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Archive for the ‘Republicans’ Category

Donald Trump is, to be charitable, a rather unique and colorful presidential candidate. He seems incapable of letting a day pass without doing something that makes the political establishment shudder with disdain.

Since I’m not a fan of the status quo in Washington, I have no objection to ruffling the feathers of DC insiders. That being said, it’s important to look at why Trump elicits such hostility.

The bottom line is that the enemy of your enemy isn’t always your friend.

In other words, my ideal candidate almost surely would be hated by the crowd in DC, but the hostility would be based on the candidate’s agenda to shrink the size and scope of the federal government, not because the candidate makes offensive and/or controversial statements.

Heck, I’d be willing to forgive a certain amount of distasteful behavior in a politician if that was the price of getting a genuine reformer. For what it’s worth, I’m even willing to tolerate a politician’s misbehavior if he simply allows good reform to happen, which is why I now have a certain after-the-fact fondness for Bill Clinton’s presidency.

As a policy wonk, I don’t spend much time wondering whether Trump is a good or stable person. I’m more focused on the policies he would push (or simply allow) if he wound up in the White House.

On that basis, I’m not brimming with optimism. Here’s some of what I wrote for the U.K.-based Guardian, when asked to share my assessment about the possible economic policy agenda of a Trump Administration. I start by saying we are in uncharted territory.

Normal presidential candidates put forth proposals that usually have been vetted by policy experts. They also generally have track records from their time as elected officials. …Trump is not a normal candidate.

I then point out that Trump is all over the map on policy.

…his views on major economic issues are eclectic. He promises a big tax cut, but it’s probably not very serious since he has no concomitant plan to restrain the growth of government spending. He threatens to impose steep tariffs, which would risk triggering a trade war, but he claims protectionism would merely be a stick to extort concessions from trading partners. ….He makes noises about potentially defaulting on debt but then pivots and says the debt can be financed by printing money. …either approach causes angst among most economists.

My conclusion (which is nothing more than a guess) is that the overall burden of government would increase with Trump in the White House.

With all this uncertainty about what Trump really believes, it’s impossible to guess which policies will change and how the economy would be impacted. For what it’s worth, libertarians generally fear that Trump ultimately would govern as a left-leaning populist.

By the way, this is also why I was not a fan of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, or Mitt Romney.

Simply stated, non-ideological Republicans (whether pseudo-populists like Trump or career politicians) don’t challenge the conventional wisdom of Washington. And that generally results in a go-along-to-get-along approach to policy, which means continued growth of government.

Which is why I’ve pointed out that Democrats in the White House sometimes result in less damage.

By the way, my jaundiced assessment of Trump does not imply that Hillary Clinton is any better. She also has personal foibles that – in a normal society – would disqualify her from holding public office.

And I also wrote for the Guardian about her approach to economic policy, which is basically the same direction as Bernie Sanders but at a slower pace.

…she would move public policy incrementally to the left. Some tax increases, but not giant tax increases. Some new regulations, but not complete government takeovers of industry. A bigger burden of government spending, but not turning America into Greece. An increase in the minimum wage, but not up to $15 an hour. More subsidies for higher education, but not an entitlement for everyone. And some restrictions on trade, but no sweeping reversal of the pro-trade consensus that has existed since the second world war.

In other words, become Greece at 55 miles per hour rather than Bernie’s desire to become Greece at 90 miles per hour.

P.S. Since our topic today is so depressing, let’s end with some humor.

We’ll start with this PG-13 pro-Gary Johnson comparison of the candidates.

This shows libertarians can be funny, even though I think it’s wrong to characterize Trump as being on the right (at least from an economic perspective).

Here’s an amusing comparison of a teenage boy and Donald Trump.

I’ll have to add this to my limited collection of Trump humor, most of which is at the bottom of this post.

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Yesterday, I shared some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the Democratic Party platform.

It wasn’t a fun task. The Democrats put together a rat’s nest of taxes, spending, cronyism, and red tape, so my blood pressure probably went crazy as I read the document. Crazy Bernie Sanders may have lost the war for the nomination, but it seems that he mostly won the battle over the platform.

