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Sixteen Questions Hillary Clinton Should Answer

By Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg News (TNS)

As her campaign for the presidency kicked off, Hillary Clinton managed to go 27 days without answering a question from the press. On Tuesday, she broke that streak. Here are a few questions reporters might want to ask the next time she decides to give her prospective subjects an opportunity to get unscripted answers from her.

1. President Barack Obama wants trade promotion authority, which would let him negotiate trade deals subject to an up-or-down vote from Congress. Should Congress give it to him?

2. Sen. Elizabeth Warren says that a future Republican president could use trade promotion authority to undo financial regulation. Obama says that’s nonsense. Who’s right in your view?

3. Do you believe that NAFTA — signed by your husband after the same expedited congressional review Obama wants _ has been on balance good for the U.S.?

4. Do you think that you were misled when you voted to authorize military force in Iraq in 2002? If so, by whom?

5. Given what we know now, were you right to oppose the surge of troops that President George W. Bush ordered into Iraq in 2007?

6. What in your view has the U.S. intervention in Libya achieved?

7. The New York Times reported last year that you “seemed flustered” and gave a “halting answer” when asked for your greatest accomplishment as secretary of state. You eventually said that “we really restored American leadership in the best sense.” Could you elaborate on what specific accomplishments you had?

8. What would you do about Islamic State as president? Do you agree with the Obama administration that it is “on the defensive throughout Iraq and Syria”?

9. Did you get advice from a lawyer about establishing and using a private email server as secretary of state? When you left the State Department, were you ever asked if you had returned all official records in your possession?

10. You’ve said that you would go further than Obama in shielding unauthorized immigrants from deportation if Congress doesn’t act. The Obama administration says that it has already done everything within its power. What legal steps do you think it has failed to take?

11. How much does the gender gap in wages reflect discrimination by employers, in your view, and how much does it reflect factors beyond employers’ control?

12. You’ve said that mental-health issues will be an important part of your campaign. Congressman Tim Murphy has a bill premised on the idea that existing government policy places too little emphasis on the most severe cases of mental illness and makes it too easy for those in the grip of such illnesses to refuse treatment. Do you agree?

13. Is there any point in a pregnancy after which abortion should no longer be available?

14. Obama said that he wanted a Federal Reserve chairman who would act to stop asset bubbles from “frothing up.” Do you agree?

15. Charity Navigator has put the Clinton Foundation on its “watchlist.” What do you make of that?

16. Does a candidate’s willingness to regularly answer questions from reporters tell us something about her attitude toward democracy?

That should do for an initial list of questions. On present trends, I suspect you’ll have plenty of time to come up with answers.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. He may be contacted at rponnuru@bloomberg.net.

(c)2015 Bloomberg News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Alexander Wrege via Flickr

How To Make A Debt Limit Deal And Avoid Disaster

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a senior editor at National Review, and a leading conservative pundit. The views expressed here are his own.

We are nearing the limit of the borrowing authority that Congress has given the federal government.

Almost everyone agrees that the debt ceiling needs to be raised. Not even the flintiest conservative has advanced a plan for bringing the U.S. budget deficit to zero in the next few weeks. And the consequences of hitting the debt limit seem highly likely to be disastrous — even coming near it in 2011 seems to have hurt the economy.

Ideally, Republicans and Democrats would agree to couple the increase in the debt ceiling with measures to address the underlying problem that keeps leading to increases: the mismatch between our spending commitments and revenue. The debt limit provides the only occasion on which Congress and the president have to take responsibility for the amount of debt their fiscal policies generate.

This spring, I outlined some ideas for reducing the dangers of hitting the debt ceiling, and some ideas for reducing long- term debt that might generate bipartisan consensus. Watch the news for a few minutes, and you can see that no such consensus has gelled. No serious attempt has even been made to create one.

Republicans, meanwhile, have adopted an unrealistic sense of how much of their policy agenda they can achieve by tying it to the debt limit. (An unrealistic sense of leverage seems to be a pattern with them this year.) Many of them want to force President Barack Obama to make major changes to his health care law, and in return give him nothing but the debt-limit increase.

There is no precedent for the satisfaction of such demands. Look back at every previous piece of legislation that raised the debt limit while also making changes to other government policies, and almost always the debt limit was the occasion for a bipartisan deal rather than the achievement of only one party’s goals.

