“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, July 22, 2011

Karl Rove's Perspective On The Latest Debt Ceiling Maneuvering

As I suspected, and wrote in yesterday's post, the Senate's 'Gang of Six' so-called proposal for a debt limit increase has been roundly criticized by even other Senators as incapable of being written into law before Wonderboy's self-imposed August 2nd deadline.

Both Rand Paul and Jim DeMint have explained that there's not a hope in hell of all the legislative detail being negotiated on all the aspects of the Gang's detail-less grand bargain.

Karl Rove noted in his Thursday Wall Street Journal column that this suits the First Rookie just fine. Promises of future spending cuts, unspecified tax and entitlement reforms to be explained later is a plan he can sign up for. So he gave a special press conference just to announce it.

Rove, however, threw his weight behind Paul Ryan's GOP House members. He points out that they have passed the only legitimate bill to raise the debt limit, this week's Cut, Cap and Balanced bill. Harry Reid's so fearful of it he refused to schedule debate or a vote on it in the Senate, then called on Democratic Senators to filibuster it, should it make it to the floor for discussion.

Rove went on to advise that the House GOP push harder in these last days, adding the various tax reforms which Wonderboy has nattered on about for weeks, and are now the subject of several left-wing cable television ads. Doing so, Rove points out, will disarm the liberals opposing the House bill, while adding yet more pressure on the president and the Democratically-controlled Senate.

Rove, Jim DeMint and former Clinton advisor Dick Morris all stress that the House GOP must prepare themselves to be more vocal as they sell their accomplishments to voters and stress that Wonderboy and the Senate offer no detailed plans in opposition. Throughout all of the hoopla over the debt limit, as Paul Ryan has said several times, the president has not once provided a detailed plan for spending cuts, tax reforms, or anything associated with raising the debt limit. He's been, predictably, all talk and no action.

Worse, he's threatened to stop paying debt interest, Social Security obligations and military compensation, to raise the ante. But all Congressional Republicans whom I've heard speak assert that doing so is the president's choice, but not necessary. Further, some House GOP members are talking of including 'must-pay' language in a subsequent debt limit increase bill.

Just as he let Frisco Nan write the stimulus health care bills, Wonderboy is now gravitating to Kent Conrad's vapor-bill. Conrad attempted to silence critics by claiming that they are trying to kill his 'plan' before learning more about it, but that's simply untrue. There are no details to it- that's why Democrats want to support it.

Let's hope Paul Ryan, John Boehner and Eric Cantor are listening to Rove, DeMint, Rand and their ilk and continue to press their advantage without caving in to Democratic demands for higher taxes and unspecified future spending cuts in exchange for a debt ceiling increase.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Paul Ryan On The Latest Senate "Gang of Six" Proposal

On Tuesday evening, I caught Paul Ryan's interview on Sean Hannity's Fox News program. It was quite revealing.

I think I was most surprised and, in a way, heartened, by Ryan's reference to an old House saying,

'The other party is your adversary but the Senate is the enemy.'

And so it seems this week.

Smarmy Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, who never met a tax hike he didn't like, declares earnestly that his mix of taxes increases, called 'reform' by the suspect Conrad, entitlement 'reforms,' and spending cuts will address the country's deficit problems.

But Conrad already tips his hand by piling on other issues to what is a spending problem, not a deficit problem, per se.

What is inexplicable is why Tom Coburn joined this latest travesty.

Ryan was quite sanguine and blunt in saying that the alleged several trillion dollars of lower deficits from the Senate plan were neither clear nor specific, with no details whatsoever on what spending was to be cut. But what was clear is that the Senators are playing games, claiming cuts from 'baselines,' rather than absolute cuts. The Senate, meaning Conrad, hasn't passed a budget in 800+ days, or nearly three years.

Since the House originates funding bills, and Ryan is chairman of it's Budget Committee, I take Ryan's comments to heart. He doesn't trust the Senate, and he doesn't mention party affiliation.

Once more, I find solace in the midst of this comedy involving the debt limit by seeing the Founders' checks and balances at work.

It seems to me that Ryan sees the Senate as detached from reality, not focused on what Ryan and his freshman, Tea Party-backed colleagues, understand, which is that, more than anything else, Americans want federal spending cut.

Yes, entitlement and tax reform are good things to accomplish. But lumping them in with the debt limit and spending cuts suggests that all these items are negotiable.

I think Ryan and his House colleagues realize what Senators do not, i.e., the debt limit issue is about current and near-term spending. Not taxes or entitlements, per se.