The plank about letting states be in charge of marijuana policy was the only part of the platform that I actually liked (even though I personally disapprove of drug use).

Though it mostly doesn’t matter what’s in party platforms. As I pointed out yesterday, platforms tend to be ideological statements to please party activists. Politicians generally don’t care about their respective party platforms, and they definitely don’t allow their behavior to be constrained by platform language.

With that important caveat in mind, let’s now review the GOP platform. And I’ll use the same approach that I used when looking at the Democrat’s document. I’ll provide a short excerpt and then give my two cents.

Here are some of the main economic issues addressed (or bungled) by Republicans.

We believe the Constitution was written not as a flexible document, but as our enduring covenant.

That’s true, but why aren’t GOPers defunding most of the federal government if that’s what they really believe?

Because of the vital role of religious organizations, charities, and fraternal benevolent societies in fostering generosity and patriotism, they should not be subject to taxation and donations to them should remain deductible.

Endorsing the deduction for charitable contributions isn’t an optimistic sign for those of us who support fundamental tax reform.

To guard against hypertaxation of the American people in any restructuring of the federal tax system, any value added tax or national sales tax must be tied to the simultaneous repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the federal income tax.

This may be my favorite part of the GOP platform. Hopefully it will discourage Rand Paul and Ted Cruz from including a VAT if they run for president again and put forth tax reform plans.

We propose to level the international playing field by lowering the corporate tax rate to be on a par with, or below, the rates of other industrial nations.

Hard to argue with that plank, though it raises the question of why Republicans haven’t enacted this change already.

We endorse the recommendation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, as well as the current Administration’s Export Council, to switch to a territorial system of taxation so that profits earned and taxed abroad may be repatriated for job-creating investment here at home.

Territorial taxation is good policy, so amen.

Republicans believe that no financial institution is too big to fail. We support legislation to ensure that the problems of any financial institution can be resolved through the Bankruptcy Code.

This is the right policy. Too bad many GOPers ignored this bit of wisdom and voted for TARP.

We propose to phase out the federal transit program.

They should phase out the entire Department of Transportation, but this would be a good start.

…we oppose a further increase in the federal gas tax.

That’s good, though repealing the tax would be even better.

Amtrak is an extremely expensive railroad for the American taxpayers, who must subsidize every ticket. The federal government should allow private ventures to provide passenger service in the northeast corridor.

All this sounds good, but it’s a bit vacuous. There should be an explicit commitment to end Amtrak subsidies.

We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California’s high-speed train to nowhere.

A welcome commitment, though it should be extended to all transportation projects.

We should reduce the occupational licensing laws that shut untold millions of potential workers out of entrepreneurial careers.

This is largely a problem caused by state and local governments, but it’s nonetheless nice to see a statement of support for much-needed change.

We must overturn the regulatory nightmare, created by the Dodd-Frank law, for the community banks and savings and loans that provide nearly half of all small-business loans and over three-quarters of all agricultural loans.

Maybe I’m being paranoid, but where’s the language explicitly calling for repeal of the Dodd-Frank bailout bill?

The taxpayers spend an average of $35,000 a year per employee on non-cash benefits, triple the average non-cash compensation of the average worker in the private sector. Federal employees receive extraordinary pension benefits and vacation time wildly out of line with those of the private sector. We urge Congress to bring federal compensation and benefits in line with the standards of most American employees.

Federal bureaucrats are overcompensated, so it goes without saying (though I’m still glad they said it) that costs should be contained.

We must impose firm caps on future debt… A strong economy is one key to debt reduction, but spending restraint is a necessary component that must be vigorously pursued.

Capping debt is fine. Capping spending would be far better.

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the Foreign Bank and Asset Reporting Requirements result in government’s warrantless seizure of personal financial information without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. …FATCA not only allows “unreasonable search and seizures” but also threatens the ability of overseas Americans to lead normal lives. We call for its repeal and for a change to residency-based taxation for U.S. citizens overseas.

Unambiguous opposition to FATCA is great, but it’s also big news that the GOP wants territorial taxation for labor income.

We call on Congress and state legislatures to enact reforms to protect law-abiding citizens against abusive asset forfeiture tactics.

Civil asset forfeiture is abusive by definition. Repeal the laws entirely.

