Tag: Federal Budget

Republicans Compromise With Themselves

I’m old enough to remember when a budget deal meant that Democrats got tax hikes and Republicans got spending cuts. But, apparently, a budget deal now means both sides get spending hikes:

The measure under discussion would suspend the current $18.1 trillion debt limit through March 2017.

The budget side of the deal is aimed at undoing automatic spending cuts which are a byproduct of a 2011 budget and debt deal and the failure of Washington to subsequently tackle the government’s fiscal woes. GOP defense hawks are a driving force, intent on reversing the automatic cuts and getting more money for the military.

The focus is on setting a new overall spending limit for agencies whose operating budgets are set by Congress each year. It will be up to the House and Senate Appropriations committees to produce a detailed omnibus spending bill by the Dec. 11 deadline.

The tentative pact anticipates designating further increases for the Pentagon as emergency war funds that can be made exempt from budget caps. Offsetting spending cuts that would pay for domestic spending increases included curbs on certain Medicare payments for outpatient services provided by hospitals and an extension of a 2-percentage-point cut in Medicare payments to doctors through the end of a 10-year budget.

There’s also a drawdown from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reforms to crop insurance, and savings reaped from a Justice Department funds for crime victims and involving assets seized from criminals.

Negotiators looked to address two other key issues as well: a shortfall looming next year in Social Security payments to the disabled and a large increase for many retirees in Medicare premiums and deductibles for doctors’ visits and other outpatient care.

There’s a few good things here: putting the debt limit past the election and cutting farm subsidies. But it also contains some head-scratchers: increases in defense spending, increases in domestic spending and drawing down the strategic petroleum reserve at a time when oil is incredibly cheap.

Paul Ryan has made some noises against it, but this sounds more like he wants to get us back onto a normal budget process as opposed to the “budget by crisis” method we’ve been using for the last few years. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have hinted at a filibuster but that’s not going to happen with a budget bill. Absent a massive revolt, it looks like this is what we’ve got.

Update: Looks like the deal passed the house, with mostly Democratic support.

Thursday Roundup

A few stories that have been cluttering my tabs:

One subject that came up at the debate was the support Bernie Sanders (and, in fact, most Democrats) gave to a bill that immunized gun manufacturers from lawsuits. You can check out Walter Olson and David Freddoso on why this law was absolute necessary and correct. The law does not protect them from being sued if they produce defective products or break the law. What it protects them from is the “legislation through litigation” tactics Democrats were using to bypass the political process. The idea was that, unable to get what they wanted through the legislature, they would sue and sue and sue and sue the gun makers until the gun makers capitulated to Democratic demands.

There are a lot of Democrats who think that politicians with unlimited resources suing businesses into compliance with their demands is legitimate. A friend described this as “business and government working together for the common good”. I ask them to imagine how they’d react if Republican Governor’s started suing abortion clinics.

Two investigators have determined that the shooting of Tamir Rice was justified. Leon Neyfakh walks through the logic that is being in these analyses, which basically ignore any of the circumstances and require juries to engage in what Ta-Nehisi calls “an act of telepathy” to judge the officer’s thoughts in that moment. Basically, you’re supposed to ignore the decision to roll up right next to him in a car and jump out waving a gun. You’re supposed to ignore that they left him bleeding to death for many minutes. All you’re supposed to consider is what they thought in the precise moment they pulled the trigger. Under that logic, it’s hard to think of a situation where a shooting wouldn’t be justified.

Keep in mind, ordinary citizens are not usually given this benefit of a doubt. If you wake up to find someone smashing down your door and fire a gun, you can be be prosecuted for attempted murder.

Also keep in mind that these were both prosecution-picked experts who have a history of deferring to law enforcement on these matters. Kimberly Crawford is a name that should ring some bells. She was the investigator who concluded that the sniper shot that killed Vicki Weaver — an unarmed woman standing in the door of her own home carrying a 10-month old baby — was justified. That conclusion was so egregious even if the FBI rejected it. You don’t ask someone like Crawford their opinion unless you already have the answer in mind.