The one partial exception came in 2011, when Obama agreed to spending cuts without getting any tax increases. But even that deal illustrates the constraints of the debt limit as a tool for advancing one party’s agenda. Republicans had to accept that half the spending cuts would come from defense, which Democrats liked more than they did. And for all the wailing that sequestration has produced, it was more modest than what conservatives are asking for this year. It was not a structural change to the welfare state or a reduction in its scope.

So the question now is — or should be — whether any genuinely bipartisan deal could be coupled with an increase in the debt ceiling. Reaching a deal would require what all voluntary exchanges do: a symmetric inequality of value. Republicans would give ground on policy A to gain it on policy B. A deal would be possible because Republicans valued B more than A, and Democrats valued A more than B.

So, for example, Republicans might offer a temporary increase in spending from the levels of sequestration in order to delay the time when the Internal Revenue Service starts fining people for not buying insurance (which is scheduled for the spring of 2015). Republicans might do this because they think that delaying the mandate will make it easier for them eventually to get rid of the health-care law, and Democrats might do it because they think their law will grow more popular with time. In that case, they couldn’t both be right, but they could both be happy about the deal at the time they made it.

At the same time, a deal should include policies that minimize the potential damage of a future debt-limit standoff. The most important one would be a law stipulating that even if the debt limit is breached in the future, the government will still be authorized to make debt-service payments in full, taking a default off the table. Republicans in the House have already passed a bill that would come close to doing this. Once this change is enacted, hitting the debt limit would mean having a partial government shutdown — which isn’t great, but not the disaster a default would be.

Could any of this happen? Well, most Republicans have already backed off the demands that their maximalists have been making: A majority of the House has already voted to keep the government funded without defunding Obamacare (but making changes to it). House Speaker John Boehner has said that he would rely on Democratic votes if necessary to prevent a default. And he has also, at least through leaks, put relief from sequestration the table.

When the House Republicans passed their bill to reduce the risks of a default, they implicitly acknowledged that the threat of default doesn’t actually provide the leverage to get anything constructive done, or at least anything worth the potential costs. They should follow that logic to its conclusion. Republicans can end the government shutdown, avoid a default and get a policy victory — but only if Democrats get one, too.

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski

Republicans, Don’t Shut Down the Government

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a senior editor at National Review, and a leading conservative pundit. The views expressed here are his own.

August 11 (Bloomberg) — Newt Gingrich is telling Republicans not to fear a government shutdown because the last one went so well for them. This is pure revisionist history, and they would be fools to believe him.

Some Republicans are urging the party to refuse to back any legislation to keep the government operating unless funding for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is stopped. Other Republicans say this tactic will fail, citing the conventional wisdom that the government shutdowns of 1995-96 helped President Bill Clinton and hurt congressional Republicans.

Gingrich is trying to buck up the Republicans who favor this tactic, while reinterpreting an important episode in his career that has usually been taken to be a big mistake. He says the shutdown advanced Republican aims, making it possible to restrain spending and balance the budget.

The former Speaker of the House is off message, or rather is revealing a contradiction in the political strategy of his current allies. Their public line is that any shutdown would be the unfortunate product of Democrats’ obstinate refusal to give in to the Republican demand to defund Obamacare. But it’s not easy to convey that message when prominent Republicans are saying that shutdowns are good for their party.

More important, Gingrich’s current spin on the events of 1995-96 is just wrong. The election of a Republican Congress in 1994 put government spending on a lower trajectory, as the election of a Republican House did again in 2010. Whether the shutdowns contributed to that result is a different matter.

A Surrender

Almost nobody back then believed it. Democrats thought that they had won the battle over the shutdowns, and that the agreement to end them was a Republican surrender. Clinton made a point, in his next State of the Union address, to criticize Republicans for their strategy. It was an applause line. Clinton’s job-approval numbers started to rise as soon as the shutdown fight was over, and they never really sank again.

Republicans thought they had lost, too. A minority of them thought that they should have kept the government shuttered longer, and that Gingrich and Senate Republican leader Bob Dole had caved. (Gingrich was widely reported at the time to have told unhappy colleagues, “I melt when I’m around him,” referring to Clinton.) Most of them decided that bringing on a shutdown at all was a mistake.

It’s true, as Gingrich now says, that Republicans lost only a few House seats in the next election. But it’s also true that the shutdowns ended what had been called the “Republican revolution” of the mid-1990s. Before the shutdowns, the Republicans had talked about eliminating four cabinet departments. Afterward, they quit.

