Tag: Center for American Progress

A Thousand Cuts

That’s the title of a recent paper from the liberal Center for American Progress, which attempts to demonstrate “what reducing the federal budget deficit through large spending cuts could really look like.”

The authors, Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden, issue a challenge that I whole-heartedly embrace:

By showing sets of specific spending cuts we hope to deepen the discussion of where deficit reduction is going to come from. The challenge we issue is this: If you think all or most of the deficit problem should be dealt with on the spending side, are you then willing to own the cuts we outline? If not, then it’s time to go public with what your cuts are, with at least the same level of precision we do—no gimmicks, “sunsets,” or other games. No infomercial claims that you’ve got a magic elixir that gets the same results for half the money.

My colleague Chris Edwards anticipated this challenge with his 2005 book Downsizing the Federal Government. The book led to the creation of Cato’s Downsizing Government website, which is going department-by-department to outline specific — and substantial — spending cut recommendations.

The CAP authors lay out specific spending cuts of $255 billion in fiscal year 2015, which is the projected figure necessary to achieve a balanced “primary budget” in that year. (The primary budget is total spending minus outlays for servicing the federal debt). The White House’s most recent projections show “primary” spending of $3.8 trillion in FY2015, so we’re talking about an overall reduction of about 7 percent.

Ettlinger and Linden acknowledge that their proposed spending cuts will invite criticism. For instance, the authors only conjure up $57 billion in spending cuts from “entitlement” programs, which are the chief drivers of our unsustainable fiscal direction. More than 40 percent of the cuts come from defense. While many conservatives will have a problem with defense cuts, it’s definitely something Cato scholars support. In fact, the proposed cuts match up well with defense cuts proposed in a new policy analysis written by my colleagues Ben Friedman and Chris Preble.

Where we part ways with the authors of the paper is the presumption that “most spending cuts are painful, and in some ways, harmful.” There are two sides to the spending coin. As the Downsizing website repeatedly demonstrates, government spending not only inflicts pain on those who are forced to pay for it, but it also has harmful effects on the economy and even those who it purportedly helps.

Ettlinger and Linden also make a claim that is both subjective and obvious: “The truth is that, contrary to popular wisdom, most federal government dollars go to good and popular things.”

Even if one accepts, for the sake of argument, that most federal spending goes to “good things,” there’s still the tiny little question of whether the government should undertake the spending. What about the possibility — we’d say reality — that there are superior private and voluntary alternatives to the federal government assuming responsibility for doing “good things”?

From a moral perspective, it’s important to remember that everything “good” the government does necessarily comes with a “bad” given that government forcibly takes from one to give to another.

The authors claim that federal dollars go to “popular things.” Of course, subsidies are always popular with the recipients. Farm subsidies are popular with farmers, weapons programs are popular with defense contractors, and subsidized student loans are popular with students. As Frederic Bastiat so succinctly put it, “The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”

Regardless, Ettlinger and Linden deserve credit for moving the ball in the direction of a serious debate on which government programs can be cut. As they correctly note, the position that all we need is “just a little belt-tightening and reductions in wasteful government spending” is “nonsense.”

President Obama’s Speech Czar

President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is still threatening to bankrupt insurance companies who tell their customers that ObamaCare’s mandates will increase premiums by more than 2 percent, even though her department’s projections show that, starting this week, just one of the law’s new mandates will increase some premiums by nearly 7 percent.

In a CBS News story last week, Sebelius tried to defend those indefensible threats:

But don’t the insurance companies have a right to make their own analyses and claims to their customers?

“Absolutely, they have a right to communicate with their customers,” replied HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “We just want to make sure that communication is as accurate as possible.”

The government can and should police fraud – but that’s not what Sebelius is doing.  She is suppressing legitimate differences of opinion in the pursuit of political gain.

What if the government had said, “Absolutely, CBS News has a right to communicate with its customers – we just want to make sure that communication is as accurate as possible”?  Should the government be able to put CBS News out of business if it decides those communications are not as accurate as possible? How about the National Rifle Association?  Should the next Republican administration be able to put the Center for American Progress, the SEIU, or The New York Times out of business if it decides their communications are not as accurate as possible?

You don’t have to oppose ObamaCare to see the danger here.

