The health muddle [cont.]
Just as it looked like it couldn’t get much worse, new statistical evidence shows that health insurance is getting more expensive for most workers because of the increase in deductions.
Employer-provided health plans are defying earlier predictions their numbers would decrease in the face of new Obamacare regulations. But while the overall number of plans did not decrease appreciably, the plans’ members were hit in 2015 on the average with nearly 9% in more than $1,000-deductions. That means, of course, that the average worker is carrying a bigger part of the total plan expense than before.
The increases continued an already growing trend. The average deductible before their insurance kicks in has more than tripled from $303 in 2006 to $1,077 today. It also explains, to some extent, why workers’ wages have flattened. In their negotiations with employers they have taken medical insurance benefits stead of higher wages. It explains why these deductibles have increased more than seven times the increase in wages. It also explains why although increases in medical insurance premiums to an individual worker have actually fallen, by 1% over 2014, for the first time in a decade [even though they are up 3% for family plans]. In effect, the worker is exchanging any increase in premiums for higher deductibles.
That also means that one of the principle, if infinitely complicated aspects of Obamacare, has been having little effect. The Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] was supposed to supply subsidies through marketplace funds to offset increases in premiums. But aside from all the difficulties of getting these funds into place – state-administered funds versus federal funds – the growing difficulty for the average wage-earner is this increase in deductibles [and co-pays] rather than the premium itself.
A Kaiser Family Foundation’s study reports the average deductible for a more liberal plan this year is more than $2,500. So that predictions of critics of Obamacare that it would undermine company plans so far is now being born out. Of course, this is being reinforced by the so-called employer mandate in Obamacare which requires employers with 100 workers provide health benefits, a figure which drops to 50 workers in 2016. Business circles argue that this requirement is eating into overall employment, accounting in part for the growing structural unemployment rates even while the economy sputters to regain its footing. Management is reluctant to add workers and wherever possible will try to get under the ceilings.
Another piece of bad news in the Kaiser study is that the Obamacare’s 13% tax on so-called “Cadillac” plans offered by employers has led many companies to withdraw them. Opposition to the tax is coming as much from the Obama Administration’s normally loyal unions as from business circles.
It’s hard not to say we told you so. The slap-dash, one-party, Obama Administration’s effort to solve the infinitely complicated problems of modern medical care, a sixth of the economy, in one piece of legislation was always doomed. No one should minimize the problem of matching the growing technology, much of it expensive in its initial development, to the demands of an aging population. But we would plead with the critics of Obamacare, especially those determined to wipe it out and start over, not to look for any “golden key” solutions.
The problems of applying the incredible achievements in medical science to a growing population require study and compromise. These can best be made on a case by case basis, in a series of pieces of legislation, which may in some optimistic future be collected, but for the moment require attention to detail. It is one of the few issues which unitrs all Americans, and we wait impatiently for solutions – not a solution..
Tag Archives: Obamacare
The health muddle [cont.]
The polls tell us that those Americans interested in politics are split almost evenly into two groups: those who approve of President Barak Hussein Obama’s leadership and those critical of it.
Further analysis shows quite basic differences between the two groups – and disturbing for those of us who want a country rich in diversity but engaged in a constant healthy exchange of ideas.
The President’s supporters are what my Mom in her retirement among the elderly in Florida, with some envy, used to call “the alright-nicks”. They are members of an elite who either financially or politically – or both – have disproportionately profited from the system. They see themselves, and their nominal leader, Obama, as tapped by some unseen but knowing source to lead — especially to guide a rabble [excluding themselves, of course] which does not know its own interests and therefore what is best for them.
In fact, their numbers have recently been reinforced as the economy has marginally improved and the noise around Administration scandals and policy failures has dissipated with time in a fast moving society. [IRS persecution of political opponents, veterans dying because of illtreatment at the VA, the sacrifice of lives at Benghazi, massive infractions of border security, mishandling of government lands, near collapse of the president’s personal security – Poof! Gone With the Wind!]
The other half of the politically oriented are fervent, if sometimes highly prejudiced, critics of Obama’s policies – or, indeed, the lack thereof in many avenues of leadership where he is counted among the missing. Domestically, they perceive inhibiting bureaucratic intervention or neglect of the always marginally effective governmental actions which could speed the economic recovery out of the disaster of 2007-08. Abroad, they see perennial crises deepen with a strategy of withdrawal of American power in areas where it has long been the arbiter, indeed, the presumed leader by the other foreign participants.
Any attempt by the critics to entertain a meaningful debate is largely ignored by the Obama followers whose allegiance to their leader lies elsewhere than in loyalty to issues. In reality, the Obama coalition is a motley crew whose interest in their leader is largely pro forma – that is, loyalty as a member of an ethnic or an interest group rather than based on broader issues or an attachment to ideology.
Some might take issue with this argument, of course, claiming that Obama, himself, is an ideologue of the left and has the support of what constitutes the American left in politics. That has some validity, of course. But as a scion of the amateur radicalism of the 1960s, I would argue Obama and his followers’ allegiance to leftwing politics is more sloganeering with as little understanding as their 60s mentors had of the long traditions of socialism and its offspring in Western thought.
Rather, the Obama coalition is a collection of Alrightnicks. There is the rapidly growing political class of government employees headed by his appointed superbureaucrats, many circulating through the revolving door of Washington government appointments and lobbying. It doesn’t take long for a visitor Inside the Beltway, the anointed circle of Washington, D.C., and some of the country’s wealthiest counties in Maryland and Virginia that surround it, to know that they are passing through a world all its own – often inured from the rest of the country’s trials and tribulations.
