January 6, 2011


Budget Hawk Eyes Deficit (DAVID LEONHARDT, 1/04/11, NY Times)

In person, he lives up to his reputation of lacking a politician’s usual airs. Ten minutes before the scheduled start of our interview, he wandered out of his office, on the second floor of the grand State Capitol, and poured himself coffee into a paper cup. He was wearing a bright blue shirt with a logo reading “Indiana accelerates your business” that seemed like something from a company retreat.

Over the next 90 minutes, he laid out what amounted to a three-part vision of American government.

The first part revolves around simply making government work better. “Government is, essentially, the last monopoly,” he said. “Monopolies tend to abuse their position. They overcharge and underserve their customers.” No matter how bad the service at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, you can’t get your license anywhere else.

So Mr. Daniels has tried to “implant accountability,” as he puts it. The state measures workers’ performance and has given bigger raises to top performers. Mr. Daniels also holds an annual ceremony to celebrate workers who have saved Indiana money.

The focus on performance has allowed the state to reduce its work force, largely through attrition, and still function well. [...]

The second part of the Daniels agenda is more ideological. To deal with the huge projected deficits, he favors major changes to Medicare and Social Security, rather than any increase in taxes.

Benefits should be cut for high-income and healthy people. The gradual increase in Social Security benefits over time should be cut, so that tomorrow’s retirees get the same benefits (after adjusting for inflation) as today’s. And the eligibility age of both programs should increase.

Today’s children “will live to be more than 100,” he told me. “They’ll be replacing body parts like we do tires.”

He also thinks that people should save money when they choose less expensive Medicare treatments and lose money when they choose more expensive ones. Progressives, he said, believe in letting experts decide which treatments the government will cover. He wants individuals to decide what care they will get.

Today, people understandably push for the most expensive treatments because they don’t pay the bill. He would prefer that if you and your family choose to spend tens of thousands of dollars on your final weeks of life, you understand that “the inheritance you will leave to your kids is going to be wiped out, cut in half or something.” Either way, he acknowledged, the choice is “impossibly difficult.”

Finally, Mr. Daniels likes to describe himself as a Whig, after the 19th-century political party whose modernizing agenda attracted Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay.

Mr. Daniels says the government must be aggressive at doing things the private sector cannot, like improving schools and building roads. “The nation really needs to rebuild,” he said. As a good Whig would, he has pushed all of Indiana onto daylight saving time — so that the time no longer maddeningly changes as you drive around the state — and he’s consolidated some unwieldy local governments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 6, 2011 6:00 AM
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