A Crock of Lock Boxes

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October 9, 2000, Wall Street Journal



An Associated Press dispatch last week reported that Vice President Al Gore really did have an uncle gassed in World War I. Or at least, his campaign managed to come up with a 1959 newspaper obituary that said so. Not in the Balkans as the context of Mr. Gore's remark suggested, of course, but close enough. So it made news that this time he told the truth.

By now most voters know about the vice president's "embellishments," as they are ever so so genteelly being called. He did not make the FEMA trip to see Texas fires. Winifred Skinner, the 79-year old poster girl for prescription drug benefits, really doesn't need to pick up cans and bottles to pay for her prescriptions; she's turned down support from her son and obviously enjoys the attention. The Sarasota school has plenty of money and plenty of desks. The story about paying different prices for the same drug for his mother-in-law and his dog collapsed on multiple fronts. A campaign that lives by anecdotes is likely to die by anecdotes.

But is there something larger involved? The pattern suggests that for some momentary advantage Mr. Gore will say about anything that pops into his head. When he criticized Gov. George W. Bush for suggesting we may need to involve the Russians in Serbia, he must have known that whether or not it's a good idea it was his own administration's policy. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was briefed Friday that President Clinton asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene by letter three weeks ago and in a 35-minute phone call last week.

Given the "embellishment" of small things, it might be prudent to check out the plausibility quotient of the big things Mr. Gore has claimed. In fact, his campaign pretty much rests on the suspension of disbelief. To wit:

Show me this "lock box." This is the real whopper of the Gore-Lieberman campaign. They ask us to believe that they can and will protect all receipts from the Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, ensuring that none of this revenue is spent on anything else. But short of a constitutional amendment there is legally no way a Congress can bind succeeding Congresses. So the "iron-clad lock box" is at best a pious promise, and the notion that this will restrain spending is historically ludicrous. Just now, even with Republicans in control of Congress, we are witnessing a torrent of unplanned spending as everyone tries to get out of town. All experience teaches that the only way to keep politicians from spending money is to keep them from getting their hands on it by cutting taxes.

The only problem of Social Security is money. The miraculous "lock box" is also the key to Mr. Gore's assertion the Social Security system needs no fundamental reform. He would credit hypothetical interest-rate savings from a lower debt to Social Security, though of course any real money transferred would have to come from actual revenue from other taxes. So politicians would not only have to keep their hands off Social Security revenues but cough up other revenues as well. "Lock box plus," you might call it.

And of course, this would do nothing for younger retirees, whose problem is the paltry rate of return on their payroll tax payments, compared with what they would be likely to earn if allowed to invest the money themselves.

The only problem of Medicare is money. The "lock box" for Medicare faces all the same problems as the one for Social Security. The system can be saved only through fundamental reform, principally introducing markets and competition, as in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program. The bipartisan Breaux Commission's steps in this direction were scuttled by the Clinton administration to keep this issue alive.

The only problem of education is money. Pouring more money into the same old system will please the teachers unions, but should we believe that it will change results, especially in failing inner city schools? Deeper reform is clearly necessary -- at a minimum letting schools expel or segregate disruptive pupils, at a maximum introducing competition through tuition vouchers.

Robert McIntyre for OMB. The most disturbing thing about Mr. Gore's "wealthiest one percent" is that he relies on figures from Mr. McIntyre's Citizens for Tax Justice. Arguably a useful gadfly, Mr. McIntyre can be counted on to massage the figures in the most tendentious way. In the current case, he complicates income tax calculations by dragging in the estate tax while ignoring the payroll tax cut in the Bush Social Security proposals. The Bush campaign ought to have its real economists take on fuzzy Washington math.

High taxes caused the boom. What passes for the Gore economic theory is that raising taxes in 1993 reduced the deficit, lowered interest rates and sparked the boom. Economists have yet to find a correlation between deficits (or surpluses) and interest rates. The current boom can more reasonably be related to the election of a Republican Congress in 1994, when financial markets took off, or to the Reagan policies reversing the "malaise" of the previous Democratic administration.

