You know from looking at the polls in the Republican primary that conservatives seem to be backing anyone but Mitt Romney, despite the fact that he was the “conservative alternative” to John McCain just four years ago. Some of the reasons for the animosity towards Romney are hypocritical, but others are reasonable.
Among the reasons we often hear from Romney’s critics is that he’s fake; someone that will say anything to get elected. A textbook example of that comes in comments Romney recently made about President Barack Obama’s budget proposal. Here’s what Romney said via Marginal Revolution:
“This week, President Obama will release a budget that won’t take any meaningful steps toward solving our entitlement crisis,” Romney said in a statement e-mailed to reporters. “The president has failed to offer a single serious idea to save Social Security and is the only president in modern history to cut Medicare benefits for seniors.”
Let me address the main issue in these comments first. Romney rightly says that Obama will not address entitlement reform in a meaningful way, but at the same time criticizes cuts to Medicare; which aren’t substantial to begin with. This ignores that fact that cuts to Medicare in entitlement reform is an inevitability. This has to happen in order to bring the federal budget back to a sustainable path.
During debates and on the campaign trail, Rick Santorum has complained about entitlements. This is a good point, and one that many budget hawks have noted over the last several years. However, Santorum has taken these complaints to a new level by attacking Ronald Reagan, which is nearly an unforgivable sin among conservatives:
While addressing America’s entitlement crisis at his first New Hampshire event since his stunning near-victory in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday, Santorum said Reagan contributed to the entitlement crisis by pushing Social Security’s sustainability issues down the road instead of dealing with them head-on in the 1983 bipartisan deal to fix Social Security.
“If Rick Santorum gets elected and we do what I said that we need to do, which is to deal with the entitlement programs now, not 10 to 20 years from now,” Santorum said.
“You’ll know — unlike Ronald Reagan who maybe was a better politician than me — you’ll know that it was Rick Santorum that worked together and got the American public to gather together to fix this problem. Why? Because it is our problem.”
Santorum was walking the audience through what he called the “ancient days of yesteryear” in a interminable and incredibly detailed response to a questioner. He explained that in the 1983 deal Reagan brokered with Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil to fix Social Security, the retirement age was moved back to 67, but that change wasn’t slated to be enacted until the politicians responsible were out of office.
“This was the brilliance of the politicians that did this,” Santorum said sarcastically.
Now that Rick Santorum has managed to get some attention after a good showing in Iowa, more information is coming out about his big government past. I touched on this earlier this week, noting that Santorum backed expanding entitlements and bloated budgets. But more pundits are starting to pay attention to his record.
Writing at the National Review, Michael Tanner explains that Santorum is pretty much in line with the “compassionate conservativism” offered by George W. Bush:
When Hillary Clinton was justly excoriated by conservatives for her book It Takes A Village, which advocated greater government involvement in our lives, Rick Santorum countered with his book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, which advocated greater government involvement in our lives. Among the many government programs he supported: national service, publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, and economic-literacy programs in “every school in America” (italics in original).
Santorum’s voting record shows that he embraced George Bush–style “big-government conservatism.” For example, he supported the Medicare prescription-drug benefit and No Child Left Behind.
Among my frequent criticisms of Newt Gingrich was his support of Medicare Part D, which was passed in 2003 with the support of President George W. Bush. Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs, is expansion of an already troubled government-run insurance program that has been estimated to add anywhere between $7 trillion to $9.4 trillion in unfunded liabilties.
Keep in mind that Medicare and Social Security together represent some $61 trillion in unfunded liabilties. So the last thing we should be doing is adding to that. Yet, that’s exactly what Newt Gingrich did when the bill was before the House, according to former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO):
Former Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, now a director at the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said Gingrich called her at the height of the 2003 debate urging her to vote for the bill.
“Newt called me to vote yes,” Musgrave told CNN by phone on Wednesday.
“He asked for a yes vote on a Medicare prescription drug benefit,” she said. “Dick Armey” – former House Majority Leader – “called me and wanted a no. But I had already made up my mind to vote not to expand an entitlement that we were going to have to pay for down the road.”
Musgrave was one of 19 House Republicans who voted against the plan, which passed 220-215.
Two more Republicans who served in Congress at the time, Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, told the Des Moines Register this week that Gingrich lobbied them to vote in favor of the Medicare provision.
As you know, Newt Gingrich has emerged as the latest anti-Romney candidate. His campaign is riding high right now, coming off an important endorsement from New Hampshire’s Union Leader. While others that have managed to find this niche in the GOP field, albeit temporarily, Gingrich is more likely to stick around because conservatives know him and generally respect him.
