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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Let’s do a simple thought experiment and answer the following question: Do you think that additional laws from Washington will give you more freedom and more prosperity?

I don’t know how you will answer, but I strongly suspect most Americans will say “no.” Indeed, they’ll probably augment their “no” answers with a few words that wouldn’t be appropriate to repeat in polite company.

That’s because taxpayers instinctively understand that more activity in Washington usually translates into bigger and more expensive government. Or, to be more colloquial, this image summarizes how they view Washington. And the last thing you want is more “action” when you’re on the lower floor.

Sort of like living downwind from the sewage treatment plant.

So what’s the purpose of our thought experiment? Well, new numbers have been released showing that the current Congress is going to set a modern-era record for imposing the fewest new laws.

But while most of us think this is probably good news, Washington insiders are whining and complaining about “diminished productivity” in Congress. The Washington Post, which is the voice of DC’s parasite class, is very disappointed that lawmakers aren’t enacting more taxes, more spending, and more regulation.

…this Congress — which is set to adjourn for the year later this month — has enacted 52 public laws. By comparison, …90 laws were encated during the first year of the 113th Congress and 137 were put in place during the first year of the 111th Congress.

Just in case you don’t have a beltway mindset, another Washington Post report also tells you that fewer laws is a bad thing.

…whatever gets done in December will still be part of a year with record-low congressional accomplishment. …According to congressional records, there have been fewer than 60 public laws enacted in the first 11 months of this year, so below the previous low in legislative output that officials have already declared this first session of the 113th Congress the least productive ever.

Let’s actually look at some evidence. The first session of the current Congress may have been the “least productive” in history when it comes to imposing new laws, but what’s the actual result?

Well, there are probably many ways this could be measured, but one of the most obvious benchmarks is the federal budget.

And it appears that “record-low congressional accomplishment” translates into a smaller burden of government spending.

Indeed, government spending actually has declined for two consecutive years. That hasn’t happened since the 1950s.

And it’s worth reminding people that you begin to solve the symptom of red ink when you address the underlying disease of too much spending. That’s why the deficit has fallen by almost 50 percent in the past two years.

Interestingly, the Washington Post accidentally confirms that you get better policy when you have fewer news laws.

In 1995, when the newly empowered GOP congressional majority confronted the Clinton administration, 88 laws were enacted, the record low in the post-World War II era.

Needless to say, the author isn’t saying that we got good policy because there were a “record low” number of laws in 1995. But if we look at fiscal policy during that period, that’s when we began a multi-year period of spending restraint that led to budget surpluses.

In other words, we should be very grateful for “unproductive” politicians.

Now for some caveats.

It’s obviously a gross over-simplification to assert that the number of laws is correlated with good policy or bad policy. Sometimes politicians impose laws that increase the burden of government (with Obamacare being an obvious example).

But sometimes they enact laws that increase economic liberty and reduce government (with the sequester being a good example, even though very few politicians actually wanted that result).

To conclude, the message of this post is that we shouldn’t worry about “diminished productivity” in Washington if it means fewer bad laws.

That being said, we’ll never fix a corrupt tax code or reform bankrupt entitlement programs unless there are new laws to replace old laws that created bad policy.

P.S. Since we’re talking about low productivity in Washington, there’s good evidence that bureaucrats don’t work very hard compared to workers in the economy’s productive sector. But that’s probably a good thing. After all, do we want bureaucrats (like this one) being more diligent? That’s why we should focus on reducing their excessive compensation rather than encouraging them to put in a full day’s work.

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I have great sympathy for almost all segments of the population that have been disadvantaged by Obamacare.

Among the victims are many relatively powerless people, including children, low-income workers, and retirees.

It’s equally tragic that millions of families – notwithstanding the President’s oft-repeated promise – already have lost their insurance plans, and it’s a crisis that this number could swell to more than 50 million over the next year.

And taxpayers, needless to say, are going to incur heavy burdens because of the President’s reckless new entitlement.

Heck, compared to all these groups, the unfortunate people who merely had to endure the “third world experience” of the Obamacare website should consider themselves lucky.

Yet even though I am brimming with empathy for the victims of Obamacare, there is one group that is suffering and I can say without hesitation or reservation that the people affected don’t tug on my heart strings or engender feelings of sympathy.

I’m referring to the staffers on Capitol Hill. According to a Politico story, some of these folks are having to pay more thanks to the President’s scheme to expand government’s control over the healthcare system. Here are the key excerpts.

Veteran House Democratic aides are sick over the insurance prices they’ll pay under Obamacare, and they’re scrambling to find a cure. “In a shock to the system, the older staff in my office (folks over 59) have now found out their personal health insurance costs (even with the government contribution) have gone up 3-4 times what they were paying before,” Minh Ta, chief of staff to Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), wrote to fellow Democratic chiefs of staff… In the email, Ta noted that older congressional staffs may leave their jobs because of the change to their health insurance.

Oh no, they might leave? Perish the thought! Surely they have more money to waste, more regulations to impose, and higher taxes to approve.

