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Views on the News

January 1, 2011

Views on the News*

This 111th Congress will enter the history books for the magnitude of both its political losses and its legislative victories. Not since Johnson has either party implemented as much of its agenda in a single legislative session as Democrats did in this one. The Democrat majorities in the House and Senate passed, mostly by themselves, a remarkable slate of legislation in 2009 and 2010: national health care, the stimulus, financial regulation, don't-ask-don't-tell, hate crimes, the START treaty, and more. They had big majorities, 255 seats in the House, and 60 in the Senate, and in some cases were willing to disregard both public opinion and the electoral consequences of their actions, so they got a lot done. Other significant wins included bills that restructured and increased college financial aid, toughened pay-equity laws for women, expanded national service, and provided new credit card protections to consumers. This week’s Senate vote approving the New START pact provided Obama a bipartisan foreign policy victory that steamrolled the opposition of the GOP Senate leadership. Most important, as the downturn lingered, the Democrats’ agenda appeared incapable of, and even tangential to, creating jobs, the public’s main concern. Many of the Democrats’ priorities didn’t seem relevant to what the public was struggling with. Democrats had their legislative disappointments also. Mostly because of Senate filibusters, they could not pass limits on carbon emissions, reform the labor laws or the immigration system, or establish a public competitor to private health insurers, nor could he persuade Congress to back his pledge to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.  Democrats passed such a comprehensive agenda largely because they achieved near-parliamentary levels of party unity in Congress. On the biggest issues, health care and stimulus, Democrats spoke mostly to each other and never attracted enough public support beyond their core coalition. All of these factors converged to ignite a fierce backlash against Democrats in the midterm election, and if that recoil carries a Republican past Obama in 2012 as well, many of the Democratic legislative achievements could be uprooted.

(“One for the Books” by Ronald Brownstein dated December 23, 2010 published by National Journal at http://nationaljournal.com/columns/political-connections/one-for-the-books-20101223

Smiling Dems will soon cry ‘Washington is broken’” by Byron York dated December 24, 2010 published by The Washington Examiner at http://washingtonexaminer.com/politics/2010/12/smiling-dems-will-soon-cry-washington-broken )

 

Barack Obama has set a course that will leave his legacy as no more than a footnote in American Presidential history.  For all of the bluster and glory, for all of the pomp and circumstance, for all of the anticipated hope and the promised change, the whirlwind of hype and expectation surrounding the President a mere two years earlier has virtually dissolved. Across the political spectrum, President Obama has been a striking failure:

·    He has not saved this country from the Bush-era failures; rather, he has done the impossible in making Americans pine for the days that Bush was in office, with Obama's job approval rating recently falling below that of the former President.

·    He has failed in every manner to resuscitate the stumbling economy.  The unemployment rate has continued its upward trend under Obama, going from 7.7% in January of 2009 to the current rate of 9.8%.  Personal incomes continue to trend downward, as does private-sector job creation, and the national deficit is projected to balloon to a staggering $1.5 trillion in 2011.

·    Obama's election has been anything but post-racial, with heightened racial rhetoric and actions coming from the administration itself.

·    Obama did not end the war in Iraq; he merely claimed credit for a deal negotiated under the Bush administration. 

·    He has not brought an end to the war in Afghanistan, instead emulating a military strategy that was a basis for success in Iraq, the surge. 

·    Obama has failed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, an alleged symbol of American tyranny and torture, and a top priority of Obama during his campaign. 

Worse, Obama has been governing by putting policy over process, inviting unprecedented backroom deals for health care reform, and now, apparently, tax compromise solutions. With both sides of the aisle enraged by the process, the recent tax compromise is simply the nail in the coffin.  Obama's backroom successes and polarizing failures will only result in a perpetual downturn in his approval rating.  Years from now, recognition of Obama as a transcendent President will long be forgotten, and the era of the man who was to save America will be nothing more than a footnote in history.

(“Obama Destined to Be a Footnote in Presidential History” by Rusty Weiss dated December 27, 2010 published by American Thinker at http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/12/obama_destined_to_be_a_footnot_1.html )

Barack Obama promised to change America, and he did, but unfortunately for the worse: federal spending has increased 25% in two years to $3.72 trillion from $2.98 trillion: the national debt has swelled to almost $14 trillion from $10 trillion in the same period, and the OMB estimates that it will reach $26 trillion by 2020; and ObamaCare is moving 17% of the U.S economy from individual choice to government management and direction. Meanwhile protectionist policies have stopped trade agreements with several countries. The American people didn't like what they saw: didn't like the recession; didn't like the vast expansion of government; didn't like government control of much of our economy; didn't like the huge increases in government spending; the tax increases that were scheduled to take effect automatically on January 1st or the huge federal debt; and didn't like America's decline in the world's opinion. So on November 2nd, the voters changed much of America's leadership: they increased the number of Republican senators by six and House members by 63; and let them all know they believed individuals and marketplaces were more important to opportunity than governmental economic control and regulation. More Republican state legislators were elected too, giving the party 3,941 of them, the greatest number since 1928. So a new Congress with very different thinking will arrive next week. Republican successes during the lame duck Congress included: the Bush tax cuts were extended for all taxpayers; the budget-busting and earmark-filled omnibus spending bill was stopped; and a federal judge in Virginia declared portions of ObamaCare unconstitutional. There are many goals at the center of the new Congressional thinking:

·    Lower Taxes - Averting a tax increase has been achieved, but reforming the tax code by making the current lower tax rates permanent with fewer deductions and lower rates, would be an important next step. A flat tax is the best goal.

