Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 19, 2011

REACHING THE POINT AT WHICH 'REAL DEBATE ISN'T POSSIBLE'.... If there's a "wonk gap" between the left and right, it's tempting to think conservatives Doug Holtz-Eakin, Joseph Antos, and James Capretta would help fill it. This is, after all, a trio that includes a former director and former assistant director of the Congressional Budget Office, and a former associate director at the Office of Management and Budget.

As Republican officials go, these three should know what they're talking about. So, when they write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, going after the CBO for its report on the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it's tempting to think we'll see some credible, substantive concerns.

We should be so lucky. The op-ed is a complete mess in which Holtz-Eakin, Antos, and Capretta publish obvious falsehoods, apparently in bad faith, about the CBO's findings. Well outside the realm of opinion, this trio misstates the basics -- about deficit reduction, and Medicare, about the doc fix, and about the report itself published by the CBO.

Ezra Klein highlighted the op-ed's dramatic flaws, and noted that Holtz-Eakin, Antos, and Capretta have "created a separate world for themselves," in which "policy debate, which relies on at least some shared facts, is impossible."

If you're a conservative and you consume conservative media, you now live in a world ... so different from the one that Democrats share with the CBO that no argument is really possible. Democrats say the bill reduces the deficit. Republicans say that the bill explodes the deficit. And when the scorekeeper tries to intervene, Republicans take aim at the scorekeeper.

Real debate isn't possible under those circumstances. But that's not the only danger here: When you have a scorekeeper respected by all sides, legislation ends up being more fiscally responsible. Fear of a bad score is why Democrats, though they disagreed with the CBO's modeling and thought their reforms would save more money with less pain, went back to the drawing board and include cost-saving provisions that they didn't like and that they knew might hurt them in the polls. The end result? A vastly more fiscally responsible bill. The process worked.

But since that put Republicans in a bind -- after all, how bad could this legislation be if it fulfilled its goals while paying for itself? -- they've turned on the process. That's not only left the two sides arguing from different sets of facts, but undermined the incentives of future congressional majorities to work with the CBO to release fiscally responsible legislation. After all, if no one cares about the score, why kill yourself chasing it?

This makes the debate over health care policy entirely pointless -- we're talking about a Republican Party that still very much approves of "creating their own reality" -- while undermining the policymaking process in a rather fundamental way.

Simultaneously, given the intellectual bankruptcy of conservative "wonks," we're reminded that the near future looks pretty bleak when it comes to substantive discourse. The wonks are hacks; the pols who rely on the wonks are fools; and the rank-and-file GOP voters who rely on the wonks and pols are played for suckers.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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In a rational world, Holtz-Eakin's credibility would've been scuttled after he used his credibility as CBO director to champion both the McCain-Palin ticket and Joe the Plumber. Of course, the world we live in is not rational, but rather filled with wealthy conservative donors ready to establish think tanks to employ people like Holtz-Eakin, and the WSJ will publish whatever they do at politically opportune moments.

Posted by: fbacon2 on January 19, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

"Simultaneously, given the intellectual bankruptcy of conservative "wonks," we're reminded that the near future looks pretty bleak when it comes to substantive discourse. The wonks are hacks; the pols who rely on the wonks are fools; and the rank-and-file GOP voters who rely on the wonks and pols are played for suckers."

It's the Fourth estate. Why, Steve, have you and your ilk not repeatedly hammered this point home. Blaming the David Gregorys and Wolf Blitzers for standing in the middle of a pissing match and not reporting FACTS leaves those lemmings blameless but definitely smelly.

Posted by: sevieo on January 19, 2011 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Congressional Republicans see health care reform as a political issue, so even if your Ph.D. says "Economics", you will argue against, one way or another. Democrats may claim that the resulting arguments are ridiculous, or wrong, or emerging from an alternative space-time continuum. All irrelevant. If you lose the political argument, you lose. Period.

Dems must engage the political argument, and must do it soon. And, folks, given the facts... it shouldn't be all that hard, y'know...

Posted by: MattF on January 19, 2011 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Holtz-Eakin - American Action Forum
Antos - American Enterprise Institute
Capretta - Ethics and Public Policy Center

Pro-business organizations which solicit donations from deep pockets to churn out propaganda. That the WSJ would publish their cynical disinformation shouldn't surprise - that the NYT, WashingtonPost NPR/PBS basically do the same thing should surprise, but doesn't much anymore.

To me, more offensive still are our foreign policy think tanks - like AEI on the right and Brookings on the left - since they actually get real life people killed. (Both sides agree that we should kill more Muslims and Arabs).

Posted by: flubber on January 19, 2011 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

The undermining of established fudiciary assessment is anathema to debate among a free and liberty-minded people!

The Republican leadership is not conservative, it's insurgent, actively working against the interests of our American middle class!

These elected leaders should be held accountable for lying to the Åmerican electorate excessively and often during the 2010 election cycle! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 19, 2011 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

The current crop of GOP wonks is only wonkish when compared to the majority of GOoPers in Congress. Compared to, say, Louie Gohmert, Paul Ryan's a flippin' genius.

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on January 19, 2011 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Being a conservative has become by itself a religious aesthetic, it's an art theory of physical reality, and truth is whatever works to impress the aesthetic on the viewer.

It's the world of St. Ronny the New Apostle, and Dubya the Great whose famous conversion from plain idiot to cosmic asshole changed humanity forever.

And Glenn Beck. . .St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas reincarnated as a single breathtaking entity!

Posted by: cld on January 19, 2011 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Hopefully one of those awful Sunday shows can invite Austan Goolsbee and Holtz-Eakin as guests to deabte this topic, so we can create more great memories of Goolsbee smacking him around(intellectually speaking) to supplement the already ample bounty from the presidential campaign. Good times.

Posted by: Holmes on January 19, 2011 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Ezra Klein highlighted the op-ed's dramatic flaws, and noted that Holtz-Eakin, Antos, and Capretta have "created a separate world for themselves," in which "policy debate, which relies on at least some shared facts, is impossible."

You have to live in a separate reality to still be a repug after the last 10 yeas.


Like I always say. If Republicans had facts they wouldn't be Republicans.

Posted by: sensistar on January 19, 2011 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Simultaneously, given the intellectual bankruptcy of conservative "wonks," we're reminded that the near future looks pretty bleak when it comes to substantive discourse. The wonks are hacks; the pols who rely on the wonks are fools; and the rank-and-file GOP voters who rely on the wonks and pols are played for suckers."

Exactly correct. But I just looked up the word
"hack" in the "Republican Guide For Public Statement" 2010 ed., and its provides the following prefered synonyms for "hack": "treasonous whore" "criminal".
So I would edit your statement accordingly to put in language their "hacks" will understand.

Posted by: robert on January 19, 2011 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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