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J. Bradford DeLong: August 27, 2009

Remembering the Vote on Medicare, Part D J. Bradford DeLong University of California at Berkeley and NBER August 27, 2009

Over at the website of the Center for American Progress, the young Matthew Yglesias is making an observation: “[T]he Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act [of 2003]... passed the United States Senate by a vote of 54 to 44.... [U]nlike the House or HELP health care bills, it added hundreds of billions of dollars to the 10-year deficit window. And it contained nothing that even purported to ‘bend the curve’ over the long term. But notwithstanding those problems, it was good enough for both Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley to vote for. This was only six years ago, hardly ancient history.” <>

One snarky response—that I expect to see up on the New Republic’s brand-new attractively-redesigned website momentarily if not already is that they voted for it because: “It harmed the cause of health reform. by aggravating the deficit and taking a key poker chip off the table.”


J. Bradford DeLong: August 27, 2009

It is remarkable: Voinovich, Specter, Snowe, Nelson, Lugar, Lincoln, Landrieu, Hatch, Grassley, Collins, Baucus among the senators whose propaganda paints them as interested primarily in good policy rather than partisan loyalty (Joe Lieberman did not vote) eager to vote for a bill with an extremely low benefit-cost ratio in terms of improving health access and delivery and a very high and unfunded long-run price tag. And now they are all at best on the fence on a bill that would significantly improve access and delivery now and stands a much better than even chance of lowering public health care expenditures a generation hence when we really need them to be lower than we are currently projecting. James Madison wrote, long ago, that he was no friend to democracy: “A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority... there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.... [D]emocracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths…”

His friend Alexander Hamilton concurred that yes, the historical experience had been awful: “[I]t is not to be denied that the portraits... Were... just copies of the originals from which they were taken. If it had been found impracticable to have devised models of a more perfect structure, the enlightened friends to liberty would have been obliged to abandon the cause... as indefensible...”

But he countered could do better: taking a keythat pokerAmerica chip off the table.” “The science of politics, however, like most other sciences, has received great improvement. The efficacy of various principles is now well understood, which were either not known at all, or imperfectly known to the ancients. The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices during


J. Bradford DeLong: August 27, 2009

good behavior; the representation of the people in the legislature by deputies of their own election: these are wholly new discoveries, or have made their principal progress towards perfection in modern times. They are means, and powerful means, by which the excellences of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided...”

By having the government run not by direct vote via plebiscites and referendums but rather by having the people elect representatives who would share their values but have more knowledge, better judgement, and the leisure to think through the issues, we here in America would— Hamilton and Madison thought—avoid the democratic disease of erratically voting year-by-year for whatever policy the passion of the moment is the most excited about. We would, instead—Hamilton and Madison thought—have policy made by legislators with consistent preferences, opinions, and positions. Guess what, Alex! Guess what, Jemmy! Our current media-political machine looks to have undone all of the “great improvements” in the science and politics and all of the good to be done by the “efficacy of various principles... now well understood” that were “not known at all... to the ancients...” Any suggestions, guys? 709 words

institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices during


Remembering the Vote on Medicare, Part D  

One snarky response—that I expect to see up on the New Republic’s brand-new attractively-redesigned website momentarily if not already is th...

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