Tag: Boehner

And the King of the Fiscal Squeeze Is…Bill Clinton?

When Congressman Paul Ryan takes the stage at CPAC Friday morning, he will, of course, tout his new budget as a solution to America’s spending problem. The 2014 Ryan plan does aim to balance the budget in 10 years. That said, it would leave government spending, as a percent of GDP, at a hefty 19% – as my colleague, Daniel J. Mitchell, points out in his recent blog.  

Proposals like the Ryan budget are all well and good, but they are ultimately just that – proposals. If Congressman Ryan really wants to get serious about cutting spending, he should look to the one U.S. President who has squeezed the federal budget, and squeezed hard.

So, who can Congressman Ryan look to for inspiration on how to actually cut spending? None other than President Bill Clinton.

How can this be? To even say such a thing verges on CPAC blasphemy. Well, as usual, the data don’t lie. Let’s see how Clinton stacks up against Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. As the accompanying chart shows, Clinton was the king of the fiscal squeeze.

Yes, Bill Clinton cut government’s share of GDP by a whopping 3.9 percentage points over his eight years in office. But, what about President Ronald Reagan? Surely the great champion of small government took a bite out of spending during his two terms, right? Well, yes, he did. But let’s put Reagan and Clinton head to head – a little fiscal discipline show-down, if you will (see the accompanying chart).

And the winner is….Bill Clinton. While Reagan did lop off four-tenths of a percentage point of government spending, as a percent of GDP, it simply does not match up to the Clinton fiscal squeeze. When President Clinton took office in 1993, government expenditures accounted for 22.1% of GDP. At the end of his second term, President Clinton’s big squeeze left the size of government, as a percent of GDP, at 18.2%. Since 1952, no other president has even come close.

Some might argue that Clinton was the beneficiary of the so-called “peace dividend,” whereby the post-Cold-War military drawdown led to a reduction in defense expenditures. The problem with this explanation is that the majority of Clinton’s cuts came from non-defense expenditures (see the accompanying table).

Admittedly, Clinton did benefit from the peace dividend, but the defense drawdown simply doesn’t match up to the cuts in non-defense expenditures that we saw under Clinton. Of course, it should be noted that the driving force behind many of these non-defense cuts came from the other side of the aisle, under the leadership of Speaker Gingrich.

The jury is still out on whether Ryan (or Boehner) will prove to be a Gingrich – or Obama, a Clinton. But, at the end of the day, the presidential scoreboard is clear – Clinton is the king of the fiscal squeeze.

So, when Congressman Ryan rallies the troops at CPAC with a call for cutting government spending, perhaps the crowd ought to accompany a standing ovation for the Congressman with a chant of “Bring Back Bill!”

You can follow Prof. Hanke on Twitter at: @Steve_Hanke

Congress Debates the Libya War

Better late than never.

The House of Representatives today debated two different resolutions purportedly aimed at forcing the Obama administration to comply with its statutory and constitutional obligations to secure formal authorization for the ongoing military campaign in Libya.

I say “purportedly” because it seems quite clear that the real intent of House Speaker John Boehner’s resolution was to lure away a sufficient number of Republicans who otherwise would have been inclined to vote for Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH) measure. Whereas the Kucinich resolution would have compelled the Obama administration to withdraw from all military operations in Libya within the next 15 days, Boehner’s resolution bars the administration from deploying ground troops, but allows current operations to continue.  The resolution stipulates that the administration must explain what the U.S. military is actually doing, and calls on the president to justify his decision to launch the campaign without first obtaining congressional approval.  Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern suggested that a strongly worded press release would have the same effect. Others noted that similar language has already been written into the defense authorization passed late last week.

Boehner’s gambit worked, for now. His resolution carried, with overwhelming GOP support. The House failed to adopt the Kucinich measure, although more Republicans than Democrats voted for the bill.  The detailed vote totals for both measures signal a growing willingness on the part of even many Republicans to question the country’s many wars.

Indeed, many were prepared to go beyond merely voting for the measure; about a dozen House Republicans (including resolution co-sponsor Dan Burton of Indiana) spoke out in favor of the Kucinich resolution. Many of these House members seemed quite eager to reassert their authority and to defend the principle of legislative control over the war power, even if that meant allying with one of the most liberal members of Congress.

At one level, it shouldn’t surprise that a number of Republicans voted for the Kucinich resolution. The war is unpopular with the American people, and their elected representatives are reflecting that sentiment. A number of speakers this morning made this point explicitly. But leaving public opinion aside, and conceding that the constitutional question has been practically rendered moot by the parade of presidents and Congresses who have summarily ignored its clear intent, there are ample opportunities for questioning the Libya war on strategic grounds, and not many solid arguments that prove the war to be serving a vital national interest.

The least compelling argument in support of the Libya intervention, in my mind, is the one offered up by Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this week, and repeated several times  in the floor debate this morning: we need to stay in Libya, not because it is in our national interest to do so (it isn’t), and not because the Libyan civil war poses a clear and present danger to U.S. security (it doesn’t); rather, we are waging a war in Libya because our allies want us to. To leave them holding the bag, as Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) explained this morning, would betray a sacred trust. Boehner echoed those sentiments, warning against a vote for the Kucinich resolution because our NATO allies have stood by us in Afghanistan, and we owe it to them to do the same in Libya.

