NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

Former Republican state party chair Chris Vance launches challenge to Patty Murray

Last week, rumors surfaced that former Washington State Republican Party Chair Chris Vance would be launching a campaign for U.S. Senate in 2016, seeking the seat currently held by Patty Murray. Yesterday, to the relief of current state Republican Chair Susan Hutchison, Vance made it official: He’s in.

Vance, fifty-three, has a history of running for office. He served stints in the Washington State House of Representatives and King County Council before becoming party chair. Since then, he has been a lobbyist and consultant, working for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, among other clients.

Vance has been unsuccessful running for statewide and federal office, however, He lost a 1996 bid for the position Dorn currently holds, and was crushed by Congressman Adam Smith in 2000 when he ran for U.S. Representative in the 9th Congressional District. (The 9th has since been redrawn… twice.)

Murray, sixty-four, will be running for her fifth term. She’s been unopposed up until now because Republicans haven’t been able to find a candidate. We had thought that Hutchison might pluck a candidate out of the Senate Republican caucus, but maybe none of them were interested in a quixotic challenge to Murray, who is the state’s second-longest serving federal officeholder (behind Jim McDermott).

“I’m running because I’m fed up with the gridlock in Congress and the politicians in both parties who won’t tell the American people the truth about the challenges we face,” said Vance, in a statement posted to his website. “The truth is, the gap between rich and poor is widening because our economy is not producing enough good middle class jobs. We are over $18 trillion in debt, and Social Security and Medicare are on the road to insolvency. There are answers to these problems but Republicans and Democrats refuse to compromise and work together.”

“We are less than thirty days away from another government shutdown. The dysfunction in Washington, D.C. is nothing short of a national disgrace.”

“And unfortunately the truth is, after twenty-four years in the Senate, Patty Murray is part of the problem,” Vance added.

Democrats, for their part, are not the least bit impressed with Vance’s candidacy.

“Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance is Washington state’s Karl Rove: He is a long-time Republican insider and partisan operative who has spent his career cheerleading for failed Republican politicians like George W. Bush and conservative policies that hurt Washington State families and seniors,” said Democratic State Party Chair Jaxon Ravens in an email last Wednesday, before Vance announced.

“If Republicans think they can beat a Senator who fights for Washington State middle-class priorities and delivers bipartisan results with a partisan Republican Party Chairman like Chris Vance, they are going to have a long, painful road to Election Day,” Ravens added, suggesting Vance will face difficulty getting traction.

Curiously, Vance has previously gone out of his way to praise Murray, calling her “an incredibly skilled lawmaker”. Now, of course, she’s “part of the problem”.

I’m guessing that when Vance made his previous comments about Murray, he wasn’t expecting to be challenging her for U.S. Senate in 2016. But his party needed a candidate, and apparently they couldn’t find a more credible challenger.

Whether Vance’s party’s base will get excited about his candidacy remains to be seen. Vance has indicated that he wants to run a civil campaign and is advertising himself as a more reasonable kind of Republican, more in the mold of Rob McKenna or Sam Reed than the vitriolic members of the state’s Senate Republican caucus.

Republicans have long held a dim view of Patty Murray, but every attempt they have made to defeat her has failed. They tried with Linda Smith in 1998. She lost. They tried with George Nethercutt in 2004. He lost. They tried with Dino Rossi in 2010. He lost. It’s not clear why they think 2016 will be any different.

Perhaps they don’t expect to win, but are putting on a brave face because it would be very embarrassing to concede the contest.

Vance’s campaign website doesn’t offer much in the way of a campaign platform, beyond calls to “fix the debt”, which Vance cites as his top priority:

We are now over $18 trillion in debt.

Our debt is larger than our Gross Domestic Product, meaning our debt is larger than the output of our economy. Left unchecked, the debt will grow to 120% of our GDP by 2050. And Social Security and Medicare will be insolvent in less than 20 years.

