Friday, March 5, 2010

How Pelosi will game the Stupak 12

I have included below, a wonderful explanation from Marc Thiessen on how reconciliation could be a red herring by Pelosi and Reid. A very informative article:

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) has warned that he and other pro-life Democrats are ready to kill health-care legislation unless the pro-abortion provisions enacted by the Senate are removed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must win their votes to pass her bill. To do so she will have to promise two things: first, to fix the provisions they oppose in a reconciliation bill; and second to get an iron-clad commitment from Senate Democrats they will vote to sustain whatever deal she makes.

The problem for Stupak and his allies is that such a guarantee is not enough to ensure their position prevails -- because Senate Republicans are gearing up to use something called the “Byrd rule” to blow up any deal Pelosi cuts to pass health care in the House. And in the end, that would be just fine with Pelosi. She wins either way. Here is how:

In order to get a reconciliation bill with the fixes they demand to the Senate floor, Stupak and his pro-life colleagues must first vote to pass the original Senate health care bill -- including the abortion language they oppose. Only after this bill is passed in the House can the chamber then take up a reconciliation bill and send it to the Senate for its approval.

That’s where the “Byrd rule” comes in. Designed to protect the rights of the minority, the Byrd rule allows any Senator to raise a point of order demanding that “extraneous” (non-budgetary) provisions be removed. According to former Senate parliamentarian Bob Dove, “If a ‘Byrd Rule’ point of order against a provision is sustained, the provision is stricken from the bill….Appealing the rule of the chair requires 3/5 vote of duly elected and sworn Senators (60 votes).” (This process is known colloquially in the Senate as a “Byrd bath” and the dropped provisions are known as “Byrd droppings.”)

Republicans intend to raise points of order against the reconciliation package. They believe it is virtually certain that the Senate parliamentarian would find any abortion deal Pelosi makes with pro-life House Democrats to be “extraneous” (there is no reasonable way to argue the provision is primarily budgetary). So any abortion deal with Stupak and his allies would be struck from the bill.

That might only be the beginning of the bill’s unraveling. To pass health care, Pelosi will have to cut all sorts of deals in a reconciliation bill to bring along conservative “blue dog” Democrats. Using the Byrd rule, Republicans will proceed to pick apart every element of these deals Pelosi makes, piece by piece. It is unclear which provisions would survive scrutiny under the Byrd rule. But each time a point of order is sustained, it requires 60 votes to overturn that ruling -- which means Senate Republicans have the votes necessary block key elements of the reconciliation package.

If this happens, the amended reconciliation bill would go back to the House , where Stupak and others would then likely oppose it. Reconciliation would be dead.

That would be fine -- except for one small problem: Stupak and his allies will have already voted to pass the original Senate bill, which Pelosi could send to the president at any time for his signature. And that would suit President Obama and Speaker Pelosi just fine. Indeed, it might be their preferred outcome. Once the Senate bill is approved, the president and Democratic Congressional leaders have little incentive to pass a reconciliation bill. Think about it: Does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid really care if Senate Republicans stop the House from amending the Senate’s already approved health care bill? He probably hopes they succeed. And if the reconciliation deal is killed in the Senate, Pelosi who would be able to tell Stupak that his complaint is not with her, but with the Senate Republicans. She would send the Senate bill to the president and he would sign it into law.

The bottom line: Stupak and the blue dog Democrats in the House have no leverage if they go along with Pelosi in a reconciliation strategy. The only way they can ensure that the abortion language and other provisions they oppose are eliminated is to reject reconciliation entirely -- and demand that the House and Senate start over with clean legislation.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Great Summary of Obama's 1st year

I was considering writing up a summary of Pres. Obama's first year when I came across Dr. Bill Bennett's summary he provided on National Review. He said it much better than I could have so I included it below:

Year One of a President at War with Reality [Bill Bennett]

Just about a year ago, many people here and abroad had very high hopes for our new president and for us. He was going to take on our economic woes, improve our international reputation (as he defined it), and fight a smarter and better war on terrorism. How has the year unfolded?

Using Gallup numbers, President Obama began his administration with a 69 percent approval rating. Today he’s at 49 percent — a 20-point drop. Last January unemployment was at 7.2 percent; today it’s at 10 percent. President Obama came to office criticizing the public debt, and continues to speak of the debt he inherited, but let’s get it right: According to the Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl, "President Bush presided over a $2.5 trillion increase in the public debt through 2008. Setting aside 2009 (for which Bush and Obama share responsibility), President Obama’s budget would add $4.9 trillion in public debt from the beginning of this year through 2016." In addition, there is now talk of a second stimulus, and a nearly trillion-dollar health-care plan is in the works.