The worst answer Hillary Clinton gave the other night was about her enemies. Among those she listed were the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. But these are actually her biggest backers.

This is why I like Sanders better than Clinton. At least he’s an honest socialist. Clinton is a lying crony capitalist.

There is a quiet budget battle going on. As far as I can tell, the fight is between Republicans who want to increase spending and Democrats who want to increase spending.

For all the grief the sequester gets, it has cut our deficit to the lowest level, as a percent of GDP, since Clinton was in office. And I have yet to see the country descend into chaos and anarchy. I see no reason to end the sequester now.

A Bum Deal

Earlier this week, Congressman Ryan and Senator Murray put together a budget deal that should stave off another government shutdown for quite some time. It was passed by the House tonight and will likely go through the Senate tomorrow. Here are the details. The basic gist is that half of the sequester for 2014 is cancelled for a spending hike of $40 billion, mostly in military spending. A quarter of FY 2015’s sequester is cancelled as well. These are paid for by increasing employee contributions to federal pensions, increasing some user fees and not delaying Medicare’s SGR cuts, which will cut doctor’s fees by a quarter if they go into effect, with a likely damaging effect on Medicare. In addition, unemployment benefits will not be extended which means over a million people will lose them starting in January. Overall, the deficit will go down about $20 billion more than it would have before, but that may change if Congress changes its mind on SGR.

It’s not the worst deal ever, but it’s not a good deal and it’s not the deal we needed. It has no desperately needed fixes to the tax code. It decreases the deficit mainly through little tweaks here and there. It has no changes to entitlements or mandatory spending at all. That was what the Republicans needed to get if they were going to cave on sequestration and they didn’t.

The Big Deal

Grab onto something, folks. I’m going to agree with Mark Thiessen (H/T: Harley):

Quick: What do Republicans want in exchange for ending the government shutdown? If you know the answer, congratulations — because Republicans sure don’t.

we’ve gone from defunding Obamacare . . . to delaying Obamacare . . . to delaying parts of Obamacare . . . to funding the government piecemeal without touching Obamacare at all. If Republicans have already conceded the defunding of Obamacare, what’s the point of keeping the government closed? Why on earth would the GOP pass “clean” bills to fund individual parts of the government but not the whole government?

This business of passing funding bills for little piece of the government has been driving me a bit crazy. In a rational budget process — even in a shutdown — you would carefully pick which parts of the government to fund. But it’s clear that the strategy has been to identify whatever parts of the government are getting the most complaints (NIH, park service, etc.), pass a tiny bill to fund them and then go on television to bash the Democrats for not assenting to it.

That wins the media cycle but it’s no way to run a government. It’s completely arbitrary. It means that we try to divert funds to highly visible things like the Park Service, which would be one of the last things I would fund right now. More, it encourages partially shutdown services to deliberately make things worse to get their funding restored. Gain Nortion, Bush’s former Interior Secretary, describes how the Park Service has a long history of deliberately inconveniencing people whenever their budget is threatened (this weekend, they have “closed” the Vietnam Memorial — which is a wall that anyone can visit 24/7). No doubt, the Administration doesn’t mind this sort of visibility. But by putting forward little bills to fund whichever government agency is making the loudest noise, the GOP is encouraging this sort of behavior.

Back to Thiessen:

It calls to mind the episode of “Seinfeld” where Jerry and George are coming up with an idea for a show to pitch to NBC — and decide it will be “a show about nothing.” That’s what this standoff has become — the Seinfeld Shutdown, a shutdown about nothing.

Thiessen, however, is not just throwing bricks. He has an alternative proposal: that instead of using the shutdown or the debt ceiling for leverage, the Republicans use the Budget Control Act (aka the sequester). Grover Norquist is on the same page:

I think the original plan for the Republicans was to move the continuing resolution past the debt ceiling and then to sit down with Obama and decide whether he would be willing to trade some relaxation of the sequester for significant reforms of entitlements. That was something Obama might well do. Democrats in the House and the Senate are very concerned about caps and limits in sequestration. Republicans could get significant long-term entitlement reform — all on the spending side, I’m assured by leadership — for some relaxation of sequester.

