StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

Am I on the Right or Left?

11 Aug 2010
Posted by Bruce Bartlett

This is not something I spend much time worrying about, but it seems to matter to Arnold Kling, who criticizes Ezra Klein for locating me on the right side of the political spectrum in a recent post about the Laffer Curve. Kling approvingly cites someone named Tino Sanandaji as his authority. This is a little odd since I know Arnold fairly well and not only have never met this Tino person, but never heard of him before today. Based on what evidence, I don't know, Tino seems to think that I am best categorized as a European-style Social Democrat. I believe he means this as an insult.

Apparently, Tino is upset because supposedly I said that the top marginal income tax rate could go as high as 83 percent before a Laffer Curve effect kicked in and revenues would fall if the rate went higher. This is what I am quoted as saying by Dylan Matthews, who actually wrote the Laffer Curve post:

"I would hate to venture a specific number.... I would, however, say that I think the top rate could be quite a bit higher than it is without significantly impairing incentives or leading to excessive amounts of tax avoidance. I think 50 percent is an important threshold and I would be very reluctant to go higher even if it raised net revenue.... Anthony Atkinson, probably the leading public finance economist in England, estimates (PDF) that the top rate could go as high as 63% to 83% before it became counterproductive in terms of revenue...The European Central Bank...finds that only two European countries are on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve. All other countries could raise substantial additional revenue by raising tax rates."
"Since our rates are much lower than those it Europe, it suggests that we have a very long way to go before the top rate became counterproductive."
As one can clearly see, the 83 percent figure is not mine, but that of economist Anthony Atkinson. I did not endorse it; I merely cited it because his and the ECB estimate were the two most recent ones I had seen. I passed them along to Dylan merely for informational purposes. Moreover, the 83 percent figure was not a point estimate, but the upper level of a range estimate.
Finally, I made it quite clear that I would not favor raising the top rate to the revenue-maximizing rate; I stated that the top rate should not go above 50 percent under any circumstances. So, basically, this fellow Tino got just about everything wrong. Why Kling cites him as a reputable source on anything is a mystery to me.
On the question of where I place myself on the political spectrum, I will have more to say as time goes on. In my own mind, I have the same political philosophy I've always had--basically libertarian but tempered by Burkean small-C conservatism. But I am no longer a member of the Republican Party and no longer consider myself part of the "conservative movement." That's not because I changed, but because I believe that they have. The Republican Party of today is not the party of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan that I was once a member of; it stands for nothing except the pursuit of power as an end in itself, with no concern whatsoever for what is right for the country. In a recent interview with The Economist magazine, I characterized the Republicans as the greedy, sociopathic party. I stand by that.
As far as the conservative movement is concerned, I think Russell Kirk and Bill Buckley would be absolutely aghast at the things it stands for today and the people that are acclaimed as its leaders. When clowns like Glenn Beck are its leaders and right-wing bigots pander to ignorant yahoos about a planned mosque in lower Manhattan, I want to be as far away from any such movement as I possibly can. And readers of this blog know what I think of the know-nothing tea party movement, which conservatives have latched onto en masse.
Anyway, I am happy to classify myself, politically, as an independent these days; nothing more, nothing less.



Here's hoping you've got lots of company.

Zinc - Indeed. How any

Zinc - Indeed. How any reasonable person can be anything OTHER than an "independent" is beyond me. Evaluate every issue on its merits, and recognize that intelligent people will often agree to disagree. The mouthpieces on both ends of the spectrum who pander to the uneducated masses, and profit by whipping them into an "us vs them" frenzy are a big part of the problem with politics today.

Amen, Zinc, amen. And

Amen, Zinc, amen. And Hallelujah, too!

Your new friend Tino is a

Your new friend Tino is a graduate student in the doctoral public policy program at Chicago (I googled him). Wow! What a reliable source!!

Keep up the good work.

When does the Laffer Curve "kick in"?

"the top marginal income tax rate could go as high as 83 percent before a Laffer Curve effect kicked in and revenues would fall if the rate went higher"
Somewhat pedantic point: the Laffer curve effect exists throughout the entire curve, it is merely estimated that at 83 percent that effect overwhelms the marginal revenue generated by taking a larger slice of the (shrinking) pie. The reason it's not entirely pedantic is that Laffer himself doesn't argue that tax cuts pay for themselves (i.e, that we are on the right side of the curve). Rather, it is that the revenue lost by reducing marginal tax-rates is less than that estimated by models which do not take into account the Laffer curve effect.

Laffer, Tax Cuts and Revenues

"Laffer himself doesn't argue that tax cuts pay for themselves".

