Some Friendly Advice for Speaker McCarthy and the Freedom Caucus

Right now the new GOP House of Representatives is on the side of the angels!  Our national debt stands at over $31 trillion and is growing rapidly.  The deficit for Fiscal 2022 was $1.4 trillion.  Under President Biden in the last two years alone, the debt has increased by $3.7 trillion. This is the height of fiscal irresponsibility and the GOP House wants to stop it.  Absolutely excellent as far as it goes!  Just don’t forget that the $31.4 trillion debt limit will have to be raised before default occurs.

Please, Freedom Caucus, don’t squander this unique opportunity you now have to address the debt problem.  It is critical for you to keep the overwhelmingly favorable public opinion you now have on your side.  There are certain actions that will work and others that won’t.  For example:

  • What won’t work.  Do not insist on balancing the budget over a ten-year period with just spending cuts.  Even including all spending categories (such as defense, entitlements, etc.) a 26% overall spending cut over ten years would be necessary.  Exempting defense and entitlements would require much steeper cuts in all other programs and this will be unacceptable to most Americans.

  • What will work. The best idea that the new GOP House has is to return to “regular order,” under which spending bills for the various federal government agencies are developed in a bipartisan fashion at the committee level, with overall spending limits determined by the budget committee.  This gives the various committees, each controlled by a Republican majority, an opportunity to carefully review the operations of each federal agency and whack off the unnecessary, bloated spending that has accumulated over the years.

  • Here’s another idea. The House needs to establish and maintain credibility with the public that it understands the necessity of raising the debt limit in the next few months.  How about passing a bill to raise the debt limit by $1 trillion (or enough to get through the current fiscal year ending on September 30, 2023)?  This would allow time for the House standing committees to prepare spending bills for FY 2023/24 and send them to the Senate before the end of the current fiscal year.  It would reinforce the needed credibility for the House Republicans, including reasonable overall spending limits.  This is what is so badly needed to start reducing annual deficits and put the U.S. on a credible path to solving the debt problem.

Conclusion.  More power to the new Republican House of Representatives!  With a debt limit staring us in the face, and the full attention of the voting public, you have a unique opportunity to address our horrendous national debt problem.   Don’t blow it.  There are very responsible and useful steps you can take to move the process forward (as described above).  Most Americans want you to succeed in getting this done!

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My Goals for the New Congress: Support Ukraine and Cut Spending

As readers of this blog know, I am optimistic about the future of the U.S.  We have an amazingly resilient democratic form of government as well as great economic and military strength.  Believe it or not, I am also optimistic about the likely performance of the new Congress over the next two years.  There are two main things I want them to do:

  • Support Ukraine. Helping Ukraine defend itself against the Russian invasion is by far our biggest foreign policy challenge at the present time.  Defending democracy and freedom around the world, against autocracy and repression, is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also in our own best interest because it enhances our national security.  Judging by the Omnibus Spending Bill (including $45 billion in new spending for Ukraine) approved by the last Congress, the Biden Administration and the Senate strongly support continuing to support Ukraine.

  • Cut overall spending. One of the outcomes of the supposedly “chaotic” process of electing a Speaker for the new House of Representatives, will be the return to “regular order” in the House whereby standing committees will approve bills on individual topics.  This means that spending budgets for all bills will get the attention and oversight that they deserve.  This bodes well for the spending restraint that is so badly lacking and sorely needed in Congress.

  • Raising the debt limit. The current debt limit is $31.4 trillion which will be reached by midyear 2023.  Congress will need to raise the debt limit before this amount is hit.  There is overwhelming public support for Congress to reduce the debt in a bipartisan manner.  Hopefully, this means that the Ukraine supporters in the Senate and the deficit hawks in the House will be able to negotiate a compromise plan to raise the debt limit in return for strict spending controls as well as continued support for Ukraine.

Conclusion.  The stakes are high for the new Congress.  Biden Democrats support Ukraine.  Republican deficit hawks control the House.  The current debt limit will be reached by midyear.  I am optimistic that a sensible compromise can be achieved and I’m willing to go out on a limb to predict it!  We’ll soon see what happens.