See, this is what an actual compromise would look like. The Republicans are running around saying Obama won’t compromise because he won’t delay or change Obamacare. But they are not offering anything in exchange other than not blowing up the government. A sequestration-for-entitlements exchange would be a real compromise, giving Democrats something they want. But it would still be a huge win for Republicans — a few billion in spending now for statutory changes in entitlements (e.g., chained CPI) that could save trillions down the road. Statutory changes in entitlements are an especially good thing because, unlike sequestration, they would be very hard for future Congresses to undo.

The thing is, our budget situation is a bit tricky right now. The FY 2013 deficit is below $700 billion and projected to fall more in the next few years. But starting around FY 2018, it starts ramping up again. The reason is entitlements — the wave of retiring Baby Boomers putting a strain on Social Security and Medicare spending.

(This long-term situation has, over the last few years, gotten a lot less horrifying by trillions of dollars. The reason is that healthcare spending has leveled off. Obama is trying to claim credit for this but he’s a bit hoist by his own petard. He delayed Obamacare until after the election both to avoid the political hit and to force the CBO to claim that it decreased the deficit. But those delays also mean the cost curve bent before he did anything. The reasons the cost curve has come down are mainly the down economy and the natural saturation of the healthcare market. I said years ago, when people were projecting that healthcare would eventually consume 2,634% of our GDP, that if something can’t be sustained, it won’t be. It couldn’t and it wasn’t.)

The time to strike on entitlements is now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be and the more dramatic the changes required. You reform entitlements and keep discretionary spending level and you will basically balance the budget within the decade without any further action. Cutting spending further will make the situation even better, but … further cuts will entail either cutting defense spending (which the Republicans oppose) or more discretionary/entitlement spending (which will not happen until the GOP wins an election; which will not happen until they show they can govern).

There are whispers that this deal may happen but it seems to be focusing more on yet another budget committee. But we’ve had eight — count ‘em — eight budget committees. We don’t need another one to tell us what we need. What we need is a deal.

The Farm Follies Continue

The latest CBO report shows that the FY2013 deficit will come in at around $642 billion, a dramatic reduction. Naturally, the usual suspects are calling for more “stimulus” spending now that the deficit problem is “solved”. But they should read some critical points raised by Peter Suderman. The “small” deficit is a result of tax hikes, spending cuts and about $200 billion in one-time revenues (Fannie/Freddie dividends and tax adjustments). The “small” deficit will only last a few years before entitlements and Obamacare began to raise it again even under optimistic budget scenarios. And even under optimistic scenarios, interest payments will reach historic highs.

(As an aside: what’s really hilarious is to watch the Left scramble to explain why “austerity” hasn’t crashed the economy. Most of them are simply going the Krugmann route and ignoring everything they’ve been saying for the last five years.)

So now is not the time to open the spending or tax cut floodgates. Now is the time to keep to build on the budget momentum and reign in entitlements. Now is the time to … oh, shit:

House and Senate farm subsidy supporters are pushing to enact the first big farm bill since 2008. Democratic and Republican supporters say that this year’s legislation will be a reform bill that cuts spending. Hogwash.

Last year, House farm subsidy supporters proposed a bill that would spend $950 billion over the next 10 years, while the Senate proposed a bill that would spend $963 billion. By contrast, when the 2008 farm bill passed, it was projected to spend $640 billion over 10 years. Thus, the proposed House bill would represent a 48 percent spending increase over the last farm bill, while the Senate bill would represent a 50 percent increase.

Congress is bizarrely claiming that they have “cut” the farm bill because it’s 3% less than the original proposal. But not only is this their usual “cut spending growth” trick, it runs into the problem that the farm bill is usually much larger than originally budgeted. Next year’s farm bill be almost 50% more than originally proposed.

The spending “discipline” of the last two years is already eroding in the face of temporary unsustainable deficit reduction. And even worse, it’s opening on one of the many places it shouldn’t: the massive pile of corporate welfare euphemistically called the “farm bill”. Now is not the time to be shoveling more money into this hole. Now is the time to follow the advice P.J. O’Rourke gave twenty years ago: “drag the Omnibus Farm Bill out behind the barn and kill it with an axe.”

