Spending

Sequestration and Voter Ignorance

Written by Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Sheldon Richman and I spent a lot of time last week running through numbers from the Congressional Budget Office in order to gauge sequestration’s effect on federal spending. In the resulting column, Richman lays out the numbers and asks a pertinent question: How the $#!?% is the average voter supposed to have a clue about this stuff?

From Richman’s column:

I subjected myself to this pain because I’m a professional masochist. I’m paid to do it. How many people who are not so rewarded are likely to search for, locate, and download CBO spreadsheets to see the numbers for themselves? Very few, I’ll bet. And who can blame those who won’t? They have families, friends, communities, and jobs to attend to — matters they actually affect through their actions. But if most people don’t have time or incentive to learn the facts about this one issue (never mind all the others) — and if the news media can’t be counted on to tell the plain story — how can Americans fill the role of “informed voters” that democracy in theory requires?

Next year there will be congressional elections. If a voter doesn’t know the facts about the budget, she won’t be able to judge the sequestration issue. And if she can’t do that, how can she intelligently decide which congressional candidate to vote for?

Sequestration: An Inside Perspective

In two days, the sequestration axe will either drop, or it won’t.  Personally, I am about as close as you can get to the situation, and I have no idea how it will turn out.  While the “national security” argument against sequestration was gradually left behind, the arguments against the cuts have become increasingly economic in nature.  These arguments are problematic at best and disingenuous at worst.

A while back, I proposed a couple of ways to gradually cut more than sequestration does, therefore creating less pain in the current fiscal year; but as dieting often fails, cutting swiftly might be the only surefire method to actually cut spending.  Putting the cuts into perspective, as George Will did in his article this weekend, $85 billion from a $3.6 trillion budget, or 2.3%, is miniscule. The “draconian” cuts merely return us to 2006 levels.

I have been advocating deeper cuts for some time now, and as a defense contractor, am prepared to lose my job as a result (although I don’t expect to). I will try to be as objective as possible herein as I offer a couple of personal thoughts as we draw closer to the actuality of sequestration:

GAO: ObamaCare could add $6.2 trillion to national debt

There is some more bad news for ObamaCare. According to a recently released report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO), the Patient Protect and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement — could cost taxpayers dearly in the long-term if cost-savings measures don’t work as intended.

The report, which was requested by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, explains that the “effect of PPACA on the long-term fiscal outlook depends largely on whether elements designed to control cost growth are sustained.”

“Overall, there was notable improvement in the longer-term outlook after the enactment of PPACA under our Fall 2010 Baseline Extended simulation, which, consistent with federal law at the time the simulation was run, assumed the full implementation and effectiveness of the costcontainment provisions over the entire 75-year simulation period,” noted the GAO. “In contrast, the long-term outlook in the Fall 2010 Alternative simulation worsened slightly compared to our January 2010 simulation. This is largely due to the fact that cost-containment mechanisms specified in PPACA are assumed to phase out over time while the additional costs associated with expanding federal health care coverage remain.”

The baseline scenario is used by the government budget officials to determine the the cost effects of current law. However, the alternative scenario gauges budget implications based on past behavior of Congress, such as its proclivity for bypassing scheduled Medicare payments to doctors (also known as the “doc fix”).

How The Sequester Torpedoed Conservatives’ Credibility

John Boehner

It was a mere tweet, but it summed up the entirety of the modern conservative movement:

It has everything: the source is the preeminent conservative “think tank” in DC, soon to be headed by Tea Party conservative and former senator Jim DeMint; lamenting about spending cuts; the laments are all about a government department that by all rights should not exist; and for good measure, it has a photograph. It shows precisely how the sequester had torpedoed conservative credibility.

We have heard relentlessly these past five years, ever since Obama was elected, that we need to cut spending. (Indeed, another Heritage article is a dorky little bit that specifically notes a “thrifty” House which demands that they have a balanced budget and avoid deficits.) Yet now that there is something which will cut—no, sorry, I can’t type that with a straight face; it will not cut spending, but merely slightly decrease the rate of spending—Heritage is up in arms about it.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Military Contractors) wrote the following in an op-ed:

United Liberty Podcast: Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA)

Tom McClintock

“Congress should be cutting spending, reducing the regulatory burdens that are crushing the economy — freedom works, and it is time we put it back to work.” — Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA)

Just a couple of days after President Barack Obama laid out his agenda for the next year in his State of the Union address, I sat down with Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican who represents California’s Fourth Congressional District, to get his thoughts on the proposals being pushed by the White House, the Senate’s refusal to pass a budget, ObamaCare, and a few other issues.

On the State of the Union, Rep. McClintock, who has been among the staunchest defenders of economic freedom and the Constitution in Congress, was dismissive of President Obama’s agenda. “[W]e heard this song before,” he noted. “I think that his words have to be measured against the last four years of his deeds.”

He rhetorically asked, “What have been his policies? Higher taxes, much higher spending, out of control deficits, crushing business regulations. And what have those policies produced? Family take home pay has declined over these past four years, the unemployment rate is higher than when we started — it would be much higher except for the millions of Americans who have given up even looking for work.”

“What did he propose? More of the same,” Rep. McClintock stated. “Taking bad policy and doubling down on it doesn’t make it good policy.”

Cost of Obama’s State of the Union Address? $83.4 billion

You mad, bro?

