Tag: Judd Gregg

America’s ‘Aimless Absurdity’ In Afghanistan

Rasmussen reports that 52% of Americans want U.S. troops home from Afghanistan within a year, up from 43% last fall. Of course, polls are ephemeral snapshots of public opinion that can fluctuate with the prevailing political winds; nonetheless, it does appear that more Americans are slowly coming to realize the “aimless absurdity” of our nation-building project in Central Asia. 

Earlier today (HT: HuffPo’s Amanda Terkel), former Republican senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: “I don’t think we can afford Afghanistan much longer.” He continued: “The simple fact is that it’s costing us. Good people are losing their lives there, and we’re losing huge amount of resources there … So I think we should have a timeframe for getting out of Afghanistan, and it should be shorter rather than longer.”

Gregg is absolutely right. It is well past time to bring this long war to a swift end. Yet Gregg’s comments also reflect a growing bipartisan realization that prolonging our land war in Asia is weakening our country militarily and economically.

To politicians of any stripe, the costs on paper of staying in Afghanistan are jarring.  Pentagon officials told the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that it costs an average of $400 per gallon of fuel for the aircraft and combat vehicles operating in land-locked Afghanistan. The U.S. Agency for International Development has spent more than $7.8 billion on Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001, including building and refurbishing 680 schools and training thousands of civil servants. Walter Pincus, of The Washington Post, reported that the Army Corp of Engineers spent $4 billion last year on 720 miles of roads to transport troops in and around the war-ravaged country. It will spend another $4 to $6 billion this year, for 250 more miles.

War should no longer be a left-right issue. It’s a question of scarce resources and limiting the power of government. Opposition to the war in Afghanistan can no longer be swept under the carpet or dismissed as an issue owned by peaceniks and pacifists, especially when our men and women in uniform are being deployed to prop up a regime Washington doesn’t trust, for goals our president can’t define.

Tax Hike Commission

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is holding hearings today focused on Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg’s (R-NH) idea to set up a special Task Force to draft a deficit-reduction plan. The plan would get fast-tracked through Congress for a vote and “everything would be on the table.”

For taxpayers, this idea creates the threat of large tax increases on top of all the other tax increases being discussed in Congress. While the senators supporting a Task Force express valid concerns about the government’s exploding debt, the plan could launch a drive to impose a European-style value-added tax in America.

In theory, such a Task Force could come up with some meaty and long-overdue cuts to the federal budget. But nine of the senators co-sponsoring the Conrad-Gregg Task Force, including Conrad, voted in favor of the massive spending bill passed by the Senate on Sunday, which increased appropriations by 10 percent in a single year.

In calling for deficit reduction, Senator Conrad says that “it is no longer enough for Congress to simply talk about reform; it is time for action and leadership.” But Senator Conrad certainly hasn’t shown reform leadership on farm subsidies. So until he and his colleagues start restraining their own spending appetites, it’s safe to assume that ”everything on the table” really just means a sneaky, under-the-table tax increase.

Deficit Commission: Wrong Target, Wrong Approach

Legislation being considered on Capitol Hill would create a supposed deficit reduction commission. If politicians were bound by truth-in-advertising, this proposal would be called a tax increase commission. It creates a mechanism that will – at best – replicate the 1982 and 1990 budget summits, both of which were fiscal disasters from the perspective of those who favor limited government. The inevitable result of a “bipartisan” process is a 50/50 deal of “spending cuts” and “tax increases,” but the spending cuts are off the “baseline” (which assumes spending goes up), so even if the changes are real (and they rarely are), they are merely reductions in increases. The tax increases, meanwhile, are real and come on top of all the revenue growth built into current law. Moreover, many of the so-called spending cuts are actually increases in revenue (the “offsetting receipts” charade). Last but not least, this legislation is a stalking horse for VAT (that’s what all the talk about an “antiquated” tax system that needs to be “modernized” is all about).

