Tag: Jeff Flake

Good News on Cotton

We’re another step closer to putting a shameful chapter of America’s trade policy behind us, with the good news that the House today approved (by a margin of 223-197, roll call here) an amendment offered by Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to prohibit the use of funds in the appropriations bill to provide payment to the Brazil Cotton Institute: the administration signed a deal last year with Brazil to send $147 million a year of taxpayers money to Brazil so they would look the other way while the United States continued to subsidize our cotton farmers illegally. Mr Kind and Mr Flake rightly argued that was an egregious use of taxpayer money. Some lawmakers agitated against stopping the payments in case it sparked a trade war, but the answer to that, of course, is to bring U.S. cotton policy into compliance with WTO rules (and rulings). More background here.

This Week in Government Failure

Over at Downsizing the Federal Government, we focused on the following issues this week:

  • Unfortunately, the president’s Fiscal Commission appears to have operated on the premise that the federal government should continue to do everything it now does.
  • Getting Rep. Jeff Flake on appropriations is a step in the right direction, but his appointment can’t be a token gesture.
  • A new study finds that policymakers needn’t fear spending cuts.
  • House Republican leaders’ support for “Prince of Pork” Hal Rogers to chair the chamber’s appropriations committee is a slap in the face of voters who demanded change in November.
  • Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, whose state’s unemployment rate is almost 13 percent, has advice for Washington on how to create jobs. No, it’s not April 1st.

Rep. Jeff Flake to Appropriations

In-coming House Speaker John Boehner’s endorsement of Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) for a seat on the chamber’s appropriations committee means that it’s probably a done deal. Flake is one of the few policymakers who actually lives up to the fiscal conservative label. Thus, Flake’s appointment to a committee that many members think only exists to increase spending on special interests would be welcome news.

Boehner also endorsed a suggestion from Rep. Jeff Kingston (R-GA), who has mounted a dark-horse campaign to chair the appropriations committee, to create a subcommittee focused on investigating federal programs. Flake would chair this subcommittee, and according to a release on his website, he has already lined up worthy targets like Head Start and farm subsidies.

How much success will Flake have within the committee?

The New York Times quotes Flake as boldly saying, “It has been a favor factory for years, and now it is going to become a slaughterhouse.” At the same time, Flake acknowledged to Politico that putting a few anti-spenders on appropriations isn’t going to be enough:

Flake said the conservatives that Boehner wants to get on the committee will be “marginalized” if they’re scattered throughout the panel.

“It’s not enough just to have a few going on the committee,” he said. “They could be dispersed among the subcommittees that are forgotten.”

I recently warned the House Republican leadership against serving tea party voters re-heated meatloaf by allowing old-school spenders to dominate the committees. Getting Jeff Flake on appropriations is a step in the right direction, but his appointment can’t be a token gesture. Anti-spenders like Flake will need support from their leadership to succeed because they sure won’t be making friends with the big-spending old bulls.

Dueling Earmark Op-Eds

With a key vote on earmarks slated for next Tuesday in the Senate Republican Conference, Republican leaders are having it out on whether their party should eschew earmarking or continue the practice. The debate centers on the division of power between Congress and the executive branch.

On NRO’s “The Corner” blog, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) calls earmarks a “phony issue.” Doing away with earmarks doesn’t reduce spending. It simply transfers authority for spending decisions to the executive:

Earmarks have been part of the congressional process since the founding of our country. As James Madison, the father of the Constitution viewed it, appropriating funds is the job of the legislature. Writing in the Federalist, he noted that Congress holds the power of the purse for the very reason that it is closer to the people. The words of Madison and Article 1 Section 9 of the Constitution say that authorization and appropriations are exclusively the responsibility of the legislative branch. Congress should not cede this authority to the executive branch.

And he criticizes the anti-earmark movement as “pseudo” fiscal responsibility:

While anti-earmarkers bloviate about the billions spent through earmarks, many of them supported the trillions of dollars in extra spending for bailouts, stimulus, and foreign aid. Talk about specks versus planks! Over the course of the last several years, the overall number and dollar amount of earmarks has steadily decreased. During that same time, overall spending has ballooned by over $1.3 trillion. In reality, ballyhooing about earmarks has been used as a ruse by some to seem more fiscally responsible than they really are.

Taking the other side, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) writes in the Washington Post that earmarks are part and parcel of Congress’s abdication:

Those who view earmarking as an expression of the “congressional prerogative” sell Congress short of its preeminent role as the first branch of government. As the defenders of earmarking are fond of saying, earmarks represent less than 2 percent of all federal spending. Precisely! By focusing on a measly 2 percent of spending, we have given up effective oversight on the remaining 98 percent.

This lopsided exchange can be examined empirically. As the number of earmarks has risen significantly over the past two decades, the amount of oversight exercised by the House Appropriations Committee — as measured by the number of hearings held, witnesses called, etc. — has declined substantially. It is as if Congress has called a truce with the executive branch: Don’t hassle us about our 2 percent, and we’ll offer only token interference with your 98 percent.