Moving Toward A Resolution

Congress has passed a budget for the rest of the year that keeps the sequestration in place. Now all we need is a rise in the debt ceiling and FY2013’s budget is finished.

Obviously, I’d like some entitlement reform. But moving toward an actual budget process is a first step toward sane fiscal policy. Flat spending trends will bring the deficit at least under $1 trillion for the first time since Obama and possibly much lower, depending on how the economy does and exactly how much the sequester bring down spending. That’s progress, albiet slow and painful one. But entitlement and tax reform are the next steps that need to be taken. Because the long term is where we’re screwed.

A Tale of Two Budgets

Earlier this week, Alex posted on the first Senate budget in four years. I have little to add to his criticism. The Democrats claim it continues the good work of the last two years — you know, the flat spending that they have continually claimed is going to ruin the economy and that their budget undoes. Remember that last point: our economy is supposed to be falling into ruin right now because of the payroll tax hike and the sequester. We have yet to see post-sequester numbers, but February saw solid gains in jobs and consumer spending. If the economy continues to move, it will be solid evidence that “austerity”, such as it is, is not necessarily ruinous.

But even liberals, if they are honest, have to be disappointed with this budget. In contrasting it against Ryan’s budget, which I’ll get to in a moment, Ezra Klein notes:

But even given that difference in objective, Murray’s budget is deeply, even excessively, respectful of existing institutions. If the problem of Ryan’s budget is that it wants to do far too much, the problem with Murray’s budget is that it is almost entirely devoted to saying what it won’t do, and it gets very vague when the topic turns to what it will.

If the budget is vague about what it would change, it is specific and effusive about what it will keep. A tremendous amount of the budget document is, in fact, an appreciation of what the federal government is already doing.

About all we really know of this budget is the top lines: It plans $975 billion in tax increases, though it doesn’t say precisely how it will get there, and it plans $975 billion in spending cuts, though it doesn’t say precisely where they will come from.

So Ryan’s budget is preferable, right? Well, not exactly. It keeps all of the Obamacare tax hikes. It proposes tax reform but, again, is not specific in how it is going to cut rates without getting rid of cherished deductions (probably because it can’t). It relies on the CBO’s very optimistic growth projections to keep revenue up.

Most importantly, it also punts on the most important issues. Medicare reform is put off for ten years. Social Security reform is not mentioned. Making the math work requires heavy reductions in discretionary spending which are not the cause of our budget woes.

It also relies on two things that are simply not going to happen under this President: a repeal of Obamacare and huge reduction in tax rates. Look, I can appreciate that the Republicans are trying to contrast their vision against the Presidents. But a plan that has no chance of passing — and only works if those undoable things are done — is not really a serious plan.

These are steps in the right direction. We seem to be returning to a budget process rather than a self-created series of bullshit crises. So I’m hoping a bargain can be struck. But a real bargain — a Simpson-Bowles style one — has to rely on something that is in neither plan: near term reform of both Social Security and Medicare. Until that’s on the tabls, we’re just chipping away at the problem and hoping an economic boom allows to paste over the deficiencies.

Update: Of course, when it comes to bullshit budget plans, no one does it better than the Congressional Regressive Caucus, whose plan was praised by Paul Krugman today. It calls for an immediate 6% spending hike which they claim will bring us back to full employment within a year.

Yeah, ‘cuz that worked so well last time.

Of Ceilings and Coins

Ugh. Do I have to write about this again? Apparently.

Let’s be clear. Hitting the debt ceiling is a seriously stupid idea. The debt ceiling was never intended to be a debt control measure. It does not, in fact, limit the amount of debt we can run up, only the amount we can pay to creditors for things we’ve already authorized. Here’s Ezra Klein on what will happen if we crash the debt ceiling.

