Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Economist fail

This week's leader in the Economist tries to answer the question "What's wrong with Washington?" Their answer? Barack Obama. Now I love the Economist, I think it's the best print news source out there. But this piece is so far off the mark it's laughable.

It is simply not true to say that nothing can get through Congress. Look at the current financial crisis. The huge TARP bill, which set up a fund to save America’s banks, passed, even though it came at the end of George Bush’s presidency. The stimulus bill, a $787 billion two-year package, made it through within a month of Mr Obama taking office. The Democrats have also passed a long list of lesser bills, from investments in green technology to making it easier for women to sue for sex discrimination.

They fail to note that TARP was a fairly liberal idea, pushed hard by a Republican administration in a time where everyone was scared to death of the financial system collapsing. And it still took two tries to pass. The stimulus passed on a party-line vote in the house, and had one Republican vote in the Senate, Arlen Specter, who later became a Democrat. And that was when Obama's approval rating was in the 60s. Is the point that emergency measures can pass congress when one party has staggering majorities? These are not normal circumstances. Then there's a list of smaller bills, most of which had to overcome filibusters, and are fairly uncontroversial anyway.

A criticism with more weight is that American government is good at solving acute problems (like averting a Depression) but less good at confronting chronic ones (like the burden of entitlements). Yet even this can be overstated. Mr Bush failed to reform pensions, but he did push through No Child Left Behind, the biggest change to schools for a generation. Bill Clinton reformed welfare.

These are examples of one party pushing for the other party's priorities. A Democrat rolling back part of the social safety net and a Republican trying to fix public education. Never mind that many teachers nicknamed NCLB as "No School Left Standing." Yes, if Obama wanted to cut taxes for the rich, he could get bipartisan support. Maybe.

The Senate, much ridiculed for antique practices like the filibuster and the cloture vote, was expressly designed as a “cooling” chamber, where bills might indeed die unless they commanded broad support.

A cooling chamber, not a deep-freeze. House Democrats have compiled a list of 290 bills that have passed the House and died in the Senate. 290 bills. 290 BILLS!

It is not so much that America is ungovernable, as that Mr Obama has done a lousy job of winning over Republicans and independents to the causes he favours. If, instead of handing over health care to his party’s left wing, he had lived up to his promise to be a bipartisan president and courted conservatives by offering, say, reform of the tort system, he might have got health care through; by giving ground on nuclear power, he may now stand a chance of getting a climate bill.

Please tell me how he could have won Republicans over. He did offer tort reform. He got nothing for it. The GOP voted against PAYGO, despite ripping Obama for deficit spending. Republicans voted against a bipartisan deficit commission that they cosponsored. Republicans know that they can win elections by making Obama fail. There is no incentive to give him a victory on anything.

Handed health care to his party's left-wing? This is essentially a Republican approach to health-care reform. His party's left wing (people like my Rep, Keith Ellison) want single-payer, they want Medicare for all. In the absence of that, they at least wanted a robust Public Option. They didn't even get that! This is the least invasive, most incremental reform possible that still helps cover the millions of Americans who lack insurance.

He gave ground on nuclear power, and now he might get a bill that has nothing but subsidies for nuclear power and renewable energy. No carbon tax (the left-wing version), no cap-and-trade (the GOP position before Obama started to support it). This isn't a solution, it's a giveaway. Obama has not taken the left-wing position on a single issue.

Rather than regretting how the Republicans in Congress have behaved, Mr Obama should look harder at his own use of his presidential power.

This reads like the same garbage we've been hearing from inside the beltway for the past year. Somehow Obama can make things happen by caring about them. He can't pass legislation on his own. He can't force Senators or Representatives to do what he wants. He's the president, not a king. 

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