Tag: hearings

Senate Judiciary Committee Hears from Cato on Gun Policy

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights – the same one where I testified regarding campaign finance post-Citizens United last summer – held a hearing, titled “Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence: Protecting Our Communities While Respecting the Second Amendment.”  In the lead-up to the hearing, the subcommittee’s new ranking member, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), solicited written testimony from Cato on the subject.  He got it in spades.  Here are the Cato-affiliated scholars who submitted materials:

  • Associate policy analyst David Kopel provided an excellent summary of his decades of research on firearms law and policy.
  • Senior fellow Randy Barnett outlined the constitutional considerations that must attend any discussion of gun regulation.
  • Chairman Bob Levy attached a short cover letter to his timely National Law Journal article that critiques the current state of play.
  • I sent in an essay about the right to keep and bear arms generally that incorporates two blogposts and five op-eds by Kopel, Levy, Trevor Burrus, and myself.

If anyone else on Capitol Hill needs a full-court press on an issue ahead of a hearing, you know where to find Cato.

Policymakers Needn’t Fear Spending Cuts

A recent study by economists Alberto Alesina, Dorian Carloni, and Giampaolo Leece looked at 19 OECD countries from 1975 to 2008 and found no evidence that “governments which quickly reduce budget deficits are systematically voted out office.” Therefore, the authors conclude that governments can “decisively” reduce deficits and be returned to office by voters.

A particularly interesting finding is that only 20 percent of the governments that reduced deficits by cutting spending were subsequently voted out of office. In contrast, 56 percent of governments that reduced deficits by increased taxes were given the boot.

The findings are good news for the large group of incoming members of Congress who promised to cut spending during the campaign.

The authors ask, “If it is the case that certain types of fiscal adjustments are not necessarily costly in terms of lost output or lost votes, why are they often delayed and politicians reluctant to implement them?”

One possible reason they suggest makes the most sense:

Certain constituencies may be able to block adjustments to continue receiving rents from government spending because they have enough political energy (time, organization, money). This is sometimes referred to as an issue of diffuse benefits and concentrated costs. For example, in some cases strikes of public-sector employees may create serious disruptions. Pensioners lobbies may be able to persuade politicians not to touch their pension systems even when future generations will suffer the costs of delayed reforms. Lobbyists for certain protected sectors use campaign contributions for continued protection.

Policymakers in Washington are surrounded by doting staffers, political operatives, and persistent lobbyists representing countless special interests. The result is an endless stream of feedback telling policymakers to SPEND! Or, as is currently more likely the case, DON’T CUT! Many politicians learn to enjoy the warm feelings (and campaign support) that come with delivering the taxpayer goods to particular interests, while those who would actually like to cut spending don’t make any friends.

The media often doesn’t help matters.

Consider how many journalists tend to portray the subject of spending cuts. They describe proposed cuts as “draconian” and modest trims as “slashing” spending. Instead of considering the cost to taxpayers of a program or the possible alternatives to government programs, journalists just think of cuts as “painful.”

One way to puncture a hole in the Beltway spending echo-chamber would be for congressional committees to spend more time listening to witnesses who don’t want more government spending. In a Cato Policy Analysis, former Yale professor James Payne surveyed 14 congressional committee hearings. He found that “in those 14 hearings, 1,014 witnesses appeared to argue in favor of programs and only 7 spoke against them, an imbalance of 145 to 1.”

There’s a lot of talk coming from House Republicans about “changing the culture” in the appropriations committee and elsewhere. A good start would be for the committees to start hearing more from the “diffuse” taxpayers footing the bill, and less from the concentrated beneficiaries. Perhaps then more policymakers will come to realize that pushing spending cuts isn’t so scary after all.

More Questions for Kagan

Building on Tim’s post about George Will’s latest column, and under the category of great minds thinking alike—at least with respect to what we need to see at the Kagan hearings next week—I also have an article proposing lines of questioning for the Supreme Court nominee

Several of my issue areas overlap with Will’s, and then I conclude:

Of course, Kagan will attempt to deflect these queries—or give a law professor’s explanation without providing her own views (which caused Sen. Arlen Specter to vote against her nomination to be solicitor general).

But the role of a justice is different from that of the solicitor general, who merely uses existing law to argue the government’s case. Moreover, as a leading scholar argued in an influential 1995 article, “the Senate ought to view the hearings as an opportunity to gain knowledge and promote public understanding of what the nominee believes the Court should do and how she would affect its conduct.”

That scholar? Elena Kagan.

She continues: “The critical inquiry as to any individual similarly concerns the votes she would cast, the perspective she would add, and the direction in which she would move the institution.”

If senators ask tough questions about the scope of government power, and Kagan refuses to answer, Kagan will have failed the Kagan standard.

Read the whole thing (which I’m told has been published in several papers around the country this week).  Josh Blackman also has an interesting series of questions.

Collin Peterson’s Cognitive Dissonance

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D, MN) is conducting a series of hearings in rural America to tout his support for big Ag listen to the people.

In the third paragraph of page 14 of an unofficial transcript of the recent hearings in Troy, Alabama, Mr. Peterson makes an excellent point about the fundamental inability of lawmakers or Washington bureaucrats to decide which farm size is best. “We are not going to get into the business of deciding how big a farm should be because that’s way beyond our expertise.” Mr Peterson has made cutesy, self-deprecating remarks before about how Washington isn’t smart enough to make farm management decisions. I guess even incredibly powerful incumbents feel some pressure from tea partiers to make cynical asides about Washington.

And yet. Here’s Mr. Peterson, in an interview with a upstate New York newspaper, offering his two cents’ on how to reform (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) U.S. dairy policy:

When lawmakers map out a new safety net, it will have to include a supply management system to keep milk production in check, Mr. Peterson said…

Supply management could include measures to discourage farms from expanding, as well as a program to spur more dairy exports. In the past, the government has tried buying out farmers’ dairy herds, but production eventually recovered and the beef industry suffered from the low prices resulting from so many cows suddenly entering the slaughter market.

“Production management will have to be in it,” Mr. Peterson said…

As part of the changes, Mr. Peterson said, he also expects Congress will add California to the federal milk marketing system, which sets the minimum prices farmers receive.

So farm size is beyond the federal government’s expertise, but “production management” for dairy farms is not? Make up your mind, Congressman.

I also have concerns with the substance of Mr Peterson’s suggestions for dairy policy. Just last weekend I attended a workshop in Toronto where a graduate student from the University of Guelph gave an excellent presentation on the recent problems in the Ontario quota exchange, the market on which quota rights to produce dairy products in Ontario, Canada are traded.  (The paper on which his analysis was based is not yet available.) Quota rights to, essentially, one cow trebled over recent years to more than C$30, 000. That’s just for the right to milk the cow, mind you. It doesn’t buy you the cow, or even the land or equipment or feed for the cow. Just the right to produce. As the student described the system, it sounded to me like the Canadian version of tulip mania, backed up by soviet-style supply management systems. Do we really want to introduce this sort of insanity to U.S. dairy markets, as if the current system wasn’t ludicrous enough?