America: A Center-Left Country

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, unfortunately for Republican budget-slashers, teacher-bashers and union-trashers, indicates the following:

           Positive Feelings Toward:  Negative Feelings Toward:

Teachers                        73%                                  10%

Teachers’ unions            47%                                  30%

Public Employee unions  38%                                  34%

Labor Unions                  38%                                  36%


Government should do more:   Government doing too much:

                       51%                                      46%


Top issue for government to address:

Job creation and economic growth  56%

Deficit and government spending….40%

Health care…………………………………..   28%

National Security and terrorism……. 20%

Energy and the cost of gas………….  20%

Iraq and Afghanistan……………………  13%


Tea Party Supporter?

    Yep:  29%     Nope: 61%

Favor right to collective bargaining for public employees?

    Yep: 77%      Nope: 19%

Cut Medicaid to reduce the deficit? 

    Nope: 67%    Yep: 32%

Cut Medicare to reduce the deficit?

    Nope: 76%    Yep: 23%

Cut Social Security to reduce the deficit?

    Nope: 77%    Yep: 22%

Cut K thru 12 education to reduce the deficit?

    Nope: 77%    Yep: 22%

Cut unemployment insurance? 

    Nope: 55%     Yep: 43%

Raise income taxes on millionaires? 

    Yep: 81%       Nope: 17%

Eliminate tax credits for oil and gas industry?

    Yep: 74%       Nope: 22%

Reduce Medicare and Social Security benefits for wealthy?

    Yep: 62%      Nope: 37%

Eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood?

    Nope 53%     Yep  45%

Judging by the chutzpah of Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana Republicans—a Wisconsin GOP Senator has referred to the protesters in the Capitol building as “slobs” and “a different breed“— one would think that public employee unions, including teachers’ unions, were hated by a strong majority of Americans. Nope.

Judging by the chutzpah of national Republicans—cutting spending and cutting taxes—one would think that a strong majority of Americans were pining for a smaller government, for government to do less. Not so.

This is a center-left country, as I have said repeatedly.

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  1. What you have accomplished here, Duane, is to further depress me. As you, Anson and I well know, because we thrashed it out on these very pages, the principal problem with the national debt is MediCare and MediCaid. The problem can not be fixed without fixing those, and if they were fixed, then the rest would probably fall into place nicely. The poll of course shows that only 1 in 4 understands that. Ergo, it will not be fixed.

    But, by gnawing around the edges of the problem the Congress Creatures are doing and are going to do great harm, principally to the most vulnerable. Yesterday it was reported they trimmed $4 Billion in programs, an amount too small to show up on ABC News’ chart. In effect the nation has an obesity problem and has started to fix it by trimming its toenails. What next, a haircut?



    • Jim,

      As I have said a hundred times, until Republicans face up to the tax issue, you are right. Nothing will change. Democrats, including Obama, have already demonstrated there is a grudging willingness to make painful cuts (in terms of hurting programs good for them politically), although the battle over SS and Medicare has yet to begin in earnest.

      I will note to you something significant you may have forgotten. Back in December, Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, backed the deficit commission plan, although he reserved the right to vote against it after debates and negotiations in the Senate. Now, Durbin is not a moderate Democrat. He is often credited with being one of the most liberal senators.

      My point is this: Name me one Republican Senator or House member on the other side who has taken a similarly courageous stance on taxes? For that matter, name me one on that side who has even gone as far on taxes as Obama has gone in cutting spending? The tax issue is the key to this mess, and nothing will ever be solved until that one is. It can’t be all cutting. Revenue is around 15% of GDP, obviously too low to sustain a modern government like ours, and a government that, as this poll demonstrates clearly, people want.



  2. Thou art too defensive, methinks, friend Duane. I fully realize that both parties are equally loathe to touch the third rail of entitlement reform. Senator Durbin is to be commended for his position, tentative as it is. And just because one courageous Democrat dips a toe in the water it doesn’t mean any kind of solution is at hand. Unfortunately. But I do agree that raising taxes has to be part of the solution and that the GOP are ninnies not to admit it.

