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February 19, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Is David Brooks Really this Big an Idiot? Department)

David Brooks says that he is shocked, shocked to discover that George W. Bush's budget policy is a clown show:

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: In the Midst of Budget Decadence, a Leader Will Arise: ...people who are worried about federal deficits, who are offended by the horrendous burden seniors are placing on the young and who are disgusted by a legislative process that sometimes suggests that the government has lost all capacity for self-control...what is happening right now with the Medicare prescription drug benefit. He's going to look at an event like that one, and he's not only going to be worried about the country's economic future - he's also going to be morally offended. He's going to sense that something fundamentally decadent is going on.

And he's going to be right.

In the past months we have learned that the prescription drug benefit passed last year is not going to cost $400 billion over 10 years. The projections now, over a slightly different period, are that it's going to cost over $700 billion. And these cost estimates are coming before the program is even operating. They are only going to go up.... Over the next few months we will be watching a government that may be millions-wise, but trillions-foolish. We will be watching a government that sometimes seems to have lost all perspective - like a lunatic who tries to dry himself with a hand towel while standing in a torrential downpour....

In Congress, some are taking a look at these new cost projections and figuring that maybe it's time to readjust the program.... But the White House is threatening to veto anything they do! President Bush, who hasn't vetoed a single thing during his presidency, now threatens to veto something - and it's something that might actually restrain the growth of government. He threatens to use his first veto against an idea he himself originally proposed!

Have we entered another world, where up is down and rationality is irrational?

I don't know which would be more depressing--for David Brooks's sudden discovery of the Bush budget clown show to be feigned, or for it to be real.

Posted by DeLong at February 19, 2005 09:41 AM

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Illegitimi non carborundum.

Posted by: Linkmeister at February 19, 2005 09:49 AM

A psychotic is someone who just found out what's going on.
   -  William S. Burroughs

Posted by: John at February 19, 2005 09:52 AM

Brooks claims that the Medicare bill and this runaway deficit will be called into check by some new millionaire leader??? (a Perot but younger). He then goes on to complain that, with the Congress trying to figure out a way to reduce that 700 billion price tag back to the 400 billion Bush proposed, Bush is threatening a veto over the same proposals he originally made before the congress got through with the bill. First of all, the Bush administration deliberately lied about the estimated price by 150 Billion (remeber the guy who was froced to give the lower number during his testimony to the congress). Secondly, Bush and the Republicans were squarely set against doing anything in the bill that would actually save a lot of money for the government at the expense of the pharmasutical industry. There was talk of either getting the drugs from Canada or having the government buy in bulk recieving a much lower price. Protecting the drug industry is the reason Bush is threatening a veto. Not some crazy notion to veto a bill, innacurately claimed by Brooks, that more closely resembles what Bush proposed earlier. If Big buisness is involved, you have a 100 perent guarantee that the president will side with them each time.

On another topic, I have to give Kudos to Krugman. His prediction of junior's desire to destroy the welfare state from top to bottom is looking more and more true. Cut taxes to the rich, spend like crazy and then start cutting programs to the neediest little by little to get out of the red ink. Turn Social Security into somehting that makes money for the big Broker houses if nothing else. Where will this country be in 15 years because of Bush and Greenspan's idiocy and corruption?


Posted by: eric at February 19, 2005 09:59 AM

"who are offended by the horrendous burden seniors are placing on the young"

So the seniors are to blame for the ill-conceived Medicare prescription drug benefit? Talk about a world where "up is down and rationality is irrational[!]"

Posted by: Charles Kinbote at February 19, 2005 10:01 AM

Note that Brooks only mentions Congressional Republican critics of the cost of the Medicare benefit. He ignores the whole controversy about the suppressed Medicare actuary estimates of the cost, and all the strong-arming that went into getting the bill passed in the House. Now he blames Grandpa Simpson for the whole thing, not the President that produced it and ran on it.

