Tag: jim demint

Jim DeMint’s Misfire on Marriage

Jim DeMint, former senator and future president of the Heritage Foundation, writes a column for USA Today opposing gay marriage. But like so many social conservatives, he supports his position with a sleight of hand. DeMint writes:

Without strong families grounded in marriage, we cannot hold back the ever-expanding power of government. As the marriage culture weakens, Big Government grows. Just look how the welfare state has expanded as the unwed childbearing rate has grown from single digits in the 1960s to more than 40% today.

Marriage policy exists to encourage a man and a woman to commit to each other permanently and exclusively as husband and wife and to be father and mother to any children. Sound marriage policy strengthens civil society and reduces the role of government.

The erosion of marriage costs taxpayers. And it’s not just conservatives who say this. Even the left-leaning think tank, Brookings Institution, attributed $229 billion in welfare expenditures between 1970 and 1996 to the breakdown of marriage.

Yes indeed. Stable families are less likely to be on welfare. As Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of Brookings write,

Our research shows that if you want to avoid poverty and join the middle class in the United States, you need to complete high school (at a minimum), work full time and marry before you have children. If you do all three, your chances of being poor fall from 12 percent to 2 percent, and your chances of joining the middle class or above rise from 56 to 74 percent. 

But DeMint and other social conservatives make a logical leap when they connect that point to gay marriage. Gay people making the emotional and financial commitments of marriage is not the cause of family breakdown or welfare spending.

When DeMint says that “family breakdown” is causing poverty – and thus a demand for higher government spending – he knows that he’s really talking about unwed motherhood, divorce, children growing up without fathers, and the resulting high rates of welfare usage and crime. 

So why raise the problems of broken families and then propose to prevent gay people from getting married? Why all the focus on issues that would do nothing to solve the problems of “family breakdown” and what DeMint has elsewhere called “the high cost of a dysfunctional society”? Well, solving the problems of divorce and unwed motherhood is hard. And lots of Republican and conservative voters have been divorced. A constitutional amendment to ban divorce wouldn’t go over very well with even the social-conservative constituency. A legal ban on premarital sex would address the problem, but even social conservatives realize that it would be an imprudent exercise of state power. Far better to pick on a small group, a group not perceived to be part of the Republican constituency, and blame them for social breakdown and its associated costs.

But you won’t find your keys on Main Street if you dropped them on Green Street, and you won’t reduce the costs of social breakdown by keeping gays unmarried and not letting them adopt orphans.

Sweet Repeal

Look at this legislative language. It’s the stuff of beauty:

(a) In general.—The following sections of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 151 et seq.) are hereby repealed:

(1) Section 339 (47 U.S.C. 339).

(2) Section 340 (47 U.S.C. 340).

(3) Section 341 (47 U.S.C. 341).

(4) Section 342 (47 U.S.C. 342).

(5) Section 612 (47 U.S.C. 532).

(6) Section 614 (47 U.S.C. 534).

(7) Section 712 (47 U.S.C. 612).

And there’s more.

It’s from H.R. 3675, The Next Generation Television Marketplace Act, introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), and its Senate counterpart, S. 2008, from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).

Cato alum Adam Thierer’s recent Forbes column has the low-down:

There’s a common myth heard frequently in communications policy circles that America’s video marketplace was largely deregulated in the 1980s and ’90s, and that we now have a free market nirvana. Nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to television programming, many layers of red tape still encumber this sector and prevent a truly free market in video programming from developing.

Adam goes on to discuss all the ways that players in this marketplace are working to maintain the advantages they see coming from regulation. It’s a gruesome pile-up of rent-seeking that the Scalise-DeMint bill is trying to clear up.

It sure is cool to see a bill that repeals existing regulations, for a change. Ten or fifteen thousand more like this would be a good start.

Oberstar Comes to the EDA’s Defense

When Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) lost his bid for reelection in November, it brought to an end a congressional career that spanned nearly a half century. As a former chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Oberstar’s faith in the ability of the federal government to turn taxpayer water into wine was typical for a politician ensconced in the Washington Beltway bubble.

Oberstar reemerged this week to voice his support for legislation reauthorizing the Economic Development Administration, which is still being debated on the Senate floor. In an op-ed written for The Hill, Oberstar says that “It is disheartening to see that the agency I helped create more than 45 years ago which has had constant bipartisan support is now under unwarranted partisan attack in an economic environment when the kinds of jobs this agency helps create are needed more than ever.”

