Moderates? Republicans?

The way Ezra Klein tells it is largely the way I remember it, too. Antecedents of President Obama’s policies — an individual mandate in health insurance, cap-and-trade on emissions, and some willingness to raise taxes to close deficits — can be found in Republican policies of the George H.W. Bush era. I supported them then and support them now, though in a way that comes from the right side of the political spectrum rather than the left. More specifically:

  • I would implement the individual mandate as a default into Medicaid with a fairly rapidly rising premium schedule collected on the tax form as income increased, rather than explicit subsidies for the purchase of health insurance.
  • I would take cap-and-trade under the presumption that the permits are auctioned off rather than given away, and I’d prefer a comprehensive fossil fuel tax to either version of cap-and-trade.
  • I would start my budget policy changes with letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for everyone and cutting defense spending by at least 10%. I would then move to the entitlement programs, phasing in increases in eligibility ages and other benefit reductions linked to income. The small piece of the federal budget that’s “non-defense discretionary” would also see reductions, but that’s not where the heavy lifting can be done. I wouldn’t stop until the budget was in balance on average over the business cycle and the debt-to-gdp ratio was projected to remain steady at a number not larger than about 60 percent.

But I am not a dictator, don’t think I should have the only or final word on this, and would expect to have to compromise. I don’t find Obama’s policies to be beyond compromise. Transported to a different era, Obama would have been a Rockefeller Republican — actively using the government’s powers to try to solve public policy problems and willing to go to the voters to get more revenues to do so.

The place where I disagree with Ezra’s reasoning is here:

The normal reason a party abandons its policy ideas is that those ideas fail in practice. But that’s not the case here. These initiatives were wildly successful. Gov. Mitt Romney passed an individual mandate in Massachusetts and drove its number of uninsured below 5 percent. The Clean Air Act of 1990 solved the sulfur-dioxide problem. The 1990 budget deal helped cut the deficit and set the stage for a remarkable run of growth.

Rather, it appears that as Democrats moved to the right to pick up Republican votes, Republicans moved to the right to oppose Democratic proposals.

What was not wildly successful was the impact of the 1990 budget deal on President Bush’s re-election campaign. If politicians are not rewarded at the polls for the choices they make, don’t expect other politicians to make similar choices. The first move to the right wasn’t by the Democrats. It was by the Republicans on issues of tax policy. More recently, this dynamic has been at work — on issues not related to tax policy, the Republicans are moving to the right to oppose proposals that were previously part of their platform.

About Andrew Samwick 89 Articles

Affiliation: Dartmouth College

Andrew Samwick is a professor of economics and Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

He is most widely known for his work on the economics of retirement, and his scholarly work has covered a range of topics, including pensions, saving, taxation, portfolio choice, and executive compensation.

In July 2003, Samwick joined the staff of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, serving for a year as its chief economist and helping to direct the work of about 20 economists in support of the three Presidential appointees on the Council.

Visit: Andrew Samwick's Page

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