·    Control Spending - Get government spending under control. Since the end of World War II, average annual government spending was 19.6% of GDP, but it is now 24% to 25%. Rolling it back to the 19% to 20% range should be the Republican goal. Nondefense discretionary spending has risen 88% in the past three years. Rolling its increase back to the rate of inflation, 3% or 4% a year, is another Republican goal.

·    Reduce Regulations - Reduce the huge increases in government regulation. Getting rid of government mandates and subsidies, minimum ethanol usage, prevailing wage requirements, the inability to purchase health insurance across state lines, farm subsidies, and green energy subsidies, for example, is the next step.

·    Repeal ObamaCare - Amend ObamaCare to get the government out of health-care regulation. Starting in 2012 the government will set price thresholds for each state, and this is in an area where markets rather than government have been able to decide on consumer products.

These changes are the public policy goals for the new House of Representatives, but probably not of the Obama administration, so the battle that begins next week will be the most significant change in public policy discussions in several years, and we can be sure the new Republican House and Democratic Senate won't agree on much.

(“Turning America Around” by Pete Du Pont dated December 27, 2010 published by The Wall Street Journal at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204336704576041952435898470.html?KEYWORDS=turning+america+around )

 

The nation's menu of crises caused by governmental malpractice may soon include states coming to Congress as mendicants, seeking relief from the consequences of their choices. Starved for revenue and accustomed to decades of overspending, many states have been overwhelmed. They are facing shortfalls of $140 billion next year. Even before the downturn, states jeopardized their futures by accumulating trillions in debt that they swept into some far-off future. Illinois, California and several other states are at increasing risk of being the first states to default since the 1930s. The most immediate cause of the states’ problems is the decline in tax revenue caused by the downturn, just as the demand for services has increased. Over the last two years, combined sales, personal and corporate taxes have fallen by more than 10%. Although revenue is likely to tick up slightly in 2011, federal stimulus money, which has been keeping many states afloat, is largely scheduled to expire. Many conservatives have said the revenue decline is a good incentive for states to cut their spending. That is precisely what almost all states have done, because they are legally barred from running deficits, but cutting spending will not affect the heaviest burden: the accumulated debt that comes from passing off the biggest problems to future generations. States and cities have nearly $3 trillion in outstanding bonds, and more than $3.5 trillion in shortfalls to pensions. Corporate pension funds are heavily regulated, including pre-funding requirements. A federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., copes with insolvent corporate pension funds. By requiring transparency, the government gave the private sector an incentive to move to defined contributions from defined-benefit plans, which are now primarily luxuries enjoyed by public employees. Promised state health benefits alone are more than $500 billion. Some states have tried to pretend their pension obligations do not exist. Public employee unions will need to give ground on pensions and other benefits, but it will be hard to start productive discussions if the Governors refuse to acknowledge their obligations and bargain in good faith. States currently have no bankruptcy provisions, but some favor providing such provisions since states are "too big to fail," and under bankruptcy, judges could rewrite union contracts or give states powers to do so, thereby reducing existing pension obligations.

(“The Looming Crisis in the States” dated December 25, 2010 published by The New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/26/opinion/26sun1.html?scp=1&sq=looming%20crisis%20in%20the%20states&st=cse

A remedy for beggar states” by George F. Will dated December 26, 2010 published by The Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/23/AR2010122304421.html )

ObamaCare is advertised as Obama’s greatest achievement, but it is also his biggest disaster unraveling in front of our eyes, and only a matter of time until it is repealed and replaced by more pragmatic reform. Americans reject ObamaCare by overwhelming majorities because it was shoved down our throats with none of the transparency Obama repeatedly promised, using the kind of partisan politics he assured us would by now be a thing of the past. ObamaCare is also rejected because it imposes $500 billion in new taxes, creates 150 new boards and commissions, swells the federal deficit to record levels and forces costly unfunded mandates on the states, many of which are saddled with staggering budget deficits as it is. Even the special-interest groups that helped strong-arm ObamaCare through the liberal Congress are buckling under the weight of its new requirements. To date, 34 unions representing 140,000 union workers (including the Service Employees International Union chapter in Cleveland) have asked to be exempted from the law. Meanwhile, AARP, which provided a key endorsement, recently informed its employees that their health care co-pays were going up and their insurance premiums were increasing between 8 and 13 percent. At last count, nearly 225 companies have been exempted from ObamaCare, which shows that the legislation is a job-killer. The special plans devoted to those unable to obtain insurance through normal means is attracting only a small fraction of the number expected, so the program may end up costing taxpayers far more than the $5 billion originally set aside. One reason for the reluctance of consumers to sign up for the plans, collectively known as the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, is that they are far more expensive than alternatives the uninsured might find elsewhere. Perhaps worst of all, ObamaCare doesn't even work because it will still leave 23 million Americans without coverage by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Paul Krugman at the New York Times predicted that "Medicare is going to have to decide what it's going to pay for, and at least for starters it's going to have to decide which medical procedures are not effective at all - and should not be paid for at all. Somewhere down the pike, we're going to get the real [health care] solution, which is a combination between 'death panels' and sales taxes." In a stealthy move, the Obama administration has slipped end-of-life planning, famously criticized as “death panels,” back into the law by means of a new Medicare regulation, after removing it as a condition of passing the original legislation. On January 1st, three of the law’s 19 tax hikes take effect, comprising this brand new, soon-to-be infamous hangover:

