Obama Takes On Conservatism1

26/07/2010 19:51


Now, there have always been those who’ve said no to such protections; no to such investments. There were accusations that Social Security would lead to socialism, and that Medicare was a government takeover. There were bankers who claimed the creation of federal deposit insurance would destroy the industry. And there were automakers who argued that installing seatbelts was unnecessary and unaffordable. There were skeptics who thought that cleaning our water and our air would bankrupt our entire economy. And all of these claims proved false. All of these reforms led to greater security and greater prosperity for our people and our economy. Office 2007 Pro is so great!

So what was true then is true today. As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic arguments they’ve been making for decades. Fortunately, we don't have to look back too many years to see how their agenda turns out. For much of the last 10 years we've tried it their way. They gave us tax cuts that weren’t paid for to millionaires who didn’t need them. They gutted regulations and put industry insiders in charge of industry oversight. They shortchanged investments in clean energy and education, in research and technology. And despite all their current moralizing about the need to curb spending, this is the same crowd who took the record $237 billion surplus that President Clinton left them and turned it into a record $1.3 trillion deficit.Office 2007 Pro is so great!

So we know where those ideas lead us. And now we have a choice as a nation. We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future.

I'm especially interested in Obama's invocation of the history of right-wing attacks on major social reform. TNR published a longer version of this list a few months ago. It's a powerful indictment of the failure of right-wing ideology. Here's what I wrote last December:

In the right-wing mind, the world we live in at any given moment can be described as the free market, the American way of life, perhaps not a perfect world but a cherished and fundamentally free one. The next advance of liberalism will always bring socialism, tyranny, a crushing burden on industry, and other horrors. The previous liberal advances that they or their predecessors greeted with such hysteria are eventually incorporated into the landscape of the free American way of life.

Everything that the 1960s right said about Medicare, the contemporary right no longer believes, while fervently believing it will all hold true of health care reform. Similarly, the hysteria of the 1970s right about clean-air regulation no longer plagues the contemporary right, but it grips conservatives when it comes to greenhouse-gas regulation. (Charles Krauthammer: Cap-and-trade “will destroy what’s left of the industrial Midwest.”) And so it goes.

Sestak-gate Surrender

26/07/2010 19:50


Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who has spearheaded the charge for an investigation into White House actions, said the revelation has "irrevocably shattered" the Obama brand.

"Clearly Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff aren't isolated incidents and are indicative of a culture that embraces the politics-as-usual mentality that the American people are sick and tired of," Issa said in a statement.

This journalism, like the Dartmouth research on which it draws, isn't perfect. Measuring quality of care is really hard and, almost by definition, any effort to do so will be subject to legitimate debate over the specifics. But it's difficult to take in all of this information and come away convinced that, overall, all or even most of that extra spending really means better health. (See, for example, these two blog entries from Merrill Goozner.)By using Office 2010 Professional, you can save your money and time

The challenge for reformers is separating the good care from the wasteful care. Cut back on medical care crudely or too hastily and, in fact, you will leave a lot of people worse off. But I'm not particularly worried that the Affordable Care Act will do that, for reasons I'll explain soon.

Okay, almost fair. Close enough. Issa is exactly right: offering jobs to people you want to remove from a political race is "politics as usual." That's the point. It's why you don't investigate it.

This is madness. First of all, it's just totally false. Second, to say that you'll only permit deficit reduction through spending cuts is to say you don't care about reducing deficits. Republicans can't reduce the deficit through large spending cuts alone, because most spending is highly popular and Democrats would savage them for it. The only way to cut spending is to enlist Democrats in a deal that combines spending cuts with tax cuts. I've said this before, but I continue to be amazed at the failure of conservatives to grasp their own ideological self-interest.Choose Office 2007 Professional is the most lucky thing in the world.

Conservatives Ignore Their One Proven Success

26/07/2010 19:50


In 1990, President George H. W. Bush, faced with an enormous budget deficit, made a deal with Congressional Democrats. He would sign on to a small, hike in the top marginal tax rate, from 28% to 31%, in return for which they would agree to a large package of spending cuts. The deal squeezed through Congress, but conservatives revolted, denouncing Bush's plan as a sellout. Over the 20 years that have passed since, opposition to deals like this has been the lodestar of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Dissent is permitted on all other issues, but not on taxes. Since Bush's budget deal, not a single Republican member of Congress has agreed to raise taxes. It has been a stunning triumph of ideological discipline.Office 2007 Pro is so great!

The funny thing is, Bush's deal worked. So did Bill Clinton's deficit reduction package three years later, which was structured along similar lines and overcame even more hysterical opposition from the right. It not only worked as intended, it represented possibly the single greatest triumph of domestic conservative policymaking of the postwar era. Look at this chart. Starting in 1990, federal spending fell from 22% of the economy to 18%:

Revenues rose from 17% of GDP to 21%. Now, a good chunk of that change represented temporary cyclical factors. Even still, it was a huge triumph of both responsible fiscal policy and for conservatism.Microsoft Office 2007 is welcomed by the whole world.

