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

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Saturday, July 30, 2011

You Know They're Scared When Democrats Declare GOP Bills DOA

Isn't it funny how something as reciprocal as compromise is taken hostage by one party to use against the/another?

Boehner's debt limit bill hadn't even passed in the House yet yesterday, but Wonderboy, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and Chuckie Schumer all pronounced it DOA- Dead On Arrival.

And yet, in doing so, none of those Democrats thought or worried they would look recalcitrant, intractable or unreasonable. All of which they are.

When in a process that will probably require compromise, who is to say whose ideas are unacceptable or DOA?

What if Boehner had come out earlier and declared that anything but his House bill would be DOA when it came back for reconciliation in that chamber? How would Wonderboy and Harry have reacted to that?

What's worse is, all that Boehner and his colleagues have done is reacted to the 2010 election results and the public's disgust with decades of overspending. The House GOP has sensibly paired a debt limit increase with spending cuts and, while questionable, the understandable appeal to write and pass a Constitutional amendment for a balanced budget.

I laughed and turned the channel when I heard Dick Durbin sputtering about how unnatural and unreasonable it was for the House to attach a BBA demand to a debt limit increase.

Here's another perspective on the whole process. One which esteemed conservative pundit and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer echoed on Friday evening on Brett Baier's program, in contrast to a liberal kiss-up, whiny guest on the panel at the program's end.

Essentially, what we are witnessing is a seismic political shift begun by the election of a core of about 87 Tea Party House members and a handful of Tea Party Senators from the GOP last November. They are sufficiently numerous to affect House bills. If 100 Senators had been up for re-election last year, instead of only 32 or 33, it's quite possible that the GOP, with its Tea Party component, would have taken control of that chamber, as well.

But, as it is, a new political wind is blowing through Congress. Dick Durbin's astonishment notwithstanding, the new House members represent the public's awakening to the unwanted actions of its Congresses of the past several decades.

As Krauthahammer intoned, and I heartily agree, screw bipartisanship. You need a good partisan battle over the nation's direction at the federal level at least once every generation. This is that moment, in the post-Reagan era.

It's pretty clear that, based on his last three years of behavior, Wonderboy couldn't be re-elected today if it was a strictly 'yes/no' vote. The Senate will probably go Republican next year.

For Democrats to simply scream that it's outrageous to attach spending cuts to a debt limit increase, and try to curb spending both now and in the future, tells you they are scared. Scared to death that they've finally maxed out the nation's federal credit card and lines, and won't be able to continue with their lavish social programs.

In fact, despite their cries that Republicans want to preserve tax cuts for "the rich" while cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, that's precisely what's going to happen, more or less. With time, tax rates will fall, special deductions and tax preferences will disappear, and overall tax receipts will rise as the economy recovers. But the bases for determining social spending will have to be shifted toward current defined contributions. There's simply no other way for such promised benefits to be sustained into the future.

That Wonderboy and his Senate and House minions are screaming 'DOA' to Boehner and his plan simply telegraphs how truly scared they now are, having seen the inevitable handwriting on the wall.

Friday, July 29, 2011

More On Why A Balanced Budget Amendment Is A Bad Idea

In this post earlier this month, I argued that a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is not a good idea. Specifically, I wrote,

"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.

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."
Last Friday,  Peter H. Schuck, a professor at Yale Law School wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled The Balanced Budget Amendment's Fatal Flaw, which provided some of the details of which I wasn't as aware, supporting my contention. Here is his piece in its entirety.

A balanced budget amendment (BBA), a hardy perennial in Congress, is once again in the headlines. This is entirely understandable. The public trusts neither the president nor Congress, regardless of the party in control, to strike and maintain an economically healthy, sustainable balance between federal spending and revenues. Thus, the idea of tying them to the constitutional mast, Ulysses-like, so that they cannot succumb to the inevitable temptation to spend more and tax less is itself tempting to many reformers and voters.

Nevertheless, many sound objections to a BBA exist, which the current version—indeed, any version—cannot adequately address. Many of these objections, such as the need for deficit spending in a recession, are hoary Keynesian pieties and will resonate only with liberals and moderates. But one objection, largely absent from the debate so far, should convince even the most hidebound conservative to strongly oppose the BBA.

I can think of no other law that would empower judges to exercise more political and policy-making discretion than a balanced budget amendment. It would quickly realize every conservative's fears of an "imperial judiciary" that "legislates from the bench"—even if the courts simply did their job and did not grasp for that power.