Are you "Middle Class?" If so, the vice president promises you lower taxes, though the formula gets complicated. Most Americans think they fall in the middle class; as Gov. Bush said, a lot of folks are still waiting for the middle-class tax cut Bill Clinton promised in 1992.

Bush will be weaker on defense. Does anyone, even Joe Lieberman, actually believe this one?

The basic pitch of the Gore campaign, indeed, is that if only you can keep taxes at the current 20.5% of GDP, the highest since 1945, the government will be able to meet all its Social Security and Medicare obligations, start new open-ended entitlement programs to buy drugs for everyone over 65, provide health care for the uninsured, increase Social Security benefits for widows and nonworking mothers, offer universal preschool and start a new tax credit for retirement refundable in cash for those who don't pay taxes.

Also (hold your breath), provide a tax cut for the favored middle class, cancel the Third World debt, hire 50,000 more cops on the beat, connect every classroom to the Internet and start an "interactive town square," launch a plethora of smaller government initiatives, lower energy prices with electric cars, biomass and windmills while protecting the environment with the Kyoto Treaty and other pipe dreams, balance the budget every year and pay off the national debt by 2012.

There is a metaphor for believing all this while worrying about Mr. Gore's "embellishments." It's called swallowing the elephant while choking on the gnat.

-- Lars (lars@indy.net), October 09, 2000


Thanks Lars

-- Maria (anon@ymous.com), October 09, 2000.

Read my lips, tax cuts for everyone!

-- Dubya (in@your.dreams), October 09, 2000.

LONGBOAT KEY, Fla., Oct 9  The Republican father of a girl who couldn't find a desk in an overcrowded Sarasota classroom came to the defense of Vice President Gore today for his description of the incident during last week's debate.

"He was using an illustration to drive home a point, and then it was picked apart," said the girl's father, Randall S. Ellis, 39, the manager of a restaurant overlooking Sarasota Bay. "He stated what was stated in the newspaper. It ended up stirring the pot quite a bit, but I believe good things will come of it for our school system."

In an interview with The Washington Post, the superintendent of the school also vouched for Gore's accuracy about an incident that his Republican rival Texas Gov. George W. Bush is using to portray Gore as playing loose with the facts.

During the first presidential debate, Gore told the story of Kailey Ellis, a 10th-grader at Sarasota High School who had been photographed by the local paper, the Herald-Tribune, standing in the back of a biology laboratory. Kailey's father sent the clipping to Gore when his restaurant, Marina Jack, catered 45 crabcake sandwiches for Air Force Two. The caption said, "Kailey Ellis, 15, stands in the back of her science class because there isn't room for another desk to accommodate her."

Gore described the picture during the debate. "They can't squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class," he said. "I want the federal government, consistent with local control and new accountability, to make improvement of our schools number No. 1 priority so Kailey will have a desk and can sit down in a classroom where she can learn."

[snip] School officials said today that Kailey was one of 36 pupils in a classroom designed for 24. They said crowding is expected to worsen because in July, Sarasota voters rejected by a 2-to-1 margin a referendum that would have increased property taxes by about $100 for every $100,000 in house value.

Wilma A. Hamilton, the superintendent of the Sarasota County Public Schools, said the result has had a heavy impact on morale in schools. "The loss of our local referendum has certainly increased class size in Sarasota," Hamilton said. "Whenever class size goes up, it becomes more difficult for teachers to teach effectively and students to learn effectively. It impacts morale."

In a follow-up story on Thursday, the Herald-Tribune reported: "Kailey and several other students were forced to stand at various times during the first few weeks of school because budget cuts pushed up class sizes beyond expectations, according to interviews with students and teachers and first-hand observations by Herald-Tribune reporters. Kailey said she moved from a biology classroom where students had to sit on the floor to another that was short on desks on Aug. 31  the ninth day of school. She stood for one 50-minute period, and the following day a classmate gave up his desk for her. As a result, though, he was left without a desk for the following week, Kailey said."

The newspaper published Kailey's photograph again. This time, she was sitting on a bench during lunch break.

-- Gore Has Integrity (goresin@gore2000.com), October 09, 2000.