    The real enemy of reform is of course the electorate, just as the poll shows. I don’t think any political courage will appear until the financial system actually begins to collapse. I just don’t know how fast that will happen or what it will look like. Maybe a deeper recession, or even a depression.



    • Jim,

      Rereading what I wrote, I can see how that came across as defensive. It wasn’t meant to be. I just rattled it off quickly without regards to tenor. Sorry about that.

      My problem with the electorate is that it has enjoyed the benefits of deficit spending so long (began under Reagan, I might add), which supported the large government it wanted, that the electorate continued to elect Republicans (and some Democrats) over and over again because of their no-tax philosophy. Now, I don’t know who is to blame more for that, the electorate or those politicians who exploited deficit spending to buy votes.

      But I do know the electorate is to blame for electing Tea Party Republicans, who instead of responsibly arguing for a two-sided solution to the problem—revenue increases and spending cuts—argue to cut, cut, cut, without regard to the state of our economy. That means killing jobs and killing the recovery and ultimately, what you allude to: deep recession or worse. It’s just plain dumb.

      Finally, who I blame more than anyone is that part of the electorate who allows politicians to manipulate their emotions on abortion, guns, and homosexuality, causing them to vote against their own economic interests. And I don’t mean merely keeping the high levels of government spending going. I mean voting against politicians who would sensibly raise taxes to keep massive debt from piling up, because in the end, it will be those in the middle and bottom who will pay for the fiscal mismanagement. As we can see in state after state, those who are suffering are those least able to afford it. Unfortunately, many of those folks voted for what they are getting.



  3. ansonburlingame

     /  March 4, 2011

    To both,

    Here is a comment just posted on Jim’s blog which is pertinent here as well, in my view.

    “BUT I am also absolutely convinced that until we the people accept a government that can and will “live within its means” pure economic laws will continue to aggravate the current divide until it becomes a chasm across which civil discontent might well not reach. Think of such as TWO CLIFFS so far apart that only…. will build a bridge?”

    The context of that statement relates to my view of the “maturity” of we the people in our current political discourse, which is rapidly going downhill and has been doing so for now….. (well over two) years.

    Boiled down to the essence, our arguments are economic, even in terms of foreign affairs today. There is not enough money to do everything and we are tearing our country apart to try to do so, find the money for every “good” idea possible.

    The first decade in the 21st Century has brought those arguments to a boiling head in America. How long can it last until some resolution is found?

    While we seem to be arguing over “slices” of the pie, what we as Americans really want is a much larger pie. But we have forgotten how to cook.



    • Anson,

      It comes down to a pie, alright. We have a big pie in America. The largest pie in the world, and no one is close. The question is how the pie is divided without causing future pies to shrink. You say there isn’t enough money to do “everything,” which isn’t really true. If we wanted to, we could tax at a rate sufficient to bring in enough revenues to do most anything we want. But that would certainly shrink the size of future pies over time because folks would simply move away or quit working as hard. Right?

      So, again, the question is how do we divide today’s pie without endangering tomorrow’s pie. As you know, I argue that some of the pie that goes overseas to fight unnecessary wars and to maintain a costly presence needs to be diverted to other endeavors. To some extent, you agree with that. At home, we need to keep our commitment to the elderly, the disabled, and the poor, as well as educating our kids and maintaining and improving our infrastructure. Now, most of that isn’t that controversial, when you think about it. Most people would agree. So, the problem is how to pay for it all and the answer, as it has always been, is to tax the folks who are making money. At present, many of us are undertaxed (partly because of tax deductions, etc.), especially the wealthiest among us. In Ohio, for instance, they massively cut taxes in 2005 and guess what? A budget crisis today. Fix undertaxation first by moving tax rates up until they are extracting a sufficient amount of revenue to pay for the things that Americans say they want.

      Medicare should be means-tested down to some point. Millionaires don’t need it and shouldn’t get it in the same way that those less fortunate do. Same with Social Security.

