Editorial Roundup: United States
Jul 12, 2023, 11:15 AM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Guardian on the U.S. providing cluster bombs to Ukraine
Twenty-thousand Laotians, almost half of them children, have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance since the Vietnam war ended. It is half a century since the U.S. stopped bombing Laos, having dropped more than two million tons of cluster munitions; decades on, people then unborn are still paying the price. On one estimate, it will take another 100 years to fully clear the country.
This is the true cost of cluster munitions. They are not only indiscriminate in showering dozens or hundreds of bomblets over a large area, but also have a lethal legacy because so many fail to explode, only to later be trodden on or picked up – often by curious children. For these reasons, more than 120 countries have signed the convention prohibiting their use, production, transfer and stockpiling.
The U.S., Russia and Ukraine, however, have never been signatories. Russia has used them extensively in Ukraine, including in populated areas where no military personnel or infrastructure were evident. Kyiv has also employed them, more sparingly, but reportedly at the cost of civilian lives in Izium (though it denies they were used there). Now the U.S. will supply more as part of an $800 million military aid package, at Kyiv’s request. Thankfully, the U.K., which has signed the convention but still holds some of the munitions, has ruled out following suit. Joe Biden has said he made a “difficult decision”. No doubt. But the president has made the wrong one.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive has failed to gain the traction it needs, and supplies of artillery shells are running low. The argument is that, however significant the risks and long-term costs of using cluster bombs, civilians will pay a far higher price where Russian forces prevail. Cluster munitions are effective in combating dug-in ground troops, like the Russian forces along the vast frontline. But the same, of course, could be said for chemical weapons, and the U.S. rightly finished destroying its remaining stockpile of those on Friday. Efficacy is why bans on such arms are needed in the first place. Russia’s use of them is not a reason to further drag down international norms.
Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, says it has given written guarantees that it will not use the U.S.-supplied weapons in Russia, nor in urban areas where civilians might be killed or wounded. It will also record their use, to expedite demining when the conflict is over. The U.S. claims its munitions are far safer than those used by Moscow, with dud rates “not higher than 2.5%” versus Russian devices that reportedly fail 30-40% of the time. Experts say test results don’t reflect real world conditions and that, in any case, the sheer number of submunitions still means a deadly aftermath.
Invasion has forced Ukraine to make tough decisions about how to defend itself. The U.S. was nonetheless wrong to meet its request. The decisions of the world’s most powerful country and military are key to determining global norms. Before Donald Trump took office, it had made some recent steps towards controlling cluster munitions. But it should never have deployed them, including in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s. It should not have rejected the convention banning them. And it should not be supplying them to Ukraine. Their use will have terrible long-term consequences for civilians there – and perhaps, through the example it sets, for civilians elsewhere too.
The New York Times on the federal debt
The federal debt is as old as the nation, and adding to it is sometimes prudent. For governments confronting existential crises like wars or pandemics, borrowing makes sense as a way to mobilize national resources, as the economist Barry Eichengreen wrote in the 2021 book “In Defense of Public Debt.” Government borrowing and spending are necessary to stimulate the economy during recessions. And Treasuries, safe and liquid, play a critical role in the global financial system — so much so that in the late 1990s, when a period of economic growth and reduced military spending allowed the government to sharply reduce borrowing, economists and bankers raised alarms about the consequences of too little federal debt.
The United States, however, now borrows heavily during periods of economic growth to meet basic and ongoing obligations. It’s increasingly unsustainable. Over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office projects that annual federal budget deficits will average around $2 trillion per year, adding to the $25.4 trillion in debt the government already owes to investors.
Borrowing is expensive. A mounting share of federal revenue, money that could be used for the benefit of the American people, goes right back out the door in the form of interest payments to investors who purchase government bonds. Rather than collecting taxes from the wealthy, the government is paying the wealthy to borrow their money.
By 2029, the government is on pace to spend more each year on interest than on national defense, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By 2033, interest payments will consume an amount equal to 3.6% of the nation’s economic output.