True, Laffer did not say this as a per se matter. He did say that, depending on the rate of tax that is cut and many other factors difficult to precisely predict, a tax cut MAY pay for itself (and more). Specifically, Arthur Laffer wrote (n.b. penultimate sentence):

The Laffer Curve itself does not say whether a tax cut will raise or lower revenues. Revenue responses to a tax rate change will depend upon the tax system in place, the time period being considered, the ease of movement into underground activities, the level of tax rates already in place, the prevalence of legal and accounting-driven tax loopholes, and the proclivities of the productive factors. If the existing tax rate is too high--in the "prohibitive range" shown above--then a tax-rate cut would result in increased tax revenues. The economic effect of the tax cut would outweigh the arithmetic effect of the tax cut.

For example, I think Laffer would have little problem with the idea that a rate cut from, say 100 percent to 70 percent, would result in a net increase of tax revenues. This is, of course, an extreme example used only to demonstrate the idea.


I always tell people "I'm not a Democrat--I'm an anti-Republican."

Bruce - speaking as a full

Bruce - speaking as a full throated liberal, I think there is room for you in the Dems side. Not to say you and I are in agreement on everything, but still. Come on in. The water is JUST fine (and we could use some backbone like yours - Diary of Wimpy Kid seems to be required reading these days for the Dems.).

I don't know what you are

...but as a liberal Democrat, I wish there were more of you in public office (or even the opposition) than our current crop of, "We must tighten our belts" Southern Strategy goons.

All right, one more time for

All right, one more time for everybody that's forgotten. If you are not on board with the Republican program, you are not an independent. No, you are socialist, fascist, communist, muslim, nazi, aetheist, liberal al qaeda and legion of doom member and you wear makeup like the joker. Got it, comrade Bartlett? It's a clear, concise label that I wear proudly and you should, too.

Thanks as ever for some

Thanks as ever for some sanity.

Regarding party politics, I am not sure the concept of a "political spectrum" has much meaning any more (if it ever did) in this country. There appears to be a huge perpendicular factor of anti-elitism in both parties but particularly the Republicans. It is the source (in my view) of the Tea Party phenomenon. Issues are complex and seemingly intractable so large numbers of people yearn for simplicity and villains. (They also appear to be fundamentally unwilling to deal with numbers.) The Republican party has abandoned its traditional economic-based elitism and belief in stewardship in order to win elections reliably. Hence the Southern strategy, Joe the Plumber, and so on. Any resolution of our deep problems requires a return to a view that we want people from amongst "the best and brightest" as our senior government personnel. That was what excited me about Obama and similarly what scares me about those who attack him so much.

How can this anti-elitist rhetoric be reversed within our body politic?

"How can this anti-elitist

"How can this anti-elitist rhetoric be reversed within our body politic?"
We've tumbled down into a democratical republick. Can we tumble back up?

Get yourself some real choice

It's high time for the American publick to start demanding a real multi-party system.

Bruce isn't a flaming lib.

Bruce isn't a flaming lib. He's just a Conservative who dares to tell the truth. A very rare breed indeed.

Am I on the Right or Left?

Who cares? What's on the label of a can of goods is less important than the contents, I say. And, Tino seems not to have read very well the very clear distinction Bartlett made between revenue maximization and growth maximization in relation to the Laffer Curve.

I also had never heard of Tino. Having said that, why should it should it matter one bit if Bartlett has never heard of Tino? Does that make Tino's comments any less valid? Bartlett's ideas can be clearly found in the written record, here and elsewhere and I think it is fair game for Tino or anyone else unknown to Bartlett to take a crack at them, good ole Viv included. The idea that another's ideas are valid only if you have heard of that person, or are familiar with him or her in the chummy blogoshere strikes me as more than a bit arrogant---it's just wrong.

Bravo! Funny, I am a

Bravo! Funny, I am a life-long democrat but am now finding myself disgusted with the Democrats as well as the Republicans. I ask myself questions like why healthcare reform did not include any malpractice reform, and can only conclude that is was because Democratic leaders care more about malpractice lawyers than about the rest of us. I ask why the Obama administration has not managed to prosecute ONE SINGLE PERPETRATOR of the titanic frauds of the last three years, and why taxpayers have to subsidize management, shareholders, and bondholders, and I can only conclude that the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, has been completely captured by the banking industry. The appointment of TImothy Geithner was a sickening warning that Bush's policies would be continued. Fin Reg: toothless. Congress attacks industries like biotechnology, medical devices, and for-profit education (which contains both good and bad companies) while totally ignoring, say, pay-day lending, a predatory industry which should be shut down today. And the subsidies are so ill-targeted as to defy belief. Senator Durbin is bragging about having revived a "clean coal" project that will bring his constituents 1,000 new jobs and possibly create another 1,000 jobs around the state. Cost: $1 billion, or $500,000 per job. Both parties are fiddling while Rome burns.