Gingrich is often lauded as the intellectual conservative who took on Bill Clinton, managed to work in bipartisan fashion for welfare reform, and balance the budget. They’re also more willing, it seems, to gloss over the not-so-conservative marks in his long record, among them are his support for TARP and expansion of Medicare. Yesterday, Joe Scarborough, who served as a Republican in the House from 1995 to 2001, laid into Gingrich for often supporting statist positions:
The recent allegations against him have certainly received a substantial amount of attention from the media, Herman Cain continues to largely get a pass on the lack of knowledge about the issues that the next president will face.
The latest example was a question on Medicare during his “debate” with Newt Gingrich on Saturday night. As you can see below, Cain hesitates for a few seconds, repeats part of the question as he looks to the sky and then defers to Gingrich:
The crowd laughs, but this isn’t very funny. Cain managed to explain away a lack of knowledge on the issues with his charm and very targeted rhetoric. We’ve documented Cain’s shortfalls on policy here before, including he most recent gaffe — the odd comment about China trying to develop nuclear weapons; though it has been overlooked due to obvious reasons.
The mulligans will eventually run out, but Republicans better hope it comes during the primary and not the general election when substance, not a cult of personality, matters much more.
As you may have heard, the Tea Party Debt Commission has been looking for ways to trim back the federal budget. Dean Clancy, a policy adviser and Vice President at FreedomWorks, explains the idea behind the commission and what is being put forward to reduce federal spending:
Through our website, teapartydebtcommission.com, we are employing state-of-the-art crowd-sourcing technology to learn about people’s priorities. And we’re getting incredible information that the Beltway simply doesn’t have, or hasn’t taken the initiative to gather.
More than 50,000 people have visited the site to date, and more than 8 in 10 of them have clicked through all the way to the end of the survey, an absolutely amazing “retention” rate for a web poll.
Here’s how it works. When you visit the site, you’re asked to choose between two randomly matched pairs of proposed spending cuts. You must choose one of the two items. After you’ve done this eight or ten times, the computer shows you how much money you saved over one and ten years. The 40,000 completed surveys so far have included 725,000 randomly generated budget cut matchups.
And the results? Here are the top 10 currently trending ideas (with the percentage of people who chose the idea over an alternative):
This chart from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University shows that spending at all levels of government (local, state and federal) is now at levels we haven’t seen since World War II.
Matthew Mitchell, an economist at Mercatus, notes that this level of spending isn’t likely to go away anytime soon because the “bulk of current and future government spending is on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. This variety of spending is nearly impossible to reduce in the near term.”
Despite speculation - largely due to the folks at The Weekly Standard - that he was considering a bid for the GOP nomination for president, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) put the rumors to rest yesterday:
GOP congressman Paul Ryan said Monday he has ruled out running for president in 2012, amid another round of political speculation about his potential interest in the campaign.
“I sincerely appreciate the support from those eager to chart a brighter future for the next generation. While humbled by the encouragement, I have not changed my mind, and therefore I am not seeking our party’s nomination for President,” Ryan said in a statement.
The House budget chairman from Janesville has been urged to jump into the race by some GOP insiders dissatisfied with the current field, which is led by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann from Minnesota. Ryan’s fans within the party see him as a skilled, swing-state politician who can make the party’s best case for attacking the federal debt and overhauling entitlement programs. At the same time, some Democrats have argued that the Medicare changes he’s proposing would be a huge liability for a GOP ticket.
“I remain hopeful that our party will nominate a candidate committed to a pro-growth agenda of reform that restores the promise and prosperity of our exceptional nation,” said Ryan in the statement.
In an earlier interview this summer with the Journal Sentinel, Ryan cited at least two reasons for not running: his family (he has three young children) and wanting to see through, in Congress, the debate he started there with his controversial House budget plan, which makes sweeping changes to Medicare and Medicaid.
I was reading an article regarding some ideas of what President Obama’s jobs plan will contain, and came across a paragraph that I felt I needed to address. It contains some thinking that many people feel is pretty sound, but it misses something that is pretty key to how government works when it comes to spending.
The two-phase plan would probably require Obama to argue for spending more money in the short term while reducing the federal deficit over a longer period. Many economists support that combination, saying cuts in spending should wait until the economy is stronger. But political strategists say it has been difficult to communicate that idea to voters.
The idea of spend now, cut later, sounds just fine to a lot of voters. The problem is that those cuts are for down the road, and there’s no guarantee that those cuts will ever happen. A program becomes popular, or the cuts themselves become unpopular, and so it never materializes. For example, take the so-called Doc Fix in Medicare. In fact, here’s Paul Krugman’s explanation of the Doc Fix back in January:
The reason we keep needing doc fixes is that back in 1997 Congress established a formula for Medicare reimbursements that was, in fact, unworkable. Applying that formula would set reimbursements so low that doctors would drop out, leaving seniors without care. Congress should have fixed the formula once and for all; but nobody wanted to take the budget hit, so instead we’ve had a series of temporary patches. And everyone knows that these patches will continue to be necessary.