Archives: August, 2010

Bingaman Gets Paid to Flout Disclosure Rules

Judging by his earmark disclosures, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) seems to have said “To hell with you!” to the Senate Appropriations Committee and its earmarking rules. But the committee is doling out money to him anyway. It seems rules were made to be broken.

In March, the committee issued a press release reiterating its rules about earmarks—funding requests for special projects that go into Congress’ annual spending bills. Among other things, the rules say:

The Appropriations Committee will consider no request for spending on congressionally directed items … unless a description of the items proposed—including their purpose, location, the recipient of the funds, and an explanation of why the spending is in the interest of the taxpayers—is made publicly available on the Senator’s office website…

bingaman earmark disclosureTake a look at Senator Bingaman’s earmark requests [ugly PDF image] for the Energy & Water appropriations bill. It’s a day-late, dollar-short disaster! (Bingaman’s disclosures for other approps bills are collected here.)

Take one funding request, identified only as “Central NM 593.”

The location of the project is “Bernalillo, Valencia, and SandovaNM1 [sic] Counties.”

Its purpose and benefit to taxpayers? Just two words: “Water Supply.”

Nowhere does Senator Bingaman say who will receive the money. It’s something taxpayers might like to know, and the Senate Appropriations Committee requires its disclosure.

Based on that justification, Senator Bingaman got a million dollar payout. A million dollars for a two-word justification!

(There’s another that asks for funding in the amount of ‘8.00%’. What does that even mean?! Luckily it wasn’t funded…)

Senator Bingaman’s disclosure for the Energy & Water approps bill is just three pages long. Three pages cover 65 earmark requests, adding up to over half a billion dollars (and eight percent of something). Can a half-billion dollars in spending be justified in under three pages?

This should have received a “Stop—Do Not Pass Go—Do Not Collect $200” from the Senate Appropriations Committee. He obviously flouted their rules, denying the public visibility into his earmark requests as the committee required.

But Senator Bingaman got 14 earmarks in the Energy & Water bill, worth over $16 million. That’s $16 million for three uninformative pages.

This is transparency done wrong.

S. 3335 is a bill to require Congress to produce a database of earmark requests and earmarks. It has been reported to the full Senate by committee.

Is National Journal Giving ObamaCare a Big, Wet Smooch?

Come September, National Journal will host a policy summit titled “Prescription For Growth,” funded by Eli Lilly, that will probe “the potential impact of recently passed health care reform as an economic engine” and ask whether “health care reform [will] serve as a jobs creator and accelerate growth in health-related industries?”

Oy, where to begin?

I suppose I could start with how a news organization that bills itself as “the leading source of nonpartisan reporting” could lend ObamaCare a positive gloss by calling it “reform” – a term that even NPR declines to ascribe to actual legislation (for that reason).

Next, there’s this inane question of whether ObamaCare will spur job growth in the health care sector.  With two new health care entitlements and maybe a trillion dollars of new health spending…gosh, d’ya think?

But then there’s the presumption that creating new health care jobs is a good thing.  You’d think it would be.  After all, unemployment is near 10 percent.  But one of our biggest health care problems is that there are too many health care jobs.  The Dartmouth Institute’s Elliot Fisher has quipped, “In theory, we could send a third of the U.S. health care workforce to Africa and improve the health of both continents.”  ObamaCare will just make this country’s health care sector even more bloated and inefficient.

Wrap your head around all that this summit aims to accomplish.  It could give a boost to an unpopular and embattled law by taking one of the law’s biggest liabilities and dressing it up as an asset.  It could create a meme that helps turn around President Obama’s low approval rating on the economy – never mind that ObamaCare is stifling the right kind of job creation.

Of course, I may have this summit all wrong.  It may give all these issues a fair hearing.

Did I mention the summit’s sponsor is one of the biggest special-interest beneficiaries of ObamaCare?  (Tim Carney, call your office.)

Let’s Regulate Barney Frank’s Pay

“Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said Tuesday that he will hold a hearing this fall to examine whether regulators are being tough enough in curbing pay practices at Wall Street firms that can lead to excessively risky practices,” writes Zachary Goldfarb in the Washington Post.

Hmmm. “Pay practices that can lead to excessively risky practices.” Since Barney Frank entered Congress, federal spending has risen from $590 billion in 1980 to $3.7 trillion this year. (U.S. Budget, Historical Tables, Table 1.1) The annual deficit has risen from $74 billion to $1.5 trillion.  Gross federal debt rose from $909 billion to $13.8 trillion – and to over $15 trillion next year. (Table 7.1) And all this without a major war or depression during those 30 years.

