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Commentary

Out of Ideas


     
 Print 

“Out of ideas; out of excuses.” That’s Mitt Romney’s critique of Barack Obama. I’d like to second that indictment.

It’s not just the president who is out of ideas. It’s the entire political left. And that’s not a new development. I can’t think of an interesting, left-of-center public policy idea that has gained currency in decades.

How to get the economy moving and create jobs? The liberal answer is more government spending. Yet the “stimulus” package was basically wasted on pork barrel projects of little lasting economic value. One of every two people hired with stimulus money actually had another job before being hired! And the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the long term impact of the stimulus bill will be lower—not higher—national output.

Ditto for the Obama administration’s new budget. Granted, not a single Democrat in Congress supports it. The vote in the House of Representatives was 414 to zero! But suppose the Obama administration budget had become law? After all, the president is implicitly defending his budget ideas when he is out on the campaign trail. The CBO has projected that the latest Obama budget proposal would make our GDP lower, not higher, over the next five years.

Meanwhile, the economic uncertainty the administration is creating is undoubtedly making things worse. Business managers considering hiring new employees are surely burdened by the fact that they do not know what ObamaCare is going to do to their cost of health insurance, what Obama labor regulations are going to do to their other costs of labor, what Dodd/Frank financial regulation is going to do to their ability to borrow or what other regulatory agencies are going to do to their other costs of doing business.

As for entitlement reform, there really is no liberal solution to the financial problems of Social Security, Medicare, disability Insurance or any other entitlement. More than 30 countries have fully or partially privatized their social security systems by creating individual private accounts, by which each new generation of workers can save for their own retirement. But in the United States, a growing number of members of Congress have signed a pledge not to support any Social Security reform that involves the creation of private accounts.

As for health care entitlements, the Obama administration is quietly making war on the only workable solution on the horizon: private health insurance. About two-thirds of all Medicaid enrollees are now in private plans, as are one of every four seniors on Medicare. Nonetheless, there are few things the political left hates more than private enterprise in health care.

The Obama administration has refused to renew a waiver allowing Indiana to continue with its highly successful Health Saving Account plan for Hoosier Medicaid. And as part of Obama Care, several hundred billion dollars is going to be taken away from Medicare Advantage plans that provide seniors with private insurance, similar to the kind of insurance most non-seniors have.

The antipathy toward Medicare Advantage plans is especially hard to understand. President Obama has repeatedly said he wants to encourage electronic medical records, medical homes, integrated care, coordinated care and payment for quality not quantity. Yet the only place in the Medicare system where you can find the president’s ideas actually working are in the Medicare Advantage plans! Unwilling to accept private sector innovation, the administration has its own pilot programs and demonstration projects underway. In the president’s own words, “Let’s find out what works and then go do it.” Unfortunately, government-sponsored pilot programs are no substitute for private entrepreneurship. The CBO has analyzed these programs in three separate reports here, here, and here and in each case found them to be not working at all or, at best, producing mediocre results.

As for the most important cause of inequality—our failing public schools—there is no liberal answer to that problem either. Virtually every innovative reform idea—from school vouchers to charter schools to merit pay for teachers—is being resisted by the teachers unions. But when is the last time you saw a liberal politician criticize the National Education Association? How about a liberal columnist? How about the pundits who complain most loudly about the unequal distribution of income?

It’s as though leftwing intellectuals have a tacit agreement not to criticize any group that provides electoral support for the Democratic Party.

So when Mitt Romney says the president is “out of ideas and out of excuses,” I say Amen.


John C. Goodman is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and President and Kellye Wright Fellow in Health Care at the National Center for Policy Analysis. The Wall Street Journal and the National Journal, among other media, have called him the “Father of Health Savings Accounts.”

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