What’s remarkable about this proposal is how Democrats are almost transparent in their desire to lure Republicans into committing political suicide. As demonstrated by the 1982 and 1990 budget deals, everything is examined through the prism of distribution tables once a budget summit or commission commences and the GOP inevitably comes across as the bad guys who try to protect the rich at the expense of the poor. Of course, if Republicans are really stupid enough to travel down this path, they’ll deserve exactly what happens. But some people in Washington are aware that the proposed commission is a recipe for a major tax hike. The Financial Times cites Cato’s Chris Edwards in its report:

The push for a bipartisan commission to deal with the fiscal challenges facing the US gained momentum on Wednesday as 27 senators sponsored revised legislation that would create such a task force. The bill, introduced by Democrat Kent Conrad and Republican Judd Gregg, both fiscal hawks, would charge an 18-member group of serving legislators and administration officials with coming up with a plan to solve what they called “the nation’s long-term fiscal imbalance”. …In a sign that the concept of such a commission is gaining ground politically, anti-tax activists immediately attacked the proposal, saying it would lead to tax increases. Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, published an open letter saying the “commission is unacceptable from a taxpayer perspective” because “it would lead to a guaranteed tax increase”. …Chris Edwards, director of tax policy at the small-government Cato Institute, said a commission was likely to put too much emphasis on tax increases when “long-term projections reveal a spending catastrophe, not a revenue challenge”.

One final comment. It is utterly absurd to categorize Senator Kent Conrad as a fisal hawk. This term supposedly suggests a member who actively pursues deficit reduction. Yet according to the vote rating of the National Taxpayers Union, Conrad’s most recent rating is an F. Which is the same grade he got the previous year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Indeed, Conrad “earned” failing grades in 14 out of 17 years, and got a D in the other three years.

ObamaCare’s Cost Could Top $6 Trillion

Congressional Democrats are using several budget gimmicks to disguise the cost of their health care overhaul, claiming the House and Senate bills would cost only (!) about $1 trillion over 10 years.  Now that critics have begun to correct for those budget gimmicks, supporters of ObamaCare are firing back.

One gimmick makes the new entitlement spending appear smaller by not opening the spigot until late in the official 10-year budget window (2010–2019).  Correcting for that gimmick in the Senate version, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) estimates, “When all this new spending occurs” — i.e., from 2014 through 2023 — “this bill will cost $2.5 trillion over that ten-year period.”

Another gimmick pushes much of the legislation’s costs off the federal budget and onto the private sector by requiring individuals and employers to purchase health insurance.  When the bills force somebody to pay $10,000 to the government, the Congressional Budget Office treats that as a tax.  When the government then hands that $10,000 to private insurers, the CBO counts that as government spending.  But when the bills achieve the exact same outcome by forcing somebody to pay $10,000 directly to a private insurance company, it appears nowhere in the official CBO cost estimates — neither as federal revenues nor federal spending.  That’s a sharp departure from how the CBO treated similar mandates in the Clinton health plan.  And it hides maybe 60 percent of the legislation’s total costs.  When I correct for that gimmick, it brings total costs to roughly $2.5 trillion (i.e., $1 trillion/0.4).

Here’s where things get really ugly.  TPMDC’s Brian Beutler calls “the” $2.5-trillion cost estimate a “doozy” of a “hysterical Republican whopper.”  Not only is he incorrect, he doesn’t seem to realize that Gregg and I are correcting for different budget gimmicks; it’s just a coincidence that we happened to reach the same number.

When we correct for both gimmicks, counting both on- and off-budget costs over the first 10 years of implementation, the total cost of ObamaCare reaches — I’m so sorry about this — $6.25 trillion.  That’s not a precise estimate.  It’s just far closer to the truth than President Obama and congressional Democrats want the debate to be.

Beutler and other supporters of ObamaCare can react to this news in two ways.  They can continue to deny the enormous cost of the legislation they support.  Or they can question how President Obama’s health plan came to be so blessedly expensive, and how (and by whom) they were duped into thinking it wasn’t.