Topic: Government and Politics

“Economists across the Spectrum” Continue to Flee Stimulus Bill

People like Robert Reich, who try to back up the claims of President Obama and Vice President Biden that “economic advisers across the political spectrum support Obama’s plan,” have managed to come up with two names of economists who support the stimulus plan and would not be regarded as left of center: Martin Feldstein of Harvard, a former top economic adviser to President Reagan, and Mark Zandi of Moody’s, who was an adviser to John McCain last fall. And now the Washington Post has blown both of those names out of the water. Leaving – by my count – exactly zero libertarian or conservative economists on that much-touted spectrum. As the Post notes this morning:

Democrats lost Feldstein on Thursday when the Harvard professor published a Washington Post op-ed declaring the House bill “an $800 billion mistake” laden with ineffective provisions.

As for Zandi,

The 49-year-old economist is a Democratic dream, a former adviser to GOP presidential candidate John McCain who advocates spending over tax cuts as the best way to deliver a quick jolt.

And Democrats have touted him a lot:

In floor speeches and news conferences, Democratic lawmakers confer on Zandi an authority once bestowed on Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman.

“I’m just saying what Mark Zandi from Moody’s, an adviser to John McCain, is saying: You have to have a package of this robustness if you’re going to make a difference,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a recent news conference. …

“I think [he] is a Republican. I am pretty sure he is,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said of Zandi after a recent meeting. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) described Zandi on Fox News as a “conservative Republican.” Defending the bill’s sizable spending during a recent CNBC interview, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) responded: “I think if you listen to economists like Mark Zandi, who was the economic adviser to John McCain in the presidential election, he has said this is the right mix.”

But wait! Post reporter Shailagh Murray actually asked Zandi about his politics.

“I’m a registered Democrat,” he acknowledged.

He signed up with McCain when Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the candidate’s chief economic aide and a longtime friend, asked him to join the campaign’s diverse economic advisory team. “My policy is I will help any policymaker who asks, whether they be a Republican or a Democrat,” Zandi said.

So … the count of Republican or conservative or libertarian economists who support Obama’s biggest-spending-bill-in-world-history stands at … zero. And hundreds of economists have declared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and other papers that they don’t support the plan. It’s time for politicians, pundits, and journalists to stop making this claim.

Obama’s Next Step on Transparency: A Shortcut

I’ve been following President Obama’s early moves on government transparency on the Tech Liberation Front blog and here on Cato@Liberty.

Last week, Obama’s first broken campaign promise was the pledge to post legislation online for five days before signing it.

Well, the White House is working to address that, but it appears to be doing so with a half-measure that comes up short. On Sunday, the White House blog announced that the SCHIP legislation pending in the Senate was up for public comment. And it is, of course, but it hasn’t passed the Senate yet.

It was implicit in the promise to post bills online for five days prior to signing that the bill posted would be the one passed by the House and Senate and presented to the President.

If the White House were to implement the promised practice of leaving bills sitting out there, unsigned, after they pass Congress, that would have significant effects. The practice would threaten to reveal excesses in parochial amendments and earmarks which could bring down otherwise good bills. President Obama’s promised five-day cooling off period would force the House and Senate to act with more circumspection.

Taking comments on a bill as it makes its way through the House and Senate does not have the same salutary effect. If the White House is trying to start the five-day clock on the SCHIP bill with the posting of a comment page on Sunday, that is not consistent with President Obama’s promise.

Sarah and the Giant Stimulus

My blog yesterday on potential 2012 GOP candidates and the stimulus provoked a deluge of e-mails from fans of Sarah Palin objecting to my characterization of her support for the bill. And Palin’s office, responding to news reports (like this one from Fox News and the Associated Press that I relied on), put out a statement attempting to clarify her position. It wasn’t particularly successful.

Palin does urge Congress to “consider” whether the stimulus bill is too big and burdens future generations with debt, but unlike some other governors (Sanford, Barbour, Jindal, for example), she does not call for the bill’s defeat or urge her congressional delegation to vote against it. Instead, she goes on to raise her big concern with the bill – it doesn’t give enough money to Alaska:

“Governor Palin discussed troubling elements in the stimulus package including provisions that punish Alaska for forward-funding education, the mass transit funding formula that will limit Alaska opportunities but will pour money into other states, and the “shovel-ready” criteria for projects that northern climates might not be able to accommodate consistently due to the shortened construction season.”

Earlier Governor Palin sent a letter to her congressional delegation in which she similarly complained, not about the spending in the stimulus bill per se, but about the formulas for distributing the funds, which she believes short changes her state (as if Alaska were not already a wholly-owned subsidiary of the federal government.) She also wants the bill to include five specific projects (we used to call those “earmarks.”)

So, I’ll stand (somewhat) corrected. Governor Palin didn’t lobby for the bill. She just lobbied for her share of the pork.