Oberstar says that it is “particularly troubling” that the EDA is receiving scrutiny after being unanimously reauthorized only three years ago. And without specifically naming him, Oberstar takes a shot at Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) for turning against the agency after having previously “supported and praised EDA investments in his home state.” Considering how rare it is for a member of Congress to admit to having made a mistake, I’d say that DeMint’s recent admission in the Wall Street Journal that he was wrong to have supported the EDA is refreshing.

DeMint correctly noted that the mistaken rationale behind the EDA’s creation during the Great Society is the same as the Democrat’s $814 billion stimulus bill: government programs can solve economic problems. Indeed, the longer the economic recovery remains sluggish and uncertain, the more the American people are questioning the ability of the federal government to simply turn on the money spigot and make the pain go away. For people like Jim Oberstar, that’s an unsettling development.

Many Americans are starting to understand what my colleagues and I have been repeatedly pointing out: there’s no free lunch when it comes to government programs. As a Cato essay on the Economic Development Administration explains, claims of the benefits from spending only look at half of the equation:

The EDA does create government jobs, and perhaps some private sector jobs, but that is only the visible effect. What is invisible, or ignored by policymakers, are the jobs never created because of the taxes that were raised to pay for EDA programs. Every dollar that the government extracts from the economy to pay for programs destroys more than a dollar of private sector economic activity. Taxation reduces the resources available for private sector job creation, and it also distorts the economy by altering price signals for working, saving, and other productive activities.

Oberstar offers anecdotal evidence of the EDA’s successes and trots out the familiar job creation and private sector leveraging claims often made by the agency’s proponents. For instance, he touts the EDA’s “exclusive mission of creating and retaining American jobs by leveraging private investment in the nation’s economically distressed communities and every dollar that the agency invests leverages another $6.90 in private/public investment to create the economic environment for small business to grow and prosper.”

One of the examples Oberstar cites as an example of an EDA success is support for “Washington State’s growing wine industry which currently employs more than 14,000 people and generates more than $3 billion to the state’s economy.” That’s an odd choice after touting the EDA’s assistance to the “nation’s economically distressed communities.” Besides, why should federal tax-paying winemakers in states other than Washington have to effectively subsidize their competition? And as the Cato essay notes, if the EDA is “generating real returns” as Oberstar states, then “surely local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists would be interested in funding such projects without government help.”

Finally, Oberstar singles out Cato for citing “three decade old GAO reports” in our criticism of the EDA. Actually, Cato’s essay on the EDA cites reports going back three decades.

DeMint on the Economic Development Administration

Last week, I wrote about reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration, which is currently being debated on the Senate floor. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) wrote an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that cites Cato’s work on the EDA.

DeMint correctly notes that the mistaken rationale behind the EDA’s creation during the Great Society is the same as the Obama administration’s $814 billion stimulus bill: government programs can solve economic problems. Instead, both have been massive wastes of taxpayer money.

After doing an able job of listing some of the EDA’s faults — and acknowledging that he was wrong to have supported the program in the past — DeMint concludes that members of Congress should be “actively finding ways to reduce spending” given the mounting debt problem. He’s absolutely right, although the EDA should be abolished even if the federal budget were in surplus.

Republicans in particular need to put more effort into targeting specific agencies and programs for termination instead of, say, just issuing constant press releases complaining about the Senate Democrats’ lack of a budget proposal. Note that the EDA reauthorization bill passed out of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee on a voice vote. That means that all of the committee’s Republicans went along with it. See here for a list of the EPW committee’s members.

Will Obama Comply with the War Powers Resolution?

Six Republican senators are challenging President Obama’s authority to conduct an open-ended war in Libya without congressional authorization. The six conservative lawmakers (Rand Paul (R-KY), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and John Cornyn (R-TX)) sent a letter to the president on May 18th asking if he intends to comply with the War Powers Resolution. The full text of the letter can be found here.

The law stipulates that the president must terminate military operations within 60 days, unless Congress explicitly authorizes the action, or grants an extension. The clock on the Libya operation started ticking on March 21, 2011. Congress has neither formally approved of the mission, nor has it granted an extension. Therefore, the 60-day limit expires tomorrow, May 20th.

Last week at The Skeptics, I noted Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he suggested that the administration wanted to comply, but was consulting with Congress about how to do so. The New York Times presented some of the creative ideas that the administration was considering in order to adhere to circumvent the law. But the senators can read the Times, too. In their letter to the president, they write:

Last week some in your Administration indicated use of the United States Armed Forces will continue indefinitely, while others said you would act in a manner consistent with the War Powers Resolution. Therefore, we are writing to ask whether you intend to comply with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution. We await your response.