Before the pandemic, a decade of very low interest rates meant that even as the federal debt swelled, interest payments remained relatively modest. Measured as a share of the national economy, the federal debt was roughly twice as large at the beginning of 2020 as it was at the beginning of 1990, but the burden of interest payments was barely half as large.
The era of low interest rates has ended, however. The cost of living on borrowed money is rising. It is imperative for the nation’s leaders to chart a new course.
Although one wouldn’t know it from the celebrations in Washington last month, the deal reached to raise the debt ceiling does not amount to a meaningful start. Democrats agreed to modest spending cuts; Republicans refused to consider any measures to increase revenue. The result? Before the deal, the C.B.O. projected the debt would reach roughly $46.7 trillion in 2033. After the deal, it projected the total would be only marginally smaller, at $45.2 trillion. That would equal 115% of the nation’s annual economic output, the highest level on record.
Both parties say they understand the need for larger changes.
“We’re going to do even more to reduce the deficit,” President Biden declared in a speech from the Oval Office after Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, acknowledging that the legislation didn’t amount to much, said after the vote that he intended to form a bipartisan commission “so we can find the waste and we can make the real decisions to really take care of this debt.”
The talk, however, is hard to take seriously. Republicans evidently are not concerned about the debt. Every time they have had the opportunity in recent decades, they have passed tax cuts that force the government to borrow more money. They’ve already got a new tax cut package in their sights. Democrats, for their part, have grown wary of calls to curtail spending because predictions of dire consequences have not come to pass and because they have learned the bitter lesson that agreeing to spending cuts simply creates room for Republicans to justify another round of tax cuts.
The debt ceiling is part of the problem. It was never intended to limit the federal debt. It was actually created to facilitate borrowing. During World War I, Congress got tired of authorizing each new round of bonds, so it gave the Treasury permission to borrow up to a specific limit. Its current use, as a means for Republicans to extort spending cuts from Democrats by threatening to push the nation into default, is even less productive. Larger changes are going to happen only if both political parties are willing participants.
A first step in resetting the conversation is to eliminate the debt ceiling before its next scheduled appearance in 2025. Mr. Biden has brushed aside calls for his administration to pursue a legal ruling that the ceiling is unconstitutional. In doing so, he is repeating the mistake he made last fall, when he failed to press for legislation to repeal the ceiling. A case pending in federal court in Boston, brought by federal workers concerned that a default would come at the expense of their pensions, offers a potential vehicle. Other legal avenues also should be explored. It makes sense to pursue a ruling while there is no imminent danger of hitting the ceiling. If courts reject the legal challenges, that would also be clarifying.
Any substantive deal will eventually require a combination of increased revenue and reduced spending, not least because any politically viable deal will require a combination of those options. Both parties will have to compromise: Republicans must accept the necessity of collecting what the government is owed and of imposing taxes on the wealthy. Democrats must recognize that changes to Social Security and Medicare, the major drivers of expected federal spending growth, should be on the table. Anything less will prove fiscally unsustainable.
That will require painful choices. But the failure to make those choices also has a price — and the price tag is increasing rapidly.
The Los Angeles Times on the climate crisis
Brace yourself. The last three days have probably been the Earth’s hottest on record. Last month was the hottest June ever recorded. Punishing, deadly heat has hit large swaths of the planet, and oceans are experiencing heat waves with surface temperatures hitting new highs.
The long-predicted hotter future fueled by climate change is happening now.
The global average daily temperature hit 62.6 degrees on Monday, which was the highest since modern record-keeping began more than four decades ago, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer project, which uses satellite data and computer simulations to measure the world’s weather conditions.
Although 62 degrees may not sound startling, it is a global average that includes parts of the world that are in the middle of winter. The record was quickly broken Tuesday and Wednesday when the global average temperature hit 62.9 degrees. The record-breaking heat was backed up by other models as well. And climate scientists now think 2023 could be the warmest year on record.
