Friday, December 07, 2012

More on Obamacare vs. the Constitution

It was just a few months ago that conservatives came to the defense of the Christian-owned Chick-fil-A restaurant chain after its president, Dan Cathy, said the company was “guilty as charged” in its opposition to same-sex marriage. Now it is the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby Stores and its fight against Obamacare.

Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., from its humble beginnings in founder David Green’s garage in 1970, has grown from one 300-square-foot store in 1972 to 525 stores in 42 states in 2012. The company, which employs about 13,000 people, has become one of the nation’s leading arts-and-crafts retailers.

“It is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured,” says founder and CEO David Green. “Therefore we seek to honor God by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

But according to Green, included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) is something that will force his company to dishonor God by operating the company in a manner inconsistent with Biblical principles.

Obamacare includes not only the well-known “individual mandate” that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax, but also the lesser-known mandate that all group-health insurance plans must provide certain “preventive services” at no cost to those they insure. After announcing a general list of those services in September 2010, the government asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to recommend a list of “preventive services for women.” Although religious groups urged the IOM to not include sterilization and contraceptive services in their recommendation, the IOM did it anyway. The Department of Health and Human Services then decreed in the summer of 2011 that the “preventive services” mandate included “all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

Because approved FDA contraceptive methods include drugs and devices that may prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb, Hobby Lobby and other religious organizations that oppose the use abortion-inducing drugs and devices have sued the Department of Health and Human Services over the “preventive services” mandate.

There is a religious exemption from the mandate, but it is so narrow that neither Mother Teresa’s charity nor Jesus’ ministry would be exempt because they didn’t “primarily employ and serve those who share their faith.”

On September 12 of this year, because it could not get an exemption Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in opposition to the “preventive services” mandate that will cost the company up to $1.3 million per day in fines if it refuses to comply. The lawsuit alleged that the mandate “illegally and unconstitutionally coerces the Green family to violate their deeply held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines, penalties, and lawsuits” and “forces the Green family to facilitate government-dictated speech incompatible with their own speech and religious beliefs.”

There are now 40 cases and more than 110 plaintiffs challenging the Health and Human Services mandate, which takes effect on January 1, 2013.

In a 28-page ruling issued just before Thanksgiving, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton denied Hobby Lobby’s request for “declaratory and injunctive relief” against the mandate. Hobby Lobby has now filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Since the appeal was filed, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has, in the case of O’Brien v. HHS, issued an injunction that temporarily blocks the Department of Health and Human Services from implementing Obamacare’s contraception mandate until the court issues a substantive ruling on the matter. A federal district court judge in October had previously dismissed O’Brien’s claim at the request of the Obama administration.



Why Progressives Support Welfare for the Rich

Democrats' counterintuitive resistance to means-testing Medicare and Social Security

Since Republicans are pushing entitlement reform and Democrats like taking money from rich people, you might think they could agree on means-testing Medicare and Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal. Yet many Democrats are surprisingly hostile to the idea of tailoring these programs to help people who actually need them.

There are two main reasons for this resistance—one strategic, the other ideological. Neither is persuasive, even from a progressive point of view, at a time when trillion-dollar deficits are the norm and publicly held federal debt is projected to reach 150 percent of GDP within two decades.

"I don't see want to see Medicare turn into a welfare program, which is what it would be if wealthier people didn't benefit from it or had a significantly reduced benefit," Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. "It needs to be something shared that Americans are all in, that we all participate in and we all contribute to." Ellison is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which opposes any cuts to Medicare or Social Security benefits.

The strategic rationale for this position is that reducing or eliminating retirement subsidies for people who can easily get by without them would spoil the illusion that all of us are "entitled" to those benefits because we have "earned" them through our "contributions." In reality, Medicare and Social Security are funded through intergenerational transfers from relatively poor workers to relatively affluent retirees.

That does not sound terribly progressive, but left-leaning opponents of means testing worry that narrower versions of these programs would be politically vulnerable. "If Medicare turns from an earned benefit into a welfare program," warns Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, "you will see support dissipate."

There is not much evidence to support that prediction. In a 2010 Heritage Foundation report, Katherine Bradley and Robert Rector counted "over 70 different means-tested anti-poverty programs" and noted that spending on such programs "has grown faster than every other component of government over the past two decades."

