Here’s a quick, preliminary reaction to the higher‐education portion of the mammoth health‐care reconciliation bill. I could find I’m wrong about some stuff as I delve more deeply into the bill’s language, but it appears that much of the out‐of‐control spending that would have occurred under the odious Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act has been axed under reconciliation. SAFRA, it appears, has been sacrificed, though to bring to life an even more destructive demon.
Unfortunately, some of SAFRA survived. While a great deal of the spending has been stripped out, reconciliation would still tighten the federal government’s already iron grip on college financing. It would also plow billions more into Pell grants despite decades of evidnece that schools just eat such increases by raising prices. And don’t be fooled by the deceptive accounting in which administrative costs for guaranteed lending are counted as mandatory, but for direct lending as discretionary. When one fully accounts for the costs of going to all direct lending the estimated savings drop from $19.4 billion to $14.4 billion between 2010 and 2019, a sizable chunk of change for a nation so in debt it needs to save every penny it can.
A couple of days ago, Fordham Institute president Chester Finn declared on NRO that conservatives should embrace new, national education standards from the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Today I respond to him on The Corner, and let’s just say it’s clear that neither conservatives, nor anybody else, should embrace national standards.
Oh, one more thing: I shouldn’t have to keep saying this to savvy Washington insiders like the folks at Fordham, but when the federal government bribes states with their own citizens’ tax money to do something, doing that thing is hardly voluntary, at least in any reasonable sense.
For more wise thoughts on the national standards issue, check out this interview with Jay Greene, and this Sacramento Bee piece by Ben Boychuk. Oh, and this interview with yours truly.
Last year, when the issue of defunding ACORN was a hot‐button issue, I told countless radio talk show audiences that the focus should be on eliminating the underlying fuel that created the organization — the flow of federal subsidies.
Chris Edwards pointed this out in September. If Congress simply stops subsidizing ACORN, its activists will reincorporate under new names and again become eligible for funds. Alas, that’s precisely what ACORN is currently doing.
One of the latest groups to adopt a new name is ACORN Housing, long one of the best‐funded affiliates. Now, the group is calling itself the Affordable Housing Centers of America.
Others changing their names include what were among the largest affiliates: California ACORN is now Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and New York ACORN has become New York Communities for Change. More are expected to follow suit.
A comment from Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Republicans on the U.S. House oversight and government reform committee, doesn’t indicate that the GOP has quite received the message:
To credibly claim a clean break, argued Hill, the new groups should at least have hired directors from outside ACORN.
It appears that for many Republicans, attacking ACORN represented political opportunism, not a statement about the proper role of the federal government.
Further rendering the GOP’s ACORN agenda moot was last week’s ruling by a U.S. District judge that singling out ACORN for defunding is unconstitutional. It truly boggles the mind what passes for constitutional and unconstitutional in this country.
Tuesday was the birthday of James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution.” Reflecting upon Madison’s wise words, it’s hard to understand how the federal “community development” programs that have funded ACORN could pass constitutional muster:
“The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”
“[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.”
“With respect to the two words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions.”
See this essay for reasons why these HUD community development programs should be abolished.
Everyone in America, I presume, has just received a letter from the U.S. Census Bureau urging us to fill out our Census forms. Seems like a very expensive way to tell us to watch for the form to arrive in the mail. But I’m particularly interested in why they say we should promptly fill out the form:
Your response is important. Results from the 2010 Census will be used to help each community get its fair share of [federal] government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors need. Without a complete, accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share.
Obviously this is a zero‐sum game. If my neighbors and I all fill out the form, then you and your neighbors will get less from the common federal trough. But at least we’ll be getting our “fair share,” as the letter tells us twice in three sentences.
But where does the government get the authority to ask me my race, my age, and whether I have a mortgage? In fact, the Constitution authorizes the federal government to make an “actual enumeration” of the people in order to apportion seats in the House of Representatives. That’s all. Not to define and count us by race. Not to ask whether we’re homeowners or renters. Just to ask how many people live here, so they can apportion congressional seats.