The view that Republicans had been routed was so widely accepted that some of them proposed legislation to prevent a shutdown from ever taking place again. The idea was that if no budget were enacted, the government would just keep going on the previous year’s funding levels. The legislation never went anywhere because Democrats thought the possibility of a repeat performance of the 1995-96 shutdowns gave them leverage.

Gingrich himself accepted the conventional wisdom that his party had lost. That’s what associates of his told me (among others) at the time, and that’s how they recollect it now. The “balanced budget deal” of 1997 included the creation of a new health care entitlement for children, something the Republicans of 1995 would never have accepted but the post-shutdown Republicans were too beat down to resist. The conservative end of the party hated the deal.

The Consequences

And that deal wasn’t the only leftward move the party made in response to Clinton’s victory in the shutdown battle. The rise of the big-government-friendly politics of George W. Bush was another, more consequential one. Gingrich is hoping that today’s partisans of smaller government have forgotten this history, or are too young to have experienced it.

While Clinton’s poll numbers improved after the shutdowns, Gingrich’s declined. After he lost his job as speaker, the Gallup Organization reviewed his generally low ratings in office and concluded, “The public appeared to turn particularly strongly against the Speaker after his budget confrontation with Bill Clinton and the resulting U.S. Government shutdown in late 1995.” Through most of the next two years, it noted, people who viewed Gingrich unfavorably outnumbered those who viewed him favorably by almost 2-to-1. That unpopularity, of course, contributed mightily to his losing the job at the hands of his Republican colleagues.

His successors should take note before they heed his advice.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com

Republicans’ Disastrous Plan To Defund Obamacare

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a senior editor at National Review, and a leading conservative pundit. The views expressed here are his own.

July 26 (Bloomberg) — Conservatives on Capitol Hill think they have a chance to strike a mortal blow against President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul this fall. If their plan goes forward, however, it will backfire.

The plan is to oppose any bill to fund the government or increase the debt limit that also provides money for putting the health care law in place. Because Republicans control the House, Democrats can’t continue borrowing or paying for government operations without Republican support. So, conservatives say, Republicans should insist on defunding Obamacare as the price of that support.

The chance that Democrats would go along — would give up on their signature legislative initiative of the last decade soon after having won the presidential election and gained Senate and House seats — approaches zero percent. So if Republicans stay firm in this demand, the result will be either a government shutdown or a partial shutdown combined with a debt default.

Either would be highly unpopular, and each party would blame the other. The public, however, would almost certainly blame Republicans, for five reasons.

First, Republicans are less popular than the Democrats and thus all else equal will lose partisan finger-pointing contests. Second, the executive has natural advantages over a group of legislators in a crisis atmosphere. Third, people will be naturally inclined to assume that the more anti-government party must be responsible. Fourth, some Republicans will say that government shutdowns or defaults are just what the country needs, and those quotes will affect the image of all Republicans. And fifth, the news media will surely side with the Democrats.

This is true even though Obamacare is unpopular. Conservatives and moderate Democrats have grown more skeptical of it over time, and 22 House Democrats voted with the Republicans to delay its individual mandate. But none of those Democratic representatives would have a hard time standing against Republicans if they try this maneuver. They’ll just say they oppose a shutdown or a default. Democratic voters who harbor doubts about the health law will take the same view.

Bringing the federal government to a standstill would confirm the Democrats’ caricatures that conservatives are reflexively hostile to all government. And Republicans would be doing it without proposing a plausible replacement for Obamacare. So Democrats would be able to say that Republicans were crippling the government and credit markets in order to take health insurance away from 30 million people.

While Democrats would stay unified, Republicans would fracture as their standing in the polls dropped and negative news coverage continued. When they inevitably lost the fight, they would be more divided, unpopular and demoralized than before, and the cause of repealing Obamacare would look more like the hobbyhorse of incompetent fanatics.

Republicans are right that Obamacare is a very bad law. They urgently need a strategy for scrapping it — and any workable strategy has to include a conservative alternative, something few Republicans have shown much interest in proposing. Trying to defund Obamacare through a budget showdown isn’t so much a strategy as a flight from the responsibility of creating a realistic one.

Republican leaders in Congress, especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are resisting the defunding gambit because they strongly suspect it won’t work. Its advocates say anyone who rejects this tactic doesn’t really oppose Obamacare. That’s an absurd charge. But Republican leaders would be better able to dismiss it if they had their own strategy for replacing the law.