Senator Inhofe misuses Federalist #58. The “power of the purse” refers to the fact that revenue measures must originate in the popularly elected House, strengthening its hand against the Senate, whose membership was to be selected by state legislatures. But he is right to castigate the earmark opponents who have thrown buckets of taxpayer money into the wind when Washington, D.C., has lately spun itself into a whirl.

Inhofe’s static view of earmarking produces the weaker of the two arguments, though. Rep. Flake is right to recognize earmarking’s dynamic effects. The fiscal weaklings—majorities in both parties—decline oversight and go along with spending bills they might otherwise oppose because of goodies for their home states or districts.

Earmarker comity may even cause fiscal conservatives to go wobbly. Try counting the number of amendments Senator Inhofe has offered seeking to strike earmarks in 23 years of debating spending bills on the Senate floor, and you may not need to raise a finger on either of your hands.

The right answer is to take what both of these debaters has to offer. Earmarks should go, and Congress should withdraw spending discretion from the executive branch while it reduces spending overall.

I’ll be speaking Monday at a Hill event on earmark transparency. Should be a barn burner!

Gov. Barbour Breaks with GOP on Immigration

OK, the headline may be a bit overstated, but recent comments on immigration by Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi are different enough from what most of his fellow Republicans are saying to be newsworthy.

In a video interview released earlier this week (see link below), Barbour expressed appreciation for the Hispanic immigrant workers who helped rebuild his state after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and for the need to be more open to highly skilled immigrants from countries such as India.

Barbour is an important figure in the GOP. He is in his second term, chairs the Republican Governors Association, and led the Republican National Committee back in 1994 when the party swept into power in Congress.

When asked what he would say to people in California who are upset about illegal immigration, Barbour responded:

Let me just tell you, I’ve had a different experience than perhaps some other governors. I don’t know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn’t been for the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild, and there’s no doubt in my mind some of them weren’t here legally. Some of them were, some of them weren’t. But they came in, they looked for the work—if they hadn’t been there, if they hadn’t come and stayed for a few months or a couple of years, we would be way, way, way behind where we are now.

Every country—I don’t care if it’s the United States of America or Papua New Guinea, every country has gotta have a secure border. If you can’t secure your border, you’re not much of a country, and we’ve gotta secure our border. But we’ve gotta do so with the recognition that even in our lifetime we’re gonna have a labor shortage in the United States. We don’t want to be like Japan, where the aging population is supported by fewer and fewer and fewer and fewer.

So there’s gotta be a way—a) we gotta secure the border, but b) we’ve got to work through how are we gonna make sure we’ve got the labor we need in the United States. H1B visas—a huge, huge thing. My idea is everybody from Stanford who’s from India that gets a PhD, we oughta stamp citizenship on his diploma, so instead of him going back to India and starting a business that employs 1,800 people, that he’ll start a business that employs 1,800 people in Des Moines, Iowa, instead of India. A lot of this is just common sense, and common sense tells us we’re not gonna take ten or twelve or fourteen million people [currently here illegally] and put them in jail and deport them. We’re not gonna do it, and we need to quit—some people need to quit acting like we are, and let’s talk about real solutions.

You can view the video here, where the subject of immigration comes up at the 5:50 mark.

Although Barbour may be a minority voice on the issue within his party, he is not alone. The host of the show, the Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson, is a former speech writer for Ronald Reagan who wrote back in June on the former president’s more inclusive view of immigrants. And I was joined at a Cato Hill Briefing in July by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on the need for a temporary worker program as a key to immigration reform.

Let’s hope their fellow Republicans are listening.

The Four Congressmen of the Cotton Subsidy Apocalypse?

Yet another show of that rare commodity, bipartisan efforts to reduce the size of government today. Four members of the House—two Republican and two Democrat—have sent a letter to President Obama, calling on him to reverse the insane policy of bribing Brazilian farmers with subsidies in an attempt to correct, in accordance with the perverse two-wrongs-make-a-right school of logic, for  illegal U.S. subsidies. (There were other questionable parts of the deal with Brazil).

Barney Frank (D, MA), Ron Kind (D, WI), Paul Ryan (R, WI) and Jeff Flake (R, AZ) make compelling arguments for finding a better and more permanent  solution to the dispute than the current (dodgy) deal with Brazil, including arguments about fiscal responsibility, the adverse effects of distorting markets in this way, and the implications for the U.S. economy of continuing to operate the cotton program in its current form.

They also cleverly allude to President Obama’s emphasis on enforcement in his trade policy, pointing out that enforcement runs two ways:

Should we fail to effectively reform [the cotton] program now, American businesses and workers wil pay the price because we refused to write a law that complies with our international obligations. We cannot expect our trading partners to play by the rules if we are not willing to do the same. [emphasis added]

The press release from Rep. Flake’s office contains some great quotes, too. Flake, for example, says, “This proposal takes our federal farm subsidy policy from the impractical to the absurd.” 

But I’ll give the last word to Rep. Frank, who has this gem to offer:

[T]he Obama administration apparently feels compelled to preserve our right to subsidize American cotton farmers by extending that subsidy to Brazilian cotton farmers.  People looking for an illustration of the meaning of the phrase, ‘from bad to worse,’ need look no further.