Tag: GOP

Cillizza on Cain and Know-Nothing Foreign Policy

Asked on Meet the Press this weekend whether the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador was an act of war, Herman Cain gave the following response:

After I looked at all of the information provided by the intelligence community, the military, then I could make that decision.  I can’t make that decision because I’m not privy to all of that information… I’m not going to say it was an act of war based upon news reports, with all due respect.  I would hope that the president and all of his advisers are considering all of the factors in determining just how much, how much the Iranians participated in this.

That struck me as a refreshingly reasonable position. Yet the Washington Post’s election handicapper, Chris Cillizza, decided to make that quote the centerpiece of an article on Cain’s “know-nothing foreign policy.” He then presents a poll showing that Republicans don’t care much about foreign policy this year, only to conclude that foreign-policy ignorance could be a fatal handicap for Cain. His evidence for that conclusion is a quote from Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, who specializes in arguing for wars and imperialism. Boot, as it happens, just wrote a blog post for Commentary titled, “Iran Plot Goes Straight to the Top,” where he attacks those willing to question the evidence against Iran’s leaders and vaguely supports attacking them.

Cillizza’s article makes clear that foreign-policy ignorance is far preferable to the Washington Post’s idea of expertise. The worst part is that Cain, who claims not to know what neoconservatives are, seems likely to become one, call Boot for advice, and win the Post’s respect.

Huntsman Right to Rethink Afghanistan

Jon Huntsman’s recent comments about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and the need to reduce our military footprint have drawn a good amount of media coverage this week. Huntsman, who will announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination next week, is the latest among the field to call for rethinking our strategy in Afghanistan. Huntsman is advocating a reduced presence in the country, in the area of 10 to 15,000 troops, to fight a narrowly focused counterterrorism mission. Coincidentally, a just-released Cato paper makes a similar recommendation.

Today, ForeignPolicy.com examines Huntsman’s comments and the “Drawdown Debate” in a round table of opinion pieces. My contribution: “Huntsman’s Right: Bring ‘em Home:

Jon Huntsman is on the right track with his call for a much smaller U.S. military presence and a more focused mission in Afghanistan. His suggestion makes sense for at least three reasons. First, the current nation-building mission is far too costly relative to realistic alternatives, particularly at a time when Americans are looking for ways to shrink the size of government. Second, nation-building in Afghanistan is unnecessary. We can advance our national security interests without crafting a functioning nation-state in the Hindu Kush. And third, the current mission is deeply unconservative, succumbing to the same errors that trip up other ambitious government-run projects that conservatives routinely reject here at home.

Alas, although many rank and file Republicans agree with Huntsman, many GOP leaders do not. Perhaps that will change when they realize that, at least in this instance, good policy and good politics go hand in hand. We should bring most of our troops home, and focus the attention of the few thousand who remain on hunting al Qaeda. The United States does not need to transform a deeply divided, poverty-stricken, tribal-based society into a self-sufficient, cohesive, and stable electoral democracy, and we should stop pretending that we can.

Read the full piece here.

Thursday Links

John Boehner’s Spending and Debt Promise

House Speaker John Boehner has promised to tie substantial spending cuts to upcoming debt-limit legislation. He said spending cuts will have to be at least as large as the dollar value of the allowed debt increase. Thus, if the legislation increased the legal debt limit by $2 trillion, then Congress would have to cut spending over time by at least $2 trillion.

How can we be sure that spending cuts are real?

There are only two types of solid and tough-to-reverse spending cuts—legislated changes to reduce entitlement benefit levels and complete termination of discretionary programs. Republicans will have to define what time period they are talking about, but let’s assume it’s the standard 10-year budget window.

  • Entitlements: The legislation, for example, could change the indexing formula for initial Social Security benefits from wages to prices. The Congressional Budget Office says that change would reduce spending by $137 billion over 10 years (2012-2021). Other options include raising the retirement age for Social Security and raising deductibles for Medicare.
  • Discretionary: Each session of Congress decides the following year’s discretionary spending. Promises of discretionary spending cuts beyond one year are meaningless. Thus, the various promises in Republican and Democratic budget plans to freeze various parts of discretionary spending through 2021 or reduce spending to 2008 levels over the long term have no weight. Those are not real cuts.

