Why Conservatives Like Me are So... Negative!
Two Words: Russ Decker
By Christian Schneider
Wisconsin is in the midst of a health-care crisis. A health-care crisis so serious, in fact, that state government needs to swoop in and seize control of the health insurance system in a way no state has done in the history of our nation.
Luckily for us, this health-care crisis apparently exists nowhere else in the country, which means nobody in any other state would even be tempted to move to Wisconsin to take advantage of the "free" health care offered by Wisconsin's taxpayers.
Such is the logic of Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, who has vowed to re-introduce the $15.2 billion government-run "Healthy Wisconsin" plan this session. In responding to a recent Wisconsin Policy Research Institute report that an estimated 142,000 sick people would indeed move to our state to take advantage of free health care, Decker took a shot at WPRI, saying the institute likes to criticize ideas, but they "never come up with any suggestions."
Clearly, WPRI has replaced late-night roadside breathalyzer tests as Decker's primary nemesis.
It seems unlikely that Decker stays up late reading WPRI's reports, each of which is bursting at the seams with proactive suggestions. But this is forgivable, since it probably takes him a lot of time to answer all of Chuck Chvala's Facebook messages.
Decker's point, however, is worth addressing, since it's a refrain heard often in politics: "Why so negative?"
To some, merely criticizing a damaging government program without offering a commensurate remedy makes you a "nattering nabob of negativity."
Yet for conservatives, stopping terrible new government actions is the whole point. We don't look at government in terms of what it can do for us - we see government in terms of what it does to us.
Thus, any proactive suggestion we have to reduce governmental interference in the market and our lives would be as welcome to Decker as a lap dance from Gov Jim Doyle. So Decker can complain all he wants about WPRI not making "suggestions," but it's clear he'd ignore them if he got around to reading them anyway.
One can look at improving government in two ways: urging it to do things that help us and convincing it to stop screwing up.
As it currently stands, our state government is doing neither. In fact, if the Legislature and governor went halfway and merely stopped screwing up, we wouldn't be staring at a $5.7 billion deficit.
Case in point: In February, the Democrat-controlled state Senate voted on the same day to raise the state minimum wage in perpetuity, and to change the order in which banks are paid back when businesses go bankrupt, which will make it riskier for creditors to lend money.
One is left with two explanations after those votes, and neither is appealing. Either the Senate is too dumb to understand that discouraging banks from lending and forcing higher costs on businesses is a syringe full of rat poison for an already struggling economy. Or the Democrats know damn well it is, but they have to pay back the unions that make up their base. Neither scenario exactly inspires one to get out the pompoms in support of our elected officials.
Yet Russ Decker clearly thought these were good, proactive "suggestions." Unfortunately, they are government actions that will force higher unemployment and, consequently, more budget problems, as more unemployed workers will need government services. As it turns out, doing nothing was our best bet.
Which brings us back to Healthy Wisconsin.
The state has budgeted about $28 billion in general fund spending for the next two years, but faces a $5.7 billion deficit.
For the sake of argument, concede the Democrats' talking point that the economic recession is to blame for the entire shortfall. Imagine what would have happened had the state had its hands on $30 billion of Healthy Wisconsin money in the next two years.
There would have been a disastrous $6 billion deficit in the Healthy Wisconsin fund, on top of the $5.7 billion general fund deficit. It would have been a complete catastrophe - even the Donner Party would have been saying, "Well, at least we're not from Wisconsin."
So we here at WPRI will sit patiently by our mailbox, waiting for a signed card from Russ Decker thanking us for arguing against Healthy Wisconsin and saving him from such a budget disaster.
Now he can get back to doing good things for the people of Wisconsin, like passing tougher penalties for drunk driving.
Oh, wait - he's against that, too.
Christian Schneider, a former legislative staffer, is a fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. His blog can be read at WPRI.org.