Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The "$400 billion bribe"

By Donald Sensing

Paul Campos, law professor at the University of Colorado, writes of the Medicare prescription drug benefit bill "that's working its way toward President Bush's signature."

This bill is essentially a $400 billion bribe, designed to buy votes in next year's election. At a time when it has become more obvious than ever that the Medicare program is destined to bankrupt the federal treasury, this bill features no structural reforms, no real means testing, and no economic logic.

It is, in fact, the purest sort of political thievery, taking the wages of the working poor (Medicare is the most regressive tax program in the federal budget) and giving them to a politically powerful bloc of voters, without regard to who among those voters needs or deserves a piece of this spectacularly unjust giveaway.
Well, I already pointed out that governance in America today means nothing much more than who benefits from the money funnel that we call the federal government. Whether Left or Right, whether Democrat or Republican, the only real questions of American government and governance are, "Who will be be the beneficiaries of government spending? How much shall we exact from the public for it, and by what means?"

Now we know how they are answering the question: they take money from the demographic groups of people who vote less and give it to the groups who vote more. In America today, there is a direct correlation between age and voting. More older people vote, and vote more regularly, than younger people do.

The number one objective of every elected official is to be reelected. That's why both the Democrats and the Republicans want to buy seniors' votes with a prescription-drug plan.

Update: Steven Antler points out that the drug plan won't actually help many seniors, and the ones it doers help, it won't help a whole lot (via Bill Hobbs).

This is, of course, the usual Congressional shell game. They tell a chosen constituency of the great things they are doing for them, make huge political hay out of how compassionate and caring they are, and then it finally sinks in that what was actually done was not all that much. Both parties do this. The only real difference is that the Democrats do it with money more than the Republicans, who tend to do it with legislation or, just as commonly, empty symbolic gestures such as the constitutional amendment to forbid burning the flag (don't get me started on that stupidity). But both will use your money to buy someone else's votes, quite readily.

If you read the details of the bill in the WashTimes piece, you can see why it's probably more a con game than real aid:
Under the Senate bill, a senior would pay $275 annually and then would have to pay only 50 percent of drug costs up to $4,500. Seniors then would have to cover their full costs until about $5,800, when Medicare would cover 90 percent of costs. . . .

Under the House measure, seniors would pay a $250 annual deductible and 20 percent of drug costs up to $2,000, at which point they'd be on their own until their total out-of-pocket costs reach $3,700. Medicare then would pay all drug bills.

However, the House bill institutes a "means test" under which seniors with incomes above $60,000 would have to pick up some of their drug bills beyond the catastrophic level.
"We're from the government, and we're here to help you."


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Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Rumsfeld vs the Army

By Donald Sensing

Reposted from DonaldSensing.com; links were valid at the time.

You may recall that a few months ago the position of SecDef Donald Rumsfeld was that the invasion of Iraq could be successfully conducted with a much smaller force than was used in the Gulf War. The Army, led by then-SecArmy Thomas White and Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, demurred. In fact, when asked by a Congressional committee about the size of the forces required, Shinseki answered that the war and the occupation following would require hundreds of thousands of troops.

Rummy went ballistic and told the media that Shinseki "misspoke." He dispatched Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz to Capitol Hill to, basically, call Shinseki a nitwit. The Rumsfeld plan for force strength was used (minus the 4th Mech, it must be noted, whose absence from the battle was not Rummy's fault) and now we've occupied Iraq since May 1, the date President Bush declared the end of offensive operations against Iraqi forces.

White left office not long ago, driven away by the ever vindictive Rumsfeld, who has a well-deserved reputation for wreaking vengeance on those whom he thinks have crossed him. (White, however, seems no paragon of virtue in his own right, so there's plenty of ego and anger all around.) Then White was interviewed two days ago by USA Today:

Former Army secretary Thomas White said in an interview that senior Defense officials "are unwilling to come to grips" with the scale of the postwar U.S. obligation in Iraq. The Pentagon has about 150,000 troops in Iraq and recently announced that the Army's 3rd Infantry Division's stay there has been extended indefinitely.

"This is not what they were selling (before the war)," White said, describing how senior Defense officials downplayed the need for a large occupation force. "It's almost a question of people not wanting to 'fess up to the notion that we will be there a long time and they might have to set up a rotation and sustain it for the long term."
Bill Quick said that White's piece was "sour grapes" and wondered what White's point was, especially considering (I presume Bill meant) now that White is out of office and can't affect policy any more. Specifically, Bill asked, "So what is White's point? That we shouldn't have taken out Saddam?"

This sparked a lively 13-comment debate in which Howard Veit and I both pointed out that neither White nor Shinseki ever argued against the war itself. The minor point of Shinseki's testimony was that a larger invasion force would be better than the one envisioned. The major point was that post-war occupation would require enormous personnel and material resources for a long time. Events since the end of offensive action show that Shinseki was more right than Rummy, though Rummy was correct that the invasion force could be substantially smaller than the Army seemed to want.

Phil Carter sums up the the status quo nicely. Pay particular attention to how the active-duty force is badly strained by the postwar commitment in Iraq:
The problem today is that we built a nation-building plan with insufficient flexibility to react to a changing situation on the ground. America has no more "9-1-1" force it can rush to Iraq to add combat power on the ground. Fully 50 percent of the Army's combat power is already devoted to Iraq. Add in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Korea, and other missions, and you soon have an Army stretched to the limit. We do have reserve formations capable of nation-building. However, those troops require extensive time to mobilize and deploy -- on the order of 3-6 months. We needed to call these troops up months ago to make a difference today. The right plan would have called these soldiers up as a contingency force, just in case. I realize that would have meant hardship for thousands of reservists like me. But it would've been the prudent strategy for America to pursue.
Phil's prescription? A much larger mobilization of reserve components is needed, especially of the National Guard. The stakes are too high in Iraq to try to do the job on the cheap. Get NATO involved. And come clean with the American people that the tasks before us are critical but will require much more resources and personnel than we have so far counted on.

I wrote in October 2001 (no longer online) that the job ahead was huge:
We and our western allies must lead the way out for those people. It will take a new kind of national commitment. It will cost a fortune. It will require new kinds of armies, armies not of soldiers but of engineers, agriculturalists, financiers, administrators and educators. It will take decades and there are no guarantees. But the alternative is to fight culture and religious wars generation after generation.
And yes, I still stand by "decades" overall. My grandchildren will be coping with these issues in some way, and I don't yet have a child out of high school.