Tag: Tea Party

Independent Agencies Test Tea Party Mettle

Is there something special about December? Perhaps it’s the spirit of giving that had the Federal Communications Commission voting yesterday to regulate Internet service. At the beginning of the month—December 1st—the Federal Trade Commission issued a report signaling its willingness to regulate online businesses.

No, it’s not the fact that it’s December. It’s the fact that it’s after November.

November—that’s the month when we had the mid-term election. The FCC and FTC appear to have held off coming out with their regulatory proposals ahead of the elections because the Obama administration couldn’t afford any more evidence that it heavily favors government control of the economy and society.

There was already plenty of evidence out there, of course, but the election is past now, and the administration has taken its lumps. It’s an open question whether there will be a second Obama term, so the heads of the FCC and FTC are swinging into action. They’ll get done what they can now, during the period between elections when the public pays less attention.

And that is a challenge to the Tea Party movement, which would be acting predictably if it lost interest in politics and public policy during the long year or more before the next election cycle gets into full swing. Politicians know—and the heads of independent agencies are no less political than anyone else—that the public loses focus after elections. That’s the time for agencies to quietly move the agenda—during the week before Christmas, for example.

So it’s not the spirit of giving—it’s the spirit of hiding—that has these independent agencies moving forward right now. It’s up to the public, if it cares about liberty and constitutionally limited government, to muster energy and outrage at the latest moves to put the society under the yoke of the ruling class. Both the FCC and the FTC lack the power to do what they want to do, but Congress will only rein them in if Congress senses that these are important issues to their active and aware constituents.

Are Tea Partiers Anti-trade?

Where will the new Tea-Party-backed members of Congress come down on trade issues, such as the newly revised trade agreement with South Korea or the next farm bill?

Those elected to the House are the biggest question marks because very few of them have had to think much about trade, never mind actually cast a vote on it. In an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week, I try to discern what direction the new members will take the generally pro-trade Republican Party, and which direction they should take it in light of the movement’s free-market, limited-government principles.

For my full take, see “Are Tea Partiers Anti-trade?”

‘Prince of Pork’ to Chair Appropriations

House Republican leaders went with Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) – a.k.a. “The Prince of Pork” – to chair the House Appropriations Committee. As I wrote last week, the prospect of Rogers chairing Appropriations is about as inspiring as re-heated meatloaf when it comes to his potential for pushing serious spending reforms.

Republican leaders in the House chose to ignore the concerns of tea party activists and other proponents of limited government, who were more supportive of Rep. Jack Kingston’s (R-GA) dark-horse push for the chairmanship. Kingston’s plan to “change the culture” on Appropriations offered a lot of positive ideas suggesting that he was more in tune with the voters that gave Republicans the majority.

Politico reported that Kingston received “the cold shoulder” from the House leadership in his bid to chair appropriations. Instead, presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner supported spending-hawk Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) bid for a seat on the committee. That’s nice, but Flake himself appears to recognize that his appointment could amount to a token gesture if old bull spenders end up ruling the roost:

“If it’s just putting a few conservatives on the committee, and leaving the current structure pretty much in place, that’s not enough.”

Some congressional Republicans have defended Rogers’ chairmanship, saying that he’ll be fine if he sticks to what he says he’s going to do. A long-time champion of earmarking, Rogers did agree to go along with a ban on the tawdry practice a few weeks ago, which was convenient timing.

Will the leopard change his spots?

The left-wing Think Progress blog recently used a FOIA request to obtain a letter Rogers sent to the Department of Health and Human Services requesting ObamaCare money for a community service center in his district. No earmarks? No problem for Hal Rogers. He can just go the time-honored route of policymakers heckling federal agencies for pork. Earmarks represent just one of many ways that parochial-minded members steer benefits to their districts at the expense of taxpayers and the general public good.

According to Bloomberg, Kentucky’s Lexington Herald-Leader called Rogers “the very model of an old-fashioned pork-barrel politician who builds an empire out of government spending.” Roger’s website contains numerous pictures of him attending local photo-ops for projects he helped fund with federal taxpayers’ money. (I suppose one argument in his favor is that lifting all those ceremonial spades means he’s probably in good shape to handle the rigors of chairmanship.)

The support for Rogers from House Republican leaders is a slap in the face of voters who demanded change in Washington—change from the big-spending ways of both Democrats and Republicans.

Quick Link on the Tea Party and Ag Subsidies

I wrote last week about my concerns regarding the fiscal conservatism of tea party candidates when it comes to farm programs. Edward Lotterman, writing in the (Minnesota) Pioneer Press Online, asks the key question:

If you campaign on a platform of lower taxes, smaller government, no budget deficits and ending government redistribution of income to small interest groups, how on Earth can you vote for continued spending on federal commodity programs?

Read the whole thing here.

Earmarks and the Constitution

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Is Senate Minority Leader McConnell’s announcement yesterday that he will support a moratorium on earmarks a sign that establishment Republicans are caving in to the tea party faction of their party?