The Constitution gives the federal government very few powers, and they are specifically enumerated… In obedience to that principle, we condemn the current Administration’s unconstitutional expansion into areas beyond those specifically enumerated.

This is true, but it’s too bad Republicans aren’t serious about this plank.

We oppose any carbon tax.

Good. It’s never a good idea to give politicians a new source of tax revenue.

The Republican path to fiscal sanity and economic expansion begins with a constitutional requirement for a federal balanced budget.

At the risk of being repetitive, spending caps are better.

We support the following test: Is a particular expenditure within the constitutional scope of the federal government? If not, stop it. Has it been effective in the past and is it still absolutely necessary? If not, end it. Is it so important as to justify borrowing, especially foreign borrowing, to fund it? If not, kill it.

If GOPers were serious about this part of the platform, this would put them on record to abolish 90 percent of the federal government.

Impose no changes for persons 55 or older. Give others the option of traditional Medicare or transition to a premium-support model designed to strengthen patient choice, promote cost-saving competition among providers, and better guard against the fraud and abuse that now diverts billions of dollars every year away from patient care.

To their credit (and notwithstanding Trump’s unserious approach to the issue), Republicans still embrace the right type of Medicare reform.

We applaud the Republican governors and state legislators who have undertaken the hard work of modernizing Medicaid. We will give them a free hand to do so by block-granting the program without strings.

It’s also good to see support for the right kind of Medicaid reform.

…all options should be considered to preserve Social Security. As Republicans, we oppose tax increases and believe in the power of markets to create wealth and to help secure the future of our Social Security system.

This is vacuous language, though at least it provides an indirect endorsement of personal retirement accounts. Though I don’t want “all options” on the table since that could be construed to include tax hikes.

We support reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which prohibits commercial banks from engaging in high-risk investment.

What?!? This is the most disappointing and economically illiterate part of the GOP platform.

…the Constitution gives [the federal government] no role in education.

True, so why don’t Republicans explicitly call for abolishing the Department of Education?

We agree with the four dissenting judges of the Supreme Court: “In our view, the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety.” It must be removed and replaced with an approach based on genuine competition, patient choice, excellent care, wellness, and timely access to treatment.

Nice, though remember that repealing Obamacare is just the first step if you want a genuine market-based healthcare sector.

We propose to end tax discrimination against the individual purchase of insurance and allow consumers to buy insurance across state lines.

I like the latter part about breaking down the government-imposed barriers to interstate commerce, but I worry the part about tax discrimination is so vague it could be used to expand tax preferences when the real goal should be to get rid of the healthcare exclusion.

The FDA has slowly but relentlessly changed into an agency that more and more puts the public health at risk by delaying, chilling, and killing the development of new devices, drugs and biologics that can promote our lives and our health.

This is correct, but it would be nice to see specific reforms.

We commend those states that have passed Right to Try legislation, allowing terminally ill patients the right to try investigational medicines not yet approved by the FDA. We urge Congress to pass federal legislation to give all Americans with terminal illnesses the right to try.

This is a very good idea. If I ever have a deadly illness, I’ll want the freedom to roll the dice in hopes a new medicine or procedure will work.

Two grave problems undermine the rule of law on the federal level: Over-criminalization and over-federalization. In the first case, Congress and federal agencies have increased the number of criminal offenses in the U.S. Code from 3,000 in the early 1980s to more than 4,500 today. That does not include an estimated 300,000 regulations containing criminal penalties. …We urge Congress to codify the Common Law’s Rule of Lenity, which requires courts to interpret unclear statutes in favor of a defendant.

If bigwigs like Hillary Clinton can get away with violating very clear-cut national security laws because she didn’t intend to do damage to the nation, then ordinary people surely should get the benefit of the doubt as well when they inadvertently violate some complicated law or regulation.

…we oppose any form of Global Tax.

Amen. Now let’s see if Republicans put our money where their mouths are and defund pro-tax international bureaucracies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Let’s wrap this up. There are more policies that could be addressed, but this column already is too long.

The bottom line is that the platform has many good policies. Heck, if I though GOP politicians actually planned to pursue the agenda outlined in the document, I might consider becoming a Republican.