From Ryan's answers to Hannity, it doesn't seem likely that House GOP members are interested in budging from passing a debt limit increase only upon cutting current and near-term spending significantly. Period. Rand Paul was interviewed on Sean Hannity's program last night, and his position is essentially identical to Ryan's positions. Paul castigated Conrad's so-called 'plan,' saying it's not a plan and legislation written to implement it would result in another multi-thousand-page bill finished only hours before a vote to pass it, like the stimulus and health care bills.

Right now I'm hearing Democratic blowhard Barney Frank whine and complain about House GOP members, calling them inflexible, too conservative, etc. In short, they are getting in the way of his need to wastefully spend more of your tax dollars, and whatever borrowed Chinese money he needs, too.

Thanks to the Constitution's checks and balances, Wonderboy's attempt to rush through tax increases and future spending cuts that will never occur, in order to get his debt limit increase, look unlikely to succeed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Regarding a Balanced Budget Amendment

After reading a recent Wall Street Journal staff editorial concerning proposed Balanced Budget amendments as part of the current debt limit debates, I have changed my position on the topic from what I wrote in this post last month. In that early June piece, I wrote,

"The former Senator goes on to complain that such a balanced budget amendment strips Congress of its Constitutional duty to make spending decisions, failing to acknowledge that the decisions Congress has made since 1933 is always simply "more."

That's why we need an amendment. And even then it's almost certain to contain at least one war-related loophole, which should make you cringe at how craven some future president will be, in conjunction with Congress, to excuse higher deficits.

Can't you just imagine us declaring war on Lichtenstein in order to run yet another annual budget deficit?

I'm sorry to say, I can. That's how bad the untrustworthiness of the average Congressman and Senator has become."
Certainly, within the context of this current struggle over Congressional authorization of a debt limit, a Balanced Budget amendment is Constitutional overkill. Being old enough to remember several attempts to add amendments to the Constitution, this is neither the time nor the manner in which to resolve the issue at hand.
Ramming such an amendment through Congress in 2-3 weeks will only assure that it's ill-designed and overlooks important details.
I was also swayed by arguments in the recent Journal editorial against an amendment. In particular, these passages,

"The new Members who are intent on fiscal responsibility should visit with Congressional historians to discover a root cause of this modern spending catastrophe—the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, the most laughable title ever placed on a federal law.

Passed amid Richard Nixon's struggles over spending with Congress, the law eviscerated the President's ability to impound Congressional spending. The law itself was an act of rage against Nixon's impoundments. "Control" over spending tipped into the hands of Congress, as is clear from the upward path of federal spending post-1974. This was the start of the infamous "baseline" budgeting rules, which automatically ratchet up spending from one year to the next.

Rather than trying to scale the impossibly high cliff of a Constitutional amendment, younger Members should revisit that bad law and fix it. Tom DeLay never wanted to fix it, but Paul Ryan does. The goal of an achievable reform act would be to put spending on a downward slope. That would include getting rid of baseline budgeting, restoring the Presidential impoundment power (if liberal Congresses hated it, it must have been good), and requiring the two-thirds majority for tax increases.

The BBA's supporters are right that the U.S. is riding a runaway entitlement train. That train, however, is the product of politics, and politics is the way it will have to be stopped. The main political impact of the BBA, however, will be to give "moderate" Senate Democrats up for re-election next year a chance to enhance their prospects by voting "for" spending control they don't believe in."

Furthermore, the editorial pointed out an unintended consequence of a BBA, i.e., liberal Democrats will use it to cut spending they don't like, such as defense, while raising taxes under the protection of the amendment.

No, it's too blunt an instrument for what is, in reality, a product of political forces. And it doesn't share something most other amendments do, which is either an added law involving a fundamental concept viewed as central to American values, such as the Bill of Rights, or a very clear-cut, well-defined operationally-oriented amendment, such as succession of a disable President, direct election of Senators, and the like.

This current debacle will have to be resolved without resorting to a Hail Mary solution such as a BBA.

And, happily, Paul Ryan is interested in changing the awful Impoundment Act of 1974 in order to bring a measure of budgetary control back into the process sans an amendment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Economics of Mainstreaming Handicapped Children

A friend of mine has been involved with Special Education this summer.

Asked by another school district if he were interested in teaching a handful of students for about half the summer, he has found himself, along with several assistants, essentially providing child care from 8-12 for half a dozen special needs children.