You may detect a slight tone of sarcasm in my remarks, but that’s for a good reason. First of all, many of these staffers are only in an unpleasant situation because their bosses voted for Obamacare. If they want to complain, perhaps they should schedule a meeting with the power-hungry politicians that caused the mess in the first place.

Second, I have a hard time feeling much empathy for these people when the Obama Administration already has arbitrarily and illegally altered the law so that taxpayers will cover 75 percent of their health insurance expenditures. I realize there’s an entitlement mentality in Washington, but you would think these people would have some sense of shame!

Let’s finish by enjoying some new cartoons. Here’s one from Gary Varvel on the economic burden of Obamacare, which appeals to me for obvious reasons.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Economy Cartoon

By the way, if you like the Aflac duck and the GEICO gecko, here’s another Varvel cartoon you’ll appreciate.

Now we have a Bob Gorrell cartoon that starkly exposes the President’s illegal changes to Obamacare.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Constitution Cartoon

In other words, this bit of satire turned out to be reality.

Nate Beeler has a very good cartoon that captures Obama’s disdain for the suffering of ordinary people.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Lifesaver Cartoon

It fits in well with the Ramirez cartoon in this post.

Then we have Jerry Holbert showing a way to really punish Iran.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Iran Cartoon

Sort of like what Rand Paul said (quoting me!) about Syria.

Last but not least, here’s another Varvel cartoon that sums up what Obama staffers are trying to do.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Humpty Dumpty Cartoon

Surprisingly, this is only the second time I can recall sharing a cartoon featuring Humpty Dumpty.

But don’t laugh too hard at these cartoons. Obama may get the last laugh if he can survive the short-run political damage and create more long-run government dependency.

P.S. Actually, the title of this post is wrong. There is a group of people in America who don’t like Obamacare and – believe it or not – they are even less deserving of sympathy than the army of staffers on Capitol Hill.

P.P.S. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that politicians don’t deal with this issue by re-hiring the taxpayer-financed “grief counselors” who were used to console Democratic staffers after the 2010 elections.

P.P.P.S. Here’s a very funny parody video about the Obamacare disaster.

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Regular readers know that Washington is a very sleazy city. Just as rats and cockroaches are attracted to a dumpster, con artists and fraudsters are attracted to big government.

A bloated budget means many opportunities to get unearned wealth by being politically well connected. A loophole-ridden, 72,000-page tax code creates a sandbox for lobbyists. And special interest groups view Washington’s massive regulatory apparatus the way pigs view a mudbath.

You won’t be surprised to learn that politicians figure out how to get a cut of the action. Here are a few of the sordid details from a report in the Washington Post.

73 members of Congress…have sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested, according to a Washington Post analysis. The findings emerge from an examination by The Post of financial disclosure forms and public records for all 535 members of the House and Senate. The practice is both legal and permitted under the ethics rules that Congress has written for itself, which allow lawmakers to take actions that benefit themselves or their families except when they are the lone beneficiaries.

To be fair, the actions identified by the Washington Post are not necessarily immoral. A politician who supports a lower capital gains tax rate, for instance, presumably will benefit directly because of less double taxation on his investments and indirectly because of more prosperity.

I don’t view that as wrong. Indeed, the lawmakers use this kind of excuse to justify their behavior.

The legislators, in interviews and through spokesmen, said they saw no conflicts between their legislative actions and holdings. They added that they have a duty to advocate for their constituents, even when those interests align with their own.

But just because they use that excuse, that doesn’t mean their behavior is appropriate. There’s a simple way to determine what’s wrong, immoral, and corrupt.

If politicians take steps that enable everyone – including themselves – to keep more of their own money (or to earn additional money), that’s fine.

If they do something that enables anybody – including themselves – to take money or value from other people, that’s wrong.

Here’s my video explaining the connection between big government and corruption.

The moral of the story shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you, which is one of the rules of libertarianism that we hopefully learn in kindergarten (to see the rest of the rules, see the David Boaz quote in this post about Obama’s socialism-for-kids proposal).

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Although this line is attributed to many people, Wikiquote says that Gideon Tucker was the first to warn us that “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

This cartoon about Keynesian economics sort of makes the same point, but not with the same eloquence.

But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to focus on this grossly misleading headline in USA Today: “This Congress could be least productive since 1947.”

I don’t think it’s a case of media bias or inaccuracy, as we saw with the AP story on poverty, the Brian Ross Tea Party slur, or the Reuters report on job creation and so-called stimulus.

But it does blindly assume that it is productive to impose more laws. Was it productive to enact Obamacare? What about the faux stimulus? Or the Dodd-Frank bailout bill?

Wouldn’t the headline be more accurate if it read, “This Congress could be least destructive since 1947″?

Here are the relevant parts of the USA Today report.

Congress is on pace to make history with the least productive legislative year in the post World War II era. Just 61 bills have become law to date in 2012 out of 3,914 bills that have been introduced by lawmakers, or less than 2% of all proposed laws, according to a USA TODAY analysis of records since 1947 kept by the U.S. House Clerk’s office. In 2011, after Republicans took control of the U.S. House, Congress passed just 90 bills into law. The only other year in which Congress failed to pass at least 125 laws was 1995. …When Democrats controlled both chambers during the 111th Congress, 258 laws were enacted in 2010 and 125 in 2009, including President Obama’s health care law.