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The Strength of U.S. Democracy IV. Why I am so Optimistic about our Future.

My last few posts on this website have discussed the great strengths of our democracy.  Fundamentally, it is the decentralized, republican structure of our government as a collection of states, each with many powers and responsibilities as conferred by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.

It is the combination of this decentralized, democratic form of government along with our dynamic free-enterprise economy which has made us so strong.   Consider:

  • Regular and fair elections are the bedrock of democracy. Elections are conducted at the state and local level by state and local election officials.  Votes are counted at the county level and there are 3143 counties in the U.S.  County election workers are friends and neighbors which makes fraud very unlikely, and widespread fraud virtually impossible, because it could only happen on a multiple county basis.
  • Divisive and controversial issues are ultimately resolved at the ballot box. For example, Donald Trump was elected President in 2016 even though he has an abrasive and narcissistic personality.  His election denialism about losing in 2020 is now leading to his political downfall.  Trump-endorsed election denialists mostly lost in the 2022 midterm elections which otherwise should have been a good year for Republicans.  Trump has now become a huge liability for the Republican Party and is unlikely to be nominated again for president is 2024.
  • Social progress in the U.S. First, intermarriage between minorities and Caucasians is gradually reducing political polarization by expanding the number of citizens participating in mainstream culture.  Secondly, the African/American middle class is also steadily growing.  Both of these trends strengthen democracy by bringing more minorities into the mainstream.  Furthermore, the merits of good old-fashioned hard work are strongly supported by most Americans.
  • The economic and military strength of the U.S. The U.S. has geographical advantages such as friendly neighbors, north and south, and ocean protection, east and west.  But it is mostly our hardworking, industrious, and patriotic citizens that have made us the in the world both economically and militarily.  In addition, the U.S. has many freedom-loving friends and allies, primarily other democracies.  In fact, the economic strength of the free world greatly outweighs the economic strength of the non-free autocracies.
  • Autocracy is more fragile than democracy. Of course, the U.S. has major problems to solve such as inflation, huge national debt, poverty, homelessness, overly expensive healthcare, etc.  But our main adversaries, China, Russia and Iran, all autocracies, have much bigger problems than we have.  Our country could splinter apart if we were to ever stop making social progress, which is unlikely.  But autocracy is inherently more fragile than democracy because it denies the universal desire for freedom and independence that democracy represents.

Conclusion.  Americans are very fortunate. We live in the strongest, most prosperous, and one of the freest countries in the world.  We are not immune to making mistakes.  But our decentralized, republican form of government, as well as our great economic and military strength, provides a huge safety net that protects us from many calamities that might otherwise occur.  This is why I am so optimistic about our future!

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The Strength of U.S. Democracy III. The Challenges Ahead

“A Republic, if You Can Keep It”
Benjamin Franklin, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, 1787

My last several posts on It Does Not Add Up have discussed the foundations of American democracy which I think are very strong. First of all, it is our decentralized, republican form of government (i.e. we are a collection of states, each with many rights of their own), which is the most fundamental guarantor of our basic liberties.  Furthermore, the threat of polarization of the electorate will gradually diminish as minority groups, especially through intermarriage, become more and more integrated with mainstream culture.

So, while the long-term prospects for the survival and spread of U.S. democracy are very favorable, there certainly are roadblocks to be overcome in the near future.  Consider:

