Counting the Cost

November 10, 2009 - 6:57 AM
Elections have consequences. But sometimes we have to wait a bit to learn what they are.
Elections have consequences. But sometimes we have to wait a bit to learn what they are.
 
Recall Barack Obama’s historic election. He glided into office last year, bringing along an increased Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and a seemingly filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
 
How did he win? In part by promising to restore fiscal sanity.
 
“Obama also believes that after eight years of reckless fiscal policies that squandered historic surpluses and added $4 trillion to the deficit, it is vital for candidates to put forward specific ideas on how they will pay for their proposals.” So read the “comprehensive tax plan” posted on barackobama.com.
 
According to that plan, Obama would “reduce the deficit” both today and in the years ahead. Once elected, though, the president sketched out a budget that tripled the present deficit and would create a tide of red ink as far as the eye can see.
 
Obama also vowed to open up the lawmaking process. On health care reform, for example, he declared, “we’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.”
 
But reality hasn’t matched the rhetoric.
 
Health care reform remains secret. As best anyone can tell, the Senate’s version was written by Majority Leader Harry Reid, possibly with input from the White House and liberal activists. It’s impossible to say when a final bill will appear or what it will cost, but $1 trillion seems a low “guesstimate.”
 
The process in the House has been just as confusing. After months of closed-door talks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently appeared with a 1,990 page bill. Now that that bill has passed (in haste), we’ll spend months and years learning about little provisions sprinkled throughout it that nobody had time to read before the vote. So much for discussion and transparency.
 
And health reform isn’t the only multi-trillion dollar bill being crafted under cover of darkness. Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry have drafted a cap-and-trade bill that would supposedly combat global warming.
 
Last week, Boxer made a mockery of the supposed new era of transparency by passing the bill out of the Environment and Public Works committee she chairs even though no Republican senators were on hand and even though the Environmental Protection Agency hadn’t yet issued a detailed report on how much the bill could cost.
 
Global warming is perhaps the issue where it’s most important for the president to make good on his promises of transparency. A government-mandated transformation of the way America produces and uses energy is no small matter. Even if EPA had delivered an extensive cost analysis, the agency has its biases. A second (and third and fourth) opinion on the cost of this bill would be particularly valuable, especially from a source outside the federal government.
 
When Heritage examined an earlier version of cap-and trade, we found it would increase energy costs for an average household by $436 in 2012, and that costs would keep climbing to $1,241 in 2035. Electricity costs would go up 90 percent by 2035, gasoline by 58 percent, and natural gas by 55 percent. The cumulative higher energy costs over two decades for a family of four would be nearly $20,000.
 
And that says nothing of the one million jobs we estimated would be lost under the bill—even if it delivered on its promise to create new, “green” jobs. The Senate bill would likely ring up similar costs.
 
Which brings us back to the point that elections have consequences. Having had a year to weigh President Obama’s policies against Candidate Obama’s promises, voters have found his actions wanting.
 
This year they opted for more conservative candidates in New Jersey and Virginia’s gubernatorial races. If the president doesn’t start keeping his promises, the 2010 midterms may bring more of the same.