Tag: Tea Party

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.

A Little More Support for Killing Fed Ed

Yesterday, I wrote that rather than counseling incoming Republican Congress members to bolster federal intrusions in education, now is the time to start dismantling Washington’s unconstitutional education apparatus.  Exit polling from yesterday’s election, while certainly not focused on education, offers some support for this.

Quite simply, voters want less government in their lives, not more. Support for the Tea Party was very high considering that many people consider it something of a fringe movement, with 41 percent of voters saying they either “strongly” or “somewhat support” the Tea Party. Only 31 percent expressed opposition to the movement. Just as telling, if not more so, 56 percent of respondents said they thought “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.” Only 38 percent thought “government should do more to solve problems.”

It could be argued that the beginning of the end for the most recent Republican congressional majority was the No Child Left Behind Act, the party’s first major repudiation of what had been a core principle; in this case, that the federal government must stay out of education. Responding to voters now – not to mention following basic principles and the Constitution – by withdrawing federal tentacles from the nation’s classrooms would be a terrific way to start getting the party’s desperately needed credibility back.

Oh, and as I noted yesterday, it would also be the right thing to do for taxpayers and, most importantly, the children.

Keep Fed Ed? What, Do You Hate Kids?

Yesterday, Tad DeHaven wrote about an interview with Rep. John Kline (R-MN), likely chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee should the GOP take the House majority. Tad lamented that Kline seemed to declare any potential effort to kill the U.S. Department of Education (ED) already dead in the water. Unfortunately, Kline is certainly right: Any effort to kill ED in the next couple of years would not only have to get through a (presumably) GOP-held House, but (also presumably) a Dem-controlled Senate and Obama-occupied White House. There just aint no way ED will be dismantled – and more importantly, it’s profligate programs eliminated – in that environment.

That said, if many Tea Party-type candidates win today, it will be precisely the time to start pushing the immensely powerful case for ending fed ed. I won’t post them yet again, but Andrew Coulson’s charts showing the Mount Everest of spending and the Death Valley of student achievement over the last roughly forty years should, frankly, be all the evidence anyone needs to see that the federal government should reacquaint itself with the Constitution and get out of elementary and secondary education. When it comes to higher education, the evidence plainly points to student aid helping to fuel the massive tuition hikes – and major waste – that plague higher education. And let’s not forget the ongoing failure of Head Start

The biggest obstacle to ending federal intrusion in education is that no one wants to vote against more education funding or programs no matter how akin to money-sack bonfires they are. Politicians simply don’t want to be tarred and feathered in campaign ads as being against children, or education itself. (No doubt almost everyone has seen ads attacking candidates for just such impossible cruelty over the last, seemingly endless, few months.) But if Tea Party sentiment proves strong today, tomorrow will be exactly the right time to launch a full-on, sustained attack against the federal occupation of education.

For one thing, teachers unions – arguably the most potent force in domestic politics, and the biggest “you hate children” bullies – are on their political heels, with even Democrats acknowledging that the unions don’t actually put kids first. Next, people are very concerned about wasteful spending, and as Andrew’s charts illuminate,  education furnishes that in droves. Third, the latest Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll reveals that by large majorities Americans want state and local governments – not the feds – in charge of education. Finally, and most importantly, the evidence blares that federal spending and meddling hasn’t actually done anything to improve education. All of which makes this the perfect time to drive the argument home: We must get Washington out of education because it is bad for your pocketbook, and bad for education!

Now, some inside-the-Beltway types have counseled the GOP to ignore the Constitution and abundant evidence of federal failure because they think the feds can somehow do good. They should be ignored because logic, evidence, and the Constitution simply aren’t on their side. And for those who might say to drop the issue because you won’t win in the next year or two? They would be right about the time frame for victory, but absolutely wrong to not take up the fight.

Dusty Bookshelves and Long-Dead Writers

New York Times reporter Kate Zernike generated a lot of spit-takes in the blogosphere when she wrote on October 2 about how Tea Party activists are reading “once-obscure texts by dead writers”:

The Tea Party is a thoroughly modern movement, organizing on Twitter and Facebook to become the most dynamic force of the midterm elections.

But when it comes to ideology, it has reached back to dusty bookshelves for long-dormant ideas.

It has resurrected once-obscure texts by dead writers — in some cases elevating them to best-seller status — to form a kind of Tea Party canon. Recommended by Tea Party icons like Ron Paul and Glenn Beck, the texts are being quoted everywhere from protest signs to Republican Party platforms.

Pamphlets in the Tea Party bid for a Second American Revolution, the works include Frédéric Bastiat’s “The Law,” published in 1850, which proclaimed that taxing people to pay for schools or roads was government-sanctioned theft, and Friedrich Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” (1944), which argued that a government that intervened in the economy would inevitably intervene in every aspect of its citizens’ lives.

