Tag: Barack Obama

Obama’s Military Tribunals

This week Obama announced that he intends to prosecute prisoners before military tribunals.  The administration is taking pains to point out that Obama is not embracing the Bush policy.  These will be Obama’s tribunals, not Bush’s.  But since Mr. Obama’s executive order can be revised or withdrawn at any time, the new and improved procedures do not amount to much.   The tribunals were wrongheaded under Bush and the critique applies equally well to Obama’s “new” policy.

As others have noted, Obama has now embraced tribunals, Gitmo, and the Patriot Act.    Bad news, but at least Obama kept his promises to end the wars and get us on a sound financial footing.

For additional Cato work related to military tribunals, go here and here.

Spending Growth: Nondefense Discretionary

Last week I compared “other mandatory” spending in fiscal 2007 to the president’s proposal for fiscal 2012. Several readers requested that I produce a chart showing a similar breakdown for nondefense discretionary spending (or “domestic discretionary”).

The following chart breaks down nondefense discretionary outlays according to Budget Enforcement Act categories. These categories generally consist of programs from multiple departments and agencies. For example, “Science, Space, & Technology” includes programs at the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and NASA.

Note: The president’s fiscal 2012 budget proposes that surface transportation outlays, which make up the majority of spending in the transportation category, be budgeted as mandatory rather than discretionary.

Nondefense discretionary spending accounts for approximately 17 percent of total federal spending. It is this relatively small, but nonetheless important, portion of overall federal spending that Republicans and Democrats are currently arguing over. Democrats are balking at a Republican proposal to trim $61 billion in nondefense discretionary funding. A new Cato video puts the GOP’s proposed cuts in perspective.


High Schools to the President: What Thrill?

A couple of years ago, I was highly critical of President Obama’s first, it turns out annual, televised school-year kickoff address to America’s students. At the time I got a lot of emails telling me how outrageous my stance was, and how anyone, of any political persuasion, should be thrilled to have the President of the United States talk to their kids.

Apparently, the thrill is gone when you actually have to do a little work to get the President. According to internal White House memos, the President’s “Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge” – in which schools compete for a chance to get the Prez as their graduation speaker – had generated only 68 applications as of February 28, which was after the original application deadline of Feburary 25. (The White House has extended the deadline to March 11.) To put that in perspective, the nation had over 24,000 public secondary schools as of the 2007-08 school year, meaning only about 0.3 percent of public high schools have expressed any serious desire to have the President send their charges off to adulthood. (Well, or college.)

So have our high schools suddenly discovered the Constitution, which gives the President no authority to meddle in education? Probably not, but it certainly does undermine the argument that it is a super-terrific thing anytime the Commander in Chief can take to the podium to tell kids to work hard and stay in school. Apparently, it’s only super-terrific if you don’t have to lift a finger – well, other than to work your TV remote – to get the President to talk to your kids.

So This Is Freedom? They Must Be Joking.

That’s the title of my latest Kaiser Health News column, which addresses President Obama’s offer to accelerate the waiver process that would allow states to replace many of ObamaCare’s most offensive provisions:

If you think that means the president was himself exhibiting flexibility, you would be wrong. Despite the rhetoric about compromise, what the president actually did was offer states the option of replacing his law with a single-payer health care system three years earlier than his law allows…

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has written that ObamaCare gives states “incredible freedom” to implement the law. We now know what she meant: states are free to coerce their residents even more than ObamaCare requires. What’s incredible is that she calls that freedom.

Apologies to to the Housemartins.

President Obama’s Rhetoric on Libya

The prospect of the United States intervening in Libya is uncertain.  Yesterday, Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen appeared to downplay the possibility of military action, while not clearly taking a position.  But lost in much of the reporting is President Obama’s Executive Order declaring a national emergency, and the accompanying letter to congress, issued last Friday.