Posted by: P O'Neill at February 19, 2005 10:16 AM

Does this qualify Brooks for membership in the Order of the Shrill?

Posted by: Joe at February 19, 2005 10:21 AM

"But what can't last won't last. Before too long, some new sort of leader is going to arise, especially if we fail to reform Social Security this year."

Man that's them there must be powerful kool-aid. What does "Reforming Social Security" have to do with the runaway deficits? This is the three-card-Monte game Krugman was writing about. Brooks is pretending to criticize Bush and the Republicans for runaway spending, but he's clearly fully on board with gutting Social Security.

Posted by: Alan at February 19, 2005 10:27 AM

"who are offended by the horrendous burden seniors are placing on the young"

Reminds me that I need to call my mother...

Posted by: Stuart at February 19, 2005 10:48 AM

We're winning the argument, it seems. Only let us win the next election! This is all very much the way moderate socialists tore away from the Stalinists, back when. But by then it was too late; I hope this comes in time.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz at February 19, 2005 10:49 AM

It's somewhat amusing to watch Brooks very public breakdown. It's interesting to note that Brooks still can't admit the Democratic party is more fiscally responsible.

Posted by: Unstable Isotope at February 19, 2005 11:09 AM

Is David Brooks Really this Big an Idiot?

Of course he is, Brad - it has taken you all this time to notice this?

For a newpaper that (rightly, IMO) can claim to be "The Paper of Record" the lineup of their regular Op-Ed columnists is, well, somewhat underwhelming; and few so disappointing as David Brooks. For that he was supposed to be such a brilliant thinker and writer,and the Voice Of Intelligent Conservatism, his NYT offerings have been platitudinous and boring at best, and, at their worst, descend into claptrap like this (from today's same Op-Ed):

"We may as well be blunt about the driving force behind all this. The living and well organized are taking money from the weak and the unborn. Over the past decades we have seen a gigantic transfer of wealth from struggling young families and the next generation to members of the AARP."

Gee, David, thanks...Compassionate Conservativism Speaks!
Maybe this can be spun as a way to exploit the opportunities caused by global warming: we can use those projected ice floes which will be breaking off from Antarctica as Traditional Inuit Retirement Villages for all those greedy money-grubbing oldsters who are doing such damage to our fiscal future.

Posted by: Jay C at February 19, 2005 11:14 AM

"who are offended by the horrendous burden seniors are placing on the young"

So the seniors are to blame for the ill-conceived Medicare prescription drug benefit?

No, you see, the seniors are responsible for pushing for large scale tax cuts while putting the costs of an expensive occupation on the company credit card(please see the sarcasim in my statement). Brooks still refuses to look at the WHOLE picture. It's still only a 'social security crisis', and not a 'complete fiscal irresposibility crisis'.

Does this qualify Brooks for membership in the Order of the Shrill?

No. He'll be an administration SHILL again next week 'freedom is on the march' or some such line.

Posted by: philip at February 19, 2005 11:21 AM

The social security thing is off topic. If any investment run by Wall Street had the kind of return it does on dollars in, it would have died years ago. But that doesn't relate to the drug benefit.

The important thing to notice about the drug benefit is that it is a step further toward a national health plan. Yes, national health plans are expensive. This is news? Really?

I see no complaints from those who thought the benefit was too chintzy in the first place as being relevant.

Posted by: Arnold Williams at February 19, 2005 11:33 AM

If national health plans are so expensive why do we spend more on healthcare then any other OECD country?

Sorry Arnold you do not get away with comments like that here.

Posted by: spencer at February 19, 2005 12:08 PM

I agree with Spencer. We're going to save more money in the long run with a nationalized health care system. One of the reasons our healthcare is so high is because of for-profit medicine. We are paying more to pay for the people who can't pay, who they can't turn away.

For prescription drugs, we're getting robbed in my opinion. Why are we paying so much more than our neighbor, Canada? Don't tell me that inventing drugs is expensive, it is, definitely. But pharmaceutical companies pay more for advertising than for research.