I’m not interested in getting taxpayers around the country to pay for roads and schools and “many other programs” in my community. All the government needs to know from me is how many people live in my house. And I will tell them.
More on the census and the Constitution here.
1. Additional federal spending transfers resources from the more productive private sector to the less productive public sector of the economy. The bulk of federal spending goes toward subsidies and benefit payments, which generally do not enhance economic productivity. With lower productivity, average American incomes will fall.
2. As federal spending rises, it creates pressure to raise taxes now and in the future. Higher taxes reduce incentives for productive activities such as working, saving, investing, and starting businesses. Higher taxes also increase incentives to engage in unproductive activities such as tax avoidance.
3. Much federal spending is wasteful and many federal programs are mismanaged. Cost overruns, fraud and abuse, and other bureaucratic failures are endemic in many agencies. It’s true that failures also occur in the private sector, but they are weeded out by competition, bankruptcy, and other market forces. We need to similarly weed out government failures.
4. Federal programs often benefit special interest groups while harming the broader interests of the general public. How is that possible in a democracy? The answer is that logrolling or horse‐trading in Congress allows programs to be enacted even though they are only favored by minorities of legislators and voters. One solution is to impose a legal or constitutional cap on the overall federal budget to force politicians to make spending trade‐offs.
5. Many federal programs cause active damage to society, in addition to the damage caused by the higher taxes needed to fund them. Programs usually distort markets and they sometimes cause social and environmental damage. Some examples are housing subsidies that helped to cause the financial crises, welfare programs that have created dependency, and farm subsidies that have harmed the environment.
6. The expansion of the federal government in recent decades runs counter to the American tradition of federalism. Federal functions should be “few and defined” in James Madison’s words, with most government activities left to the states. The explosion in federal aid to the states since the 1960s has strangled diversity and innovation in state governments because aid has been accompanied by a mass of one‐size‐fits‐all regulations.
For more, see DownsizingGovernment.org.
King Canute famously demonstrated to his advisers that even a king couldn’t stop the sea from rising. Abraham Lincoln told his visitors that calling a dog’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. But lots of people these days think that passing a law automatically makes things happen, that you can pass a law against drug use or racism or homelessness and solve a problem.
Today I heard a traffic reporter on WAMU public radio demonstrate just how widespread that assumption is, at least in Washington. About 9:20 a.m. he said, “The federal government opened on time today [after a week of closings and yesterday’s delayed opening], so most federal workers are already sitting at their desks.” Well, I was stuck in a miles‐long backup on snow‐blocked roads, and I’m guessing that a lot of the people in the other cars were federal employees. Just because you declare that the federal government will open on time doesn’t automatically mean that federal employees will get there on time. You have to take into account realities like weather, slow clearing of roads, and people’s unwillingness to start their commute much earlier than normal.
Reality, alas, interferes with a lot of grand plans.
The public is unhappy with government. How could it be otherwise, given the mess our governors have made? Reports the Washington Post:
Two‐thirds of Americans are “dissatisfied” or downright “angry” about the way the federal government is working, according to a new Washington Post‐ABC News poll. On average, the public estimates that 53 cents of every tax dollar they send to Washington is “wasted.”
Despite the disapproval of government, few Americans say they know much about the “tea party” movement, which emerged last year and attracted voters angry at a government they thought was spending recklessly and overstepping its constitutional powers. And the new poll shows that the political standing of former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who was the keynote speaker last week at the first National Tea Party Convention, has deteriorated significantly.
The opening is clear: Public dissatisfaction with how Washington operates is at its highest level in Post‐ABC polling in more than a decade — since the months after the Republican‐led government shutdown in 1996 — and negative ratings of the two major parties hover near record highs.
Surely this is a moment for a true political entrepreneur, someone who believes in liberty – across the board – willing to challenge Washington’s bipartisan consensus that government should grow ever bigger and more expensive. Someone who opposes expensive, and often deadly, social engineering at home and abroad. Someone willing to simply leave the American people alone, rather than determined to conscript them into yet another annoying, intrusive, and expensive national crusade. Someone willing to back up his or her rhetoric about individual liberty with action.