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“A Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy”: This Is Not Westminster; Congress Writes Laws, Not Presidents

Niall Ferguson responds to critics once again. Read it and make your own mind up. Here’s his summary:

My central critique of the President is not that the economy has under-performed, but that he has not been an effective leader of the executive branch. I go on to detail his well-documented difficulties in managing his team of economic advisers and his disastrous decision to leave it to his own party in Congress to define the terms of his stimulus, financial reform and healthcare reform. I also argue that he has consistently failed to address the crucial issue of long-term fiscal balance, with the result that the nation is now hurtling towards a fiscal cliff of tax hikes and drastic spending cuts.

Niall is surely aware that the Congress writes laws, not presidents. This is not Westminster. And Niall’s preferred top-down approach was indeed pursued by the Clintons in 1994. Healthcare reform failed that time spectacularly prcisely because it didn’t flatter Congress’ prerogatives; under Obama’s “failed” executive leadership, universal healthcare passed for the first time in history. It’s very close to Romneycare. Was that as big a mess as well?

The well-documented difficulties on economic policy come from Ron Suskind’s book, which was subject to strong pushback from the people it quoted. I’m sure there were divisions and fights in the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. But the results are pretty clear: the economy under Obama has performed much better than the British economy under Osborne, or Europe or Japan. The private sector has recovered at Reagan-like rates. It’s the slashing of public sector jobs that has kept employment so subdued – but far less subdued than anywhere else in the developed world. If this is executive mismanagement, more, please.

Then the notion that Obama “has consistently failed to address the crucial issue of long-term fiscal balance.” What, then, was the Bowles-Simpson Commission about? Ryan didn’t create it – he merely torpedoed it because it dared to raise revenues in order to cut the deficit! Obama actually created it and if the necessary majority in Congress had backed it, he would have gone a long way to sign it. Why not? It would give him credit for the biggest deal since 1993. And that’s precisely why the GOP – spearheaded by Ryan – killed it.

Yes, Obama deserves a shellacking for not owning Bowles-Simpson – in what was, in my view, the biggest error of his presidency. But I have no doubt he wanted and wants a Grand Bargain – and revealed how far he would go by cutting $700 billion from Medicare in the ACA (which Ryan is now exploiting on the campaign trail). But how do you get a grand bargain between the two parties when one party refuses to bargain on its central priority, no tax increases? Given Obama’s record of Medicare cuts (never before imposed by a Democratic president), it’s clear who the culprit is for the fiscal cliff: a Republican party that wanted the US to default rather than agree to even a tiny revenue increase, and that pledged in the primaries to refuse a budget deal that was 10-1 spending cuts to revenue increases.

As for the executive banch, the commander-in-chief role is part of the job. Niall doesn’t mention the extremely successful attack on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the end of torture, the killing of Osama bin Laden and capture of mounds of intelligence, or the fact that, unlike his predecessor, Obama has not presided over a major terror attack in this country or authorized grotesque torture that effectively destroyed America’s moral standing. As for Iraq, Niall says the exit was premature. It was negotiated by Bush. Maliki didn’t want us there any more. Niall thinks we should occupy a country with all the massive expense that entails – against its will? Seriously? And it’s Obama who is unserious on the debt?


By: Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast, August 21, 2012

August 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Talk Of Refusing To Raise The Debt Limit Is Just That—Talk”

The debt limit is the maximum amount of debt the federal government can legally issue at a point in time. The current limit will be reached in the next few months, prompting discussion over whether Congress should raise the limit. As with so many deliberations in Washington, though, the popular discussion on this topic is shrouded in confusion and ignorance, and masks the real issues.

 The underlying issue is simple: If you spend your income on things you want, and the charges then show up the following month on your credit card bill, would you pay those charges? Yes, of course you would. You’ve made purchases and the bill has come due.

That’s the whole question about raising the debt limit—whether Congress should allow the government to pay for spending that has already been approved by Congress. (Remember, it is Congress that authorizes all federal spending.) The answer, of course, is yes.

Now, as you’re paying your credit card bill, you may well conclude that you are spending too much or that you need to earn more income to pay for your current standard of living. But that would be a separate issue, and stiffing the people who supplied the goods you just bought not only wouldn’t resolve that problem, it would in fact make solving it harder, because your credit rating might fall if you don’t pay what you already owe.

Likewise, the separate problem for the U.S. government is how to deal with our dismal fiscal future. The nation needs to resolve the looming fiscal imbalance through spending cuts and tax increases. Not paying the bills we already owe—that is, not raising the debt limit—not only won’t solve the real problem, it would actually make a solution more difficult by undercutting the government’s creditworthiness.

In short, raising the debt limit has nothing to do with controlling future spending or with raising the taxes necessary to pay for future spending. It is just a matter of paying bills that we’ve already incurred.

Raising the debt limit is a completely ordinary event. The limit has been raised 74 times in the last 50 years and 10 times in the last 10. Debt limit increases are associated with both Republicans and Democrats. When federal debt approaches the limit, the president typically favors raising the limit and the other political party demagogues the move. That is exactly what is happening right now.

Talk of refusing to raise the debt limit is just that—talk. Not raising the limit would require Congress to annually find about $1.3 trillion in federal tax increases or spending cuts—a set of policy changes larger than the revenues currently raised by the individual income tax. So far, the legislators who say they oppose a debt limit increase have not come forth with anything near such a plan. Nor should you expect them to. They are just blowing smoke. Eventually, they will agree to raise the limit.

While voters and members of Congress may find it cathartic to channel their outrage and frustration at the underlying budget situation onto the current debt limit discussion, the real question is how to adjust future spending and taxes to bring about future fiscal stability and sanity. The sooner we get to that discussion, the better.

Refusing to raise the debt limit not only would not help solve that problem, it would actually make a solution much harder to achieve.

By: William Gale, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institute, U. S. News and World Report, March 28, 2011

March 29, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget, Politics, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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