But does anybody think the average Republican politician even knows what is in the GOP platform? More importantly, does anyone think that Donald Trump has any commitment to the policies in the platform?

So now perhaps you can understand why advocates of small government sympathize with Uncle Sam in this cartoon.

Is it Tweedledee and Tweedledum, or the other way around?

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I will always have fond feelings for Playboy, though not for the stereotypical reason.

My appreciation for the magazine is largely based on the fact that I got a very nice honorarium from the German version back in the 1990s for writing an assessment of Bill Clinton’s likely approach to economic policy (confession: he turned out to be much better than I predicted).

Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten almost all of the German I learned in high school, so I can’t read the translated version of the article that appeared in the magazine.

Now Playboy has done something else that I appreciate, putting together a very clever matrix showing what Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Greens think about various policy issues.

It’s obviously satire, but it’s very clever and effective because it does a good job of capturing stereotypes from each group (just like this poster showing 24 types of libertarians).

As you can see, the “libertarian chicken” obviously provided the answers for the third column.

In addition to mind-your-own-business Libertarians, Playboy gives us abortion-über-alles Democrats, elitist Republicans, and fuzzy-headed Greens. A bit of truth in all those caricatures.

So kudos to them for mocking all parties equally. Comedy Central probably wouldn’t be losing so many viewers if it also took this even-handed approach.

P.S. If you like libertarian-oriented humor (both pro and con), then click here and here.

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The good thing about being nonpartisan is that I can freely criticize (or even praise) policy makers without giving any thought to whether they have an R or D after their name.

That doesn’t mean Republicans and Democrats are the same, at least with regards to rhetoric. The two big political parties in the United States ostensibly have some core beliefs. And because of that, it is sometimes very revealing to identify deviations.

Democrats supposedly believe the rich should pay higher taxes and that low-tax jurisdictions should be persecuted, yet many Democrat bigwigs utilize tax havens.

Republicans supposedly believe in smaller government, yet many of them decide to get rich by lobbying to expand the size and scope of Washington.

Democrats supposedly believe there’s a big gender pay gap, but Obama’s top economic adviser said such numbers are fake and Hillary gave higher pay to men in her office.

Let’s now add to the list.

The IRS has stonewalled and treated Congress with contempt. The bureaucrats have disregarded the law to advance Obama’s hard-left agenda. They have used their power to help Obama’s reelection campaign. And IRS employees even donate lots of money to Democrats.

Given all this, you would think Republicans would be doing everything possible to punish this rogue bureaucracy. Even if only because of self interest rather than principles.

Yet GOPers decided, as part of their capitulation on spending caps (again!), to boost the IRS’s budget. I’m not joking. The Hill has a report with the sordid details.

The spending bill…provides an increase in funding to the Internal Revenue Service, a rare win for an agency that has been on the outs with congressional Republicans. The $1.1 trillion omnibus provides an additional $290 million for the IRS, an increase of 3 percent over the last fiscal year.

What’s especially discouraging is that Congress was on track to reduce the IRS’s bloated budget.

…the outcome for the IRS in the omnibus could have been far worse. A bill advanced by the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year that would have slashed IRS funding by $838 million, while a bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee would have reduced funding by $470 million. Instead, the spending package gives the IRS a nearly $300 million bump.

This is yet another piece of evidence that budget deals crafted behind closed doors inevitably produce bad numbers and bad policy.

And it’s certainly another sign that Republicans truly are the Stupid Party.

Just in case you think I’m being unfair to either GOPers or the IRS, let’s look at some recent developments. Here are the best parts of an editorial on unseemly IRS behavior from the Washington Examiner.

President Obama’s IRS repeatedly los[es] hard drives loaded with data related to scandals at the agency. To lose one might be regarded as suspicious happenstance; to lose two looks like conspiracy. The most famous case is that of Lois Lerner, whose division became notorious for targeting conservative groups applying for nonprofit status. Her computer hard drive malfunctioned before that scandal broke, around the same time Congress was looking for information on a separate IRS targeting scheme aimed at conservative donors. …The newest case of IRS hard drive trouble happened last April, but came to light only this month. …the IRS has notified the Justice Department that it erased a hard drive after being ordered not to do so by a federal judge. In this case, the missing communications are those of a former IRS official named Samuel Maruca in the Large Business and International division. He is believed to have been among the senior IRS employees who made the unusual and possibly illegal decision in May 2014 to hire the outside law firm Quinn Emanuel to help conduct an audit of Microsoft Corporation.