"I ask why the Obama

"I ask why the Obama administration has not managed to prosecute ONE SINGLE PERPETRATOR of the titanic frauds of the last three years,"

because most of what they did was completely legal. sad to say it but it's true. most of the high profile prosecutions we are seeing now are the ponzi scheme stuff. just because everyone hated what happened doesn't meant it was illegal. i don't like any nazi stuff but it's still legal.

Party of One

"... I am no longer a member of the Republican Party and no longer consider myself part of the "conservative movement." That's not because I changed, but because I believe that they have."

I have always believed that the far-right fringe of the political spectrum and the far-left fringe have more in common with each other than they do with the vast majority of reasonable-thinking people in the middle. After watching Bob Inglis' describe his experiences being whipped in a primary for not being unreasonable enough, I started thinking about what it must be like to be a traditional Republican (like my parents and their parents) in today's GOP--specifically what would I do if the looney fringe left took over the Democratic party and insisted that potential candidates pass a litmus test that consisted of agreeing to make policy only after consulting a shaman or promoted healthcare reform via the use of healing crystals? Obviously, this would not be good for the country and I could not in good conscience associate myself with such nonsense. But neither would I be able to jump ideological ship to the other side just because my side had lost its collective mind. I would be a person without a party, or more accurately, a party of one.

It's a sad thing for both parties, and for the country, that the balance and compromise that can be achieved from honest debate between two opposing viewpoints is all but lost to us now. My parents are stunned by the stupidity of the new 'leaders' of the right (yet refuse to turn off Fox News, claiming to watch Beck and others purely for 'entertainment') and I'm sure most other real conservatives are too. I hope this is a temporary blip for the GOP. Tell you what, I'll consult my shaman and get back to you on that...

Who on the left is insisting

Who on the left is insisting on anything even remotely like a "a litmus test that consisted of agreeing to make policy only after consulting a shaman or promoted healthcare reform via the use of healing crystals?" I guess you think you're being funny or something, but to me this comment is just plain stupid.

god bless you

Bruce Bartlett, you represent my views perfectly. The Republican party of today, a far cry from the Republican party of the 1970s, is immature, intellectually dishonest, bankrupt of ideas, led by morons, and utterly unconcerned with the real issues facing this country. The Democrats are the adult party in this country but they are tempered by their cowardice. I wish more people thought like you. America needs people like you in office now more than it did in the 1980s.

In regards to party politics,

In regards to party politics, it would be nice to also have some clear-headed pragmatists in the vein of Andrew Sullivan and Bruce Bartlett coming from the left side of the spectrum too. It is fine and dandy, as a left-leaning Dem, to read Bruce and Sully and a few others of his ilk, and get giddy about their head shaking at the state of the current GOP. But I wonder how people like myself would react to a similar voice coming from our ranks. Someone who speaks to the truth about Medicare and SS. I suspect Ezra Klein and Nate Silver would qualify, but they seem lacking to me. A sympathetic soul with a critical mind taking on the Left in the same manner would be a refreshing addition to Bruce and Frum and Sully for a well rounded approach to transcending party politics.

@stogs, i completely agree

i completely agree with you. You should check out Glenn Greenwald at He is left leaning and is consistently challenging the left, including Mr. Obama.

My views exactly.

Like a couple of above posters, my views are right in there with you and Andrew Sullivan (to the extent that there's daylight between you, I'm probably closer to you). The interesting thing is that I hit voting age only a decade ago and like a sizable majority of my age cohort I pretty comfortably identify as a Democrat. I'm no fan of big government or identity politics but my only experience with the Republican party is that it's a bunch of paranoid, power-hungry, irresponsible, warmongering, anti-science religious crazies who have a real problem with the truth. And it seems to be getting worse, not better. Bush was terribly incompetent but at least his heart was in the right place. I cannot say the same for Palin.

When, if ever, do I get a party I can wholeheartedly support?

The problem is not the Republican Party

The problem is the Conservative minions and the Tea Party extremists.

Republicans ceased to exist in 1994.

Conservatives have terrorized our nation since Gingrich's second tryst with a female staffer.

Tea Partiers are little more than the spawn of Dick Armey, the Osama bin Laden of Texas.

Bruce, You should distinguish


You should distinguish the question of where you are ideologically from the question of where you are emotionally.

The conservative establishment dumped you for speaking your mind (and speaking sensibly and honestly), and you bear a grudge so large it can be seen from space. So when you dish out criticism for fiscal irresponsibility, you heap it upon Republicans/conservatives, and not nearly as much on equally (or at least greatly) fiscally irresponsible Democrats/liberals.

Surely there are many on the right who would brand you a flaming liberal simply because you are not parroting their absurd positions on taxes, etc. But others rightly point to your very strong bias, at least in terms of your criticism of the left vs. of the right.

