Saturday, June 3, 2023

Weekend Jolt: One Party’s Occasional Seriousness Is the Only Hope for Fixing Entitlements

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Yet again, reverberating in the Washington air in the wake of the ...

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One Party's Occasional Seriousness Is the Only Hope for Fixing Entitlements

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Yet again, reverberating in the Washington air in the wake of the debt-ceiling deal, we can just make out the timeless words of J. K. Simmons, taking stock of lessons learned: ". . . I guess we learned not to do it again."

Averting default and other sundry chaos, Congress passed the deal Speaker Kevin McCarthy brokered with President Biden on a strong, bipartisan vote, up against the deadline. Aside from spending caps, the package contains several GOP priorities including environmental permitting reforms.

Obviously, we will do it again — likely in the minutes, possibly hours, leading up to the new January 1, 2025, deadline.

Some Republicans were carping about the terms this go-round, but, as Jim Geraghty notes, "if you want a better deal on the budget, win more elections." Better yet, when you do, and this all happens again, show even the slightest bit of seriousness about getting control of the country's unchecked fiscal trajectory. Jim again:

Believe it or not, the numbers in this deal are closer to fiscal responsibility than the Trump–McConnell–Paul Ryan years — in part because that's not a particularly high bar to clear.

The man behind the Morning Jolt observes that Republicans took entitlements off the table for purposes of these talks. That's more than half the budget (or much more depending on what programs you count in that bucket), including over $2.5 trillion on the big three programs alone, which together dwarf discretionary spending including on defense — all driving the national debt toward $32 trillion, which comes with interest payments surpassing a half-trillion dollars annually, and growing. Insolvency for crucial programs looms, absent reform. As something to bookmark for next time, Dominic Pino notes the bulk of projected deficit increases long-term, setting aside interest payments, come from Medicare, which, again, isn't touched in the pact.

That said: The less-bad news is that this week's deal is projected to reduce deficits by $1.5 trillion over a decade, a credit to Speaker McCarthy. Further, and perhaps more consequentially, it is a positive sign that several declared and possible candidates for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination are now accepting the political risk to talk about entitlements. Nikki Haley has floated raising the retirement age; Mike Pence has called for putting Social Security and Medicare back on the table, and so has Asa Hutchinson (this, while Donald Trump disingenuously suggests that the programs can be saved by doing, in effect, nothing).

The proof will be in the follow-through, if any are elected — in demonstrating that Republicans don't just feel the fiscal itch when a Democrat is in the White House.

From NR's editorial:

The outrage shouldn't be that Republicans fail to get more of what they want from fiscal Hail Mary passes around debt-limit increases and end-of-year spending bills, but that they haven't done more to put spending on a different trajectory when they have had unified control of Washington. Donald Trump has harangued House Republicans to force a default to get everything they want yet was happy to maintain elevated levels of deficit spending when he was president, even prior to Covid.

Republicans need to keep making the case for a longer-term agenda of fiscal sanity. That should include, among other things, reforming entitlements, vouchering and reducing K–12 educational funding, and reforming student loans, especially making fewer loans to graduate students.

None of this will happen, of course, unless Republicans nominate and elect a presidential candidate who knows and cares enough about these questions to make them a priority of his or her administration and actually follow through.

Considering that Democrats — from their million-dollar reparations projects at the local level to student-debt amnesty at the federal — have embraced a philosophy that public funds can be conjured at will with no downside for the economy or debt-servicing, the reality is that even Republicans' brittle commitment to the issue remains the only hope for averting the budgetary bomb cyclone that gathers. There’s a $19 trillion gap still to close.

So, um, fingers crossed?



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Back to the debt ceiling, Dom Pino has done a commendable job compiling the record of hyperventilation from the commentariat:

It's worth sampling some of the recent progressive commentary.