There is, of course, Obama’s following among Afro-Americans – who however disenchanted with the little accomplished by the Administration in pushing the economy, and therefore the fortunes of their impoverished and crime-ridden ghettoes, feels it has no choice but loyalty to the first Afro-American chief executive. The media, of course, are kept – best explained by Pat Moynihan’s dissection more than a generation ago of the capital press corps. He saw how – even before the print media began to collapse under the dynamics of the digital revolution – working class newspapermen had turned into media elite as they moved off to the suburbs to join the ruling class. There is Hollywood glitz, of course. Recently revealed cynical backstage exchanges have shown just how meaningless on both sides of the footlights Tinseltown’s is the glamor that rubs off on the Administration. More difficult to explain, of course, are the small but highly influential Jewish followers of Obama – although they have in so many ways built themselves into the Establishment in the shortest order, perhaps, of any once discriminated American minority. That they ignore Obama’s war on Israel is camouflaged by the increasing lack of liaison between younger Jews and Israel and the continuing barrage of empty statements from Obama’s spokesmen [some of them Jews] of the unbreakable U.S. alliance with Jerusalem.
Bringing up the rear is the traditional support for any president which is part of the American political scene, backed by the increasing influence of what Harry Truman rightly described as the most powerful executive in the world, accumulating strength contrary to the efforts of the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to limit it, as the world and the U.S. becomes an increasingly complex society to govern.
Looking at these two bumping mobs, we may well be at an historic crossroads just now.
For all the myriad reasons, the electorate has seen fit not only to give the Congressional opposition its greatest strength since the 1920s, reinforced with similar movement in most of the state legislatures and governors’ mansions. With what has been an all too incompetent leadership, that powerful control of the legislature branch – and has so often been argued, the courts, too, follow elections – the Republicans now have an opportunity to force a discussion of issues rather than of emotional loyalties. If they avoid the siren song of its few media sympathizers and reject “comprehensive” solutions to vast problems, but instead tend to the nitty-gritty of legislative minutiae, there will be a contest. It means avoiding such catastrophes as the pretension that myriad problems of one sixth of the economy could be solved with the bumbling as well as bogus ideology of Obamacare in a single piece of legislation.
Obama – or his most intimate counselors, whoever they are – has had a great deal of luck. But he does exhibit the art of a demagogue in directing the Greek chorus from his bully pulpit. Whether by happenstance or design, he has managed by moving immediately without the Congress on such issues as immigration and environmental regulation, to obscure the massive electoral victory of his opponents last fall. [The prostituted media helped, of course.] Someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue obviously sees what otherwise would be a gross violation of separation of powers as the way to bull through the lame duck years.
But, for the moment at least, the ball is now in the Congressional Republicans’ court. Let’s see if they know how to ace it!
The United States is going through one of those periodic crises, testing a complex and often sclerotic constitutional system.
An increasingly diminishing presidency has tried to “transform” the society, and particularly its economy, with draconian measures. One at least, Obamacare, rammed through an absent-minded Congress with a temporary majority of the President’s party, has come a cropper.
But behind the immediate problem of whether the Affordable Health Care Act can/should be salvaged or whether it must await repeal by a Republican Congress, and, perhaps, president, after 2016, is a much graver issue. Pres. Barack Obama, despite his experience as a part-time instructor in constitutional law, has run afoul of the principal of separation of powers.
It’s an ancient concept going back to Aristotle in ancient Greece which posited that the best way to avoid repressive government was to a balance its functions among various competing entities, usually the legislative branch to make the laws, the executive branch to enforce them, and an independent judiciary to adjudicate and punish disputes when they arose. Some Western European democracies have rejected this concept, expressed through a system of checks and balances. But more recently, even they have come around to giving their courts a greater role than was traditional in deciding what is inviolable in their unwritten constitution.
The Founders of the United States, who demonized the British sovereign in their quest for independence, had in fact become what they considered victims of an elected parliament. This phenomenon must have made them even more cognizant of the need to provide not only a defense against authoritarian government in general but against any of its appendages .As the young democracy endured, against all odds, it developed an additional concept of judicial supremacy – the power of the Supreme Court to override even the people’s elected representatives to strike down a law as unconstitutional, that is, in flagrant violation of the basic intent of the Constitution.
That was not specifically written into the Constitution, and, indeed, before the Civil War, the Supreme Court did not invoke it that often. That concept – contrary to the British tradition from which the U.S. borrowed so much which had parliamentary supremacy, meaning in the end, the parliament could do no wrong – was unique in its time. And the argument has gone on in newer governments modeled in the Anglo-American tradition, for example, in India and Pakistan, and, indeed, increasingly, in our neighbor Canada and Australia which once were closer to the Westminster tradition.
But the separation of powers has taken a beating in the U.S. over the years. Everything from the growing complexity of American life to unprofessional Capitol Hill writing of legislation has fuzzed the issues. To regulate growing and complex industries and parts of the increasing interwoven society, the Congress has created semi-judicial, semi-independent bureaucracies which have the power, in reality, to legislate, enforce and adjudicate — and even to punish. In our time, the activities of the Environmental Protection Agency or the National Labor Relations Board, increasingly politicized during a period when the differences between our two major political parties have widened, are flagrant examples.
“The regs”, the instructions on how to implement a law enacted by the Congress, have become if not more important than, often as crucial in determining the direction new legislation takes as law. That compilation is increasingly in the hands of a permanent and growing class of federal bureaucrats who — at this moment when the question of how large the government should be and how far reaching its activities — undergird many of the more serious political arguments. Once again, The Founders were prescient: they saw that an interested local populace might twist the national will by maneuvering a central government, and thus sought to isolate the federal apparatus in a castrated federal district with no political rights. Not only has that principal been abandoned in the cause of self-government for the District of Columbia, but the early 19th century when everyone went “home” for most of the year is a distant memory. No “special interest” is stronger than that of Washington’s permanent – if at its upper echelons, a revolving door – bureaucracy.
I wince every time I hear the Congressional Research Service or the Congressional Budget Office described as “nonpartisan”. While that may be true literally, it is a concept more honored in the breach than the observance, to quote The Bard. It would demand more than human failings afford for members of this or any of the other Washington bureaucracies to completely abandon their own prejudices for big government and their advocacy of federal discretion.