Posted by: Unstable Isotope at February 19, 2005 12:16 PM

Please help me understand: There is a refrain that tells us how poor the return to Social Security has been. I do not understand. Since the Social Security system began to build a surplus in 1983, the return to 30 year Treasury bonds has been above 9% a year. How is such a return poor? Long term Treasury bonds have returned over 9% a year these last 10 years. Where is the problem? Long term treasury bonds have returned over 9% for 30 years. Why the complaints?

For Social Security to be invested in bonds these last 5 or 10 or 20 or 30 years, sure seems fine to me.

Posted by: anne at February 19, 2005 12:28 PM

"There's going to be a millionaire arising" --because Mr. Brooks wouldn't consider the opinion of anyone with less money? (Well, it is hard to tell, from this column.) The REAL reason for this column may be: President Bush and the his Party are in trouble on this, and they need one (or more) young American hotshot success stories from outside the Beltway, to be made into prime media attractions as they stand up and start flogging for Social Security "reform," to get the "movement" rekindled. In that case, Brooks here is just hoping to prime THAT pump.

Consider: The longterm crusade against the social safety-net might require making the Repubs appear "as bad" as the Dems, to make it look like the fight is between the People and ALL of the politicians, in order to succeed. After all, anybody who strategized long-ago to destroy the social safety-net by overspending, has to have already figured that he and his party might need to take some of the heat: to deflect the accusation of motive.

Posted by: Lee A. Arnold at February 19, 2005 12:33 PM

Now, I support the extension of drug benefits to Meeidcare recipients. I have long supported such an extension. But, we have chosen to design the legislation in ways that are self-defeating. Drug makers have no incentive to limit price increases for drugs. there is no purchaser of drugs who can balance the monopoly of a particular drug. There is much that can be done to limit price increases, but setting Medicare as a bargaining agent would be an excellent start. This will not now be done.

Posted by: anne at February 19, 2005 12:57 PM

Notice how Brooks places equal blame on Dems and the GOP and brings in SS. No, Brooks is not an idiot. He knows that his job is to support the GOP line. He only qualifies as an idiot if he doesn't have his own Armstrong Williams deal (or futures contract).

Posted by: bakho at February 19, 2005 01:01 PM

It won't be a green-eyeshade economic crusade this leader will be launching. It will be a moral crusade, and it'll be quite a show.

I must say it seemed a strange article. The first person to come to my mind was John Edwards.

I would take it at face value, though, because it was focused on the medicare debacle and the SS mention was little more then a rhetorical flourish maintain his ground.
I take the comment about it being moral, rather than fiscal to mean someone from the right, rather then the center. In this, the Perot comparision is accurate, because Perot ran to the right of Big George. The question is how is anyone going to run to the right of Little George?
I think he really does just have his knickers in a twist.

Posted by: brodix at February 19, 2005 01:56 PM

Of course, Little George won't be running, so I just guess he's looking down the road and hoping a Caesar will rise.

Posted by: brodix at February 19, 2005 02:01 PM

I read his piece. It wasn't worthy of your blog.

Brooks is still part of the Dumb and Dumber crowd.

He's just running for cover.

Posted by: Movie Guy at February 19, 2005 02:14 PM

"who are offended by the horrendous burden seniors are placing on the young "

Here Brooks is shilling for Karl Rove. The only burden we oldsters are putting on the young is to continue paying the same SS payroll tax that has been in effect for years, perhaps with an increase for high earners. The real burden being put on the young is that placed by Bush et. al. with their stupendous budget deficits and an estimated doubling of the national debt over the Bush years.

The intellectual dishonesty of David Brooks is just staggeriing.

Posted by: Bob H at February 19, 2005 02:32 PM

The real bitch of the whole Medicare drug bill is, the Democrats were proposing something that cost about $800 billion over ten years. That's no small amount of change, to be sure, and one of the most frequent defenses used by Republicans was, "Well, the Democrats wanted something more!" Uh, guys, not so much.