And here’s some shocking (or maybe not so shocking) information from the Daily Caller. The IRS’s new ethics chief (wow, there’s an oxymoron) has a track record of illegally destroying records.

The new head of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) ethics office once oversaw the illegal shredding of documents sought by the federal tax agency’s inspector general (IG), and allegedly retaliated on the colleague he believed snitched on him about it.

Yup, he sounds like the kind of guy who deserves a bigger budget.

Let’s close with some very good advice from the Washington Examiner.

In the nearly three years since the targeting scandal was revealed, it has become clear that it was just a symptom of a much deeper problem at the IRS — a culture that lacks accountability, rewards failure, and persecutes the innocent. …it needs a thorough housecleaning, not…bonuses.

Too bad Republicans decided the entire IRS deserved a big bonus.

P.S. From my archives, here are some examples of the bureaucrats who will benefit from a bigger IRS budget.

P.P.P.S. And since we’re recycling some oldies but goodies, here’s my collection of IRS humor, including a new Obama 1040 form, a death tax cartoon, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a cartoon of how GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, two Obamacare/IRS cartoons (here and here), a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), a song about the tax agency, the IRS’s version of the quadratic formula, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

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When giving speeches outside the beltway, I sometimes urge people to be patient with Washington. Yes, we need fundamental tax reform and genuine entitlement reform, but there’s no way Congress can make those changes with Obama in the White House.

But there are some areas whether progress is possible, and people should be angry with politicians if they deliberately choose to make bad decisions.

For instance, the corrupt Export-Import Bank has expired and there’s nothing that Obama can do to restore this odious example of corporate welfare. It will only climb from the grave if Republicans on Capitol Hill decide that campaign cash from big corporations is more important than free markets.

Another example of a guaranteed victory – assuming Republicans don’t fumble the ball at the goal line – is that there’s no longer enough gas-tax revenue coming into the Highway Trust Fund to finance big, bloated, and pork-filled transportation spending bills. So if the GOP-controlled Congress simply does nothing, the federal government’s improper and excessive involvement in this sector will shrink.

Unfortunately, Republicans have no desire to achieve victory on this issue. It’s not that there’s a risk of them fumbling the ball on the goal line. By looking for ways to generate more revenue for the Trust Fund, they’re moving the ball in the other direction and trying to help the other team score a touchdown!

The good news is that Republicans backed away from awful proposals to increase the federal gas tax.

But the bad news is that they’re coming up with other ideas to transfer more of our income to Washington. Here’s a look at some of the revenue-generating schemes in the Senate transportation bill.

Since the House and Senate haven’t agreed on how to proceed, it’s unclear which – if any – of these proposals will be implemented.

But one thing that is clear is that the greed for more federal transportation spending is tempting Republicans into giving more power to the IRS.

Republicans and Democrats alike are looking to the IRS as they try to pass a highway bill by the end of the month. Approving stricter tax compliance measure is one of the few areas of agreement between the House and the Senate when it comes to paying for an extension of transportation funding. …the Senate and House are considering policy changes for the IRS ahead of the July 31 transportation deadline. …With little exception, the Senate bill uses the same provisions that were in a five-month, $8 billion extension the House passed earlier this month. The House highway bill, which would fund programs through mid-December, gets about 60 percent of its funding from tax compliance measures. …it’s…something of a shift for Republicans to trust the IRS enough to back the new tax compliance measures. House Republicans opposed similar proposals during a 2014 debate over highway funding, both because they didn’t want to give the IRS extra authority and because they wanted to hold the line on using new revenues to pay for additional spending.

Gee, isn’t it swell that Republicans have “grown in office” since last year.

But this isn’t just an issue of GOPers deciding that the DC cesspool is actually a hot tub. Part of the problem is the way Congress operates.

