Howard Dean has apparently decided to keep running himself, and the DNC with him, right off the cliff of reasonableness in his rhetorical battle with Republicans. He's decided against discussing policy differences and actually countering Republican arguments, opting instead for invective and exaggeration.
Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said Saturday that positive responses from key supporters have reinforced his determination to keep talking tough even though some congressional Democrats have suggested he should tone down his rhetoric.
"People want us to fight," Dean told the national party's executive committee. "We are here to fight."
Addressing Iowa party activitists later Saturday in Des Moines, he added: "We need to be blunt and clear about the things we're going to fight for. I'm tired of lying down in front of the Republican machine. We need to stand up for what we believe in."
He then ventured into a couple of policy specifics. I'll stay away from invective, and instead review his claims regarding those policies.
"The reason the Republicans are in trouble is because there are so many cases where they say one thing and do something else," Dean said.
He said President Bush's education initiative, the "No Child Left Behind" program, cuts school spending and a clean environment plan, the "Clear Skies Initiative," permits more pollution.
Diving right in, the first complaint, the spending cuts under NCLB, appears unfounded. Here's the fact sheet from the House Education & Workforce Committee, chaired by John Boehner, (R-OH). The committee is chaired by a Republican, but with a significant Democrat component (22 of 49 members).
- No more spending without accountability. Prior to NCLB, states accepted billions of dollars a year in federal education aid, but were not held accountable for using that money to get academic results for all children. Disadvantaged students were written off as unteachable and shuffled through the system without receiving a quality education – and federal law endorsed this practice.
- A 40 percent boost in federal K-12 education funding. Funding for major elementary and secondary education programs increased by 40 percent in just the first three years of NCLB. In FY 2005, states and local schools will receive $24.4 billion in federal elementary and secondary education aid. Funding for Title I, the primary funding stream in NCLB, has increased to historic levels as well. In fact, because of NCLB, Title I received a larger increase during the first two years of President George W. Bush's administration alone than it did during the previous eight years combined under President Bill Clinton.
- Republicans have increased education spending by 150 percent. Since Republicans took control of Congress eight years ago, federal education funding has increased significantly. Funding for the U.S. Department of Education has increased by 150 percent under GOP control of the House, from $23 billion in FY 1996 to nearly $57 billion in FY 2005.
- A report from the nonpartisan GAO, requested by Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) and released in the 108th Congress, upholds Republican claims that the No Child Left Behind Act is not an unfunded mandate. The GAO reviewed more than 500 different statutes and regulations enacted in 2001 and 2002, including Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports about NCLB, and concluded NCLB was not an unfunded mandate.
So where is the spending cut? There's a lot more in the fact sheet that I haven't excerpted that refutes that contention, and Dr. Dean doesn't say.
We do have this statement from Rep. Miller (D-CA) and Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) and this Massachusetts Teacher's Association statement as an indication. The complaint apparently stems from difficulty that some schools with limited English speaking students and disabled students have in meeting the requirements of NCLB. There were modifications made in the guidelines for assessing those scores, but that can still be hardly considered a "cut."
So, how about The Clear Skies Initiative? Here are the White House claims about the CSI. They include the following:
- Cuts sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 73 percent, from current emissions of 11 million tons to a cap of 4.5 million tons in 2010, and 3 million tons in 2018.
- Cuts emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 67 percent, from current emissions of 5 million tons to a cap of 2.1 million tons in 2008, and to 1.7 million tons in 2018.
- Cuts mercury emissions by 69 percent -- the first-ever national cap on mercury emissions. Emissions will be cut from current emissions of 48 tons to a cap of 26 tons in 2010, and 15 tons in 2018.
And then this on greenhouse gases:
- Cutting Greenhouse Gas Intensity by 18 Percent Over the Next 10 Years. Greenhouse gas intensity is the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output. The President's goal seeks to lower our rate of emissions from an estimated 183 metric tons per million dollars of GDP in 2002, to 151 metric tons per million dollars of GDP in 2012 ... This goal is comparable to the average progress that nations participating in the Kyoto Protocol are required to achieve.
What are the objections? They amount to the same complaints that have previously been recognized as bogus as applied to government funding. To wit:
"If you propose to increase spending by less than we want, it's a cut."
So the claim is made that
In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush touted a plan that mandates a 70 percent cut in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years. But why is the Administration bragging about a plan that will actually result in more pollution than if we simply enforced the existing Clean Air Act?
Note that the statement is not, even at the outset of this document, that the proposal is to increase pollution, but to fail to reduce it by as much as currently promised, which is not guaranteed.
Here's an industry statement on the controversy, from the Foundation for Clean Air Progress.
Unfortunately, I live in the real world, not in the fantasy world where hopes for the future can claim to be etched in stone as inarguable fact. Obviously there are competing interests, and competing claims, and people can choose sides and go with a more measured reduction in pollutants that, sure, may benefit the businesses involved, or go with a more aggressive reduction with potentially higher costs to the economy that reduce growth. That, however, is a policy discussion, and both approaches still amount to reductions.
Back in 1965 the government claimed, when Medicare was established, that it would always pay physicians at full fee for service, and that is certainly not the case now. The Sierra Club's hopes for pollutant levels under the prior 1970 Clean Air Act (updated in 1977 and 1990) does not amount to certainty about what those levels would actually be twenty years from now. We know what they are now, and Bush's plan does call for reducing them. This is not an increase in pollution.
Perhaps that is why Dr. Dean is resorting to invective and hyperbole. He may not have a capacity to win on the facts.