"The prospect that the U.S. government will default on its payments because Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling is now real and imminent," Paul Krugman warned six days ago. "As disaster looms, it's important to keep in mind that Republicans are the villains here: They're the ones engaged in extortion." On May 16, Krugman wrote that Republicans were using "blackmail" and that "it was obvious that they would try to take the economy hostage by refusing to raise the federal debt limit." Those words were written about three weeks after House Republicans passed a bill to raise the federal debt limit.

Jonathan Chait wrote for New York on May 15 that Republicans were engaged in "extortion," not negotiation. "The parties are not engaged in 'horse-trading,' because all the horses are being handed by one party to the other. They are only negotiating over the size and contours of the ransom payment." The deal that actually happened has massive bipartisan support and doesn't include most of the provisions that Republicans initially wanted.

Ed Kilgore, writing for New York on May 9, speculated that Republicans wanted a default as a plot to defeat Joe Biden in 2024. "Republicans may calculate that an actual debt default, likely followed by a recession, would doom any incumbent president, particularly if voters are inclined to blame that president at least partly for a debt default triggered by the other party," he wrote. (He also referred to Republicans' "buddies on Wall Street" — a peculiar comment considering that Wall Street donated overwhelmingly to Democrats in 2020.)

"Republicans seem to believe this hostage-taking stunt of theirs — which could hurl the U.S. economy into a recession — will help them politically," wrote Ja'han Jones seven days ago for MSNBC. "Conservatives largely haven't reckoned with the fact they lost majorly in 2020. By holding the nation's economy hostage, Republicans appear to think they've found a way to erase the legislative achievements of the past two years." The 2022 House elections, in which Republicans won about 3 million more votes than Democrats, are not mentioned. . . .

"Terrorists," "hostage-takers," "extortion," "blackmail" — all of that hyperventilating only to have a rather milquetoast deal in place ahead of schedule and with bipartisan support.

The indispensable Wilfred Reilly is a must-read, and this week's column, about "Citi Bike Karen" and "Karen"-shaming, is no exception:

What Comrie's critics are objecting to is the fact that she did not immediately submit to her opponents. Being a "Karen," in this context, meant not giving up the bike that she paid for, and engaging in "call the manager"–style behavior by pulling in male citizens to help her out. Her "white lady tears" literally just refer to the fact that she was weeping, as an exhausted woman involved in an ugly argument.

Why, exactly, would someone have even a theoretical ethical problem with a fellow human being doing either of those things? With no humor intended: because Emmett Till was once lynched. Basically, the "woke" claim is that white women should control their behavior even during male-initiated conflicts — because crying white women have caused harm to men and especially to black men in the past. The Grio piece says this very explicitly: "This was a dispute over a rental bike . . . but she escalated it in a way that could have caused harm to these young Black men, and we cannot lose sight of that." . . .

Enough: This is all absurd. Mark me down as a Karen Respecter. . . .

In this real world, it is insanely unrealistic to say that members of some groups are not merely forbidden to use a few Magic Words, but also to engage in specific common behaviors . . . while everyone else can do these things at will. It is hilariously archetypal prejudice to say that only women — or, yes, only white ladies — become villains when they stand up for themselves and ask to talk to a boss, or get upset and yell during an argument.

Some of the "Karen" noise strikes me as sexism — today, I notice that you can say almost any damned thing about women if you add a short modifier like "white" or "cis" — and some of it as racism, but none of it as good. Only a truly broken society would look at a weeping pregnant woman arguing with five laughing men and think: "Why is she attacking them?"

Caroline Downey's profile of and interview with "Peregrine," a 33-year-old female detransitioner (this is part of a series), contains remarkable insights from the subject herself:

Peregrine feels wronged by the medical gender industry, which she was suspicious of before transitioning but now views as a "money-making mutilation machine," she said.

"Now these monsters are taking advantage of vulnerable people who hate themselves for a profit," she said. "I think it's ironic that so many people who identify as trans these days fancy themselves socialists, when the transgender medical complex is the most brutal dark spot of capitalism in recent history." . . .