Debating Democratic Tax Cheats

Yesterday, I participated in an online debate for the New York Times about Senator Daschle and other high-ranking Democrats who seem to like higher taxes for everyone except themselves. One of the participants asserted that everything would be okay if Daschle (and Treasury Secretary Geithner) voluntarily gave the government extra money. Another participant used the forum as an excuse to argue that the rest of us should give the government more money. Another participant actually wrote that “Tom Daschle is an exemplary public servant” and that the “country is lucky to get him back in this time of great need.” (I’m not making this up.) One of my favorite people, by contrast, indicts the internal revenue code and the corrupt culture in Washington:

The Tom Daschle imbroglio is…an indictment of a convoluted tax code that simultaneously hinders compliance by honest people and enables cheating by dishonest people. In past years, Money magazine asked professional tax preparers to estimate the tax liability for a hypothetical family. Almost without fail, every single answer the magazine received was different and every single answer was wrong. If people trying to come up with the right answers have this much trouble, imagine the opportunities for mischief by those who want to scam the system — especially now that the tax code is even more complex? …Mr. Daschle’s tax dodging…reveals how the political culture in Washington is fundamentally corrupt. As a senator, he constantly voted to expand the size and scope of government, and he expected the rest of us to pay the bills, stating in 1998 that, “the I.R.S. should enforce our laws to the letter.” Yet like Treasury Secretary Geithner and Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Daschle viewed compliance as optional. Unlike ordinary Americans, Mr. Daschle and other members of the political class will not have to worry about being harassed by the I.R.S. Washington insiders have a get-out-of-jail-free card that enables them to feign embarrassment, pay the back taxes and interest, but avoid any penalties or legal consequences. Best of all, they also can generate campaign contributions while in office and become rich out of office by making the tax code even more onerous for the rest of us. Nice work if you can get it.

The Stimulus Lobbying Frenzy

At RealClearPolitics I wrote about the vast army of lobbyists jockeying for money from the TARP bailout and the stimulus bill:

The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), better known as the Wall Street bailout, was cooked up mostly in secret by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board. But the bill was no sooner proposed than lobbyists started flooding Capitol Hill and the Treasury to get a piece of it.

Every company and industry wanted to be sure that it would be eligible for some of the money, and members of Congress worked to slip their constituents and campaign donors into the bill’s 451 pages. By the time it passed, it included special provisions for Puerto Rican rum producers, auto race tracks, and corporations operating in American Samoa (such as Starkist, which is headquartered in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district). It required that insurance companies pay for mental health benefits and granted tax benefits for victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and makers of children’s wooden arrows….

Next up is the nearly-trillion-dollar stimulus bill. Don’t expect anything different. Already senators are pushing to get their pet projects and home-state interests into the measure. “It’s very intense right now,” one Washington lobbyist told U.S. News. “I’m working late every day, until 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock. Every imaginable client has been calling me with ways of how their business, or their projects, should fit into the economic stimulus package. It’s wild. No idea is too far-fetched for people.”

No sooner was the article published than more examples fill the media: “A Republican [in Ohio] called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” “Cities, towns ready to vie for stimulus funds.” “Road Builders Compete for Slice of Stimulus.” “West Michigan’s stimulus wish list.” “A State with a Wish List for Stimulus Spending.” “Steel industry lobbyists seem to have persuaded the House to insert a “Buy American” provision in the stimulus bill it passed last week.” “JetBlue Goes to Washington to Discuss Economic Stimulus Plan.”

When you lay out a picnic, you get ants. And this is the biggest picnic in the history of pork-filled picnicking.

Washington’s View of the World

Remember that Saul Steinberg cover for the New Yorker that showed Manhattan’s view of America – just a vague grouping of place names between the Hudson River and the Pacific Ocean?

On Sunday we got a glimpse of how the Washington Post views the sprawling diversity of America. In an article on Cobb Island, a waterfront community about 90 minutes from Washington, the Post commented:

Cobb Island has always attracted a variety of people, from government workers to politicians.

Stimulus Divides 2012 GOP Contenders

It is never too early to start talking about the next presidential election, and for many of those expected to contend for the GOP nomination, the proposed economic stimulus package provides an early test of whether they will be Bush-style big-government conservatives or whether they will champion limited government and economic freedom. So far, the record is decidedly mixed.

In the “give me my pork” camp are governors Sarah Palin, Charlie Crist, and Tim Pawlenty. Palin, darling of many “movement” conservatives came all the way to Washington to lobby for the bill. Crist worked the phones, unsuccessfully trying to convince Republican House members from Florida to support the bill. Pawlenty admits some concern over the bill’s impact on the federal deficit, but says, governors “are entitled to ask for our share of the money.”

On the other side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney says that he opposes the bill. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal also opposes the stimulus bill, though he admits he may accept the money if it passes. Taking the strongest stand against the bill is South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who not only opposes the bill but says he probably would not accept any funds for his state. “It’s incumbent on me as one of the nation’s governors to speak out against what I believe is ultimately incredibly harmful to the economy, to taxpayers and to the worth of the U.S. dollar,” Sanford said.

It’s a long way to 2012, of course, but it looks like Republican voters will have some clear choices.