NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting 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.


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
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