To be sure, not all legislation is bad. Now that the Supreme Court has failed in its job, Congress would have to enact a law to repeal Obamacare. Laws also would need to be changed to reform entitlements, or adopt a flat tax.

And some laws are benign, such as the enactment of Dairy Goat Awareness Week or naming a federal courthouse.

But I’m guessing that the vast majority of substantive laws are bad for freedom and result in less prosperity.

So let’s cross our fingers that future Congresses are even less productive (and therefore less destructive) than the current one.

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I’ve written before about the sleazy and corrupting impact of earmarks.

And I’ve debunked the lobbyist arguments in favor of earmarks.

Heck, I’ve even done NPR interviews about this unseemly Washington practice.

So I like to think I’m reasonably knowledgeable about the system. But even I’m shocked to learn how a former Massachusetts Congressman has taken graft to the next level.

And I’m slightly happy that he’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and feels compelled to give up his share of the loot.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the New York Times.

A former congressman who became a lobbyist has abandoned his plans to collect $90,000 from working on an energy project that he helped finance through Congress. …An apologetic Mr. Delahunt told town officials he wanted to eliminate the “black mark” created by questions of a possible financial conflict, Patrick Cannon, chairman of the Hull Light Board, said on Saturday. …Mr. Delahunt, a Democrat who retired from Congress last year, had faced criticism for the last week from legal and ethics specialists over the unusual lobbying arrangement he had struck with the town, which is seeking federal help to build an offshore wind energy plant at a cost of more than $60 million. While in Congress, Mr. Delahunt earmarked $1.7 million for the same project, and he was to be paid 80 percent of his monthly consulting fees out of that same pot of money. …Mr. Delahunt and executives at his firm did not respond to e-mails Saturday seeking further comment on the decision.

Wow. For all intents and purposes, Congressman Delahunt directly pilfered the Treasury for personal gain.

This is amazing. But what’s remarkable isn’t that he stole money. After all, the federal budget is largely a big scam enabling various groups of people to obtain unearned loot.

The noteworthy thing about this story is that he didn’t launder the money.

In most cases, politicians do earmarks as part of a corrupt quid pro quo. They direct money to a certain group of beneficiaries and, in exchange, get campaign contributions from both the lobbyists who facilitated the deal and the interest groups that receive the taxpayer funds.

But Delahunt cut out one of the middlemen. He created an earmark, and then became one of the lobbyists pocketing the cash.

So it is poetic justice that this unsavory deal has become public knowledge and the former Congressman has been shamed into giving up his fees.

But don’t be deluded into thinking this is a victory.

The earmark is still there. Money is still being wasted. Delahunt is still a lobbyist. Government is still too big. And corruption is still rampant.

And if you think the former Congressman is genuinely apologetic….well, please get in touch with me. I’m selling a bridge in Brooklyn and need a gullible buyer – i.e., the kind of person who doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this unseemly example of sleaze.

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If you want to know why Washington is a cesspool of corruption and graft, you should read this story from the Washington Post about how Capitol Hill staffers use their positions as stepping stones to jobs in the lobbying community.

Nearly 5,400 former congressional staffers have left Capitol Hill to become federal lobbyists in the past 10 years, according to a new study that documents the extent of the revolving door between Congress and K Street. The data published by the online disclosure site LegiStorm found close to 400 former U.S. lawmakers also have made the jump to lobbying. The report…underscores the symbiotic relationship: Thousands of lobbyists are able to exploit experience and connections gleaned from working inside the legislative process, and lawmakers find in lobbyists a ready pool of experienced talent. …The study also documents the reverse movement, finding 605 former lobbyists who have taken jobs working for lawmakers in the past decade. …About 14,000 people work on the Hill, and about 11,700 people are registered to lobby this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

If this sounds like sleaze, that’s because it is. It’s a story about how the political class has created a system that loots the American public and enables the well-connected to skim a good share of the booty.

I explained in a previous post that some of the most despicable people in Washington are Republicans, but this story gives me an opportunity to elaborate.

What happens is that idealistic people come to Washington to work for Congress (also, because they get elected to Congress). They earn good salaries, considerably above the average for the U.S. economy.

But if they want to make big money – and if they have weak morals and an absence of character, they are drawn to the lobbying community.

I have known dozens of good people over the years who have been corrupted by this process. They came to Washington to do good, and they wound up doing well instead.

They began their careers thinking Washington is a cesspool, and they eventually decided it’s a hot tub.

The only solution to this problem is to shrink the size and scope of government, as I explain in this video.

And if we shrink the burden of government, we can return to the good ol’ days when each member of Congress could do their job with 2 or 3 staffers rather than 20 or 30.

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I’m a bit disappointed in the selection of jokes I’ve seen about Weinergate. One can only wonder if they’re going easy on him (and John Edwards) because of bias.

But several of these are worth a chuckle.

From Conan:

    Democrats and Republicans are calling for Congressman Anthony Weiner to resign. Late night comedians are asking him to hang in there.

