Daily Archives: April 6, 2010

In an exchange on the Brookings website, Jonathan Rauch makes the case for divided government, and in a characteristically crisp way:

The health care bill’s enactment was a triumph for President Obama and one of America’s great stories of political true grit. But Obama cannot rest on his laurels, and the country cannot afford a power nap. The remaining challenges are daunting: the economy (especially employment); financial reform; energy and the environment; above all, an impending fiscal train wreck.

In the face of those challenges, here is a two-word prescription for a successful Obama presidency: Speaker Boehner.

Jonathan has advanced the merits of divided government before. See “The curse of one-party government“. (This earlier excellent piece seems to be behind NJ’s formidable pay barrier.) As a bipartisan fetishist I usually agree with him on this subject. At the moment, though, I have my doubts.

[T]he country’s biggest problems are too large for one party to handle, at least in any consistent way. The Democrats did pass health reform on a party-line basis, a remarkable accomplishment, but they did it by the skin of their teeth and with a Senate supermajority which has evaporated. That is not a trick they can keep performing.

Given the Democratic majorities when they embarked on healthcare reform, not to mention strong initial support in the country, it would have been more remarkable if they had failed. But I agree that they nearly did, which tells you something. I also agree that a genuinely bipartisan bill would have been better for the country. But the crucial issue for the next few years is fiscal control. The US is going to need higher taxes (as Jonathan himself has argued). I think the Democrats are more likely to raise taxes if they retain their Congressional majorities than if they have to share power with Republicans. These days, I think, a fiscal conservative leans liberal.

Bel Sawhill’s comment on the Brookings exchange is intriguing. “Why not try a third party?” she asks. The gap between Democrats and Republicans keeps getting wider. That space in the middle looks increasingly vacant. But if it would take electoral reform to achieve this breakthrough, as she suggests, what are the chances of that?

Before much longer, of course, Britain might once again be trying an experiment along these lines.

Curbing risk on Wall Street. Oliver Hart and Luigi Zingales, National Affairs. Two eminent economists add to an already vast body of commentary, and deserve thanks for doing so. This is one of the clearest statements I have so far read on the nature of the problem, and how best to address it.

Interview with Larry Summers. Martin Wolf and Chris Giles, FT. “I think the progress [on deficit reduction] in the health bill is often underestimated…”

A shooting in Zambia. Jeffrey Goldberg, New Yorker. How long have you got? More than 16,000 words on the killing of elephants and humans in Zambia. See if you can stop reading once you start.

Summary of new health reform law. Kaiser Family Foundation. A useful reference. It’s all so simple!

The new healthcare law holds out hope of meaningful reductions in costs, but everything depends on the zeal with which the opportunities are pursued. I’ll be surprised if, in the end, the good ideas are not overwhelmed by continuing pressures in the other direction. So the question of how to pay for universal coverage–not to mention the government’s other fiscal commitments–will remain. In this new column for National Journal I argue that policy will need to change in at least one of two fundamental ways: employers must be taken out of the healthcare business, and the US will need a big, new, broadly based tax.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

Clive Crook’s blog: A guide

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