Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"It's NOT healthcare, stupid!"

During the 1991 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton famously displayed a sign in his campaign headquarters that read, “It’s the economy, stupid.” This sign served to remind Clinton and his staff of what was important to their campaign and keep them on message. Ultimately, Clinton convinced voters that he could bring the country out of the recession caused by President George H. W. Bush’s tax increases.

Now that he is in office, President Barack Obama could use a similar sign to remind him of what is important, not to his campaign, but to the country. Obama’s sign could easily read, “It’s not healthcare, stupid!”

Currently, the United States faces two major crises. The first and most obvious is the economy. The second is the threat that the US faces from radical Muslims, both in the form of terrorist groups and rogue nations. Obama’s response to these twin crises has been to focus his administration’s efforts over the entire summer of 2009 into an overhaul of the US healthcare system. Healthcare reform is necessary, but should have a much lower priority given the current world and national situation.

President Obama’s efforts to reform healthcare are likely having a negative effect on the economy. After the dramatic increase to the federal deficit caused by the stimulus package passed in February 2009, Obamacare is now being estimated to cost $1.5 trillion. This will ultimately mean that Americans will either pay more for their health insurance or receive coverage that is not as good as what they have now or both. It is increasingly likely that many of Obama’s promises on healthcare, from allowing people to keep their old plans to being cost neutral to not having taxpayers fund abortion, will not be kept in the final version of the bill.

In the meantime, speculation as to what will be included in the final version of the bill is working against the markets attempts to spur an economic recovery. As business owners see the prospect of numerous government mandates and taxes, they elect to delay investment and hiring decisions. Few want to make long-term plans in a business climate that involves the possibility of drastic and negative changes to government policy.

To help the United States recover from the current recession, President Obama should take steps to reassure the business community and spur investment. One quick and easy way to do this would be to enact a corporate tax cut rather than a tax increase. By allowing business owners to keep more of their own money, rather than sending it to the IRS, President Obama would ensure that businesses would have the money to hire more workers, expand their operations, and provide capital for investment in businesses that drive the economy. Such tax cuts, even if only a temporary basis, would help jumpstart the economy.

Additionally, President Obama should promise to veto any legislation that would place new and onerous restrictions and regulations on business. The government should seek to strike a balance between making it cheap and easy to do business in the United States and preventing fraud. The government should not try to micromanage private businesses.

The flat economy and steadily rising unemployment rates illustrate the fact that President Obama’s economic policies are not working. The stimulus bill did not only did not revive the economy, it eroded consumer confidence due to the widely held beliefs that such a large increase in federal debt will inevitably lead to a increase in taxes, a decline in the value of the dollar, or both. Obama’s focus on the creation of a vast new healthcare bureaucracy and carbon regulation have also led to a stagnation in the economy as business leaders take a wait and see attitude.

The combination of lower taxes and streamlining regulation has done much in the past to help economies grow, both in the United States and abroad. In our own history, such policies under Presidents Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush have caused rapid economic expansion. Other countries, such as Ireland and the former Baltic republics of the Soviet Union, have seen similar results with the enactment of low flat taxes.

Even more dangerous is President Obama’s neglect of the war against the terrorists. President Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay detainment facility even though no credible plan for doing so has been revealed. Some terrorists, such as bomber of the USS Cole, have had the charges against them dropped. Others, including fighters captured on the battlefield, have been moved to the criminal justice system for trial. The civilian criminal justice is ill-equipped to deal with foreign paramilitary fighters due to rules of evidence that did not apply when they were captured and concerns about the release of sensitive intelligence information.

After the Gaza War between Israel and Hamas last winter, President Obama announced $900 million in federal aid to Gaza, even though Gaza is still ruled by the terrorist group Hamas. This money was pledged without preconditions that Hamas stop attacking Israel. In fact, the only country that President Obama has shown any interest in placing preconditions upon for aid or diplomacy is Israel. In May, President Obama demanded that Israel freeze expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Additionally, after vowing to fight and win in Afghanistan, as well as committing additional US troops to Afghanistan last spring, Obama has delayed for weeks his response to General McChrystal’s request for 40,000 additional troops. The request is similar to General Petraeus’ request for a troop surge in Iraq that was bitterly opposed by most Democrats, including then Senator Obama, and a majority of the US public as well. President George W. Bush bucked public opinion to send the additional troops, and, as a result, the war in Iraq is largely to considered to be a US victory.

As with the Iraq surge, most Democrats and a majority of the public now oppose sending additional troops to Afghanistan. President Obama must find the intestinal fortitude to go against public opinion to prevent a Taliban victory in Afghanistan. The Taliban would likely reopen Afghanistan’s terrorist training camps as well as stepping up the insurgency against the nuclear-armed government in neighboring Pakistan.

If that weren’t bad enough, the Obama Administration also doesn’t seem to take seriously the threat of Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons. Secretary of State Clinton has indicated the intention of the Obama Administration to let diplomacy continue as Iran plays for time by making agreements and then not following through with them.

Obama’s anti-Bush rhetoric and frequent apologies for America’s actions make it impossible for dictators such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to take seriously his deadlines and promises of action if Iran continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. To put it simply, Iran’s government does not believe that it will face severe consequences for continuing along the path to nuclear weapons.

Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons is a direct threat to the United States. As far back as the 1990s, Iran tested the capability to launch missiles from cargo ships, a tactic that would be useless against Israel. Iran has tested missile launch profiles that simulate the use of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warhead. Such a weapon could be exploded high over the United States to wreak havoc on our electrical power grids resulting not in the crash of all electrical and computer systems, but also mass starvation as transportation networks and food storage facilities lose power.

When considering the damage that the economy has already sustained and the possibility of severe, even catastrophic, terror attacks, it suddenly seems less urgent to ram through a massive expansion of the government healthcare bureaucracy. President Obama and Congress should set more realistic priorities. Their most important job is to protect the American people from foreign enemies and that should be their top priority.

Palm Springs CA
November 2, 2009

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