      But you know and I know the only thing really standing in the way of what we know to do is Republican resistance on taxes. I can guarantee you that Democrats will be willing to reduce spending (particularly if things keep improving) but you can’t guarantee me in the slightest that Republicans will increase revenues. So, the problem is more on your side than mine.



  4. ansonburlingame

     /  March 4, 2011


    Good, we agree that the “pie” is not going to change dramatically for now despite any politicians efforts to make that happen, dramatically. Slow and incremental growth is all that we can or should hope for.

    Thus we are back to arguing over “slices”. Even you indicated it should be 20/20 did you not. I would probably prefer 15/15 but we are not even close to that argument, yet, nationally or between the two of us.

    Why not an agreement to find a way to live within our means. Then you propose the tax increases to get to the desired $$ value of revenues and I will try to cut to get to the same level in spending. Or we could reverse roles just in our simple blogs. 20% of GDP is $2.8 Trillion. 15% is $2.1 Trillion (about where we are in revenues today)

    Given a 20% goal of GDP for both spending and revenues, you would have to come up with $700 Billion in more revenues ANNUALLY and I would have to bring spending down for the 2012 proposed budget of $3.6 Trillion or by some $800 Billion for us to met at a previously agreed to level of $2.8 Trillion in both spending and revenues for 2012.

    I KNOW I can get spending down that low and I suspect you can figure the tax rates needed for ALL Americans to reach that level in revenues.

    THEN we and our readers can see just how hard THAT approach might be. The pain on both sides, spending and revenues will be more than ANY want to endure.

    Then we can go back to agruing HAVE TO or WANT TO endure in terms of pain.

    For sure NOTHING can be done that is pain free for either side which is exactly what our politicians are trying to do today, prevent pain simply for their OWN sides. Same in Wisconsin in my view.



  5. ansonburlingame

     /  March 4, 2011


    Reference the above. I am going to give you a head start in raising taxes. Months ago I heard that eliminating the Bush II tax cuts in their entirety would result in raising revenues by $4 Trillion over ten years.

    I have no idea if that is correct but for now will stipulate that such is the case. Eliminating Bush II tax cuts and brackets for ALL Americans, going back to exactly the Clinton era tax rates and brackets brings in some $400 Billion a year in revenues.

    Given that stipulation on my part you “only” have to raise additional taxes by $300 Billion a year to reach our goal.

    I on the other hand have to still find $800 Billion to cut from the President’s 2012 budget. Again, I can do that but for sure you won’t like it. But at least we can then argue over specific cuts and not just cuts in general.

    In doing so we would make much greater progress than anyone in Wash DC today. And we can do it because we are not running for office.

    anson, again


    • Anson,

      There are a couple of things I would not stipulate:

      1) Whether the proper level of spending is 20% of GDP. That may be too low for the period we are entering, the baby-boom bubble. I don’t know about that, I’m not an economist. That level of spending was more than sufficient in the past, but for the coming 20 or 30 years, it may have to be slightly more.

      2) I won’t agree that the budget cuts and tax increases need to be done immediately and so rapidly. It’s that old “bend the spending curve” thing again. Severe and immediate austerity will hurt the economy in the short term, as most economists will admit. I prefer a gradual, but steady and sure, reduction in spending and return to sufficient taxation.

      I just don’t think it’s that hard to do, if Republicans would finally bend on taxes.

      And it’s important to realize that the only reason they won’t is because they are protecting the investor class. They have absolutely nothing to fear politically from raising taxes responsibly, given the public’s view that spending cuts on popular programs are out of the question for now.

      That would be the start of a major compromise, in my view.



  6. ansonburlingame

     /  March 4, 2011

    And finally,

    I jumped out ahead of you and have already now posted my first “round” of spending cuts. You will find it in my blog site under “MY PART OF THE CHALLENGE”.

