Government Reform

Why Republicans Are Willing to Attack Social Security

Paul Krugman asks why Republican candidates continue to oppose Social Security, despite the program’s popularity among most Americans.

“What’s puzzling about the renewed Republican assault on Social Security is that it looks like bad politics as well as bad policy. Americans love Social Security, so why aren’t the candidates at least pretending to share that sentiment? The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money.”

“Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.”

“By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut. And guess whose preferences are prevailing among Republican candidates … Nowadays, at least on the Republican side, the invisible primary has been reduced to a stark competition for the affections and, of course, the money of a few dozen plutocrats.”

While Congress Resists EPA Power Plan, States Find Solutions

Washington Post: As the EPA prepares to roll out the Clean Power Plan, “states will have to find ways to achieve dramatic cuts in carbon pollution over the next 15 years, with reduction quotas topping 50 percent over 2012 levels for some states. But despite dire warnings and harsh political rhetoric, many states are already on track to meet their targets, even before the EPA formally announces them, interviews and independent studies show.”

“Iowa is expected to meet half of its carbon-reduction goal by next year, just with the wind-power projects already planned or in construction. Nevada is on track to meet 100 percent of its goal without additional effort, thanks to several huge ­solar-energy farms the state’s electricity utilities were already planning to build. From the Great Lakes to the Southwest, electric utilities were projecting huge drops in greenhouse-gas emissions as they switch from burning coal to natural gas — not because of politics or climate change, but because gas is now cheaper.”

“States’ interest in the EPA’s Clean Power Plan has soared in recent weeks as the agency prepares to reveal the final contours of a proposal that was first announced more than a year ago. Administration officials have been meeting privately for weeks to craft a final version that will withstand legal and legislative challenges. One senior administration official said the revised plan will include provisions that will make it easier for most states to comply.”

GOP: Obamacare Repeal Plans Are Not Dead

The Hill: “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday that he is not abandoning hopes of repealing ObamaCare through this year’s budget process even as a key deadline passes this week.”

“McCarthy acknowledged Republicans will miss Friday’s deadline to outline plans for reconciliation, though he dismissed the deadline as more of a guideline than a mandate. ‘We will not put anything out by July 24. It’s not a hard and fast deadline,’ McCarthy said.”

“Momentum for using reconciliation on healthcare legislation has faded after the Supreme Court ruled to uphold ObamaCare last month, enflaming some conservatives who remain committed to sending a repeal of the healthcare law to the president’s desk.”

We Need a Broken Windows Policy for Wall Street

Chris Arnade, writing in the Atlantic, contends that the banking industry needs more than new regulation. It needs a new culture.

“The Dodd-Frank Act was a well-intentioned attempt to address the fundamental problems that contributed to the financial crisis [but] it was like building a sprawling glass house in a neighborhood filled with broken windows.”

“Since its passing in 2010, regulators have watched as the shiny new bill has been surrounded by the financial industries lawyers, lobbyists, and sympathetic politicians, and much of it either amended, reinterpreted, or whole parts rewritten to favor banks.”

“Frustrated, regulators have started to shift their focus, realizing that maybe the only way to regulate someone who thrives on ducking regulations is to bring something like broken-windows policing to Wall Street in hopes of changing its culture.”

“What is the financial equivalent of rounding up the squeegee men, graffiti artists, and those smoking joints in front of the police station? It means going after the easy targets, the transparent businesses where the abuses were well documented.”

Regulators “want to change the culture of permissiveness and to finally tend to long untended behavior, in the hope of affecting serious fundamental change.”

Could California’s New Vaccine Law Be a Model for Other States?

Katie Palmer in Wired writes that California’s new vaccine mandate “is a prime opportunity to carefully study the effects of legislation like this on both vaccination and disease rates.”

“Just take a look at the vaccination rates in other states, compared to where they stand on the two types of exemptions: religious and personal belief. The top-vaccinated state in the nation, Mississippi, is one of the only two states that doesn’t allow either exemption. Hey! Look at that! A correlation! But traveling down the list, the connection between exemption status and vaccination rate gets a little murkier. West Virginia, the other no-exemption state, doesn’t appear in the list of the top-ten vaccination rates (it’s number 18), and three states that allow both types of exemptions appear in the top-ten list.”


“If you look broadly at these figures, though, it does seem like states with more exemptions are more likely to have low vaccination rates. Now is the time to test that hypothesis. California is at a historical inflection point. If public health researchers and politicians can look carefully at the state of the state’s vaccination rates and disease numbers before and after SB277 is enacted, they’ll get a powerful tool to either support more bans of these exemptions—several of which are on the table in other states right now—or drive the United States toward different, perhaps more effective strategies to reduce vaccine-preventable disease. Let’s see what comes out of the lab.”

