August 29, 2009

Like A Horror Movie, It's Scary But Predictable And It Contains A Moral

The Concord Group is not a collection of paranoid alarmists nor are they insane. They are concerned with the government's fiscal irresponsibility, and have been so since the Reagan Administration. Unlike a lot of other interest groups, they are truly bipartisan. So when they start projecting that the annual deficit will be twice the already-astronomical amounts that Congress has projected, it's cause for alarm. Concord's assumptions are substantially more reasonable than the CBO's -- read the fine print in their report as linked above.

The point is that if we adopt the versions of healthcare reform currently favored by the Administration, after ten years we will have tripled our national debt. You can see the ticker on the right-hand column of this blog to observe the alarming rate that the national debt is growing already.

But none of this is any surprise to me, despite my alarm. This is the part where I get to toot my own horn, although I'm hardly the only blogger in America who has been predicting these kinds of problems. Still, long-time Readers may recall that in December of 2007 I wrote of Candidate Barack Obama:

[Obama's] Imaginative government policies, particularly in the areas of education and health care, would be very expensive. Does suggests that taxes should be "as low as we can afford them to be" consistent with government spending, suggesting that he would ask for tax increases to pay for his ambitious programs -- but it does not seem that he has thought through just how much more spending he has suggested, and how to pay for it all. Does not seem to consider a balanced budget to be a high priority.
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Would mandate employer health care coverage and has proposed a "national insurance pool" as alternative for those without employer coverage. Believes it is "immoral" to consider cost of health care when patient's life is at stake. Stops short of advocacy of "universal health care," but significantly expanded governmental coverage is obviously an indispensible part of his proposed reform package.

And one year ago, immediately after he accepted his party's nomination, I wrote of our then-future President's speech and found his proposals regarding first health care to be:

Very short on specifics. That's not to say that a more detailed [health care reform] plan hasn't been offered previously (although I haven't seen it myself). Health care reform policies are inherently complex and difficult to explain. As close as I can infer from the language used here, that means that insurance companies will have to offer coverage similar to the plan offered to membes of Congress. He implies that this will be "available" to people who cannot otherwise afford that kind of coverage, but a Cadillac plan is expensive and without going to a single-payer system (which means no Cadillacs for anyone) it's hard to see how such a thing is possible. But again, the plausibility of the promise is not what we're really looking for here -- the issue is that the policy itself is described in only vague terms.

Then I looked at what he had to say about the alarming state of our national finances, first quoting the candidate and then offering my own thoughts:

"I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less... ."
This, of course, has been my big concern about Obama for a long time. He does not really specify, to my satisfaction, how he'll "pay for every time" of this ambitious expansion of the government's role in this laundry list of mostly nebulous policy goals. ... he suggests some general tactics ("closing corporate loopholes and tax havens") but does not even attempt to identify "programs that no longer work" or indicate how programs "we do need" can be made to "work better and cost less."
I'm going to have to call this one a broken promise. Not only has the President not come up with any plan whatsoever to "pay for" his expansive policy goals, not a single Federal program got the axe or even scissors in the President's budget, he has not promposed a single corporate tax loophole or tax haven, and it appears that he thinks every Federal program is needed and works so well they all deserve more money.

But he's certainly delivered on his promise for health care reform. Or rather, on his promise to try and deliver the sun, moon, stars, and the sky above without really defining what those things are, and to offer no plan for paying for it other than some sort of nonexistent national credit card.

Finally, on October 21, 2008, I endorsed Bob Barr for President, writing of the man who by then we all knew would actually be elected in his place:
Barack Obama inspires a lot of hope and will certainly try to push for changes in the way the government does business, in a way that John McCain will not. But we just plain can't afford the agenda that, even now, he still is relentlessly pushing on the campaign trail. We are ten trillion dollars in the hole, people, and that trend needs to reverse itself. Expanding healthcare, overfunding the Department of Education, and cutting taxes is not going to do that. ... As cool as Obama seems, and as much as you might want change, Obama promises Change We Can't Afford.
Sure enough, we got exactly what we asked for when we elected him. Generalized policy proposals phrased in lofty and inspiring rhetoric with the details left to others to work out, an ambitious attempt to vastly increase Federal outlays in order to dramatically expand health care, and no concrete plan whatsoever to cut taxes, raise taxes, or otherwise pay for any of it other than simply borrowing the money.

Like I say, I'm far from the only person to have suggested that Barack Obama's platform was going to be ruinously expensive and to mean the word "ruinously" in a literal sense. This situation been brewing right in front of us for nearly two years, if you only had the ears to listen for it coming. The question is not "how did this happen" or "is this creeping socialism" but rather "how are we going to get our national spending under control"?

Our national priority needs to not be health care reform unless that reform involves imposing cost controls and moving towards a more market-based system for delivering health care to the people who need it. But what we really need is a comprehensive austerity program.

Hat tip to Doug Mataconis for the Concord Coalition projection.

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