    The women who Weiner communicated with were a college student, a single mom, a blackjack dealer, and a porn star. Or, as we call that here in Los Angeles, the circle of life.

    Comedy people sit around for years hoping for a scandal called “Weinergate.” And then it happens.

    Fifty-one percent of New York voters think Weiner should keep his seat. The other 49 percent think he should disinfect it.

    It turns out that one of the women Congressman Anthony Weiner was communicating with was a porn star. When asked how it was possible to get involved with someone in such a sleazy business, the porn star said, “I don’t know.”

From Letterman:

    There’s a word for people that take pictures of their privates and send them out: “stupid.”

    If Weiner resigns, they’re already talking about replacing him with Ashton Kutcher.

From Kimmel:

    There’s a heat wave over half of the country. It got so hot in New York, a congressman took off his pants and tweeted a picture of himself.

    Many of Anthony Weiner’s Democratic colleagues are calling for him to resign to preserve his dignity, but that ship sailed a long time ago.

From Leno:

    Congressman Weiner has admitted that he did carry on explicit online relationships with six different women. Well, he thought they were women. Turns out three were woman, one was a guy pretending to be a woman, and the other two were congressmen.

From Fallon:

    Lawmakers here in New York have proposed a new program to teach teenagers about the dangers of sexting. Seriously? How about a program to teach New York lawmakers about the dangers of sexting?

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In the past 10 years, the burden of federal spending has skyrocketed, more than doubling from$1.86 trillion in 2001 to an estimated $3.82 this year.

President Bush deserves a lot of the blame thanks to the no-bureaucrat-left-behind bill that bloated the Department of Education, the corrupt farm bills, the pork-filled transportation bills, the new prescription drug entitlement, and bailouts for banks and auto companies.

Obama then came to office promising hope and change, but he simply grabbed the baton and continued the spending spree, adding more TARP bailouts, and then giving us the boondoggles of a fake stimulus and government-run healthcare.

Taxpayers finally said enough is enough last November and there’s a new Congress with marching orders to stop Washington’s spending orgy.

But Barack Obama and Harry Reid are saying no. They want us to believe that the House spending cuts are too severe.

What does this mean? Are Republicans trying to reduce spending to $2.98 trillion, which is where it was in 2008? That would be a spending cut of nearly $1 trillion and music to my ears. Or are they being even more aggressive, perhaps trying to cut spending to about $2.5 trillion, about halfway between the 2001 and 2008 totals? That would be a spending cut of almost $1.5 trillion, which would be a fantasy for a libertarian wonk like me.

If these were the options being considered, we could understand President Obama and Senator Reid vigorously resisting  spending cuts of that magnitude.

But that’s not what’s happening. Republicans in the House are not trying to reduce spending by a big amount. They’re not even trying to reduce the budget by $500 billion. Heck, they’re not even trying to lower this year’s spending levels by $100 billion.

Instead, the House GOP has put forward a very modest proposal to trim spending by $61 billion – and that tiny bit of nibbling around the edges of the welfare state has Barack Obama and Harry Reid acting as if the safety net is being ripped to shreds.

This video from my colleagues at the Cato Institute puts $61 billion of cuts in context – and indirectly shows that President Obama and Senator Reid have no credibility on fiscal policy.

I can’t resist making one final observation. The burden of government spending has jumped by about $2 trillion in the past 10 years. Does anybody think our economy is stronger as a result? More stable? More competitive? More vigorous? More entrepreneurial?

The answer to all these questions is a resounding no. So if the 10-year Bush-Obama experiment of bigger government has failed, isn’t it time we try a different approach?

To conclude, here’s one of my videos, looking at just a small fraction of the evidence in favor of smaller government.

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When existing spending authority expires on March 4, the “non-essential” parts of the federal government will shut down unless Republicans and Democrats reach an agreement. This is causing lots of agitation in Washington, both by Democrats who don’t want the money spigots in the off position and Republicans who fret that they will be blamed for (gasp) gridlock.

I have a new piece at National Review that explains how the GOP can win this fight. Indeed, I explain that Republicans actually did a pretty good job during the 1995 fight, even though they now have negative memories of the experience. This excerpt provides my basic assessment, but the full article has lots of additional information, including quotes from news accounts in 1995 showing that the GOP held the upper hand, as well as four specific recommendation of how advocates of limited government can do even better this year.

With the GOP-led House and the Democratic Senate and White House far apart on a measure to pay the federal government’s bills past March 4, Washington is rumbling toward a repeat of the 1995 government-shutdown fight (actually two shutdown fights, one in mid-November of that year and the other in mid-December). This makes some Republicans nervous. They think Bill Clinton “won” the blame game that year, and they’re afraid they will get the short end of the stick if there is a 1995-type impasse this year. A timid approach, though, is a recipe for failure. It means that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can sit on their hands, make zero concessions, and wait for the GOP to surrender any time a deadline approaches. In other words, budget hawks in the House have no choice. They have to fight. But they can take comfort in the fact that this is not a suicide mission. The conventional wisdom about what happened in November of 1995 is very misleading. Republicans certainly did not suffer at the polls. They lost only nine House seats, a relatively trivial number after a net gain of 54 in 1994. They actually added to their majority in the Senate, picking up two seats in the 1996 cycle. More important, they succeeded in dramatically reducing the growth of federal spending. They did not get everything they wanted, to be sure, but government spending grew by just 2.9 percent during the first four years of GOP control, helping to turn a $164 billion deficit in 1995 into a $126 billion surplus in 1999. And they enacted a big tax cut in 1997. If that’s what happens when Republicans are defeated, I hope the GOP loses again this year.

