Thursday, March 25, 2010


Entitled To Going Broke

The Congressional Budget Office "scores" the health-care bill as costing "only" $940 billion over ten years. Of course, the fear is that estimates on these huge government programs are notoriously off.  With an exquisite sense of timing, one day after health care reform becomes the law of the land, official Washington learns that Social Security is going broke faster than previously estimated:  
This year, the system will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes, an important threshold it was not expected to cross until at least 2016, according to theCongressional Budget Office.
So, the biggest entitlement of all is starting to run in the red six years before it was supposed to! This should make the continued "selling" of HCR -- from a cost-control perspective -- interesting in the coming months.  

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Monday, March 22, 2010


Prescription For...?

...Victory:  Fortune, 'tis said, favors the bold:  When all is said and done, the turning point on health care may have been -- ironically enough -- President Obama's decision not merely to attend the GOP's January retreat, but to ask for cameras to be allowed in.  As good as the Republicans looked (it was hard for them to be seen as the "Party of No"), Obama looked better. Whether Americans knew all the facts and assertions being traded back and forth, the president seemed in command of the discussion. He didn't appear afraid to stand up to criticism (he declared how much he was "enjoying" the debate).  He didn't even flinch when he was called on the lack of transparency in the broader health care process. Ironically, that event itself went quite aways to undercutting the lack-of-transparency argument.  He also didn't appear as an empty suit that couldn't perform without his Teleprompter (though he used it in his introductory remarks).

Perhaps most significantly, Obama's televised performance re-energized congressional Democrats demoralized over Scott Brown's win. They realized that -- despite everything -- Obama was more popular than they were and they were smarter to let him take the lead in the endgame.

...Defeat:  Democrats won the war, but Republicans look forward to taking this Fall's battle -- the congressional midterms. By all past accounts, the party out of White House power almost always gains seats. The rare times history has been wrong?  1934 -- an initial "referendum" on FDR's first two years; 1998 -- GOP impeachment drive created unexpected backlash and caused Democrats to gain seats; 2002 -- the first post-9/11 election rallied voters to President Bush's Republicans. Given public frustration over continuing unemployment and general dissatisfaction with health care reform, it seems unlikely that 2010 would be a replay of either '34 or '98.  However, Republicans would do well to put together a broad philosophical and political critique of Obama and Democrats -- beyond health care -- if they hope to have an above-average midterm election.  Having achieved a goal that has eluded their party multiple times over in previously (see below), Democrats -- as a party -- have every right to want to get their base to turn out in force. That means that the "intensity gap" among base voters -- which has favored Republicans and conservatives over the last six months may narrow. Obama may be able to energize his party with the GOP's own rallying cry of "Repeal the bill!"  Except Democrats will put a question mark on it.  Since midterms are usually decided by who shows up at the polls -- and their intensity to vote -- passage of the bill may mean that an activated liberal base could blunt the energized conservative/Tea Party turnout. In short, this is in uncharted territory. By getting health care passed, Obama has seriously raised the stakes. A few weeks ago, Democrats were looking at a '94 style defeat and repudiation. Today, I'm not so sure.

...History: Appropos of the NCAA's, Barack Obama has proven himself to have a better inside political game than many presumed. Seemingly overwhelmed by the focused pushback on health-care coming from the Tea Parties and elsewhere, Obama looked back on his heels for most of the latter part of '09 and into this year.  Several times, HCR seemed dead (again, most notably after Scott Brown's win in NH), and Obama raised it from the dead.  As NBC noted this morning, there's a similarity between health care and Obama's latter-day win in the Democratic primaries in 2008. At a certain point, Obama had the numbers in his favor: It was a matter of finally executing them to close out the game.  The history he was going for in '08 was being the first African American to gain a political party's presidential nomination.  This year it was national health insurance. Again, this is a goal that Democrats, in one form or another have been trying to achieve for nearly 70 years -- or a century, if you include early presidential attempts like Teddy Roosevelt's. Obama went all-in during the first two years of his first term. Having succeeded, and thinking that the best defense is a good offense, it's entirely possible that he may try to push for more -- before he (likely) loses his majority in November.

He's got a major success now, and, despite pushback from exhausted Democrats, he may decide to keep raising the stakes.    

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