Seeking the best path forward
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Three months ago we surveyed the political battlefield and concluded that SAFE would need to be agile and resourceful if it hoped to have any impact. Setting a SAFE course in uncertain times, 8/12/19.
The prime activity in DC these days is political warfare, and the prospects for balancing the budget or other constructive legislation seem bleak. Things may improve after the 2020 elections, but don’t count on it. So the question is, what can SAFE do now to effectively promote its “smaller, more focused, less costly government” agenda?
Various details had changed by last week’s SAFE quarterly board meeting (Nov. 8), but we were able to take some satisfaction in recent SAFE activity. An updated outlook follows.
1. House impeachment inquiry - In August we talked of “impeachment fever,” but concluded that House Democrats would probably follow the policy instincts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and try to “keep the subject warm” without taking any concrete steps towards impeachment. What we hadn’t counted on was that a “whistleblower” would materialize who claimed to have knowledge of how the president had essentially sought to pressure the newly elected Ukrainian president into supporting investigation of supposedly improper conduct by then Vice President Joe Biden and/or his son Hunter in the Ukraine during the Obama administration.
After this new claim of misconduct on the president’s part surfaced, Speaker Pelosi got on board and a formal House impeachment inquiry was launched. It now appears that the House will impeach the president (recommend his removal from office) before Christmas, thereby setting up a Senate “trial” early in 2020. The theory of the charge will presumably be that the president attempted to misuse his position to bribe or coerce Ukrainian officials to take action that would benefit him personally or politically.
Republicans have generally been skeptical of these claims, and unless compelling new evidence is produced it appears doubtful that the impeachment charges will gain any substantial Republican support in the House (Democrats have the votes needed, but would like to claim that an impeachment resolution has bipartisan support). A supermajority (2/3) vote in the Senate would be required to remove the president from office, i.e., some 20 GOP senators would have to defect, which seems quite unlikely.
SAFE directors at the board meeting were essentially aligned with the president et al. on all major points:
•Yes, the “whistleblower” should be identified and expected to testify. He’s really a leaker, not a whistleblower. Also, it’s telling that his attorney called for the president’s removal in 2017. Attorney for Whistleblower once called for “coup” against president, Andrew West, westernjournal.com, 11/7/19.
•Claims of a quid pro quo for the president’s request that alleged Ukrainian misconduct in 2016 should be investigated. They are based on opinion vs. fact, and in any case the president was entitled to ask the Ukraine to investigate apparent corruption.
•The House impeachment inquiry process has certainly been “rigged.” See, e.g., Democrats’ rigged impeachment circus, Betsy McCaughey, townhall.com, 11/6/19.
Democrats are boasting about the "impeachment inquiry protections" offered to Trump, claiming they're the same as the rules devised for President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton. But . . . Section F, quietly devised by Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., stipulates that unless the president surrenders executive privilege . . . he and his lawyers will be denied any ability to call or question witnesses.
•Should Republicans focus on process or substance? Both!
Consensus prediction: The House will impeach the president before Christmas, but the Senate will reject the charges in January.
2. Generational divide – It’s hard to understand the younger generation at times, leading one to wonder whether they are a “lost cause” or we seniors are “out of touch.” Here are some of the troubling signs re younger Americans. They are becoming increasingly reliant on social media, less inclined to join groups – place more stress on public safety net vs. working for personal success – show greater interest in Socialism vs. a free economy – increasingly identify with factions (aka tribes) vs. the nation as a whole.
What does it mean that all the leading presidential candidates are elderly? Warren is 70; [Trump is 73]; Biden is 76; [Bloomberg is 77]; Sanders is 78. So what? Wall Street Journal, 11/6/19.
Are our concerns valid or misguided? To the extent they are valid, what’s behind them? Failing educational system – hunger for a “free lunch” – failed liberal policies that set the stage for going further left – unchecked illegal immigration.
•What’s all the talk about Socialism? 9/2/19.
•The stark Democratic generational divide, Kristen Soltis Anderson, Washington Examiner, 9/26/19.
•A nation dying in despair, and family breakdown is part of the problem, Kay Hymowitz, Washington Examiner, 9/26/19.
•What the left tells young Americans, Dennis Prager, townhall.com, 10/29/19.
•Liberal policy failures are reason for Socialism’s new appeal, Victor David Hanson, dailysignal.com, 11/7/19.
Adaptation: Refute misperceptions – communicate with younger generation – other? Get out there and interact, e.g., teaching course, connecting with millennials on social media (CC of DE has 19 followers on Twitter already), etc. And note that not all of the millennials are “crazies,” there are some solid people in the mix, e.g., ex-military, engineering students, etc.
Education: More support for vocational schools, less support for colleges turning out graduates for jobs that don’t exist.
