Still Never Trump

We are finishing up Jonah Goldberg’s new book.  We recommend it and will give a fuller review later but the book is diminished by him continuing to fight the Never Trump battle.  On p. 315 after he paints The Donald as a nationalist he says:

The traditional American conservative vision of limited governments and free markets has passed it sell-buy [sic] date.  The choice is now progressivism or nationalism. [Emphasis added]

We will limit ourselves to two observations.  First, if you don’t think The Donald is doing anything for limited government then Google “Trump reducing regulations” or some variant of it.  Jonah is absolutely right that the Donald isn’t a conservative but he has been very effective at advancing some conservative ideas.

Second, the choice in 2016 general election was Hillary or The Donald.  Jonah seems to have recognized that many of us are reluctant supporters of The Donald.  The next open election will provide some other choice.  We wish one of them wasn’t progressive but we are not optimistic.

Jonah needs to recognize that conservative can’t always agree and conservatives are a non-trivial part of the GOP but if the GOP only attracts conservatives it will almost always lose national elections.  Jonah supported eight years of Hillary because it would damage the brand and we might do better in 2024.  The evidence might change in the next six years but so far he is way wrong.


A Little News On Entitlements

Charles Blahous, a former public trustee for Social Security and Medicare, has a WSJ update on the financial position of these entitlements.  The title is The Social Security Trust Fund Goes Bust.  He says:

The downward spirals have accelerated. The combined Social Security trust funds—one for disability, one for retirement—as well as Medicare’s hospital-insurance trust fund, will begin eating into their reserves this year, according to reports released this week by the programs’ trustees.

It seems to us like an attempt to use the most recent data to galvanize the people to spur the Congress and the President into action.  It really should not be necessary and if the data was slightly more favorable it should not change the situation.  Charles gives us the important message near the end:

The annual press focus on the projected insolvency dates has always been somewhat misplaced. What’s really important is the magnitude of the shortfalls and the difficulty of correcting them, which grows every year.

We agree.  What is amazing is when you Google “Social Security Trustee Report 2018” is how little news it generated.  It mostly shows up on opinion sites.  The one in a news publication, US News And World Report is by Mark Miller and entitled, Repeat After Me: Social Security And Medicare Are Not Insolvent.  And why is an insolvent program not insolvent?

In other words, retirees – and future retirees – would lose nearly a quarter of their benefits. But that is not insolvency, and solutions are readily available to avoid that unacceptable outcome.

Here is an experiment.  Try paying 77% of your bills.  Are you insolvent?  Affirmative.  The outcome of insolvency depends on your creditors.  And if you have no chance, as with entitlements, of ever paying more than 77% then you are absolutely insolvent.  The only question is whether it will be solved before or after bankruptcy court.  Then Mark gives us a summary of the options:

Conservatives favor benefit cuts via higher retirement ages, more means-testing and a less generous annual cost-of-living adjustment. Progressives advocate gradually increasing payroll taxes and lifting the cap on taxable benefits. Considering that middle-class households depend mainly on Social Security for support in retirement, it would be wiser to follow the progressive agenda.

The first and second sentences need a close reading to reveal the bias.  We might convert Mark’s first two sentences into:

Conservatives favor solutions like means testing, more accurate cost-of-living adjustments, higher payments to lower classes, and higher retirement ages.  Progressive advocate higher taxes through increasing tax rates and the amounts subject to Social Security taxation.  Many conservatives and progressives seem to support ignoring the problem.

The last sentence in our quote of Mark is very curious.  Does it mean that the lower class doesn’t depend on Social Security (SS) for retirement?  We would like to see that data.  Our priors are that lower classes rely most heavily on SS of any class.  We, along with many conservatives, would support an increase in SS payments to them.  Middle class depends  on SS between the upper and lower, and the upper class depends the least on SS.  As we see it, the wiser course is the conservative agenda of means testing because it will reduce the payments to the upper class that is less likely to need it.

Fixing Social Security today is relatively easy because there are many politically viable solutions.  None of these solutions have happened because of the political opportunity in opposing any changes.  Fixing Medicare is going to be much harder because of the difficulty in creating a market for medical services.  We know we are not going to start today but let’s start soon for the kids and grandkids because, as Charles says, it gets harder to fix every day.  Start with SS.



