Friday, February 17, 2012

Eyes on the ball, people

The rise of Rick Santorum is good news for the Democrats, the thinking goes, because his (ahem) controversial views on matters of the boudoir will trump any discussions about other issues.

Well, maybe. Still, those other issues aren't going away. Two examples for your consideration this morning.

First, consider this report concerning Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) getting in the face of acting OMB director Jeffrey Zients:

Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., challenged Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients to resign this morning, unless he could substantiate his claim that President Obama's budget does not increase spending.
"Do you propose to spend more money over the next ten years than what the Budget Control Act and current law would cause us to spend?" Sessions asked.

Zients really didn't want to answer that, because the answer would have been yes. Which led to Sessions asking a followup:

After much more equivocation and evasiveness from Zients, Sessions asked: "If you are incorrect in saying that you do not increase spending more than current law, would you consider resigning your office?"
Zients refused to answer that question too.

Well, yeah. He can't answer it, because to answer honestly would require admitting that the Obama administration considers the Budget Control Act a dead letter.

Meanwhile, Ann Althouse calls our attention to something else that our man Zients needed to explain -- how the individual mandate is not a tax, when simultaneously the Obama administration is telling the Supreme Court that it is:

But of course, the government is arguing in the Supreme Court that the individual mandate is a tax, authorized by Congress's taxing power. Read the brief for the United States — PDF — beginning at page 50:

The “practical operation” of the minimum coverage provision is as a tax.... It amends the Internal Revenue Code to provide that a non-exempted individual who fails to maintain a minimum level of insurance shall pay a monthly penalty for so long as he fails to do so. 26 U.S.C.A. § 5000A. The amount of the penalty is calculated as a percentage of household income for federal income tax purposes, above a flat dollar amount and subject to a cap. Id. § 5000A(c). It is reported on the individual’s federal income tax return for the taxable year, ibid., and “assessed and collected in the same manner as” other specified federal tax penalties. Id. § 5000A(b)(2), (g).

Althouse susses out the reasoning for all this:

Well, I suppose it depends on what the meaning of the word "tax" is. It's one thing for the purpose of political argument: Democrats in Congress didn't want to call it a tax when they were jamming it through, and Obama doesn't want to call it a tax now as he's promoting a budget with no new taxes for those making less than $250,000 a year. But for the purposes of legal argument, you might want to characterize it as a tax. The serious question is whether the Supreme Court will accept that characterization for the purpose of upholding the law, even though for political purposes the word was not — and is not — used.

And the answer to that question depends on whether the Justices think that analysis of the political dynamics matters in the interpretation of the scope of Congress's enumerated powers. Whatever the vigor of the Court's role here — and obviously much is left to Congress's political will — it is crucial for the people — exercising their political pressure on the Congress that works its political will — to see what is happening. Even in the thrall of judicial restraint, the Court should reject an argument based on fooling the people about what Congress is doing. The people are especially vigilant about new taxes, so denying that something is a tax is an important maneuver in the political arena. If that move is made to ward off public outrage, it should not be easy to turn around win the favor of judges by calling it what you did not dare tell the people it was.

If I were doing these sorts of things, I guess I'd rather talk about contraception, too. Talking about sex tends to be a useful way of deflecting attention to the other ways people are getting screwed these days.


Gino said...

too bad there isnt a free pill that protects us from a govt screwing.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Give it time, Gino. Perhaps there will be a free euthanasia pill?

Night Writer said...

Santorum's the kind of conservative that weakens the Conservatism brand; socially conservative but otherwise all for big government, especially if it can be used to support his worldview but apparently not thinking too deeply when others want to use it for "good" things. In that way he's more harmful to Conservative thought and principles than Romney, who can always be shrugged off as never being that Conservative. Others can argue which one is most like W in that regard.

In the end, despite how flowery the promises and sincere the conviction appears, government at best is always a large blunt object when it comes to running things. Individuals are always safer when government is smaller and that's what we need to vote for regardless of what flag someone is flying.

Mr. D said...

All true, NW. Which is why I didn't vote for Santorum when I had an opportunity to weigh in on this process.

The problem is conservatives are fighting a two-front war in this cycle.

Gino said...

Rome went down with bread and circuses, eventually bringing on the dark ages

obama brings stimulus and IUDs.

maybe it's times go double check my survivalist provisions.
hey, if hunger strikes, i'll have extra rabbits if you need 'em.

Brian said...

One could argue that if you think social conservatism a la Santorum really hurts the ability of the GOP to make any progress on fiscal issues ("weakening the brand", as it were) that the best thing that could happen for the GOP in the long run would be to nominate Santorum and have him lose in a landslide.

That could at least be interpreted as signaling that social conservatism is a losing proposition and they ought to focus their energies elsewhere.

I fear that if Romney is nominated and loses, this will be interpreted as the party not having gone conservative enough.

Gino said...

first: we have to define what 'social conservatism' means.

i'm pretty sure that what i consider being socially conservative differs, in some ways greatly, from what others may think.

much of what passes for conservatism is not really the concept of govt having a limited role in our social endeavors as much as it is a reaction to social changes others see and dont like, hoping govt can pass a law or somthing to make it stop.

Brian said...

"...not really the concept of govt having a limited role in our social endeavors as much as it is a reaction to social changes others see and dont like, hoping govt can pass a law or somthing to make it stop."

I think that is a perfectly good working definition of "social conservatism" as it tends to be used in the US in 2012.

Word verification: "Jesus herenmr"

W.B. Picklesworth said...

There is certainly big government social conservatism. There is also, "Dammit, stop changing everything via the government" conservatism. This isn't inherently big government, though it seeks to be active in government in order to slow or roll back changes.

It's conservatism that doesn't want tradition to be torn away (as it has often been in the past.) Quietist social conservatism led to (or at least allowed) rapid social changes, many of which haven't been so great.

Now personally, I don't want the government legislating all kinds of social stuff, but I also don't want it legislating at the behest of one side of the matter while the other side doesn't bother to press its case.

So, for example, I don't particularly like prayer in schools. But I don't think it should be illegal or grounds for a lawsuit. I don't really want government involved in marriage, but if it insists on it, then I think marriage should mean what tradition says it means.

Mr. D said...

Good comments, all.

My fear is that this election is going to be about "social issues," variously defined, when it needs to be about economic issues.

The thing about Santorum that troubles me is that I get a whiff of William Jennings Bryan from him. He's doing it in a somewhat subtle manner, but there's definitely a populist thing going on there and I think there's a chance it will resonate. I'm not sure I can really explain it properly yet, but I'll get there.

Santorum gave a speech in Idaho earlier in the week that was troubling. I'll have to find the transcript, which will help me to explain what I'm sensing. Likely a future post over the weekend.

Anonymous said...

In another venue, I have argued that government is actually the root cause of most of these "social trends." By sliding government into the role of parent, provider, facilitator of "feel-good" behavior, mis-educator, etc. They break the traditional family structure and with it the transmittal of society's values. Government is the great enabler. Get government out of much of what it (wrongly, IMHO and according to the Constitution) does, and the problem wouldn't exist.

J. Ewing