In times of crisis, especially when a soured economy which underlies all politics as well as the life of every citizen, there is an almost instinctive reach for government intervention. Never mind that the essence of the fabulous American economic history is its freedom for the individual entrepreneur and the absence of the kind of European dirigisme that to a greater or lesser degree has marked the histories of the Continental powers.
Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, with his strange amalgam of advisers spanning the political spectrum from far left to far right, tried to thrust the economy forward with a massive intervention the country had never seen. One by one, a traditionalist Supreme Court struck them down as contrary to the Constitution. [After all, a Constitutional amendment was necessary to foist the federal income tax on citizens.]. FDR’s riposte was to propose remaking the court with new legislation – a stick the legislative branch holds over the judiciary. But his “court packing” proposal outraged the country, even including some of FDR’s most loyal followers, and it was abandoned. Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, FDR’s further ministrations still did not rescue the economy from The Great Depression. That took the unprecedented World War II mobilization which revamped the American economy’s entire nature producing the great postwar prosperity.
Those who lie with statistics tell us that President Obama has not invoked his executive mandate, the authority to use executive powers, more than his immediate predecessors. But the difference lies in quality not quantity: changes of specific deadlines and other requirements of the Affordable Health Care Act is a stretch too far. True, virtually all legislation affords the executive the authority to make discretionary changes in order to more effectively and orderly implement a law. And it is argued by his – and the increasingly fewer diehard supporters of the law – that this is precisely what he has done and that he need not go back to the Congress. But the very fact that the law is so controversial — every poll tells us opposition is massive if not in an absolute majority — demands that he do just that in pursuit of representative government. The reason he does not is obvious: a Republican-ruled House of Representatives where the Constitution specifically says the power of the purse resides might very well have taken the opportunity to try, again, to defund the law or at least to hamstring it while a Democratic-led Senate fumed.
Furthermore, the whole constitutional concept of the law has been muddled by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., joining in a 5-4 decision to rule the law constitutional on the basis of what the Obama Administration called “fines” for its infraction. But Roberts chose to reinterpret the Administration’s brief to the Court calling these penalties “taxes”, and therefore defensible under the taxing authority of the Constitution rather including them under the ever elastic “commerce clause” which the Administration had argued. One could only assume that the Chief Justice was leaning into the wind in order to maintain some unanimity in the court for what promises to be an avalanche of efforts to test the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s actions on various fronts in the months and years ahead.
For the Obama Administration’s bending the law has not been confined only to Obamacare. The President and his Attorney-General Eric Holder, who one must remind errant analysts is not an independent agent but a part of the executive, have taken it on themselves to decide which part of immigration law on the books they are to enforce. It has reinterpreted legislation to prevent discrimination in voting practices only to cover minorities rather than all voters, a blow at the very essences of elected government and what the civil rights movement was all about. In direct violation of the constitution, the President has made “interim” appointments while a Democratic-controlled Senate was legally in session.
Thus Pres. Obama’s promise to extend executive privilege to its outer limits threatens to test the whole fabric of the constitutional process
It is time for a reordering of protocols if not of issues. Even FDR, with his enormous ego, after his ham-fisted effort backfired to ram through his own remedy for what he saw as government gridlock, went for conciliation with his critics. Pres. Bill Clinton in his second term saw he had to cooperate with fiscal conservative to accomplish his goal of an expanding economy. It would be time for Obama “to reach out” [as that overused current cliché goes] to the opposition. But, for the moment at least, his choice seems to be defiance with his “pen and telephone” – and continued pushing the constitutional envelope.
It’s a dangerous game and threatens our whole constitutional system.
With the U.S. transfixed by the Obama Administration’s massively bungled attempt to nationalize one sixth of the economy, the health welfare system, the rest of the world watches the slow motion unfolding of another debacle: the loss of post-World War II American leadership of the worldwide alliance for peace and stability.
Pro forma protests over snooping by the U.S. National Security Administration European and Latin American leaders are for popular consumption. Spying, and unfortunately counter-espionage which the Snowden revelations appear to be, have been and will continue to be a generally unspoken part of international relations. In fact, one can imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel berating her own intelligence organizations for superior U.S. technology’s ability to listen to her limousine cell phone. The Saudis’ “renunciation” of a UN Security Council seat is no more than a media event. With their new vulnerability brought on by the Shale Revolution in the U.S., Riyadh’s antediluvian princes in their colorful robes have no place to go.
But these are tokens, taglines to a much larger eroding international picture.
Of course, the current disarray is not sudden, nor only the product of the Obama Administration. But Obama’s missteps have exaggerated growing difficulties for international governance “inevitably” arising from changes in the international balance of power over a half century since the Allied victory in World War II. And as always, of course, there is the unanticipated and the unintended consequences of well intended strategies and policies.
America’s junior partners, the European democracies, after five decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity, are facing domestic breakdown increasingly limiting their contribution to the world system. Social democratic remedies at the workplace have failed everywhere. A demographic catastrophe not only threatens their economies, but growing unassimilated immigrants from alien societies threaten to overwhelm their post-Christian cultures. A pampered public will not accept belt-tightening much less painful surgical elimination of waste and corruption. Greece, ancient home of democracy, is the apotheosis of the problem, a ticking timebomb on the doorstep of the rest of Europe.
Furthermore, the attempt to create an integrated European economy – let along a new international polity which could speak with one voice on international affairs – is in jeopardy and probably failing. British participation, essential to the project, is now more remote than ever given the failures of the continental Euro and resurgent English as well as Scot and Irish nationalism.
European integration had been seen as the ultimate panacea. It is now clear that is not the case, nor, indeed, is it apparent it can even be effected. In Berlin Das Mädchen,, representing the disproportionately most powerful of the member nation states, talks out of both sides of her mouth. She advocates a new European superstate but zealously guards Germany’s narrowest national interest as demanded by her role as an elected leader still obligated to put together an unstable governing coalition.