    There is another proposed agreement as to our mutual starting point therein which is spending and revenues for 2010 which we KNOW for now. Neither of us have to GUESS at those numbers to begin a first approximation to meet the challenge. I also propose that we only “talk” in terms of one decimal to the right in $Trillion or $100’s of Billion, just to make it simple, again for starters. We don’t need to get down to the $ Millions level for now.

    I now await your response as well as others that choose to respond to my first round of proposed cuts for 2012. I guarantee NO ONE will like them. I wonder how many can ACCEPT them or some approximation of such magnitude in specific areas.



  7. ansonburlingame

     /  March 5, 2011

    To all,

    I posted the below before reading Duane’s reply above, but again my post was rejected. Trying again now. I also encourage the debate to begin and stick for now to a goal of $2.8 Trillion. We can sharpen the debate once we reach that goal for now. Here is the original post, still unaswered, specifically, as I see it.

    To all,

    NOW the silence, both here and my own blog is surprising.

    Jim has at least commented and responded with his own blog to which I have now commented to move the debate along. Geoff has commented to my blog as well.

    I offered this challenge to raise the level of debate to a greater but still very small degree of specificity. NO ONE from the left has choosen to engage in any way.

    And for sure I don’t understand that reluctance to debate such an approach to live within our means, without resort to utter ridicule or disdain right out of the gate so to speak.

    Cat got your tongue(S) or……?



  8. The continuing cost of Medicare and Medicaid can’t be solved without solving the nation’s Health Care crisis as a whole. It’s easy for Republicans to attack Medicare and Medicaid by feeding the right’s “entitlement phobia,” but the national cost of Health Care extends well beyond that of Medicare. Private managed Health Care insurance costs the country more than Medicare which suggests that managed care would also have to be factored in if a more cost effective resolution is to be found.

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that Republicans successfully put an end to Medicare and Medicaid. Then how would all of our retired elders manage to pay for health care considering many are on subsistence fixed incomes? Most likely those who could not afford private insurance would try to ride out their illnesses or self-medicate with over the counter pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately however many of their illnesses will continue to worsen until it rises to a medical crisis, which in turn will find them filling hospital emergency rooms across the country.

    Nothing in health care cost more than a late term illness by those who can’t pay finding its way to our hospital emergency rooms. Not only would it cost more to treat these now very sick people, but it would also cost the tax payer more as well since someone is going to have to pay for their care. The Republicans are good with that since the increased cost of care goes into their rich constituents pockets. The only other option would be to refuse them care and we all know that that will never happen in the USA.

    If America is really serious about solving out health care crisis then there really is only one decent option. Kill all private managed care insurance and Medicaid along with the money used to run them, and then merge them all into the already most effective health care plan in American, Medicare. The simple truth however is that whatever is decided Medicare will survive it.


    • HLG,

      I share your optimism about the continued existence of Medicare (in its present form), and I certainly agree with you that the best possible system, demonstrably so, it seems to me, would be a single-payer system for everyone. It would even be good for business, as American businesses often compete with world companies that don’t have to worry about providing health insurance to their employees.

      In any case, as you know, the health care reform debate of two years ago proved one thing: Republicans are not going to let the present system go without a fight, and a big one. I’m afraid they have won the fight to keep the private insurance system for at least a generation. Democrats, including Obama, had their chance, and due to a couple of “moderate” Senate Democrats and a failure of Obama to lead on the issue, single payer will have to wait. Sad, but true.

      In the mean time, Krugman and company will have to continue to peck away at the rationale supporting our inefficient, private health insurance system. Here is a one peck from the link you provided:

      Here’s the raw fact, from the National Health Expenditure data: since 1970 Medicare costs per beneficiary have risen at an annual rate of 8.8% — but insurance premiums have risen at an annual rate of 9.9%. The rise in Medicare costs is just part of the overall rise in health care spending. And in fact Medicare spending has lagged private spending: if insurance premiums had risen “only” as much as Medicare spending, they’d be 1/3 lower than they are.

      We don’t have a Medicare problem — we have a health care problem.