Simply stated, the congressional committee system generally encourages bad decisions. If you want to understand why there’s no push to scale back the role of the federal government in transportation, just look at the role of the committees in the House and Senate that are involved with the issue.

Both the authorizing committees (the ones that set the policy) and the appropriating committees (the ones that spend the money) are among the biggest advocates of generating more revenue in order to enable continued federal government involvement in transportation.

Why? For the simple reason that allocating transportation dollars is how the members of these committees raise campaign cash and buy votes. As such, it’s safe to assume that politicians don’t get on those committees with the goal of scaling back federal subsidies for the transportation sector.

And this isn’t unique to the committees that deal with transportation.

It’s also a safe bet that politicians that gravitate to the agriculture committees have a strong interest in maintaining the unseemly system of handouts and subsidies that line the pockets of Big Ag. The same is true for politicians that seek out committee slots dealing with NASA. Or foreign aid. Or military bases.

The bottom line is that even politicians who generally have sound views are most likely to make bad decisions on issues that are related to their committee assignments.

So what’s the solution?

Well, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a shift to random and/or rotating committee assignments, so the only real hope is to have some sort of overall cap on spending so that the various committees have to fight with each other over a (hopefully) shrinking pool of funds.

That’s why the Gramm-Rudman law in the 1980s was a step in the right direction. And it’s why the spending caps in today’s Budget Control Act also are a good idea.

Most important, it’s why we should have a limit on all spending, such as what’s imposed by the so-called Debt Brake in Switzerland.

Heck, even the crowd at the IMF has felt compelled to admit spending caps are the only effective fiscal tool.

Maybe, just maybe, a firm and enforceable spending cap will lead politicians in Washington to finally get the federal government out of areas such as transportation (and housing, agriculture, education, etc) where it doesn’t belong.

One can always hope.

In the meantime, since we’re on the topic of transportation decentralization, here’s a map from the Tax Foundation showing how gas taxes vary by states.

This data is useful (for instance, it shows why drivers in New York and Pennsylvania should fill up their tanks in New Jersey), but doesn’t necessarily tell us which states have the best transportation policy.

Are the gas taxes used for roads, or is some of the money siphoned off for boondoggle mass transit projects? Do the states have Project Labor Agreements and other policies that line the pockets of unions and cause needlessly high costs? Is there innovation and flexibility for greater private sector involvement in construction, maintenance, and operation?

But this is what’s good about federalism and why decentralization is so important. The states should be the laboratories of democracy. And when they have genuine responsibility for an issue, it then becomes easier to see which ones are doing a good job.

So yet another reason to shut down the Department of Transportation.

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Earlier this year, President Obama proposed a budget that would impose new taxes and add a couple of trillion dollars to the burden of government spending over the next 10 years.

The Republican Chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees have now weighed in. You can read the details of the House proposal by clicking here and the Senate proposal by clicking here, but the two plans are broadly similar (though the Senate is a bit vaguer on how to implement spending restraint, as I wrote a couple of days ago).

So are any of these plans good, or at least acceptable? Do any of them satisfy my Golden Rule?

Here’s a chart showing what will happen to spending over the next 10 years, based on the House and Senate GOP plans, as well as the budget proposed by President Obama.

Keep in mind, as you look at these numbers, that economy is projected to expand, in nominal terms, by an average of about 4.3 percent annually.

The most relevant data is that the Republican Chairmen want spending to climb by about $1.4 trillion over the next decade (annual spending increases averaging about 3.3 percent per year), while Obama wants spending to jump by about $2.4 trillion over the same period (with annual spending climbing by an average of almost 5.1 percent per year).

At this point, some of you may be wondering how to reconcile this data with news stories you may have read about GOP budgets that supposedly include multi-trillion spending cuts?!?

The very fist sentence in a report from The Hill, for instance, asserted that the Senate budget would “cut spending by $5.1 trillion.” And USA Today had a story headlined, “House GOP budget cuts $5.5 trillion in spending.”

But these histrionic claims are based on dishonest math. The “cuts” only exist if you compare the GOP budget numbers to the “baseline,” which is basically an artificial estimate of how fast spending would grow if government was left on auto-pilot.