  • The Ukraine situation. In a brilliant essay in Foreign Affairs, “A Free World, If You Can keep It”, Robert Kagan makes it very clear what the stakes are with our help for Ukraine in repelling the brutal Russian invasion.  Yes, we are defending a country that wants to be free and independent like we are.  But even more than this, we are defending the free world against barbarian autocracy.  If Russia succeeds in subduing Ukraine, who will it attack next?  The Ukrainian people will ultimately decide how much pain and suffering they can tolerate without succumbing to the Russian onslaught.  But we should for sure continue to support them as long as they are able and willing to resist.
  • Inflation and Debt. Our national debt is now $31 trillion and rapidly increasing.  Our annual rate of inflation now stands at the high level of 7.1%.  Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell, has made it clear that the Fed will raise short-term interest rates (now at 4%) as high as necessary to bring inflation back down to 2%.  But this will almost surely cause a recession, most likely next year.  Furthermore, the Fed can’t fix inflation by itself.  It needs fiscal restraint from Congress.  If our debt continues to rise in an out-of-control manner, we are inevitably headed for a new financial crisis, that will occur when the U.S. Treasury is unable to find buyers for its bonds even at ever higher interest rates.  The eventual result will be depression and/or hyperinflation.
    We badly need major fiscal restraint from Congress.  Will the new Republican House majority be able to provide it?  Let’s hope so!

  • The immigration crisis at the southern border. There are now roughly 2 million illegal immigrants crossing our southern border every year.  We have a huge labor shortage, but immigrants need legal status in order to be employed.  Our badly broken immigration system cannot realistically be fixed until our border is closed to illegal entry.  It is up to the Biden administration to figure out how to get this done.

Conclusion.  U.S. democracy is fundamentally very strong.  People all over the world yearn to be free and we are a beacon of hope and freedom for all.  We have a responsibility not only to help other countries achieve freedom and independence but to keep our own house in good order.  We can continue to meet this high challenge but we need to focus on solving our most pressing problems to get this done.

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The Strength of U.S. Democracy II. What are the Threats?

Last week I argued that the fundamental strength of American democracy is its decentralized nature.  Voting procedures are regulated at the state level and elections are conducted at the county level.  This ensures that the people in charge of running elections, at the state and local level, are close to the people.  This naturally creates more trust among the voters.

Political polarization is often considered to be a major threat to democracy.  Consider the following.

  • The sociologist, Charles Murray, says that the biggest threat to our democratic system is the polarization created by identity politics. The rhetoric coming from black opinion leaders and their white supporters, about systemic racism and white supremacy, is causing a strong backlash among middle-class and working-class whites.  This is the main cause of our current polarization, says Mr. Murray.
  • But another sociologist, Richard Alba, responds that many non-whites are assimilating into the American mainstream just as white ethnic groups did before them. More than 10% of U.S.-born babies have one parent who is nonwhite or Hispanic and one parent who is white and non-Hispanic.  This is a sign of growing integration into the mainstream by members of minority groups.  By the 2050s, one third of babies with white ancestry will also have Hispanic or nonwhite ancestry. The idea of who belongs to a racial majority or minority will become scrambled.  In this way, racial assimilation will increase and polarization will begin to fade.
  • Last week I discussed how Donald Trump’s 2020 election denialism is now alienating increasing numbers of voters. It is quite interesting that a recent WSJ poll shows that Republican voters now favor Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over Donald Trump as the 2024 Republican presidential candidate.  It is very early for the 2024 election, of course, but already Donald Trump does not have a lock on the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
  • Election integrity in Nebraska. I live in Omaha NE and the Nebraska Secretary of State has just reported that a manual audit of 10% of the votes cast last month discovered a discrepancy of only 11 votes (0.023%), between machine and hand counting, in the 48,292 votes counted in the audit.  In other words, it can be concluded that vote counting in Nebraska is very secure.

Conclusion.  Americans have the good fortune to live in a country with a long tradition of sound democratic government.  There will always be real or perceived threats to political stability in a democracy, a polarized electorate and Donald Trump’s narcissistic persona being two current examples.  But things are much better than they seem!  These two threats are likely in the process of dissipating.  Of course, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  But let’s not overreact to perceived threats to our democratic system.

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The Strength of U.S. Democracy

In this blog, I write about the major issues facing the U.S. such as debt, inflation, slow economic growth, U.S. strength relative to the rest of the world, poverty, racial issues, etc.  I also write about important international issues such as global warming, democracy vs. autocracy, the rise of China, etc.  A quick scroll through the recent weekly blog posts will refer to many of these topics.