But conservative dogma continues to portray such deals as anathema. Indeed, conservatives cannot concede that they actually worked.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said Wednesday that a deal for both new taxes and spending cuts -- as Voinovich and other commission supporters have envisioned -- wouldn't work, just like in the past. Budget deals under President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush that sought to raise taxes and cut spending paved the way for more spending and more debt, Norquist said.

"At some point conversations about unicorns are tedious, because they don't exist in the real world," Norquist told The Hill. "Budget deals where they actually restrain spending and raise taxes are unicorns."

Norquist said the focus needs to be on spending cuts alone.

Obama Takes On Conservatism

26/07/2010 19:50


There has been a fascinating sea-change in President Obama's rhetoric over the last year. He ran for office, and began his presidency, making his case in largely non-ideological terms, as a defense of pragmatism and against ideology. As Republicans have met him with a stone wall of resistance, the idealistic tinge of his rhetoric has largely disappeared. Now Obama contrasts himself with the partisanship ideological extremism of the Republican Party. Here is his speech yesterday in Pittsburgh:Microsoft Office 2007 is welcomed by the whole world.

Before I was even inaugurated, the congressional leaders of the other party got together and made a calculation that if I failed, they’d win. So when I went to meet with them about the need for a Recovery Act, in the midst of crisis, they announced they were against it before I even arrived at the meeting. Before we even had a health care bill, a Republican senator actually said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” So those weren’t very hopeful signs.       MS Office 2007 is the best invention in the world.

But to be fair, a good deal of the other party’s opposition to our agenda has also been rooted in their sincere and fundamental belief about the role of government. It’s a belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges. It’s an agenda that basically offers two answers to every problem we face: more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations.

The last administration called this recycled idea “the Ownership Society.” But what it essentially means is that everyone is on their own. No matter how hard you work, if your paycheck isn’t enough to pay for college or health care or childcare, well, you’re on your own. If misfortune causes you to lose your job or your home, you’re on your own. And if you’re a Wall Street bank or an insurance company or an oil company, you pretty much get to play by your own rules, regardless of the consequences for everybody else.

Obama then explained how he understands the primacy of the private sector for wealth creation and that "government doesn't have all the answers." At that point, though, he launched a robust defense of government along with a pointed contrast with the failures of Republican governance:

But I also understand that throughout our nation’s history, we have balanced the threat of overreaching government against the dangers of an unfettered market. We've provided a basic safety net, because any one of us might experience hardship at some time in our lives and may need some help getting back on our feet. And we've recognized that there have been times when only government has been able to do what individuals couldn't do and corporations wouldn't do.

That's how we have railroads and highways, public schools and police forces. That's how we've made possible scientific research that has led to medical breakthroughs like the vaccine for Hepatitis B, and technological wonders like GPS. That's how we have Social Security and a minimum wage, and laws to protect the food we eat and the water we drink and the air that we breathe. That’s how we have rules to ensure that mines are safe and, yes, that oil companies pay for the spills that they cause.

Good Health Care for Less Money? Yup, Still Possible.

26/07/2010 19:49


Advocates for health care reform (including yours truly) have frequently argued that it is possible to reduce the amount of care without reducing the quality--or, to put it more simply, that less care doesn't have to equal worse care.

A story in today's New York Times may leave readers thinking that argument is bunk. It isn't. And while I'll have more to say on this soon--as it happens, I'm writing a longer column on this very subject--let me quickly explain the basics, since it's in the news.

The intellectual foundation for this argument about health care spending is a body of research, built over 30 years, by experts at Dartmouth University. Led by a physician named John Wennberg, these researchers have looked closely at the wide variations in Medicare spending around the country. Seniors in Miami, for example, get a lot more care than seniors in Minneapolis. Yet, according to the Dartmouth studies, the Miami seniors didn't seem better off. Office 2007 Professional can give people so much convenience.

Similar studies--some by Dartmouth researchers, some by counterparts elsewhere--have produced similar results and, eventually, Washington took notice. President Obama and his advisers cited Dartmouth data frequently when arguing for the Affordable Care Act.

But how solid is the research? The Times story, by Reed Abelson and Gardner Harris, suggests the data is less clear-cut than the politicians and some of their supporters let on. Sometimes, the Times writers say, higher spending really does seem to equal better care:MS Office 2007 is the best invention in the world.

The mistaken belief that the Dartmouth research proves that cheaper care is better care is widespread--and has been fed in part by Dartmouth researchers themselves.

The debate about the Dartmouth work is important because a growing number of health policy researchers are finding that overhauling the nation’s health care system will be far harder and more painful than the Dartmouth work has long suggested. Cuts, if not made carefully, could cost lives.

