December 2010 Archives

When Increases are Cuts

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State of Reform is a health policy conference coming up on January 5th in Seattle. They have a video out in which they claim that our health care policy in Washington is in trouble because we have $4.6 billion "less" money in the upcoming budget, "not new revenue," so we can't afford health care spending because we have to "cut and cut and cut."

There's one little problem: we're actually taking in, and spending, more money than we ever have before. The cuts are reductions in proposed spending increases, not in how much we spent in the previous budget. That's not to say we are in great shape, but the fact is that we could level-fund everything and still have money left over.

Although that's not the worst thing about the video: the worst part is when they try to say how big "4.6 billion" is and talk about footsteps around the Earth and how many hours are in a year and other such insipid comparisons that don't inform anything at all.

I'll tell you how much $4.6 billion is: it's merely 30 percent of the increase in spending in Gregoire's first four years in office. Don't tell me we have a revenue problem. Gregoire drastically increased spending in the good times, and now she's forced to face the reality of unsustainable budget growth in the lean times. It's all her fault.

It's All Gregoire's Fault

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Governor Gregoire is throwing around a lot of blame these days for the budget problems -- where "problem" is defined as "we are going to, as we have done every year, increase spending this year, but less than we want to" -- trying to make people feel guilty for the mess we're in. But it's a mess she knowingly created. It wasn't even an accident or an unfortunate set of unforseen circumstances. She knew this would happen, she said it would happen, and she didn't take her own advice to prevent it from happening.

I've noted many times in this space that Gregoire said in a State of the State address, well before the recession:

Our state budgeting has been like a roller coaster. We spend when we have a surplus and we struggle to make painful cuts when the economy slumps. It's time we even out the road. When the roller coaster, while it's fun at an amusement park, it is no place and no model for state budgeting. By treating our budget like a family's budget, we will ensure stability, we will avoid tax increases, and we will avoid Draconian cuts.

Three years ago, soon after the recession started (and well before we knew how bad it would be), Gregoire said:

Just like families, we are making wise investments for the future and we are saving for the less prosperous times. For too long state government has spent in the good times, and then made painful cuts when our economy would slow. We're getting off that roller coaster, and we're making progress.

Now, because of her spending when we had a surplus, we are struggling to make painful cuts when the economy slumps. She said we were getting off that roller coaster, but instead, she made the coaster speed up. It happened exactly as she said it would if we kept spending as she did.

The "wise investments" was a tiny "rainy day" fund that is long since gone. Republicans told her it should be much bigger. She didn't listen. And now she justifies it by saying it was worth throwing our budget into crisis because she made increases in education spending, as if there weren't billions of increased dollars on other things, too ... and even if it was all for education, so what? I don't think most Washingtonians think it was worth it.

You spent us into oblivion, Governor. As my song dedicated to you, back in 2008, says, "You buy me much more every year / You've got the cash to spend / Next year you'll run out / But you can worry 'bout it then."

I saw it coming. The Republicans saw it coming. But what's worst of all, Governor, is that YOU saw it coming, and you drastically increased spending anyway.

I take no joy in being right about how badly you've screwed our state, Governor, but the story needs to be told, and no amount of your complaining -- about how the people aren't giving you even MORE money to increase spending, rather than doing what everyone else has to do: decrease spending -- is going to make your record look any better. If the people deserve any blame, it's only that they gave you a second term in office.

I've mentioned it many times before, but Justice Breyer -- defender of the indefensible -- has always had it in for the written words of the Constitution. He tries to couch his distaste for our highest written law in reasonable-sounding legal theories, but in the end they are simply a disguise for his true legal theory: that judges get to make up whatever they want as they go along.

A good example is his justification from his last book, Active Liberty, for restraint on the use of money in political campaigns: because, he said, the goal of the First Amendment is to enhance democracy, we can therefore restrict speech (such as by telling people they can only spend a certain amount of money on speech) in order to enhance democracy (on the assertion that if there's too much speech by some people, it drowns out the speech of others).

So to Breyer, the law literally doesn't mean what it says: the law is used to give us guidelines on values, and then we can ignore what the law actually says in order to further those same values. This is, of course, tyranny: it puts all of our rights not in our own hands, but in the hands of judges who have complete authority to determine not whether we do have certain rights, but whether we should.

This was made clear again yesterday, when, on Fox News Sunday, while plugging his new book, Breyer informed viewers that we could ignore the text of the Second Amendment because the person who wrote it didn't really mean it*: Madison was only trying to get the Constitution ratified, Breyer said. The "just kidding" method of constitutional interpretation apparently means that when the Constitution clearly says "the right of the people shall not be infringed," it really means "unless we're don't really believe in that right, in which case, go ahead and ignore it."

And this, of course, is Breyer's actual view of all rights: simply trust the government and the democratic process. This is fine if, like Breyer, you believe that government is essentially good and can be trusted. But Madison, and Jefferson, and most other Founders realized that is folly, and so did two things: created a federal government that was limited in scope to push most decisions closer to the citizens being affected by them, and restricted the government from enacting any laws violating certain essential liberties. And the right to keep and bear arms -- which Breyer says can be fully and completely denied to law-abiding citizens -- was one of those.

