Bruce Bartlett served as an advisor in the Reagan Administration and in the Department of the Treasury in the George H. Bush Administration. He later worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis and is now a newspaper columnist and a New York Times
bestselling author whose books include The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and The New Way Forward
. In October, he released a new book, The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Facts From Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks
. This interview, which has been lightly edited, is taken from an upcoming appearance on the radio version of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel
, which will air at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. Read the first part of this interview here.
What did you make of the healthcare debate this year?
Once Trump said that called, in effect, his own party's bluff by saying, "I'm not going to sign a bill to repeal Obamacare, unless we have something immediately available to replace it." See, the Republicans never intended to replace Obamacare with anything. They were just lying year, after year, after year saying, "We've got a bill to replace Obamacare and it will be 100 times better. We're just going to keep it secret until we have the votes to enact it," or something. But nobody told Trump that this was the plan, you see. He actually thought they had something. So when he said, "I want a replacement," their bluff was called and it immediately became apparent that the emperor was wearing no clothes. There was nothing there and that pretty much led to the result that we saw. Although, again, Republicans are very, very focused and they're still going to try to get the mandate repealed in this tax bill. The mandate is absolutely essential to making Obamacare work, so if they knock that pillar out from under it, it may well collapse and they will achieve their goal.
What was your assessment of the Affordable Care Act?
I mean, I supported it because it was better than nothing, but just barely. I think the whole political strategy of the Obama Administration was very, very poor. They really played into the Republicans' hands. What I think Obama should have done is put out something much, much more aggressive that included a public option. I would even support single payer, knowing that it wasn't going to pass. But if he had put that out, it's inevitable, in my opinion, that Republicans would have turned to something like the Heritage Plan, which was implemented by Mitt Romney up in Massachusetts, which is very, very similar to Obamacare. Republicans would have put that forward as their alternative. Then you could have had a bipartisan compromise that would, I think, at the end of the day, look a lot like Obamacare, except that it would be bipartisan, and it would be stable, and would not be perpetually in danger of being abolished.
So you think the Obama Administration gave away too much at the start by just trying to start with the Heritage Foundation blueprint?
Yeah, but it's not entirely an Obama problem. I mean, I've worked at the White House and I know how they think. When presidents put forward proposals, they never build in anything to negotiate with, you see. They have this tendency to think, well, I'm going to send forward the perfect plan, and I'm going to make the assumption that it will be enacted exactly the way I proposed it. So they put in a lot of provisions in their legislation that cannot be compromised on, because they underpin other provisions, you see. Then they're always blindsided when Congress says, "Hey, we're going to start from scratch. We're going to do our own thing. We're going to rebuild this thing from the beginning." Then all the compromises and things in the proposal that all had to be there for it to work, all-of-the-sudden, that all falls to pieces and you're left with a mishmash. That's a lot of what happened with Obamacare.
Obama also had some conservative Democrats in the Senate he had to work around in order to get something through, as well.
That was less of a problem, frankly, than the fact that a lot of liberals, especially in the House, wanted something more aggressive. So, I think, Obama hurt himself, rhetorically, by appealing to them by trying to make Obamacare look more liberal than it actually was, in order to get those liberal votes, because once he had lost all Republican votes, he had to get every single Democrat to support it. Actually, it was those on the left that were the hard ones to get.
What is your assessment of the Trump Administration?
Well, it's a disaster. I mean, Trump is unquestionably the most incompetent, most inept, most ignorant president we've ever had in our history. I'm afraid that he's doing so much damage to our country, to our government, that we may not be able to recover. It will take decades and a lot of really hard work. I mean, look, for example, at what he's doing at the State Department. He's gutting the whole department. They're getting rid of thousands of highly trained, experienced, people who know about foreign policy and know about different countries. But Trump's view is, we're America first, we don't give a damn about any other country. They can all go screw. We don't need a State Department. Why should we bother interacting with these people? You know, who cares? And he doesn't even care about his own people. I mean, just look at the continuing suffering that's going on in Puerto Rico, where he's treating them like a foreign country. He refuses to give any aide. The people there are, literally, dying and he doesn't give a damn. He's busy playing golf.
It certainly looks as though some of the polling suggests Democrats might do very well next year, but you think that might be a short-lived victory.
Well, I think if the tax cut passes, the Democrats are screwed because they're going to be forced to cleanup this fiscal mess that Republicans are going to leave them. In the first place, if they get control of Congress next year, they're not going to be able to do anything because Trump will veto anything that they do and they're not going to be able to override.
Secondly, like I said earlier, all these Republican deficit hawks we've been deafly silent, you know, for months, are going to suddenly emerge, you know, the minute the tax cut is signed into law saying, "Oh my God, the deficit suddenly, mysteriously, became hugely bigger. It's threatening national bankruptcy. We absolutely have to cut the deficit." Since they won't raise taxes, they'll demand cuts in Social Security, Medicare. Democrats will waste all of their capital trying to save those programs and, I think, that once they get another Democratic president, maybe, in 2020, they'll be forced to raise taxes. This will be very unpopular. The Medicare cuts will also be unpopular. And, I think, Republicans may well be back in control by 2022, and by 2024 they'll have another president. And it's off to the races and they can just start this whole process all over again, of slashing taxes, forcing spending cuts, downsizing government. At some point, people are going to look at programs like Social Security and say, "God, they've made so many cuts to this program, it's hardly worth having. Let's just do what the Republicans want to do and privatize it." And Wall Street will get rich off of all the fees. That's their longterm goal.
Is that similar to what happened with the Obama Administration, where he had to clean up the mess after Bush?
Well, that's exactly right. Both Clinton and Obama spent an enormous amount of their political capital, not advancing their own agenda, but simply responding to the conditions that Republicans forced upon them. And Republicans know this, even if Democrats don't, and that's why they're doing what they're doing. They want to tie the hands of Democrats for, maybe, a decade or more into cleaning up their fiscal mess.
Let's talk about the role of the media here. That's a subject of your new book, The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Fact From Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks. Why did you decide to write this?
Well, because of the election results. I felt that a lot of the problem, the political problems, that we had, and still have, and are evident every day, result from problems in the media. The most important problem is simply economic, namely that they lost so much. The major media has lost so much advertising, it doesn't have the resources to do its job properly anymore. I think readers and consumers are ill served in many ways and what I tried to do is give them some suggestions for how they can respond and still get reputable news that they can depend upon.