I say the above as someone who is very glad you have spoken out about all the "imposters". You're a much-needed sensible voice to fiscal policy debate. But you should be aware of your bias and unfairness, which detracts from your credibility among many quite understandably. If your catharsis from ridiculing or "getting back at" those who mistreated you is worth that cost to your degree of influence, I guess that's your prerogative, but it's unfortunate.

aazz, you haven't been paying

aazz, you haven't been paying attention; let me bring you up to date as to what's been happening for the past 20 years. The "fiscally irresponsible Democrats" raised taxes in 1993 (without a single Republican vote)and turned the deficit into a surplus. Then the Democrats voted against the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and the Medicare Part D giveaway that added $3 trillion to our deficit on a 10-year view. Your assertion that Democrats are "equally fiscally irresponsible" is preposterous on its face. Couple Republicans' disasterous budget policies with their holier-than-thou hypocrisy, and they make an easy target for Mr. Bartlett, who is spot-on in assigning primary blame (and if you had read his most recent book, you would have found he heaps plenty of blame on the liberals' spending "beast." And your psychoanalysis of Mr. Bartlett is, to say the least, a bit off-target. He's not nearly so upset about being let by a conservative think-tank for speaking his mind as he is at his party for leaving him, a process that began decades ago and has now spun out of control.

TM, Your comment, too,


Your comment, too, reflects substantial bias.

Re: The "fiscally irresponsible Democrats" raised taxes in 1993 (without a single Republican vote)and turned the deficit into a surplus.

So you give that tax increase most -- or even all -- of the credit for the surplus? Don't you think that's giving it (and the Democrats) too much credit?

Then the Democrats voted against the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and the Medicare Part D giveaway that added $3 trillion to our deficit on a 10-year view.

Excuse me, but are you actually suggesting that the Democrats wanted to spend LESS on that Medicare expansion than did the Republicans? Really? Wrong. So you're doing worse than giving the Democrats too much credit and the Republicans too much blame -- you're mixing up who should get more blame.

But good job mindlessly parroting partisan talking points.

On the one hand, we have a

On the one hand, we have a party, the Republicans, that DID vote to give the richest americans a huge tax cut (and all the rest, a little one), and that DID vote to expand medicare drug coverage, in a very expensive way.

On the other hand, we have the Democratics, who "aazz" claims deserve more blame for the US deficit. Because they (in the mind of the aazz) wished they could spend more, even though they didn't actually do it.

Re: "the Democratics, who

Re: "the Democratics, who "aazz" claims deserve more blame for the US deficit"

You really should read what people actually say, and not put words in people's mouths. I didn't indicate in any way that the Democrats deserve more blame.

And yes, it is wrong to say Republicans deserve all the blame or at least more blame than Democrats for expanding Medicare when the Democrats were pushing for an even larger expansion.

It's two posts above you

It's two posts above you aazz. Really, you did blame the Democrats for the deficit caused by the Republicans, in a Republican majority congress, voting in medicare expansion. You said the Democrats should get MORE BLAME for the deficit caused by this act.

To just deny what you said when everyone, including you, can read it: that's a cable news tactic, which, I'm sorry to tell you, can't be adapted to the written word very well.

I guess you're

I guess you're logically-challenged. I'll walk you (and anyone else interested) through your non sequitur.

Your Premise #1: Brooks implied that the Democrats were more to blame for one piece of legislation that exacerbated the long-term fiscal imbalance.

Your Conclusion: Brooks is asserting or implying that the Democrats are more to blame for the long-term fiscal imbalance overall.

Obviously a non sequitur. Why? Because the "logic" of it would only be valid if an unstated Premise #2 were valid: That placing more blame on the Democrats for one factor in the long-term fiscal imbalance equates to placing more blame on Democrats overall for the long-term fiscal imbalance. Such a premise certainly should not be presumed valid unless proven for the particular case*. That was your obvious, silly error, to which you were oblivious while ironically expressing completely unfounded confidence in the superiority of your argumentation (not to mention of your honesty, something you baselessly accused me of lacking).

And let me state clearly: I am not placing more blame on the Democrats for the long-term fiscal imbalance or for exacerbation thereof vs. any given baseline. And there's certainly plenty to blame the Republicans for, most notably tax cuts and more generally putting downward political pressure on taxes (which should have been higher over the past couple of decades, and need to be higher than they are now, along with reduction of tax expenditures which I view more akin to "spending" anyway).

Yet another bit of (likely) irony is that you are probably yet another one of those "types" so common in the blogosphere (unfortunately) who are not only thoughtlessly ideologically hyperpartisan, but also reflexively assume that anyone who seems to challenge any of their "side's" talking points must be a hyperpartisan on the "other side" -- and a dishonest one at that! Couldn't possibly just be someone making a sincere point based on the facts to the best of his knowledge and applying logic to the best of his ability, all in a good-faith effort at objectivity. Folks of this type don't tend to do much of any of the above, and they assume the same of anyone who challenges their side's myths even in the slightest.