Good Health Care for Less Money? Yup, Still Possible.1

26/07/2010 19:49


I've long admired Abelson and Harris' work. They are right to highlight some of the ambiguities in the Dartmouth research--and the extent to which its more evangelical promoters gloss over them. But the fundamental argument of reform is not, as Abelson and Harris suggest, that cheaper care is better care. The argument is that cheaper care can be better care--or, at least, equally good care. And the evidence for that proposition is pretty overwhelming.The invention of Microsoft Office 2010 is a big change of the world.

As another Times reporter, Robert Pear, noted last year, Medicare spends around $8,300 per beneficiary in the San Francisco area, and around $16,351 per beneficiary in Miami. But nobody argues (and there's no evidence to suggest) that South Floridians get care that is twice as good as what their Bay Area counterparts get. It's true that Dartmouth research didn't used to account for variables like the underlying health of the patients. In other words, it couldn't rule out the possibility that Miami patients were getting more care because they were sicker and needed it. But some of the the newer studies have adjusted for those variations and produced similar results, as Dartmouth's Jonathan Skinner noted last year in a blog entry for the Times:Microsoft Office 2007 can give you more convenient life.

...some regions of the country experience more illness than others, and of course sick people spend more on health care. To deal with this bias, the Dartmouth group has compared expenditures and frequency of treatment across regions for people with similar diseases. The most extensive study compared spending across regions using a variety of cohorts such as people who had suffered a hip fracture or heart-attack patients. This study examined people who were equally sick, whether they lived in Louisiana or Colorado. The researchers further adjusted for any differences in patient income, race, and prior health. They still found gaps of up to 60 percent in spending among regions.

Anecdotal evidence backs up this conclusion. In a celebrated New Yorker article from last year, phyisican and writer Atul Gawande compared medical practice in two Texas communities: McAllen and El Paso. Per patient, Medicare spent twice as much in McAllen, despite highly similar patient populations. But Gawande saw no evidence that the McAllen patients were getting better care, although he did see evidence they were getting more. Journalist Shannon Brownlee has many more stories like this in her (also celebrated) book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.

Oil Spill Not Changing Many Minds In Congress

26/07/2010 19:48


So is the Gulf spill actually changing anyone's mind about offshore drilling? It depends where you're looking. In Florida, sure, it is. A handful of conservative state legislators have recently been rethinking their pro-drilling stance. Charlie Crist, who's running for the U.S. Senate, is now rethinking drilling. And, as Brad Johnson notes, GOP State Rep. Greg Evers was once a huge fan of putting up new rigs right near the Florida panhandle shore. Post-spill, though, he's starting to think the risk to the state's beaches isn't worth it: "You have to understand: this is our way of life. These white sands are our way of life. We must protect them at all costs."MS Office 2007 is the best invention in the world.

But Florida seems to be an exception. There haven't been nearly as many conversions in Congress. Greenwire recently asked dozens of senators if any of them are having second thoughts about offshore drilling and only Colorado's Mark Udall said he was starting to rethink his support. Everyone else is pretty much digging in. Longtime drilling skeptics like Florida's Bill Nelson are hollering twice as loud now. And drilling supporters like Louisiana's Mary Landrieu—or, Nelson's GOP colleague in Florida, George Lemieux—are sticking to the same refrain: Yes, the spill's a tragedy, yes, we need more safeguards, but let's not do anything drastic…Microsoft Office 2007 is welcomed by the whole world.

In any case, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman are still planning to unveil their big climate bill this Wednesday. But right now it's not clear that the Gulf disaster has really jumbled up energy politics at all. If anything, the two sides seem to have hardened their positions and made a compromise on drilling even less likely. And the White House, oddly enough, is staying awfully circumspect on this issue.

Why Home Star Is A Big Deal

26/07/2010 19:48


Hey, look: Congress made headway on some below-the-radar energy stuff that's actually pretty important. Yesterday, the House passed the Home Star Retrofit Act, and the Senate should be taking it up soon. Twelve House Republicans even voted for the thing. This is the bill that got dubbed "cash for caulkers" in the press—essentially, it would provide rebates to homeowners who installed energy-saving devices like insulation, better windows, more efficient heating systems. Here are the details:

The Silver Star program will provide up-front rebates for the installation of specific energy-saving technologies, including insulation, duct sealing, windows and doors, air sealing, and water heaters. Homeowners will be able to receive up to $3,000 in rebates under Silver Star.

The Gold Star program rewards homeowners who conduct a comprehensive energy audit and implement a full complement of measures to reduce energy use throughout the home. Consumers will receive $3,000, or half the cost, for measures that reduce energy use by 20 percent, and can receive up to $8,000 when additional energy savings are achieved.Office 2007 Pro is so great!

