Archive for September, 2010

A ‘Race to the Top’ for Social Security

If you’re below a certain age, your annual Social Security statement is accompanied by a fact sheet titled “What young workers should know about Social Security and saving.”

The fact sheet explains that the Social Security Trust Funds are due to go broke by 2037 and that, as things stand now, payroll taxes won’t cover “the full benefit amounts scheduled.”

“However,” it says, “this does not mean that Social Security benefit payments would disappear. Even if modifications to the program are not made, there would still be enough funds in 2037 from taxes … to pay about $760 for every $1,000 in benefits scheduled.”

Benefits won’t “disappear”? Well, that’s reassuring!

The fact sheet presents this potential 24 percent haircut for Americans around my age as a worst-case scenario. Prudent souls will recognize that, with fewer workers and more beneficiaries who live longer, it may be the best case.

I fear the temptation to “fix” Social Security by giving Washington more authority is too …

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A GOP 2012 dark horse’s ‘emergency economic reform’

Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, is on a short list of possible Republican contenders in 2012 who intrigue me. His fiscal record as a two-term governor is very impressive, giving him the track record as an executive to take on a sitting president. (I call him a “dark horse” in the headline only because he typically isn’t among the most-discussed and -polled group of potential candidates: Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, et al.)

So, I was interested to read, in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required), his proposal for an “emergency economic reform.”

It does not constitute a long-term plan, and it certainly wouldn’t work as a platform for his own presidential run. If the economy is still in “emergency” condition two years from now, these policies would most likely be insufficient.

But as a contribution ahead of mid-term elections in which his party stands to pick up dozens of seats? I think it beats a plan to spend $50 billion on …

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Muslims, the First Amendment, and another bad idea

Just because an act is constitutionally protected doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I made that argument a few weeks ago in the case of the mosque planned for a site near Ground Zero, and I’ll make it again today in the case of a small Florida church whose members plan to burn copies of the Quran this coming Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Yes, the pastor and members of Gainesville’s Dove World Outreach Center — a most unfitting name, it would seem — have the right to burn books, even religious ones. But it’s a particularly stupid idea on several levels, not the least of which is that it could further endanger the lives of American soliders in Afghanistan, as Gen. David Petraeus warns.

It represents a real hostility toward Muslims, unlike the specific and very narrow debate over whether a mosque should be located so close to that still-fresh national wound (no matter how the mosque’s supporters have tried to depict its opponents). A single, small church …

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Summer’s over, so let’s hear Republicans’ plan

This weekend traditionally, if not technically, marks the end of summer. That’s a good thing for Democrats, who may now be allowed to stop explaining when their “Recovery Summer” is finally going to begin.

The seasonal change also brings a new seriousness to November’s midterm elections, which are less than 60 days away. Staying out of the bumbling Democrats’ way has brought Republicans within reach of a majority in the U.S. House and possibly, but less likely, the Senate.

But the final eight weeks of this campaign will require more than that of the GOP.

They will require more than talk about repealing ObamaCare, which won’t happen as long as Barack Obama resides in the White House. Or speculation about the president’s faith. Or daydreams about sending lots of subpoenas to the executive branch.

They will require a list of concrete proposals that can be achieved in the near term — that is, under divided government — and can act as stepping stones to longer-term reform.

It need …

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Taxes and the 3 percent myth

With rumors stirring that Democrats may try to save their hides by cutting taxes before the election, they may have gotten part of this message. But, just to be sure, in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, Kevin Hassett and Alan Viard put paid to the notion that letting the Bush tax cuts expire at year’s end will only affect “the rich”:

Recently, for example, Vice President Joe Biden harshly rejected House Minority Leader John Boehner’s assertion that the hikes would harm small businesses, saying that “he has created this myth that a tax cut for millionaires is actually a tax cut for small business. There aren’t 3% of small businesses in America that would qualify for that tax cut.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flipped the number around, saying that the planned tax increases would exempt “98% of American families and about 97% of small businesses.”

The impact is far more severe than Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Biden suggest. In fact, the sound bite about 3% of small businesses, …

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A postscript on Cash for Clunkers

Cash for Clunkers will go down as one of the most emblematic economic policies of the Obama administration and this Democratic Congress. We were told that it would stimulate the economy while helping the environment, but it was obvious fairly early that the program did little besides affecting the timing of car purchases.

Now, a little more than a year after the program ended, we have an even better look at this failure, as the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby explains. The whole column is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt:

Congress and the Obama administration trumpeted Cash for Clunkers as a triumph — the president pronounced it “successful beyond anybody’s imagination.’’ Which it was, if you define success as getting people to take “free’’ money to make a purchase most of them are going to make anyway, while simultaneously wiping out productive assets that could provide value to many other consumers for years to come. By any rational standard, however, this program was sheer …

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Broad base, flat rate equal tax fairness

There’s a four-letter word that starts with “F” and is used by just about any elected official you’ll ever meet — even though each usage is bound to make someone mad.

Say it with me: “fair.”

What, you thought I was going to say “free”?

Fair’s fair, except when it isn’t. There may not be a more disagreed-upon word in politics. Yet, there it is, in the name of a group tasked with recommending ways for legislators to revamp Georgia’s tax code.

The Legislature this spring created the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians to do what legislators don’t like to do: talk about getting rid of some people’s tax breaks. The council’s remit is broader than that, but that’s where the action is.

Along the way, we’re going to hear a lot, much of it conflicting, about what fairness means when it comes to the tax code.

For now, the council’s chairman, businessman and Atlanta Olympics organizer A.D. Frazier, channels former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: “I think we’ll …

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Obama’s Iraq speech, around the water cooler

I didn’t take notes during President Obama’s speech last night. I watched it, and then about four minutes of commentary on Fox and CNN, and then I turned back to the Braves game. I did all that because, frankly, that’s the way the vast majority of people watch presidential speeches, and what follows is what I would imagine most center-right Americans probably thought of it.

The bottom line of which, for Republicans, is: Don’t make much of an issue out of this speech.

It was an OK speech; “pedestrian” was the word that came to mind. He gave an Iraq speech because he felt like he needed to give an Iraq speech, and he did it in the Oval Office to demonstrate that he considers the topic important even if his tone and body language mostly signaled otherwise. It was not the kind of rousing, yes-we-can, inspirational message he normally aims for (although the bit at the end connecting battles and soldiers from Lexington to Kandahar was nice).

All that said, I think the anti-war left …

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