      • Duane and HLG,

        Comparing annual rates of inflation and saying that 8.9% is better than 9.9% is like saying 8 bombs falling on my house is better than 9, at least in this case. Either number is unsustainable of course and simply underscores your last sentence, which is the subject of my Dutch uncle post.



  9. Jim,

    First, that 1 point difference means something over long periods of time, as Krugman points out.

    Second, your experience with why people go to the doctor is much different from mine. I don’t know people who go to the doctor as often as you suggest for petty reasons. I know I never have and neither has most of my family and friends. Maybe we’re just different.

    I’ve read your thoughtful proposal. I’m not saying it couldn’t work. It could very well be better than what we have now, if there were reasonable catastrophic protections built in. But I worry about some aspects of it, like relying on people to take care of themselves or… what? Boot them out of the system like Anson suggests? Make them pay more?

    And your idea seems to me to reduce the likelihood that people without a lot of disposable income (even if you gave them public money) would choose preventive visits to the doctor for checkups for such things like hypertension, which left untreated would lead to more severe and more costly treatments in the end.

    And what about preventive care for poorer children? Such preventive care can reduce the chances of lifelong disabilities, and some parents, forced between regular checkups and other priorities, might not make the wise choice. Not my kind of dilemma.

    In fact, some experts believe that if more people sought out primary care physicians for preventive treatment—what you might consider unnecessary visits—the “global burden of disease” might be reduced by as much as 70%. As reality suggests, unhealthy behavior is part of who we are these days, just like our aging population. Just look at how Michele Obama has been vilified by conservatives for suggesting that kids eat better food. At best it is an uphill battle; at worst it is impossible.

    We’d also have to change the law regarding access to hospital emergency rooms. We’d have scenes in which a sick people without any money would be refused service. Like to live in that America? Some, like Anson, would. I would not.

    And since you are making recommendations, I will make one of my own. I say we should have a single-payer system. Period. The inefficient private jungle of insurance, with its profit motive, is too costly. End it forever. Everybody gets care, no matter what. Fund the system with increased income and business taxes (roughly comparable to what they are paying in premiums now, for instance) and a value-added tax.

    Fund innovations in drug therapy and technology through publicly-financed grants, awards, and prizes. Make the financial incentive for breakthroughs meaningful, with the understanding that the end result benefits the public good. Everybody wins in that scenario, in my view. Subsidize medical education in return for government service (wonder where that idea came from?). Pay doctors well, specialists more.

    Jim, Canada outperforms the U.S. in terms of both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, according to the WHO. Yet Canada spends a little more than half as much as we do on health costs per person. In terms of GDP, Canada spent about 10% in 2006. We spent more than 15%. The UK spent 8.2%! Do you really think our health care system is 50% better than our neighbors to the north? Or almost twice as good as the UKs?

    I remember talking to Tim Davis, who ran against Scott Eckersley in the Democratic-Republican primary this past cycle. Davis had lived in Canada and loved its health care system, which he said was grossly mischaracterized here in the states. I wonder why.

    I don’t know exactly how a publicly funded health care system should be designed. But I do know that we have a lot of models around the world from which we could pick and choose, most of which are delivering high-quality care much cheaper than we do. And rather than waste time and energy forever fixing the hybrid system we have, why not go all in with Medicare for all?



    • Duane,

      My impressions about unnecessary doctor visits are indeed apocryphal and subjective. I read many articles about crowded ER’s when colds and the flu are going around and I know from many, many reports that the uninsured 40% of the population rely on ER’s for their primary care needs. I would like to hear from health professionals, both ER and otherwise, if they think their time is being well spent. I’m betting it’s not.

      I didn’t cover preventive care in my post, but I had it in mind and I’m glad you mentioned it. The kind of revolutionary change I propose could not be effective without a concerted parallel effort by government in preventive education. I would hope that a system that incentivized people to weigh their options before seeking professional might also make them more receptive to such information.

      Care for poorer children? Please note that I am not proposing to do away with Medicaid or even Medicare. I am talking about care for all the others.