This level of debt is unsustainable, and it slows economic growth and the creation of new jobs.

Congress knows what needs to be done, they just lack the political courage to do it.

How interesting. I don’t remember hearing Chris Vance voice any concern about the national debt back when he was Republican Party Chair and George W. Bush was serving up tax cuts for the wealthy while financing the occupation of Iraq on credit.

I get that it was Vance’s job back then to be a cheerleader and toe the party line, but why did he hold that job if he is opposed on principle to our country running a large national debt? It’s his own party that’s to blame for the fiscal irresponsibility of the mid-2000s. Republicans were in control of every branch of the federal government for years. They held the presidency and both houses of Congress. Plus, conservative justices appointed by Republicans have long had a majority on the Supreme Court.

We are not opposed to making strides towards paying down our national debt. There’s an easy way to do that without resorting to harmful cuts in public services: Raise taxes on America’s wealthiest families. Our nation’s billionaires possess the means to support their country and ought to be paying their fair share in dues anyway. It is patriotic to be a taxpayer and pay dues. As Warren Buffet declared a few years ago, there is no need for Congress to coddle the super rich.

With that said, as Paul Krugman recently observed in his New York Times column, those who obsess over our national debt as though it’s a scourge don’t deserve to be listened to. We have carried debt since before we were actually a country, and it hasn’t stopped us from becoming the global superpower we are today. Krugman makes the case that having a national debt is actually a healthy thing. He writes:

Believe it or not, many economists argue that the economy needs a sufficient amount of public debt out there to function well. And how much is sufficient? Maybe more than we currently have. That is, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that part of what ails the world economy right now is that governments aren’t deep enough in debt.

I know that may sound crazy. After all, we’ve spent much of the past five or six years in a state of fiscal panic, with all the Very Serious People declaring that we must slash deficits and reduce debt now now now or we’ll turn into Greece, Greece I tell you.

But the power of the deficit scolds was always a triumph of ideology over evidence, and a growing number of genuinely serious people — most recently Narayana Kocherlakota, the departing president of the Minneapolis Fed — are making the case that we need more, not less, government debt.

Vance would probably say that Krugman is crazy, along with other macroeconomists who hold the same view. But we think Krugman’s macroeconomic analysis is solid. As the Nobel laureate goes on to explain, public debt serves a useful function.

Why?

One answer is that issuing debt is a way to pay for useful things, and we should do more of that when the price is right.

The United States suffers from obvious deficiencies in roads, rails, water systems and more; meanwhile, the federal government can borrow at historically low interest rates. So this is a very good time to be borrowing and investing in the future, and a very bad time for what has actually happened: an unprecedented decline in public construction spending adjusted for population growth and inflation.

Beyond that, those very low interest rates are telling us something about what markets want. I’ve already mentioned that having at least some government debt outstanding helps the economy function better. How so? The answer, according to M.I.T.’s Ricardo Caballero and others, is that the debt of stable, reliable governments provides “safe assets” that help investors manage risks, make transactions easier and avoid a destructive scramble for cash.

If Vance’s top priority were tackling America’s infrastructure deficit, as opposed to fiscal deficits, he’d be one of the most intriguing Republican candidates this state and country have seen in recent times.

Sadly, he appears to be just another Pete Peterson acolyte, singing the same tired Fix the Debt tune that has been sung by Beltway insiders for years.

Vance’s claim that Social Security and Medicare will be insolvent in “less than twenty years” is completely, utterly, totally wrong. Social Security and Medicare are well-run vital public services that Americans rely on every day. The danger they face is not insolvency, but intentional dismantling at the hands of Republicans like Vance.

In their excellent book Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All, authors Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson extensively debunk the myth that Social Security and Medicare will soon be insolvent. Their analysis is well worth reading. They write:

CHARGE: Spending on entitlements — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — is by far the major cause of federal deficits and debt. Left unchecked, this spending will bankrupt the nation.