The stakes: What does history tell us happens when a society collapses? Military defeat from the outside or internal collapse with one of the factions seizing power.
3. Fiscal Problem – We previously noted that the Senate Budget Committee has been reviewing several budget process improvements, and a set of proposals was approved by various members of the committee (including Sen. Chris Coons from DE) last week. Senate Budget Committee Approves Historic Bipartisan Budget Reforms, press release, 11/6/19.
Count us as skeptical that the enumerated process changes will make a great deal of difference in the budget results, but they may be somewhat helpful. Stay tuned for SAFE’s assessment in due course.
Meanwhile, despite entering into a Bipartisan Budget Act at the end of July, Congress still did not get any of its appropriation bills for FY 2020 done by the 10/1/19 deadline. The government is currently operating on a continuing resolution, which will expire on November 21, and concerns have been expressed that continuing haggling about the details of the appropriation bills (notably border wall funding or the absence thereof) – in a hyper-partisan atmosphere – could yet result in a government shutdown. Senate funding impasse sets up shutdown fight, Ryan Lovelace, Washington Times, 10/31/19.
Given the difficulties in running the budget process responsibly, how can SAFE be so bold as to suggest that the government should balance the budget and keep it that way? Our theory is that such a result could be achieved, as it was during the 2nd term of the Clinton presidency, and that there is no excuse for not trying. Accordingly, we have proposed that balancing the budget should be viewed as the top issue in the 2020 elections.
•2/25/19 - SAFE sent two letters offering this suggestion, one to the president and a second to selected members of Congress including a number of declared presidential candidates for 2020.
•Top 2020 issue should be national debt, News Journal, 5/28/19.
•8/24/19 – Follow-up letters to the president (note 10/15/19 response, posted at end) and to top leaders of Congress, etc. Combatting the addiction to deficits and debt, 8/26/19.
•Meeting with Sen. Tom Carper, charts, 10/4/19.
•A conversation about the fiscal problem, 10/28/19.
•Recap of Carper meeting, DE members, 10/28/19.
In discussions at the SAFE board meeting last week, your faithful scribe conceded that this suggestion may not catch on. What’s the harm in advocating it, however, when projected deficits and debt are clearly unsustainable?
The president needs a 2nd term issue, and simply relying on tax cuts and a strong economy is problematic because voters tend to think in terms of “what have you done for me lately. Donald Trump needs to be careful, Derek Hunter, townhall.com, 10/15/19.
Maybe it’s enough to accuse the Democratic presidential candidate of advocating Socialism, but that assumes Democrats will set up this argument by nominating a far left candidate like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. They may stick with Biden after all, however, or warm up to billionaire Michael Bloomberg who is apparently preparing to throw his hat in the ring and/or Pete Buttigieg. While the party’s energy has moved left in a big way, the goal of winning elections is also powerful.
What could SAFE do to further its fiscal problem should be the top issue proposal? One suggestion at the meeting was to pitch this idea to Senator Rand Paul.
By way of background, Sen. Paul is a true fiscal conservative – and there aren’t very many of them in DC these days. He was also the only member of Congress who responded (and in a very positive way) to SAFE’s 6/3/13 letter to all members of Congress urging that the government balance its budget and keep it that way (scroll to end for Sen. Paul’s letter).
Furthermore, Sen. Paul has an entrée at the White House and elsewhere in DC that could give our cause a boost. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we will definitely follow up on this idea as well as possibly trying to set up a meeting with Sen. Chris Coons.
One more idea would be to advocate a switch in Treasury borrowing policy to the issuance of longer-term bonds, accepting a modest increase in current borrowing rates to protect against skyrocketing interest expense if current fiscal and monetary policies result in an inflationary spiral. Issue longer-term debt. Refinance US debt while rates are low, Stephen Moore, Wall Street Journal, 8/30/19.
Today’s historically low interest rates on government bonds, along with the flattening of the yield curve, offer Uncle Sam a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lower his interest expenses by trillions of dollars over the next three decades. The savings could be large enough to pay for the entire Trump tax cuts and make them permanent.
4. Taxes – Republicans want to protect their 2017 tax cuts, and have even floated trial balloons about further tax cuts – to be delivered if they win the presidential race and regain control of both houses of Congress. Trump promises major “middle class tax cut” if GOP wins House, keeps Senate in 2020, John Salvatore, flagandcross.com, 8/25/19.
For their part, Democrats want to roll back part of the Republican tax cuts and/or raise taxes in other areas so as to arguably “pay for” new spending programs. And it’s not just Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who have advocated this tack, more “moderate” Democratic candidates have done so as well.
•Buttigieg calls for repealing corporate tax rate cut to pay for healthcare expansion, Cassidy Morrison, Washington Examiner, 10/21/19.