·    The law’s excise tax on brand-name drug manufacturers will be passed on in the form of higher drug prices.

·    The law forbids Americans from using their consumer-driven insurance plans such as health saving accounts (HSAs), flexible spending accounts (FSAs), and health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) to purchase non-prescription, over-the-counter drugs.

·    The withdrawal tax on health savings accounts increases from 10% to 20%, directly feeding into the government’s coffers.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that 52% of likely voters think ObamaCare is likely to be repealed and the new Congress has received their marching orders by American voters, so now it is a question of process and time.

(“The real costs of Obamacare” by Michael Young dated December 27, 2010 published by The Washington Times at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/dec/27/the-real-costs-of-obamacare/

ObamaCare Program for Uninsured Failing in Many States” dated December 27, 2010 published by News Max at http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/obama-health-care-states/2010/12/27/id/381190

Backdoor ‘Death Panels’” by Tait Trussell dated December 28, 2010 published by Front Page Magazine at http://frontpagemag.com/2010/12/28/backdoor-death-panels/

The Obamacare tax hangover” by Alex Cortes dated December 28, 2010 published by The Daily Caller at http://dailycaller.com/2010/12/28/the-obamacare-tax-hangover/ )

 

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and oil refineries next year rather than to await for enabling law and avoiding any public scrutiny. States and the feds have already moved forward with at least six major regulatory programs designed to reduce the use of fossil fuels and thus decimate the energy sector:

·    New CAFÉ Standards – will make automobiles more expensive, less safe, and will do almost nothing to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

·    Renewable Portfolio Standards – require using ever decreasing amounts of electricity generated by the combustion of fossil fuels.

·    Regional Trading Programs – States in three parts of the country have formed partnerships to create regional cap and trade programs.

·    Permitting of Greenhouse Gases – treat greenhouse gases as regulated pollutants when constructing new major sources and major modifications to existing sources.

·    New Ambient Air Standards – a back-door way of ensuring that no new fossil fuel fired power facilities can be built.

·    New Hazardous Air Pollution Rules – designed to ensure that new industrial boilers powered by fossil fuels are just about impossible to construct.

Congress was unable to pass their cap and trade because their alleged effectiveness and real costs could not be defended in open debate by representatives answerable to voters. Even in California, where the sweeping and unnecessary Global Warming Solutions Act was passed in 2006, the particulars weren't included in the legislation. Instead, the California Air Resources Board was given broad authority to draft entirely arbitrary and what promise to be economically harmful regulations, nearly invulnerable to a complaining public. The administrative state is beyond voters' reach. The EPA has decided to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act and that legislative framework demands the construction of even more regulatory layers. The latest will be New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) which will, for the first time, create numerical limits on greenhouse gas emissions generated by fossil fuel burning power plants and oil refineries. Congress created the Congressional Review Act where regulations can be made null and void, even after they are already in place. A disapproval resolution must be passed by both the House and Senate, and is sent to the President for his approval or veto. We look forward to the open debate, which will be an opportunity to stem the frantic rush to solve the global warming non-problem, while exposing the shaky science behind climate alarmism and informing the public of its actual costs.

(“EPA blows off Congress, voters” dated December 27, 2010 published by The Orange County Register at http://www.ocregister.com/opinion/regulations-281791-congress-epa.html

Congress can stop Obama’s out-of-control regulators” by Elizabeth B. Letchworth dated December 28, 2010 published by The Daily Caller at http://dailycaller.com/2010/12/28/congress-can-stop-obamas-out-of-control-regulators/

Obama’s Energy Power Grab” by Rich Trzupek dated December 30, 2010 published by Front Page Magazine at http://frontpagemag.com/2010/12/30/obamas-energy-power-grab/ )

 

* There is so much published each week that unless you search for it, you will miss important breaking news. I try to package the best of this information into my “Views on the News” each Saturday morning. Updates have been made this week to the following issue sections:

·  Bibliography at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/welcome/bibliography.php

·  Links at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/welcome/links.php

·  Language at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/intro/changinglanguage.php

·  Education at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/education.php

·  Elections at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/elections.php

·  Environment at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/environment.php

·  Immigration at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/education.php

·  Social Security at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/socialsecurity.php

·  Welfare at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/welfare.php

·  Terrorism at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/fp/terrorism.php

 

David Coughlin

Hawthorne, NY

www.ReturnToCommonSensesite.com