In recent years many people have questioned the strength of U.S. democracy, suggesting that democracy is in decline or that our democratic principles are weakening.  I believe this to be a false assessment.  In a free and open society like ours, things will inevitably happen which are shocking to society.  Opinions will be expressed by some that are widely denounced by others.  But for me, having a cacophony of ideas and actions in constant public churn is the very nature of a free and open society.  Consider:

  • The fundamental strength of our democracy is the decentralized nature of our basic governmental structure. We are a republic, a collection of states, each with many rights and responsibilities of their own, as guaranteed by the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The states control many public functions within their borders such as education, responsibility for roads, law enforcement, election procedures, etc.  States will inevitably do things differently from each other, subject only to the requirements of national law and the U.S. Constitution.
  • The national Congress consists of representatives from each of the fifty states, chosen at the state level. The President is selected through an electoral college that allots each state a specific number of votes depending primarily on population.
  • The sanctity of the ballot box is of fundamental importance to public trust. Elections are regulated by the states and conducted at the county level.  Procedures for voter identification, mail-in and absentee voting are determined at the state level.  There are 3143 counties in the U.S.  Election fraud could only happen at the county level.  This makes it unlikely to happen and highly dispersed if it ever does.  Such local control of election procedures is a huge protector of the integrity of U.S. democracy.
  • In the 2020 presidential election, there were a number of pandemic-related voting irregularities.  For example, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended the deadline for mail-in voting beyond election day, contrary to Pennsylvania state law.  Milwaukie WI election officials used drop boxes contrary to Wisconsin state law.  The U.S. Supreme Court has just recently heard arguments for the case of Moore vs Harper that should lead to a resolution of the issue of election authority within each state.
  • President Donald Trump’s denialism about the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election has presented a stress test for our democratic system that is being weathered very well, in my opinion. His campaign filed over 60 lawsuits to overturn the election results.   None of them were successful.  The January 6, 2021 break-in at the U.S. Capitol was disgraceful but had no effect on the election outcome.  Trump-supported election deniers in the 2022 midterm elections did very poorly overall and cost the Republicans control of the Senate for the upcoming session of Congress.  I believe that Trump was a successful President but now has become a great liability to the Republican Party.

Conclusion.  We have a thriving democratic system that is greatly admired around the world.  Its strength is based on its underlying decentralized nature, with the states in charge of many governmental functions and elections conducted at the individual county level.  Donald Trump has presented a stress test, but our democratic system has survived intact, and the appeal of Donald Trump has now been greatly diminished.

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Why Democracy Beats Autocracy

I am very optimistic about the future of the United States.  Of course, we have serious problems to address such as recovery from the pandemic, global warming, poverty, inflation, and massive national debt.  I address all of these problems in much detail on this blog.

The main reason for my optimism for the future is that we have so many underlying strengths.  We are the strongest country in the world, both economically and militarily.  But, in addition, and perhaps most important of all, we are a free people with a superb democratic form of government which makes us the envy of the rest of the world.

We do have adversaries, of course, especially China, Russia, and Iran.  But note that all three of our main adversaries are autocracies that are struggling mightily with their own problems.  Consider:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic began in Wuhan, China in late 2019.  China has attempted to address the pandemic with a strict nationwide lockdown zero-Covid policy, whereas the rest of the world has now essentially achieved herd immunity with a combination of widespread vaccination and locally imposed lockdowns and mask mandates.  This zero-Covid policy is causing severe economic disruption in China.  An even bigger problem for China, though, is that when it does eventually open back up to the world, the coronavirus is inevitably going to infiltrate back in and infect the mostly unprotected (unvaccinated) Chinese people.  This will likely become a devastating national emergency for China when it happens.
  • Vladimir Putin’s disastrous decision to invade Ukraine has, first-of-all, turned Russia into an international pariah.  It is also going to lead eventually to great economic harm as the western-imposed financial and technology sanctions take stronger and stronger hold.  Russia badly needs a new political and economic system that works for its people.  Until such reform becomes possible, Russia will continue to deteriorate.
  • Massive protests have broken out since the death of a 22-year-old Iranian woman for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.  More than 300 people have been killed in the protests so far.  Hopefully, this will eventually lead to major reforms for the quality of life of the Iranian people.