Breyer may love the law, but he despises the RULE of law. He wants with all his might to destroy it. He is working his damndest to give us the rule of men. In Breyer's world, it doesn't matter if the Constitution does not allow the government to force you to buy insurance, to take away your guns, to do literally anything at all, as long as it promotes Breyer's view of American values. In a just world, your rights would matter more than anything else in a court of law: no government could take what is rightfully yours. Breyer's world is unjust.

*Never mind that we know the authors of the 14th Amendment really did mean to include the individual right to keep and bear arms as one of the privileges and iimmunities of U.S. citizenship, and yet Breyer still held that that right wasn't protected by the 14th Amendment ... most likely while writing this book.

Hostages, Or, An English Lesson

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The Democrats, led by President Obama, have been going on the passive-aggressive offensive, repeatedly accusing the Republicans of holding the American people "hostage" to get "tax cuts* for millionaires."

The problem is that "hostage" directly and necessarily implies that if the hostage-takers don't get what they want -- that "tax cut" -- that they will not release, or will kill, the hostages.

But everyone, including and especially Obama and his Democratic colleagues, knows the Republicans would not have let the middle class taxes go up. The Republicans got their way -- keeping all tax rates level -- only because, even in the minority, they had enough Democrats to give them the votes to do it. If the Republicans did not have enough votes to do it, then they would have voted with the Democrats to keep the tax rates level only for people making under $250,000.

There was no hostage here. There was only a majority of elected representatives getting the bill passed as they wanted it (no tax rate increases) instead of as the minority wanted it (a tax increase on higher income earners).

In other words, Obama and the Democrats -- as usual -- are damned liars.

It's also funny to see the attacks from the left on this, accusing Obama and the Democrats of giving in. They had no choice: they lost. We have this thing called a "Congress" where a "majority" can pass legislation. Now maybe the Democrats shouldn't have voted for it, but then it would have been the Democrats who would be "holding the American people hostage."

Paul Krugman said yesterday the Democrats should do precisely this: make all tax rates go up if the Democrats can't get what they want. Krugman and his fellow leftists are the only ones who want to "hold the American people hostage." Of course, Krugman also bemoaned the supposed increase in the deficit due to keeping the taxes level, even though when the Democrats increased the deficit by more than a trillion dollars he said deficits don't matter, and he keeps repeating that the Democrats haven't incresased spending very much in the last few years, so it's not like Krugman can be trusted, either.

(* Of course, it's not really tax cuts; rather, it's avoiding a tax increase, but we already went over that lie.)

The Democrats want to increase taxes on people making over $250,000, and keep taxes level for everyone else. The Republicans want the taxes on everyone to stay the same.

What really strikes me is how blatantly dishonest the Democratic rhetoric has been. When talking about the upper incomes, they say the Republicans want "tax cuts" for the wealthy. But when they try to push keeping all the other rates level, and Republicans oppose doing it piecemeal, they say the Republicans want a "tax increase" for "average Americans."

It can't be both: either keeping taxes level is a tax cut and letting them increase is not a tax increase; or keeping taxes level is keeping taxes level and letting them increase is a tax increase. Obviously, in the reality-based community, the latter is preferable, but it's astonishing even in our politics to see them try to have it both ways at the exact same time.

The Democrats have set up their rhetoric by insisting for years that we currently enjoy a tax cut from Bush, that is due to expire, and extending that is somehow giving us a new tax cut. The extraordinarily dishonest implication is that there is a "correct" tax rate and anything less than that is a cut, rather than the obvious truth that taxes are whatever they are, and that if they go up it's an increase, and if they go down it's a decrease.

None of us will get a tax cut. The only question is whether any of us will get a tax increase.

And while I'm on the subject, Democrats have also been dishonestly asserting the straw man that "tax cuts for the wealthy won't create jobs." Whether or not that's true, the fact is that no one is talking about tax cuts for the wealthy, and we have plenty of evidence that the tax increase the Democrats are pushing for would result in a worse economy, especially during our current recession/slow recovery/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. That is, it's not about improving the economy so much as it's about not making it worse.

The Democrats' blame of the low revenues as a percentage of GDP on the tax cuts is especially laughable, considering we have had the same tax rates for several years, and it wasn't until the recession that the revenue percentage dropped: and the only tax cut we had around that time came from Obama, and excluded the higher earners.

The claim that the deficit is too big with this mythical tax cut is also disingenuous, because the same argument could be used to justify doubling taxes on higher earners. And while the Democrats in the last two years have increased spending more than at any time since WWII, and the deficit more than at any time in our history, it's hard to take them seriously on caring one whit about the deficit.

We do have problems with revenue, but those problems are all directly attributable to the poor economy, and have nothing to do with tax rates. Increasing tax rates will have a negative impact on economic activity, and won't create jobs. (Even if you're going to argue that increased spending of certain kinds creates jobs, that spending has happened without paying for it, so that's a non-factor.)

We should be cutting everyone's tax rates more than they are now, including on capital gains. This would necessarily stimulate our economy, in the short term, as it did under Bush. And after we do that, we should work to enact the majority of the unpassed deficit reduction proposal, to fix our problems in the long term. Of course, we can't get across-the-board tax cuts, but the least we can do is keep the rates level.

<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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