The Obama Administration’s answer to this dilemma is not that different from the waning years of the Bush Administration. Pres. George W. Bush’s earlier steadfast resolve gave way to Condoleezza Rice’s “clerk” management. In any case, Washington’s stance toward Europe in part always has been a myth about who led whom and how during the post-World War II recovery. Alas! the charismatic and determined [if occasionally misguided] leadership of Churchill, Adenauer, DeGaulle, and de Gaspari, and their technocratic supporters, has been replaced by feckless politicians. The 80s decade-long common-sense reign of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was only brief relief from the general intellectual decline.
The American standard around which the Europeans rallied, even when they were in denial or hypercritical, has been replaced by a bogus concept of “leading from behind” That kind of Machiavellian manipulation of others’ power would under the best of circumstances have been exquisitely difficult. But in the hands of the Obama amateurs, it descends into virtual chaos. Witness the Libyan intervention as its classic example. The Obama Administration and European friends failed to provide a model for a small, fragile but oil-rich Arab state. And the U.S. paid a terrible price with the murder of an ambassador and a major psycho-political blow to American prestige which will dog U.S. foreign – and domestic — politics for decades.
The naïve “transformation” which an inexperienced but arrogant elitist presidential mafia thought they could foist at home on a traditional society but one in revolutionary technological transition has been matched with aberrant theory abroad. For whatever reason, the idea that the Obama Administration could make a pact with a nonexistent, romantic version of Islam – a political religious belief still mired alternatively in pre-modern torpor and nihilistic violence — has shredded what was left of decades of Middle East strategy.
There Washington now finds itself on the wrong side of virtually every issue. By rote it nudges Israeli-Arab “negotiations”, which long ago foundered on Palestinian corruption and incompetence. Washington mistakenly believed it were the central issue, not the region’s poverty, illiteracy, tribal warfare and demagoguery. Obama’s refusal to personally intervene for a status of forces agreement to permit a continued military presence in Iraq squandered 4,000 spent American lives. It removed all possibility Washington could have a major impact on a recreated but highly volatile Baghdad and its enormous oil resources. Obama then launched into an effort to dethrone the barbarous al Assad Syrian regime, backed away, and now finds U.S. Syrian strategy at the mercy of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, himself increasingly turning to despotism and foreign adventure to hang on to his throne.
The Obama Administration continuously has importuned Iran, oblivious to that regime’s single-minded goal of making itself the hegemonic power and arbiter of the region’s vast fossil fuel resources. In the process, the White House ignores the interests of America’s longtime allies in the Gulf including, until now, the world’s marginal oil producer, Saudi Arabia. The Obama Administration helped install and got into bed with the Moslem Brotherhood in Cairo, the fountainhead of modern Islamic terrorism, apparently believing it some sort of Islamic equivalent of European Christian democracy. When that regime collapsed from ineptitude and domestic violence, Washington refused to accommodate to a popular military takeover endorsed by its other regional allies. Pres. Obama’s “best friend”, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has turned out to be a very bad regional weathervane. Even worse, Erdoğan duplicity [confusion?] in dealings with Palestinian Islamicists, Israel, the Brotherhood, the jihadists in the Syrian opposition, aided by an intelligence chief who favors Iran’s Shia fanatics, is adding to the regional chaos. Worst of all, Erdoğan with whom Obama fellow-traveled, endangers what’s left of NATO by playing with Chinese weapons possibilities.
The continued U.S. entanglement in the Mideast, always predictable, has put into question Washington’s announced “pivot” of resources to the growing Chinese Communist aggressive feints toward East and South Asia neighbors and Washington’s friends. With that strange aloofness which characterizes this Administration’s treatment of allies, it has failed to respond enthusiastically to the first strong government in two decades in the U.S.’ keystone Asia ally, Japan. [Luckily reflex collaboration between the U.S. military and its Asian allies, hangover from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, has reinforced strategy in the absence of White House leadership.]
Perhaps the most important politico-economic Asia-Pacific instrument in Washington’s hands, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an effort to create a common market to meet the competition of China’s state capitalism and subsidized trading, is hanging. The concern is that the Obama Administration’s next three lame-duck years, especially after the drubbing it seems now likely to take in next year’s elections, will not pursue it forcefully. In the balance is a revolutionary overhaul of a quarter of the world’s commerce and what may be the reemergence of a more vital Japanese economy.
Alternatively, the Obama Administration’s increasing reliance on the United Nations burdens that organization with more responsibility than its corrupt and incompetent secretariat can bear. Idealistic multilateralism is an excuse for lack of U.S. policy and inaction on a huge variety of fronts. Washington has, for example, increasingly abandoned leadership of the UN specialized agencies – whether the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, ignorant of the 17-year Tehran march toward nuclear weapons, or the growing specter of out of control biological breakthroughs which have enormous potential for solving life problems, or creating new diabolical weapons of destruction.
The shock and geopolitical lesson of 9/11 has been left behind somewhere in the bowels of the State Department and the Obama Administration’s National Security Council. Lost is recognition that the American homeland was no longer – if it had ever been in the world of intercontinental missiles – immune to the kind of destruction that our allies and enemies in Europe and Asia suffered in World War II.
With the strong prospect that the U.S. domestic scene will continue an impasse, as Obamacare has proved, America’s role abroad will be in abeyance. The world will just have to get along with the beached whale of a U.S — at least for a while.
Out of the Washington political chaos of the past few weeks, two overwhelmingly critical questions have yet to be decided.
- Can a wily Pres. Barack Obama, despite his Administration’s repeatedly demonstrated incompetence in both domestic and foreign policy, rescue — by perhaps more constitutionally questionable executive orders – what he may eventually regard as the only monument to his presidency?
