Thursday, December 25, 2014

Good Year for Government

George Packer reviews a good year for government in The New Yorker.

Here’s a consolation to carry into next year, and the next election: in 2014, the maligned, left-for-dead U.S. government worked pretty well. Not perfectly—far from it. Our politics remain rancid. The midterms were a disgrace regardless of your partisan allegiance—flooded with special-interest money and depleted of actual voters. Congress remains a stagnant pool where things turn fetid, and not because of some nameless dysfunction among our legislative élites but because the country itself is deeply divided. The Republican Party has chosen to pursue nihilistic tactics in Washington to win partisan advantage and prevent the government from carrying out basic tasks. But it worked pretty well, and that in itself is one of the biggest stories of the year.

In fact, in Fiscal Year 2014 the deficit dropped to pre-recession levels, at just under five hundred billion dollars. As a percentage of gross domestic product, the annual deficit is below its forty-year average. What about waste and fraud? Take two supposed examples—the Troubled Asset Relief Program, otherwise known as the bailout, and the Department of Energy’s green-energy loan program, which became infamous, three years ago, with the collapse of Solyndra. Last week, six years after its creation, TARP closed out its last major investment—in Ally Financial, formerly G.M.A.C.—with a profit to the taxpayers of more than fourteen billion dollars. The original bailout fund was seven hundred billion dollars, but only $426 billion was disbursed. The three-per-cent return on an investment that was not primarily intended to be profitable shows that the money wasn’t thrown away, even if the program should have been endowed with more leverage to force change on the big banks.

Remember the stimulus package? Its Republican critics called it a huge waste of taxpayer money—ignoring the fact that a third of it came in the form of tax cuts. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created hundreds of thousands of jobs and prevented the Great Recession from turning into the kind of decade-long slump that cripples a country. Today, unemployment is under six per cent, average pay is up three per cent over last year, and the economy grew at four per cent for much of 2014. The recovery package should have been larger and more targeted to job creation, and the economy remains permanently skewed toward the upper class, but after six years the stimulus is a government success story. (Think what might have been possible if the Republicans in Congress had decided to participate in rebuilding the economy that President Bush left in ruins.)

And then there’s the Affordable Care Act, the landmark piece of social-insurance legislation that has been a political millstone around the necks of the President and his Party. According to some analyses, it might have cost the Democrats the Senate. A little more than a year ago, Obamacare was born with an umbilical cord wrapped around its neck—the nearly fatal rollout of the online exchanges. What’s happened since then? The number of uninsured Americans has gone down by at least twenty-five per cent—a huge achievement for social equity, beyond the Administration’s own predictions. Of the more than seven million people who signed up in the first enrollment period, eighty-five per cent qualified for federal subsidies, which made their premiums more affordable. In general, insurance premiums have risen, but only marginally. Health-care spending over all has slowed significantly, though the trend began before the law went into effect. On the whole, the most politically toxic program since welfare and forced busing has been a substantive success.


wynnosu said...

Always have to laugh at what left-wing organizations consider "middle of the Road." The article is a total slam of the right, citing how this past midterm election was a "disgrace" but had nothing to say about the generals of 2008 or 2012 where they, apparently, felt electing a community organizer with no executive experience and zero knowledge about running ANYTHING as president was fine.

Real middle of the road commentary.

Ballard Burgher said...

Is reading comprehension a problem? Here is the apparently offending passage:

"The midterms were a disgrace regardless of your partisan allegiance—flooded with special-interest money and depleted of actual voters."

Please note the phrase
"regardless of your partisan allegiance." Packer's issue with the mid-terms was with record special interest money spent (thanks, Citizens United) with record low turnout. His point was that both are bad indicators "regardless of your partisan allegiance."