Congressional ‘Oversight’

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) about the new president’s outrageous spending proposal. 

RAY SUAREZ: Has the president been too optimistic in your view on the number of jobs that could be created by a package?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: No, I don’t believe he’s been too optimistic. I’m prepared to accept his figures. I think the reality is that nobody knows with any relative degree of certainty.

We pick a figure, and it doesn’t have any scientific basis. I wouldn’t say that it’s picked out of the air, but that’s — that’s pretty close.

And some people believe we’d be in big trouble without career politicians.

A Niagara Falls of Money — So What?

NPR’s Andrea Seabrook had a truly disturbing discussion with House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-WI) about the absence of earmarks in the non-stimulus bill.

SEABROOK (voice-over): Instead of Congress, hundreds and hundreds of public servants all over the country will decide how to spend the economic stimulus money … But when you pull earmarks out of the bill, you also change the balance of power in the government. If members of Congress aren’t writing into the bill how the money is to be spent, then someone else is making those decisions … When this bill passes, a Niagara Falls of money will flow out of Washington and into the accounts of state highway commissioners, governors and legislatures, local school boards, county executives, even mayors …

OBEY: We simply made a decision, which took about three seconds, not to have earmarks in the bill.

SEABROOK (voice-over): This is David Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He helped write this bill, and he does not like being asked about earmarks.

OBEY: And with all due respect, that’s the least important question facing us on putting together this package.

SEABROOK: Does that mean, though, that Congress will have less control and less, in fact, ability to say, “You spend it in the way we wanted you to spend it”—

OBEY: Of course it does. Of course it does. So what? This is an emergency. And so, with all due respect, we have got to simply find a way to get this done as fast as possible, and as well as possible, and that’s what we’re doing.

SEABROOK: Aren’t there a thousand ways that this money could be spent badly, though?

OBEY: There are a thousand ways it could be spent badly. There are a thousand ways it could be spent well. So what’s new?

SEABROOK: What’s new is that you’re not telling them how to spend it as much as you usually do.

OBEY: So what?

SEABROOK: Won’t you be responsible when it’s spent badly, then?

OBEY: No, the person who spends the money badly will be responsible. We are simply trying to build as many protections in as possible. We’ve got more oversight built into this package than any package in the history of man. If money is spent badly, we want to know about it, so we can hold accountable the people who made that choice. And guess what? Regardless of what we do, there will be some stupid decisions made.

Will be?

The entire story is worth a listen.

Putting Children First

Last week’s The Economist reported this regarding the bad blood between Turkey and Israel over the latter’s recent military incursion into Gaza:

An education ministry circular particularly annoyed Israel by telling Turkish schoolchildren to observe a minute’s silence in solidarity with Palestinian children. In the event, the Israelis persuaded the Turks to cancel a proposed essay and drawing contest for schoolchildren to air their feelings of hatred towards Israel. Israeli officials were apparently poised to respond by proposing a programme in Israeli schools for discussing the genocide of Armenians by Turks in the first world war.

I guess this is one of the many “wonders” of public schooling. You can take diplomatic rows to the classroom and teach your children how to distrust your neighbor.

The Incredible Growing Spending Bill

Headlines today tell us that Senate centrists are trying to trim the massive spending bill that President Obama is pressing for. They may even have found as much as $90 billion in cuts already. But remember: This snowballing kitchen-sink bill has already grown by more than $100 billion since it left the House. A cut of $90 billion would be less than 10 percent of its now gargantuan girth. It would leave the bill larger than the $819 billion monstrosity that passed the House, which would already be the largest spending bill in the history of the world. (Barney Frank may be right that the total cost of the Iraq war will end up being more than the cost of this liberal wish list — though right now it looks like a close race — but there were actually many separate authorizations for the war, so this remains the largest single spending hike.)

Can we afford this bill? No we can’t.

P.S. Don’t miss Charles Krauthammer, “The Fierce Urgency of Pork,” today:

It’s not just pages and pages of special-interest tax breaks, giveaways and protections, one of which would set off a ruinous Smoot-Hawley trade war. It’s not just the waste, such as the $88.6 million for new construction for Milwaukee Public Schools, which, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have shrinking enrollment, 15 vacant schools and, quite logically, no plans for new construction.

It’s the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus — and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress’s own budget office says won’t be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish. He said.