Balanced Budget Amendment

George Will has come out again in support of a balanced budget amendment (BBA).  In fact, George thinks it should be job one for 2018:

We will discover that point [when debt influences growth]  the hard way, unless Congress promptly sends to the states for prompt ratification a constitutional amendment requiring balanced budgets. [Emphasis added]

He also has a explicit suggestion from Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane on what it should be.  Hubbard and Kane’s proposal

would limit each year’s total spending to the median annual revenue of the previous seven years, allowing temporary deficits to be authorized in emergencies by congressional supermajorities.

We have lived under balanced budgets at the state level and found them particularly vexing because most spending is committed when the budget shortfall shows up and then you must cut where available.  It is not a system that leads to good decisions.  In addition, or perhaps related to the first problem, there are accounting problems.  In the states an obvious problem is pensions.  The WSJ highlights New Jersey recently.  New Jersey has a new governor, Democrat Phil Murphy.

As he takes office later this month, Mr. Murphy must confront the state’s biggest problem—a pension system that is about $90 billion short of what it needs to pay future benefits.

The federal government’s obvious accounting problem is entitlements.

We like the idea of a BBA but the problem of writing the amendment, bad budgeting decisions, and the accounting problem lead us to oppose a BBA.  The federal budget is such a disaster, however, we are willing to consider that the current circumstances are worse than a BBA.

Let’s assume that the BBA George suggests has passed by June 2018 and there are no supermajorities to substantially raise taxes.  We are already in fiscal 2018 so fiscal 2019 would be the first year it applies to.  FY 2019 has expected spending of $3.93 trillion.  The spending limit is trickier because it would seem reasonable to limit to actual data.  If so the limit would be $2.775 trillion.  If we include estimated years then the limit would be $3.021 trillion.  So there would be a need for cuts and tax increases from somewhere between just under a trillion dollars to $1.2 trillion.

Sidebar: We don’t see a solution in writing the amendment by making it effective in say, 2030.  Each party is aware of the problem.  There is little interest in fixing the problem as the last two presidential elections have shown.  End sidebar.

Neither party would want to pass such rule.  Spending GOP capital on a failure is a bad idea when they might do something useful in 2018.  We know that politicians always wimp out when the “out” years come.  That is they promise to make cuts later and never do.  Reforming entitlements gets harder every year.  We expect a disaster but see the BBA as an even bigger disaster.  Sorry George.




Binary Still

The Morning Jolt is discussing Conrad Black’s polemic when Jim says:

Maybe you saw Election Day 2016 as that strict binary choice. But we’re past Election Day. It’s time to stop measuring Trump merely as an alternative to Hillary and to start measuring him on his own merits. [Emphasis added]

Maybe?  The 2016 presidential election was a binary choice.  It still is.

Sidebar: Has Conrad ever written something that is not a polemic?  We enjoy him but  he can’t help recycle the same material: Nixon and FDR were great presidents and the US justice system.  This time Conrad says the Never Trump group has defected from being conservative Republicans.  It is a wonderful turn of phrase designed to infuriate his friends.  End Sidebar.

Moreover, comparisons, this time not binary, are how we measure presidents.  Reagan isn’t a great president because he batted 1.000.  He didn’t and no president is anywhere close to that mark.  Instead we compare presidents.  We need to criticize The Donald when appropriate but recognize the road ahead.

The 2020 presidential race is not yet a binary choice. If The Donald runs for the GOP next time is there anyone in the current crop of Democrats that you prefer?  We are not suggesting that you become a shill for The Donald but that you remember that there will be binary choices in the future.  So, yes, The Donald is still the [superior] alternative to Herself.


Rex Again

Rex Tillerson seems to cause everyone to cover themselves with stupid.  Marco Rubio is the most recent.  Paul Mirengoff describes how at Rex’s hearing Mario was trying to get Rex at accept his laying down of markers.  Rex neatly parried them.  Mario seems most unhappy because Rex won’t accuse Putin of being a war criminal.  Really.

Sidebar One: Picking The Donald over Mario was a good choice.  We’re not sure about some of the others but Mario doesn’t have the right stuff.  End Sidebar One.

