneakily repeal it later, while universal health care stays forever. That's a tradeoff no sane Republican should accept.  

By Anonymous vicki pasadena ca, at Mon Aug 31, 06:17:00 PM:

That's assuming there are any sane republicans.Have you met Michelle Bachman? Sorry, couldn't resist,left yourself wide open.

Small joke Come on anon, don't get your panties in a twist.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Aug 31, 10:12:00 PM:


By Anonymous vicki pasadena ca, at Mon Aug 31, 10:18:00 PM:

Dawn, what's up? We have fires all around us and the air is barely breathable. What gives?
I was listening to this guy Sam Tanenhaus on NPR, All Things Considered (best news ever). This dude makes sense. May have to read the article in the New Republic he wrote. Dude knows what was talking about.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Sep 01, 09:55:00 AM:

Well for one thing, that was randian, not 'anonymous.'

For another, while you clearly intended it as a harmless joke and said so, it's still in your established pattern of taking cheap shots at 'Republicans' by highlighting some personality you find it easy to mock.

The first step in overcoming an addiction is admitting that you have one.  

By Anonymous vicki pasadena ca, at Tue Sep 01, 11:23:00 AM:

Mocking is the sincerest form of ... well mocking. Fun, fun fun. Cheap shots abound on this site, all in good fun. Taking it personally is not. Trust me, cheap shots at demo's is sometimes TOO easy. Did you not see my response to the commercials for the LA county fair. All of you easterners believe that we are nothing but pumped up (botox) brain dead beauty queens (Look at Prejean and you might say case in point) But we are so much more than that. In my fair city, Pasadena, we have the finest institution of higher learning in the nation, maybe the world. Caltech. We have JPL too, overseeing the mars rovers and tracking the space shuttles. That's just Pasadena.

Sorry, the fires have rattled me a little bit, hard to see flames leaping up on the hillsides you love so much. We are standing tough and praying for a little cooler weather. Was cooler yesterday, only 98.  

By Anonymous vicki pasadena ca, at Tue Sep 01, 11:24:00 AM:

Oops you were right, sorry anon.  

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