* One could argue in some cases that the one particular factor is such an overwhelming factor that in that particular case, Premise #2 would actually be valid. But let's not pretend you thought it through that far, and in any case I don't think it would be valid; One would need to establish that the incremental amount of future Medicare Part D spending (the amount above what Republicans would have spent if there were no Democratic pressure to do so) exceeds all other factors in the long-term fiscal imbalance for which Republicans are responsible in one way or another.

Meant to refer to "aazz", not

Meant to refer to "aazz", not "Brooks"

Show me the offsets

If you want something (tax cuts, two wars, free drugs for seniors, etc.) you should pay for them. Bush 41 did the responsible thing and raised taxes. He was ousted for it. Clinton did the right thing and raised taxes, and didn't receive a single vote from the Republicans and was punished in '94. Obama did the right thing and passed a deficit neutral healthcare bill that was the same as the 1990 Heritage proposal, the Republican alternative to Hillarycare, and Romneycare (and quite a bit different than the ideal liberal plan). We know how well that went over with the Republicans. Compared to Republicans of the last 20 years, Democrats are paragons of responsibility.


Santa Claus economics was Burkean and principled when pushed by Kemp, Reagan and yourself but now it's brainless immoral cynicism?

You're going to need to justify how Santa Claus economics wasn't cynical poliics when proposed by Kemp 35 years ago -- when it somehow is only suddenly in the last 5 years.

Make that 45 years ago.

Make that 45 years ago.

35 year ago

35 year ago

Two cheers for Bruce

I greatly appreciate Mr. Bartlett's clarification of his general political stance, and many of the above comments are very good as well. There are many, many Americans (me for one) who would identify themselves as "basically libertarian but tempered by Burkean small-C conservatism." Largely because of state funding for primary elections, however, voters have no real choice aside from the two major parties. We desperately need to "disestablish" the two-party system.

My own personal experience attests to Patrick's harsh characterization of today's sociopathic GOP, I'm sorry to say.

"AAZZ" is right to point out that Bruce undermines his very apt criticisms of the GOP by getting emotional and making a personal vendetta out of it.

Contrary to TM, without one key Republican, Bill Clinton's tax hike in 1993 would not have passed. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (R-PA) cast the deciding vote, probably why she lost the next election. (Amusing factoid: She is now Chelsea's mother in law!) Balancing the budget in the 1990s was a combination of the Democratic tax hike of 1993 and Republican spending cuts after the 1994 Contract With America. Neither party today can fairly be called fiscally responsible, however.

Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinksy

Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinksy was a Democrat.

Thanks for the fact check

Thanks for the fact check fact check. I knew she was the deciding vote, but was under the wrong impression about her partisan affiliation for years.

Aazz, Why Don't You Ask Mr. Bartlett

RE: "Excuse me, but are you actually suggesting that the Democrats wanted to spend LESS on that Medicare (Part D) expansion than did the Republicans? Really? Wrong."

aazz, the Republican leadership, after leaning on its members, eked through passage of the Medicare Part D in 1993 bill by a count of 220-215. Most Democrats opposed it, calling the bill a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry.

In Forbes, Nov. 20, 2009, in his column entitled "Republican Deficit Hypocricsy", Bruce Bartlett wrote: "Eventually, the arm-twisting got three Republicans to switch their votes from nay to yea... for a final vote of 220 to 215. In the end, only 25 Republicans voted against the budget-busting drug bill. (All but 16 Democrats voted no.)"

That's a pretty emphatic statement in support of my comment that Democrats voted against the Medicare Part D giveaway. I'm sure you can always find a few liberal Dems who want large unfunded spending programs. But citing their dreams hardly refutes the cold truth: Democrats in the House voted against it, and they voted against it huge. Republicans have to accept responsibility for that one. Sorry aazz.

TM, Are you really that


Are you really that unfamiliar with politics and legislation that you believe that you've just made a valid argument? Did it occur to you that Democrats may have opposed that particular bill, but nevertheless wanted to spend more on Medicare expansion (the drug coverage) overall? Seriously, did that possibility even occur to you?

TM, I did about 5 minutes of


I did about 5 minutes of Googling. A couple of tidbits:

Here's one quote from PBS Newshour, June 28, 2000: "The Democrats' prescription drug plan, twice as costly as the Republicans..."

Another, NewsHour, September 5, 2000: "Gore's own plan calls for spending more than Bush, about $253 billion over ten years."

Obviously that doesn't cover the whole battle, but it does fit with my recollection that, starting with the 2000 presidential campaign, Gore and the Democrats were pushing for a more expensive Medicare drug plan than were Bush and the Republicans.