Conclusion.   As we address our own serious problems and continue to improve the quality of life for all Americans, we should never doubt that our free economy and democratic form of government will continue to thrive.  Our autocratic adversaries have much bigger problems than we do.  We cannot afford to become complacent but we should be confident about our ability to prevail over our autocratic rivals.

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America Has Much to be Thankful For

In this blog, I write about the big issues facing our country and how well we are doing in addressing them.  There are always serious problems to be dealt with, some more urgent than others.   But I am an optimist in the sense that I think America will continue to prevail in the world, even as it makes occasional mistakes along the way.

Consider:

  • Our biggest strength is that we have always been a nation of immigrants, and still are today.  Our ancestors came here for freedom and opportunity and created it in great abundance!

  • Our founding fathers established a brilliant form of government. It is amazing that our Constitution is still in force, 234 years after its ratification in 1788. Major democratic stresses have been resolved over the years, mostly in a peaceful manner.  Even the latest stress, Donald Trump’s election denialism from 2020, appears to be on track for peaceful resolution.  Most of the Trump-endorsed election denial candidates in the 2022 Midterm elections were defeated.  The expected “red wave” turned into a “red ripple” as a result.  Republicans have been chastened in a transparent and democratic manner and will almost surely adapt for the better by 2024.
  • America’s role in the world. We are still the strongest country by far, both economically and militarily.  Russia’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine will greatly diminish its super-power status.  China remains a strong challenger to U.S. world hegemony, but our superior political and economic system should continue to prevail for many years to come.
  • America has just come through a hundred-year pandemic with great success. Our usual, approximately 3 million annual number of deaths, jumped to 3.3 million in 2020 and 3.4 million in 2021, an increase of 12% for two years, which is rapidly subsiding in 2022.  Our successful Covid defense is a result of American industry developing effective vaccines with “warp speed” (in less than a year).  Our decentralized approach to containment, with states deciding for themselves on such measures as lockdowns and mask mandates, has been a big factor in limiting economic damage.
  • Global warming is a serious worldwide problem, of course. But developing countries are simply not going to slow down their economic growth by de-fossilizing.  What is needed instead is a worldwide policy of decarbonizing (carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, etc.).  As world leaders continue to recognize this and make a concerted effort to adopt a more effective strategy, global warming will be brought under control.
  • Inflation and debt. The bright light here is that the inflation tripped off by our $5 trillion Covid stimulus spending is making our unsustainably rapid debt increase a much more visible problem.  The Federal Reserve has to raise interest rates to combat inflation but this, in turn, is already making our annual budget deficits much worse by increasing interest payments on the debt.  In short, the Fed can’t fix inflation by itself.  It needs help from Congress in the form of spending restraint.  This is becoming more and more apparent to the American public.  Let’s hope that the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives is up to the task of getting started on major spending cutbacks.

Conclusion.  The U.S. certainly has many problems, but it also has many strengths, which greatly improve our quality of life.  Just as we cannot afford to lose focus on the challenges ahead, let us be thankful for all the blessings we enjoy from living in the most prosperous, strongest and freest country on earth.

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American Renewal: A Comprehensive Plan to Fix Our Finances and Strengthen the Social Contract

Our national debt is very large and growing rapidly.  In addition, $5 trillion in pandemic stimulus payments over the past two years has also tripped off a new round of inflation.  The Federal Reserve fights inflation by raising short-term interest rates.  This will make our debt problem even more urgent by dramatically increasing interest payments on the debt.

As I have been saying repeatedly on this blog, we badly need the fiscal restraint  ( which only Congress and the President can provide.  Recently I outlined several spending and revenue measures, from the Congressional Budget Office, which will help put us back on the right track.  In short, it will require $7 trillion in budget savings over the next decade to stabilize our debt at the current (very) high level!