Korb and Thompson on Military Spending

Today’s Los Angeles Times features an op-ed by Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, and Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, that is worthy of attention. The theme, cutting military spending, isn’t particularly original. It has grown into a regular topic of conversation across the media spectrum, with the New York Times featuring an editorial this past Sunday making the case for real cuts in Pentagon spending, not the half-hearted cost-shifting that Defense Secretary Gates is busy selling these days. Ben Friedman and I wrote about cutting military spending in the LA Times a few months ago, and I collaborated with Larry Korb on this same subject at The National Interest Online. Nothing particularly newsworthy there.

Loren Thompson’s contribution is significant, however. Building on his entry at the National Journal’s National Security Experts blog earlier this month,he signals a willingness on the part of an established Washington insider to reconsider some fundamental propositions that have guided his work – and inside-the-Beltway thinking – for years.

One of Lexington’s bread-and-butter issues has been finding ways to grow the military budget. I don’t expect that to change entirely. Perhaps now, however, the focus will be on steering a finite and shrinking military budget to particularly worthwhile projects, and jettisoning the force structure that serves decidedly unnecessary or unwise missions (e.g. invading and occupying medium-sized countries in Southwest and Central Asia).

A related goal is to give U.S. taxpayers a break, and get others to spend more for their own defense. In this vein, I don’t agree with all of their predictions. I doubt that the Littoral Combat Ship will have much of a foreign market with a price tag exceeding $600 million a piece (when one includes the mission modules that each LCS will carry). I likewise am skeptical that the Joint Strike Fighter will attract a lot of buyers if the price continues on its current path – approaching $150 million a piece. Some countries that had previously committed to the JSF program, including Denmark and the Netherlands, are now getting cold feet.

That said, the bottom line in the Korb-Thompson collaboration is spot on, and worth repeating:

The big question for policymakers is not whether defense spending will be cut — that is inevitable — but how global security will be maintained as the U.S. role diminishes….

It appears the only way this can be accomplished without encouraging aggression is to expect more of allies and friends. In other words, countries such as Germany, Japan and India must help fill the strategic vacuum created by America’s retreat.

[…]

The White House has already embarked on a series of initiatives to engage allies in more robust security roles while loosening the export restrictions that impeded arming them. These steps may have trade benefits for America, but their real significance is that America’s eroding economic might makes unilateralism too costly to be feasible. Washington needs to help overseas friends play a bigger security role so it can concentrate on rebuilding its economy.

Congrats and kudos to them both for setting forth such a clear and convincing argument for a dramatic change of course.

‘Border Enforcement’ Bill Driven by Election-Year Politics

A $600-million bill to enhance border enforcement has hit a temporary snag in the Senate, but it is almost inevitable, with an election only a few months away, that Congress and the president will spend yet more money trying to enforce our unworkable immigration laws.

“Getting control of the border” is the buzz phrase of the day for politicians in both parties, from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Never mind that apprehensions are down sharply along our Southwest border with Mexico, mostly I suspect because of the lack of robust job creation in the unstimulated Obama economy.

Meanwhile, since the early 1990s, spending on border enforcement has increased more than 700 percent, and the number of agents along the border has increased five-fold, from 3,500 to more than 17.000. (See pages 3-4 of a January 2010 report from the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center.) Yet the population of illegal immigrants in America tripled during that period. If this were a federal education program, conservatives would rightly accuse the big spenders of merely throwing more money at a problem without result.

To pay for this politically driven expenditure, Congress plans to nearly double fees charged for H1-B and L visas used by foreign high-tech firms to staff their operations in the United States. The increased visa tax will fall especially hard on companies such as the Indian high-tech leaders Wipro, Infosys, and Tata.

This all has the ring of election-year populism. Congress pretends to move us closer to solving the problem of illegal immigrants entering from Latin America by raising barriers to skilled professionals coming to the United States from India and elsewhere to help us maintain our edge in competitive global technology markets.

At Least They Spelled Our Name Right. Oops.

The folks at the Center for American Progress, in their daily anti-right email, wrongly call the Cato Institute conservative and wrongly spell our name CATO.

But what I find more amusing is that the email, prompted by Michael Steele’s confused remarks about Afghanistan and the reaction against him, is titled “The Right Wing’s Addiction to War.” They have a point. But who’s running the Iraq and Afghanistan wars now? Isn’t it the man who once said

I opposed this war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009. It is time to bring our troops home.

and

I was opposed to this war in 2002….I have been against it in 2002, 2003, 2004, 5, 6, 7, 8 and I will bring this war to an end in 2009. So don’t be confused.