Orange County Register Slams SCHIP

The Orange County Register editorializes on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program expansion that President Obama just signed into law:

Sure enough, as Jonathan Gruber of MIT and Kosali Simon of Cornell demonstrated in a recent paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, six of every ten families enrolled in SCHIP in recent years already had private health insurance, meaning that subsidized insurance was crowding out private insurance. As Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute put it to us, “Only in government is a program deemed to ‘work’ when it covers four uninsured children for the price of ten.”

The other fallacy embodied in SCHIP (and other programs) is that providing health insurance is the key to improving the health of poor and near-poor children. Helen Levy of the University of Michigan and David [Meltzer] of the University of Chicago medical school have explored extensively the fact that improving health is more complex than generally acknowledged. It turns out that targeted programs, policies that lead to increased incomes and even improved education offer more bang for the buck than providing insurance.

Given all this, it is not difficult to imagine that the real reason to expand SCHIP is to crowd out private health insurance, and when families are faced with fewer and less affordable choices, they’ll opt for a government-run or “single-payer” system. As P.J. O’Rourke once warned us, however, “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until it’s free.”

I would say that increasing incomes, improving education, or targeted health programs may be more cost-effective than expanding access to health insurance. No one really knows, which makes adopting a one-approach-fits-all strategy like SCHIP rather foolish.

I think it’s time to induct the Orange County Register’s editorial page into the Anti-Universal Coverage Club.

Week in Review: Stimulus, the Drug War and Partisanship

To receive this segment by email, subscribe to the Cato Weekly Dispatch.

Stimulus Debate Heats up in Senate

President Obama’s stimulus bill moved to the Senate this week where it is facing stiff opposition from Republicans. In its current form, the bill still lacks enough votes to make it to the president’s desk.

The Cato Institute placed a full page ad in newspapers nationwide showing that there is no consensus among economists about the stimulus plan. The ad features a statement signed by more than 200 economists, including Nobel laureates and other leading scholars who agree that the best way to boost economic growth is to lessen the burden of government. Each day, more economists continue to add their names to the online version of the ad. On Monday, a new version of the ad with more names will run in The Wall Street Journal.

Read Chris Edwards and Ike Brannon’s recent article in the National Post, “Barack Obama’s Keynesian Mistake,” to learn more about the economic principles underlying the stimulus plan.

You can also watch senior fellow Alan Reynolds discuss the stimulus plan on CNN, Fox News and listen to his latest interview on the false consensus for stimulus.

If you think the word “stimulus” is a misnomer given the actual contents of the bill, then you’re not alone. Cato executive vice president David Boaz and senior fellow Daniel J. Mitchell discuss why the plan should not be termed a “stimulus.”

If you run a blog or Web site and want to take a stand against this massive government intervention plan, go to cato.org/fiscalreality and click “Spread the word.” We have created an online widget that you can post on your Web site that will show your readers that you do not agree with the stimulus plan.

The Washington Post Magazine Takes Another Look at the Berwyn Heights Tragedy and the Drug War

In an article in The Washington Post Magazine, author April Witt recounts the day police stormed into the home of Berwyn Heights, Md., mayor Cheye Calvo on a botched drug raid, killed his two dogs and held him and his mother-in-law at gun point. Police said they conducted the raid because a package containing marijuana had been delivered to Calvo’s doorstep earlier that day. It was later found that Calvo had nothing to do with the suspicious package.

Over the past 25 years, police agencies throughout the United States have increasingly become militaristic, using no-knock raids to carry out routine police work. But how far is too far? In the Washington Post article, Witt cites a Cato paper, “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Raids Across America,” in which former Cato policy analyst Radley Balko examines the increasing role of military tactics in domestic police work, especially when involving drug enforcement.

Calvo spoke at a Cato forum in September, where he told his story about that day.

In Mexico, the drug war has had an even worse outcome than in the United States. While the Mexican government attempts to quell the illegal drug trade, violence has broken out along the border. Signs indicate that it will only continue to get worse. In a new Cato policy analysis, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies Ted Galen Carpenter says the only way to slow the violence is to abandon the prohibitionist model of the drug problem.

“As long as the prohibitionist strategy is in place, the huge black market premium in illegal drugs will continue, and the lure of that profit, together with the illegality, guarantees that the most ruthless, violence-prone elements will dominate the trade,” Carpenter writes. “Ending drug prohibition would de-fund the criminal trafficking organizations and reduce their power.”

New at Cato