The choices [the government] will face quickly become stark. It can cover interest on the debt, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense spending, education, food stamps and other low-income transfers, and a handful of other programs, but doing all that will mean defaulting on everything — really, everything — else. The FBI will shut down. The people responsible for tracking down loose nukes will lose their jobs. The prisons won’t operate. The biomedical researchers won’t be funded. The court system will close its doors. The tax refunds won’t go out. The Federal Aviation Administration will go offline. The parks will close. Food safety inspections will cease.

This is the difference between a debt-ceiling shutdown and a government shutdown. As Shai Akabas, a research at the Bipartisan Policy Center, puts it, “in a government shutdown, the government is shutting down future obligations. With the debt ceiling, They’ve already obligated the money. They owe these people the payments now, and they can’t make them.”

This means businesses that have already done work for the Feds won’t be paid and will have to lay off workers. It means government agencies — prisons, for example — will not be able to contract basic things like food and electricity because they don’t have the money. A government shutdown is something that can be prepared for and dealt with. It’s not even clear that we have the ability to selectively pay our bills.

That’s to say nothing of the hit the economy would take because of the uncertainty (Remember uncertainty? That think we’ve been blaming for the slow economy?) and the wallop our government would take in the bond market. We’ve already had one downgrade. A second debt ceiling hit could raise the interest rates at which people will loan us money. And every point of interest rate hike is a $160 billion hit on the budget. That’s a bigger impact than all the spending cuts and tax hikes anyone has discussed. “Giving in” on raising the debt ceiling is like giving in on not burning your own house down.

I just wanted to get out of the way before I address the $1 trillion coin yet again. This is the idea that we should mint a $1 trillion coin to pay our debts. The typical liberal response to criticism of the coin idea is “well, the platinum coin may be dumb but hitting the debt ceiling is really dumb”. I know that. I just wrote several paragraphs about that. No one is seriously disputing that.

But here’s the thing: the debt ceiling foolishness does not make the trillion dollar coin a good idea.

I know that should go without saying, but it apparently does. Last week, the trillion dollar coin was a fringe idea we snickered about. Today, it’s being taken seriously by people who should know better. The platinum coin idea is being defended by heavyweights like Laurence Tribe, who argues that because the law does not expressly forbid the coin idea, it could be legal (although the former Mint Director disagrees. And Paul Krugman has written a third op-ed in support of the idea in which he calls on the treasury secretary to wear a clown suit. Metaphorically. I hope. Actually, I don’t. Geithner wearing a clown suit would be the most productive thing he’s done in four years.

The thing is that, even we posit that the trillion dollar coin is legal and doable, the platinum coin problem runs into many of the same fucking problems as a debt ceiling crisis. Klein again:

Imagine a Japanese bond trader who hears we’re now running our government off of a trillion-dollar coin created through a loophole in the law. Is there any way that trader is going to keep lending to America at near-riskless rates? The result might be better than default, but it won’t be good.

That, of course, involves pretending that the platinum coin would not precipitate a gigantic legal and constitutional battle that will bring about they very economic chaos it is designed to prevent. I’m really glad that someone from Harvard thinks the platinum coin is legal. God knows we can’t decide what to do in this country until Laurence Fucking Tribe weighs in. But no matter what opinion anyone has on the coin’s legality, this does not mean the everyone in America is obligated to accept it. Somebody won’t and they will fight it in court. Of course, I’m sure the ensuing legal battle will be blamed on Republicans for daring to oppose Obama. That will be a great comfort while we’re all out of work.


The trillion dollar platinum is an absurdity wrapped in a legislative incongruity inside a farce. It is the logical extension of an utterly illogical legislative process that only becomes more irrational with each passing day. Each partisan battle has become stupider than the last. Silly loopholes are exploited for bargaining power, and the resulting stalemates are generally solved with a temporary patch that solves the immediate problem by creating a bigger one down the road. When the bigger problem arrives, naturally the other side seeks an even sillier loophole, resulting in an even more temporary patch.

We are now approaching the era of permanent fiscal crisis.

The Great Platinum Coin Caper is everything that is wrong with Washington: a stupid partisan maneuver that erodes the institutions of our government for no gain other than an immediate political win. The only good thing that can be said about it is that the President seems to be too sensible to actually consider doing it. Nonetheless, the fact that intelligent people like Professor Krugman are even discussing this debacle, much less endorsing it, is a depressing reminder of just how nasty and short-sighted our nation’s capital has become.