Of course, the Democratic proposal could have ended up costing even more. But let's assume that didn't happen, and that we still wanted a Medicare drug bill, even if it cost quite a bit. We have two proposals that cost a similar amount, yet one is ridiculously complicated and does little to try and reduce costs. The other does those things. We all know which is which.

I love the Bush adminisration so much. It's almost like each new proposal is one more attempt to see how much nonsense can be thrown out there before someone says, "Hey, wait a second..."

Posted by: Brian at February 19, 2005 03:06 PM

I didn't get the part about Perot (and the Admiral) though--is he still trying to explain his vote? Anyway, perhaps, as is the pattern, he's concerned that his readers are disengaging from his insipid musings and he's throwing out a hook to reel them back in. Is the inside of your mouth sore? I think we missed the real hook though; Oh do tell dear columnist, don't keep us in suspense- who this savior? ("millionaire" isn't inciteful--it's a req. to run) Shall we guess? Best we all stick with Krugman and the likes of "The Iceburg Cometh" (NYT Jan 11, 2005).

Posted by: arlet at February 19, 2005 03:17 PM

Brooks' column is insane. His only comment on Republican actions is to praise a few he labels "fiscal conservatives." No mention of tax cuts, not a word.

And he acts surprised that the cost of the Medicare drug benefit is rising sharply. Gee, how did that happen? Brooks has no desire to explain.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov at February 19, 2005 03:48 PM

OK, so where is the Dems' alternative to this drug plan they almost all voted for? Let's put it on the table. All I've seen so far is nonsense about importing from Canada (which would only increase Canadian prices to our levels) and price controls (which is what Medicare "bargaining" would be). Those are both nonserious nonstarters, and for good reason.

Virtually everybody is appalled by these cost projections, which means that if the Dems could come up with attractive alternatives they could instantly grab control of this debate. So why don't they?

Posted by: Byron at February 19, 2005 05:16 PM

Byron, i think the direct answer to your question is that there is no obvious galvanizing force on the Dem side.

Speaking personally, i think what the Dems should do is propose the entire turkey be scrapped on the grounds that it's poorly designed and unaffordable. Laying down this marker would have the potential to steer the debate in ways beneficial to Dems and/or progressives: it would focus attention on Bush's incompetency and lack of realism; it's a welcome reminder of the thuggish way the bill was pushed through (and Byron, that's what passed the bill, not Dems); it allows the Dems to seize the high-ground in terms of claiming that Bush needs to deal with the general fund and medicare crises before we can even discuss social security; and it lays the groundwork for what progressives all know - that Clinton-era rates on the top 2% of households and the estate tax above $5M will have to be restored.

So i personally, Byron, know exactly what i would do if i were the Dems, but there's no chance that they're going to do that i'm afraid....

Posted by: howard at February 19, 2005 06:40 PM


Posted by: at February 19, 2005 06:42 PM

"Little George won't be running"

Unless there is some sort of extraordinary circumstance/situation that prevents the holding of the 08 election and inauguration...

Hey, you can never tell.

Posted by: ritchie at February 19, 2005 09:27 PM

Is Bush a lame duck already? If people like Brooks are no longer willing to pretend that up is down when the Bush talking points require it, that will reduce the amount of damage that Bush can do over the next four years.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist at February 19, 2005 10:40 PM

>> So then why are we paying more for drugs developed in Europe and elsewhere? Research costs explain why a particular pill costs a huge amount of money, but not why it costs $50 in the US and, say, $18 in Canada. <<

AFAIK, one can legally produce a broader range of generic drugs in Canada than the US. One of the many reasons former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is still generally reviled up north is his effort to lengthen Canadian IP laws in the drug industry -- something that increased the cost of health care with no discernable impact on the quality of care received. I believe we are now at 20 years or so.