One possible outcome of this debate is that the Republican House passes a government-funding bill that doesn’t include money for Obamacare, but then gives in to the Democratic Senate on the issue. At that point the conservative groups that are pushing for defunding will say Republican leaders have again betrayed them, and get back to the vital work of raising donations off that idea.

That won’t be the happiest of endgames for Republicans, but it would still be better than a shutdown or default that failed to achieve their goals while inflicting political damage on themselves — and, in the case of default, substantial economic damage on everyone else.

The repeal of Obamacare is a worthy and potentially popular cause, but it won’t be accomplished through sheer willpower.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com

The Real Reason Young People Dislike Republicans

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a senior editor at National Review, and a leading conservative pundit. The views expressed here are his own.

June 11 (Bloomberg) — Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, won among voters over the age of 30, but lost younger voters by 23 points. That statistic has gotten a lot of attention from Republicans, especially since they have now lost young voters in three presidential elections in a row. They worry that voting Democratic could be habit-forming for this generation.

The party leadership’s post-election “autopsy” offered a superficial take on its challenge with young voters: It’s just social issues, and particularly Republican opposition to same-sex marriage, that have turned them off. The College Republican National Committee has just released a detailed report on young voters that goes considerably beyond this conventional wisdom.

It’s true that most polls find strong support for same-sex marriage among young people. The report, mainly written by Winston Group pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, tries to gauge how important the issue is in driving their votes. It finds that 26 percent of young voters favor same-sex marriage and wouldn’t vote for a candidate who opposes it even if they agreed with that candidate on most other issues. Some of those voters, maybe most of them, must lean toward the Democrats on issues other than same-sex marriage. So Republicans are losing some young voters on this issue, but it may not be central to the party’s troubles.

And young people aren’t socially liberal when it comes to abortion. In the College Republicans’ March survey, 51 percent of them believed abortion should be banned altogether or with exceptions in unusual circumstances. They aren’t all that liberal on immigration, either. About 65 percent of young voters favored deporting illegal immigrants, enforcing the law before offering them legal status, or offering them legal status but not citizenship — all positions to the right of the immigration bill now being debated in the Senate. Young voters also consider climate change a low-priority issue.

They are deeply concerned, on the other hand, about economic issues. And Republicans have a lot of work to do on them. A majority of young voters think the party’s economic policies played a big role in the recession. They don’t follow Republican politicians in thinking that higher taxes on the rich are higher taxes on small business. Although they tend to agree with Republicans about the future of entitlement programs for the elderly, they are much more worried about the here-and-now. (The report cites a survey showing 20 percent of young people had delayed marriage because of the economy.) They consider student-loan debt a major obstacle to their goals.

And they give President Barack Obama credit for trying to help the economy, reduce their debt burden, and fix health care. Among those young voters who approve of Obama’s job performance, “trying” was the No. 1 word they used about him — as in, he has been trying to improve things.

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They think that public spending should be cut and that government is too big. Fighting big government is, however, a much lower priority for them than expanding the economy, reforming the safety net and controlling the national debt.

To my eye, these findings suggest there is an opening among young people for Republicans who advance credible plans to reduce the cost of health care and college, to foster job growth, to control the national debt and to address the other issues they consider important. Republicans will want those plans to involve shrinking the government, but that shouldn’t be their chief selling point. If they can do that — a big if, for many reasons — Republicans will also get credit from young voters for trying, whereas they now seem reflexively anti-Obama. It will also make them seem more intelligent, which is a quality that young people, according to the report, prize more than coolness.

There are a lot of ways to slice the polling data. Dividing voters based on whether they have turned 30 is just one, and it can obscure some truths — for example, Obama carried voters aged between 30 and 39 by 13 points.

One question the report doesn’t directly address is how much age and generation influence voting. Young voters are less likely than older voters to be married, white or Christian, all of which would make them less likely to be Republicans even if they were older. The party’s poor performance among young voters is partly a sign that they do badly with nonwhites and that nonwhites are a growing share of voters.

It is probably a mistake for Republicans to spend a lot of time targeting young voters. They should concentrate more, for example, on doing better among nonwhite voters, which would improve their numbers among the young, too. And above all, they ought to have something more compelling to say about voters’ daily economic concerns. Young voters are just like their elders in wanting that.