Part of the reason for the higher temperatures is the return of El Niño, a climate pattern associated with hotter, more volatile weather. Human-caused climate change can amplify normal climate patterns and turn them into extreme weather events. There have always been heat waves and floods and wildfires — but climate change is fueling unprecedented heat waves that stretch over days and weeks, frequent flooding and megafires.
It’s frightening to see how fast the planet is warming and what that portends for countries across the globe that are feeling the effects of extreme weather, including intense heat waves, wildfires and drought. In China this week, 15 people have died and some 20,000 have been displaced by monsoonal flooding that has been especially severe. Last month, the eastern U.S. was cloaked in smoke from wildfires in Canada. And powerful heat waves in recent weeks claimed lives in Texas, Mexico and the Southwest, and across the globe in India.
The time for incremental steps has passed. World leaders can’t ignore or hope to avoid the pain of global warming now that it’s here. They have an obligation to act. More than a century of burning coal, oil and gas has caught up to us. To slow rising global temperatures and prevent greater harm that would come with hotter days, sea level rise and extreme weather, the major economies of the world have to immediately switch to renewable energy and slash planet-warming pollution in half by 2030.
Each record broken and new extreme is a warning that the planet is in distress. We are not doing enough to slow climate change and avoid greater suffering. But the human occupants of Earth are not powerless. The course forward is clear, though not easy or cheap. It requires dismantling the machinery of fossil fuels and replacing it with clean, renewable energy, electric vehicles and zero-emission technology.
This week’s record-breaking temperatures are another alarm warning that the window of opportunity to avoid climate devastation is closing. Will we wake up, or just hit snooze until the next extreme weather event?
The Washington Post on the House GOP elections bill
House Republicans have unveiled a bill that would open up the spigots of dark money nationwide and make voting more difficult, especially in D.C. What they are calling the American Confidence in Elections Act integrates nearly 50 stand-alone bills that House Republicans have introduced to please their grass-roots base and major donors.
This partisan power grab masquerading as a defense of election integrity would nullify President Biden’s 2021 executive order aimed at making voting easier. It would ban federal agencies from helping register voters or even encouraging people to participate in elections, as well as reduce transparency by ratcheting back disclosure requirements to allow individuals and corporations to stay anonymous more easily as they pour money into electioneering.
It would also treat the District as the proving ground for a wish list of aggressive proposals to make it harder to vote. The bill would require D.C. voters to show a photo identification card to cast a ballot or request an absentee ballot; compel the District to create books that compile photographs of every registered voter for poll workers to check; ban same-day voter registration; and restrict the use of ballot drop boxes. It would forbid D.C. from mailing absentee ballots unless requested by the voter and prohibit D.C. from implementing ranked-choice voting, even if voters pass a referendum to allow it.
The legislation would also prevent D.C. from counting ballots that arrive by mail after polls close on Election Day and require the city to announce unofficial results no later than 10 a.m. the next day, except for military and overseas ballots. It would also ban D.C. from counting provisional ballots unless they were cast in the proper precinct.
All of this, even though GOP lawmakers rhapsodized about the importance of federalism and local authority when they unveiled the bill in Atlanta on Monday. Congress has constitutional authority to exercise control over D.C., but doing so this aggressively would be an affront to the principle of home rule. D.C.’s 700,000-plus residents lack congressional representation and therefore won’t get any vote on the bill.
Fortunately, this drastic step backward is going nowhere in the Senate. No Democrat is going to vote for it. But the fanfare with which Republicans rolled it out illustrates the degree to which their base, egged on by former president Donald Trump, is pressuring GOP leaders to address phony allegations of widespread fraud.
D.C. began sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters in 2020 because of the pandemic and has continued to do so. Republicans speculated during a hearing last month that this invites fraud, but they provided no evidence that any actually occurred. A Heritage Foundation database frequently cited by election deniers doesn’t have a single recorded example of any voter fraud in Washington. Monica Holman Evans, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections, acknowledges that tens of thousands of unrequested ballots got returned as undeliverable in 2020 and 2022, but she emphasized that D.C. conducts signature verification for every submitted ballot and regularly updates its lists.
