Tag: federal budget

Week in Review: Health Care Battles, Pay Caps and North Korean Prisoners

Will Obama Raise Middle-Class Taxes to Fund Health Care?

President Obama is promoting an expansion in federal health care spending, and Democratic leaders are scrambling to find ways to pay for it. The plan is expected to cost about $1.5 trillion over the next decade, but the administration has promised that health care legislation won’t add to already huge federal budget deficits. In a new paper, Cato scholars Michael D. Tanner and Chris Edwards argue that expanding government health care will likely involve huge tax increases on the middle class.

Tanner warns of “Obamacare” to come, saying that Obama’s new health care plan will give “government control over one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and over some of the most important, personal, and private decisions in Americans’ lives.” Don’t miss Tanner’s in-depth analysis of the new health care plan that is making its way through Congress, which “would dramatically transform the American health care system in a way that would harm taxpayers, health care providers, and — most importantly — the quality and range of care given to patients.”

A part of the plan would include “public option” (read: government-run) health care, which would allow the government to compete against private health care providers. Tanner says it would be the first step toward wiping out the private insurance market as we know it:

Regardless of how it is structured or administered, such a plan would have an inherent advantage in the marketplace because it would ultimately be subsidized by taxpayers. It could, for instance, keep its premiums artificially low or offer extra benefits, then turn to the U.S. Treasury to cover any shortfalls. Consumers would naturally be attracted to the lower-cost, higher-benefit government program.

…It is unlikely that any significant private insurance market could continue to exist under such circumstances. America would be firmly on the road to a single-payer health care system with all the dangers that presents. That would be a disaster for American taxpayers, physicians, and—most importantly—patients.

Treasury Seeks to Control Executive Pay Across the Private Sector

Fox Business reports, “The Treasury Department on Wednesday took new steps to rein in executive compensation, saying the Obama Administration would introduce legislation that could create stricter limits on pay; it also appointed an official to head up efforts on the issue.”

In a 2008 Policy Analysis Ira T. Kay and Steven Van Putten explain the misconceptions many people have about executive pay, and why the market is a better arbiter than any bureaucrat in Washington:

Such populist sentiments are often based on misunderstandings about the role of corporate executives in the economy and the vigorous competition that exists for these highly skilled leaders. In the past, federal regulatory efforts based on such misunderstandings have generated unintended consequences, which have damaged the economy and hurt the ability of the market for executives to self-regulate over time.

The labor market for executives and the associated pay levels are already subject to high levels of regulation. Indeed, U.S. corporations are subject to more stringent executive pay disclosure requirements than corporations anywhere else in the world. Before additional regulatory and legislative efforts are unleashed, policymakers should examine the rationale for current pay structures and the strong links between executive pay and corporate performance.

In a Washington Times op-ed, Alan Reynolds says efforts to cap executive pay are wholly misguided:

Congressional hearings to barbecue Wall Street executives are as fun as a circus, but with more clowns. Presidential politics is now taking such political distractions to a lower level.

…Most top executives who were actually in charge during the craze of overinvestment in mortgage-backed securities have been fired. Executives who are fired are not in a position to be “giving themselves” anything.

In reality, top executives are mainly paid by accumulating a big stockpile of company stock and stock options. Estimates of annual CEO pay that Congress and the press have been focusing on look as high as they do only because of the high value of restricted stock or stock options at the time.

Writing in 2007 (before the first round of major bailouts), Cato scholars Jerry Taylor and Jagadeesh Gokhale took it a step further: “Pay Bosses More!”:

Excessive executive compensation harms no one but perhaps the stockholders who put up with it. And stockholders put up with it because there’s good reason to believe that sizable CEO compensation packages help – not harm – corporate performance, which redounds to their benefit, and that of the firms’ workers.

Companies pay workers what they must to deliver their products and services to the market, and supply and demand establishes executive compensation packages the same way it establishes consumer prices. Any overcompensation comes out of the firm’s bottom line – at a loss to the shareholders, not the workers.

North Korea Sentences Two U.S. Journalists to 12 Years Hard Labor

Two American journalists were convicted of entering North Korea illegally while on assignment, and exhibiting “hostility toward the Korean people.” This week, a North Korean court sentenced them to 12 years in a labor prison.