- Has the fiery populist — if failed — campaign of the Tea Party mobilized an otherwise distracted electorate to the growing problem of debt and bankrupt federal government social welfare programs to an extent permitting tedious and torturous reform?
Answers are going to be long in coming.
That’s in no small part because a totally partisan media continues to worship at the altar of Obama’s sacred role as the first Afro-American president who communicates to them at new vulgar levels of the popular culture — late night shows, for example, for policy statements. Rationalization of Obamacare’s opening disaster is all too typical of a kept media now mightily contributing to the polarization of the American body politic. The inability to solve a highly complex but essentially well known technological problems – as it may turn out, because of corruption as well as incompetence – is explained as “glitches”. Tell that to Amazon or Apple – or even Drudge — who handle tens of millions of such IT issues on a daily basis!
Whatever the outcome of this horrendous start, the fate of the Affordable Medical Care Act eventually will be decided in part with the November 2014 mid-term Congressional elections. Most of the talking heads are confident that despite the ruckus, the Republicans will retain their House majority. That’s because the current 33-seat Republican tipped majority is to a considerable extent in “safe seats”, districts drawn to their advantage by Republican dominated state legislatures.
The 33 Senate races – 13 incumbent Republicans, 20 Democrats — are harder to call. Furthermore, there is ideological alignment which could and often does vitiate senatorial Party affiliation because more complex statewide electorates are involved. There’s the prime example of West Virginia’s novice Democratic Senator Joe Manchin who registers more and more like his Republican conservative colleagues. He is not up this year but his colleague, Jay Rockefeller, a 30-year-long Democrat incumbent, is retiring. With the Obama Administration’s continued war on fossil fuels [including coal], that bodes well for Republicans grabbing his vacated seat. Even the relics of another era of American politics, the Maine senators, for the most part distance themselves from their neighboring liberals in New England, as one Republican and one independent. The latter might join whichever [or dictate the] majority in a new Senate – one of those not so rare happenstance that permeate history.
Yet, whatever the Republicans’ chances to take over the Senate as well as keep the House and thereafter wage a full-court campaign to repeal Obamacare, the world moves on. The failure so far of any dramatic Republican conservatives’ effort to defund Obamacare already may well have left its mark on the gigantic American health industry. That’s because with something like a sixth of the U.S. economy directly involved, the law – now three years old – is beginning to take long term effect. Everything from speeding up disaffected physicians’ personal decisions to retire [despite a growing shortage of doctors, especially those in general practice] to mitigating such problems as “pre-existing conditions” and extended dependents’ coverage on family policies, have locked into place.
Never mind that these problems, like so many others, should have been solved best through a more detailed analysis and individual prescription for solution. They have now become a part of the intertwined medical scene’s debate. A thrashing around of the private insurance companies with their own special interests is quietly taking place. We got early warning of that when the pampered and elitist Washington bureaucracy of American Association of Retired Persons [AARP] climbed on their fellow capital bureaucrats’ Obamacare bandwagon even though the majority of its members probably opposed the intent of the legislation.
In fact, rather than the relatively simple procedure of dismantling cartels in some states by removing strictures on marketing medical insurance across stateliness, Obamacare is setting up new ground for manipulation to gouge the consumer. Administration propaganda with its Hollywood luminaries has gone a long way toward persuading the electorate that “a comprehensive solution” is required for this as for other complex problems of governance. That’s despite common sense dictates that such enormous and complex issues should better be approached through an analysis of individual problem and solutions found piecemeal. If for no other reason, they could then be reversed more easily if and when, as so often happens, inadequacies or unforeseen consequences arise.
It’s therefore by no means certain that given the incredible snowballing federal juggernaut the Washington bureaucracy has become, even Obamacare repeal – or various amendments – may not, in fact, further confuse and compound the problems of the already infinitely complex medical services landscape.
Even though this problem is already universal because it touches the lives of all Americans, government health issues fold into a much larger politico-economic agenda. Obamacare will not, as the President and its advocates argued, either reduce medical costs for most individuals, and certainly not for half the nation paying federal income taxes. It has added an enormous new tab to the bill for an already creaking social welfare safety net. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all under siege from inherited liabilities, galloping technologies and the growing ageing of the American population badly needing overhaul.
Despite the incredible capacities of the U.S. economy and American society to innovate, producing new and beneficial technological and managerial techniques expanding the physical well-being of its citizens, the current economic stagnation is symptomatic of the system’s failings. It demonstrates, among other things, that the economy and the political system is overloaded with waste and abuse, that attempts at central planning in a world where the revolutionary internet developed by accident, is most often counterproductive. But that’s an argument to which most of the Democratic Party and the U.S.’ self-appointed elite turns a deaf ear.
One might have hoped that the stringencies forced on the society by the worst onset of the business cycle since The Great Depression would have, as it does so often in our private lives, forced a reconsideration of government spending. That may come, but the victory of the tax and spend forces in the current crisis is not encouraging. A relatively small proof is the alacrity with which – small in relative terms – additional ”pork barrel” was attached to the final excruciating difficult [“clean” Continuing Resolution] “settlement” that sailed through the House after being initiated in the more complicit Senate.
This, at least temporary, settlement of the crisis is being hailed in the Obama circles and the Main Stream Media — and in much of the always “idealistic” academy, of course — as a victory for compromise and accomodation necessary in a democratic system. But, in fact, it is a denial of the fundamental issues staring the country’s politico- economy in the face: out of control government expenditures. It is an issue acknowledged by most of those “experts” who spend their time looking at the economy although solutions are as diverse as the problems involved.
The question is whether the U.S. has reached that state forecast by some early 20th century observers who prophesied that a democratic electorate, having learned it could vote itself benefits at will from the commonwealth, might bankrupt The Founders’ political system. The symptoms are now clear and self-evident. A virtually unlimited expansion of food stamps, for example, is a product not only of an increased demand in a time of economic downturn and high unemployment, but also of a bounty bestowed by legislators on constituents including subsidized agriculture producers. The possibilities for corrupt practices are virtually unlimited in such alliances. Witness vast government expenditures dedicated to expenditures for recruiting new recipients to the benefice.