So that’s, you know, “long-dormant ideas” like those of F. A. Hayek, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, who met with President Reagan at the White House, whose book The Constitution of Liberty was declared by Margaret Thatcher “This is what we believe,” who was described by Milton Friedman as “the most important social thinker of the 20th century” and by White House economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers as the author of “the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today,” who is the hero of The Commanding Heights, the book and PBS series by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, and whose book The Road to Serfdom has never gone out of print and has sold 100,000 copies this year.

So that’s Kate Zernike’s idea of an obscure, long-dormant thinker.

Meanwhile, over the next few weeks after that article ran, the following headlines appeared in the New York Times:

Apparently the Times isn’t always opposed to looking in the dusty books of long-dead writers. By the way, Keynes died in 1946, Hayek in 1992.

The Tea Party’s Other Half

Emily Ekins and I have an op-ed in today’s Politico pointing out that while the Tea Party is united on economic issues, there is a split virtually right down the middle between traditional social conservatives and those who think government should altogether stay out of the business of “promoting traditional values.” Candidates and representatives hoping to appeal to the Tea Party, we argue, need to focus on a unifying economic agenda that takes into account this strong libertarian undercurrent.

We conducted a survey of 639 attendees at the October 9, 2010 Tea Party Convention in Virginia, one of the larger state Tea Party gatherings of its kind to date. We included the same questions from Gallup and the American National Election Studies that David Boaz and I have used to identify libertarians in our previous studies, “The Libertarian Vote” and “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama.”

In our new survey, we found libertarians were 48 percent of Tea Partiers, versus 51 percent who held traditional conservative views. We defined traditional conservatives as agreeing that “the less government the better,” and that “the free market can handle these problems without government being involved,” but also believing that “the government should promote traditional values.”  Tea Party libertarians agreed that less government is better, and prefer free markets, but believe that “the government should not favor any particular set of values.”

These findings help refute the assumption that the Tea Party is just another conservative group, both fiscally and socially. The data should also caution Republicans not to over-interpret potential midterm gains in the House and Senate as a mandate for social as well as fiscal conservatism.

Our survey replicated the methodology of a Politico/Targetpoint survey from a Tea Party rally in April, which also revealed an even split between libertarians and conservatives. At the time, journalist David Weigel criticized this finding because it sampled a tea party rally that featured Ron Paul. No surprise, Weigel reasoned, that the survey “skewed” libertarian because Ron Paul’s supporters “were out in force.”

This Tea Party Convention in Virginia also featured Ron Paul—as well as Lou Dobbs, Rick Santorum and Ken Cuccinelli. With this more wide-ranging speaker line up, it would be harder to argue that the crowd skewed libertarian. If anything, we might have expected the sample to skew conservative.

While ours and Politico’s surveys sampled local tea party events, add to this a new national survey from The Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard on the role of government. It found respondents who support or lean toward the tea party split on the social issues: 42 percent moderate-to-liberal, 57 percent conservative or very conservative. These three data points, taken together, suggest that our findings would likely hold up if we repeated the survey at other tea party events nationwide.

Many still mistake the tea party as one large group, sharing common interests, which our research shows is incorrect. For instance, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson made this mistake, in an widely circulated op-ed earlier this week, asserting that the Tea Party has “the worldview of the American right – and the polling shows conclusively that that’s who the Tea Party is that.” As the chart below shows, libertarian and conservative Tea Partiers agree on economic issues, but libertarians are less concerned about social issues.

Both groups are extremely concerned about the recently passed health care reform, cutting federal government spending, and reducing the size of government. However, Tea Party libertarians are less concerned than conservatives about the moral direction of the country, gay marriage, immigration, job outsourcing, “the Mosque in NYC,” and abortion. While these differences may seem subtle, given the question wording we used, small changes are statistically significant.

It is important to recognize that these groups are not necessarily consistently ideological on all fronts. For example, we shouldn’t expect Tea Party conservatives to reflect all the views of William F. Buckley, Jr., nor Tea Party libertarians to reflect all the views of John Stossel or scholars at Cato. Nevertheless, the two groups were unified on economic issues but were different on social and cultural issues at a statistically significant level.

One finding surprised me. While we know the word “libertarian” remains unfamiliar to many who hold libertarian beliefs, the word may be gaining traction. On surveys, most libertarians identify themselves as independent, moderate or, reluctantly, conservative. However, in our survey we included an option for respondents to self-identify as “libertarian.”

Surprisingly, 35 percent of respondents who hold libertarian views self-identified as such. In previous surveys, we’ve found only 2 to 3 percent self-identify as “libertarian” nationally. To the extent that Tea Partiers talk to their neighbors and friends, perhaps we will begin to see the word “libertarian” catch on. This would certainly be good news for the “libertarian brand,” and a possible trend worth exploring in future research.

Emily and I will be writing up our findings as part of a longer study. And Emily’s more extensive research on the Tea Party, including her widely circulated analysis on Tea Party signs, will be part of her doctoral dissertation for UCLA. In the meantime, here is our survey questionnaire, and some charts showing further break down between libertarians and conservatives. Please eekins [at] cato [dot] org (let us know) if you have additional data questions.