•Biden says $6B government project can be paid for by closing one tax loophole, Madison Dibble, Washington Examiner, 11/3/19.
Both sides have understandable political reasons for their positions, which will inevitably be debated in coming months.
One Democratic argument will be that the Republican tax cut was sold on the basis that “it would pay for itself,” which doesn’t appear to be happening. Therefore, time to admit error and reverse course. Trump tax cut underdelivers, which could embolden Democrats, Greg Ip, Wall Street Journal, 10/30/19.
The U.S. economy did enjoy a burst of 3% annualized growth after the tax cut first took effect at the start of 2018. But it has since slipped. It grew at a 1.9% annual rate in the third quarter. In the past 12 months, the economy grew 2%, about the same as it averaged from 2011 through 2017.
A related argument is the the current tax system is perpetuating inequality in the distribution of income/wealth in our society, which situation can only be corrected by higher taxes on the affluent and middle class.
•Tax cuts for the wealthy make inequality worse, Alan Blinder, Wall Street Journal, 11/1/19.
Two economists at the University of California, Berkeley, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, just published an important new book, “The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay.” Perhaps the most stunning finding: “For the first time in the past hundred years, the working class today pays higher tax rates than billionaires.”
•Raise taxes on the middle class before it’s too late, Michael Strain, bloomberg.com, 10/28/19.
[It’s not feasible to raise all of the needed revenue from the very rich.] Revenue would have to increase by around $2.7 trillion in 2049 to keep the deficit at its 2019 share of GDP. To see the scale of what is needed, consider that Warren’s economic advisers estimated that her wealth tax would have brought in less than one-tenth that amount in 2019. And as I noted in a recent column, their estimates are quite rosy. Even a full repeal of the Trump tax cuts — which I wouldn’t support — would increase revenue by less than $300 billion per year.
There are plenty of arguments, however, that the affluent are paying more than their share of taxes on income and that taxes on wealth haven’t worked even in Europe.
•Tax myths of Warrenomics, Lawrence Kotlikoff, Wall Street Journal, 10/17/19.
Economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California, Berkeley are advising Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign and drawing generous media attention for their assertion that the U.S. tax system is flat—that the middle class and poor pay as great a share of their income in taxes as the rich. They’re wrong, and three huge mistakes underlie their analysis.
•No rich Americans don’t pay lower tax rates than poor Americans, Andrew Wilford, federalist.com, 11/4/19.
The most recent CBO data shows that the wealthiest 1 percent pay an average effective rate of 33.3 percent in federal taxes, while the bottom 20 percent pay just 1.7 percent.
•Where wealth taxes failed, Wall Street Journal, 11/4/19.
[Sanders and Warren] say [their proposed wealth] taxes will deliver “justice” and revenue to finance their vast new spending plans. That’s also what Europe’s socialists said only to find [in Sweden, Germany, France & Austria] that it didn’t work.
These skeptical views strike us as persuasive, and if nothing else demonstrate that this is not the time for massive new spending programs when the government can’t seem to cover the cost of the programs that it is already providing. If there are to be any tax increases, therefore, the proceeds should be strictly earmarked for deficit reduction versus new spending that some of the presidential candidates are advocating.
5. Healthcare – Just about everyone has complaints about GovCare, but it’s not likely to be repealed and the “reform” proposals on the Democratic side would result in an even larger government role in the system.
“Medicare for all” has a nice ring to it, and the Democratic base has been enthusiastic in principle. Longer term, there is no question that this is the type of “solution” that leftist thinkers want.
Asking people to give up current healthcare insurance (HCI) arrangements and trust the government to provide something better may not be an electoral winner, however, particularly in more conservative states. Also, the prospect of paying higher taxes is unwelcome. As details of the MFA proposals have been spelled out, support has been sinking – quite possibly dooming the far left candidates. Elizabeth Warren’s healthcare hara-kiri, William Galston, Wall Street Journal, 11/5/19.
Ms. Warren should be commended for the wealth of detail in her plan, which allows voters to judge it for themselves. This said, she may well have penned the longest suicide note in recorded history. There’s no reason for the entire Democratic Party to sign it.
Ultimately, will the US opt for a top-down healthcare system such as the “value-based contracting” initiative that is being worked on in Delaware? What we can do about state’s primary doctor shortage, Wayne Smith, News Journal, 9/1/19.
Or will there be healthcare payment reforms that enhance individual incentives to control costs, such as allowing freer use of health savings accounts coupled with catastrophic coverage? If conservatives are smart, we believe they will get behind something along those lines. Data Delaware, Chris Casscells, 10/23/19. https://bit.ly/2PXfOFw & https://bit.ly/36EBsEt
More work ahead to digest all this, we have acquired the Scott Atlas book recommended by Dr. Casscells (and Charlie Copeland) to check it out.
