Five Best Friday Columns
Rick Perry's 'Id', America's arctic disadvantage, and budgeting like a Montana rancher
Governor Brian Schweitzer on Budgeting Like a Rancher Montana's financing stands as proof that government can budget responsibly, writes the state's Democratic governor Brian Schweitzer in The New York Times. "For six years it has been one of the only states in America with a budget surplus," he writes. "Thus we've been able to cut taxes, invest in education and infrastructure and keep essential services intact." Montana runs its government like it runs a ranch, he says. When the recession hit, they looked to eliminate all unnecessary expenses. "Little things added up: we renegotiated state contracts, cut our energy consumption by 20 percent, auctioned off state vehicles and canceled building projects and computer upgrades." The Federal government, on the other hand, pays for superfluous line-items like private security guards on military bases that are filled with well-trained soldiers. "Like good ranchers," he continues, "we also leave some grain in the bin in case of drought." Though state legislators all wanted to spend surpluses in times of plenty, they managed to save them, which helped them survive the recession. The federal government rarely takes such measures. "Now that federal spending is the country's top issue, Washington should try doing what any rancher or family household does: save money, live by a budget, challenge expenses, find bargains and invest wisely."
Fred Goldberg Jr. and Peter Tufano on 'Saving the Savings Bond' "This year nearly 50,000 Americans--the vast majority of them modest wage-earners--decided, under a new I.R.S. policy, to buy savings bonds with a portion of their precious tax refunds," write Fred Goldberg Jr. and Peter Tufano in The New York Times. For many, receiving a paper bond in a birthday card provides the first lesson in saving money, but the federal government is now ending the issuing of paper bonds except at tax time. "Given the continuing debate over fiscal policy, now hardly seems like the time for Treasury to make it harder for Americans to support their country by buying its debt," they write. "Moreover, the tried-and-true savings bond is a universal product. Where else can someone with as little as $50 invest in a virtually risk-free, inflation-protected, giftable, fee-free savings product with returns that often exceed the meager interest on savings accounts?" Bonds are a favorite saving method for low-income households. But several measures continue to make it harder. People can still buy treasury bonds online, but that presupposes regular Internet access and a bank account, neither of which are a guarantee among low-income savers. Instead of restricting bond sale options, they write, the government should be looking for new, modern ways to sell them, such as in a gift card format, they write.
Yuval Levin and Peter Wehner on Getting Serious About Medicare Reform "The tea party movement has been a profoundly positive force in American political life," write Yuval Levin and Peter Wehner in The Wall Street Journal, because it has recast America's debate from how much to spend to how much to save. But the victory on the debt ceiling deal is small compared to the challenge of taking on Medicare reform. Future projections that show our budget crisis exploding are largely driven by Federal health care programs, they write. If the Tea Party does not take this on, it is not serious about fiscal responsibility. Yet, "there is a very real danger that members of the movement will get distracted by side issues ... or will cling to untenable stands (opposing in principle any increase in the debt ceiling) while avoiding the entitlement debate." Michele Bachmann has expressed concern over Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed reform of Medicare's fee-for-service structure, but she has yet to put forward a better plan of her own. Instead, she has simply voted against raising the debt ceiling and against the Cut, Cap, Balance bill. (She said it did not cut enough.) Those bold gestures that symbolize her seriousness about solving the budget problem do not mesh with her "timid" proposals for Medicare reform. Nor do the other presidential candidates'. "They have little to say when it comes to fixing the fundamental structure of our health entitlements. They want to will the ends but not the means to those ends. And that just won't do. " Medicare reform is tricky politically, the authors acknowledge, but the Tea Party must continue to act boldy even when the issues present political obstacles.
Martin Kaste on Increasing America's Arctic Presence "Seattle is the home of the U.S. Coast Guard's entire fleet of polar-class icebreakers. Both of them," writes NPR's Martin Kaste. "The two ships are almost identical. They were built a year apart. Our design is to break 6 feet of ice continuously, and we can break up to 21 feet of ice," says the captain of both ships, George Pellissier. Global warming and new drilling projects mean there is increased activity in polar climates. America's interests could increasingly be challenged in that region, Kaste writes, but the Coast Guard does not have enough ice breakers or other equipment to take on the increased role that region will play. "The big argument for establishing a more 'persistent presence' in the Arctic is the expectation that, in the next couple of decades, melting ice will turn the Arctic Ocean into a major commercial shipping route between the Atlantic and Pacific." Some say the ice will never melt enough to make that expectation come true. Nor will predictions of a "Wild West," a competition for natural resources in the North with Russia and China come true because of a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which dictates how nations can claim natural resources on the ocean floor. But the U.S. has not ratified that treaty. Conservatives say the U.S. does not need to sign a treaty to gaurantee what it already owns. But others argue that "as long as the U.S. isn't a party to the treaty, when it comes to shaping the future of the melting Arctic, the U.S. will be stuck on the outside, looking in."
Michael Tomasky on Rick Perry's 'Id' George W. Bush perfected the practice of "dog whistle politics", writes the Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky. "Tossing a scriptural reference into a public utterance that would go unnoticed by us heathens but would reassure the touched was a trademark of Bush and his talented speechwriter Michael Gerson." Rick Perry, meanwhile, "has traded in his dog whistle for an air-raid siren. He wants everyone to hear, loud and clear. His is the most right-wing presidential candidacy by a 'serious' contender since I don’t know when." Bush, Tomasky writes, tended to be more careful in times he knew he was fanning political flames. He tried to avoid the appearance of extremism. He once even made a speech that acknowledged global warming and favored a cap-and-trade plan for reducing emissions. Perry, meanwhile, who knows he is being watched carefully, has said global warming is a hoax, and followed up with another controversial statement nearly every day of his nascent campaign. "Michele Bachmann aspires to be the right-wing It Girl. Perry wants to be the movement's Id Boy. He'll speak the words that the others won't quite," Tomasky says. Meanwhile, Obama has responded tepidly at a time when his approval ratings demand stronger words. "Perry may lose the nomination for other reasons, but I think we can be reasonably certain that GOP primary voters will not punish him for expressing extreme views in the language of prideful ignorance, nor for speaking disparagingly of the president," Tomasky writes. That means Obama is eventually going to have to "mix it up."