My response:

Far from a sign that ”establishment” Republicans are “caving in” to the Tea Party faction soon to arrive here, Senate Minority Leader McConnell’s announcement yesterday that he “will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress” suggests that Republicans may be rediscovering their roots in limited government, however reluctantly for some. At the same time, McConnell’s unusually long press release brings out two main difficulties surrounding the subject: first, and most important, the overall growth of spending; and second, the question of who decides where that spending goes.

On the second question, McConnell is clearly right: It’s hardly an improvement if ending earmarks amounts simply to giving the president the discretion to determine where spending goes. And on that point he contrasts earmarks he himself has made toward projects that properly were federal – e.g., cleaning up a dangerous chemical weapons site in his state, which presidents in both parties had ignored – with the Stimulus Bill, “which Congress passed without any earmarks only to have the current administration load it up with earmarks for everything from turtle tunnels to tennis courts.”

To be sure, there’s enough mischief at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to go around, but it’s the growth of spending, most on matters unauthorized by the Constitution, that is far and away the larger problem. McConnell calls for congressional oversight “to monitor how the money taxpayers send to the administration is actually spent.” Far more important will be hearings to determine whether Congress has constitutional authority to appropriate money on any particular matter in the first place.

Thus, the new Congress needs to see through the false alternative the earmarks debate has engendered. At bottom, it’s not a question of whether Congress or the president shall decide. Rather, after administration input, all but ministerial spending decisions belong to Congress – as constrained by the Constitution. Thus, if the voice of the electorate is to be respected, new and old members alike need to attend first to their oath of office.

Tea Party Not Keen on RomneyCare

The following exchange took place yesterday on the Christian Broadcasting Network between host David Brody and Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer.

Brody: Mitt Romney…on the Massachusetts health care situation, you’re going to tell me that’s going to fly in the Tea Party movement?

Kremer: Absolutely not…I’m being honest here…You can’t get away from that.  And that’s the thing is, the days of people being able to do one thing in their state in front of a microphone, and then going to Washington and doing something else. I mean, the Internet, and 24-hour news cycles changed it all, and these people don’t have short memories, they’re digging up everything from the past, and they’re not going to let go of the health care.

Hmm.  I wonder why…


Video of the CBN exchange is available here.  For more on RomneyCare, read “The Massachusetts Health Plan: Much Pain, Little Gain.”

The Real Job Starts Now

Tea Partiers are celebrating the biggest swing against the incumbent party in the House of Representatives since 1938.

It always feels great to win an election. But the real job for fiscal conservatives and smaller-government advocates starts now.

The usual pattern is that after the election the voters and the activists go back to their normal lives, but the organized interests redouble their efforts to influence policymakers. That’s part of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs, which we talk a lot about here. People who want something from government organize PACs, hire lobbyists, fly to Washington, make phone calls, make political contributions, take senators to dinner, and otherwise “know no rest by day or night” (in the words of economist Vilfredo Pareto) in their effort to get their hands on taxpayers’ money. Meanwhile, it’s not in the interest of any taxpayer to become informed and seek to exert influence on each particular spending bill.

Tea Partiers must change that pattern. They must keep up the pressure on Congress and state legislators. They must demand actual performance, not just promises. And they must also seek to change the attitudes of the American people. It’s not enough to favor small government in principle; more voters have to agree to give up their own subsidies and benefits. There’s some evidence that Tea Partiers know this. As Jonathan Rauch wrote recently in National Journal:

But, tea partiers say, if you think moving votes and passing bills are what they are really all about, you have not taken the full measure of their ambition. No, the real point is to change the country’s political culture, bending it back toward the self-reliant, liberty-guarding instincts of the Founders’ era. Winning key congressional seats won’t do that, nor will endorsing candidates. “If you just tell people to vote but you don’t talk about the underlying principles,” [Tea Party Patriots coordinator Jenny Beth] Martin says, “you just have to do it again and again and again, in every election.”

… One hears again, there, echoes of leftist movements. Raise consciousness. Change hearts, not just votes. Attack corruption in society, not just on Capitol Hill. In America, right-wing movements have tended to focus on taking over politics, left-wing ones on changing the culture. Like its leftist precursors, the Tea Party Patriots thinks of itself as a social movement, not a political one.

As George Washington said in his first inaugural address, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” We have a chance in the next two years to demonstrate that republican government can still work rather than spiraling downward into endless debt and depression.

And of course Congress has a big job facing it, too, especially the newly Republican House. To capitalize on their victory, the Republicans must demonstrate to the voters that they’re serious — finally — about more freedom and less government. They destroyed the Reaganite Republican brand during the Bush years. And it’s harder to rebuild a brand than to destroy it. But the backlash against the Obama-Reid-Pelosi big-government agenda has given them another chance.

