Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Senator Marco Rubio and the National Press Club

Jerry Stratton, May 15, 2014

Marco Rubio is still talking smart on immigration reform and yet still supporting the Senate’s “comprehensive” immigration reform bill. I honestly wonder if he knows how badly he was rolled by Senate Democrats.

I saw Rubio speak on Tuesday at the National Press Club in DC, where I attended as a representative of the blog culture, to borrow a phrase from Hunter Thompson. The actual subject was “retirement security” but the National Press Club being what it is—a club for the national press—they gave him the opportunity to alienate his base again. But he navigated those dangerous shoals as well as could be expected.

He said that “we have a legal immigration system that doesn’t work”, and that we need to shift from a system based on “family integration to one based on merit and skill”. But he acknowledged that people are afraid amnesty (not the term he used, of course) will happen but that enforcement will not, that twenty years down we’ll have twelve million illegal aliens again, as happened with the 1986 reforms. “In fact, much of the opposition was legitimate concerns and objections.”

The last was in response to an attempt to get him to either alienate the tea party or tie the tea party around his neck, and it was a good response. But if Rubio actually believed what he said about the opposition’s legitimate concerns, he should break his comprehensive bill into multiple focused bills: pass enforcement to show that this time, congress is taking enforcement seriously, and then once enforcement has been proven, pass non-amnesty, or whatever you want to call it.

At the end he said, “we need to have immigration laws we can enforce.”

The last part is critical. The system we have now harms people who follow the law and encourages people to break the law. It is the opposite of a good immigration system. We want to attract the law-abiding and discourage criminals. We should not have laws we are not willing to enforce.

But, as I said, Rubio didn’t come here to talk about immigration1 , he came to talk about saving Medicare and Social Security. If there is any indication that Marco Rubio is not going to run for President—or another term in Florida, for that matter—it’s that he has apparently chosen Social Security and Medicare as top legislative priorities.

Rubio’s first reform is to shore up individual retirement savings by opening up the federal Thrift Savings Plan to the general public. Making it easier to save for retirement outside of company-sponsored plans is a great idea; making it a federally-managed plan is not particularly well thought-out.

Part of the reason people don’t save is because it’s difficult: the tax laws are complex both at the time of saving and at withdrawal time. The correct solution is to simplify private savings.

At the luncheon, each table had a couple of question cards that we could write questions on and pass them up to the head table2 . I saw my question get passed up until it reached a press table—who refused to pass it further, and so it was passed back around to me. You may see me in some videos of the event; I’m the guy walking up the center, turning right, and then handing a card directly to the head table.

As it turns out, they still didn’t use my question, which was

How will you keep Congress from “borrowing” from the TSP?

I expect it was the use of “scare” quotes that put the question at the bottom of the pile. Perhaps I should have asked whether the TSP would be open to undocumented immigrants.

photo 2 for Marco Rubio at the NPC

What Florida means to the beltway: flamingos and alligators. Politically, they may be right.

Medicare, he said, desperately needs reform. Untouched, Medicare funds will dry up in twelve years, in 2026. Throughout the talk he repeated that it will be a lot easier to reform these programs now than if we wait until the last minute—and that in financial terms, 2026 is awfully close to the last minute.3

He wants to open up Medicare to the savings of competition. He finds Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D, and Paul Ryan praiseworthy. His Medicare vouchers most likely will support true competition, as, he said, seniors will be allowed to keep the savings if their plan costs less than the voucher. That’s good. As he said at the talk, competition means a “decrease in prices and an increase in choices”, which he said is already occurring under Medicare Advantage.

In general, Rubio’s ideas were in the right direction. What I’d worry about is that he still trusts government too much. Just as he trusts the federal government to delay his non-amnesty until enforcement has been “certified”, he trusts the federal government not to abuse a big new pile of retirement savings. But history tells us this trust is sorely misplaced. Reforms should move toward giving people more control of their retirement, and should not move toward giving the federal government more piles of money to shift around.

In response to 2014 in photos: For photos and perhaps other quick notes sent from my mobile device or written on the fly during 2014.

  1. Immigration, I suspect, is very important to the National Press Club. I noticed that their service staff speaks to each other in Spanish.

  2. The instructions were on each card, as well as voiced at the beginning of the luncheon

  3. The National Press Club also appears to be going through a budget crunch. I turned my coffee cup over shortly after lunch began, as I don’t drink coffee. About halfway through the speech, one of the waiters took it (which I expected, of course) and brought it to someone at one of the press tables. I still haven’t decided if that meant disdain for us non-press or disdain for the press.

  1. News candy ->