First, the courts would be swamped with challenges to every governmental decision with significant budgetary implications, which means almost all important decisions. As federal Judge Ralph Winter pointed out long ago, the judges would have to decide who, if anyone, would have standing to sue and who the proper defendant would be. If they ruled that no one had standing, then the amendment would be legally unenforceable, a dead letter. If the judges found standing, however, a host of exceptionally controversial legal-interpretation issues would arise.

Perhaps the most fundamental questions have been posed by Rudy Penner, who was Congressional Budget Office director in the Reagan years: What is a "budget," and which budgets are covered by the amendment? This is pivotal because the amendment would create an irresistible incentive for politicians to expand "off-budget" programs or establish new ones.

Social Security, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Postal Service and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are all off-budget and constitute a huge share of federal fiscal commitments. The BBA does not even mention this multitrillion-pound gorilla, nor does it deal with the creation of new off-budget spending programs which would certainly proliferate in its wake, so a judge would have to decide whether they are included. (The state and local equivalent dodge of balanced budget rules is the "special district"—some 40,000 nationwide—which often has taxing power. )

The BBA also uses the basic term "tax" as if it were self-defining, but of course it isn't. Indeed, one of the key issues in the legal challenge to ObamaCare is whether the spending mandates in the legislation constitute a tax (as the administration argues) or a penalty (as its opponents claim). Only the courts can decide—and so far they have split on the issue. This is political power of a high order, given the importance of the legislation.

Then there are the classic ploys that governments use to evade budgetary restrictions, about which the BBA is also silent. Does the amendment's term "outlay" apply to long-term capital investments such as infrastructure spending, of which the Obama administration is so fond? If not, we can anticipate lots more spending being called capital investment. The judges will have to decide whether the amendment applies or not.

Does "outlay" cover government loan guarantees—a form of subsidy used promiscuously by government to avoid budgetary constraints? Does "revenue" include so-called "offsetting receipts" such as the large amounts that Medicare beneficiaries pay for their physician and drug benefits? If so, we can expect Congress to use more of them. Again, the courts will have to decide.

It does seem clear that the amendment would not cover private expenditures mandated by government regulation of individuals and firms. After all, regulations affect private budgets, not governmental ones; that is part of their political appeal. If the BBA passes, then look for the politicians to transfer much of their spending desires into a burst of new regulations. For conservatives, this should be a nightmare.

The political pundits report that there is no chance that the balanced budget amendment will pass. This should be cause for conservative celebration, not disappointment.

While I'm not as focused on these legal details as Prof. Schuck is, it's the sort of weakness which I imagined an amendment would have. Loose, undefined language, easily circumvented by new fiscal creations in Congress or the White House. The unconsolidated nature of federal budgeting.
The fact that the House GOP members are pushing such an amendment is more non-partisan proof that you don't want to give too much power to Congress, because, in total, they are simply never the brightest guys in the room. Letting them add a BBA to the Constitution would create a nightmare worse, if that's possible, than our current out-of-control fiscal situation.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alarming American Government Fiscal Trends

Arthur Brooks, head of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an editorial in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal arguing that the current debt limit fight is more critically about the moral values of our Republic than it is merely about economics. His empirical evidence of America's 50-year descent into socialism is chilling,

"But before they succumb to too much caution, budget reformers need to remember three things. First, this is not a political fight between Republicans and Democrats; it is a fight against 50-year trends toward statism. Second, it is a moral fight, not an economic one. Third, this is not a fight that anyone can win in the 15 months from now to the presidential election. It will take hard work for at least a decade.

Consider a few facts. The Bureau of Economic Analysis tells us that total government spending at all levels has risen to 37% of gross domestic product today from 27% in 1960—and is set to reach 50% by 2038. The Tax Foundation reports that between 1986 and 2008, the share of federal income taxes paid by the top 5% of earners has risen to 59% from 43%. Between 1986 and 2009, the percentage of Americans who pay zero or negative federal income taxes has increased to 51% from 18.5%. And all this is accompanied by an increase in our national debt to 100% of GDP today from 42% in 1980.

Where will it all lead? Some despairing souls have concluded there are really only two scenarios. In one, we finally hit a tipping point where so few people actually pay for their share of the growing government that a majority become completely invested in the social welfare state, which stabilizes at some very high level of taxation and government social spending. (Think Sweden.)