Correcting these miscalculations and abuses while maintaining an adequate social safety net at a time of revolutionary technological changes generating fundamental economic restructuring and high unemployment is fundamental and enormously demanding of any political system. It is one Congressional conservatives did a good deal of shouting about. But they lost this battle in their war, perhaps because of bad tactics and no adequate strategy. But whether their challenge can be met in the months ahead remains to be seen.
The dust settles, if ever so temporarily, on a very conflicted environment.
Could it be that the numbing financial and economic crisis engendered by divided government in Washington is returning the country to an authentic budget process?
That piece of what may well be Pollyanna comes out of an examination of what has actually been going on, rather than the mainstream media’s hysterical indictment of the Tea Party.
When the House of Representatives, for whatever political motive on the part of the Republican majority there, sends specific appropriation and expenditure bills to the Democratic-controlled Senate, it is returning to its proper function. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hysterical – “What right have they [the Republican controlled House] to do that?’ –is incredibly Constitutionally ignorant. For that is precisely what the Constitution requires. The Origination Clause, also known as the Revenue Clause [Article One, Section 7: Bills Clause 1: Bills of revenue] reads: “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” Obviously, The Founders recognizing the power of the purse string wanted it lodged in The House of the People with its almost immediate two-year reflection of popular will.
Subsequent law, dating back to the Budget Act of 1921, has set up a process by which the government’s expenditures are to be met through a series of executive and legislative requirements — estimates by the executive, their examination in House and Senate committees, appropriation and expenditure of a dozen bills by the 13 House committees, and approval through joint consultation between the two houses, and their implementation by the President and his executive departments.
For more than a decade that procedure virtually has collapsed for a vast variety of reasons. Fundamentally, there is the growing size and complexity of the federal government that now requires a fifth of the gross national product to fund it. There is the necessity for the President to get an estimated budget to the Congress on time and with a realistic expectation of its being the beginning of a establishing a consensus. There is the annual press other business as the Oct. 1st deadline approaches when the country’s fiscal year begins.
Instead of this procedure required by law, the President and the Congress over the last decade has taken to passing a “Continuing Resolution” [CR]. It is in effect a stopgap measure which regurgitates the appropriations and expenditures of the previous year as the new operating budget. “Anomalies”, that is, obvious differences which must be faced in the new year, are incorporated into the CR. [So much for current calls from the White House and the Senate Democrats for a “clean” CR to be passed out of the House and on to the Senate and the President; there has never been such an animal.]
This year’s fandango began with President Barack Obama submitting an estimated budget two months after the legal deadline, the fourth time in five years he has done that, and a worse record than any president dating back to the requirement “set in stone” almost a century ago. But neither the Republican House nor the Democratic Senate treated the President’s estimates seriously. But a proper House budget carefully crafted under Budget Committee Paul Ryan, recognized on both sides of the aisle as the most knowledgeable fiscal authority in the Congress, was dead on arrival in the Senate.
Feeding into this impasse is the problem of the growing federal debt – now at nearly $17 trillion or nearly the total of the whole gross national product, the sum of all economic activity in the country. With authority to borrow bumping up against the Congressional limit repeated reset on borrowing, House Republicans are trying to use their leverage [a general public outcry against the towering figure]. From their point of view, that would appear to be the only way to meet current obligations but at the same time to put a brake on increase in government spending.
In fact, there is little hope for more than a bandaid. Unless the already existing three largest government expenditures with their “automatic” increases, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, can be reformed and curbed, the borrowing limit will go a glimmering.
Enter the President’s Obamacare, which despite promises it would over the long run reduce the nation’s medical expenses, critics now calculate, among other things, it is going to increase federal spending by 15% in only a decade.
That, in addition to whatever their political gain from opposing a measure which is generally considered unpopular, is why the House Republicans are fixated on Obamacare. Consecutively, they have tried to engage the President and the Democrats in some kind of “fix” – either repeal of what was a so-called comprehensive rearrangement of a sixth of the economy, refusing to fund it, or calling a halt to its implementation in the whole or in its parts. Ironically, this last option is something of a pale imitation of the President’s own – if perhaps illegal – series of waivers and extensions by executive decree offered to some but not all participants in the law’s implementation.
That is why the country has seen the spectacle of repeated attempts by the House majority to pass specific pieces of legislation to the Senate, where they have been summarily rejected. In most instances, the Senate majority simply refused to even have them debated. However, the House Republicans – besides supposedly according to the polls taken the hit from the public for the partial shutdown of government – in the process has willy-nilly returned to the budget process. Repeatedly, now, they have sent measures forward which the Senate Democratic majority leadership [and even some Democratic Senators who may face reelection problems] has had to endorse and send to the President for his signature because they were just too popular. Several of these have involved the military.
Unfortunately, time is running out. The timing of an actual default – that is, the inability of the government to pay its bills – has probably been exaggerated by the Administration, its Democratic Party spokesmen, and the liberal media. With record tax receipts, it would at least be theoretically possible for the Treasury to prioritize its outlays, giving the highest priority to payment of interest on the debt, and still be able to keep the government going for some time. Contrary, again to media exaggerations, more than 80% of government activity is continuing in this current partial “shutdown”. More could probably continue were it not clear that the Administration is creating as much pain and suffering as it can in order to heap more abuse and blame on the Republican House. But it has been a backlash on some of these Administration’s actions – for example, closing an outdoor memorial to World War II veterans – which has profited the House Republicans. It has permitted them to take up what the Democrats call “piecemeal” appropriation and expenditure legislation, and to the dismay of the Senate Democrats, sometimes getting them through the Senate and on to the President’s desk.