Which is sort of like a cad telling his wife that he reduced his misbehavior because he only added 4 new mistresses to his collection rather than the 5 that he wanted.

I explained this biased and deceptive budgetary scam in these John Stossel and Judge Napolitano interviews, and also nailed the New York Times for using this dishonest approach when reporting about sequestration.

Interestingly, the Senate plan tries to compensate for this budgetary bias by including a couple of charts that properly put the focus on year-to-year spending changes.

Here’s their chart on Obama’s profligate budget plan.

And here’s their chart looking at what happens to major spending categories based on the reforms in the Senate budget proposal.

So kudos to Chairman Enzi and his team for correctly trying to focus the discussion where it belongs.

By the way, in addition to a better use of rhetoric, the Senate GOP plan actually is more fiscally responsible than the House plan. Under Senator Enzi’s proposal, government spending would increase by an average of 3.25 percent per year over the next 10 years, which is better than Chairman Price’s plan, which would allow government spending to rise by an average of 3.36 percent annually.

Though both Chairman deserve applause for having more spending restraint than there was in the last two Ryan budgets.

But this doesn’t mean I’m entirely happy with the Republican fiscal plans.

Even though the two proposals satisfy my Golden Rule, that’s simply a minimum threshold. In reality, there’s far too much spending in both plans, and neither Chairman proposes to get rid of a single Department. Not HUD, not Education, not Transportation, and not Agriculture.

But the one thing that got me the most agitated is that the House and Senate proposals both indirectly embrace very bad economic analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

Here’s some language that was included with the House plan (the Senate proposal has similar verbiage).

CBO’s analysis…estimates that reducing budget deficits, thereby bending the curve on debt levels, would be a net positive for economic growth. …The analysis concludes that deficit reduction creates long-term economic benefits because it increases the pool of national savings and boosts investment, thereby raising economic growth and job creation.

But here’s the giant problem. The CBO would say – and has said – the same thing about budget plans with giant tax increases.

To elaborate, CBO has a very bizarre view of how fiscal policy impacts the economy. The bureaucrats think that deficits are very important for long-run economic performance, while also believing that the overall burden of government spending and the punitive structure of the tax code are relatively unimportant.

And this leads them to make bizarre claims about tax increases being good for growth.

Moreover, the bureaucrats not only think deficits are the dominant driver of long-run growth, they also use Keynesian analysis when measuring the impact of fiscal policy on short-run growth. Just in case you think I’m exaggerating, or somehow mischaracterizing CBO’s position, check out page 12 of the Senate GOP plan and page 37 of the House GOP plan. You’ll see the “macroeconomic” effects of the plans cause higher deficits in 2016 and 2017, based on the silly theory that lower levels of government spending will harm short-run growth.

So hopefully you can understand why GOPers, for the sake of intellectual credibility, should not be citing bad analysis from the CBO.

But even more important, they should stop CBO from producing bad analysis is the future. The Republicans did recently replace a Democrat-appointed CBO Director, so it will be interesting to see whether their new appointee has a better understanding of how fiscal policy works.

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I feel a bit schizophrenic when people ask me my opinion of Republicans on Capitol Hill.

When I’m in a good mood (or being naively optimistic, some might argue), I applaud them for blocking Obama’s spending agenda. The fights over sequestration, debt limits, and government shutdowns have made a real difference. The burden of government spending has dropped significantly since 2009.

But when I’m in a bad mood (or being too demanding, some might say), I get very agitated that Republicans seem unable to achieve easy victories, such as doing nothing and letting the corrupt Export-Import Bank disappear. And it makes me think they’re a bunch of big-government hacks.

The bottom line is that GOPers are both good and bad. Here’s what I wrote back in 2011 and it still applies today.

It’s almost like they have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. They usually have some underlying principles, and they would like to do the right thing and make America a better place. Yet they also want to get reelected and accumulate power, and this lures them into casting votes that they know are bad for the country. Sometimes the devil has the most influence. During the Bush years, for instance, most Republicans on Capitol Hill went along with Bush’s bad proposals… Yet every so often the angel gets control. All Republicans, including the ones who were in office and doing the wrong thing during the Bush years, …vote for…budget[s]…which would limit the growth of federal spending and fundamentally reform Medicare and Medicaid.