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Grousing about the GOP’s timidity in the battle against big government will probably become an ongoing theme over the next few months, and  let’s start with two items that don’t bode well for fiscal discipline.

First, it appears that Republicans didn’t really mean it when they promised to cut $100 billion of so-called discretionary spending as part of their pledge. According to the New York Times,

As they prepare to take power on Wednesday, Republican leaders are scaling back that number by as much as half, aides say, because the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, will be nearly half over before spending cuts could become law.

This is hardly good news, particularly since the discretionary portion of the budget contains entire departments, such as Housing and Urban Development, that should be immediately abolished.

That being said, I don’t think this necessarily means the GOP has thrown in the towel. The real key is to reverse the Bush-Obama spending binge and put the government on some sort of diet so that the federal budget grows slower than the private economy. I explain in this video, for instance, that it is simple to balance the budget and maintain tax cuts so long as government spending grows by only 2 percent each year.

It is a good idea to get as many savings as possible for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, to be sure, but the real key is the long-run trajectory of federal spending.

The other item for discussion is the GOP’s apparent interest in retaining Douglas Elmendorf, the current Director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Many of you will remember that the CBO cooked the books last year to help ram through Obamacare. Under Elmendorf’s watch, CBO also was a relentless advocate and defender Obama’s failed stimulus. And CBO under Elmendorf published reports saying higher taxes would improve economic performance.

But Elmendorf’s statist positions apparently are not a problem for some senior Republicans, as reported by The Hill.

The new House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), gave a very public endorsement of the embattled head of the Congressional Budget Office during his first major speech as committee head Wednesday night. …“You’re doing a great job at CBO, Doug,” Ryan said after receiving the first annual Fiscy Award for his efforts at tackling the national debt. He added that he looked forward to crunching budget numbers with him in the future.

In the long run, the failure to deal with the problems at CBO (as well as the Joint Committee on Taxation) may cause even more problems than the timidity about cutting $100 billion of waste from the 2011 budget. Given the rules on Capitol Hill, it makes a huge difference whether CBO and JCT are putting out flawed numbers.

I’ve already written that fixing the mess at CBO and JCT is a critical test of GOP resolve, and I actually thought this would be a relatively easy test for them to pass. It is an ominous sign that Republicans aren’t even trying to clean house.

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I saw a story linked on Instapundit, but it really belonged on The Onion.

Apparently, our tax dollars are being used to fund grief counseling for congressional staffers who will lose their jobs in January because of the elections. Can you think of a better example than this of how Washington is screwed up?

This isn’t just a symbol of fiscal excess (though it definitely belongs in that category). It’s also a sign of the wuss-ification (not a technical term, but you know what I mean) of American society. Are we really so pathetically fragile that we need professional hand-holders for something like this? It’s not like people who work on Capitol Hill don’t know ahead of time about elections.

Besides, there’s a what-goes-around-comes-around element to this story. I’m not trying to be callous. Unemployment can be a terrible thing, particularly for people who have kids. But these congressional staffers spent their days figuring out ways to impose costs on the rest of us. They schemed to reduce our freedoms and take our money. These are people who pushed policies that resulted in job losses for millions of people in the productive sector of the economy.

Asking me to feel sorry for these people is like asking me to have pity on burglars who dislike door locks, alarm systems, and armed homeowners.

Here’s an excerpt from the Politico story.

A staffer for a congressional Democrat who came up short on Tuesday reports that a team of about five people stopped by their offices this morning to talk about payroll, benefits, writing a résumé, and so forth, with staffers who are now job hunting. But one of the staffers was described as a “counselor” to help with the emotional aspect of the loss — and a section in the packet each staffer was given dealt with the stages of grief (for instance, Stage One being anger, and so on). “It was like it was about death,” the staffer said. “It was bizarre.”

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I’ve already commented on the Democrats deciding to wait until after the election before figuring out what to do about the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. This was a remarkable development since failure to extend these pieces of legislation means a big tax increase next January. But this doesn’t mean the Democrats are sitting on their hands. The President has a proposal to significantly increase the tax burden on American companies that compete in world markets, and Democrats on Capitol Hill think this is a winning political issue. They think higher taxes will encourage companies to keep more jobs in America, and they hope voters agree. But as the Wall Street Journal opines, this is a recipe for undermining the competitiveness f American companies. This means fewer jobs, and probably less tax revenue.