My own experience with American health care was being charged an incredible amount by the Berkeley health center just to get a doctor to sign off on some paperwork certifying I was in good health. Getting a battery of STD tests at an Oakland community center was easier. It seemed to be a much cheaper and more effective care delivery system, even ignoring the subsidization issue.

Posted by: trevelyan at February 20, 2005 12:44 AM

Anne: I think you've mistaken what the conservatives mean when they talk about a "poor return" from Social Security. They mean, if you create a hypothetical worker and calculate his contribution to the system through his 12.4% in taxes, and then you look at his expected payout; and then you model an interest-bearing account with deposits matching the taxes during his working years, and withdrawals matching his SS benefits in retirement; then the interest rate you have to use so that the account ends up at zero at the end of his retirement is very low, potentially negative for some workers.

They exaggerate this effect by assuming no value to disability or survivor's benefits, and by discounting the wage- vs price-index issue... But I think they're probably right that in these terms, individuals don't get much "return" from their FICA "investment" -- maybe 3% at best, and people who earn up around the cap probably do get a negative "return".

I've worked up a spreadsheet that allows you to fiddle with some of the numbers (productivity, what wage levels you want to look at, etc), just because I wanted to see how valid the privatizers' claims were on this point.


I'd still like to see somebody with more expertise, and more data, gin up some graphs of "percentile of income distribution VS effective return on FICA including disability/survivor", under various assumptions of wage growth, growth in life expectancy, etc.

In any case, since SS is insurance, not investment, I find this to be a bit of a non-sequitur anyways. Any individual's private insurance policy, for anything, has to have a negative expected return by definition -- o/w the company pays out more, on average, than it takes in, and it goes bust. SS only has a positive return, on average, because of vast risk pooling over the population and over time, allowing it to invest, basically, in the continued existence of the USA.

Posted by: Auros at February 20, 2005 01:44 PM

They don't come much more dishonest and weasel-like than Brooks. Any lie, con or feint is permissable to keep his team in power.

This what it looks like when lies start catching up to the liars: they can't keep their story straight or make sense, but earnestly want to keep you convinced that they have your best interest at heart.

I heartily look forward to the contortions Mr. Brooks will be twisting into over the next few years as the voters wrath grows and the lies stop working.

Posted by: Tim B. at February 21, 2005 03:19 AM


Posted by: at February 21, 2005 09:00 AM

"Look at that "negotiated reduction" box on your Blue Cross statement to see whether medical providers have any realistic option of telling BC/BS to take a hike."

You've just provided the argument against yourself. A very large buyer can force prices down a lot. That's a good thing for consumers. But the seller is not under any legal obligation to sell BELOW COST -- the sellers CAN simply refuse to sell to Medicare, or even to stop selling within the US at all. Sellers are EXACTLY as free to stop selling to Wal-Mart, or Blue Cross / Blue Shield.

Unless you think the gov't is going to actually pass a law REQUIRING pharmacorps to sell to the gov't at a particular price, it's not a price control, and the gov't is no different from any other large buyer.

The rest of your post is just doublespeak, trying to justify an unjustifiable position.

Posted by: Auros at February 21, 2005 11:12 AM

PS: Two of the largest PharmaCorps in the world operate in Europe (Aventis-Pasteur and Merck) and most of the vaccines used in the US are produced in Britain or Canada.

What was that about the US being the source of pharmaceutical innovation?

Posted by: Auros at February 21, 2005 11:16 AM

"In any case, I'll bid this board adieu..."

Funny. One person uses a minor insult and you show your true colors: aggressive, thin-skinned, and basically just another wingnut with stale points and oral incontinence. Bon voyage and thanks for the laugh.

Posted by: Tim B. at February 21, 2005 01:44 PM

Bobo! Just the kind of fine mind that his beloved Conrederates appreciate!

Posted by: Neil' at February 21, 2005 05:50 PM

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Posted by: at February 21, 2005 06:27 PM

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