In the other scenario, our welfare state slowly collapses under its weight, and we get some kind of permanent austerity after the rest of the world finally comprehends the depth of our national spending disorder and stops lending us money at low interest rates. (Think Greece.)

In other words: Heads, the statists win; tails, we all lose.

Anyone who seeks to provide serious national political leadership today—those elected in 2010 or who seek national office in 2012—owe Americans a plan to escape having to make this choice. We need tectonic changes, not minor fiddling."

He's right that it will take more than a few months to reverse the awful fiscal changes in America over the past 50 years.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debt Ceiling Durations- Do The Math!

Charles Krauthammer made a wonderful point last night on Bret Baier's 6PM Fox News program.

Citing Wonderboy's recent speech which lionized Reagan, then quickly demanded a 2-year debt limit extension, the well-regarded conservative pundit noted the following.

During Reagan's two terms, the debt limit was raised approximately 18 times. Dividing the 96 months of Reagan's Presidency by 18 debt limit increases results in an average duration of 5-6 months.

So the First Rookie is, once again, playing fast and loose with the facts. Reagan, whom he now praises, presided over debt limit increases which lasted far less than what he now demands.


Also typical is the fact that nobody in the print or broadcast media caught this error, either.

Debt Limit Updates

Last night on Sean Hannity's program, Republican Senators Tom Coburn and Saxby Chambliss, both members of the so-called Gang of Six, directly repudiated the notion that their meetings and proposals were ever intended to affect the debt limit issue.

Chambliss explicitly accused Wonderboy of grabbing the Gang of Six efforts for cover in order to disguise and obscure his lack of leadership on fiscal matters.

Earlier on Fox News, Charles Krauthammer opined on the House GOP Tea Party-backed members' objections to Boehner's plan. He made the argument, very effectively, that for those House members to fail to back Boehner, and trigger a crisis, was to become co-owners of the Wonderboy's lackluster economy and any resulting negative economic consequences.

Krauthammer then reiterated that the real goal is 2012, not August 2nd. That a failure of the House to pass Boehner's bill, demonstrating an ability to offer a solution, will mean failure next year to win the Senate and White House.

Sage remarks indeed.

Regarding Peggy Noonan's Latest Drivel

Peggy Noonan's condition, whatever it exactly is, must be worsening. Her column in last weekend's Wall Street Journal seemed to reach a new low in coherence, though it did manage to make some sense at the end.

She lauded the Senate's 'Gang of Six' proposals, nebulous as they are reported to be, writing,

"...but to quickly push it aside would be a real missed opportunity. Those who critique the plan can help it. Its cuts in entitlements and its attempts to reform them are unclear and appear insufficient. If the Senate passed a final proposal along Gang of Six lines, House Republicans would have to make the bill more concrete, more reliable in its mechanisms. And they'd probably have to make deeper cuts...."

And, to quote an old West Virginia-born ATT colleague of mine,

"If a pig had wings it'd be a chicken."

Gee, Peggy, were you taking your nap last week when the House passed its Cut, Cap and Balance bill? Or its detailed Ryan budget a few months ago? Both of which are all you describe, so that the Senate could have merely met in conference with the House to hash out details and pass both.

My point is, the House already did what Noonan suggests, so why would anybody need a less-specific so-called plan from the Senate?

They don't.

Which is why the Gang of Six proposals are worthless. They are a navel-contemplation among six percent of one chamber of Congress, while another 529 Congressional members would like to have a say. Sort of a Super Congress prototype.

Hell, just confine it to the Senate. What about the handful of new GOP Senators like Johnson of Wisconsin, Paul of Kentucky, and Rubio of Florida? Don't you think Tom Coburn and his other two GOP Gang of Three have slighted the former, making them feel useless, having just arrived on a wave of Tea Party passions for spending cuts?

There's something else about the Gang of Six proposal that smacks of arrogance. Even Noonan admitted,

"It could not be turned into specific legislation quickly....Kent Conrad said Thursday morning it could take six months to get it all done and through the appropriate committees."

Then what in God's name is anyone doing considering it in the same timeframe as the debt limit? Aside from being a self-serving distraction for some Senators, it's something that could have been done anytime.

Shame on Conrad and his colleagues for trying to elbow their way onto the debt limit stage with something that has no place there, but could have and should have been more broadly broached in the Senate months ago.