Let me be clear about one thing: I’m not a huge fan of the War Powers Resolution, per se. To me, it is silly, sort of like a law that affirmed the Congress’s authority to levy taxes, borrow and coin money, and establish Post Offices. In the same section where these powers are delegated, the Constitution clearly stipulates that Congress shall have the power to declare war. So why does there also need to be legislation?

Most presidents have complied with the spirit of the War Powers Resolution, but more out of deference to the notion that Congress has some role in whether the United States goes to war, not out of genuine conviction that Congress does/should have the most important role in deciding such things. By all appearances, President Obama is bypassing the charade.

I anxiously await his response to the senators’ letter, and am likewise curious to see if other senators raise questions about the administration’s intentions.

Nondefense Discretionary Spending Freezes

When it comes to reining in federal spending, House Republicans and the president have one idea in common: freezing nondefense discretionary spending. That category accounts for about 18 percent of total spending, so let’s see how such a freeze would affect the overall budget.

Today the Congressional Budget Office released updated budget figures and baseline projections of federal spending through fiscal 2021. Projecting the budgetary future is obviously an inexact science, and the CBO’s baseline reflects unrealistic assumptions. However, it does allow us to get an idea of the impact of a nondefense discretionary freeze on total federal spending.

Three proposals have been put forward:

  • In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed freezing nondefense discretionary spending for five years, beginning in fiscal 2012, at fiscal 2010 levels.
  • The conservative House Republican Study Committee and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) recently proposed freezing nondefense discretionary spending for ten years, beginning in fiscal 2012, at fiscal 2006 levels.
  • Ever since the release of its “Pledge to America,” the House Republican leadership has been talking about returning spending to fiscal 2008 levels. They apparently have non-security discretionary spending in mind, which is an even smaller category than nondefense discretionary. It’s not clear if they intend to freeze it at the new lower level.

Using the CBO’s latest figures, I calculated baseline spending from fiscal 2012-2021 under ten year freezes in nondefense discretionary spending at fiscal 2006, 2008, and 2010 levels:

Note:   To make an apples-to-apples comparison, I extended the proposed Obama freeze at fiscal 2010 levels from five years to ten years, and I assumed a ten year freeze at fiscal 2008 levels for the House Republicans. Also, projected annual interest payments on the debt are excluded. Therefore, the chart refers to “baseline program spending,” which is the sum of nondefense discretionary, defense, and entitlement spending.

The chart makes it excruciatingly clear that freezing nondefense discretionary spending at the levels specified or implied by Republicans and Democrats is only a start toward needed reforms in the federal budget. Congress also needs to cut defense spending, and spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs.

GOP Conservatives Propose Spending Cuts

Last week the conservative House Republican Study Committee released its Spending Reduction Act of 2011, which would cut federal spending by $2.5 trillion over the next ten years. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) will introduce it in the Senate.

The vast majority of the savings, $2.3 trillion, would come from freezing non-defense discretionary spending at fiscal 2006 levels over the next ten years. The rest would come from cutting the federal civilian workforce, privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, repealing the state Medicaid FMAP increase, repealing remaining stimulus funds, and immediately reducing non-security discretionary spending to fiscal 2008 levels.

Of the $2.3 trillion over 10 years that would be saved by freezing nondefense discretionary spending at fiscal 2006 levels, only $330 billion in savings are actually specified, or about $33 billion annually. That’s only about 5 percent of nondefense discretionary spending, and nondefense discretionary spending only accounts for about 17 percent of total federal spending.

The RSC targeted an array of small and silly programs such as $17 million in subsidies for the International Fund for Ireland. They would eliminate mohair subsides saving $1 million, but that’s tiny compared to the needed termination of all farm subsidies. And proposing to eliminate “duplicative education programs” is fine, but the Department of Education doesn’t need house cleaning – it needs to be cleaned out.

The plan does include some good cuts that have been proposed at Downsizing Government:

However, most of the RSC’s savings are generated by a largely amorphous promise to keep domestic spending flat for years to come at 2006 levels. Unfortunately, this evades the needed national conversation on closing down major agencies and departments.

Another disappointment with the RSC plan is that there are no proposed cuts for the Department of Defense. That could be a major political error as more and more conservatives have been coming to the conclusion that it needs to be downsized. And by failing to include the Pentagon, any chance of support by congressional Democrats is killed.