Decoding the Debates: Fugitive Notes on Federal Economic Policy

Dr. Charles Blahous, political economist and former senatorial adviser, presidential adviser, and Security and Medicare public trustee, has a unique perspective on the policy debates that have had major impacts on US federal finances over the last decade.  Decoding the Debates: Fugitive Notes on Federal Economic Policy collects Blahous’s cogent and informed contemporaneous commentary on policy developments as they occurred.

Originally published at E21, an economics web portal, these short essays offer insightful analyses of the policy debates on healthcare (Affordable Care Act, Medicare for All), Social Security financing, the Federal budget, and other problems, such as why the government repeatedly doubles down on counterproductive interventions. Blahous continually questions advocates’ policy claims by evaluating the tradeoffs and considering outcomes beyond standard talking points. He manages to achieve an unusual degree of objectivity by presenting essential information in a way that considers and addresses all arguments, distinguishing his undisputed analysis from his policy conclusions, and allowing readers to draw their own opinions. His essays reveal a persistent skepticism about the government’s ability to overcome challenges more effectively than freely acting individuals can through market processes. 

Each essay is prefaced with a short note putting the essay into context and explaining its relevancy to current debates. Several of Dr. Blahous’s predictions have since become reality, and his analyses of the earlier debates provide valuable insight for future policymakers and staff working to address pressing issues like retirement security and growing healthcare costs. Decoding the Debates offers not only unique snapshots from a decade of debate but also Dr. Blahous’s distilled experiences, knowledge, considerations, and explanations as an asset for all who are dedicated to resolving policy challenges for the public good.


Author’s Note

PART 1 The Healthcare Debate

  • The Fiscal Consequences of the Affordable Care Act
  • Expanding Medicaid: The Conflicting Incentives Facing States 
  • No Grounds for Claim That the ACA Lowers Healthcare Costs 
  • The ACA Lowers Employment, and That’s Terrible News 
  • I Was Right about the ACA
  • Five Lessons of the Cadillac Plan Tax Failure
  • Why the ACA’s Medicaid Expansion Needs to Be Fixed
  • Lawmakers Can’t Afford to Give Up on Fixing the ACA
  • Who Should Pay to Cover Pre-existing Conditions? 
  • Medicaid Scare Tactics Are Irresponsible 
  • The Spurious “People Will Die” Claim 
  • The Fiscal Implausibility of Medicare for All 
  • Questions and Answers about Medicare for All’s Costs 

PART 2 Social Security 

  • Slowing Down Social Security’s Retirement Age Increase 
  • Is It Becoming Too Late to Fix Social Security’s Finances? 
  • The End of Social Security Self-Financing: What Next?
  • Understanding Social Security Benefit Adequacy: Why Benefit Growth Should Be Slowed
  • Don’t Worsen Social Security’s Soaring Cost Problem
  • Warning: Disability Insurance Is Hitting the Wall 
  • Future Work Still Needed after Budget’s Disability Fix 
  • How Social Security’s COLA Politics Leads to Bad Policy 
  • A Balanced Bipartisan Compromise for Strengthening Retirement Security 
  • Stabilizing Social Security without Raising Taxes 
  • Taxing More Earnings Won’t Fix Social Security’s Finances 
  • Seven Social Security Myths 

PART 3 The Federal Budget 

  • Reforming CPI: Not a “Grand Bargain” but a Prudent Reform
  • Should Congress Change CBO’s Scorekeeping Rules? 
  • How Did Federal Surpluses Become Huge Deficits? (Hint: It Wasn’t Because of Tax Cuts for the Rich) 
  • The Federal Fiscal Predicament: What Seems Better Is Actually Worse 
  • Why We Have Federal Deficits 
  • To Understand the Federal Budget, Get Past the Baseline Game 
  • Mindless Yes, Austerity No: The Real Budget Problem 
  • The One Budget Reform That Matters 
  • Rising Entitlement Spending Is Straining the Budget 

PART 4 Other Economic Issues

  • The Real Bipartisan Compromise: Cut Spending on the Rich 
  • Does the Government Really Need More Help Than the Private Sector?
  • Minimum Wage Laws Are Barriers to Employment 
  • Keeping People Working: The Leading Economic Policy Challenge of Our Time 
  • Averting the Multiemployer Pension Solvency Crisis 

PART 5 Behind the Scenes 

  • Why Tell-All Books Distort Rather Than Illuminate the White House Policy Process
  • Picking the Right CBO Director
  • Why Government Doubles Down on Policy Mistakes
  • The Importance of the National Economic Council 
  • Afterword 
  • About the Author