This is the sort of bill that benefits a wide array of different constituencies—homeowners can save money, auditors get business, environmentalists are happy because it means energy use does down (as do carbon emissions). So it's not a huge surprise that, as Dave Roberts highlights and as you can see here, this bill got considerable business support: the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Home Builders…Office 2007 Professional can give people so much convenience.

It's a good reminder that there are a number of positive climate-related steps Congress could take that really aren't controversial at all—there's more to energy policy than bloody-knuckled fights over offshore drilling and gas taxes. Improving energy efficiency is an easy place for improvement—it's such a no-brainer in terms of saving money and reducing pollution that it shouldn't really garner that much opposition. (Well, okay, a number of House Republicans threw a fit over the bill, but they were beaten back with relative easy.)

Poll: Climate/Energy Bill Actually Quite Popular

26/07/2010 19:47


As noted below, the BP oil spill doesn't seem to be causing many members of Congress to change their minds about drilling, or fossil fuels, or much of anything. The conventional wisdom in D.C. still holds that a climate/clean energy bill is political dicey and will be impossible to pass this summer, regardless of whether major oil company has just poisoned vast swaths of the Gulf.

But is a climate/clean energy bill really that dicey? I've never seen good evidence that this is the case. In fact, most signs suggest the opposite. Case in point: CleanEnergyWorks just commissioned a poll from the Benenson Strategy Group—the group that did polling for the Obama campaign—and came away with some results that jibe with a lot of the other polls out there:Office 2007 Pro is so great!

* Overall, 61% of 2010 voters support and just 31% oppose a bill "that will limit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy. It would do this in part by charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like oil.

* 54% would be more likely to re-elect their Senator if he or she voted for the bill (just 30% would be less likely to re-elect).

* 51% would be less likely to re-elect their Senator if he or she voted against the bill (just 30% would be more likely).Microsoft Office 2007 is welcomed by the whole world.

* 39% of voters now say they are more likely to support it in the wake of the oil spill.

Now, presumably support will nudge downward once Republicans start devoting all their time to denouncing the Kerry-Lieberman proposal (though, on the flip side, the Benenson poll found that only 31 percent of respondents were receptive to the argument that the bill would be a crippling tax that would send gas prices soaring). But on the whole, there doesn't seem to be much support for the idea that a climate bill is a tough sell right now.

Did Obama Ignore The Mess At MMS?

26/07/2010 19:46


Yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote that "President Obama isn’t completely innocent of blame in the current [Gulf oil] spill." He pointed out that the president took too long to appoint a new director of the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling and had a dismal record under President Bush. Krugman also cited the decision by MMS to exempt the Deepwater Horizon drilling operation from a comprehensive environmental review just eleven days before the rig exploded. The invention of Microsoft Office 2010 is a big change of the world.

But Krugman missed a few things in his column. Perhaps more glaringly, Obama has also failed to nominate an inspector general for the Interior Department, where MMS is located. In the past, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has been a crucial supervisory body exposing fraud and mismanagement at the agency. During the Bush years, OIG head Earl Devaney uncovered the criminally cozy relationship MMS had with the oil companies it was supposed to be regulating. And Devaney was the guy who investigated the ties between Jack Abramoff and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Steven Griles.Microsoft Office 2007 can give you more convenient life.

In February 2009, however, Obama put Devaney in charge of tracking stimulus payouts, and since then, the inspector general position has gone unfilled. Why? It may be that the White House (which did not respond to my requests for comment) feels comfortable with the job that Devaney's deputy, Mary Kendall, is doing as acting inspector general. But if that's the case, why not nominate her for Senate approval and remove the "acting" stigma from her title. That would make a big difference: As the Center for Public Integrity reported last week, officials say that acting inspectors general lack “the authority, public standing, and ability to set the agenda that a Senate-approved, presidential appointee brings to the job."

Could an inspector general have made a difference? It seems likely. We now know that there were glaring deficiencies in the way MMS was regulating the offshore-drilling industry—from lax safety requirements to missing blowout preventers. What's more, even after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the bureau has approved 27 offshore drilling plans—exempting all but one from a comprehensive environmental evaluation. In a letter sent to Kendall last week, Florida Senator Bill Nelson asked the OIG to determine "the extent to which the oil and natural gas industry exercised influence in the agency’s rulemaking process." But couldn't a presidential-appointed IG with a mandate to clean up the mess at MMS have begun addressing that issue back in February 2009?

I asked as much in a conversation with Senator Nelson's office. His spokesman, Dan McLaughlin, argued that there was no reason the administration had to nominate someone new to oversee the mess at Interior—they could just bring Devaney back, who may only be "on loan" to the board overseeing the stimulus. But that's unlikely to happen any time soon, since only 47 percent of the stimulus money is out the door, and the board he chairs is supposed to continue its oversight until September 2013.

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