Clouds of Dust Still to Settle
By Sol W. Sanders
Sunday, October 20th, 2013 @ 11:41PM
Out of the Washington political chaos of the past few weeks, two overwhelmingly critical questions have yet to be decided.
* Can a wily President Barack Obama, despite his Administration’s repeatedly demonstrated incompetence in both domestic and foreign policy, rescue – by perhaps more constitutionally questionable executive orders – what he may eventually regard as the only monument to his presidency?
* Has the fiery populist – if failed – campaign of the Tea Party mobilized an otherwise distracted electorate to the growing problem of debt and bankrupt federal government social welfare programs to an extent permitting tedious and torturous reform?
Answers are going to be long in coming.
That’s in no small part because a totally partisan media continues to worship at the altar of Obama’s sacred role as the first Afro-American president who communicates to them at new vulgar levels of the popular culture – late night shows, for example – for policy statements. Rationalization of Obamacare’s opening disaster is all too typical of a kept media now mightily contributing to the polarization of the American body politic. The inability to solve highly complex but essentially well known technological problems – as it may turn out, because of corruption as well as incompetence – is explained as “glitches”. Tell that to Amazon or Apple – or even Drudge – who handle tens of millions of such IT issues on a daily basis!
Whatever the outcome of this horrendous start, the fate of the Affordable Medical Care Act eventually will be decided in part with the November 2014 mid-term Congressional elections. Most of the talking heads are confident that despite the ruckus, the Republicans will retain their House majority. That’s because the current 33-seat Republican-tipped majority is to a considerable extent in “safe seats”, districts drawn to their advantage by Republican dominated state legislatures.
The 33 Senate races – 13 incumbent Republicans, 20 Democrats – are harder to call. Furthermore, there is ideological alignment which could and often does vitiate senatorial Party affiliation because more complex statewide electorates are involved. There’s the prime example of West Virginia’s novice Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who registers more and more like his Republican conservative colleagues. He is not up this year but his colleague, Jay Rockefeller, a 30-year-long Democrat incumbent, is retiring. With the Obama Administration’s continued war on fossil fuels (including coal), that bodes well for Republicans grabbing his vacated seat. Even the relics of another era of American politics, the Maine senators, for the most part distance themselves from their neighboring liberals in New England, as one Republican and one independent. The latter might join whichever (or dictate the) majority in a new Senate – one of those not so rare happenstances that permeate history.
Yet, whatever the Republicans’ chances to take over the Senate as well as keep the House and thereafter wage a full-court campaign to repeal Obamacare, the world moves on. The failure so far of any dramatic Republican conservatives’ effort to defund Obamacare already may well have left its mark on the gigantic American health industry. That’s because with something like a sixth of the U.S. economy directly involved, the law – now three years old – is beginning to take long term effect. Everything from speeding up disaffected physicians’ personal decisions to retire (despite a growing shortage of doctors, especially those in general practice) to mitigating such problems as “pre-existing conditions” and extended dependents’ coverage on family policies, has locked into place.
Never mind that these problems, like so many others, should have been solved best through a more detailed analysis and individual prescription for solution. They have now become a part of the intertwined medical scene’s debate. A thrashing around of the private insurance companies with their own special interests is quietly taking place. We got early warning of that when the pampered and elitist Washington bureaucracy of American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) climbed on their fellow capital bureaucrats’ Obamacare bandwagon, even though the majority of its members probably opposed the intent of the legislation.
In fact, rather than the relatively simple procedure of dismantling cartels in some states by removing strictures on marketing medical insurance across stateliness, Obamacare is setting up new ground for manipulation to gouge the consumer. Administration propaganda with its Hollywood luminaries has gone a long way toward persuading the electorate that “a comprehensive solution” is required for this as for other complex problems of governance. That’s despite common sense dictates that such enormous and complex issues should better be approached through an analysis of individual problems and solutions found piecemeal. If for no other reason, they could then be reversed more easily if and when, as so often happens, inadequacies or unforeseen consequences arise.
It’s therefore by no means certain that given the incredible snowballing federal juggernaut the Washington bureaucracy has become, even Obamacare repeal – or various amendments – may not, in fact, further confuse and compound the problems of the already infinitely complex medical services landscape.
Even though this problem is already universal because it touches the lives of all Americans, government health issues fold into a much larger politico-economic agenda. Obamacare will not, as the President and its advocates argued, either reduce medical costs for most individuals, and certainly not for half the nation paying federal income taxes. It has added an enormous new tab to the bill for an already creaking social welfare safety net. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are all under siege from inherited liabilities, galloping technologies and the growing ageing of the American population and are badly needing overhaul.
Despite the incredible capacities of the U.S. economy and American society to innovate, producing new and beneficial technological and managerial techniques expanding the physical well-being of its citizens, the current economic stagnation is symptomatic of the system’s failings. It demonstrates, among other things, that the economy and the political system is overloaded with waste and abuse, that attempts at central planning in a world where the revolutionary internet developed by accident is most often counterproductive. But that’s an argument to which most of the Democratic Party and the U.S.’s self-appointed elite turns a deaf ear.
One might have hoped that the stringencies forced on the society by the worst onset of the business cycle since The Great Depression would have, as it does so often in our private lives, would force a reconsideration of government spending. That may come, but the victory of the tax and spend forces in the current crisis is not encouraging. A relatively small proof is the alacrity with which – small in relative terms – additional “pork barrel” was attached to the final excruciating difficult (“clean” Continuing Resolution) “settlement” that sailed through the House after being initiated in the more complicit Senate.
This (at least temporary) settlement of the crisis is being hailed in the Obama circles and the Main Stream Media – and in much of the always “idealistic” academy, of course – as a victory for compromise and accommodation necessary in a democratic system. But, in fact, it is a denial of the fundamental issues staring the country’s politico- economy in the face: out of control government expenditures. It is an issue acknowledged by most of those “experts” who spend their time looking at the economy, although solutions are as diverse as the problems involved.
The question is whether the U.S. has reached that state forecast by some early 20th century observers who prophesied that a democratic electorate, having learned it could vote itself benefits at will from the commonwealth, might bankrupt the Founders’ political system. The symptoms are now clear and self-evident. A virtually unlimited expansion of food stamps, for example, is a product not only of an increased demand in a time of economic downturn and high unemployment, but also of a bounty bestowed by legislators on constituents including subsidized agriculture producers. The possibilities for corrupt practices are virtually unlimited in such alliances. Witness vast government expenditures dedicated to expenditures for recruiting new recipients to the benefice.
Correcting these miscalculations and abuses, while maintaining an adequate social safety net at a time of revolutionary technological changes generating fundamental economic restructuring and high unemployment, is fundamental and enormously demanding of any political system. It is one Congressional conservatives did a good deal of shouting about. But they lost this battle in their war, perhaps because of bad tactics and no adequate strategy. But whether their challenge can be met in the months ahead remains to be seen.
The dust settles, if ever so temporarily, on a very conflicted environment.
A version of this column is scheduled for publication Oct. 21, 2013 at worldtribune.com