The more I read these pro-coin articles, the more I think this is really about giving the middle finger to the GOP. The Left has long wanted Obama to have a temper tantrum to match the hysterics that the GOP sometimes descends to (ignoring that Obama doesn’t have to have a temper tantrum because they’re always having one on his behalf). This isn’t about economics. This isn’t about the economy. And it’s certainly not about the debt. It’s about winning one from those damned GOP bastards by some bit of trickeration. It’s about saying, “Ha-ha! Got you!”

It won’t work. Even if it works, it won’t work. The only way to get out of the debt ceiling crisis is either for the GOP to come to their senses or for Obama to give into their faux demands and pretend to cut spending.

You know, it’s January. We are nine days into this year. I’m going to call it right now. The platinum coin will be the Official Stupidest Fucking Thing I Blogged About in 2013. It just shows that the vener of “reasonableness” that the Left has cloaked themselves with in recent years is just that, a veneer. The minute the wind turns, they turn just as idiotic as a talk radio host on meth.

Update: You know, it might advance the debate a bit if the liberals would acknowledge, for once, the Senate’s failure to have a vote on a budget bill for three years. That’s where this problem got its initial start.

Update: Douthat nails it.

Fiscal Cliff I: The Search for More Money

As Thrill noted, the so-called fiscal cliff was semi-averted last night. I didn’t pay too close attention to the debate since the basics of the deal had been hashed out days before. All we had last night was political theater. It’s true that 2/3 of the Republican House voted against it. But they allowed it to come to a vote and most voted after they were sure it would pass as an ass-covering maneuver. I’m reminded — and not in a good way — of the TARP vote where the Republicans and Democrats agreed to let vulnerable House members vote against it once they’d secured passage.

To be honest, I’m OK with the deal, since the alternative was letting all the tax cuts expire. I would have preferred it be paired with entitlement reform but the Republicans apparently scuttled that, to judge by the GOP Senate leadership’s statements over the last few days. It will mean about $60 billion per year in revenue — a few drops in the bucket that only looks large in comparison to the trivial budget maneuvers we’ve gotten until now.

What no one is mentioning, of course, is that there is a much larger tax increase going into effect: the expiration of the payroll tax holiday, which is expected to add about $100 billion to federal revenue. That means every working person is going to see a 2% slice taken out of their next paycheck. I’ve long been in favor of this, feeling that the longer the holiday went on, the more difficult it would be too get rid of and the worse it would make the situation with Social Security/Medicare. I also thought it was wrong-headed from the beginning. From the employer side, it would have made hiring cheaper and eased unemployment. From the employee side, all it did was (maybe) goose consumption. And it did even more to narrow the wedge of people actually paying taxes in this country. The cut was temporary and it’s gone now. But it will be fun to watch the shocked reactions of people who think taxes are just going up on “the rich”.

The big thing — and the reason my reaction is kind of “meh” — is that two more important cliffs were put off. One is the sequester, which seems to have bipartisan opposition. Republicans don’t want military spending cut, despite spending currently being in excess of Vietnam War levels (although the number of soldiers is only slightly above post-Cold-War levels). And Democrats don’t want anything cut.

Obama has indicated that future spending cuts will have to be matched by tax increases, but I think he’s overplaying his hand here. The Republicans were forced to give in on taxes because the alternative was tax hikes for everyone. Obama is going to have to give in on spending cuts because the alternative is a 8-10% cut in everything else.

He’s also going to have to give in because of the third cliff: the debt ceiling. This could be the most interesting fight as Obama might try to fight this on legal/constitutional grounds. I’m not looking forward to this as it was almost an economic castastrophe last time. Hopefully, our leadership won’t be quite as stupid (yes, I know ….).

In the end, I think the most important thing to be pulled out of this unholy mess is the chained-CPI formulation of Social Security that was temporarily on the table and should be again. This seemingly small change would slow the growth of the program and save us trillions down the road. If we can get that, it will have a more lasting impact than the tax hikes, debt ceiling or sequester.