In the Heart of Coal Country, Many Reject a ‘War on Coal’

Washington Examiner: “Environmental lawyers are split over whether proposed Environmental Protection Agency limits on carbon emissions from power plants are legal, according to a new survey.”

“The poll of 130 practicing environmental professors and lawyers revealed an equal percentage — 45 percent — thought the regulation was legal as did illegal. Ten percent said they weren’t sure.”

Meanwhile, in the heart of coal country, many are considering transitioning away from coal and abandoning the “war on coal.”

Reuters: “Talk of an economic transition remains difficult in eastern Kentucky, where you can still spot bumper stickers that read ‘Mine Every Lump’ and statues honor coal miners. These are the people Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell says are victims of an Obama administration ‘war on coal.'”

“But while such rhetoric still resonates in Washington, many locals say they have accepted that, this time, the boom-bust coal cycle has settled on bust … Citizens groups are joining local politicians and entrepreneurs to map out a future less dependent on coal.”

“While some residents blame environmental regulations for squeezing the industry, much of the decline is attributed to irreversible economic and technological changes. The best, easiest-to-reach Appalachian coal has already been mined. Cheaper, cleaner natural gas has become abundant, while coal jobs became more automated.”

Do Wealthy Countries Need Big Government

Noah Smith in Bloomberg argues that the claim among conservatives that big government is bad “only holds locally. If you do an empirical study and you find that more government bureaucracy is bad for the economy, what you’ve found isn’t that this is true in general — only that it’s true at one particular moment in time.”

“Look at how U.S. total government spending has grown as the country has become richer and richer:”

gov't share chart

Are we supposed to believe that rich countries are rich in spite of the fact that they all have big governments? Should we believe that government is a parasite that always, without fail, finds a host in the body politic of every single country that reaches first-world status?

“Or should we conclude that big government is a necessary ingredient for countries to get rich?”

“According to MIT economist Daron Acemoglu — who is one of the most respected economists in the business, and who specializes in development and growth economics – it’s weak states, not overbearing ones, that hold back growth in much of the developing world.”

“In other words, big government is good — up to a point. And people know that big government is good, so they allow it. This is what Acemoglu calls a ‘consensually strong state.’”


GOP Defends Obamacare Against a Fellow Senator’s Attack

Politico: “One fellow senator calls David Vitter’s years-long crusade to scrap health care subsidies for lawmakers and their staffers ‘disingenuous.’ Another says it’s obviously being done ‘for political purposes.”

“Within the chummy confines of the U.S. Senate, Vitter has emerged as one of the most disliked members. The second-term senator’s effort to kill the federal health care contribution, worth several thousand dollars to lawmakers and their staffers, is a big part of it.”

“The most recent repudiation of Vitter … came a month ago in the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which he chairs. He tried to subpoena documents to investigate how members of Congress and their aides became eligible for health care under Obamacare’s D.C. exchange.”

Wall Street Strikes Back

Paul Krugman: “Last year the vampires of finance bought themselves a Congress … Let’s just note that these days Wall Street, which used to split its support between the parties, overwhelmingly favors the G.O.P. And the Republicans who came to power this year are returning the favor by trying to kill Dodd-Frank, the financial reform enacted in 2010.”

“And why must Dodd-Frank die? Because it’s working.”

“For one thing, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the brainchild of Senator Elizabeth Warren — is, by all accounts, having a major chilling effect on abusive lending practices. And early indications are that enhanced regulation of financial derivatives — which played a major role in the 2008 crisis — is having similar effects, increasing transparency and reducing the profits of middlemen.”

“What about the problem of financial industry structure, sometimes oversimplified with the phrase ‘too big to fail?’ There, too, Dodd-Frank seems to be yielding real results, in fact, more than many supporters expected.”

“Republicans would love to undo Dodd-Frank, but they are, rightly, afraid of the glare of publicity that defenders of reform like Senator Warren — who inspires a remarkable amount of fear in the unrighteous — would shine on their efforts.”

EPA Clean Power Plan Could Save Thousands of Lives

New York Times: “New carbon emissions standards that were proposed last year for coal-fired power plants in the United States would substantially improve human health and prevent more than 3,000 premature deaths per year, according to a new … study, led by researchers at Syracuse and Harvard Universities.”

“The researchers calculated three different outcomes using data from the Census Bureau and detailed maps of the more than 2,400 fossil-fuel power plants across the country.”