True, the Republicans' opposition to negotiating drug prices for Medicare added cost, but overall the Democrats wanted to spend more, as I recall. I'm open to contrary evidence, if you can offer it. I'd be glad to be proven wrong and thus learn something new. So go ahead and show me I'm wrong.

Ooh, and how about this from

Ooh, and how about this from the New York Times, June 22, 2002:
"At a cost of $310 billion over 10 years, the House Republican bill would be the biggest expansion of Medicare since creation of the program in 1965. But Democrats in both chambers said it was inadequate. Their proposals call for spending $400 billion to $800 billion or more."

And you probably don't believe me, but I'm not cherry-picking. I haven't come across anything yet indicating that the Democrats wanted to spend less or as little as the Republicans. But by all means, show me if you can find such evidence.

Otherwise, looks like you've got nothing more than an invalid, mindlessly and ignorantly repeated partisan talking point, blaming the Republicans for the cost of Medicare Part D when the Democrats wanted to spend more, not less.

What say you?

Serious economics

Bruce, let the president know not to push to strenously now to get the budget in order so as not to slow down the recovery as FDR did.
You and Mark Zandi are responsible economists who just worked for the wrong poeple. Now, it woud be nice if you two and Dean Baker, Robert Reich and Paul Krugman could have a panel discussion sometime.Y'all might counter the extreme economists like those of the Austrian and Chicago schools!
And wouldn't things be better were we to use the olddiminishing returns rather than the Laugh-er curve?

TM, amen and indeed!

As a lifelong liberal, who is

As a lifelong liberal, who is similarly disgusted with the recent turns my party has taken, I find myself marveling at the notion that I might have some common ground with a member of the Reagan cabinet. I've always ignored your name whenever I see it in print, because of that association. I won't make that mistake, or a similar one, again.

Here's to people for honesty and effectiveness in governance. I don't agree with you on a lot of things, but I'm sure we're on the same side. That's much more then I can say for most Republicans, or Democrats either.

We need more people like you Bruce.

Honest people with a sense of decency left: I don't care whether they right or left. Is that too much to ask these days ?

aazz, Republicans took the Part D proposl from Clinton and ran

with it. You divert attention away from the fact that Medicare Part D was passed by a Republican House and Senate and signed into law by a Republican president by pointing to competing proposals at various points in time. Fine. Let's compare Clinton v. Bush:

The original Bush proposal in 2000 was $258 billion. The final Bush proposal was $400 billion 2003, and the final CBO scoring for the House and Senate bills was $425 billion - $432 billion. Clinton's original proposal was $118 billion in 1999, and his final proposal was $160 billion in 2000.

You said that you haven't come across anything yet indicating that the Democrats wanted to spend less or as little as the Republicans... and to show you if you can find such evidence. Last time I checked, Clinton was a Democrat. Since it was pretty much his idea, does that count?

Of course, it's hard to say what the real Republican proposal was projected to cost, because of the suppression of evidence ahead of the 2004 election... to quote Bruce Bartlett, Forbes, Nov. 20, 2009: "Republicans voted to vastly increase (Medicare costs)--and the federal deficit--by $395 billion between 2004 and 2013. However, the Bush administration knew this figure was not accurate because Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster, had concluded, well before passage, that the more likely cost would be $534 billion. Tom Scully, a Republican political appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services, threatened to fire him if he dared to make that information public before the vote."

So there you have it -- Bush knew his proposal was likely to cost much more than his official forecast, but Republicans suppressed that information. So when you compare "forecasted" costs of Democrats' proposals v. Republicans' ... are you accounting for the deception? Or just taking naive news accounts parroting manipulated data at face value?

TM, The Clinton-Bush


The Clinton-Bush comparison is obviously just a pathetic effort at partisan spin. I present contemporaneous comparisons -- Bush vs. Gore, Republicans vs. Democrats at the same points in time as proposals were being made and the issue debated and voted on, all showing that the Democrats wanted to spend MORE, and that there objection was coming from THAT direction, NOT from a desire to spend LESS, and you come back with Clinton at one time in the history of the issue vs. Bush at a different time. Whom do you think you're kidding with such an absurd masquerade of a refutation?

You do correctly point out that the Bush Administration substantially underestimated the projected cost of their plan (and if I recall correctly, apparently deliberately suppressed the truth). However, that fact does not change the body of evidence -- even what I presented above. For example, how do you read that New York Times quote and conclude that the Democrats objected because they wanted to spend LESS? Again, from New York Times, June 22, 2002:
"At a cost of $310 billion over 10 years, the House Republican bill would be the biggest expansion of Medicare since creation of the program in 1965. But Democrats in both chambers said it was inadequate. Their proposals call for spending $400 billion to $800 billion or more."