Today I summarize a plan, from the American Enterprise Institute, for implementing the needed changes in fiscal and social policy to get the job done.  Consider:

  • The fiscal crisis we face today is entirely of its own making.  The good news is that we do not have to sacrifice the mission of our essential social programs to solve it. We can still have retirement and health security for all Americans, a vibrant safety net that helps people rise, and an economy that grows and increases the living standards of all citizens.
  • The tax code for individuals would remain progressive with four tax rates, 10%, 20%, 30%, and 33%. For businesses, the tax burden on new investment would be eliminated.  A border adjustment tax on carbon would be implemented to help decarbonize the global economy.
  • The duplicative, contradictory, and confusing programs making up our social safety net desperately need repair. The key to avoiding personal stagnation is a safety net focused on promoting work, family, and education while at the same time slowing the growth of safety net spending.  The purpose is to shift the emphasis from accommodating poverty to supporting the principles that will lead to family prosperity.
  • Spending on the major healthcare programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, along with Social Security, are Projected by the CBO to consume 15.2% of GDP by 2052. By the same year, interest payments on the national debt are projected to total 7.2% of GDP.  But the average costs of the entire federal government from m1972 to 2021 totaled 20.8% of GDP.  In other words, at the present rate of growth, the cost of just entitlement programs plus interest payments on the debt will eat up the entire federal budget in just 30 years!  Clearly, something must change!
  • Looking at just Medicare alone (for now), the solution is to build on the popular Medicare Advantage Program with a premium support system that works like the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. A means-testing feature would be included, whereby the wealthy will share more of the premium burden than low- and middle-income seniors do.

Conclusion.  “In this enormous economic challenge lies an opportunity of renewal.  If we stabilize our debt, revitalize our economy, and restore the promise of upward mobility, we will be the authors of a great new chapter in the remarkable American story.”

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The Biggest Loser in the 2022 Midterm Elections: Donald Trump

The 2022 Midterm Elections are so stalemated that we don’t even know five days out which party will control the House of Representatives (the Democrats will keep control of the Senate).  What happened to the expected “red wave” considering the unpopularity of President Biden, the high rate of inflation, and the general dissatisfaction with the direction of the country?  To me, the answer is quite clear: Donald Trump’s denialism about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election has badly muddied the waters.  Consider:

  • GOP governors running for re-election with a record of competent conservatism all won easily. This includes Brian Kemp in Georgia, Kim Reynolds in Iowa, Gregg Abbott in Texas, Mike DeWine in Ohio, Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, and Ron DeSantis in Florida.

  • Senate candidates in New Hampshire, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, all Trump-endorsed MAGA election deniers, lost against vulnerable opponents. Trump-endorsed Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Ohio squeaked through with massive help from a Super Pac aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Donald Trump detests. Trump-endorsed Herschel Walker in Georgia was forced into a runoff with his Democratic opponent.
  • Trump also helped defeat several House incumbents in GOP primaries because they voted to Impeach him after the January 6, 2021 Capitol break-in. These Trump-supported Primary winners then lost to their Democratic opponents in the general election.
  • Trump sabotaged Georgia’s 2021 Senate runoff elections by blaming Georgia GOP leaders for not somehow overturning his 2020 defeat in Georgia. This gave Senate control to the Democrats in 2021 which led to the 2021 passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and the huge inflation which followed. This means that Mr. Trump has now flopped in four elections in a row, in 2018, 2020, 2021, and 2022
  • Even most Trump-supported election deniers running for Secretary of State around the country were defeated.

Conclusion.  In spite of Donald Trump’s various policy successes as President (tax reform, deregulation, and three Supreme Court selections, for example), his 2020 re-election defeat denialism has now become a huge political liability for the Republican Party.  If he wins the Republican nomination for 2024, he will likely be soundly defeated in the general election.  Let us hope that he will be strongly challenged in the 2024 Republican primaries!

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