Topic: Government and Politics

McCain’s Budget: Balance by 2013?

In a new campaign document, John McCain detailed some of his economic proposals today. The promise that caught my eye is a pledge to balance the federal budget by 2013. That is curious promise for him to make.

The Joint Committee on Taxation projects that federal revenues in fiscal 2013 – with the extension of the current tax cuts and AMT relief – will be 17.6 percent of GDP.

This year federal spending will come in at about 20.6 percent of GDP. That means that in four years a President McCain would cut spending worth about 3 percent of GDP, or about $427 billion annually in today’s dollars.

That would be fabulous, and Mr. McCain can read my Downsizing plan to find out exactly where to cut. Indeed, he might have already read it (see the picture). However, today’s plan from McCain includes few specifics on discretionary spending cuts, and his (laudatory) entitlement reforms would probably not generate major savings in just the first four years.

Here’s where fiscal conservatives get nervous about Mr. McCain’s intentions. In the same campaign document. McCain repeatedly lauds bipartisan efforts to fix the budget. Thus, if elected, would he actually fight for $427 billion in federal spending cuts? Or would he just trim some minor waste and earmarks, and make up the vast bulk of the budget gap with tax increases in the name of bipartisanship?

To end on a positive note, we have seen in recent years that federal revenues are highly dependent on the strength of the economy. If balancing the budget is the main fiscal goal of the next president, he will need to both cut spending and support pro-growth economic policies. To McCain’s credit, his tax proposals are very growth-oriented, and an economic boom could well boost revenues to higher levels than currently projected.  

State-Worship, McCain Style

Here’s a snip from John McCain’s Parade magazine essay on patriotism:

Patriotism is deeper than its symbolic expressions, than sentiments about place and kinship that move us to hold our hands over our hearts during the national anthem. It is putting the country first, before party or personal ambition, before anything. (emphasis mine)

Before anything? I always thought the Buckley clan had some insights on prioritization of duties.

A Home Fit for a President

According to the Washington Post, Barack and Michelle Obama

wanted to step up from their $415,000 condo. They chose a house with six bedrooms, four fireplaces, a four-car garage and 5 1/2 baths, including a double steam shower and a marble powder room. It had a wine cellar, a music room, a library, a solarium, beveled glass doors and a granite-floored kitchen.

It sounds – and looks – like a home fit for a Roosevelt. Of course, the old-money Roosevelts had their homes, so they didn’t have to go through the costly and distasteful process of taking out a mortgage to buy them. Fortunately for the Obamas, the Chicago-based Northern Trust made the process a lot less costly than it might have been for other people. (See also a comment here from Clio1, who claims to know that the deal was even better than the Post suggested.)

Americans Overwhelmingly Reject Redistribution

In some heartening news, new poll results from Gallup show that Americans decisively reject redistributionist policies by an 84 percent-13 percent margin. Even Democrats prefer that government focuses on growth rather than redistribution by a margin of 77 percent-19 percent. A blogger for the New Republic claims the question was poorly worded, but that seems like wishful thinking. People were basically asked whether government should focus on making the pie bigger or focus on re-slicing the pie, and the results are very encouraging:

…given a choice about how government should address the numerous economic difficulties facing today’s consumer, Americans overwhelmingly – by 84% to 13% – prefer that the government focus on improving overall economic conditions and the jobs situation in the United States as opposed to taking steps to distribute wealth more evenly among Americans. … Americans’ lack of support for redistributing wealth to fix the economy spans political parties: Republicans (by 90% to 9%) prefer that the government focus on improving the economy, as do independents (by 85% to 13%) and Democrats (by 77% to 19%). This sentiment also extends across income groups: upper-income Americans prefer that the government focus on improving the economy and jobs by 88% to 10%, concurring with middle-income (83% to 16%) and lower-income (78% to 17%) Americans. … In sum, free-market advocates can take considerable solace in Americans’ overwhelming belief that the government should not focus on redistributing income and wealth, but on improving the overall economy. And, to a lesser degree, Americans also believe government continues to do too much – not too little – to solve the nation’s problems.

Our Collectivist Candidates, Past and Present

I’ve just been reading Bill Kauffman’s fine book Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Anti-War Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism (see him talk about it here), and I ran across this quotation from Bill Clinton in 1997:

It’s hard when you’re not threatened by a foreign enemy to whip people up to a fever pitch of common, intense, sustained, disciplined endeavor.

Indeed it is. Outside of wartime it is difficult, even impossible, to rally millions of free citizens around a common aim. When you’re not threatened by war or occupation, people have their own endeavors, their own purposes, their own “pursuits of industry and improvement,” as Jefferson put it, to worry about. That’s why collectivists and statists are always trying to gin up war fever in metaphorical wars like the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the Energy Crisis.

And as I wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, this martial spirit remains a temptation to our current candidates. Barack Obama told Wesleyan graduates that “our individual salvation depends on collective salvation.” John McCain calls on us to serve “a national purpose that is greater than our individual interests,” preferably by doing calisthenics in uniform in front of city hall. Politicians like that, as Michelle Obama, “will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual.”

Obama’s Kansas Values

The Washington Post has a front-page story on how Barack Obama is playing in the heartland of America, Findlay, Ohio. Not so good, judging by the lengthy interviews with good solid middle-Americans who believe things like this:

“I think Obama would be a disaster, and there’s a lot of reasons,” said Pollard, explaining the rumors he had heard about the candidate from friends he goes camping with. “I understand he’s from Africa, and that the first thing he’s going to do if he gets into office is bring his family over here, illegally. He’s got that racist [pastor] who practically raised him, and then there’s the Muslim thing. He’s just not presidential material, if you ask me.”

There’s plenty more in the story. Which is why Obama is now running his famous television ad, titled “Country I Love.” And judging by the Post story, the ad is working very well with those who see it, at least those who are sympathetic to Obama in the first place. Reporter Eli Saslow writes:

The new advertisement running in Findlay, in which Obama is pictured with his white mother and white grandparents as he talks about developing a “deep and abiding faith in the country I love” while growing up in the Kansas heartland…

But of course Obama didn’t grow up in Kansas. He was born in Hawaii and grew up there and in Indonesia. And the ad doesn’t claim that he did. In the ad Obama says:

I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents….They taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up.

Talk about a guy who isn’t well known yet, on whom everybody can project both good and bad images. People all over America are hearing on the internet or at the beauty salon that he’s a Muslim born in Africa, and a Washington Post reporter somehow thinks he grew up in Kansas.

John Edwards’s Constituents

Today I saw a John Edwards bumper sticker – the first one I can really recall – on a beautiful Audi convertible parked in a luxury development in a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C. Just an idle question: Do you think it’s more likely that this John Edwards supporter is part of Edwards’s much touted constituency of mill workers and “regular, hard-working Americans” or of Edwards’s real constituency of trial lawyers and lobbyists?