Having transitioned before it was mainstream, Peregrine is now often labeled a transphobe. "I know what I'm talking about," she said. Living as a woman, Peregrine has a five-month-old son, whom she almost died giving birth to due to a blood clot in her lung that her current doctors believe may have been caused by the testosterone.

"They think the testosterone might have upped the risk factor on that," she said. "My platelet count was permanently elevated. I am still on blood thinners."

Having once detested her breasts, she lamented their loss during pregnancy, when she was constantly reminded that she couldn't breastfeed.

"I'm ashamed. I regret it. Even though my breasts caused me distress because I have sensory issues, being autistic, now I understand their purpose," she said.

Peregrine didn't use to mourn her feminine voice until recently. When she talks to her infant son, she notices he's not as engaged when she speaks in her normal voice as when she speaks in a high register.

"Suddenly, it all clicked. I was already made perfect; I just didn't know it."

And now, a word from Phil Klein about onesies (which prompted replies from Luther Abel and Maddy Kearns):

On the morning of Memorial Day, I glanced at Twitter and noticed some uproar over photos of a Pride display at Kohl's that featured a themed onesie. Given everything else going on in the world, I didn't particularly view it as something worth getting into a tizzy about, so I sent out this tweet and got on with my day.

It didn't take long for the tweet, which now has about 2.5 million impressions, to transform me into a villain in the ongoing culture war.

Some of my conservative critics lashed out by branding me a "groomer," by likening the Pride onesie to swastika clothing and me to a Nazi appeaser, and by portraying my tweet as emblematic of all the things they hate about National Review. A few others found it important to point out that I am Jewish (fact check: true). . . .

It's one thing to see the Kohl's display and laugh and eye-roll about another cringey example of corporate virtue-signaling. But getting outraged over it is completely unnecessary. Conservatives have spent years mocking progressives for being overly sensitive and musing about how easily offended leftists get about small things to the point of being unable to function. But I fear conservatives are imitating some of the worst instincts of the other side. Listening to conservatives discuss how every little thing — including a onesie — is inextricably linked to every aspect of the left-wing agenda reminds me of Oberlin undergrads complaining about "microaggressions."

Conservatives would be mistaken to mimic the Left by adopting an all-or-nothing mentality on the culture war. The reason I am supportive of efforts to prevent males identifying as females from competing in women's sports is that the biological advantage the male athletes have is unfair to other parties — i.e., women athletes. I agree with the push to protect minors from gender-transition treatment because such a life-altering decision should wait until adulthood — a view reinforced by our ongoing series on detransitioners. (A number of states, including progressive California, currently ban minors from getting tattoos, even with parental consent.)

The idea that somebody who holds views like mine can get tagged as a "groomer" for not cranking up the outrage meter to eleven over an article of infant clothing is not only absurd but likely a political loser. When leftists argue that men can have babies, they look ridiculous. When you're freaking out over a onesie, you do.

Honorable Mention

The team that makes this website actually work has just rolled out a new feature allowing all you NRPLUS subscribers out there to "gift" up to five paywalled articles a month. Check it out, tell your friends — and remember, you can subscribe to NRPLUS here if you haven't already.


Betsy Woodruff Swan, at Politico: Could Hunter Biden be the next poster child for Second Amendment rights?

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David Patrikarakos, at UnHerd: Martin Amis knew the horror of words


I got the chance to see/hear Herbie Hancock and the late Wayne Shorter perform at Jazz Fest back in 2016. As the show was beginning, a man stood outside the pavilion and, as people entered, informed them, "This is church."

It felt that way. Not to get pious about it — one of the original Founders had a light-hearted streak running through certain periods of his music. Fat Albert Rotunda, which, yes, was tied to the TV show, is a good time all around. And where else are you going to find someone playing beer bottles?

Thanks for reading, and listening. Have a great weekend.


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