On the international front, Iran is more threatening and dangerous than ever. President Obama campaigned on a new kind of policy toward Iran, but the only thing new is that the Iranian government has become more aggressive, more brutal, and more contemptuous toward our desire to curb its nuclear ambitions. North Korea has test-fired banned missiles and broken off accords. Russia is as aggressive as ever. We have spurned the Dalai Lama. We have upset Eastern European allies from Poland to the Czech Republic. Israel is more nervous than ever — both about its existence and about the pressure the U.S. is putting on it. Sudan has been appeased further than it was by either of the last two administrations but is no less of a threat to Darfur, where things are getting worse. And in Latin America, the president has received praise from Hugo Ch├ívez and Fidel Castro. Meanwhile, he’s twice gone to Copenhagen and come back empty-handed: once to bring the Olympics to Chicago, once to formulate a climate policy. In neither visit did he get what he set out for.

On Afghanistan, he has finally come out with a policy and committed to sending more troops. His administration’s spokesmen are unclear on what the exit or ramp-down procedures and timelines are, but for now, we can praise the ramp-up. But on the terrorism and war issue more generally, we have seen a backslide. Despite ringing statements that we will close Guantanamo, stop enhanced interrogation, and move detained terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into our civil-justice system with a public trial, thus bestowing constitutional rights on those terrorists, an interesting statistic came out last week: More terrorist acts and attempts took place in the United States in 2009 than in any year since 2001. According to the Rand Corporation, there have been 33 terrorism-related events on these shores since 9/11, and 13 of them occurred in 2009.

Meanwhile, President Obama seems to want to take the focus off this threat by changing the language of what we are in — which is a war. He tries to narrow and crib the definition as much as possible: a) by not talking about any of it very much and b) when talking about it, by restricting the discussion to al-Qaeda. He has a genus problem, but really only mentions the species; you never hear him talk about Islam or Islamic terrorism, and he hardly ever uses the word “war."

Barack Obama is president. He asked to be. The complaining, the blaming, and the distracting are not presidential. We need a president who sees the world as it is and rises to the challenges.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Beware of the Common Good or Public Interest

I recently had someone tell me that we should enact Pres. Obama’s domestic agenda for the sake of the common good and that his policies were in the public’s interest. His statement forced me to consider the fallacy of the argument that is “the common good” or “public interest.” To justify a decision based upon “the common good” is merely a tool of using an indefinable concept to justify someone’s ideological agenda. If you break “the common good” of society down to its core, you realize that the public is merely a collection of individuals.

When politicians argue that “the common good” of society is somehow different from and superior to the individual good of society’s members, they are essentially concluding that the good of SOME men should take precedence over the good of others. So what is to become of the less fortunate members of society? Well, they become the proverbial sacrificial lambs that must be slain for “the common good."

The use of terms such as “common good” and “public interest” assume that it is moral and just for the good of the majority to trump the individual. However, if we understand that a society is nothing more than a collection of individuals, we will recognize that the good of the majority is delusional because the violation of an individual’s rights means the abrogation of all rights. As we have seen in Russia, China, Germany and in many other tyrannical states over the past 100 years, the end game of justifying “change” in the name of “the common good” is a deliverance of a helpless majority into the hands of any demagogue that claims to have the “voice of the people.” History of such regimes has proven that the State acting in the interest of “the common good” is always at the expense of the individual’s liberty and freedom.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Compiled thoughts on the Baucus Health Bill Write-up

Sorry for not posting for so long. The new baby has taken up much of my time but I will do my best to keep up. I am attaching some great thoughts on the Baucus proposal:

"Taxing Baucus [Benjamin Zycher]

Mike Tanner of Cato and I (separately) have looked at the CBO analysis of the Baucus markup (which is not a bill), and have reached much the same conclusions. The headlines will tell us that it will cost $829 billion (that is, less than $900 billion) over ten years, and will reduce the cumulative deficit by $81 billion.

Those numbers are phony for any number of reasons, but notice that the "deficit reduction" is the net result of $518 billion in increased spending from expanded insurance coverage, $404 billion in reduced spending from "other provisions affecting direct spending," and $196 billion in increased revenues. The $404 billion "does not include effects on spending subject to future appropriations." So: Will Congress actually cut Medicare reimbursements (by over 20 percent), unlike previous years? More fundamentally: The increase in revenues ($196 billion) is over twice the net reduction in the deficit. So put aside all the other problems with the numbers: None of this net "deficit reduction" results from spending efficiencies. It is all tax increases and more. Will those higher taxes be limited to those making in excess of $250,000 per year? Please... Note also that the analysis states in the first paragraph that the "analysis is preliminary in large part because the Chairman's mark, as amended, has not yet been embodied in legislative language."