6. Climate realism – SAFE’s efforts in demanding proof for the manmade global warming theory (MMGWT) have been extensively reported in recent weeks. Kudos to John Greer for his yeoman efforts, including staying abreast of the scientific inquiry and giving a slideshow on the climate realist perspective to local audiences (most recently the Rail Splitters and the Hercules men’s club).
Efforts are underway to produce a video of this presentation that can be posted on-line and shared with contacts who may be persuadable.
That being said, however, it must be recognized that the MMGWT has been widely endorsed by the media, academia, and the Democratic Party. And even the Republicans seem to be hedging their bets, if only for political reasons (no one wants to pay for measures to fight global warming, but they fear being ridiculed as non-believers).
•We don’t have time to bother with the climate deniers, they are simply wrong and the overwhelming scientific consensus proves it. Climate alarmists stick to talking points, 11/4/19.
•It’s impossible to exaggerate how dire this problem is. Climate crisis upon us now will dwarf Dust Bowl, Delaware Chatter, 11/7/19.
•Isn’t there some possibility of a win-win on this issue? Republican Brian Fitzpatrick to introduce carbon tax bill that funds infrastructure, Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, 9/25/19.
OK, there would be a carbon tax, but most of it would be spent on infrastructure which is popular. Notice, however, that this violates the principle that any new taxes should be used for deficit reduction – not new spending.
Some thoughts for the path forward:
•Climate realists should not be expected to prove that the MMGWT isn’t true, it’s up to climate alarmists to bear the burden of persuasion.
•We should remind the public of previous predictions of catastrophe that have failed to come true, and there are plenty of them.
•Underscore that science is not a public opinion survey and highlight efforts of scientists who have questioned the validity of the MMGWT, such as William Happer of Princeton University. Former Trump official sounds off against MMGWT in no uncertain terms, Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, 11/5/19.
•Continue emphasizing that the US share of global carbon emissions is relatively small, and draconian regulation in this country won’t do a thing about growing emissions from China, India, etc.
•What about inviting Dr. David Legates to a SAFE board meeting for an informative discussion of this subject?
7. Renewable Energy – Closely connected to the issues posed by the MMGWT are a series of government program being pursued for the purported purpose of saving the world from climate catastrophe. Here again, SAFE has been actively involved; the efforts of John Nichols are particularly notable. Here’s a brief rundown on the state of play.
• The Environmental Appeals Board has 90 days from 9/24/19 to issue written order re dismissal of Nichols appeal re DNREC’s grant of a construction permit to Bloom Energy for the replacement of fuel cells at the “qualified fuel cell provider” power facilities. After that, litigation may follow. In our view, DNREC was clearly wrong to refuse to f/up on points raised at public hearing in January 2019, but the feasibility of litigation remains to be determined.
•Bloom Energy has experienced lots of bad publicity. See, e.g., Bloom Energy’s history of questionable numbers, Dan Primack, axios.com, 10/30/19. Another damaging article (this one about Bloom in Delaware, with attribution to John Nichols) is expected in Forbes within the next several weeks.
•The Bloom Energy saga aside, “renewable energy” thrust continues and new moves by the state are likely. Expand RPS – offshore wind project – electric cars & charging stations. Climate alarmists stick to talking points, especially Section B re Shawn Garvin of DNREC, 11/4/19; Support electric power that is reliable and affordable, 10/7/19.
•We would like get state government and/or General Assembly to listen to a fair-minded debate re manmade global warming theory, see Item 7 infra. Short of that, we need to continue finding chinks in the other side’s armor that can be tellingly attacked via legislative contacts, letters to the editor, etc.
8. DE education (Bold Plan) – SAFE sponsored a talk on this subject by veteran educator Ron Russo, as was reported in the SAFE newsletter (Fall 2019).
In general, the concept makes a lot of sense – especially the consolidation of school districts that is contemplated. Also, the benefits of reducing non-educational time on the school calendars (up to some 30 days a year) could be substantial.
Care must be exercised to avoid going too far with the notion of school independence, however, i.e., what if some building principal decided to totally revamp the curriculum without regard to normal practices?
Also, it wasn’t clear from a subsequent talk to the RMLC by DE Sen. Mike Ramone that Russo and Ramone are fully in synch on the legislation that is proposed for introduction next year.
In short, this bill should be read carefully before endorsing it.
#Re the “generational divide,” the Right wants limited government and individual liberty while the Left is united in the pursuit of an unachievable earthly utopia. If these differences prove irreconcilable, as I would expect, political war will be followed by actual war, probably triggered by attempts to confiscate firearms in individual hands. – SAFE director