…the President’s plan reveals how out of touch Democrats are with the real world of tax competition. The U.S. already has one of the most punitive corporate tax regimes in the world and this tax increase would make that competitive disadvantage much worse, accelerating the very outsourcing of jobs that Mr. Obama says he wants to reverse. At issue is how the government taxes American firms that make money overseas. Under current tax law, American companies pay the corporate tax rate in the host country where the subsidiary is located and then pay the difference between the U.S. rate (35%) and the foreign rate when they bring profits back to the U.S. This is called deferral—i.e., the U.S. tax is deferred until the money comes back to these shores. Most countries do not tax the overseas profits of their domestic companies. Mr. Obama’s plan would apply the U.S. corporate tax on overseas profits as soon as they are earned. This is intended to discourage firms from moving operations out of the U.S. …Mr. Obama believes that by increasing the U.S. tax on overseas profits, some companies may be less likely to invest abroad in the first place. In some cases that will be true. But the more frequent result will be that U.S. companies lose business to foreign rivals, U.S. firms are bought by tax-advantaged foreign companies, and some U.S. multinational firms move their headquarters overseas. They can move to Ireland (where the corporate tax rate is 12.5%) or Germany or Taiwan, or dozens of countries with less hostile tax climates. We know this will happen because we’ve seen it before. The 1986 tax reform abolished deferral of foreign shipping income earned by U.S. controlled firms. No other country taxed foreign shipping income. Did this lead to more business for U.S. shippers? Precisely the opposite. According to a 2007 study in Tax Notes by former Joint Committee on Taxation director Ken Kies, “Over the 1985-2004 period, the U.S.-flag fleet declined from 737 to 412 vessels, causing U.S.-flag shipping capacity, measured in deadweight tonnage, to drop by more than 50%.” …Now the White House wants to repeat this experience with all U.S. companies. Two industries that would be most harmed would be financial services and technology, and their emphasis on human capital makes them especially able to pack up and move their operations abroad. CEO Steve Ballmer has warned that if the President’s plan is enacted, Microsoft would move facilities and jobs out of the U.S.

I’ve commented on this issue before, but I think the best explanation is in this video, which makes the key observation that American tax law may be able to discourage U.S. firms from building factories in other nations, but that simply means that companies from other countries will be able to take advantage of those opportunities.

A lot of Democrats, at least in private, admit that going after “deferral” is bad policy. But this makes the current proposal especially disgusting. People in the White House and on Capitol Hill know it will hurt jobs and reduce competitiveness, but they don’t care. Or at least they put political ambition before doing what’s right for the American people.

If they really cared, the would fix what’s wrong with the current system. A very effective way to encourage more jobs and investment in America is to lower the corporate tax rate, which is the point I made in the Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s first video.

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Being a lazy procrastinator, I filed an extension April 15 and then waited until this weekend to do my tax return. This experience has reinforced my hatred and disdain for our corrupt and punitive tax system. I don’t even have a remotely complicated tax return, just a Cato salary and a few payments for articles and speeches on the income side, along with a standard set of itemized deductions for things like home mortgage interest.

But even dealing with a relatively simple tax return causes lots of angst and makes me long for a simple and fair flat tax. Actually, it makes me long for a limited government, as envisioned by our Founders, in which case we might not need any broad-based tax. And I suppose I shouldn’t blame the IRS. The real villains are the politicians who have spent the past 97 years turning the tax code into a monstrosity.

Now that I’m done venting, I suppose I should include some educational content. In honor of tax day for procrastinators, here are three videos on the flat tax, the IRS, and the global flat tax revolution.

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Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the Congressional Budget Office follows a predictable pattern of endorsing policies that result in bigger government. During the debate about the so-called stimulus, for instance, CBO said more spending and higher deficits would be good for the economy. It then followed up that analysis by claiming that the faux stimulus worked even though millions of jobs were lost. Then, during the Obamacare debate, CBO actually claimed that a giant new entitlement program would reduce deficits. Now that tax increases are the main topic (because of the looming expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax bills), CBO has done a 180-degree turn and has published a document discussing the negative consequences of too much deficits and debt.
…persistent deficits and continually mounting debt would have several negative economic consequences for the United States. Some of those consequences would arise gradually: A growing portion of people’s savings would go to purchase government debt rather than toward investments in productive capital goods such as factories and computers; that “crowding out” of investment would lead to lower output and incomes than would otherwise occur. …a growing level of federal debt would also increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis, during which investors would lose confidence in the government’s ability to manage its budget, and the government would thereby lose its ability to borrow at affordable rates. …If the United States encountered a fiscal crisis, the abrupt rise in interest rates would reflect investors’ fears that the government would renege on the terms of its existing debt or that it would increase the supply of money to finance its activities or pay creditors and thereby boost inflation.
At some point, even Republicans should be smart enough to figure out that this game is rigged. Then again, the GOP controlled Congress for a dozen years and failed to reform either CBO or its counterpart on the revenue side, the Joint Committee on Taxation (which is infamous for its assumption that tax policy has no impact on overall economic performance).