Cato scholar Doug Bandow comments:

Washington should publicly downplay the controversy and present the issue to the Kim regime as a humanitarian matter. The Obama administration should indicate its willingness to open a broader dialogue with North Korea, but indicate that positive results will be possible only if Pyongyang responds with cooperation instead of confrontation. Releasing the two journalists obviously would provide evidence of the former.

Regrettably, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are political pawns. As such, Washington’s best strategy to achieve their release is to simultaneously reduce their perceived value to Pyongyang and ease tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Patience may be the Obama administration’s highest virtue and Ling’s and Lee’s greatest hope.

In a Cato Daily Podcast, Bandow discusses what can be done for the American prisoners, and how the U.S. government should react.

Democratic Deficit Hawks?

In a hagiographic profile of Obama budget director Peter Orszag, Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker writes of the “pressure” he might get from congressional deficit hawks:

The respective heads of the House and Senate Budget Committees, John Spratt, Jr., of South Carolina, and Kent Conrad, of North Dakota, have spent years trying to control the deficit…

Kent Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has made eradicating the federal budget deficit his life’s work.

Now, you’d think that if the ranking Democrats on the congressional budget committees had made deficit reduction their life’s work, the budget wouldn’t have, you know, skyrocketed over the past decade and more. So let’s go to the tape.

The National Taxpayers Union has given Spratt an F for his votes on federal spending every year for more than a decade. (He had a couple of D’s earlier in his career.) In the past two years, he voted with the taxpayers 5 and 6 percent of the time. He voted for spending bills more often than the average member of the House, and more often than the average Democrat. Some deficit hawk!

Conrad has an almost identical record — almost all F’s, with ratings of 5 and 6 in the past two years.

By another measurement, in the 109th Congress (the most recent for which these calculations are available), Spratt voted for $184 billion in additional spending and voted to cut — drum roll, please — $4.8 billion in spending. Conrad voted to cut $8 billion, but he also voted to hike spending by $362 billion. In what world are these guys “trying to control the deficit”?

NTU does have one analysis that makes Conrad and Spratt look a little better: the bills they have sponsored or cosponsored. Spratt introduced 32 bills that would increase spending and 2 that would cut spending. While that may not sound very thrifty, it compares favorably to, say, Hilda Solis’s 110 bills to increase spending or Barney Frank’s 112. And the total new spending in Spratt’s bills — $7 billion — is positively Randian. Conrad’s record is similar — 36 bills to increase spending by $8 billion, which compares very favorably to, for instance, Hillary Clinton and Thad Cochran.

Apparently Conrad and Spratt don’t introduce too many spending bills, but they vote for all the ones that get to the floor. Not exactly a strategy that holds the budget down. The search for a fiscally conservative Democrat continues.

Does Big Government Breed Corruption and Sleaze?

Washington is riddled with both legal and illegal corruption, but why?

Perhaps it is because government is too big and has too much power. The federal budget redistributes $3.5 trillion through more than 1,800 subsidy programs. The regulatory burden is $1.2 trillion and there have been 51,000 new regulations since 1995. And there are more than 70,000 pages of tax law and regulations.

These are the reasons why Washington is a hornet’s nest of deal-making, influence-peddling, and back-scratching.

In this new video, produced by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, I argue that reducing the size and scope of government is the only effective way to control Washington sleaze.

The President’s Make-Believe Fiscal Conservatism

At first, I thought the calendar was wrong and it must be April 1 and the White House was playing an April Fool’s joke. That seemed like the only logical explanation for a story in today’s Washington Post stating that the President wants all government departments to identify $100 million in supposed budget cuts. With 14 cabinet-level departments, that adds up to $1.4 billion of savings – and those savings almost certainly be measured against an ever-increasing budget baseline, which means that they would merely be reductions in planned increases. This is a shallow and insincere stunt to trick taxpayers. This is the same President, after all, that just squandered nearly $800 billion on a so-called stimulus bill. And this is the same President that just rammed through a $3.5 trillion budget. This chart provides a useful comparison.

For those who appreciate irony (or perhaps a late April Fool’s joke), the Washington Post story makes for interesting reading:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, where he will order members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official. Although the cuts would account to a minuscule portion of the federal budget, they are intended to signal the president’s determination to trim spending and reform government, the official said. …In his radio and Internet address Saturday, Obama repeated his vow for his administration to scour the federal budget “line by line” to reduce spending.