The right wing may be addicted to war, but it seems to be a left-wing president who’s on the sauce now. I look forward to seeing the Center for American Progress start asking President Obama when it will be 2009.

Whitewashing Progressivism

Damon Root points out that the Center for American Progress has a particularly one-sided view of “The Progressive Tradition in American Politics.” [.pdf]  To add to what Root is saying, my view is that American politics is essentially tribal warfare and an important factor in tribal warfare is the cohesion of the tribes.  One way to accomplish this is by romanticizing history to create a powerful identity with which the tribesmen want to associate themselves.  A political movement needs heroes, villains, narrative.  But CAP’s account of the Progressive movement’s history is remarkably one-sided.

When I ticked over to CAP’s “Progressive Tradition” document [.pdf], I looked to see whether they included Wilson’s 1916 reasoning that it was “in order to keep the white race or part of it strong to meet the yellow race – Japan, for instance, in alliance with Russia, dominating China – [that made it] wise to do nothing” with respect to the war in Europe.  They did not.  In fact, the authors select the passive voice for describing Wilson’s slapdash diplomacy that sucked America into the war: “In his second term, he became preoccupied with international affairs due to the U.S. entry into World War I.”  This phrasing makes it sound like “the U.S. entry” was an act of God, not an act of Wilson.  Moreover, if someone without any prior knowledge read the document they would be painfully unaware that the reason Wilson “became preoccupied with international affairs” was because he got us into a war.

George Creel

What about the Committee on Public Information, a government propaganda machine that made George Bush look like Glenn Greenwald?  The CPI worked in concert with (no kidding) the “Boy Spies of America” to root out insufficiently pro-war thinking.  CPI’s perhaps most metaphysical pronouncement was that U.S. entrance to the Great War was, in fact, “a Crusade not merely to re-win the tomb of Christ, but to bring back to earth the rule of right, the peace, goodwill to men and gentleness he taught.”  What about Roosevelt’s puffed-up belligerence, again foreshadowing Bush, in stating that “He who is not with us, absolutely and without reserve of any kind, is against us, and should be treated as an alien enemy”?  What about the Palmer Raids, named for ur-Progressive and Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, wherein the U.S. Government ransacked union halls and homes, snatched up prisoners and held them without access to counsel or courts, and engaged in mass, summary, and unilateral deportations?  Not a word.

As to the Red Scare more generally, the best the authors can do is to shrug that as Wilson’s “general intolerance of dissent during World I became exacerbated by fear of the 1917 Russian Revolution, he played a central role in promoting the Red Scare of 1917-20.  The Red Scare made domestic activism a target of both police suppression and nativist sentiment, producing an atmosphere hardly conducive to the cause of progressive reform.”  Is that supposed to be a denunciation?

In contrast to all this obfuscation and equivocation, poor Warren Harding comes in for a soaking for having produced “a sharp increase in racial violence and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, new restrictions on immigration, rises in protective tariffs, increases in economic concentration, and tax cuts for the rich.”

Imagine if a conservative group came out with a history of American conservative thought that expressly linked modern American conservatism to the political thought of, say, John C. Calhoun, with only mealy-mouthed “to be sure” language like that used by CAP with respect to Progressivism.  Lefties would be outraged, and rightly so.  Will CAP clear the air on the Progressive movement’s history of racism, imperialism, executive supremacism and contempt for civil liberties?  I bet I know the answer.

Will Debate Constitutionality of Obamacare Anytime, Anywhere

Zaid Jilani at the Center for American Progress put up a blog post titled, “College debate organizers unable to find any law professors to argue health reform is unconstitutional.” Indeed, it seems that none of the four panelists at the University of Washington Law School event had any issues with Obamacare.

Maybe the UW organizers, who couldn’t find anyone with the opposing view, are talking to the same folks who told John Conyers about the “Good and Welfare Clause.” Because, as I said before, it’s not that hard to find constitutional scholars who have problems with this legislation.

OK, look, I’ll make it easier:  I hereby announce that I am willing to travel anywhere at anytime to debate the constitutionality of Obamacare. Whoever sets up the debate has to pay my travel expenses, but that’s it.  Any takers?