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The “appearance of impropriety” is often considered the Washington standard for corruption and misbehavior. With that in mind, alarm bells began ringing in my head when I read this Washington Times report about Jacob Lew, Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget. Why did Citigroup decide to hire a career DC political operator for $1.1 million? As a former political aide, lobbyist, lawyer, and political appointee, what particular talents did he have to justify that salary to manage an investment division? Did the presence of Lew (as well as other Washington insiders such as Robert Rubin) help Citigroup get a big bucket of money from taxpayers as part of the TARP bailout? Did Lew’s big $900K in 2009 have anything to do with the money the bank got from taxpayers? Is it a bit suspicious that he received his big windfall bonus four days after filing a financial disclosure? Read this blurb from the Washington Times and see if you can draw any conclusion other than this was a typical example of the sleazy relationship of big government and big business.

President Obama’s choice to be the government’s chief budget officer received a bonus of more than $900,000 from Citigroup Inc. last year — after the Wall Street firm for which he worked received a massive taxpayer bailout. The money was paid to Jacob Lew in January 2009, about two weeks before he joined the State Department as deputy secretary of state, according to a newly filed ethics form. The payout came on top of the already hefty $1.1 million Citigroup compensation package for 2008 that he reported last year. Administration officials and members of Congress last year expressed outrage that executives at other bailed-out firms, such as American International Group Inc., awarded bonuses to top executives. State Department officials at the time steadfastly refused to say if Mr. Lew received a post-bailout bonus from Citigroup in response to inquiries from The Washington Times. But Mr. Lew’s latest financial disclosure report, provided by the State Department on Wednesday, makes clear that he did receive a significant windfall. …The records show that Mr. Lew received the $944,578 payment four days after he filed his 2008 ethics disclosure.

Lest anyone think I’m being partisan, let’s now look at another story featuring Senator Richard Shelby. The Alabama Republican and his former aides have a nice incestuous relationship that means more campaign cash for him, lucrative fees for them, and lots of our tax dollars being diverted to moochers such as the state’s university system. Here are some of the sordid details.

Since 2008, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby has steered more than $250 million in earmarks to beneficiaries whose lobbyists used to work in his Senate office — including millions for Alabama universities represented by a former top staffer. In a mix of revolving-door and campaign finance politics, the same organizations that have enjoyed Shelby’s earmarks have seen their lobbyists and employees contribute nearly $1 million to Shelby’s campaign and political action committee since 1999, according to federal records. …Shelby’s earmarking doesn’t appear to run afoul of Senate rules or federal ethics laws. But critics said his tactics are part of a Washington culture in which lawmakers direct money back home to narrow interests, which, in turn, hire well-connected lobbyists — often former congressional aides — who enjoy special access on Capitol Hill.

Some people think the answer to these stories is more ethics laws, corruption laws, and campaign-finance laws, but that’s like putting a band-aid on a compound fracture. Besides, it is quite likely that no laws were broken, either by Lew, Citigroup, Shelby, or his former aides. This is just the way Washington works, and the beneficiaries are the insiders who know how to milk the system. The only way to actually reduce both legal and illegal corruption in Washington is to shrink the size of government. The sleaze will not go away until politicians have less ability to steer our money to special interests – whether they are Wall Street Banks or Alabama universities. This video elaborates.

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There’s been a bit of buzz about a recent story in Politico revealing a huge increase in the number of congressional staff receiving six-figure salaries.  Some of the details are eye-openers, including a 39 percent increase in the past four years in the number of staffers earning at least $163,358:

Nearly 2,000 House of Representatives staffers pulled down six-figure salaries in 2009, including 43 staffers who earned the maximum $172,500 — or more than three times the median U.S. household income. …But while these top earners are a small percentage of the overall congressional work force, their numbers are growing at a rapid rate under the Democratic Congress. The number of staffers earning within the upper 3 percent of House salaries — currently $163,358 or more — has increased by nearly 39 percent in the past four years, according to LegiStorm data. …“These are people who could be making a lot more money in the private sector, but they choose to work here,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly, who also makes $172,500. …There are approximately 10,000 House staffers, including district office workers, according to the chief administrative officer.

Even though I’m a former Hill staffer, I’m certainly not going to defend these salaries (especially since I was nowhere near the top of the pay structure!). But excessive pay is actually a secondary problem. The real issue is the explosion in the number of staff. The image below, taken from a 1993 congressional report, shows the increase in the number of staff for each member of the House of Representatives. This doesn’t include, incidentally, the increase in committee staff and the growth in auxiliary institutions such as the Congressional Budget Office (the folks who just told us that a giant new entitlement program would reduce red ink).

It’s a chicken-and-egg issue whether this bloated congressional staff structure is a result of bigger government, or whether it contributes to bigger government. In either case, it would be a good idea to go back to the number of staff — and size of government — we had in the past.

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Someboy sent me a link to this American Thinker article, which includes the following word cloud of a Pew Research Center poll on the “One word that best describes your impression of Congress.” Enjoy.