“The model with the biggest health benefit was the one that most closely resembled the changes that the Environmental Protection Agency proposed in a rule in June.”

“Researchers calculated that the changes in the E.P.A. rule could prevent 3,500 premature deaths a year and more than 1,000 heart attacks and hospitalizations from air-pollution-related illness.”

“The largest declines in pollution — and consequent benefits to health — would happen in states in the Ohio River Valley, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, which have some of the highest levels of emissions, researchers said.”

Will Obamacare Ever Match Medicare’s Bipartisan Popularity?

National Journal: “Nearly 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted Medicare and Medicaid amidst passionate opposition to the program that has since become widely ingrained in the fabric of society.”

“The hope for liberals: that the shift in perspective on Medicare foreshadows a shift to eventual popularity for Obamacare.”

“Both the Social Security Amendments—creating Medicare and Medicaid—and the Affordable Care Act created political controversy, and both were passed by large majorities of Democrats in Congress after landslide elections … And both took a long time to fully implement.”

“Both were even debated along party lines, although many Republicans ended up voting in favor of the final Medicare bill, viewing it as a lost cause.”

“On the other hand, perhaps because they were vastly outnumbered, Republicans never seriously talked about repealing Medicare. The program also had a very identifiable group of beneficiaries, while Obamacare targets diffuse populations … And there were no significant court cases brought against Medicare, whereas five years after Obamacare’s passage it awaits yet another Supreme Court decision on the legality of key aspects of the law.”

“Medicare and Medicaid were adopted, to some extent, in a bipartisan way, because the parties were much less aligned along the ideological spectrum the way they are now.”

“That meant the programs’ flaws could be fixed legislatively. Today, there’s little chance of that happening, and solutions instead must come administratively or from the courts.”

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Democracy?

Observing the rapt eulogies of former Singapore president, Lee Kuan Yew, Richard Cohen in the Washington Post writes that “we appear to be suffering from an acute case of authoritarian envy.”

“We suffer from an excess of democracy. We have a Congress that has been gridlocked for as long as anyone can remember. It is at the mercy of any extremist from anywhere in the country who can threaten a primary fight. Our infrastructure is eroding, yet we seem incapable of doing anything about it.”

“Lee also knew the value — the sheer utility — of education … Yet the left and the right are united in opposition to national education standards — conservatives because the word national gives them the willies and liberals because standards might result in an unequal outcome. America is flunking common sense.”

“In the United States it is considered highly offensive and deeply retrograde to value one culture over another and to search always for economic reasons for disparities. In Singapore, Lee knew he had a winner in the Chinese culture and promoted it. Indeed, he made it the national ethic. In this country, the national ethic is not to work too hard and to denigrate those who do. Self-esteem sometimes seems more important than attainment. We are, as we keep saying, No. 1 — at self-delusion.”



Views on Indiana’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Law

Erik Eckholm points to “eroding freedom in the name of freedom: … Over time, court decisions and conservative legal initiatives started to change the meaning of those laws, according to liberal activists. The state laws were not used to protect minorities, these critics say, but to allow some religious groups to undermine the rights of women, gays and lesbians or other groups.”

Michael Lindenberger: “Indiana doesn’t need a new law to permit businesses from discriminating against gay customers. It’s perfectly legal to do that right now … In Indiana, and in most other states, businesses who want to discriminate against gay customers face no obstacles under state law in doing so. The few statewide discrimination protections that do exist are mostly limited to employment, and often enough only cover government workers.”

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board argues that the controversy reveals a new intolerance that targets religion: “In the increasingly bitter battle between religious liberty and the liberal political agenda, religion is losing. Witness the media and political wrath raining down upon Indiana because the state dared to pass an allegedly anti-gay Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The question fair-minded Americans should ask before casting the first stone is who is really being intolerant.”

Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post notes the flip-flop in economics of exclusiveness, given the current outcry: “This is an astonishing, and inspiring, turn of events. If in [economist Gary] Becker’s day firms feared that customers would punish them for inclusiveness, today firms fear customers will instead punish them for exclusiveness. If in the past, to stay competitive and attract the most desirable talent, you needed to be discriminatory, today the opposite may be becoming true. Hooray for markets being on the right side of history.”

The New York Times Editorial Board: “Religion should not be allowed to serve as a cover for discrimination in the public sphere. In the past, racial discrimination was also justified by religious beliefs, yet businesses may not refuse service to customers because of their race. Such behavior should be no more tolerable when it is based on sexual orientation.”