Brooks Takes To The Schoolyard
Look, David Brooks is an ass, and a dishonest one at that, and we all know that. But his little taunt at Obama for being weak with liberal lion Congresscritters rings incredibly false to me:
The House bill adds $239 billion to the federal deficit during the first 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would pummel small businesses with an 8 percent payroll penalty. It would jack America’s top tax rate above those in Italy and France. Top earners in New York and California would be giving more than 55 percent of earnings to one government entity or another [...]
Who’s going to stop this leftward surge? Months ago, it seemed as if Obama would lead a center-left coalition. Instead, he has deferred to the Old Bulls on Capitol Hill on issue after issue.
Machiavelli said a leader should be feared as well as loved. Obama is loved by the Democratic chairmen, but he is not feared. On health care, Obama has emphasized cost control. The chairmen flouted his priorities because they don’t fear him. On cap and trade, Obama campaigned against giving away pollution offsets. The chairmen wrote their bill to do precisely that because they don’t fear him. On taxes, Obama promised that top tax rates would not go above Clinton-era levels. The chairmen flouted that promise because they don’t fear him.
Last week, the administration announced a proposal to take Medicare spending decisions away from Congress and lodge the power with technocrats in the executive branch. It’s a good idea, and it might lead to real cost savings. But there’s no reason to think that it will be incorporated into the final law. The chairmen will never surrender power to an administration they can override.
I don't even know where to begin. The House bill is deficit-neutral and Brooks is simply lying about the increase in the deficit by relying on a partial score of it. Obama has vowed repeatedly not to sign a bill without deficit neutrality. The top tax rate nonsense comes before deductions, and whatever his magic calculator says, the effective tax rate for the rich has been dropping consistently over the past decade in the age of Bush, and returning to a real progressive tax system and adding brackets, wherever they fall, while moving away from the historically low tax burden on the wealthy is simply what needs to be done to fix the crisis of the uninsured and repair the nation.
But beyond that, Brooks engages in this taunt about Obama not being feared by liberal chairmen who overreached on the bill. That's just an ignorant statement. Americans, even with softening approval ratings for Obama's handling of domestic issues, still find him eminently superior to Republicans on virtually every score.
I think the straightforward reading of this survey data is that congressional Democrats ought to ignore congressional Republicans and pass the ideas Barack Obama has proposed. And, again, the straightforward reading of November’s election results was that the public wanted (1) Barack Obama to be President and (2) members of congress sympathetic to Barack Obama. Congressional Democrats are good at overthinking political issues, and at coming up with rationalizations for why giving in to special interest demands are the only politically feasible option, but the evidence suggests that the public remains enthusiastic about Obamaism.
Never do we hear a word about "conservative overreach" from our media, only that the liberal hippies are daring to try and deliver some measure of security and stability into American's lives.
But moving on to Obama's "capitulation" on this issue, Brooks might want to look at the calendar. The bill hasn't gotten through Congress yet. It certainly hasn't congealed into a final version. The MedPAC proposal which Brooks praises, that the CBO won't really score, is dismissed by the journalist because "the chairmen will never surrender power". How the heck does he know? I don't think the liberals in the House wanted 40% tax cuts in the stimulus - the White House got their way (I completely disagreed with it, too). Likewise, Obama basically said yesterday not to worry about some provisions of the bill, because in conference, he'll take care of it.
The House bills and the Senate bills will not be identical. We know this. The politics are different, because the makeup of the Senate and the House are different and they operate on different rules. I am not interested in making the best the enemy of the good. There will be a conference committee where the House and Senate bills will be reconciled, and that will be a tough, lengthy and serious negotiation process.
I am less interested in making sure there's a litmus test of perfection on every committee than I am in going ahead and getting a bill off the floor of the House and off the floor of the Senate. Eighty percent of those two bills will overlap. There's going to be 20 percent that will be different in terms of how it will be funded, its approach to the public plan, its pay-or-play provisions. We shouldn't automatically assume that if any of the bills coming out of the committees don't meet our test, that there is a betrayal or failure. I think it's an honest process of trying to reconcile a lot of different interests in a very big bill.
Conference is where these differences will get ironed out. And that's where my bottom lines will remain: Does this bill cover all Americans? Does it drive down costs both in the public sector and the private sector over the long-term. Does it improve quality? Does it emphasize prevention and wellness? Does it have a serious package of insurance reforms so people aren't losing health care over a preexisting condition? Does it have a serious public option in place? Those are the kind of benchmarks I'll be using. But I'm not assuming either the House and Senate bills will match up perfectly with where I want to end up. But I am going to be insisting we get something done.
I'm not really endorsing a closed process where activists have little influence. The point being, Brooks is being disingenuous claiming that Obama is getting steamrolled by the Congress. He is using the Republican block-and-tackle strategy to attack Obama by attacking this bill. And most of the traditional media is following along.
And really, if ANYONE is going to talk critically about deferring to the "Old Bulls on Capitol Hill," it shouldn't be David Brooks.