So are the angels or devils winning?

That’s a judgement call, but here’s a slide I’ve shared in some of my speeches. It shows three issues that will get decided in 2015 and asks whether Congress will make the right choices.

The jury is still out on all three of these tests, but there are many reasons to worry.

I’ve already written about GOP flirtation with the gas tax, which is very disturbing since a decision not to raise the tax automatically reduces federal transportation spending, so it should be a win-win situation (assuming, of course, that Republicans believe in federalism and a smaller central government).

Now let’s look at the other two items on my list.

Republicans achieved a big victory with the sequester in 2013, but then gave Obama a big win by cancelling the sequester for 2014 and 2015.

Well, now they have to decide what to do for the 2016 fiscal year, which starts October 1. And there’s already pressure from the White House, as you can see from this news report, to replace real spending restraint with gimmicks and back-door tax hikes.

White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan said Thursday he sees a “hopeful possibility” that Congress and the White House will agree later this year to update the Ryan-Murray budget agreement of 2013 which increased the discretionary spending ceilings set in the Budget Control Act. …Donovan declined to say if any preliminary talks have begun to renew Ryan-Murray, but declared that President Barack Obama will insist the sequestration process be “reversed.” “We will not accept a budget that locks in sequestration,” Donovan said. …The White House budget calls for FY 2016 discretionary spending that is about $75 billion above the spending ceiling set by the 2011 law after the sequester was triggered.

You may be asking yourself why Republicans would consider – even for a nanosecond – giving Obama all that new spending?

Well, the problem is that some GOPers are big defense hawks and they complain, accurately, that Defense is less than one-fourth of the budget yet is has to absorb one-half of the sequester.

But considering that the United States and its allies still account for the overwhelming share of global defense outlays, I nonetheless think sequestration is a far better outcome than giving Obama carte blanche to squander and extra $75 billion.

But it remains to be seen what will happen.

Now let’s contemplate the third test for the GOP.

Will the Senate commit to entitlement reform? The answer is…not really, but maybe.

Here’s what The Hill has reported.

Senate Republicans will not include detailed plans to overhaul entitlement programs when they unveil their first budget in nearly a decade this week, according to GOP sources. The decision would break from Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) House budgets from recent years, which Democrats used to pound Republican candidates in the 2012 and 2014 elections. …The GOP budget would balance in 10 years, according to GOP lawmakers familiar with the document, but it will only propose savings to be achieved in Medicare and Medicaid, without spelling out specific reforms as Ryan and House Republicans did in recent budgets.

In other words, the bad news is that Senate GOPers are not going to embrace the specific Medicare and Medicaid reforms that have been included in House-passed Republican budgets.

But the good (or hopeful, to be more accurate) news is that the Senate budget will call for a somewhat similar level of spending restraint. So that means the possibility of good entitlement reform will still exist.

By the way, the reason this is so important is that we may have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually enact desperately needed fiscal reforms in 2017. This is why it’s so critical that GOPers not get wobbly and regress into being Bush-type big-government conservatives.

I explain further in this interview I had with the Institute of Economic Affairs on my most recent trip to London.

Incidentally, I’m not exaggerating in the interview when I warn that the United States may turn into Greece if we don’t seize the opportunity to make reforms and slow the growth of government. If you don’t believe me, check out these sobering estimates of long-run fiscal chaos from  the IMF, BIS, and OECD.

P.S. I’m sometimes asked whether the GOP leadership is part of the problem or part of the solution. That’s not my area of expertise, but I will say that Boehner and McConnell basically represent the consensus of their respective members, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to vote or behave like Justin Amash and Rand Paul. Sure, I wish they would be more aggressive on certain issues, such as killing the Export-Import Bank or ending subsidized terrorism insurance. And I wish they weren’t so timid about confrontations with Obama since there’s a strong argument to be made that they wound up as winners from the 2013 shutdown battle. That being said, what really matters if what they would do in 2017 if there was a President who wanted real reform. And on that score, I have confidence that Boehner and McConnell would do the right thing, twisting arms and knocking heads if necessary to get their colleagues to save America from becoming Greece.

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