Memories of Past Policy Disasters, and the Likelihood of ACA Repeal

Clowns (ICP)

Ah. Memories of 1981...

Back in 1981 the Reagan administration promised big tax cuts for the rich; higher defense spending; no spending cuts in programs that were really useful but only in rent-seeking waste, fraud, and abuse; and a balanced budget. They didn't add up. They went forward anyway.

The consequence was the huge full-employment Reagan budget deficit, and gave America a Hobson's choice between:

  1. a decade of slow growth if a weak-dollar policy aimed at balanced trade and the financing requirements of the federal government starved private investment.

  2. a decade of the destruction of American midwestern manufacturing as the capital inflow to finance investment was in its turn financed by the eagerness generated by a strong-dollar policy to purchase from abroad.

The Reagan administration chose (2)--which was bad, although better than (1) for the country as a whole. The Reagan Democrats of McComb County got what they deserved. And a lot of other Americans got what they did not deserve.

My late friend Susan Rasky--who was covering the budget for the New York Times that year--blamed the press corps of which she was a part for allowing itself to report the fake news that the situation was confused, and that the Reagan administration did have a plan to juggle the situation--big tax cuts for the rich; higher defense spending; no spending cuts in programs that were really useful but only in rent-seeking waste, fraud, and abuse; and a balanced budget--because Reagan budget director David Stockman was a wizard. And she always put a large part of the blame for the press corps' institutional failure on then-Washington Post editor William Greider.

In her estimation, Greider guided his reporters away from the real story in order to preserve his own forthcoming scoop of reporting it in the Atlantic profile of David Stockman he was going to publish after the budget fight was over. And she found herself unable to get her own editors to back her as fully as she wanted them to--for they asked: "If you are right about this, why is the Washington Post reporting things differently?"

The Republican senate majority leader back in 1981, Howard Baker, characterized the Reagan administration's plans as "a riverboat gamble". That was not a compliment. He was waiting to see whether outside pressure from the public sphere might force the Reagan administration to reconsider, but without that pressure he was not brave enough to do anything other than shut up and soldier.

Similarly, back in 2001 neither Paul O'Neill nor Alan Greenspan was brave enough to say that the Bush tax cuts should be conditional on the continued existence of a budget surplus to pay for them.

Today's Republicans are unlikely to do any better than their predecessors--Greenspan, O'Neill, Baker. And is today's press corps?

Josh Marshall: Chauncey Trump: "The AMA, which has been rather comically pro-Trump to date, came out today and told Republicans that they shouldn't repeal Obamacare without a clear replacement...

...Notably, even two of the most conservative health care economists at AEI, came out yesterday and said that 'repeal and delay' would be a disaster. The truth is that "repeal and delay" is the policy equivalent of taking off from JFK to Heathrow with 2,000 miles worth of gas and saying you're going to figure it out en route.... This morning President-Elect Trump is out with an ambiguous and possibly meaningless (it's sort of like Being There) series of tweets warning Republicans to "be careful" and make sure that Democrats "own" the "ObamaCare disaster." But... only about a quarter of Americans want Obamacare repealed. A quarter!

The gist of what Republicans are saying this morning - both Trump and the GOP - is that they need to remind Americans how awful the ACA is so they'll have some way to explain, to justify why they're taking health care coverage from 20 to 25 million Americans, to have some explanation for the s%$&storm they're about the fly the country's health care system into.... They simply have no idea what to do and now they're being taunted by Trump not to blow it and he doesn't have any idea either. It would be funny if millions of people's lives and well being weren't on the line.