From the August 7, 2009 Examiner
August 7, 2009
by Irwin Stelzer
Washington, D.C., is emptying out, trading Congress and the army of lobbyists grown numerous and fat in exact proportion to the increase in the government’s share of the nation’s gross domestic product for an army of camera- and mineral-water-toting tourists. They will see Washington at its best, devoid of the crowd devoted to spending other people’s money.
Soon, President Barack Obama and his family will take flight to Martha’s Vineyard, the summer playground of wealthy, liberal Democratic politicians and their media allies. Flee the heat of Washington, but not the political heat that has been turned up because of his fight to “reform” the health care system.
He will be hopping around the country trying to cool that rise in the nation’s temperature before Congress returns in September to decide just how much it dare tinker with a health care system liked by most Americans.
The exodus provides a chance to reflect on the effect of Washington and government service on those who follow a president to the Capitol in hopes of pushing policy in what they see as a direction that is in the national interest.
Something happens to people when they get that White House pass to hang around their necks. They resign as dispassionate analysts and sign on as cheerleader/advocates. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is nothing if not a controlled, buttoned-down technocrat. Or was. Yet, this week he hurled obscenities at financial regulators who expressed doubts about the particular shape he wants regulatory reform of financial institutions to take.
Never mind that the success of all forms of regulation depends on the independence of the regulatory agencies. Or that he had reason to be impatient and testy, given the grinding nature of his schedule, the number of times he has had to appear before congressional committees to answer questions that often vary between irrelevant and insulting, and the frequency with which he has been summoned to be a stage prop for some Obama public announcement.
But it seems awfully soon in his tenure for him to have become accustomed to being obeyed. Washington does that.
Then there is Peter Orszag. Obama’s budget director once went to great pains to contend he does not have “a license to practice politics.” Only the facts, ma’am. But when his former team at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued its devastating analysis showing that the administration’s health care plan tops the scales at more than $1 trillion, he swung into action and used his blog to claim that the CBO acted “without any analytical basis for doing so. CBO seems to have overstepped.” No detailed refutation of CBO data, only vituperation.
And when the Senate Finance Committee was frantically trying to come up with some way to pay for this takeover of one-sixth of the economy, Orszag joined senators in flipping through the tax code, looking for places to raise taxes.
Then there is Larry Summers, the president’s chief economic adviser and heir apparent to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. “Containing growth in debt is a central objective of the administration’s health care reform proposals,” he told an audience at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
How growth in debt is to be contained by spending another trillion dollars on health care remains unexplained — unless of course the cost is to be covered by tax increases, which the president denies, or by raiding a Medicare program that is already bankrupt.
I have no intention of picking on these public servants, who work ungodly hours and who are generously postponing income until they are free to join the boards and accept the other lucrative positions that their burnished resumes will command.
I merely wonder what we can do to create an environment in which reflection, thought and civil debate replaces the way policy is made these days.
It’s no secret at the major think tanks that, as one occupant told me, “No one in a policymaking position reads books anymore.” At least, not since President George W. Bush left town. At best, short pamphlets might make it to policymakers’ night tables.
And it’s no secret that the aides on whom legislators rely so heavily are woefully ignorant of many of the subjects with which they deal. No fault of theirs — they are given neither the time to educate themselves nor a place to which they can repair for unbiased information.
Perhaps the summer will be the time for books, thought, reflection, rest and a bit of distance from the Obama machine’s thought control. Let’s hope so.
Irwin Stelzer is a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies for the Hudson Institute. He is also the U.S. economist and political columnist for The Sunday Times (London) and The Courier Mail (Australia), a columnist for The New York Post, and an honorary fellow of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies for Wolfson College at Oxford University. He is the founder and former president of National Economic Research Associates and a consultant to several U.S. and United Kingdom industries on a variety of commercial and policy issues. He has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and has taught at institutions such as Cornell, the University of Connecticut, New York University, and Nuffield College, Oxford.
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