So, it is no longer the production of only laws and sausages that should be hidden from view. Chairmen's marks also are to be hidden from polite society, lest voters, CBO, and an ever-hopeful press be scandalized. So much for transparency."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Random Thought

It has been a while since I posted and have been busy with family matters but I thought I would include this interesting perspective on redistributive policies and government intervention:

"U.S. President Grover Cleveland once vetoed an expenditure that would have provided $10,000 of federal aid to drought-stricken Texas farmers. He explained to congress why such an appropriation of taxpayer money was inappropriate:

"I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution; and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadily resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people. ... The friendliness and charity of our fellow countrymen can always be relied on to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood."

Friday, July 31, 2009

“Progressive” Government & Big Business: Common and Corrupt Bedfellows

After examining the moral justification for capitalism and the hypocrisy that exists within government regarding the policy of price controls and monopolies, it would be reasonable to conclude that businesses would want as much freedom and competition free from government control as possible within the marketplace. However, ever since politicians and economists first began enacting policies to regulate and “plan” the free market, there have been a contingent of traditionally larger businesses that have been strong advocates for government control and manipulation of the markets. Why would these businesses jump in bed with the government? The answer lies at the end of what my grandfather wisely taught me about years ago: “Follow the money trail.”

A byproduct of the consumer-friendly competition created by capitalism is the requirement of every business to pull its own weight and create value for consumers or risk being overtaken by more innovative, creative and driven competitors. So what is the best way for a large established company to avoid the hard work required to remain its status at the top of its industry? Run to the only institution capable of forcing businesses and individuals to comply with its demands: the government.

Traditionally, political pundits and historians have painted the interests of big business as being aligned with a conservative agenda. However, an examination of the Obama administration’s “cozy embrace of big business,” through its economic policies and bailouts, persuasively illustrates that big business has rarely had such an ally as the government in shielding them from the cruel realities of competition.

A few examples I have stolen from Jonah Goldberg (writer for National Review) will illustrate my point: (1) it has been well publicized that when President Obama called for healthcare reform, insurance companies quickly adopted the mantra that they wanted to be “at the table rather than on the menu.” Translation – insurance companies wanted to ensure that they were in a position to play a profitable and integral role in the upcoming welfare state that will be created through socialized medicine; (2) Phillip Morris, the largest of the tobacco companies, recently supported and realized passage of a so-called “anti-tobacco” bill that benefited Morris’ position in the market because it made it more difficult for smaller, more innovative competitors to compete (the bill made it more difficult for tobacco companies to advertise their products – a nice bill for a large tobacco company looking to retain its 50% market share); (3) GE has willingly jumped into bed with the government on the global warming hysteria by peddling “green” products to Uncle Sam rather than creating and selling competitive products on the free market that create value for consumers. Why? Because GE knows that it wants to position itself as a “favorite” of Obama when cap-and-trade passes so that it can attain a protected industry status, thereby ensuring decades of government subsidization; (4) finally, the most obvious and blatant example of protectionism for big business is President Obama’s proposed plan to deal with “systemic risk” in the financial markets. A quick summary of the proposal shows that big businesses in the financial markets – large banks, insurance companies, etc – will not be permitted to fail if it is determined by the Federal Reserve that such a failure would threaten the stability of the financial markets. This policy creates an obvious incentive for larger financial firms to grow as quickly and attain as much influence within the markets as possible in order to attain a “too big to fail” status (even if it were to involve irresponsible “investments”). By attaining a “too big to fail” status, a business can become lazy and rest assured that it has become a ward of the state and can operate as a careless chronic welfare recipient that has no incentive to do anything other than maintain its status.

Who loses when big business jumps into bed with the government? You do. Individual consumers and small businesses seeking to expand by offering better products at lower prices lose. Individual consumers lose because we never experience the drop in prices and development of new, innovative and more efficient products by smaller, hungrier and aggressive entrepreneurs. Small businesses lose because they don’t have the benefit of government protection from competition and are required to play from an uneven playing field, thereby limiting the prospects of success.