Sidebar Two: Mario and Corey are using the hearings to set up 2020 presidential runs in their parties.  We can safely eliminate them from folks we would support.  We hope neither of them turn out to be the best of a bad lot in 2020.  End Sidebar Two.

In a post-Obama world the State Department has many challenges.  We would like to convert Putin to a pre-Obama Gaddafi.  To do that you need some leadership (W rather than Obama) and some flexibility.  Saying no to Mario is a very small step but still a step in the right direction on both counts.

Building Momentum For Congress

Charles Krauthammer, as usual, has an interesting article at NRO.  He concludes:

Trump will continue to tweet and the media will continue to take the bait. Highly entertaining but it is a sideshow. Congress is where the fate of the Trump presidency will be decided.

We agree with the first two sentences but are not fully onboard with the last.  As it would happen, the next article is Andy Koenig’s how-to piece on rolling back the regulatory state.  Andy deals with the economic difficulties unleashed by the current administration.  Much of this work will need to done by the bureaucracy and appointments must become policy.  Andy does not cover the two pipelines that can be dealt with at the White House level.  He doesn’t discuss immigration directly but with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General the Department of Justice can begin enforcing the people’s law in this and other areas.  Andy notes that Congress must be involved in some of this.  It might not all pass but we need votes on these issues.  So The Donald can have significant accomplishments without the aid of Congress

In addition, we can’t leave out foreign policy.  Much of these parts don’t include Congress although he might submit the Iran deal as a treaty to the Senate and encourage votes on big administrative policies.  Trump would seem an unlikely vessel, he uses I only slightly less than Obama, to create a Congress that George Will would be proud of (e.g., see) but politics can make strange bedfellows.

To make progress with Congress, a president must focus on Congressional priorities.   The Donald’s domestic priorities must include: immigration, healthcare reform, and judges.

Sidebar: Congress may have separate priorities that The Donald must cope with.  We would love to see the Congress act on saving entitlements.  End Sidebar.

The Donald can create momentum by quick administrative action where he can and provide the time for full Congressional debate that will be necessary on healthcare reform. By changing the fact on the ground via Sessions and the DOJ he can bring out the best in the GOP and responsible Democrats.

Congress will be important to The Donald but many things can be improved by executive action.  Improvements in administration, including immigration, and foreign policy would not be a bad fate for The Donald’s presidency.  The momentum he creates by executive action might lead a highly satisfactory presidency and to a more Willian Congress.  For example, we might get a real budget rather than continuing resolutions.  Healthcare reform would not be left to the unelected bureaucracy as was true with the wording of Obamacare.  Of course, if The Donald fails to create momentum then it will be trench warfare and the chances of progress that entails.  We are feel optimistic today.



Is Comedy Dead?

Jason Riley at WSJ starts with this comment that should be hilarious.  Unfortunately, it becomes serious because so few folks recognize it:

Only liberals could get away with bashing the incoming Trump administration for its alleged ties to white nationalists while simultaneously backing a former supporter of black nationalistLouis Farrakhan for head of the Democratic National Committee.

The failure of the press to address such issues makes them less of a serious part of any national discussion.  We are great admirers of Truman because he cast out the crazies that FDR let hang around the fringes of the Democratic party.  Twenty years later, c. 1968, those folks came back as part of the leadership of the Democrats.  Their influence has waxed and waned over the last four decades with their ascendancy during the Obama years as the Democratic center lost their elected offices.  Conservatives have generally done Truman’s duty for the Republican Party over the past five decades with the notable failure of NeverTrump this year.

The question is: What is next?  Will we have an openly racist leader of the Democratic Party competing to bring out the worst interpretation of Trump?  We are with Karl Rove’s conclusion on this one [although his headline says Ellison will help the Republicans]:

While the GOP might make short-term gains while Mr. Ellison is DNC chairman, the country would be better served in the long run by a healthy two-party system. That means Democratic Party leaders should pick a chairman who can actually rebuild the party instead of marching even further to the left and deeper into the political wilderness.

Trump has some bad ideas but they are ideas from the center.  The country will benefit if the Democrats move in that direction.   Competition is a good thing but we fear that the remaining Democrats need one more dose of fire before they reconsider.  Until then political comedy won’t be very funny.