I discussed why this rationale is particularly flimsy over at TNI’s The Skeptics earlier today, and it is featured in a just-released Cato video. As the ever-quotable Ben Friedman explains, “we should have allies for war, not wars for allies.” Meanwhile, Justin Logan notes the absurdity of U.S. taxpayers borrowing money from China to buy precision-guided munitions for Europeans to drop on Libya. If that sounds like a Rube Goldberg foreign policy, it is.

Obama/Boehner’s Phony Spending Cuts

President Obama and Congress have agreed to cut $38 billion in federal spending, right? If you go by so-called “budget authority,” that may be true. But real spending cuts come when you actually cut real spending, not “budget authority.” Outlays in fiscal year 2011 will likely be considerably higher than last year’s outlays. That means the spending cuts advertised by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are laughably fraudulent. Learn more at downsizinggovernment.org.

Video produced by Caleb O. Brown and Austin Bragg.

“The Largest Annual Spending Cut in Our History”?

In this week’s Britannica column, I look at the claims being made for the budget cuts in the weekend deal:

“The largest annual spending cut in our history,” President Obama said. Speaker of the House John Boehner called it the “largest real dollar spending cut in American history.” Saturday’s front-page, upper-right headline in the Washington Post proclaimed:

BIGGEST CUTS
IN U.S. HISTORY

The story went on to say that Obama “said the cuts would be painful but necessary.”

NPR’s Andrea Seabrook reported, “The Republicans got big, big cuts.”

And are they?

Please. It’s a cut of $38 billion in a budget of $3,819 billion. That’s 1 percent. That’s a rounding error in federal budgeting….

That same budget table shows that federal spending fell from $92.7 billion in 1945 to $55.2 billion in 1946, to $34.5 billion in 1947, and to $29.8 billion in 1948 (and all without any of the job losses that we’re told would result from modest reductions today). Check out also the drop in spending from 1919 to 1922, even larger in percentage terms….

The fundamental point here is that federal spending rose by more than a trillion dollars during Bush’s first seven years, and then by almost another trillion in barely three fiscal years. And then we had a titanic battle over whether to trim $38 billion.

The idea that the Democrats “have shown that they heard the message that government spends too much” or that the Republicans—the party that increased federal spending by a trillion dollars while nobody was looking during the Bush years—have “imposed a small-government agenda on Washington” is ludicrous.

Read it all here.

Citing the Constitution

A few responses to my mention yesterday of the new House rule requiring each introduced bill to cite a specific constitutional provision for Congress’s authority to pass it asked me to elaborate on what this would mean in practice. Well, this is apparently a new thing so nobody knows exactly, but the Republican leadership has provided a fascinating memo providing guidance to all (not just GOP) lawmakers.

First of all, the Constitution has to be cited “as specifically as practicable.”  For example: ”The constitutional authority on which this bill rests is the power of Congress to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces, as enumerated in Article I, Section 8, Clause 14 of the United States Constitution.”  That’s pretty good and specific. 

But try this one: ”The Congress enacts this bill pursuant to Clause 1 of Section 8 of Article I of the United States Constitution and Amendment XVI of the United States Constitution.” It looks specific – lots of numbers – but the first clause of Article I, Section 8 is a biggie: ”The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” So let’s say you have a tax bill: do you just cite that?  Well, that shouldn’t be enough because, as we’ve learned with the Obamacare litigation, even if something is a tax – highly questionable in the individual mandate context – it needs to be attached to an enumerated power because the general welfare is not infinitely elastic (instead limiting Congress’s exercise of its enumerated powers to ends that are truly for the national – as opposed to particular, or local – good).

And we haven’t even gotten to the Fourteenth Amendment, about whose meaning several libraries of books, law review articles, and judicial opinions have been written.

Luckily, the memo provides a list of resources members can consult, including the Federalist Papers, the online Founders’ Constitution, and the following list of “think-tanks and associations”: Brookings, Cato, the Federalist Society, and the American Constitution Society (and Heritage is mentioned earlier in the document, particularly its excellent Heritage Guide to the Constitution, which contains entries by several Cato-affiliated folks).

So, yeah, congressional staff, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line for the true meaning of the Tonnage Clause (ok, maybe not that one, but I’m pretty good with, for example, the Commerce Clause and Priviliges or Immunities Clause).

Which raises another question, even if the would-be bill sponsor meets the ”specificity” requirement: Who gets to determine whether the cited provision indeed provides the authority claimed?  On what standard?  Well: “The adequacy and accuracy of the citation of constitutional authority is matter for debate in the committee and in the House.”

That sounds great: Congress will actually be debating whether it has the authority to do something!  Kickin’ it 19th-century style! The Congressional Record might now be as interesting reading as the transcripts of Supreme Court arguments, but more so because the debates there will almost certainly be less abstruse and designed to appeal to (and satisfy) constituents.

