Whenever people call for cutting the military budget, the usual response goes something like ”How can you keep the Army from getting the equipment it needs to fight wars?” Well, the problem with that response is highlighted today by this story from ABC:
Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.
But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, “No thanks.”
It’s the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether. Republicans and Democrats for years have fought so bitterly that lawmaking in Washington ground to a near-halt.
Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there’s a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.
“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told The Associated Press this past week.
Why are the tank dollars still flowing? Politics.
Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs in congressional districts where the tank’s many suppliers are located.
If there’s a home of the Abrams, it’s politically important Ohio. The nation’s only tank plant is in Lima. So it’s no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol’s Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. They said their support is rooted in protecting national security, not in pork-barrel politics.
After taking control of the House of Representatives in a wave election in 2010, House Republicans decided to extend their moratorium on earmarks, a controversial budget tactic that allow members to insert pet projects in spending bills without so much as a committee hearing or vote.
But before the GOP took control, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who would later become House Majority Leader, suggested that the moratorium on earmarks may only be temporary, which would be a slap in the face to fiscal conservatives and Tea Party activists that helped the GOP come back to power. Cantor was quick to amend his remarks, but it looks like House Republicans have learned little. Reuters notes that they are considering resuming the practice of earmarking:
The huge federal transportation bill was in tatters in early March when Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama posed a heretical idea for breaking through gridlock in the House.
In a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans, Rogers recommended reviving a proven legislative sweetener that became politically toxic a year ago.
Bring back earmarks, Rogers, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues.
Few members of Congress have been bold enough to use the “e” word since both the House and Senate temporarily banned the practice last year after public outcries about Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” and other pork barrel projects.
But as lawmakers wrestle with legislative paralysis, there are signs that earmarks - special interest projects that used to be tacked onto major bills - could make a comeback.
The practice of earmarks has come under scrutiny in recent years and some members in both chambers have pushed for bans on the practice because of the propensity of their colleagues to use them for less than noble purposes. The House of Representatives did enact a moratorium, though it doesn’t seem to be all that effective.
Some say that restricting earmarks is unconstitutional because it cuts in on congressional spending authority in Article I, Section 8. Others say that earmarks represent a fraction of the budget and eliminating them does nothing in the way of restoring fiscal responsibility. The former has some merit, but we know how James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, felt about spending for pork projects. It’s hard to see that he would find funding peanut research meets any constitutional litmus test.
The latter is true; however, earmarks are the epitome of what is wrong with Washington, DC. Yes, reforming entitlements and cutting spend elsewhere is incredibly important, but earmarks are a symbolic part of the battle. If we can’t cut this fraction of spending out of the budget or reform the earmark process, are we naive enough to believe that we can reform entitlements?
Back in 2006, at the height of the discussion about ethics in Congress, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) explained that earmarks are the “currency of corrpution.” Not only were members using them to steer business to donors and friends, they were being used by leadership of both parties to sway votes on legislation.
Since President Obama took office, the phrase “high speed rail” has become the buzzword for just about anything. Supposedly, it will stimulate our economy, reduce carbon emissions, and make cats and dogs live in perfect harmony. There’s just one problem I foresee with the President’s grand ambitions. I can’t find to many people interested in riding the damn thing.
High speed rail will cost the taxpayers billions of dollars. An entire infrastructure has to be put in place to support it as standard railways can’t handle the speed these trains can generate. That means more eminent domain seizures. That means less money for things people expect from government, be it law enforcement or welfare. That means years of construction with little to show for it prior to the grand unveiling.
For many that’s not that big of a deal. They’re willing to wait for something if it’s pretty awesome. They’re even willing to spend tax dollars for it. The question is, will it be worth a damn?
One of the knocks on Amtrak is best summed up by my trip to Manhattan, Kansas several years ago. I needed to actually get to Kansas City where a friend would pick me up. Taking Amtrak was going to take longer than a bus, and cost me more than taking a plane. There was no incentive to take a train at all, especially since a large chunk of that time period was a lay over.
In theory, high speed rail should solve that. The train moves faster after all. But the question is, will there be enough trains? A large part of my reason to not take a train - despite a desire to actually travel that way for once - was due to a very long lay over. The reason for that was because there isn’t enough traffic to justify more trains. So far, there’s little reason to assume high speed rail will have more travelers and therefore more trains running.
In my political science class we were discussing the issue of taxation. In order to better understand the issue and to balance out a lot of the negativity we inherently have towards taxation (which isn’t a bad thing) we discussed what we (personally and as a society) actually get in return for our taxes.
I decided to make a “cynical” version of the list we thought up in class. So here are ten things we get from taxes:
1 ) Drug Prohibition - Billions spent each year on making sure no one uses drugs that are “too dangerous” for us. Thank you nanny state! Except for the fatal flaw in this argument: marijuana is illegal yet more harmful substances such as alcohol and tobacco are legal. Not to mention the war on drugs is a complete and utter failure.
