Thursday, January 27, 2011

Obama Plays Bone Games With Congressional GOP in SOTU

So, in his State of the Union message, President Obama threw the Congressional GOP some bones, support for the free trade pact with Korea and future ones with Colombia and Panama, an offer to lower the corporate tax rate combined with some sort of simplification to make it revenue neutral, an offer to consider limits on medical malpractice awards, and the offer of a continued freeze on discretionary spending. These probably helped make him look "reasonable" to many listeners, although I suspect that the GOPsters will gobble them up without necessarily giving him much in return. Of course, to the extent that such bones help keep his popularity ratings up, this may given him bargaining power.

On most other items he was astoundingly vague, if sometimes uplifting and all that. He gave some vague support to his deficit commission, "as a starting point" for negotiation and discussion. The real biggie is that he seems to have backed off from specifics on what to do about social security. There were many rumors around Washington and various blogs that he was going to come out for something along the lines of the deficit commission recommendations, particularly an increase in future retirement ages. However, it looks like the polls may have gotten to him. Despite his platform (and the best efforts of Bruce Webb and I and others) he has seemed awfully open to some sort of benefits-cutting deal, and his agreement to cut payroll taxes in December has also looked unpleasantly like a foreplay of such.

However, he stayed vague. Even 67% of tea partiers reportedly support raising fica taxes rather than the retirement age or other benefit cuts in order to "put social security on a sound footing," as Obama put it, although many of us have argued that there is no need to do this, certainly not in the near future. This is a situation where for once popular opinion is arguably closer to the reality than supposedly wise experts and pundits in Washington.

In any case, Obama is making others come to him with these proposals, and let them bear the political heat for doing so. This may mean that nobody will do so, hopefully.

1 comment:

run75441 said...

Hi Barkley:

I had to look to see who was writing this when I read:

"(and the best efforts of Bruce Webb and I and others)"

The bone toss of malpratice lawsuits on doctors was pretty much covered in many states and capped at $250-500 thousand for insignificant or non-medical cost expenses (which I assume you know already). Public Citizen (2007) did a nice review of this factor as just how insignificant the threat of lawsuit is here: and how much was awarded to insignificant injury <1/3 of 1% in 2005. It may have doubled since then. No lawyer would handle a case for insignificant injury which leaves the other side of the coin .. . significant injury or death.

Without universal coverage, this would place those who have suffered significant injury at risk somewhat. I am not sure how healthcare reform covers this and would have to read carefully the bill or ask Maggie Mahar what her thoughts were.

Anyhoo . . .