Finally, the memo has a relatively long FAQ section, including my personal favorite:

Q. Isn’t it the courts’ duty to determine whether a law is constitutional and thus doesn’t this rule infringe on the power of the courts?

A. No. While the courts have the power to overturn an Act of Congress on the basis that it is unconstitutional, Members of Congress have a responsibility, as clearly indicated by the oath of office each Members takes, to adhere to the Constitution.

Yes!  Congressmen and senators (and the president) take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution” so they are derelict in their duty if they don’t consider a proposed bill’s constitutionality – in contradistinction to Nancy Pelosi’s “are you serious?” position and George W. Bush’s “let the Supremes sort it out” view (with respect to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, for example).  This may be one of the few things on which I agree with former Delaware senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell (who now faces allegations of having violated campaign finance rules, but perhaps that’s just, um, a witch-hunt).

As for what role these new constitutional citations will play in any future litigation, well, jurists use legislative history in various ways – some, like Justice Scalia, not at all – and this would become one more piece of evidence elucidating congressional intent or justification (which, as we also know from the Obamacare lawsuits, courts are powerless to look behind to, for example, transform a regulation into a tax).  Ultimately, of course, Congress’s final vote on the proposed bill will incorporate each member’s constitutional judgment.  But courts won’t uphold a law just because Congress thinks it’s kosher.

So why have the rule at all?     

A. Just as a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office informs the debate on a proposed bill, a statement outlining the power under the Constitution that Congress has to enact a proposed bill will inform and provide the basis for debate. It also demonstrates to the American people that we in Congress understand that we have an obligation under our founding document to stay within the role established therein for the legislative branch.

Sounds good – great, actually – to me.  But the proof will be in the pudding of how and what the 112th Congress legislates.

H/T: Josh Blackman

How Long Can the Politics of Compromise Continue?

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Are Mitch McConnell’s and John Boehner’s recent statements about not compromising a refreshing bit of candor from top political leaders, rather than the usual platitudes about bipartisanship and working across the aisle?

My response:

Mitch McConnell’s comment about making Obama “a one-term president” and John Boehner’s vow that Republicans will not “compromise on their principles” if they win the majority do indeed challenge “the usual platitudes about bipartisanship and working across the aisle.” But they also reflect a deeper problem that the midterm campaigns have begun to unmask, namely, that decades of compromises have brought us to a state where further compromise is no longer tenable. Look at France. Look at Greece. Look even at England.

I allude, of course, to the “entitlement” schemes that are sinking all western democracies – others more than ours. These are giant Ponzi schemes that would be criminal if undertaken by private parties, because like all such schemes, they’re unsustainable, with late entrants left holding the bag. But unlike their private counterparts, the public versions force us all to play. Yet as the day of reckoning approaches, government has only limited choices: either reduce the promised benefits, or pay for them by taxing or borrowing more or by selling government assets (e.g., western lands), each of which has inherent limits, or by printing money, which is another way of breaking promises – and it ends ultimately in a death spiral. That’s the hard reality. Government isn’t Santa Claus.

So when Obama governs as though he has no grasp of that reality, talk of a one-term presidency is simply coming to grips with reality. And if this election is any indication, Americans appear increasingly to appreciate that. To be sure, there are issues on which to compromise. But for far too long we’ve acted as if every issue were “political,” from retirement security to healthcare to so many other “problems” that in truth are simply the problems of life. Earlier generations solved those problems privately, either by themselves or in voluntary association with others. Indeed, the freedom to do so was what the Constitution was written to secure.

But Progressives disdained that kind of freedom as illusory. They wanted us to solve our problems collectively. The New Deal institutionalized that vision, of course, turning the Constitution on its head. Thus today’s progressives think that nearly every “problem” is a political problem, to be solved collectively – utterly ignoring the evidence of the ages about such collective undertakings. Sarkozy has prevailed for the moment in France, but strikes continue to cripple the economy, and the opposition has promised to make him pay in the next election. One can hope only that American voters will take a different course and that those they elect next Tuesday will have the wisdom to know when and when not to compromise, because this cannot go on forever.

Boehner Endorses More Medicare Spending: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?

While flipping through the radio on my way to pick my son up from school yesterday afternoon, I was dumbfounded to hear Congressman John Boehner talk about repealing Obama’s Medicare cuts on Sean Hannity’s show.

I wasn’t shocked that Boehner was referring to non-existent cuts (Medicare spending is projected to jump from $519 billion in 2010 to $677 billion in 2015 according to the Congressional Budget Office). I’ve been dealing with Washington’s dishonest definition of “spending cuts” for decades, so I’m hardly fazed by that type of routine inaccuracy.

But I was amazed that the presumptive future Speaker of the House went on a supposedly conservative talk radio show and said that increasing Medicare spending would be on the agenda of a GOP-controlled Congress. (I wondered if I somehow misinterpreted what was being said, but David Frum heard the same thing)

To be fair, Boehner also said that he wanted to repeal ObamaCare, so it would be unfair to claim that the interview was all Bush-style, big-government conservatism. But it is not a positive sign that Boehner is talking about more spending before he’s even had a chance to pick out the drapes for his new office.