“Piecemeal” is not an approbation that would stick. Among the reforms obviously needed in the budget process, is one that requires the House [followed by the Senate’s collaboration] to return to just that kind of process. It would be the examination of the requirements of the individual units of government to be met with judicious and considered funding.
In one of those many accidents that determine history, it just may be that the House Republicans have stumbled on to a strategy. If so, Pres. Obama’s attempt at “transformation” of American society is dead and will soon be buried with its headstone reading “Obamacare”.
One of the marvels this amateur historian has found musing over intellectual trends through a long life is how concepts float back and forth, as often as not taking on new meaning about which their contemporary utilizers haven’t a clue.
An interesting example: Back in the early 1930s, worldwide Communism had a serious dilemma. It wanted to exploit well-known adherents, especially in the non-Soviet world. But some of these brightest stars were artists or intellectuals whose work was anathema to Josef Stalin, the monster who had taken over the Soviet Union. Zigzagging intellectually, with the Moscow Trials Stalin had finished off rivals as “saboteurs” and “foreign agents”. The incredible complexity of this travesty was best illustrated in Arthur Koestler’s roman a clé, Darkness at Noon, about victims who remained loyal to “the movement” to their bitter end.
During his long reign, Stalin’s slightest whim became the order of the day. His prejudices on any issue replaced the early revolutionaries’ wildly gyrating experimentation. That intellectual ferment was something; again, they had inherited, even from the tyrannical Tsars, but Stalin called a halt to anything but his “Party line”.
Still, a quintessential instance of Moscow’s problem was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso. A virtual lifelong émigré, especially after the defeat of his [adoptive] Catalan nationalist comrades, and their allies, the Republicans, in the Spanish Civil War [1936-39], Picasso dominated world plastic arts for a good part of the 20th century. But whatever else Picasso was, he was an incredible innovator. His unparalleled profusion [50,000 items or more] of painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawings and prints made him an enormous celebrity. But after an initial youthful period of “academic realism”, Picasso’s creations were anything but “realistic”.
Stalin, on the other hand, anointing himself as an art critic as well as the high panjameter of everything else, only accepted “realistic” painting, ironically the sort Americans were to honor in Norman Rockwell. So “Soviet realism” was the order of the day through his years as supremo.
Picasso, in Paris’ Bohemian art world, like so many other interwar artists and intellectuals, drifted into Communism. Whatever Moscow’s political “line”, no matter its incredible turns and inconsistencies, he remained a loyal member of the French Party.
Moscow’s conundrum was how to reconcile using this incredibly valuable weapon, Picasso’s popularity, in the war against Western democracy, particularly during the post-World War II Cold War, yet alongside Stalin’s “Soviet realism”? [That even reached into music where the Soviet’s most talented composer, Dimitri Shostakovich, “disappeared” for a time, a victim of Stalin’s ire against innovation.]
For the Communists, Picasso was too valuable a propaganda commodity to be trashed. Even when they wandered off the reservation with their work as did Picasso and other vedettes [for example, British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell], they followed the world Communist movement’s general instruction.
That’s how, in the fullness of time, one of the world’s most successful propaganda campaigns got a gigantic boost. Picasso’s father, José Ruiz Blasco, an art teacher and painter himself, was a passionate bird lover, particularly of doves and pigeons, and passed this sensitivity on to his son. So in 1949 after Picasso’s reputation as an artist – and a Communist – was long established, Louis Aragon, a more disciplined if inferior French Communist journalist and poet, went begging. He was looking for a symbol for one of the endless Communist “peace” conferences advocating unilateral Western disarmament. Picasso offered a lithograph of a Milano dove which the artist later simplified into a line drawing
That little dove became universally iconic, the Communist symbol for its on-and-off “peace campaign”. On and off, because after the 1939 Nazi attack resulting in the third Polish partition between the two totalitarian powers, World War II, was “an imperialist struggle” which good Communists should eschew. But when Hitler smashed the September 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact two years later attacking the Soviets with his Operation Barbarosa, the same war became a crusade to save “the Socialist motherland”
Meanwhile, Picasso, whatever his politics, had a certain artistic integrity. Of Aragon’s choice, he said: “The poor man! He doesn’t know anything about pigeons! And as for the gentle dove, what a myth that is! They’re very cruel. I had some here and they pecked a poor little pigeon to death because they didn’t like it. They pecked its eyes out, then pulled it to pieces. It was horrible. How’s that for a symbol of Peace? “
How, then, were the Communists to cover all these indiscretions, contradictions and outright lies? Always inventive, clandestinely swapping propaganda tricks with their arch-rival Hitler’s genius propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, Moscow came up with a dodge. Picasso – as with similar problematic stars of the Western Communist world – however much through their work or thought defying Stalin’s peccadilloes, were to be labeled acceptable. These luminaries became Communist tools. [Vladimir Lenin, Stalin’s predecessor and mentor, called them nash — “ours” — and others in the Italian Communist hierarchy called them “useful idiots”.] They were excused from the Party’s full panoply of “discipline”, dubbed by Moscow as “politically correct.” For whatever their indiscretions, they were loyal to “the cause”.
For it was about then that – “a political class” – was becoming apparent in the nation’s capital. It was a new phenomenon. Those of us who knew Washington pre-World War II., remember how it largely emptied out on the weekends when the government elite departed for hometowns. The wretched climate in the former swamp meant summer holidays were forced on the bureaucracy when the thermometer maxed out, then without the now ubiquitous air conditioning. In an era when the country depended less on Washington delving directly into our inner most reaches [and pockets], part-time government, or something approaching that, could be tolerated if not welcomed.
Certainly the Founders wanted the new Republic to have limited government, peopled by a constantly fluctuating hierarchy composed of a wide range of citizens with other professions and livelihoods. True, eight of the original 55 men who participated in framing the Constitution were sometime politicians. And fourteen were rich enough to own slaves. George Washington, himself, was not only a slave owner but one of the richest men in the New World. Eighteen framers might be called “speculators” in land and finance. Still, they dreamed of a regime in which the power of the state would be lodged at its lowest level and therefore more responsive to the will of the people.
