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Archive for March 25th, 2011

The old joke in Washington is that Democrats are the evil party and Republicans are the stupid party (which is why you should guard your wallet and freedom whenever you hear talk of “bipartisanship”).

The GOP definitely is doing what it can to prove that at least one side of that joke is true. Republicans are actually talking about letting the debt limit increase in exchange for a vote on a balanced budget amendment.

Yes, you read correctly. They’re not talking about an increase in the debt limit in exchange for a balanced budget, or more borrowing authority in exchange for passage of a balanced budget amendment. Instead, they will roll over for the very low price of simply getting a vote on a proposed amendment.

Here’s a passage from a report in Human Events.

The Senate Republicans are preparing to tell President Obama that they want a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the Constitution passed in Congress in exchange for raising the statuary debt ceiling above $14.2 trillion. “My hope is that we would force a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment as a condition to voting on the debt ceiling,” Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) told HUMAN EVENTS.  “By next week, or shortly thereafter, we will have all 47 Republicans unified behind the effort, and then begin to reach out to our Democratic colleagues.”

To understand the foolishness of this approach, here’s all you need to know.

1. If Republicans really want to force a vote on a balanced budget amendment, they basically have that ability already. The rules of the Senate give individual Senators considerable ability to disrupt ordinary business and force votes on motions that at the very least would be proxies for a BBA. And if all 47 Republicans really want to make a stink, they can grind the Senate to a halt and demand an up-or-down vote on a specific amendment.

In other words, Republicans are about to give the democrats something that they really want – an increase in the debt limit – in exchange for a vote that they could get anyhow.

2. More important, what makes them think it is a good deal to give Obama more borrowing authority in exchange for something that, at best, is symbolic? Everyone knows that there is zero chance of getting the necessary two-thirds vote to approve a balanced budget amendment.

That’s not an argument against having a vote (particularly if the BBA is well-written with real limits on taxes and the size of government), but it definitely is not a smart negotiating strategy. It’s sort of akin to trading a power-hitting all-star for a minor league utility player.

Fiscal conservatives should demand substance, not symbolism, in exchange for a higher debt limit. I’ll put forth a few ideas in next few days.

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I commented yesterday about the silly idea, being promoted by a few politicians, to impose a tax on toilet paper. That post mostly was an opportunity to have some fun mocking greedy government because even a dour pessimist like me doesn’t expect that idea to get very far.

But there’s a new tax idea that sounds equally absurd, but actually is a much greater threat to taxpayers. The bureaucrats at the Congressional Budget Office have issued a report suggesting a tax based on the number of miles driven. Since such a tax almost surely (despite initial assertions to the contrary) would be in addition to existing gas taxes, this would be a way for politicians to grab more of our money.

But that’s not the only thing we should worry about. To impose such a tax, the government obviously would need the ability to track our vehicle usage. At the risk of stating the obvious, my driving patters are not the government’s business.

Here’s a blurb from a report in The Hill.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this week released a report that said taxing people based on how many miles they drive is a possible option for raising new revenues and that these taxes could be used to offset the costs of highway maintenance at a time when federal funds are short. The report discussed the proposal in great detail, including the development of technology that would allow total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to be tracked, reported and taxed, as well as the pros and cons of mandating the installation of this technology in all vehicles. …The report was requested by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who held a hearing on transportation funding in early March. In that hearing, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the Obama administration is hoping to spend $556 billion over the next six years, much of which would go to federal transportation improvement projects. Conrad said in response that federal funds are tight, and in asking for recommendations on how to raise that money, he noted the possibility of a VMT tax as a way to solve the problem of collecting less in taxes as people move to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

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