TRUTH: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are very different programs, with different structures and purposes. Lumping them together confuses clear analysis.

Moreover, as discussed in chapter 9, “entitlement” sounds to typical Americans like a government handout. Social Security and Medicare are earned through hard work, deductions from pay, and premiums. Medicaid ensures that the very sick and poorest among us can obtain medical care, sometimes lifesaving medical care.

When one treats these three programs as distinct, several points become clear. First, Social Security does not add a penny to the public debt. By law, it cannot pay benefits without sufficient income to cover the costs, and it has no borrowing authority.

Moreover, the drivers of our current, short-term budget deficits were two wars fought on a credit card, tax cuts for the wealthy, the Great Recession, and the spending required to bail out the banks that crashed the economy [the Troubled Asset Relief Program] and begin to restore the economy more generally.

In the long term, our projected deficits are caused by unsustainable health care costs, private as well as public. In chapter 8, figure 8.1 shows that Social Security’s costs are essentially a flat line, at around 6 percent of GDP. In contrast, figure 10.1, produced in 2007 by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, illustrates that, if healthcare costs — private and public — were to continue to rise as they did from 1975 through 2005, these costs would consume a whopping 99 percent of GDP in seventy-five years.

Obviously, not even a country as wealthy as ours can spend 99 percent of its GDP on healthcare. Figure 10.2 uses more recent data, including a recent slowdown in healthcare costs and the projected impact of the Affordable Care Act. It also projects out just a few years.

Still, the trend is the same. What figures 10.1 and 10.2 reveal is that the rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid are symptoms of our inefficient and overly expensive healthcare system, not causes. Indeed, Medicare’s per capita administrative costs are lower than those in the private sector — around 2 percent of program expenditures versus 11 to 17 percent in private plans —  despite covering seniors and people with disabilities, groups that, on average, need more medical care.

Even more striking, Medicaid, which has the complicated administrative burden of means-testing those it covers, also has much lower administrative costs than private insurance — just 4.52 percent in 2012.

If the United States had the same per capita healthcare cost as any other industrialized country, our nation would project long-term federal budget surpluses for the next seventy-five years and beyond.

(The highly respected Center for Economic Policy Research has an online calculator that allows you to pick any of those other countries and see the effect on the U.S. budget.)

Nancy and Eric are spot on. What we need are not more candidates like Vance, but real champions who will protect and expand Social Security, as well as Medicare.

By expanding Medicare (America needs Medicare For All!), we could arrest the aforementioned skyrocketing healthcare costs and cover everybody under one system. Our vision as progressives is a family doctor for every American family. Healthcare shouldn’t have to be affordable, it should just be available, period.

A decade ago, Patty Murray stood up against George W. Bush’s attempts to privatize and destroy Social Security (as did many other Democrats). At the time, she had just been reelected to her third term in the Senate, easily defeating Congressman George Nethercutt, who had beaten Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley in Washington’s 5th Congressional District ten years prior.

During the campaign the preceding year, she went all around the state giving a stump speech decrying the policies of the Bush administration. Murray would describe and denounce an action taken by the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress, and then emphatically declare, “They’ve got the wrong priorities!” It was a very compelling speech that reliably and repeatedly brought Democratic audiences to their feet. I can picture Murray giving it to this day.

Like the Republicans of the Bush error, Chris Vance has the wrong priorities. That’s why I don’t foresee him doing very well against Patty Murray in 2016. There’s a reason Patty has won four consecutive terms in the U.S. Senate representing Washington: she has a strong connection with the people of our great state. She’s been a dependable leader and is unquestionably a formidable candidate.

Republicans underestimate Patty Murray at their peril.

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  1. […] knew the GOP would run someone against Patty Murray, and there’s worse they could do than Chris Vance. I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to call him a sacrificial lamb, but it’s […]

    Ping from Vance | HorsesAss.Org :: September 10th, 2015 at 5:19 PM