This isn’t over yet. We’ve got another two months of theater to go.

The Meltdown Continues

The Left wing anger at Paul Ryan continues to swell. You can amuse yourself with this latest bundle of idiocy from Maureen Dowd.

He’s the cutest package that cruelty ever came in. He has a winning air of sad cheerfulness. He’s affable, clean cut and really cut, with the Irish altar-boy widow’s peak and droopy, winsome blue eyes and unashamed sentimentality.

Who better to rain misery upon the heads of millions of Americans?

Is it just me, or does anyone else think Dowd wrote that column one-handed? I thought so.

You can read her screed for yourself, where she describes Ryan as the cute face of cruelty. I think the best response is to remind ourselves what that people like Modo believe constitutes “kindness”:

  • Creating a welfare system that deprives people of their dignity, their hope and their ambition.
  • Creating a healthcare system where care is rationed and controlled by government; where treatments are approved by political pull.
  • Creating an economy where Washington pulls the strings and all companies have to pay homage to the great Congress in order to survive (see what’s happening to Apple right now.)
  • Standing silent while their enlightened President fires off drones, detains prisoners and starts wars without Congressional approval.
  • Giving less to private charity than conservatives do; donating less blood; volunteering less — even when you account for differences in income and opportunity.
  • Slathering businesses in jungles of read tape and oceans of taxation and then wondering why there are no jobs.
  • Standing by a federal legal code that is so out of control, people can be jailed for things like collecting feathers.
  • The damning thing about Ryan — indeed a huge factor in the RyanRage — is that he cites Ayn Rand as an influence. Actually, they call him a “disciple” of Rand because to the collectivists — besotted as they are with centralized power and unthinking obedience — there is no middle ground between rejecting Rand and being her unquestioning apostle.

    But it is possible to be heavily influenced by someone and disagree with them. You know who influenced my political thinking as much as anyone? Karl Fucking Marx. I had opposed Marxism because it was tyrannical, because it was abusive, because it fought against human nature. But it wasn’t until I read Das Kapital that I realized that Marxism was fundamentally flawed; that it was built on a series of false premises; that’s Marx’s understanding of economics was child-like in its simplicity.

    There’s a lot on which I disagree with Rand: her atheism, her virtue of selfishness, her slagging of altruism; her belief in self-centered uncaring uber-geniuses. Rand’s philosophy is too cold, too certain and too dogmatic for me; I don’t believe human culture or human beings can work that way (as Rand herself could not). In her way, she was as dogmatic as the Marxists she hated. But no one has laid out such a clear and beautiful rejection of collectivism. No one has laid out such a rousing defense of individualism. Everyone should read Ayn Rand not because she was a prophet but because she was a heretic.

    And when we dig down, that’s what is informing the RyanRage: his heresy. Ryan’s budget plan has its flaws: it doesn’t balance the budget for a long time; it cuts taxes; it’s not specific about what tax expenditures it would get rid of. But the selection of Ryan and his prominence in the debate signals that the party is over. The religion of Big Government (a religion that has many adherent in the GOP) has reached its apogee and simply can not grow further. When Obama was elected, they really believed it would be New Deal II: a golden age where we finally grew our government to European proportions. Of course, the idea of a vast liberal superstate controlling all of our healthcare, our retirement, our schooling and our housing was dead thirty years ago. But as long as Democrats were out of power, they could pray to the relics and hope for a miracle.

    But after just two years of Obama, it became obvious that this wasn’t going to happen. And it’s dead for sure now. As I said before, we are no longer debating whether to cut government; we’re debating how to cut it. We’re not debating whether to cut Medicare; but how to. Ryan is a symbol of this. And thus, like all those who knock over pagan idols, he must be condemned for daring to broach the truth.

    The bill for our government’s spending is coming due. It bears repeating — over and over again — that the Right bears as much or more blame for this than the Left (and Ryan voted for a lot of it). But the Right does not have its heart bound up with Big Government; the Left does. And so now they are reducing to screaming at the writing on the wall.