Deficit Spending

Five Things That Are Right with the Congressional Budget Process

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog published a listicle by public affairs consultant John Feehery (once a spokesman for former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, the moderate, more timid successor to revolutionary Newt Gingrich), opining on the messy federal budget process. My attempts to reach Reid Epstein, the blog’s editor, to offer a counterpoint were fruitless, so here are five reasons we should be thankful for the current federal budgeting process.

President Obama’s subtle trick to sell “free” nationalized community college

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On Thursday, President Obama announced from Air Force One an unprecedented plan to extend federally-funded universal public education up through community college for everyone. Students would have to maintain a certain grade point average and choose plans and colleges that have proven career success. The plan will be fully articulated in the President’s annual budget proposal, which will be dead on arrival in the newly Republican-controlled Congress, and Obama will provide more details in his upcoming State of the Union address. The estimated cost has not been revealed, but the idea is for the federal government to fund 75% of the program with states picking up the rest.

However, it’s not the details of the program that are so distressing as the subtle, disingenuous way the President has chosen to sell it. Obama made the announcement from his sleak office aboard Air Force One, dressed in a tie but no jacket, leaning back casually on his angled desk. Whoever choreographs these things is a master in marketing.

The recorded, scripted, teleprompter-read nearly two-minute statement was billed as a preview of the State of the Union. The community college initiative is introduced thusly:

Put simply, what I’d like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everybody who is willing to work for it. That’s right, free for everyone who’s willing to work for it. It’s something we can accomplish, and it’s something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anybody in the world.

Fantastic! What’s another few billion dollars a year when you’re already $18 trillion in debt? YOLO, amirite?

Texas Candidates “Reject the Debt”

Debt Clock

Coming out of a brutal series of losses in last fall’s fiscal fights, budget hawks are facing tough odds.

Some commentators have gone as far as to say that fiscal restraint has been defeated in Congress, with the heyday of 2010 giving way to a situation in which those who want to cut spending and reign in looming deficits and debt have taken a “back seat.”

Have deficit hawks finally been defeated? Is big spending the new norm?

Not if a cadre of Texas candidates has anything to do with it.

On Monday, the Coalition to Reduce Spending announced that 14 candidates for federal office from across the state had signed the Coalition’s Reject the Debt pledge ahead of Tuesday’s primary. The pledge requires elected officials to (1) consider all spending open for reduction, (2) vote only for budgets with a path to balance, and (3) offset any new spending with cuts elsewhere.

The signatories include Tea Party favorites like Katrina Pierson and Matt McCall, in a diverse scattering of candidates from across the state. The Coalition has also been in touch with various third party and Democratic challengers and expects more candidates to jump on after the primary.

“Washington won’t change until we change the incentives of the people we send there,” Coalition President Jonathan Bydlak said. “Candidates have to hold themselves accountable, or we have to do it for them. I’m pleased to see this group willing to hold themselves to fiscal restraint.”

Time for a New Narrative on Food Stamps

Food Stamps (SNAP)

By this time, if you follow politics at all, chances are you’ve heard a lot about the farm bill. Passed Tuesday, this bill represents nearly $1 trillion in new spending, with typical promises for paltry reform over the next decade.

At risk of presumption, the problems with the farm portion are rather obvious. It’s no surprise that 85% of economists from across the ideological spectrum oppose farm subsidies. It seems commonly accepted that the “farm bill” long ago ceased to be a temporary relief for struggling family farmers and has instead become a hefty bonus check for some of the biggest corporate agriculture. For example, the richest farmers get the most subsidies, and just three firms received the most in sugar subsidies last year. And Tuesday’s bill did little to address these issues.

A program so misguided is easy to attack. But unfortunately, the farm portion is a very small part of the “farm” bill. And the other part backs people who want to save the next generation from massive debt into quite a tough corner.

Republicans agreed to no debt ceiling

Clearly

Remember those commercials featuring a classroom full of Chinese students, listening to a lecture about the fall of the United States of America? As of this latest agreement on a “not-really-a-debt-ceiling,” we are headed in that direction. Don’t be alarmed, of course. It will all work out in the end. We really do need all the things that the government is doing with all that money that we’re borrowing from anyone around the world that is foolish enough to keep investing in us.