The only way to get real cuts in discretionary spending—cuts that would be tough to reverse out in later years—is complete program termination and repeal of the program’s authorization. That way, policymakers in future years would generally need at least 60 votes in the Senate to reinstate the spending.

Thus, if the GOP promises to save $50 billion over 10 years by reducing the levels of Title 1 grants to the states for K-12 schools, that is not a real and solid cut. However, if they pass a law to repeal Title 1 spending altogether, that cut may well be sustained over the long term.

To make spending cuts even more secure, the GOP should also insist on a statutory cap on overall outlays with a supermajority requirement to break, as I’ve outlined here. For program termination ideas, see www.DownsizingGovernment.org.

In sum, the GOP needs to ensure that spending cuts tied to the debt-limit vote are either:

  1. Changes to entitlement laws to reduce benefit levels, or
  2. Discretionary program terminations.

    Promises to hold down future discretionary spending levels and partial program trims are not real spending cuts.

    2011 Budget Battle in Perspective

    Today the Cato Institute placed an ad in major newspapers highlighting specific spending cuts that policymakers should make to restore our country’s fiscal sanity and economic stability. Our public call for policymakers to demonstrate leadership on spending cuts comes in the midst of the on-going battle on Capitol Hill over funding the government for the remainder of fiscal 2011.

    A graphic at the top of the ad measures the $61 billion in cuts that Republicans have proposed against fiscal 2011 estimates for total spending, the deficit, and interest on the debt. As the graphic shows and the ad notes, it is clear that “leaders and members of both parties are in deep denial about the fiscal emergency we face.”

    There are news reports that Republican and Democrat negotiators are heading toward a compromise figure of $33 billion in spending cuts. Let’s put that figure in perspective alongside the GOP’s original proposal to cut a whopping $61 billion:

    Record spending levels…trillion dollar plus deficits…mountainous debt…a weak economy…

    What, Congress worry?

    Ban Spending Earmarks, But Not Tariff Cuts

    Republican leaders in Congress announced Monday that they are all on board to ban spending “earmarks” when the newly elected Congress convenes in January. That is all to the good. While not a large share of the federal budget, the designation of tax dollars to fund specific pet projects in member districts has come to symbolize out-of-control spending in Washington.

    Those same leaders should clarify that the earmark ban applies only to spending projects—not to the kind of tariff suspensions including in a recent miscellaneous tariff bill.

    The U.S. Manufacturing Enhancement Act approved by Congress in July suspended tariffs on hundreds of imported items of special interest to U.S. manufacturers. House Republican leaders made the mistake earlier this year of including such tariff suspensions in an earmark ban they announced in March.

    The overly broad definition of an earmark boxed the leadership into opposing a perfectly sensible trade bill. Despite the half-hearted opposition of the GOP leadership, the U.S. Manufacturing Enhancement Act passed overwhelmingly in the House on July 21, by a margin of 378-43, with Republicans supporting it by a 3-1 margin.

    Most members of Congress already understood what the Cato Institute pointed out in a September 2010 study recommending reform of future miscellaneous tariff bills—that tariff cuts are not the same as spending earmarks. Here is what I wrote in the study about the difference between tariff cuts and the kind of spending earmarks that has angered voters:

    Spending-bill earmarks distribute tax dollars not for any public purpose authorized under the U.S. Constitution, but rather to benefit a certain special interest or a specific city or district. They grant favors to a small group of beneficiaries at the public’s expense. In contrast, a tariff suspension repeals a narrow tax that falls disproportionately and unfairly on a small group of producers. Instead of granting a favor at the public’s expense, a tariff suspension relieves individual producers of a burden that falls on them and nobody else. Unlike a spending earmark, a tariff suspension creates no new claim on public resources. It does not expand the scope or size of government.

    Including tariff suspensions in the moratorium is not a matter of curbing the power of lobbyists. There is a world of difference between lobbying for a $500,000 government grant for a project with narrow benefits, and lobbying to remove a $500,000 tax bill that only a handful of enterprises are required to pay. The former seeks an expansion of the government’s power and influence, the latter a reduction. Republicans who rightly complain about the growth of the federal government should be the first to embrace the suspension and repeal of hundreds of nuisance taxes distorting the economy and burdening American producers.