Furthermore, Medicare and Social Security already are transfer programs; they are just poorly targeted. If the aim is to prevent the elderly from sinking into poverty or to ensure that they can obtain the medical care they need, it hardly makes sense to use payroll taxes extracted from middle- and working-class employees to cut monthly checks to Michael Bloomberg or subsidize prescription drugs for Ross Perot.

Both programs do include some modest means tests. The monthly premiums that help fund Medicare are higher for wealthier beneficiaries, for example, and the share of Social Security benefits subject to tax is larger for retirees with higher incomes—functionally equivalent to reduced benefits.

But with Medicare and Social Security facing unfunded long-term liabilities of $42.8 trillion and $20.5 trillion, respectively, they need to move much further in the direction feared by Ellison and Richtman. As Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute observed last year in National Affairs, "It is inevitable that Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs will become less generous toward the rich than they are today."

If progressives are having trouble adjusting to this reality, it is not only because they (mistakenly) believe means testing will jeopardize these programs. As William Voegeli observes in his 2005 book Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State, progressives' counterintuitive resistance to means testing also stems from a communitarian vision that sees universal participation in tax-funded social services as inherently good.

Voegeli quotes Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, who in his 1987 book The Life of the Party argued that "there is immense civic value to treating middle-class and poor people alike." According to Kuttner, "a common social security program, or medical care program, or public school program" fosters "social solidarity."

You may or may not find this vision appealing. Either way, we can no longer afford it.



Fiscal Cliff Notes: Part II

Thomas Sowell

One of the big advantages that President Obama has, as he plays "chicken" with the Congressional Republicans along the "fiscal cliff," is that Obama is a master of the plausible lie, which will never be exposed by the mainstream media-- nor, apparently, by the Republicans.

A key lie that has been repeated over and over, largely unanswered, is that President Bush's "tax cuts for the rich" cost the government so much lost tax revenue that this added to the budget deficit-- so that the government cannot afford to allow the cost of letting the Bush tax rates continue for "the rich."

It sounds very plausible, and constant repetition without a challenge may well be enough to convince the voting public that, if the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not go along with Barack Obama's demands for more spending and higher tax rates on the top 2 percent, it just shows that they care more for "the rich" than for the other 98 percent.

What is remarkable is how easy it is to show how completely false Obama's argument is. That also makes it completely inexplicable why the Republicans have not done so.

The official statistics which show plainly how wrong Barack Obama is can be found in his own "Economic Report of the President" for 2012, on page 411. You can look it up.

You may be able to find a copy of the "Economic Report of the President" for 2012 at your local public library. Or you can buy a hard copy from the Government Printing Office or download an electronic version from the Internet.

For those who find that "a picture is worth a thousand words," they need only see the graphs published in the November 30th issue of Investor's Business Daily.

What both the statistical tables in the "Economic Report of the President" and the graphs in Investor's Business Daily show is that (1) tax revenues went up-- not down-- after tax rates were cut during the Bush administration, and (2) the budget deficit declined, year after year, after the cut in tax rates that have been blamed by Obama for increasing the deficit.

Indeed, the New York Times reported in 2006: "An unexpectedly steep rise in tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy is driving down the projected budget deficit this year."

While the New York Times may not have expected this, there is nothing unprecedented about lower tax rates leading to higher tax revenues, despite automatic assumptions by many in the media and elsewhere that tax rates and tax revenues automatically move in the same direction. They do not.

The Congressional Budget Office has been embarrassed repeatedly by making projections based on the assumption that tax revenues and tax rates move in the same direction.

This has happened as recently as the George W. Bush administration and as far back as the Reagan administration. Moreover, tax revenues went up when tax rates went down, as far back as the Coolidge administration, before there was a Congressional Budget Office to make false predictions.

The bottom line is that Barack Obama's blaming increased budget deficits on the Bush tax cuts is demonstrably false. What caused the decreasing budget deficits after the Bush tax cuts to suddenly reverse and start increasing was the mortgage crisis. The deficit increased in 2008, followed by a huge increase in 2009.

So it is sheer hogwash that "tax cuts for the rich" caused the government to lose tax revenues. The government gained tax revenues, not lost them. Moreover, "the rich" paid a larger amount of taxes, and a larger share of all taxes, after the tax rates were cut.

