Tag: cpac

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

CPAC Panel on the Constitutionality of Obamacare Has No Lawyers

Some libertarians boycott CPAC because it’s “too conservative,” others embrace it to try to steer the conservative movement in a more liberty-minded direction (on which, see Reason.tv’s excellent interview of Sen. Jim DeMint).  I have no principled feelings on the subject.  I’ve never attended – wasn’t really on my radar in college, couldn’t make it to DC during grad/law school, then was too busy lawyering, and now it would feel odd just to hang out rather than be part of the program – but I know lots of folks who enjoy it.

One thing I noticed about this year’s program – other than that my colleague Neal McCluskey is on an education policy panel at 10:30am on Friday – is that there’s a panel on the constitutionality of Obamacare (1:25 on Friday).  Curiously, there aren’t any lawyers on this panel.  C’mon, CPAC, I know this isn’t a Federalist Society convention, but it would seem useful to have people actually grappling with the legal issues educating your attendees about it.  Not all of us have problems communicating with non-JDs; do I have to issue another Obamacare debate challenge?

Discussing Afghanistan at CPAC

I’m speaking on a panel at CPAC tomorrow discussing Afghanistan (“How to Think about Afghanistan,” Marriott Ballroom, 2:30 to 3:15 pm), and I’m inclined to include a few new data points, and one fresh anecdote, in my brief remarks.

The first piece of information has to do with money. Our deepening military presence in Afghanistan will cost American taxpayers in excess of $100 billion in FY 2011. Some estimates put the figure closer to $120 billion. This in a country with an official GDP of about $16.6 billion (and not more than $30 billion using purchasing power parity).

The second thing to consider is the current mission in Afghanistan. President Obama claimed in his December 2010 policy review that the focus of the U.S. mission is al Qaeda, but it doesn’t take 100,000 U.S. troops and a few tens of thousands more of allied troops and civilians to hunt a couple hundred al Qaeda, most of whom are in Pakistan. Claims that al Qaeda and the Taliban are synonymous, and therefore that preventing the Taliban from returning to power is essential to preventing future terrorist attacks in the United States, were always dubious. A just-released report casts still further doubt, and recommends renewed attempts to peel the two unlikely allies apart from one another. That wise strategy would not require us to build a capable, credible government on the shaky foundation that is Hamid Karzai.

I’m likely to close with some recent polling statistics that reveal deepening public discontent with the Afghan mission. (For example, here and here.) Even many conservatives, a majority in some surveys, question the known cost and the anticipated benefit. They worry that the mission — standing up a functioning nation-state, complete with a national army — is likely to fail and would not be worth the time and money that would be required to eventually succeed. (“Eventually” being synonymous with “many decades.”)

An episode from Cato’s hugely successful City Seminar in Naples, FL earlier this week supports the polling data. Cato President (and Beloved Founder) Ed Crane reports that his call to abolish the Department of Education, HUD, agriculture subsidies, and countless other unnecessary federal programs elicited predictable cheers from the overflow crowd of mostly affluent, conservative voters.

Then I said we could save untold billions by bringing the brave young men and women in our armed forces home from that godforsaken hell hole known as Afghanistan. Loudest applause of the day.

Who will attempt to capitalize on this simmering discontent? Which aspiring presidential candidate will see the potential in appealing to conservatives frustrated with nation-building in the Hindu Kush? Most important, irrespective of the politics, which would-be commander-in-chief will realize that spending nearly $10 billion every month in Afghanistan undermines rather than advances U.S. national security? Who can articulate a credible alternative that focuses laser-like on al Qaeda, on disrupting its operations, and on killing or capturing its leaders, and leaves wooly-headed nation building to the do-gooders?

Strategy should not be dictated by politics, but I think that the people who claim public support is faltering because President Obama hasn’t spoken often enough (or forcefully enough, or earnestly enough, or whatever) about Afghanistan are themselves fighting a losing battle. At the end of the day the problem is the product, not the pitchman. The nation-building mission in Afghanistan is unwise, unnecessary, and deeply unconservative.

Anyway, if you happen to be at CPAC, or are able to watch the proceedings online, you might want to check out the discussion. Other speakers include Anthony Cordesman of Center for Strategic and International Studies, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bing West, and former Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, as moderator. Should be interesting.