Here's a guy- Conrad- who can't manage to do his job and get a budget through the Senate for over 800 days, but finds time for his little skull sessions with five other Senators so he can grab some valuable media time and attention.

But, after completely misreading the Gang of Six proposals and blowing her coverage of it, Noonan turned around and wrote some sensible things about Wonderboy's disgraceful behavior of the last month or so.

"For the longest time he didn't care about spending, and now he cares about spending. Good, both in terms of policy and for him. But his decision to become engaged has become a decision to dominate, to have his face in front of the television cameras with his news conferences, pronouncements, and what his communications people are probably calling his "ownership" of any final agreement. He's trying to come across as the boss, the indispensable man, the leader. And, of course, the reasonable one.

That's all very nice and part of Political Positioning 101, but at this point it's not helping. He's becoming box-office poison. His numbers are falling. The RealClearPolitics composite job approval poll rating has him down six points since June 2, when the debt-ceiling crisis began. That fall, from 52% to 46%, exactly tracks his heightened media presence and his increased attempts to be seen as dominant. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, said that if he ran for president today he'd lose, that his job-approval numbers are "worse than they appear," and that he continues to have real trouble with undecided voters.

And if you've watched him lately, you know why. When he speaks on the debt negotiations, he is not only extremely boring, with airy and bromidic language—really they are soul-killing, his talking points—but he never seems to be playing it straight. He always seems to be finagling, playing the angles in some higher game that only he gets. In two and a half years he has reached the point that took George W. Bush five years to reach: People aren't listening anymore.

The other day he announced the Gang of Six agreement with words that enveloped the plan in his poisonous embrace: "I wanted to give folks a quick update on the progress that we're making." We're. He has "continued to urge both Democrats and Republicans to come together." What would those little devils do without Papa? "The good news is that today a group of senators . . . put forward a proposal that is broadly consistent with the approach that I've urged." I've urged. Me, me, me.

That approach includes "shared sacrifice, and everybody is giving up something." He was like a mother coming in and cheerily announcing: "Dinner's served! Less for everybody!"

We're trying to begin a comeback, not a famine. We're trying to take actions that will allow us to grow.

He's like a walking headache. He's probably triggering Michele Bachmann's migraines.

The Gang of Six members themselves should have been given the stage to make their own announcement, and their own best case.

The president, if he is seriously trying to avert a debt crisis, should stay in his office, meet with members, and work the phones, all with a new humility, which would be well received. It is odd how he patronizes those with more experience and depth in national affairs.

He should keep his face off TV. He should encourage, cajole, work things through, be serious, get a responsible deal, and then re-emerge with joy and the look of a winner as he jointly announces it to the nation. Then his people should leak that he got what he wanted, the best possible deal, and the left has no idea the ruin he averted and the thanks they owe him.

For now, for his sake and the sake of an ultimate plan, he should choose Strategic Silence."

I like how Noonan was so blunt about how Wonderboy tries to focus everything on himself, as if he's the parent of a bunch of recalcitrant, wayward children. In fact, people like Paul Ryan have more time in Congress than Wonderboy had before he ran for his current office. In the two years prior to this job, he essentially voted 'present' in the Senate while preparing to run for the White House.

He is the least-experienced guy among 536 elected federal officials ostensibly trying to do something.

Chances are, if he would just shut up and stay off camera, the Congressional leaders and their troops could get something passed, then just shove it down the First Rookie's throat and tell him to sign it or don't bother campaigning for another term.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Reflections On The "Super Congress"

In Sunday's post I expressed my initial reaction to the so-called Super Congress being bandied about by Harry Reid to resolve the federal spending crisis,

"On that theme, I find the Senate's floating of the concept of a 'Super Congress' of a dozen members drawn from the two parties and each chamber, equally, to wrestle with spending and debt problems, to be the height of both arrogance and evasion of responsibility.

I think American voters are tiring of so many important fiscal decisions taking place among a few legislators behind closed doors. If I were cynical, I'd suggest this Super Congress is an attempt to freeze out the influence of the Tea Party movement.

Of course, one wonders if it's even Constitutional. For sure, it's yet another sign that our elected Congress members can't seem to just do their job, and look to endlessly pass the buck to various Commissions, study groups, committees and such."

I'm writing this on Sunday evening, so there may have been subsequent repudiation of the idea before this publishes. No matter.

As I've mulled the concept over this afternoon, I find it increasingly repugnant and indicative of a chamber totally out of touch with the American electorate.