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Washington is buzzing with news that the Congressional Budget Office has a new cost estimate for the President’s proposal to further expand the federal government’s control over the healthcare system. The White House is doubtlessly pleased because the takeaway message, as blindly regurgitated by the Associated Press, is that a giant new entitlement program is going to “drive down red ink”:

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the legislation would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over its first 10 years, and continue to drive down the red ink thereafter. Democratic leaders said the deficit would be cut $1.2 trillion in the second decade – and Obama called it the biggest reduction since the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton put the federal budget on a path to surplus.

My Cato Institute colleague Michael Cannon already has explained that the cost estimate is fraudulent because of what it leaves out, so let me explain why it is fraudulent because of what it includes. The CBO has a very dismal track record of getting the numbers wrong (see first video below), in part because there is no attempt to measure how a bigger burden of government has negative macroeconomic effects, but also because the number crunchers do a poor job of measuring the degree to which people (recipients, healthcare providers, state and local politicians, etc) will modify their behavior to become eligible for other people’s money. The problem is compounded by similar mistakes for revenue estimates from the Joint Committee on Taxation, which (like CBO) makes no attempt to capture macroeconomic effects and has a less-than-stellar history of predicting behavioral responses (see second video below).

If the legislation passes, we will get more spending, more taxes, and more debt. Equally troubling, we will get more dependency. That’s good for Washington and bad for the country.

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The indispensable editorial page of the Wall Street Journal blasts the phony spending “cuts” that are supposed to offset some of the new spending in the Senate health care bill. Sadly, the Congressional Budget Office has compromised its independence to help the left foist a fiscal fraud on the nation:

Washington spent the week waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to roll in with its new cost estimates of the Senate health-care bill, and what a carnival. Behold: a new $829 billion entitlement that will subsidize insurance for tens of millions of people—and reduce deficits by $81 billion at the same time. In the next tent, see the mermaid and a two-headed cow. …The irony is that the CBO’s guesstimate exposes the fraudulence and fiscal sleight-of-hand underlying this whole exercise. Anyone who reads beyond the top-line numbers will find that the bill creates massive new spending commitments that will inevitably explode over time, and that this is “paid for” with huge tax increases plus phantom spending cuts that will never happen in practice. …Liberals are demanding heftier subsidies, and once people see the deal their neighbors are getting on “free” health care, they too will want in. Even CBO seems to find this unrealistic, noting “These projections assume that the proposals are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation.” Scratch “often.” Then there are the many budget gimmicks. Take the “failsafe budgeting mechanism” that would require automatic cuts in exchange spending if it increases the deficit. CBO expects 15% reductions in exchange subsidies each year from 2015 to 2018, even though the exchanges don’t open until 2014. That kind of re-gifting should have been laughed out of the committee room, but the ruse helps to move future spending off the current budget “score.” Mr. Baucus spends $10.9 billion to eliminate the scheduled Medicare cuts to physician payments—but only for next year. In 2011, he assumes they’ll be reduced by 25%, with even deeper cuts later. Congress has overridden this “sustainable growth rate” every year since 2003 and will continue to do so because deeper cuts in Medicare’s price controls will cause many doctors to quit the program. Fixing this alone would add $245 billion to the bill’s costs, according to an earlier CBO estimate. The Baucus bill also expands ailing Medicaid by $345 billion—even as it busts state budgets by imposing an additional $33 billion unfunded mandate. …the bill piles on new taxes, albeit on health-care businesses so the costs are hidden from customers. Insurance companies offering policies that cost more than $8,000 for individuals and $21,000 for families will pay $201 billion per a 40% excise tax, which will be passed down to all policy holders in higher premiums. Another $180 billion will hit the likes of drug and device makers, including $29 billion because companies won’t be allowed to deduct these “fees” from their corporate income taxes. Then there’s the $4 billion in penalty payments on those who don’t buy insurance because all of ObamaCare’s other new taxes and mandates have made it more expensive.

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A story in Politico reveals that politicians are increasing the budget for Congress by 5.8 percent in the 2010 fiscal year. This is on top of a 10.9 percent funding increase from last year to this year. But the really disturbing number is that it will cost taxpayers $4.7 billion overall to keep the 535 politicians on Capitol Hill on the gravy train:

Congress is on the verge of giving itself a bump in its annual budget — even as local governments, families and businesses across the country are tightening their belts in the worst recession in decades. Under a House-Senate conference measure, approved by the House last week and poised for passage in the Senate on Wednesday, spending for the legislative branch will increase 5.8 percent this year, boosting Capitol Hill’s annual budget to $4.7 billion. The measure includes a hodgepodge of new funding for lawmakers: a $500,000 pilot program for senators to send out postcards about their town hall meetings, $30,000 for receptions for foreign dignitaries and $4 million for consultants — with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) getting up to nine each and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) getting up to three more. …Supporters of the bill argue that they were relatively frugal this year. Last year, Congress increased its funding 10.9 percent over the fiscal 2008 level — and the $4.7 it’s appropriating to itself this year is less than the $5 billion Obama set forth in his budget earlier this year. …The Senate Appropriations Committee — where McConnell and 29 other appropriators sit — voted 30-0 in June to send the bill to the full Senate, which approved the bill in July by a 67-25 vote.

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In a new mini-documentary released by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, I explain several of the ways that government spending hinders economic growth.

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