Maybe we should adjust pay practices for members of Congress to give them an incentive to avoid risky, unaffordable, out-of-control borrowing and spending.

How (Not) to Do Scholarly Research

Nuno Monteiro, now an assistant professor at Yale but once my preceptor at the University of Chicago, has an interesting note on two aphorisms of the French poet Paul Valéry and how they apply to scholarly research.  My favorite is the second:

“A work is never achieved — meaningless word — but abandoned.” (“Un ouvrage n’est jamais achevé — mot qui n’a aucun sens, — mais abandonné;” sometimes also liberally translated as “A poem is never finished, merely abandoned,” or some such variation.)

Nuno Monteiro

Nuno goes on to apply this thought to his experience advising students (and I–perhaps as liberally as the errant translators above–read myself into this passage):

I have witnessed a great deal of unnecessary, counterproductive agonizing by students and other authors attempting to perfect their argument beyond what is feasible or useful. Like the poet, the researcher must know when to drop the project, call it done, and move on to the next question. One of the few certainties I have about research is that one will never feel one did a perfect job; that the project is finished, or achieved. The trick is to learn when to drop it; to learn to identify the point beyond which the marginal utility of additional effort becomes negative. Then it’s time to call it a day.

That’s perhaps a perfect note on which to pass along the paper I’ll be presenting at this year’s American Political Science Association annual meeting, available for download at SSRN.  Should you happen to be attending APSA, please drop by the panel where it will be presented, or the panel I am chairing, which features a paper coauthored by another of my U of C advisers, John Schuessler, who’s now at the U.S. Air War College.

In other news, I will be doing a bit of live-blogging (well, sort of live), reporting on sessions I’ve attended during the APSA annual meeting over at the Cato defense and foreign policy team’s new blog at the National Interest magazine.  Keep an eye out for APSA-related posts starting next Thursday.

PDK: Charter Schools Finally As Popular as Education Tax Credits Have Been Since Before Clinton’s Impeachment

The new PDK/Gallup education poll for 2010 is out, with the standard problems we can expect from this pro-government school/anti-choice outfit. Randi Weingarten even gets some column space! Oh Randi, you proud yet humble teacher. The “Commentary” sidebars in general were cringe-inducingly hackish and treacly.

It is interesting that there was a big spike in the percentage of people saying the biggest problem schools must deal with is a lack of funds. They’ve done a great job convincing folks there’s no money.

Of course, the way the question is worded, it encourages respondents to think about the difficulties schools are facing, which despite their flush accounts probably is dealing with funding issues. I’d like to see the answers to “What do you think are the biggest problems preventing the public schools of your community from increasing student achievement?” or some such question. And they certainly should ask how much people think is being spent. “The Research Organization formerly known as Friedman Foundation,” or TROFKAFF, has some great state polls showing how horribly misinformed most people are about the spending issue.

PDK is still boycotting the voucher question for a few years running.

But what is really indefensible is that they haven’t asked about education tax credits since 1999, just when the policy took off. There are now 12 credit programs in 9 states. Maybe support was far too high for their taste? In 1999 support was in the high 60’s, even after a battery of questions about vouchers and pitting public reform against private choice.

Good news for charter schools, which have finally pulled ahead of the support credits enjoyed during the Clinton administration, thanks no doubt to an increase in support among Dems/liberals courtesy of Obama lip-service. PDK; update please.

Obama on Human Rights in America

I’ve just sent a short post to ”The Corner” at NRO on the Obama State Department’s new report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on human rights conditions in the U.S.  In a word, we’ve got problems, especially concerning women, minorities, etc., but we’re trying to live up to the expectations of other human rights exemplars on the council – Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba.

Read and weep.

Spending and Deficits

E. J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post today that many Republicans think the George W. Bush administration was “too ready to run up the deficit.” But, he says,

That the deficit increased primarily because of two tax cuts and two wars was not part of most conservatives’ calculation because acknowledging this was ideologically inconvenient.

That’s one explanation. Of course, spending did rise by more than a trillion dollars during Bush’s eight years, and it wasn’t all military spending.

And as Michael Tanner writes today, “The Deficit Is a Symptom, Spending Is the Disease.”

Traditionally, federal spending has run around 21 percent of GDP. But George W. Bush and (even more dramatically) Barack Obama have now driven federal spending to more than 25 percent of GDP. And as the old joke goes, that’s the good news. As the full force of entitlement programs kicks in, the federal government will consume more than 40 percent of GDP by the middle of the century.

The real objection of libertarians and many conservatives to Bush is the massive increase in federal spending. As Tanner says, the deficit is just the symptom of an out-of-control, overspending federal government.