One of the signature policy proposals that Mitt Romney outlined in his economic plan and highlighted in his USA Today op-ed last week is a policy that is as pernicious in practice as it sounds unthreatening. On page 61 of his plan, Romney proposes to cap the rate at which agencies would impose new regulations at zero. This means that if an agency is required by law to issue a new regulation, it must offset the costs, presumably by eliminating some other regulations. Essentially, Romney is proposing to adopt pay-as-you-go budgeting to regulations.
It’s not entirely clear if this rule applies to each agency—would the Food and Drug Administration have to eliminate some food inspection rules if they created some new regulations of food?—or if this is government-wide policy, so if the government creates rules in one area, it would be required to undo rules in another, unrelated area. But either way, this policy would have far-reaching negative consequences. Imagine, for instance, if a cap on regulations was in place after the financial crisis, when lack of regulation of Wall Street led to the cratering of the economy. Under this proposal, in order to regulate Wall Street to ensure that economic devastation couldn’t happen again, the federal government would have to eliminate regulations on food or water or air, or some other protections. Where is the logic of undoing clean air regulations because new consumer protections are needed?
Behind this policy response is a simple animosity towards any rules for businesses that come at the expense of profits. Republicans have been arguing that regulatory uncertainty is hurting job growth because businesses supposedly refuse to make hiring decisions when they don’t know what the rules will be. But if anything were going to feed uncertainty, it would be a rule that haphazardly and randomly picks old rules to eliminate once new rules were created. Companies make decisions about their future assuming those regulations stay in place; eliminating old regulations will simply favor some firms over others.
The bigger point to be made, however, is that regulations are not what are ailing our economy now, nor are they hindering growth. McClatchy recently surveyed small business owners on why they weren’t employing additional people—none offered regulation among the barriers to hiring. (That’s why it’s particularly unfortunate that the president recently fed the Republican obsession with his suspension of the ozone rule, citing “regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover,” as part of his rationale.) In fact, if anything, greater regulation can be correlated with greater growth: Over the last 50 years, the decades of the highest growth rates for our economy saw the greatest expansion of government and its regulations. Growth rates were highest in the 1960s at 4.55 percent for the decade, when we created Medicare, Medicaid, and the Great Society poverty programs—our greatest expansion of government. And growth rates were the lowest in the last decade, averaging only 1.38 percent. I think it is safe to say George Bush was not a friend of regulation.
But if regulations aren’t the culprit, what is? What’s holding up hiring now is that there is not enough demand in the economy. Even bond traders like Bill Gross acknowledge the need for direct federal help for job creation and growth. To actually create jobs, Republicans should come to the table with the president and pass ideas they have supported in the past, like investment in roads and bridges and hiring teachers who have been laid off. But because Republican ideology will not tolerate federal policies that actually help create jobs, they are reduced to pithy sounding policies on regulations that are just another way of getting rid of protections for consumers in order to help corporations.
As a former policy director on a presidential campaign, I am sympathetic to the desire to try to propose “new” policy ideas that sound good in a speech or a press paper. In the back and forth of a campaign, reporters, campaign press staff, and even the candidates can demand new policies in areas that have been well-trodden and don’t typically make for exciting speeches. But a serious candidate has to put forward serious ideas to solve actual problems. And for a candidate trying to distinguish himself from a Texas governor ready to shoot from the hip, Mitt Romney’s cap on regulation does not meet that test.
By: Neera Tanden, COO, Center for American Progress, Published in The New Republic, September 12, 2011
“Cash-strapped states are also feeling the burden of the Medicaid
entitlement. The program consumes nearly 22 percent of states’ budgets today, and things are about to get a whole lot worse.”
— Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), June 23, 2011, at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee
“Medicaid is the lion’s share of that spending burden as it now consumes about 22 percent of state budgets now and will consume $4.6 trillion of Washington’s budget over the next ten years.”
— Former Kentucky governor Ernest Lee Fletcher (R), June 23, 2011, at the same hearing
“Across the country, governors are concerned about the burgeoning cost of Medicaid, which in fiscal 2010 consumed nearly 22 percent of state budgets, according the National Association of State Budget Officers. That’s larger than what states spent on K-12 public schools.”
— Washington Post front page article, June 14, 2011
When a statistic is universally tossed around as a certified fact, it’s time to get suspicious.
Such is the case with this oft-cited statistic that 22 percent of state budgets is being gobbled up by Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health coverage for the poor and the disabled. Medicaid supposedly is even dwarfing what is spent on educating children and teenagers.
But note the phrase “state-federal.” There’s billions of dollars in federal money involved, and the “22-percent” statistic obscures that fact. Let’s dig a little deeper into the numbers.
Medicaid was a central part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” initiative in the mid-1960s. Each state administers its own Medicaid program, but with federal oversight, federal requirements—and plenty of federal dollars. On average, the federal government provides 57 percent of Medicaid funds.
Initially, Medicaid was focused low-income Americans, but elderly nursing home care has also become a big part of it. The new health care law would also greatly expand eligibility to people up to 133 percent of the official poverty line.
There’s no question that the recession has put pressure on Medicaid spending, as more people lost jobs or income and so became eligible for coverage. The new requirements of the health care law also will boost Medicaid spending.
The assertion that Medicaid is 22 percent of state spending, and thus now exceeds education spending, comes from an annual survey of the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO). But if you dig into the report — if you just go to page
one — you will see that this number includes the federal contribution, in what
is known as “total funds.”
If you want to see what states themselves are spending on Medicaid —“general funds” — you have to use another set of statistics.
