Topic: Government and Politics

Naïveté, Intégrité, Fraternité

HHS secretary-nominee and former U.S. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle owed the IRS more than $140,000 in back taxes and interest.  One contributing factor: a spokeswoman says Daschle “naively” believed that the Cadillac and driver provided gratis by a business partner was “nothing more than a generous offer from a friend.”

A former Daschle aide reassures us, “He’s the gold standard for integrity in government.”  (Precisely the problem, isn’t it?)

The Washington Post reports that none of this is likely to derail Daschle’s confirmation by his former Senate colleagues.  “Senators also cited their personal knowledge of Daschle in justifying their willingness to dismiss the tax issue,” writes the Post. “He and his wife, Linda Hall Daschle, donated over the past two years to at least 14 senators who will be tasked with voting on his confirmation.”

Only the Little People Pay Taxes

Tom Daschle has joined Timothy Geithner in the not-so-exclusive club of Obama Cabinet appointees who evaded tens of thousands of dollars in federal taxes until they were vetted for their Cabinet nominations.

It’s too bad Leona Helmsley can’t be nominated as Commerce Secretary.

I sympathize with anybody trying to hold down his tax bill. Government is too big and too expensive, few of us feel we get our money’s worth from our taxes, and we all have better uses for our money than bridges to nowhere and free condoms.  But honestly, shouldn’t people who want to increase taxes on the rest of us – like Daschle, Geithner, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chairman Charles Rangel, Al Franken, Governor David Paterson’s top aide, Democratic National Convention staffers, Al Sharpton, and so on – pay their own taxes?

Obama’s First Broken Campaign Promise

Over on the Tech Liberation Front blog, I’ve been following the Obama administration’s early steps on transparency, a subject we dove into at a December Cato policy forum called “Just Give Us the Data!

President Obama committed to make his administration “the most open and transparent in history.” Boilerplate promises like this often go into campaigns and electioneering. But as a senator, Obama was a leading proponent of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which created Unlike typical politicians promising the most ethical [whatever-they’re-running-for] in history, President Obama and his staff know what transparency is and how to deliver it.

Breaking from the pack, who were (rightly) appreciative of early presidential memoranda calling for new guidelines governing the Freedom of Information Act and an Open Government Directive, I noted the absence of concrete action on the part of the White House itself.

The new administration did not port over the transition’s excellent “Seat at the Table” program, in which documents submitted to the transition team were posted online and subjected to public comment. That failure I called “The Transparency Dog that Didn’t Bark.”

The economic stimulus bill contains a helpful, if imperfect, requirement for disclosure of stimulus spending on a site called — perhaps the most-visited non-existent Web site in history.

The White House is not walking the talk on transparency, and yesterday the president violated a campaign promise on transparency. Instead of posting bills sent to him by Congress for five days and taking public comment, President Obama signed non-emergency legislation the day after receiving it. rated this as President Obama’s first broken campaign promise.

The president’s good intentions are not in doubt, but nobody ever said delivering on transparency was going to be easy. So far, he seems to be having a rough time of it. The Obama administration can still deliver revolutionary change in the transparency area, but it has to actually work at it and take concrete steps.

Week in Review

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Cato Leads Opposition to Fiscal Stimulus

In reaction to statements from Obama administration officials who say “all economists agree” that the only way to fight the economic recession is to go on a massive government spending spree, the Cato Institute took out a full page ad in the nation’s largest newspapers that showed that those words were not true. Signed by more than 200 economists, including Nobel laureates and other highly respected scholars, the statement was published this week in The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other publications.

On the day the ad ran in The New York Times, Cato executive vice president David Boaz added more names to the list of economists who are skeptical of the spending bill.

Commenting on the principles behind the stimulus, Cato adjunct scholar Lawrence H. White and fellow economist David C. Rose discuss why we can’t spend our way out of this mess:

You can’t solve an excessive spending problem by spending more. We are making the crisis worse.