      You said, “. . . unhealthy behavior is part of who we are these days, . . . ” Yes, and that is what I would like to change. If we don’t change it, the downward spiral will accelerate. The retirement of the boomers is just now hitting at the same time as the obesity epidemic. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg so far.

      Refuse service at the ER? No, I can’t picture that if we means-test the costs of the system. I am trying to leverage psychology, not make care unaffordable.

      Your single-payer system would be better than what we have now. I agree. It’s socialized medicine though, not very satisfying. But as I have remarked before, there will be rationing. It’s just a matter of how that happens. If you choose single-payer, government will mandate the rationing. That happens in the UK now. I understand that patients in Canada often die while on the OR waiting list, unless they come to the US, which many do in that circumstance. I don’t buy that Canada’s or the UK’s system is better than ours just because of life expectancy. They just don’t have as many McDonald’s as we do yet, nor do they have as stressful lifestyles as Americans. But they’re catching up on the McDonald’s.

      One things for sure. So far the GOP has no viable alternate plan whatsoever.



  10. Jim

    “Comparing annual rates of inflation and saying that 8.9% is better than 9.9% is like saying 8 bombs falling on my house is better than 9, at least in this case.”

    The problem is that you’re missing the “big picture.” In every civilized country on Earth where a single payer system exists health care cost overall are lowered. In the U.S health care is currently costing about 17% of GDP while in Canada and Europe it’s about 5% or more lower. The point is that the U.S already has the most expensive health care in the world and Medicare and Medicaid aren’t the cause. To make matters worth all those countries have longer life expectancy than we do as a result.

    The only way to bring down health care in this country is to pool all its available resources which would immediately lower administrative costs which are a sizable chunk of total costs. It would also increase our ability to negotiate for better deals on drugs and technology. Remember a few years ago when Americans were going to Canada to have their prescriptions filled for American made pharmaceuticals?

    Imagine if we decided to privatize our military. Our country would end up being protected by the likes of Blackwater at higher costs and no oversight. Some things just simply shouldn’t be completely in control of a free market. Humans are not commodities to be traded anymore than our freedom is.


  11. Yes, HL, I do remember many going to Canada for their meds. As far as I know, they still do. I also know that many Canadian patients are coming down here to the USA for their operations because the waiting lists are too long.

    I gather that by “pooling our (healthcare) resources” you mean socialized medicine. As I said to Duane, it would be better than what we have now, but not much, IMO. Please see my reply to his comment above. I also addressed the life-expectancy comparison there.

    Thanks for your input. We at least agree that our system is out of control, financially.



  12. Jim

    “I understand that patients in Canada often die while on the OR waiting list, unless they come to the US, which many do in that circumstance.”

    Then you are largely understanding things incorrectly. The misinformation that’s fed to us through a well controlled news media usually omits a couple of very important points.

    Canada has a population of less than 34 million in what is the second largest country in the world. This unfortunately means that there are small populations scattered all across the north with limited medical resources. There are few hospitals nearby often hundreds of miles away, and the ones that are relatively close are small and also have limited resources.

    My wife is Canadian. She was born in Montreal and raised on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest and least populated province. In 1985 while going for a checkup it was decided that more tests were needed. Within a week it was discovered that he had lung cancer. A week later he was flown to Halifax, Nova Scotia and one of his lungs removed. He died in 2004 at the age of 83. In this country it would’ve meant certain death.

    There will always be someone somewhere dissatisfied with something no matter how well it works. They’re often the exception and not the rule. If you want to find out how Canadian’s feel about their health care system then go to a few Canadian blogs and ask them if they’d be willing to trade it for ours. Once you’ve survived the humiliation that’s likely to follow such a question, then tell us what you’ve heard.


  13. jim

    “In 1985 while going for a checkup it was decided that more tests were needed. Within a week it was discovered that he had lung cancer.

    That was my father in law. Somehow I wasn’t pay8ing attention while typing and omitted that small bit of information.


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