The concept of Obama spending more in one day that George W. Bush did in an entire year was brought to my attention today on Facebook by Dr. James S. Robbins. The context was that he was bemoaning the fact that he could no longer make the comparison between a month of Obama spending, and a full year of Bush deficit spending. Obama had reached the one day mark.

True, that’s the fault of some interesting accounting procedures that the government uses to deal with what used to be debt ceilings. This particular radical increase was the result of repaying various governmental accounts that have been tapped since May, in an attempt to not hit the debt ceiling. The increase put the national debt over $17 trillion for the first time in United States history ($17,075,590,107,963.57, to be exact).

Obama and Detroit the industry versus Detroit the city

Images_of_Money (CC)

When the news broke that the City of Detroit had declared bankruptcy, there were a fair number of jokes going around on social media, but in general, it wasn’t “news.” Yes, it is the largest city to take that step so far, but it’s Detroit. No one in their right mind could consider it surprising. What was remotely interesting in the case was what happened afterwards.

One judge - Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina - put a new twist to the story by declaring that it was unconstitutional for the City of Detroit to declare bankruptcy in the first place. And so the political circus begins. Of course, Allahpundit at Hot Air dissected the situation, and came to the conclusion that this was little more than political pandering by yet another leftist judge.

We Are All Modern Monetary Theorists Now

As a consequence of loose monetary policy with a fiat currency, the United States is rapidly descending into an economic reality of Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT.  While MMT (also known as Chartalism) is typically associated with its Keynesian predecessor and the policies of the Left, new developments reveal that both parties are responsible for the slip into a brave new economic world.

Essentially, there are four preconditions in Modern Monetary Theory:

1) Money enters the economy through government spending, as the total amount of money is constrained not by gold but by the total output of the national economy;
2) Government spending is speculative as it prints as much money as it needs to control production and, as a byproduct, employment, and spending beyond productive capacity leads to inflation;
3) Taxes do not pay for expenditures but are instead a way to throttle private sector demand; and
4) The government is the issuer of the currency, sovereign governments that issue their own currency are never insolvent, so debts essentially don’t matter.

Rand Paul’s New Plan to Prioritize Spending

Rand Paul

Senator Rand Paul has a new plan to prioritize government spending in order to stave off defaults and bring the country back towards solvency:

In a renewed attempt to force President Barack Obama’s hand on the debt limit, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul is pushing legislation that would ban federal spending on anything but interest payments on the national debt, Social Security checks, and military salaries.

Paul, who is traveling through Israel this week, told Business Insider here Thursday that he believes the GOP should take a more pro-active approach to the coming fight over raising the debt ceiling. Rather than march the country toward a government shutdown — and spook markets with possible default — Paul argued that Republicans should pass a bill that would force the government to prioritize payments to bondholders.

Real Defense Budget Alternatives

With the “fiscal cliff” behind us, it’s important to remember that in less than two months, the Congress will be dealing with another manufactured crisis: The budget cuts of the 2011 Budget Control Act known as “sequestration.”  The Department of Defense will bear 41% of the prescribed cuts, eliminating an additional $492 billion over 10 years.  Although entitlement spending will also be on the table, the initial fight will be over cuts to the Defense budget.

A new study by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation concludes that the defense budget cuts cannot be taken without altering our overall defense strategy, and that “the department should modify defense strategy to fit the new resource constraints and prepare its course of action sooner rather than later.”

The authors highlight three alternative strategies, which anyone interested in this topic should read and consider.  An accompanying article by the authors states, “Reductions of the magnitude implied by sequestration—some $500 billion over the coming decade—cannot be accommodated without a re-examination of current defense strategy.”

Dear Media: This Isn’t About Grover Norquist

Grover Norquist is under fire. Unjustly.

With Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, Rep. Peter King and others seemingly deserting Grover Norquist and the Taxpayer Protection Pledge created by his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, media outlets across the spectrum are declaring that the GOP is “Over Grover” and that his vicelike grip of eternal dominance on the GOP might not be so eternal after all. We have images like this one, showing Republican leaders bowing to him as if he is a god. And on and on and on.

What it really is, though, is just another round of misinformation, wrong data, and interpretations based on faulty premises. Yet another sideshow that is completely missing the point, the real debate we should be having in DC.

 


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