In The Wall Street Journal, Cato senior fellow Alan Reynolds examines the numbers and discovers that each government job created  will cost taxpayers a staggering $646,214 per hire.

The stimulus package now moving through Congress will spend nearly $1 trillion that the government does not have. With the nation already $1.2 trillion in the hole, Cato director of Tax Policy Studies Chris Edwards discusses the sheer illogic behind pushing for stimulus at a time like this:

If I get up in the morning and drink five cups of coffee and that doesn’t stimulate me, I don’t go and drink another five. I’d recognize my addiction problem and start reforming my bad habits. Federal policymakers should do the same.

For more on the stimulus plan, read Edwards’s Tax and Budget Bulletin, “The Troubling Return of Keynes,” (PDF) co-authored by Ike Brannon, former senior adviser to the U.S. Treasury.

During the House vote on the stimulus bill, just 11 Democrats voted against it, leaving Boaz to ask, “What Happened to the Blue Dog Democrats?

“Blue Dogs supported fiscal responsibility at some vague point in the misty past, and they will strongly support fiscal responsibility at some vague point in the future,” writes Boaz. “But right now they’re going to vote to put their constituents another $825 billion in debt.”

Obama Promises to Close Guantanamo Bay Detention Center

Cato legal policy analyst David H. Rittgers explains why he approves of Obama’s choice to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay and offers advice on how to proceed with the plan:

The Founders wrote the Bill of Rights after a violent insurgency brought on by government oppression, and the principles contained therein are no weaker while countering today’s terrorists. Using national security courts to try the detainees in Guantanamo opens the door to closed and classified trials of domestic terror suspects. This degradation of essential liberties is unwise and avoids the social function of trials.

Listen to a Cato Daily Podcast interview with Rittgers to learn more about the future of the Gitmo detainees.

In the forthcoming Cato Handbook for Policymakers, Timothy Lynch, director of Cato’s Project on Criminal Justice, lays out a plan for the future of our government’s strategy for dealing with terrorism. (PDF)

Gore Global Warming Hearing Goes on Despite Snowstorm

Undeterred by a snowstorm that shut down schools and gave federal workers “liberal leave,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on global warming this week with star witness Al Gore. Gore promoted ways to end climate change through cap-and-trade legislation and investment in renewable energy, reported U.S. News and World Report.

In a Cato Policy Analysis, author Indur Goklany offers his commentary on how government should handle climate change.

Cato senior fellow in environmental studies Patrick J. Michaels offers his analysis on climate change, and how the international community should react.

Appearing on Fox News, Michaels, who is a former Virginia state climatologist, asserts that when it comes to climate change, there is no immediate emergency. For more, don’t miss Michaels’s new book, Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know, co-authored with Robert C. Balling Jr.

Flowers Aren’t Enough

“Small Government Returns as [Republican] Maxim,” headlines the Washington Post.

The unanimous vote by House Republicans against President Obama’s stimulus plan provided an early indication that the GOP hopes to regain power by becoming the champion of small government, a reputation many felt slipped away during the high-spending Bush years.

But small-government voters may not be persuaded that the GOP has returned to its principles on the basis of one vote against a bill proposed by the other party, which happens to be, in the words of Republican whip Eric Cantor, likely “the largest spending bill in history.”

Like a wife whose husband has strayed dozens of times over the past eight years, small-government voters may not feel that one Valentine’s Day present is enough to restore trust. Especially when some of the prodigal Republicans are even now saying that they might vote for the largest spending bill in history on final passage.

Political Prevaricators

As the Illinois Senate prepared to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office, Republican state senator Mike Murphy said that Blagojevich “is an unusually good liar.”

Not that good, apparently. Not good enough to stay in office. As opposed to another controversial politician of whom those same words were said a few years ago.

“Clinton is an unusually good liar,” Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Nebraska) once told Esquire magazine. “Unusually good.”

Better than Blago, it would seem.