The tab for this state-provided daycare is astounding. There's my friend's compensation, several thousand dollars, plus that of his aides.

What's astounding is how little of value, other than warehousing, is going on in this taxpayer-funded half-day summer camp masquerading as school.

Of the children attending, several are autistic, several are heavily-medicated, and another is a foster child whose guardian's objective seems to be to place the child somewhere all day, every day. Since 'school' is free, whereas camps cost money, all of these children are in summer school.

Despite my friend's best efforts, his explanation of what takes place each day makes clear what a waste of society's money calling it 'school' is.

We talked about the larger issue of mainstreaming these children during the conventional school year. As one might expect, our viewpoints differed. He claimed that, if he were involved in Special Ed full time, then, over time, he could get a few of these children to learn something useful. That's the opinion of an affected, involved teacher who pretty much has to believe that his efforts make a difference.

What I see is something much different.

Before mainstreaming and Special Ed, most of these children weren't allowed anywhere near conventional K-8 or high schools. That's because the cost of attempting to educate them was so high, due to labor intensity, and the method of instructions so different from the mainstream, that it made no sense. As it is this summer, the teacher:student ratio approaches 2:3.

But nonsense is what we now have. What is being taught isn't remotely near normal education. None of these children, from my friend's description, are ever likely to be independent, productive adult members of society.

During a far-ranging discussion on the subject, I reminded my friend that by mainstreaming handicapped children into conventional schools, a capital spending burden was added to the ongoing operational expenses of each school.

From a strictly societal, economic view of education, it's almost impossible to justify mainstreaming. Public education, as we have it in the US, for better or for worse, is meant to educate the broad population of children to become economically productive adults. In a globally-competitive world, money spent on this function has to be as productive as other nations which do a good job of it, or our nation's resources are being comparatively wasted.

Thus, as heartless as it may seem, for all taxpayers to be saddled with the effort of making believe that behaviorally, emotionally and/or mentally handicapped children can be mainstreamed with no adverse effects on teachers, other students, the school systems, and costs/pupil, is unfair. Because, unlike most students, who can leave school able to be functioning adults capable of independently making their way in society, those handicapped students cannot do so.

The attempt to mainstream such children reflects our nation's, and my state's apparent disregard for the reality of limited economic resources, including tax dollars.

I'm fine with a state or the nation setting up defined-contribution plans for children with non-physical handicaps which prevent them from benefiting from the conventional school experience. But to subject entire school systems to costs and changes in order to benefit a few who won't actually attain the desired goals of such systems is simply unaffordable.

People like Tom Freston did our society no favor when, as a former Viacom senior executive, he fought New York to force the state to pay for private schooling for his autistic child which he could easily afford.

Every parent or teacher of an autistic or otherwise-handicapped child wants, perhaps needs, to believe that that child, with enough special, individualized attention, can become a functioning, independent adult. But the truth is, the chances are not very good of that being true. Thus, it's unfair to make the rest of society pay for every handicapped child's parents and teachers' hopes.

Liberals like to claim that the worth or measure of a society is how it treats its least-fortunate members. And, in a vacuum of real economics and global competition, that could be true.

But that's not the world in which we live, and if we continue to spend money at the rate I'm seeing through my friend's brush with "teaching" handicapped children this summer, I question whether our American society will be capable of maintaining its competitive edge among other nations for another generation.

At which point everyone's educational performance and our society's ability to afford what we now take for granted will be at risk.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kent Conrad- Federal Tax Assessor

I've held Democratic Senator and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad in contempt for many years. Certainly his evasion of corruption charges and jail time for accepting bribes from now-disgraced former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo earned him that. Conrad and fellow financial services sector oversight Senator Chris Dodd both enjoyed sweetheart mortgage deals from the firm they oversaw into near-bankruptcy.

Now Conrad is faithfully shilling for Wonderboy, calling for $1T of new taxes to try to fill the deficit hole that his party has created with its spending orgy. Never mind that Conrad's committee hasn't managed to actually write or pass a budget for a couple of years.

Basically, Conrad, a former state tax collector, is the same for his party on the national level, as well as an overall team lackey. Whatever mindless, senseless line the party takes, Conrad will dutifully mouth it.

I've never understood why some in the conservative media think Conrad is moderate or thoughtful. He's not.

He was hip-deep in taking favors while turning a blind eye to at least one firm's questionable mortgage lending practices during the runup to the recent financial crisis. And escaped without punishment.

How is it that this type of tainted Senator is lauded in the press and given a free pass to wreck the US economy?