The examples discussed above provide a wonderful illustration of how a planned economy creates inequities that far outweigh the claimed “unfair” consequences of a free market economy. What is the end result of President Obama’s policies that protect big business at the expense of small business and consumers? Any Rand summarizes it best: “The inevitable result of planned economies is a ‘syndicalist or corporative organization of industry in which competition is more or less suppressed but planning is left in the hands of the independent monopolies of the separate industries. This places the consumer at the mercy of the joint monopolist action of capitalists and the workers in the best organized industries.” See what happens when government confuses and corrupts the free market by taking sides and protecting certain “big” business? I don’t fault big business for looking out for their interests by attempting to capitalize on a corrupt government; I fault our corrupt government for taking sides and corrupting the free market.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Moral Justification for Capitalism

The topic of capitalism vs. planned/organized economies and their variations (socialism, fascism, communism, etc) is too complex to completely dissect in a blog posting but due to the fact that so many of President Obama’s domestic policies (health care, cap & trade, extensive regulation of the financial industry, wealth redistribution policies employed under the tax system) are based upon a perceived deficiency of capitalism and the free markets, it is important to examine the moral justification for capitalism when compared to planned economies. This blog posting will only examine the moral justification for capitalism and will reserve discussion regarding planned economies and President Obama’s concept of a planned economy for soon-to-be posted blog discussions.

When considering whether a social system should be adopted by a society, it makes sense to ask whether individual citizens will retain their freedom under the proposed system. A number of economists, philosophers, and Founding Fathers of our country have outlined the concept of freedom and the reality that in order to guarantee freedom, a social system must uphold and protect the rights of the individual. As the Declaration of Independence and other Founding documents have indicated, a citizen’s individual rights can only be assured by upholding a political and economic system that guarantees an individual’s right to his own life, his own liberty, and to the pursuit of his own happiness. If we assume that the primary goal of a social system is to provide and protect freedom, we must consider whether the system respects individual rights and whether physical force is banned from human relationships.

Although many of the concepts and thoughts about capitalism that I am about to discuss are common knowledge, I think it is important to revisit them from the moral perspective of who is permitted to make decisions and the freedom provided under capitalism. Generally, capitalism is defined as “an economic and social system in which trade and industry are privately controlled (instead of state-controlled) for profit.” Under capitalism, all human relationships (investments, distribution, income, production, pricing, and supply) are voluntary. As a social system, capitalism respects individual rights by respecting the concept of property rights. A cornerstone of capitalism is the concept of privately-owned property. The concept of private property (the right to keep property purchased and earned as a result of one’s labor) provides an incentive for each individual to strive to pursue his own good for his own sake. By allowing human relationships to remain voluntary, capitalism permits each individual to decide what product or service provides the most value. Additionally, capitalism, through the mechanism of competition, creates an incentive for each producer to continue to provide better quality and lower priced products in order to survive. By allowing every business, producer and consumer to keep the property they have earned as a result of their labor and value created within the market, capitalism provides an incentive and reward for all parties in the market: consumer, producer and service provider.

The economic benefits of capitalism are widely recognized but many proponents of capitalism advocate its use for efficiency reasons, while neglecting the freedom of choice free from coercion that capitalism provides. As an example, many passive proponents of capitalism argue that the concept of the free market can only be justified because it provides for the “best allocation of the national resources” or that it represents “the best way to achieve the common good.” These arguments are misplaced because as Ayn Rand and F.A. Hayek and others have pointed out, man is not a national resource and the fact that capitalism provides the most effective means of achieving the “common good” is merely a secondary consequence and not the primary justification for capitalism.

Many critics of capitalism argue that this desire to act in one’s own self-interest through the existence of the “profit motive” is immoral because it creates greed, excess and a misallocation of resources that leaves a segment of the population neglected and in poverty. This focus on selflessness/altruism is an admirable quality for individuals to pursue in their own lives. However, altruism is a philosophy that should be accepted or rejected by each individual based upon their own decisions, not a political philosophy employed and directed by the government. When government imposes altruism upon its citizens through claims that every citizen must act in the best interest of the public or that each citizen has a social or societal duty, it imposes a moral duty upon the competent to serve the incompetent and the willing to serve the unwilling.

The moral justification for capitalism is that it is the only system that provides for and protects the individual and his right to exist for his own sake. Capitalism provides an equal opportunity to each individual and does not discriminate or make judgments upon individuals: “The economic value of a man’s work is determined, on a free market, by a single principle: by the voluntary consent of those who are willing to trade him their work or products in return. It wholly rejects altruism (the deliberate pursuit of the interests or welfare of others or the public interest). Man is not the property or the servant of society – a man works in order to support his OWN life and must be guided by his own self-interest and if he wants to trade with others he must not expect sacrificial victims.”

The Founding Fathers always expressed their deepest respect and conviction for the freedom of individuals in society and the necessity that governments limit their sphere of influence and control. It was for this reason that America has long remained the most free of all men since its founding. Our Founding Fathers also knew that government should concern itself with providing a framework in which freedom and equality of opportunity can be assured and maintained and understood that it is wiser to leave altruism and benevolence to the moral conviction of each individual and the philanthropy of every man.