2 ) Overpaid Government Officials - It’s a well-known fact that city planners, parks and recreation directors, and many others in government are paid “comfortable” salaries sometimes even more than $100,000. Not only that, but many government officials have guaranteed pensions backed by the state. While people work long hours in the private (productive) sector who have to deal with 401K’s and actually saving and investing for retirement, these government officials have it made!
3 ) The Federal Reserve - Ah yes, the Federal Reserve who claims their existence is necessary to “maintain a strong currency,” have been doing just the opposite. As the dollar loses its value slowly but surely and bubbles have rocked our economy into deep recessions many times since its inception, it’s unfortunate this entity receives tax dollars from the private sector.
4 ) Foreign Aid - None of that money goes to waste, right? It all goes directly to the needy in the most efficient manner, no corruption involved! Right…
Amid more reports of Obama Administration-backed (ie. taxpayer-funded) green energy companies going under or facing severe financial problems, a new report shows that the $26 billion in so-called “investments” that have been made to prop up these companies average out to around $11 million per job:
According to the Institute for Energy Research, the Department of Energy has spent nearly $26 billion since 2009 on its Section 1703 and 1705 loan programs. However, these two programs only yielded 2,308 permanent jobs — meaning the cost to taxpayers was $11.25 million per job.
“Clearly, in terms of ‘bang for the buck,” government programs that coddle renewable energy are losers,” according to IER. “In terms of jobs, the losers are the American workers who would otherwise be gainfully employed but for the tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars on the administration’s obsession with “green energy.’”
The loans were part of the Obama Administration’s plans to create a “green economy” in the aftermath of the Great Recession. However, the loans have become symbolic of the cronyism and waste that has come with the policies it has pursued.
There’s a long list of failed “green energy” companies that have received taxpayer funding and/or tax breaks. In November, the Heritage Foundation released the names of 33 companies that received anywhere from $500,000 to $1.46 billion in taxpayer subsidies.
We’re heard time and time again that the federal government is having to make tough decisions to avoid the sequester, which are simply cuts to the rate of spending increases. However, Washington is still spending taxpayer dollars on completely wasteful endeavors that the simply should not be subsidizing.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the International Trade Administration, part of the Department of Commerce, spent $300,000 last year to help independent record labels promote their artists and products overseas:
For the first time, the U.S. government’s trade arm is stepping in to help the music business, funding trade missions to Brazil and Asia in recent months for the heads of a dozen independent music labels, which make up one-third of the U.S. music market.
It is a departure for the International Trade Administration, which has been spending $2 million annually to boost exports for the past two decades under its Market Development Cooperator Program but has never before given one of its $300,000 grants to the music industry, instead favoring sectors like machinery, technology and engineering services.
“We need to find new revenue streams,” said Rich Bengloff, president of the American Association of Independent Music, whose idea it was to apply for the grant. He led the trips and arranged meetings with local distributors, mobile-phone carriers, booking agents and ad agencies. “We now need to adjust to a smaller monetization at home.”
“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” — Milton Friedman
Did you know that the federal government has a Helium Reserve? We all know that there is a lot of hot air in Washington, but Congress has been stashing away helium since 1925, much like they do with oil. While most see how wasteful this is and that the private sector is stepping in to deal with the perceived helium crisis, Congress could not bring itself to axe the Federal Helium Program, continuing it by a vote of 394 to 1:
President Ronald Reagan tried to get rid of it. So did President Bill Clinton. This October, their wish is finally set to come true.
The Federal Helium Program — left over from the age of zeppelins and an infamous symbol of Washington’s inability to cut what it no longer needs — will be terminated.
Unless it isn’t.
On Friday, in fact, the House voted 394 to 1 to keep it alive.
The program at the center of this debate has its origins after World War I, in a kind of arms race that sounds ridiculous now. In Europe, countries such as Germany were building sturdy, if slow, inflatable airships. The U.S. military was worried about a blimp gap.
So Congress ordered a stockpile of helium to help American dirigibles catch up. It was assumed to be a temporary arrangement.
“As soon as private companies produce [helium], the government will, perhaps, withdraw?” asked Rep. Don Colton (R-Utah) during the House debate.
President Barack Obama released his budget last week, nearly two months after the legal deadline. We all know that he wants another $1 trillion in tax hikes, but what else does Obama’s budget have in store for Americans?
The Heritage Foundation released a handy infographic last week that shows that Obama’s budget fails to get spending under control, wastes taxpayer money on more “green energy” projects, and doubles down on ObamaCare. The only point of disagreement here is on defense spending. It, like entitlements, will eventually have to be cut for reformed to bring the budget back to a sustainable rate:
Written by Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
The Government Accountability Office has released its third annual report on fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative federal programs and activities. Proponents of making the government more efficient view the findings as an opportunity to achieve cost savings. While there’s obviously nothing wrong with the government spending less money than it has to, the goal should be to permanently shut the trains down – not just try to get them to run on time.