Update: Some people have written to say that Obama is asking his team to come up with a combined $100 million, not $100 million from each department. So my initial post gave him 14 times too much credit. This is almost beyond parody.

New at Cato, Tax Day Edition

tax-dayHere are a couple of dishes Cato Institute scholars cooked up for Tax Day:

  • Writing for National Review Online, Chris Edwards warns against the dangers of rapidly increasing government spending:

    When filling out your tax forms, you might want to think for a second about where all that money is going. After federal spending roughly doubled in the Bush years, it is growing by leaps and bounds under President Obama. What’s more, the federal government is increasing the scope of its activities — it is intervening in many areas that used to be left to state and local governments, businesses, charities, and individuals.

    There are now a staggering 1,804 subsidy programs in the federal budget. Hundreds of programs were added this decade, and the recent stimulus bill added even more. The result is that we are in the midst of the largest federal gold rush at taxpayer expense since the 1960s.

  • At Townhall, Dan Mitchell rails against the current tax code:

    Beginning as a simple two-page form in 1913, the internal revenue code has morphed into a complex nightmare that simultaneously hinders compliance by honest people and rewards cheating by Washington insiders and other dishonest people.

    But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The tax code also penalizes economic growth, distorts taxpayer behavior, undermines American competitiveness, invites corruption and promotes inefficiency.

  • At CNSNews.com, Edwards argues that policymakers should give Americans the low and simple tax code that they deserve.
  • Also, don’t miss the new Cato video that reveals how troubling the American tax system really is.

Chuck Schumer Endorses Hoover Plan

On Meet the Press last Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said

Those on the hard right say, “Cut government spending, let’s go back to the old Reagan days.” Well, the last president who did this when we were in this type of situation was Herbert Hoover.  Herbert Hoover said the government should do nothing when we were in a recession, not a depression.  We did nothing and it related [sic] to a depression.

Reality check: Did President Hoover cut federal spending during the recession that became a depression? Not by a long shot.

 

boaz-figureSource: OMB

Federal spending was $3.1 billion (those were the days!) in 1929, the year Hoover took office and the stock market crashed. It rose modestly for two years, then shot up in 1932. It dropped a bit in nominal terms in 1933, though deflation meant that the real budget increased. Then, presumably reflecting Roosevelt’s policies, it shot up again in 1934. In real terms, the federal budget was almost twice as high after Hoover’s four years as it was when he took office.

President Bush, President Obama, and Senator Schumer are all supporting Herbert Hoover’s failed policy of increasing spending to fight recession. Let’s hope they don’t have the same results and turn a recession into a Great Depression.

Cato adjunct scholar Ilya Somin dissects the “Herbert Hoover did nothing” fallacy at Volokh.com.

Republicans, Democrats, and Appropriators…and Pork

I’m sympathetic to the oft-repeated saying that there are really three parties in Washington: Republicans, Democrats, and Appropriators.  This situation is likely to be demonstrated this evening when Republican members of the Senate Appropriations Committee provide enough votes for Democratic Sen. Harry Reid to close off debate and proceed to final passage of the pork-laden $410 billion fy2009 omnibus appropriations bill.

Greasing the skids for bigger government will be almost $8 billion in earmarks contained in the bill.  Fox News is pointing out that almost all of the Republican Senators expected or likely to support the Democratic measure stand to deliver quite a bit of pork to constituents and special interests.  Not coincidentally, all of the senators named, except Sen. Snowe of Maine, are appropriators.  As a matter of fact, if you look at the top 20 senators (both parties) in terms of dollars of earmarks secured for this bill, 15 are appropriators.

Bottom line: Appropriators love spending and they particularly love pork.  Sen. Snowe just likes the government spending other people’s money.

**Update: Cloture was invoked on a 62-35 vote and the legislation subsequently passed by voice vote.  Every single Democratic member of the Senate Appropriation Committee voted for cloture.  Republican appropriators Sens. Cochran, Specter, Bond, Shelby, Alexander, and Murkowski voted yes; Sens. McConnell, Gregg, Bennett, Hutchison, Brownback, Collins, and Voinovich voted no.  Thus, without the support of these Republican appropriators, the bill would have been effectively killed.  Of the top 20 recipients of earmarks in the bill, only 2 – Sens. Inhofe and McConnell – voted no.