As NASBO says on page one, “For estimated fiscal 2010, components of general fund spending are elementary and secondary education, 35.7 percent; Medicaid, 15.4 percent; higher education, 12.1 percent; corrections, 7.2 percent; public assistance, 1.9 percent; transportation, 0.8 percent; and all other expenditures, 27.0 percent.”
In other words, without the federal dollars included, Medicaid falls to second place, far behind education. It turns out that on average, states spend 15.4 percent of their funds on Medicaid — not 22 percent.
Brian Sigritz, NASBO’s director of state fiscal studies, said, “You are correct that there are several different ways of looking at Medicaid spending that you can use. If you consider just general funds, K-12 easily remains the largest component of general fund spending, as it historically has been.”
Indeed, when you look at NASBO’s historical data (table three of this report), it becomes clear that Medicaid spending, as a proportion of general funds, has remained relatively consistent since 1995 — about 15 percent — in contrast to the popular image of being a drain on state budgets.
Sigritz said that the two figures provide a different picture of state spending. “General funds gives you a sense of spending deriving from state revenue, while total funds gives you a sense of total state expenditures,” he said. “Typically when you discuss overall state budgets you examine the various funding sources that go into them including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds.”
The Office of the Actuary for Medicare and Medicaid makes this distinction. The 2010 Actuarial Report for Medicaid notes the broad figure, but then takes pains to add: “This amount, however, includes all Federal contributions to State Medicaid spending, as well as spending from State general revenue funds and other State funds (which for Medicaid consists of provider taxes, fees, donations, assessments, and local funds).” The report concludes: “When only State general revenues are considered, however, Medicaid spending constitutes an estimated 16.2 percent of expenditures in 2009, placing it well behind education.”
Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Hatch, defended the 22-percent figure, noting its wide use. “It is part of their budgets, and there are many different streams of funding that fund those state budgets (including federal funding, taxes, etc.) that fund their many programs,” she said.
But Colleen Chapman, a spokeswoman for the Georgetown University Center for
Children and Families, a policy and research center, said, “In the current budget debate, the data are being misused to argue that the Medicaid program in states is out of control and needs to be cut dramatically, when in fact, Medicaid is still much less of state spending than education and has not grown, as a portion of state budgets, in any way close to the mammoth way that others argue it has.”
The Pinocchio Test
We will label this with one of our rarely used categories: TRUE BUT FALSE.
(We still need to get an appropriate icon for this one — suggestions are welcome.)
Yes, the 22-percent figure is a valid number. But it is being used in an inappropriate way, and therefore is misleading. Hatch and Fletcher are only the latest in a long line of public figures — and news outlets — who have seized onto this number without apparently realizing that it is the wrong statistic to use. If people want to understand the impact the Medicaid is having on state budgets, politicians should begin to use the 15-percent figure — or at the least offer a caveat to the 22-percent number. Otherwise, there might be some Pinocchios in their future.
By: Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker, The Washington Post, July 5, 2011
Think there will eventually be a bipartisan deal to increase the public debt limit after an extended period of Kabuki Theater posturing? Maybe it’s time to think again.
Ezra Klein really hits the nail on the head in describing the “negotiations” as they stand today:
The negotiation that we’re having, in theory, is how to cut the deficit in order to give politicians in both parties space to increase the debt limit. But if you look closely at the positions, that’s not really the negotiation we’re having. Republicans are negotiating not over the deficit, but over tax rates and the size of government. That’s why they’ve ruled revenue “off the table” as a way to reduce the deficit, and why they are calling for laws and even constitutional amendments that cap federal spending rather than attack deficits. Democrats, meanwhile, lack a similarly clear posture: most of them are negotiating to raise the debt ceiling, but a few are trying to survive in 2012, and a few more are actually trying to reduce the deficit, and meanwhile, the Obama administration just met with the Senate Democrats to ask them to please, please, stop laying down new negotiating markers every day.If we were really just negotiating over the deficit, this would be easy. The White House, the House Republicans, the House Progressives, the House Democrats and the Senate Republicans have all released deficit-reduction plans. There’s not only apparent unanimity on the goal, but a broad menu of approaches. We’d just take elements from each and call it a day. But if the Republicans are negotiating over their antipathy to taxes and their belief that government should be much smaller, that’s a much more ideological, and much tougher to resolve, dispute. The two parties don’t agree on that goal. And if the Democrats haven’t quite decided what their negotiating position is, save to survive this fight both economically and politically, that’s not necessarily going to make things easier, either. Negotiations are hard enough when both sides agree about the basic issue under contention. They’re almost impossible when they don’t.
It’s worth underlining that “deficits” and “debt” don’t in themselves mean any more to conservatives than they did when then-Vice President Dick Cheney said “deficits don’t matter” in 2002. Every Republican “deficit reduction” proposal is keyed to specific spending cuts–without new revenues–and increasingly, to an arbitrary limit on spending as a percentage of GDP. Even the version of a constitutional balanced budget amendment that Sen. Jim DeMint is insisting on as part of any debt limit deal would have a spending-as-percentage-of-GDP “cap” (at 18%, as compared to about 24% currently) that would force huge spending reductions (you can guess from where since GOPers typically consider defense spending as off-limits as taxes).
Today’s Republicans are simply using deficits as an excuse to revoke as much of the New Deal/Great Society tepid-welfare-state system as they can get away with. And it’s really just a latter stage of the old conservative Starve-the-Beast strategy for deliberately manufacturing deficits in order to cut spending. Democrats should point this out constantly, and not let Republicans get away with claiming they are only worried about debt and fiscal responsibility.
By: Ed Kilgore, The Democratic Strategist, May 12, 2011