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Other writers, on single-payer health care, IRS

Other Writers

Why single-payer health care fails

Peter Suderman in Reason: There are a number of reasons Vermont’s proposed single-payer health care plan failed: It was too complex, too ambitious, too difficult to achieve within the context of the rest of the U.S. health care system.

But the biggest reason was that it simply cost too much. The financing wouldn’t have worked.

As Vox’s Sarah Kliff reports in a long post-mortem on the proposal, which Democratic Gov. Pete Shumlin killed last week in a surprise announcement, the final estimates indicated that the plan would have required the state to raise an extra $2.5 billion in revenue annually. This is in a state that typically only raises about $2.7 billion total each year. In other words, it would have cost nearly the amount that the entire rest of the state government cost—and that’s presuming that those estimates were accurate, and that the one-of-a-kind program encountered no unexpected cost overruns.

Raising that kind of money would have required significant tax hikes—a payroll tax increase of 11.5 percent and a 9 percent income tax increase. Even in liberal Vermont, with a governor who campaigned on single payer and who was dedicated to the cause, that was just too much. This was perhaps the best possible environment for single-payer in the United States, and it failed.

The IRS’ school bond dodge

Peter Hannaford in The American Spectator: There was a time when many a school board threatened to cancel the football season or disband the school band when its members sensed that voters might vote against the latest school bond measure. The threats were usually idle ones, but they often galvanized enough voters to put the issue over.

Voters are probably more savvy now and don’t fall for this trick, but the head of the Internal Revenue Service, Commissioner John Koskinen, apparently doesn’t think so. When Congress last week, by way of the “Cromnibus” budget bill, reduced the IRS’s budget by $346 million (to a measly $10.9 billion), Mr. Koskinen wrapped the old School Bond Dodge in new clothing and announced that the budget cuts could very well result in delayed mailing of income tax refund checks. Not only that, but taxpayers who call in with questions will probably be dealt with by automatic telephone messages instead of human beings.

The IRS is also moaning that its workload is expanding greatly now that it will play a role in the implementation of Obamacare. Taxpayers must report on their 2014 tax returns whether they have health insurance (so that those who don’t have it can be tracked down and charged Obama’s special tax). And those who are getting tax credits (subsidies) for the new health insurance will have to report these.

Just as the school board of yore wanted the voters to say “yes” to the bond issue, Mr. Koskinen’s aim is to get a supplemental appropriation added to the IRS budget.

He is hoping that many taxpayers will implore their elected Representatives and Senators to restore the cuts so these folks can get their refund checks and their questions answered on the telephone.

When the government says “Shh!”

Margaret Sullivan in The New York Times: Howell Raines remembers a call from Ari Fleischer not long after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Mr. Raines, then the executive editor of the Times, says that Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s press secretary, made a startling request. He “asked for a promise that we would contact the White House in advance on any national security matter we were reporting.”

Mr. Raines refused, he told me in an email this week: “I said we would make no such promise, but if the White House wanted to request the holding of a specific story, the request would have to come from the president to the executive editor or publisher.” That, he says, was the only time during his two years as editor that he heard from the government about withholding information.

However, the government managed to get around that rebuff at least once during Mr. Raines’s tenure. The recent torture report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee mentions a story that “a major newspaper” held back in 2002 at the government’s urging. The reporter James Risen reported that the newspaper in question was The Times. (The story, about a top Al Qaeda operative being held in a secret Thailand prison, eventually ran the next year.)

The most recent two editors of the Times say they think the press sometimes gave in too readily to government pressure.

“The torture report is a reminder that we should be really tough on what we withhold,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor, told me in an interview this week. Echoing remarks he made to NPR’s David Folkenflik, he told me, “I will listen to a serious government request, but I am much, much, much more reluctant” to defer to the government.