Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/29/yoest.maloney.2.cnn.art.jpg caption="Rep. Carolyn Maloney (L) and Charmaine Yoest (R)."]
This week, Supreme Court battles and new spending promises are pre-occupying Washington, and giving us the Wingnuts of the Week.
Supreme Court nominations have become the Wingnut Olympics. Right-wing attacks were readied weeks ago against whomever President Obama named to the court. Left-wing hyper-partisans have done the same thing to Republican appointees in the past.
They try to demonize a nominee before they have their day in court – or in front of Congress, as the case may be. The idea of actually judging a judge fairly or suspending judgment until all the facts are in seems to be unheard of in DC these days. It’s a reflexive ideological attack, regardless of facts.
But of all the prefabricated attack-dog talking points circulated, one set rose to Wingnut of the Week status. Charmaine Yoest, President of Americans United For Life, released a statement saying that Judge Sonia Sotomayor "Will perpetuate the role of the Supreme Court as 'National Abortion Control Board'... [her] judicial philosophy undermines common ground. She is a radical pick that divides America."
There are legitimate ways to question and criticize a Supreme Court nominee – by quoting past statements and studying past opinions. But Yoest’s comments were ugly on a whole different level, treating Judge Sotomayor as a threat to the republic. That’s an absurd demonization and dehumanization.
Yoest is claiming that Judge Sotomayor divides Americans, but Yoest is the one trying to divide us. The fact is we don’t even know Judge Sotomayor’s position on abortion – she backed up the Bush administration’s right to deny federal funds to abortion rights organizations in one decision. Some liberal groups are expressing concern that she might not be liberal enough for their liking on this issue – but all that seems to be an inconvenient truth. And calling the Supreme Court the “National Abortion Control Board” – well that’s about as single-issue wingnut as you get. I’m pretty sure that’s not how Chief Justice John Roberts views his day job. Wingnuts use fear as a recruiting tool. For them, all’s fair in love, war and Supreme Court nomination battles.
With the trillions in bailout and stimulus spending flooding off the floor of Congress, it’s easy to lose track. But when a new government entitlement is proposed while we’re already deep into unprecedented debt, it’s time to take notice. Especially when the bill’s advocates promise us it won’t cost taxpayers a dime.
That’s what New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney did with a bill proposing four weeks of paid parental leave for all federal employees. She said “it won’t cost any money.”
There’s no such thing as a free lunch and if someone offers it to you, watch your wallet. The Congressional Budget Office has looked at this proposal in the past and said it would cost taxpayers upwards of $850 million over the next five years alone. And government estimates are notoriously off – from Medicare to the Iraq War, new entitlements and obligations become financial quicksand for the already cash-strapped U.S. taxpayer.
We should not be adding four weeks of paid parental leave to the generous benefits given to the growing rolls of government workers. Former Comptroller General David Walker testifies that the total cost of outstanding government promises in terms of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare now costs $56 trillion dollars – more than the total $51 trillion of Americans’ household net worth. The costs of public pensions and benefits are already bringing states like California to the brink of bankruptcy. And the deficit is already twice the size of any since the end of World War II.
This unprecedented debt is essentially generational theft. At a time when private sector workers are worrying about losing their next paycheck, let alone benefits, this is not the time to ask them to subsidize a new level of government benefits. The fact that this bill was approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform committee is not only a reflection of a committee that is not committed to reform, it‘s an illustration of why more Americans have declared themselves Independent over the past five months, as Democratic and Republican affiliation declines.
Polls show that Americans are willing to pay out of pocket to get out of a crisis in the near term; but in the long-term they want to return to a path of fiscal responsibility. America needs entitlement reform, not entitlement expansion. We need fiscal discipline, not false promises of a free lunch.
Representative Maloney’s office admits that she was incorrect when she said in the House Oversight and Government Reform committee that her paid family leave bill “won’t cost any money.”
They acknowledge that it will cost upwards of $190 million the first full year, in line with the CBO’s $850 million estimate for the first five years.
The issue is not just the cost – or the worthiness of the program – but whether we can afford it right now as a nation. And the answer is objectively no – we don’t have the money to add a new government entitlement. Not at a time when government rolls are growing and private sector workers – who don’t enjoy government’s job security – are getting laid off.
And a further point of clarification for those of you who enjoy viewing and reading this segment: sometimes reasonable people make silly statements, like the Congresswoman saying her bill wouldn’t cost any money. It’s this segment’s intention to call it out; in line with the time honored adage that sunlight is the best disinfectant. It’s not that Congresswoman Maloney is a career wingnut – far from it – it’s that her statement in committee resuscitates the oldest myth of the liberal left: that new entitlements and benefits don’t end up coming out of your pocket. They do. As the old Washington joke goes, a million here and a million there, soon enough it starts adding up to real money.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.