That is because people change their economic behavior when tax rates are changed, contrary to what the Congressional Budget Office and others seem to assume, and this can stimulate the economy more than a government "stimulus" has done under either Bush or Obama.



Promoting ‘Functional Values’


I have written previous about why I see the supposed dichotomy between the  fiscal and social concerns of conservatives as a false one.  Both the free market and the family unit form an interrelated foundation of a free and prosperous society.  As I mentioned in that article:
It wasn't until recently that the concern of economics was treated in a more narrow fashion. An intellectually honest approach to promoting a free society, which is at the heart of the American conservative agenda, cannot separate the concerns of economics from social and moral concerns. We all remember Adam Smith for his work 'The Wealth of Nations" and his notion of "the invisible hand",what we forget is that Adam Smith was not strictly an economist, but a moral philosopher who applied his moral philosophy to the discipline of economics. Smith's major work was a piece entitled "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", where he theorized that man has a natural sentiment towards benevolence. This was the basis of his notion of an invisible hand. Society does not need a top down order imposed on it to ensure that the less fortunate get taken care of because man has a natural sentiment toward benevolence. This sentiment was to be cultivated through a social order that began with the family, but included Churches and the other institutions of what is often referred to as "civil society". This order was the essential foundation needed to maintain a free society.

I think that political meddling into the affairs of the family and civil society is a cause for a lot of social ills and would like to see the government reframe from usurping the role of the institutions of civil society.  In that sense, most of the goals of social conservatives can be met by insisting that the government "mind its own business."  In a strict political sense there is little that can be done to strengthen these fundamental institutions by passing policy.  These institutions have been atrophying for some time now as their roles have been assumed by the government.  As these institutions weaken, so to do the "moral sentiments" that Adam Smith believed made a free society possible.  The result is a society increasingly held together by the force of regulations and bureaucratic decree rather than freely held "functional values".

Again, I see little in the way of policy proposals that will make this situation better.  On the other hand, there are plenty of policy proposals that are making this situation worse.  It might be a good idea for conservatives to make this case when faced with some utopian scheme coming from progressives.  There needs to be a more sophisticated critique of such proposals than merely pointing out the "the numbers do not work", or "we cannot afford it".  Many of these proposals are inherently bad ideas that should be opposed even if the number did work and we could afford it.  Society is far too complicated to buy into the notion that there is a political solution for everything.  It consists of a moral/cultural sector made up of the institutions of civil society and held together by "moral sentiments".  There is an economic sector made up of businesses, workers, consumers, etc., that is fueled by creative entrepreneurship.  Finally, there is a political sector made up of the various levels of government.  To assume that all the various sectors of society can be centrally managed in a top down fashion by supposedly all knowing government bureaucrats is as foolish as assuming that a complicated circuit board can be tuned with a hammer.  Government is a blunt instrument much like a hammer and our society is far more complicated that even the most intricate circuit board.

Since the family is the cornerstone of any society, and the values passed on from the family are the key to the smooth functioning of a free society, conservatives simply cannot escape the need to discuss family values.  Because these values are essential to the functioning of a healthy and free society, we might want to refer to them as "functional values".  Discussing such matters does not mean we intend to impose these values on the public any more than discussing the value of entrepreneurship means we intend to impose it on the public.  Both ideals are vital to a free society and in both cases it is a matter of reigning in government so that it does not tread on those areas of society best equipped to deal with those ideals.

In discussing the notion of family values as functional values, it would be useful to use research from the social sciences.  One good source is a booklet entitled "Why Marriage Matters: An Argument for the Goods of Marriage" by the Institute for American Values.  Here is how they summarize their work:
For most of the latter-half of the twentieth century, divorce posed the greatest threat to child well-being and the institution of marriage. Today, that is not the case. New research-made available for the first time in Why Marriage Matters-suggests that the rise of cohabiting households with children is the largest unrecognized threat to the quality and stability of children's lives in today's families.

On their website is a section with scholars discussing these concerns in an apolitical manner.  The website includes videos of the discussion...  It is long past the time for conservatives to make use of such material in their critique of government directed social engineering.




List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist.  It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day.  It was only to the Right of  Stalin's Communism.  The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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