Photo: DonkeyHotey via Flickr.com

Loose Money Will Keep Economy From Sliding Away

(BLOOMBERG) – The Federal Reserve is now the subject of more political controversy than at any point since the beginning of the 1980s.

The debate centers on what the Washington Post calls its “ultra-easy” monetary policy: Is it hurting or helping the economy? Has the Fed already loosened so much that it has used up its ability to stimulate the economy?

It’s a heated debate, but its premise happens to be wrong. We don’t have loose money, and we haven’t during our entire economic slump. A big reason that slump has been so deep and long is that the Fed is keeping money tight: It’s not letting the money supply increase enough to keep current-dollar spending growing at its historical rate.

That view sounds crazy to a lot of people. They look at low interest rates, soaring commodities prices and an expanded money supply, and assume that these are clear indications of easy money. And sometimes these conditions do reflect monetary ease.

But not always. The late great Milton Friedman looked at Japan’s lost decade and grasped that its low interest rates were, counterintuitively, a sign of tight money: The Bank of Japan had choked the life out of the economy by keeping the money supply too low, and that’s what kept interest rates down.

Short-term moves in commodity prices are not reliable evidence of inflation, either. Otherwise we would have to conclude that we have loose money any time Asian consumption of precious metals increases, or there’s a disruption of the oil markets.

As for the money supply, its increase signifies looseness only if the demand for money balances stays constant. If the supply rises but demand rises even faster, then the central bank has, perhaps inadvertently, allowed money to tighten.

A Better Baseline

These are not just theoretical possibilities. The Fed of the early 1930s offers us history’s most disastrous example of extremely tight money, but at the time low interest rates and an expanded monetary base misled central bankers into thinking their policies were loose. By not sufficiently accommodating increased demand for money balances, the Fed allowed nominal spending to collapse.

You can’t figure out whether monetary policy is loose or tight, in short, without picking the right baseline against which to judge it. The baseline that makes the most sense at the moment can be found in the record of the so-called Great Moderation, from 1987 to 2007. During that time, Fed policies kept the size of the economy growing at a fairly stable 5 percent a year in current dollars. (Inflation averaged 2 percent, real growth 3 percent.) That stability, in turn, anchored expectations about how easy it would be to repay nominal debts.

Recession Reaction

By this measure, money was loose during the closing period of the Great Moderation, also known as the housing bubble: Nominal growth in gross domestic product was above trend. Since then, though, money has been tight. In 2008, the recession and the financial panic sent the demand for money balances sharply upward. (In other words, the “velocity” of money — the rate at which it changes hands — dropped.)

The Fed, partly because it was worried that a surge in commodity prices presaged future inflation, didn’t increase the money supply enough to accommodate that demand. Making matters worse, it instituted a policy of paying banks interest on reserves, which discourages lending and money creation.

The results are all around us. Instead of rising, inflation fell, and has stayed low. Nominal GDP fell faster than at any other point in the last six decades. To return to the pre-crisis trendline, nominal GDP would have to grow by more than 5 percent annually for a few years. Neither round of the Fed’s quantitative easing brought us close to that level. In per- capita terms, nominal GDP is actually below where it was at the start of the crisis.

A New Target

When nominal GDP falls below expectations, people find the burden of their nominal debts — such as mortgages — unexpectedly rising. Uncertainty about the economic outlook increases, and makes consumers and businesses more skittish than they otherwise would be.

Economics professor and blogger David Beckworth suggests that the Fed should abandon interest-rate targeting and instead announce that it will do whatever it takes — from further quantitative easing to throwing money out of a helicopter — to restore nominal GDP to trend.

If markets believe the Fed will follow through, expectations of the future path of nominal spending will adjust upward and that should, in turn, increase nominal spending levels right now. Part of that increase would take the form of an uptick in inflation — which markets currently expect to be extremely low for the next decade — but part of it would also be increased economic activity.

Ending the Fed’s tight-money policies need not punish savers, as is often alleged, because a healthy economic recovery should raise real returns. Conservatives are suspicious of any loosening because they think of it as a government intervention in the free market. But they are wrong. A central bank that keeps the supply of money too low is just as interventionist as one that keeps it too high.

There’s a strong case against central banking itself — against, that is, having a government agency with vast discretion over the money supply. But as long as we have one, it ought to set the best policy it can. And as long as we’re debating its conduct, we ought to be asking the right questions.

(Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist and a senior editor at National Review. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the author of this article: Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net.