Maybe you should stop beginning with your conclusion and then grasping at straws for something that can perhaps possibly appear to support that conclusion, and instead just engage in a genuine search for truth. Just a suggestion.

aazz, if you reread you posts, I think you might find

that you get as emotional as you accuse Mr. Barlett of becoming. You've used adverbs like "mindlessly" and "ignorantly" to describe some of your fellow bloggers, and adjectives like "pathetic" to describe their opinions. A bit strident. Mr. Bartlett, on the other hand, seems to have no more emotion describing Republicans than a football referee decisively throwing a flag for flagrant pass interference; he's making sure everyone can see what the call is. Blaming the ref for getting emotional seems a bit off-target.

I've enjoyed our exchange, and I concede that there is no evidence of Democrats wanting to spend less on Medicare Part D, although I think you are a bit too dismissive of the fact that Clinton's proposals ranged from one-half to one-third those of Bush's. The year 2000 proposals were contemporaneous... they were both from 2000: $160 billion for Clinton and $258 billion for Bush. My memory is a bit hazy, but I think Clinton was still President, and Bush just a candidate... so why is it invalid to compare their proposals? Clinton would have passed his into law in 1999 and 2000 if he had the votes... Clinton had a proven budget consciousness, and as a strong leader of his party might have had his way... but the Democrats did not control Congress, as I remember it. You want to dismiss these facts and cherry pick Gore's proposal vs. Clinton's for some reason . . oh, yes, because Gore's proposal compared unfavorably on total cost to Bush's. Anyway, here are my final points, and I'll leave the last word to you:

1. Using your evidence that Dems' proposals ranged from $400 billion to $800 billion, and laying next to that your concession that the true cost of the Republican proposal was projected by Medicare's chief actuary to be $534 billion, but that GOP suppressed this evidence in order to trick voters into believing they had a $400 billion proposal, it seems at best inconclusive as to which party "really wanted to spend more."

2. You assert that Democrats voted against the Republican Medicare Part D "because they wanted to spend even more", but you produce no evidence that that was their motivation beyond just pointing to the larger dollar amount of their proposals (subject to the caveat in #1 above). If you had spent another five minutes on Google, you would have found that most Democrats voted against it because they thought it was a giveaway to the pharmaceutical companies. Yet you dismiss my point without any support beyond your own unsupported assumption. Do you really think that Democrats would have voted the Democratic proposals into law just because they were .... proposed? (And you accuse me of naivety).

3. The amount of the proposed (and actual) spending is a sideshow to the real point: whether the spending is paid for. How is it financed? You don't address funding provisions in the competing plans, which is a serious omission. Democrats for the most part did not want the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, and had they not passed, revenues would have been available for a Part D program of any of the sizes proposed without causing a federal budget deficit. Look not at what the two parties say, but what they do. For the past 20 years, Democrats talk about large spending increases, but fund the federal budget and programs(1993 tax increases and fully funded healthcare bill). Republicans talk about balanced budgets, but vote to cut taxes and increase Medicare spending without offsets or associated taxes. Your attempt to give equal blame to Democrats misses the critical difference between rhetoric and final action.

4. When I pointed out that the 1993 tax increase went through without a single Republican vote, you questioned whether I wasn't giving too much credit to Democrats. Why? You provide no analysis or evidence to support your point. And no, don't think I'm giving them too much credit. The vast majority of economists will tell you that the tax increase was by far the largest factor in closing the deficit and leading to a surplus. And let me restate: Without a single Republican vote. Naturally, you want to give the Republicans more credit. But in this case, I just don't see how.

I noticed that you haven't commented on the article: The Untold Medicare Improvement. This is possibly the most important article of the year. It would be useful to have someone with your high level of interest in the subject weigh in.

TM, Re: emotion, I don't why


Re: emotion, I don't why you assume that someone is highly emotional if he uses terms like "mindlessly", "ignorantly", and "pathetic". I don't even see why it would be reason to suspect bias. Sometimes people act/speak mindlessly, ignorantly, and pathetically, so surely it can't be assumed that an observer who describes such behavior as such is highly emotional or biased. It all depends on whether or not the shoe fits.

Re: Clinton proposals vs. Bush, first of all, I'm not sure the timelines really coincide, but moreover it's much more apples-to-apples to compare candidate Bush's plan to that of the guy he was running against. Candidates act differently than office-holders, and a candidate is more likely to be pushed to a position he wouldn't otherwise take by his opponent than by the sitting office-holder. So Bush's plan vs. Gore's is much more apples-to-apples. And certainly the proposals of Congressional Democrats in 2002 are best compared to those of Congressional Republicans at the same time, rather than to any Clinton plan, and you can read that NYT excerpt as well as I can.