Obama claimed that the overall situation constituted “…an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”  Over at The Skeptics, I examine why it is a mistake for the president to lump together national security and humanitarian considerations:

Obama should be ashamed of this language. Muammar Qadhafi is a despicable man without basic decency, but this fuzzy rhetoric is wrong and possibly harmful. Not just a “threat” to U.S. national security, but an “extraordinary” threat? What would constitute a trivial threat or a non-threat, then? And what is the rhetorical purpose of adding the clause “and foreign policy” to the sentence? To fuse the argument about national security threat to one claiming that Muammar Qadhafi’s slaughter of his own citizens might influence our foreign-policy decisions, it seems. But writing in that way leads a casual observer to believe that the president is emphasizing what he believes to be a threat to U.S. national security posed by Libya, which does the English language a disservice. For some reason the phrase “giving the appearance of solidity to pure wind” is coming to mind.

I understand that the same clique of neoconservatives and New Republic people and other liberal imperialists who got us into the Iraq war are urging Obama to act and salivating at the prospect of accusing him of being “weak,” but even they did not use the sort of hyperbolic rhetoric that Obama did in his Executive Order and letter to congress.

 Whole thing here.

Romney and Huckabee, What a Choice

You know you’re really wrong when Mike Huckabee can call you out. But that’s the situation Mitt Romney finds himself in, as Michael Cannon points out below.  Huckabee says Romney’s government-run health care plan with an individual mandate is a bad idea, Romney says he’s still proud of his plan, which is totally different from President Obama’s government-run health care plan with an individual mandate. But really, what can he do? In 17 years of seeking high political office, he is known for two things: changing his position on a surprisingly large number of issues, and his Massachusetts health care program. Which was of course the forerunner of Obamacare, as Michael Cannon and I pointed out in the video that Michael linked. So Romney is still defending a position I think we’ve already refuted.

Meanwhile, in speeches and interviews this week, Mike Huckabee continues to make the untenable connection between gay marriage and family breakdown that I discussed two weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times. Huckabee told reporters:

Huckabee opposes gay marriage on the grounds that, according to him, it destroys traditional families.

“There is a quantified impact of broken families,” Huckabee said. “[There is a] $300 billion dad deficit in America every year…that’s the amount of money that we spend as taxpayers to pick up the pieces because dads are derelict in their duties.”

But what’s the connection? As I wrote:

One thing gay couples are not doing is filling the world with fatherless children. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that allowing more people to make the emotional and financial commitments of marriage could cause family breakdown or welfare spending….

Social conservatives point to a real problem and then offer phony solutions.

But you won’t find your keys on the thoroughfare if you dropped them in the alley, and you won’t reduce the costs of social breakdown by keeping gays unmarried and preventing them from adopting orphans.

One might add that, as Huckabee knows very well, rates of divorce and unwed motherhood soared decades before anyone started agitating for gay marriage.

If Huckabee and Romney are the Republican frontrunners, President Obama must be sleeping well these days.

Republicans Punt on Farm Subsidies. Again.

While I fully agree with my colleagues that President Obama “chickened out” in general in his FY2012 budget proposal, in one area he had the courage to propose some cuts that have proven controversial for ages: farm subsidies.  His plan would lower the income eligibility limits for subsidies (from $500,000 to $250,000 for off-farm AGI per farmer, and an on-farm AGI limit of $500,000, down from $750,000.) It would also lower the cap on annual direct payments that individuals can receive – from a maximum of $40,000 to $30,000.

The administration’s proposal would affect only about 2 percent of the total recipients of direct payments – subsidies that flow every year regardless of prices or farm output to owners of land that may or may not still be used for farming – and it does not by any means go far enough. But at least it is a start.

On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans followed their Republican Study Committee colleagues in failing to propose any cuts to “farm subsidies” as we typically understand them in their FY2011 budget proposal.  To be sure, 22 percent of the $60 billion in cuts they propose would come from the “agriculture function,” and they indeed get rid of entire programs, but they are mainly to the nutrition and conservation areas of the USDA’s responsibilities. Nothing, so far as I can tell, from the commodity programs.

I’m under no illusions that cutting farm subsidies are the key to our ever-growing fiscal mess. But it is telling that the Republicans can find not one dime in our bloated, distorting, regressive, corrupt farm programs to cut, even as farmers’ incomes and wealth soar. 

On the upside,  a group of  legislators is proposing amendments to limit direct payments and put an end to the disgraceful deal on cotton subsidies cooked up by the administration last year. So maybe some reform can come from there.

(This hardly needs to be said, but the farmers’ groups are, of course, maintaining their position that farm programs should be subject to cuts no greater than the cuts to other areas of federal spending.)