And, indeed, at the insistence of “the radicals” they immediately adopted the ten first Constitutional amendments to guarantee the people’s rights, changes most of which had been discussed earlier. They were adopted to ease the document’s approval from the various states’ legislatures, jealous of their power and fearful of a central government. The tenth amendment put it in unambiguous 18th century prose: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The reasoning was clear: a ruling political elite was the nightmare of the Founders, especially those ideologues committed from the beginning to the Revolution against the British crown. Their opposition arose from an overweening King and Parliament repeat and Parliament which had usurped their rights as Englishmen. Steady progress of Anglo-Saxon individualism and strength of new and growing centers of power in Great Britain had erased the once divine right of kings. And then the power of the barons, squeezed reluctantly from John, gave way to a London elite which governed, but in part still based on aristocracy. That was not to be, the Founders hoped, in, after all, what was their Republic modeled on Greek popular democracy and the Roman worship of the law. [Benjamin Franklin, according to legend, famously quipped when asked by a constituent what had come of the secret constitutional conclave, and he replied, “A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it!”.]
But over two centuries that original intent, as undeniable as it is, has been chipped away “in order to form a more perfect union” and to meet the growing needs of a vast, new land and population and the effects of a continuing industrial revolution. By the time the U.S. finally assumed its obligations as a world power, in fact, as a superpower, in the post World War II environment, that process had gathered new, rapid momentum.
On The Hill, the old bourbon-and-branchwater boys gave way to new blow-haired pseudo-sophisticated Congressional staffers, who incidentally, didn’t know how to draft legislation. In the Congress, more and more seats were “inherited” – either through DNA or through gerrymandering which now was based on class, ethnicity and color rather than on old machine politics handing out a Christmas turkey. The two-year term in the House, intended to insure a rapid turnover close to the electorate, of necessity turned into permanent campaigning. The judicial system which more or less had bucked Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “court-packing” successfully in the mid-30s succumbed increasingly to politicalization – with sociologists rather than legal scholars providing psychoanalytical analysis for decision-making on school desegregation, and a couple of decades later, abortion, rather than resorting on the old torts.
In one of those vaunted reforms with unintended consequences [The 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act and all is subsequent additions], the effort to insulate the federal bureaucracy from the corruption of political “spoils” created an independent but self-aggrandizing bureaucracy. So much so that sheer dereliction of duty – as witnessed in the current Congressional hearings – is hard to punish with dismissal much less economic sanctions and imprisonment. Watching Committee television hearings, we have seen the apotheosis of the trendy, smirking, self-important, arrogant, self-anointed bureaucrat, defying elected inquisitor politicians – who, however tainted themselves, recognized the dangerous politicalization of the tax system has reached new and dangerous heights.
Grown like Topsy is a class of bureaucrats, political appointees supposedly in their command, reinforced by their K Street lobbyist appurtenances and an increasingly kept mass media and blabbering tax-free, high-paid foundations with pretenses for intellectuality. These latter all too often simply reflect the least common denominator on thinking about any strategy or policy. A systemic revolving door of cushy jobs await any government executive who falls from his seat – until the hoped for next election either brings him back or he continues to work with his alter egos in what is laughingly called the private sector.
Look around and you see the incredible character of our new political elite. They unashamedly reward themselves until the District of Columbia [despite its poverty-stricken Black ghetto] and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia counties have the country’s highest per capita incomes. Alas! The demise of the Founders’ effort for a politically neutral federal territory! And even with the Dulles Corridor information technology industry, you would be hard pressed to find productive sources other than intra-government relations.
To describe the relationship among the inhabitants of Georgetown, Langley, Bethesda, FriendshipHeights, and the other ‘golden ghettoes” of suburban Washington as incestuous would be magnificent understatement. These denizens are often tied by kinship – the former Internal Revenue Service head who presided when it targeted conservative organizations is married to the head of an Obama political organization [not audited], two major network news directors have siblings in “media relations” on the White House staff, etc., etc. They constantly hobnob in New York-priced restaurants, chatter at the plethora of cocktail parties, often vacation together in The Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard or other plush resorts, when not taking overseas “inspection” trips at the taxpayers’ expense.
It is no wonder that such inbreeding leads to group-think. Only such relationships could produce the catastrophe of a fanatical effort to remodel at one stroke one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the medical services and health industry with its infinite and unanticipated complications. And then, of course, to continue to pursue that course when every single opinion poll in the country shows a majority of the voters oppose it. Obamacare is, in fact, the culmination of a growing tendency of “the political class” to demonstrate increasing incompetence and lack of realism in the face of the growing complexity of American economic, social and political life after the subordination of old methodology by the digital revolution. But it was the ultimate expression of a political class who knowingly and arrogantly “know” what is good for the rest of the population.
Is all lost?
The closest I have ever come to Oklahoma was as a teenage ColumbiaUniversity student I got an invitation from Phil Spitalny’s All Girl Orchestra, then playing at the Warner Bros. Theater on Broadway, to see Oklahoma! Opening that 1943 spring. I assume its freshness and authenticity is a reflection of its namesake. To this observer it seems if one wants an antidote to what is happening in Washington, which inspires faith in the American ethos and its political dreams, he must turn to the victims of the recent Oklahoma tornadoes. Even the mainstream media, so often given to stigmatizing ordinary Americans as boobs [“who cling to guns, or religion”], had interview after interview with survivors who expressed their acceptance of the inevitability of life’s disasters but determination to adhere to old Oklahoman and American principles of self-help and perseverance. And I doubt that many of them would recognize a Los Rudos cocktail — with cilantro. As the Communists were want to say, it is not accident that not a single Oklahoma county voted for Obama in 2012.
Therein, perhaps, still lies the essence and the hope of the Founders’ American dream.