WASHINGTON -- As Harvard's president, Larry Summers, economist and former Treasury secretary, was a lion in a den of Daniels. The faculty Daniels, their tender feelings hurt by his occasional testiness, cowered together and declared him a meanie. Facing a faculty vote of no confidence, he resigned.
Now he is Barack Obama's principal economic adviser. So, weary of John Boehner, leader of House Republicans, dwelling on rising unemployment, Summers sent him a letter. In it he said, as Obama and his minions so consistently do, something that may be the text of this year's White House Christmas card: At least we are not George Bush, so there. Summers said Obama "is committed to not repeating the fiscal mistakes of the last eight years."
The letter, like its author, is trenchant and intelligent. He notes that job creation was much better during the eight Clinton years -- an average of 225,000 per month -- than between November 2001, the end of the last recession, and December 2007, the beginning of this one, when the monthly average was just 94,000. And Summers tartly reminds Boehner that in 2003 the Republican-controlled Congress passed a new prescription drug entitlement "that was not offset by either spending cuts or tax increases" and that in its first decade will cost more than $1 trillion, including interest on the necessary borrowing.
But speaking of unfunded medical entitlements: The furrowed Washington brows that currently express faux puzzlement about how the new health care entitlement -- aka "reform" -- will be paid for are theatrical. There is no mystery. The new entitlement will be paid for, to a significant extent, the way much of government is paid for -- by borrowing from China.
Republicans are operatic when they pretend to take seriously, in order to wax indignant about, the Democrats' professed plan to partially pay for Sen. Max Baucus' version of reform by cutting at least $400 billion from Medicare. Supporters of the Baucus bill are guilty of many things, but not, regarding such cuts, of sincerity. Congress regularly vows to make Medicare cuts, and as regularly defers them.