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address was filled with promises and various other costly legislative items at a time when budget deficits are still running high. According to the National Taxpayers Union, President Obama’s agenda would cost taxpayers $83.4 billion per year:

In President Obama’s most expensive and widest ranging State of the Union Address yet, his proposals weighed in at $83.4 billion worth of quantifiable agenda items, according to National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF’s) annual line-by-line analysis of the speech. This figure could grow much higher depending on what the President aims to do to avoid the sequester. In either case, if the President intends to follow through on his promise that his speech would not “add a dime to the deficit,” individuals and businesses may be facing another round of tax increases.

“The speech gave the President the opportunity to preview his forthcoming budget,” said NTUF Director of Research Demian Brady. “And although he said his agenda items would not increase the deficit, he spent far more time detailing new spending initiatives than how they would be ‘paid for.’”

If the sequester plan that the White House has put forward were passed, it would raise the cost of the spending proposals to $100.4 billion. The most costly program that President Obama wants enacted is his cap-and-trade plan, which would cost $56.5 billion each year. NTU also notes that more than half of the proposals mentioned by President Obama in the State of the Union address “could not be quantified.”

You can see the costs of each proposal here.

Rand Paul gives a solid, substantive response to the State of the Union

Rand Paul gives the Tea Party response

President Obama’s State of the Union address was nothing new.  The President continued the same leftist rhetoric he used during his inaugural address, calling for even more spending and government.  As Jason wrote, he absurdly claimed that he has CUT spending, attacked the sequestration plan that he himself proposed, and called for an increase in the minimum wage would would prove disastrous to job creation.  In short, it was more of the same - big government, high taxes, and spending money we don’t have.

The official Republican response was fairly lackluster.  Marco Rubio is a gifted speaker, but his speech was big on platitudes and slogans and small on substance. The real response came from Senator Rand Paul.  It’s no secret that Senator Paul is a favorite of mine and of many libertarian-leaning folks, so there was much anticipation that he would offer a clear vision apart from both Obama and Rubio.  For the most part, he did just that.

To begin, Paul went strongly after the President and laid out a clear idea of what he believes America is really all about:

Tonight, the President told the nation he disagrees. President Obama believes government is the solution: More government, more taxes, more debt.

What the President fails to grasp is that the American system that rewards hard work is what made America so prosperous.

What America needs is not Robin Hood but Adam Smith. In the year we won our independence, Adam Smith described what creates the Wealth of Nations.

Another speech from Obama, another huge disappointment

Obama gives State of the Union

Last night during a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama gave his fifth the State of the Union address where he laid out his agenda for the next year. As was anticipated, the speech carried over the Leftist themes of last month’s inaugural address and was more aggressive in tone.

Despite recent GDP numbers showing that the economy contracted in the last quarter of 2012, President Obama started off the hour long speech by repeat a familiar line, explaining that “[t]ogether, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”

After a couple of shots at Congress, President Obama spent a few minutes discussing the sequester, claiming that “both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion – mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.” Obama claimed, “we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.”

If only that were true. In Cato Institute’s response to the State of the Union address, Michael Tanner explained, “Let’s be absolutely clear — there have been no spending cuts under this President.”

In 2010, the first year that this President was responsible for the budget, the federal government spent $3.4 trillion,” noted Tanner. “Last year, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion, and for the first four of last year, we’re spending at a fast pace than the first four months of last year.”

Why The Sequester Is Important

United States Capitol

On March 1st, the so-called sequester which is a series of automatic spending “cuts” that were agreed to in 2011 are supposed to take effect. The “cuts” are supposed to be around $1.2 trillion over 10 years spread equally among defense and non-defense spending. Democrats are complaining how women, children, and old people will be (insert one or more of the following here) starved, made homeless, and/or impoverished by the “cuts” in social welfare programs. Republican defense hawks are claiming that sequester will destroy the US military. Both groups also claim the sequester will put the economy back into recession and/or maybe even a depression. Indeed, both groups say that the sequester should be avoided at all costs and that we should “raise revenues” which is Washington speak for raising taxes to cover the amount that was supposed to be “cut”. However, if we are ever going to get our nation’s fiscal house in order, we have to allow the sequester to take effect.

Why I Hate The Sequester

Although I do believe that the sequester must be allowed to take effect, I don’t like it. For starters, $1.2 trillion in “cuts” (which are not actual budget cuts but instead are merely reductions in the rate of spending growth) is a very small amount when you look at how grave the nation’s financial condition is.

Secondly, the sequester does nothing to address entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare which are the two long-term drivers of future financial problems.

Third, the Democrats do have a point when they say the cuts fall disproportionately on non-defense spending. The Department of Defense is the largest single item of discretionary spending and all other agencies combined do not equal it. But the DoD is only taking 50% of the cuts.

The 100th Anniversary of the Income Tax…and the Lesson We Should Learn from that Mistake

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

What’s the worst thing about Delaware?

No, not Joe Biden. He’s just a typical feckless politician and the butt of some good jokes.

Instead, the so-called First State is actually the Worst State because almost exactly 100 years ago, on February 3, 1913, Delaware made the personal income tax possible by ratifying the 16th Amendment.

Though, to be fair, I suppose the 35 states that already had ratified the Amendment were more despicable since they were even more anxious to enable this noxious levy.

But let’s not get bogged down in details. The purpose of this post is not to re-hash history, but to instead ask what lessons we can learn from the adoption of the income tax.

The most obvious lesson is that politicians can’t be trusted with additional powers. The first income tax had a top tax rate of just 7 percent and the entire tax code was 400 pages long. Now we have a top tax rate of 39.6 percent (even higher if you include additional levies for Medicare and Obamacare) and the tax code has become a 72,000-page monstrosity.

But the main lesson I want to discuss today is that giving politicians a new source of money inevitably leads to much higher spending.


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