Granted, the Bush Administration (apparently deliberately and dishonestly) underestimated the cost of their plan, but even if I take your $534 billion as valid (I'm not questioning it; just haven't fact-checked it), (1) it wouldn't indicate that Democrats wanted to spend less, just not necessarily more (which is why you conceded that point, which is a nice sign of maturity and good faith, by the way, albeit fleeting), and (2) it's only a strong argument if the Democrats assumed something like that more accurate, higher estimate (if not, we're still left with Democrats preferring to spend much, much more on Medicare Part D). If they DID know that, then I should take back my assertion that Democrats wanted to spend more, although my main point still holds: It's illegitimate for Democrats to criticize Republicans for the fiscal irresponsibility of Medicare Part D.

Your argument in your point #2 is hard to decipher. Credible reports (NYT, NewsHour) that Democrats wanted to spend more doesn't count as evidence that Democrats wanted to spend more? Re-read that NYT excerpt: "At a cost of $310 billion over 10 years, the House Republican bill would be the biggest expansion of Medicare since creation of the program in 1965. But Democrats in both chambers said it was inadequate. Their proposals call for spending $400 billion to $800 billion or more." What's unclear about that? Democrats objected because the Republican bill was "inadequate". I'm not doubting that the "giveaway" was also a factor in the objection of at least some Democrats, but it seems silly of you to reject the premise that another factor was that they considered the amount of spending (and related benefits) of the Republican bill "inadequate". Your argument seems to be that I'm attributing this latter rationale to the Democrats simply because I can't see any other possible cause for their objection, but in reality I'm attributing this rationale because that's what the evidence indicates. Hopefully I don't have to explain to you that the presence of one reason for opposing a bill doesn't mean there wasn't another reason as well.

Your #3 seems to reflect confusion about the question we are addressing, as well as faulty analysis. We are not addressing the question of which party is more/less fiscally responsible overall. Our question is: Were Republican proposals and the eventual legislation for Medicare Part D less fiscally responsible than Democratic proposals? If Democratic proposals contained a PAYGO provision -- offsetting tax increases and/or spending cuts elsewhere -- please let me know. I don't think they did. And if not, it's faulty analysis to include the Republican Medicare Part D legislation as part of the case for Republicans being less fiscally responsible than Democrats on the basis of even the 2003 tax cuts, let alone the 2001 tax cuts which were passed a year before debate in 2002 that I've cited (the NYT article). First, the tax legislation was independent of what was to happen with Medicare, so as far as the fiscal irresponsibility of Medicare Part D, one should assume tax policy as a constant (as a given), with the only change under consideration being the spending on Medicare Part D. This is particularly true when speaking of 2002 debate when the 2001 tax cuts were already passed. Second, even if you want to contend some linkage in some holistic sense, you can't simply couple the tax revenue difference with Medicare proposals and say that the Democrats wanted to "fund" Medicare Part D because they favored higher tax revenues; you'd have to look at any difference in overall spending as well. If Democrats wanted to spend more than Republicans overall, and hypothetically if the difference were equal to the difference in revenues, you couldn't even make that (dubious) argument of linkage, that holistic view.

Re: "Your attempt to give equal blame to Democrats misses the critical difference between rhetoric and final action." If you're talking about overall fiscal irresponsibility, I'll say again that I've made no assertion that Democrats have been more fiscally irresponsible than Republicans.

Your #4 is a bit weird on at least two counts. You write:

When I pointed out that the 1993 tax increase went through without a single Republican vote, you questioned whether I wasn't giving too much credit to Democrats. Why? You provide no analysis or evidence to support your point.

Isn't the burden of proof on you if you are asserting causation?

Which leads us to:

And no, don't think I'm giving them too much credit. The vast majority of economists will tell you that the tax increase was by far the largest factor in closing the deficit and leading to a surplus.

Really? Not the economic expansion? Or are you saying that "the vast majority of economists" attribute the economic expansion to the 1993 tax cuts? In any case, how about some substantiation of that supposed view of "the vast majority of economists". I wouldn't be surprised if you are basing that claim on nothing other than the vast majority of liberal blogging economists or an even less objective source. But by all means, let's have some links if you are able to provide them.

Finally, you clearly have your ironic hyperpartisan glasses on (again) when you say "Naturally, you want to give the Republicans more credit. But in this case, I just don't see how."

You see, simply because I've questioned your "side's" talking point, you assume I'm on the "other side", and that I "want to" reach and/or state conclusions that promote that "other side". To use a psychological term, you are projecting (yourself onto me). It's all the more ironic given that you've even conceded that I've exposed the invalidity of the very talking point you initially insisted upon. Believe it or not, I'm just calling 'em as I see 'em (not spinning), and I'm not on either "side" so I'm not biased either. I've raised questions of fact, analysis and logic with you, nothing more.

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