    The new Congress may soon consider another miscellaneous tariff bill to further reduce discriminatory tariffs that impose real costs on U.S. companies trying to compete in global markets. Republican leaders should join with their Democratic counterparts in the new Congress to clarify that suspending or repealing unfair tariffs should not be banned but should be vigorously pursued.

    Republican Hypocrisy Watch

    Last week I urged readers to be on the lookout for Republicans seeking to exclude farm subsidies from any cuts they plan to make to federal spending. And it seems the first example of “smaller government for thee, but not for me” has been provided by incoming congresswoman Vicki Hartzler, who campaigned on a Tea Party-ish platform and defeated long-time congressman Ike Skelton (in Missouri’s 4th congressional district).

    Ms. Hartzler calls Margaret Thatcher her role model because she “took principled stands.” (As, indeed, she often did.) Ms. Hartzler also says economic issues – cutting government spending, complete repeal of the health care bill – are her main concern. But read the fine-print in this article from the St. Louis Beacon:

    Hartzler says cutting spending is a top personal priority; she wants to roll back non-discretionary funding levels to 2008 levels, before the economic stimulus and TARP programs. …

    The congresswoman-elect would exempt some of the federal budget’s high-cost categories – including Social Security, Medicare and the Pentagon budget – from cutbacks. But she would not exempt agricultural subsidies,* another major area of federal spending popular in rural areas such as west-central Missouri’s Fourth District. Among the many farms to receive such subsidies is the 1,700-acre Hartzler farm, which – according to the Environmental Working Group’s “Farm Subsidy Database” – received about $774,000 in federal payments (mainly commodity subsidies for corn, soybeans and wheat) from 1995 through 2009.

    “Everything should be on the table,” she says. While she says some agriculture programs represent a “national defense issue” because they help guarantee that “we have a safety net to make sure we have food security in our country,” Hartzler adds: “Should we continue the CRP [Conservation Reserve] program, where you pay farmers to not plant ground and set it aside for awhile? I’m not sure. The time for that may be over.” [emphasis added]

    Let’s be clear about what Ms. Hartzler is talking about here. Those “some” agricultural programs she says should be guaranteed on “national defense” grounds (see below) are what we commonly think about as “farm subsidies” – payments to farmers to produce certain commodities, whether those payments are funded by taxpayers or consumersThey encourage overproduction and thus alienate our trade partners, complicate efforts to make global trade freer, harm poor farmers abroad and damage America’s reputation in the process. They cost us billions of dollars a year.

    She is, on the other hand, open to cutting farm programs that at least pretend to have environmental benefits. I’m not commenting here on the validity of those sorts of ”public goods” claims, and of course I am not conceding that the federal government should be involved in them. But I think most reasonable  people would agree that they are less economically damaging than traditional farm subsidies.  In other words, in the hierarchy of damage, and therefore in the hierarchy of what should be cut first, I would put farm subsidies ahead of the CRP. And I fail, in any event, to see how anyone calling themselves a fiscal conservative can promote the idea of excluding a priori that which we commonly think of as “farm subsidies.”

    [Also, can we please abandon once and for all this nonsense idea that we need farm subsidies to have food security? Appeals to “national defense” are disingenuous and cynical. They are also belied (rather obviously) by the fact that we see abundant supplies of fruit, vegetables and other horticultural goods even though those products attract no subsidies directly. The best way to ensure a food security is to ensure open markets, so food can flow from where it is abundant to where it is scarce. Self-sufficiency is a misguided policy, as the experience of North Korea can attest.]

    So, in summary, when Ms. Hartzler says “everything should be on the table”, she basically means “not much, and certainly nothing that might harm powerful special interests that I care about.” I lost count of the number of Republican politicians being interviewed during the campaign and on election night talking about the need for “across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending” as their fiscal plan. Most if not all of them emphasized that so-called mandatory spending (which includes some farm subsidies) would be exempt from their cuts. I’m sorry, but I cannot take seriously the “fiscal conservative” credentials of any politician who adopts such a line.

    *It appears, judging from the quote below, that she would indeed exempt farm subsidies from cuts, even if other farm programs would be on the chopping block. I’m going to assume here the reporter was using the term “farm subsidies” in an imprecise manner.