Of course, only 33 or so members were elected, leaving the Democats in control, so that may explain the Senate's failure to comprehend the scope and nature of the Tea Party-triggered insistence of so many voters for deep, lasting spending cuts.

The House, being totally elected every two years, is much closer, by design, to the voters' impulses. I don't think the GOP House members will countenance such an abrogation of it's chamber's Constitutional power to originate spending bills. Handing this off to a commission half-composed of Senators isn't going to sit well with them.

Moreover, it seems to me that only hoary Senators could possibly miss the disgust of most voters with Washington's way of doing business. Thinking that by officially closeting a few Senators and Representatives behind closed doors, the very weighty issues of cutting spending and entitlements can be re/solved.

These are the very cornerstones of liberal Democratic idiocy dating back to 1935. There's no way that their restructuring will be legitimate if conceived in secret by 12 members of Congress.

Better, instead, to nominate a spectrum of private sector and academic cognoscenti to suggest an array of options.

The last people you'd trust with knowing how to handle fixing such poorly-designed programs are 12 members of Congress- Democratic or Republican.

But the larger issue is that Reid and other Senators are so conceited as to think that creating a sub-Congress to do what they don't seem to be able to do is acceptable to voters. They duck doing their jobs, then think that by some sleight of hand, they can fool voters.

Let's replace every one of the bastards in the Senate- or House- who dares vote for such a contemptible way out of just fixing the massive entitlement mistakes in Congress, in the open, as they all were elected to do.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dick Morris On The Undecided

I've been meaning to write this post for a week or more.

Last week, or maybe the one before, Dick Morris provided some fascinating insights on presidential election polls in one of his frequent appearances on Sean Hannity's Fox News program.

As a veritable flood of polls spew weekly, during the maneuvering over the debt limit, pundits spin the results to their particular viewpoint.

Many on the left note that no Republican challengers yet can outpoll Wonderboy. Those on the right take solace that the president's approval numbers are low and falling, his election poll results are below 50%, and it's still over a year before the election.

What Morris said is that 80% of those marked undecided in polls break for the challenger. He remarked that he used to tell Clinton this during his election campaigns, based on research Morris has done on elections stretching back to 1960.

As Morris describes it, undecided voters' dispositions toward a sitting president are like a spouse who is undecided on whether s/he'd remarry the other spouse. Simply being undecided at that point is effectively rejecting the incumbent.

Thus, most of the polls showing Republicans losing with numbers like 47% to 37% leave 16% undecided. Of those, more than 12% will go for the challenger, making the poll really 47% for Wonderboy vs. at least 49% for the Republican.

Something important to recall as the GOP field fills out and gets down to work for 2012. And clearly worrisome for Wonderboy.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Super Congress" & Wonderboy's State of Denial

It's incredible to listen to Wonderboy's comments in his increasingly-frequent public appearances which indicate he's in denial about his responsibility for the current debt limit problem.

Speaking as if some unnamed third party embarked on the orgy of borrowing and spending which the First Rookie led since his election, he now complains that Republicans won't just raise taxes and the debt limit so he can continue to destroy the American economy.

Hasn't it occurred to people, especially Wonderboy, that if he hadn't demanded the stimulus, the health care bill and other activities which have swelled federal spending to 24% of GDP, we wouldn't need to be raising the debt limit?

Personally, as I wrote in this post last Sunday on my companion business blog, it could well be that a temporary default would be a good thing if it leads to permanently-reduced federal spending and borrowing.

On that theme, I find the Senate's floating of the concept of a 'Super Congress' of a dozen members drawn from the two parties and each chamber, equally, to wrestle with spending and debt problems, to be the height of both arrogance and evasion of responsibility.

I think American voters are tiring of so many important fiscal decisions taking place among a few legislators behind closed doors. If I were cynical, I'd suggest this Super Congress is an attempt to freeze out the influence of the Tea Party movement.

Of course, one wonders if it's even Constitutional. For sure, it's yet another sign that our elected Congress members can't seem to just do their job, and look to endlessly pass the buck to various Commissions, study groups, committees and such.

I know all about the military base-closing commission. But this isn't something relatively tangential as that was. This topic- spending and borrowing to fund it- is now central to the American economy and national politics and government.

Allowing 12 people, out of 535, to decide how to do that, is to effectively nullify the other 523. It's wrong and cowardly.