Cheney's statement during the vice-presidential debate that "the government had absolutely nothing to do" with his success in the private sector "was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bald-faced lie," TomPaine.com suggests. In "the five years that Cheney headed up Halliburton, the company garnered some $2.3 billion in federal government contracts, nearly double the amount of government business the company did in the five-year period preceding his arrival. In all, Halliburton managed to obtain some $3.8 billion in government contracts and taxpayer-insured loans during Cheney's tenure."

-- Gore Has Integrity (goresin@gore2000.com), October 10, 2000.

Gore has integrity? No, Gore has oil. Specifically, $500,000 worth of stock in Occidental Petroleum, a company that wants to drill on sacred Indian lands in Columbia.

Occidental Petroleum/Al Gore

-- Lars (lars@indy.net), October 10, 2000.

Good point Lars, and as I understand it, Gore wants to stop the small businesses from finding and developing more oil but will support the big oil companies. Sounds like a conflict of interest which is not in the best interest of our country. The reason oil is so high now is because the current administration did every thing to stop production in our own territories. Now they "blame" the oil industry. If the gov makes it almost impossible to drill how can they point fingers for the rise in oil prices?

"They can't squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class," he said. "I want the federal government, consistent with local control and new accountability, to make improvement of our schools number No. 1 priority so Kailey will have a desk and can sit down in a classroom where she can learn." Facilities are a mess. Our local taxes go to schools. We vote on the issue to fund improvements for schools. Our district has voted down a tax increase for schools. Why? Because the administration is so bad we don't trust how they will spend the money. Throwing more money after bad isn't the way to go. Does Gore want to "run" the schools? If the federal gov gives the money to schools, then they begin to dictate how that money is spent. No guarantees the administration can manage those funds.

Also, Gore says he wants to pay teachers more. How does he do this? The teachers' union negotiates teachers' salary with the administration. The federal gov has nothing to do with this. Gore says he wants only qualified teachers in the class room. Again the federal gov has nothing to do with this. It's the teachers' union who sets the qualifications of teachers. Will he micro manage the TU? He also says that he will insist that teachers continue to obtain training. Well, they do that now. As a matter of fact, the only way teachers can get an increase in salary is by receiving credits for courses. Of course, they get additional training. Gore has given us any information on school improvements he would make. Gore doesn't know how to fix this problem.

-- Maria (anon@ymous.com), October 10, 2000.


Thought you might be interested in this link to help separate some of the grain from the chaff.

Rumors about Al Gore

Maria: In many instances, LAW determines teacher certification requirements, NOT the Teacher's Union. You may remember my mentioning that some education credits of mine were no longer applicable to certification because they were too old. This was due to LAW. Also, LAW determines whether teachers must take tests to qualify. The unions may bitch and moan, but the laws can't be avoided.

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), October 10, 2000.

You may remember my mentioning that some education credits of mine were no longer applicable to certification because they were too old. This is a true statement for all college programs. When I went back to school, some credits weren't counted because they were too old. And I wasn't going back for teaching certification. These LAWs apply to college curriculum in general not just teaching programs.

Dig a little deeper. Who advocates for certification? Who lobbies for legislation? Many organizations with money, including the teachers' union. Who's most interested in teacher qualifications? The teachers union. Do any groups oppose the teachers union and their lobbies? I don't know of any. Maybe you can think of one. Who's right there next to the college, determining teaching programs? The teachers union. (During one of the classes in my SO's teaching program, a union rep spoke the entire lecture on the virtues of the union or as they put it "professional organization". I found it funny that they want distance between them and the implication of a union.) The union is a very strong force in setting standards and policies.

Also please explain which laws, In many instances, LAW determines teacher certification requirements.

-- Maria (anon@ymous.com), October 10, 2000.


Thanks for the link. It looks like a good one. Here is another good one from the other position. I am retiring from the game of trying to document who said which about what. There is so much crap floating around----I have seen purported Gore goofy quotes that are actually recycled Dan Quayle goofy quote that were probably originally Groucho Marx non-sequiters. So, this one more "researched" link and then, like I say, I'm out of the quotes game.

What did algor say and when did he say it?

-- Lars (lars@indy.net), October 10, 2000.

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