House Republicans should keep these goals in mind:

Get serious about spending. Annual federal spending rose by a trillion dollars under President Bush — before the gusher of spending when the financial crisis hit. Bush became the biggest spender since LBJ, but he didn’t hold that title long. Spending is now twice as large as when Bush became president, and annual deficits are over a trillion dollars. This is Greek-style fiscal policy. All Republicans have been promising to get spending under control, but they have adamantly avoided specifics. Now the rubber meets the road. The House of Representatives must find real cuts that will reduce overall spending and lead to a balanced budget. The Cato Institute has produced the gold standard for budget cuts in its full-page newspaper ads, in this analysis of the military budget, and at DownsizingGovernment.org. But there are other lists of cuts from the Heritage Foundation and jointly from the National Taxpayers Union and Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). Or they could just start by cutting out the $1.8 trillion in spending this year that exceeds what we spent the year George W. Bush took office.

Start rolling back the health care overhaul. The voters didn’t like Obamacare when it passed. Contrary to lots of predictions, they still don’t like it. Republicans pledged to repeal it. They should keep their promise to the voters. But of course the Senate and the president aren’t likely to go along with a repeal bill. So the House should refuse to appropriate money to implement the provisions of the bill and prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from spending any money to implement the worst provisions of the bill, especially the individual mandate.

Stop the looming tax increase. Under current law, taxes on capital gains, dividends, and everyone’s income will rise on January 1. Congress needs to block this looming tax increase, preferably in any lame duck session and otherwise in early January. The prospect of higher taxes will discourage spending and especially investment.

Take a hard look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for nine years and in Iraq for seven. Newspapers in August featured pictures of American soldiers leaving Iraq and officers proclaiming ”A truly historic end to seven years of war.” But as Patrick Henry said, “Gentlemen may cry ‘Peace! Peace!’ — but there is no peace.” Not as long as we have 50,000 troops in a divided and war-torn land. As for Afghanistan, we long ago removed the Taliban government. It’s time to convene hearings and ask what we expect to accomplish in either country for the further expenditure of men and money.

Take a similar hard look at the war on drugs. To drug warriors, nine years is a blink of an eye. They’ve been at it since 1914. And thanks to their efforts, only 119 million Americans have used illegal drugs, and only 22 million Americans use them at least once a month. Meanwhile, the violence generated by prohibition is wracking our closest neighbor and spilling over the border to the American Southwest.  A new Cato study estimates that legalizing drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. Of these savings, $25.7 billion would accrue to state and local governments, while $15.6 billion would accrue to the federal government. The report also estimates that drug legalization would yield tax revenue of $46.7 billion annually, assuming legal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco. If it can’t just end this failed policy, Congress should appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study alternatives to prohibition.

Stand up to the special interests. As noted, the moment the polls close, the organized interest groups descend on the new members of Congress. From PHRMA to farmers, from oil companies to Social Security/Medicare lobbyists, everybody wants to pay off a campaign debt and take a senator to a game at the Verizon Center. Republicans — and Democrats — need to show some republican virtue and resist these organized interest groups. And that includes one of the biggest interest groups: your home district. With trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, it is a dereliction of duty to say “I’m going to Washington to cut spending and to fund important roads and parks here in my district.” The country’s overriding interest at this point is to reduce spending, the deficit, and the national debt. And that means keeping a comfortable distance between lobbyists and the public trough. One tactic might be for the House to pass a continuing resolution to fund agencies at 90 percent of current spending, thus bypassing the notoriously porcine appropriations subcommittees. Another tactic is to listen to the Tea Partiers: Remember your principles, act like a citizen-legislator, do the right thing and go home.

Avoid social issues. When the Bush Republicans spent too much time on issues like the gay marriage ban and the Terri Schiavo intervention, they alienated suburban and professional women, college graduates, young people, libertarians, and independents (overlapping groups, of course).  And they lost two elections. After 2008 they seem to have learned their lesson. Even in the face of several states instituting marriage equality, Republicans kept their focus squarely on overspending, health care, and big-government overreach — issues that united opponents of the Obama agenda. They shouldn’t blow it now. They should stick to the economic issues that won them the 2010 election and avoid the divisive social issues that cost them the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Respect the Constitution. The Tea Party Patriots, the largest network of the thoroughly decentralized Tea Party movement, says its core principles are “Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.” In the last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll before the election, a plurality (41 percent) of Republicans ranked a “return to the principles of the U.S. Constitution” as the top or No. 2 message they hoped to send. Much of what Congress passes these days, notably including the mandate to require individuals to purchase health insurance, exceeds the powers granted to Congress under the Constitution. As the Cato Handbook for Policymakers recommends, Congress should pass no laws without first consulting the Constitution for proper authority and then debating that question on the floors of the House and Senate.

This is a time of great opportunity for advocates of individual freedom, free markets, and limited government.  To paraphrase Hubert Humphrey’s great speech of 1948, the time has arrived for America to get out of the shadow of overweening government and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of personal and economic freedom. Congress can start that process, but it will need support and pressure from lovers of liberty outside Washington.