We agree with one major provision in the GOP legislation. We have strongly opposed noncitizen voting in the District, which the bill would stop from going into effect. But Congress already tried and failed earlier this year to overturn the new law. The House passed a disapproval resolution. It died in the Senate.
The GOP legislation would also require the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to provide voter data to states at no cost so they can remove dead voters and noncitizens from their rolls. One reason there’s a clamoring for this information is because so many Republican secretaries of state have withdrawn recently from the nonpartisan election consortium called ERIC that helps keep voter rolls up to date. They pulled out because they didn’t want to send a postcard inviting eligible new residents to register to vote.
Meanwhile, the campaign finance section of the bill is a gift to big donors wrapped up to look like a protection of free speech. It would block the Treasury Department from reining in 501(c)(4) dark money groups; exempt organizations that raise less than $50,000 from disclosure and reporting requirements; and prohibit the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring companies to disclose political contributions, donations to tax-exempt organizations and dues paid to trade associations. It would also repeal limits on coordinated political party expenditures and raise contribution caps for state political party committees.
Taken together, all of this reveals that the true purpose of GOP legislative efforts to control voting is more about giving themselves a political edge than actually safeguarding elections.
The Wall Street Journal on Biden’s new health rule
Here’s a definition of Bidenomics you won’t hear from the White House: Forcing Americans to buy expensive products they don’t want or need. Behold the President’s plan to limit short-term health insurance plans in order to jam more consumers into the heavily subsidized and regulated ObamaCare exchanges.
The Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury Departments on Friday proposed rules to roll back the Trump Administration’s expansion of short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI) plans. Since 2018 these plans have been available in 12-month increments, and consumers have been able to renew them for up to 36 months.
Short-term plans aren’t required to provide comprehensive benefits, including pediatric services, maternity care and mental health treatment. They are thus much cheaper than the heavily-regulated plans on the ObamaCare exchanges, which must provide 10 “essential” benefits and are restricted in their ability to charge premiums based on age and risk.
These plans are especially attractive to young people whose employers don’t provide coverage. Why would a healthy 26-year-old want to pay for maternity, pediatric and other services he probably won’t use in the near future? Instead, he could use the thousands of dollars in savings from enrolling in short-term plans to repay student loans.
President Biden raps short-term plans as “junk insurance,” but Democrats call anything they want to eliminate “junk.” They don’t like the plans simply because they lure healthy, young people away from the ObamaCare exchanges, which results in older and sicker insurance risk pools that increase premiums and subsidy costs.
The Inflation Reduction Act sweetened ObamaCare’s insurance premium tax credits that are tied to income. As a result, a 60-year-old making just above four times the poverty level ($58,320) has to pay only 8.5% of his income toward his insurance premium while the government picks up the rest. If premiums increase, government is on the hook for more.
But after the Inflation Reduction Act’s enhanced subsidies expire in 2025, consumers will be in for sticker-shock. Hence, the Administration is trying to drive more young, healthy people back into the exchanges by reinstating a four-month cap on short-term plans and prohibiting renewals. Presto: A free market for insurance that competes with the ObamaCare exchanges disappears.
Some states have experimented with restricting short-term plans, but a 2021 study by the Galen Institute found this didn’t reduce full-coverage premiums. For many young people, the ObamaCare plans even with subsidies aren’t worth the cost. So prepare for an increase in the number of uninsured after the rule takes effect.
The Biden rule may also draw a legal challenge. The Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon notes that the proposal conflicts with a 2020 ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that “nothing in (federal law) prevents insurers from renewing expired STLDI policies.” Once again, the Administration is rewriting law by regulatory decree.
As with his backdoor ban on gas-powered cars, President Biden is limiting health insurance choice and competition in the name of protecting consumers from something they want to buy.