Tag: Republicans

Weekend Links — Health Care Edition

  • Republicans and Democrats are both missing the point of true health care reform: “Health care reform cannot just be about giving more stuff to more people. It should be about actually ‘reforming’ the system. That means scrapping the current bills, and crafting the type of reform that makes consumers responsible for their health care decisions.”
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Cato Experts Live-Blogging Health Care Summit

The White House meeting on health care began at 10:00 AM EST Thursday and Cato health policy experts offered live commentary for the opening remarks. You can read through the live-blog in the player below.

Stimulus Hypocrisy and the Tea Partiers

The Washington Times recently used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain letters sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by numerous Republican lawmakers seeking stimulus money for their constituents. All of these Republicans had publicly criticized the stimulus and voted against it.

Georgia Rep. John Linder wrote on his website in October that recent unemployment figures “only reinforce the fact that the $787 billion ‘stimulus’ signed into law eight months ago has done nothing for job growth in this country.” But just two weeks earlier the congressman had sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on behalf of a foundation in his district seeking stimulus funds in which he claimed “the employment opportunities created by this [foundation’s] program would be quickly utilized.”

Remember South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson who infamously shouted “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech to Congress in September? Here’s what he had to say in a letter to Secretary Vilsack on behalf of a foundation in his district:

“We know their endeavor will provide jobs and investment in one of the poorer sections of the Congressional District.”

According to his spokeswoman, Rep. Wilson opposed the stimulus as a “misguided spending bill,” but wanted to make sure his constituents “receive their share of the pie.” That’s pretty much the same excuse the rest of the GOP lawmakers gave: the stimulus is bad but my constituents deserve their “fair share.”

So much for principles.

Speaking of principles, it’s stories like this that should give the burgeoning Tea Party movement pause before getting too close to GOP politicians. I spoke to a newly formed group of a hundred or so tea partiers in southern Indiana back in December. The vast majority was concerned about Washington’s spending addiction and Beltway encroachment on their lives. In the two hours I fielded questions, only one brought up illegal immigration and nobody brought up Obama’s birth certificate. They weren’t worried about Muslims and gays – they were worried about what the mounting federal debt meant for their children and grandchildren’s future.

Therefore it was disconcerting to read that the organizers of this past weekend’s Tea Party Convention in Nashville brought in Tom Tancredo and Sarah Palin to speak. Tancredo’s agenda was typically nasty and counterproductive, while Palin’s combined her formulated hockey mom shtick with a sophomoric jingoism that should have appalled devotees of limited government. Yet, according to the video of her speech, the crowd loved it.

Instead of spending $100,000 on Palin, I suggest Tea Party organizers bring in my colleague John Samples to speak at the next convention. (John’s worth $100,000 but can be had for considerably less.) John recently wrote a column, entitled “Tea Partiers Shouldn’t Date the GOP,” that every budding tea partier should read.

Here’s an excerpt:

The quality that gives the Tea Party movement its legitimacy is that it is so fundamentally illegitimate: outside the establishment, bereft of representation on K Street, and without an identifiable face to speak for it on Meet the Press. This is a movement that sprang deep from within the viscera of America, not from some political poll or focus group.

It is not Republican; it is not even conservative. It has no interest in debating the merits of No Child Left Behind, abstinence-only sex education or George W. Bush’s rationale for going to Iraq. Replacing a “spend and borrow” Democrat with a “spend and borrow” Republican is not the goal of the Tea Party movement.

This movement is simply saying: “We are fine without you, Washington. Now for the love of God, go attend a reception somewhere, and stop making health care and entrepreneurship more expensive than they already are.”

I hope John’s right because if the movement allows itself to become entangled with the same party that publicly eschews big government stimulus while groveling behind the scenes for a piece of it, the [Tea] party will be over.

Criminalizing Politics

Steve Poizner, the California insurance commissioner who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, created a stir this week by charging opponent Meg Whitman’s campaign with attempting to coerce him out of the race. He said he had reported her campaign to state and federal law enforcement authorities.

What did Whitman actually do? Well, Poizner said that Whitman consultant Mike Murphy had contacted a Poizner staffer by phone and email to urge him to withdraw from the race. The email, released by Poizner, said: “I hate the idea of each of us spending $20 million beating on the other in the primary, only to have a badly damaged nominee. And we can spend $40 million tearing up Steve if we must; bad for him, bad for us, and a crazy waste to tear up a guy with great future statewide potential.” In the email, Murphy went on to suggest that if Poizner dropped out of the race before the June 8 vote, Whitman and her team would immediately get behind him for a 2012 challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Poizner says that’s not only “strong-arm tactics” but possibly an illegal inducement to get him to withdraw. But isn’t this really just politics as usual? Don’t candidates as a matter of course say “support me this time, and I’ll support you next time” or “run for a different office and I’ll endorse you”? Presidential candidates, or their campaign managers, are often said to have promised the vice presidency to more than one rival to clear the field.

The point about spending $40 million of Republican money tearing up fellow Republicans is a pretty common complaint about party primaries. In fact, National Review correspondent John J. Miller raised just that concern about the Rick Perry-Kay Bailey Hutchison showdown in Texas.

Even during the Rod Blagojevich flap over “selling” a Senate seat, the always-provocative Jack Shafer and Jim Harper both asked, Isn’t this what politicians do? They make deals – including deals like “I’ll support your campaign if you’ll make my buddy (or me) a Cabinet secretary.” No doubt the promises are often worthless, but they still get made. Blagojevich and Murphy have reminded pols all over the country that such deals are better made in person, not via email or telephone.

Politics ain’t beanbag, Mr. Poizner. Accept the deal or reject it. But “let’s clear the field and spend our money fighting the other party” is pretty standard politics. And a darn sight better than another standard political practice, using the taxpayers’ money to bribe the voters to support you.

Time to Lose the Trade Enforcement Fig Leaf

During his SOTU address last week, the president declared it a national goal to double our exports over the next five years.  As my colleague Dan Griswold argues (a point that is echoed by others in this NYT article), such growth is probably unrealistic. But with incomes rising in China, India and throughout the developing world, and with huge amounts of savings accumulated in Asia, strong U.S. export growth in the years ahead should be a given—unless we screw it up with a provocative enforcement regime.

The president said:

If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules.

Ah, the enforcement canard!

One of the more persistent myths about trade is that we don’t adequately enforce our trade agreements, which has given our trade partners license to cheat.  And that chronic cheating—dumping, subsidization, currency manipulation, opaque market barriers, and other underhanded practices—the argument goes, explains our trade deficit and anemic job growth.

But lack of enforcement is a myth that was concocted by congressional Democrats (Sander Levin chief among them) as a fig leaf behind which they could abide Big Labor’s wish to terminate the trade agenda.  As the Democrats prepared to assume control of Congress in January 2007, better enforcement—along with demands for actionable labor and environmental standards—was used to cast their opposition to trade as conditional, even vaguely appealing to moderate sensibilities.  But as is evident in Congress’s enduring refusal to consider the three completed bilateral agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea (which all exceed Democratic demands with respect to labor and the environment), Democratic opposition to trade is not conditional, but systemic.

The president’s mention of enforcement at the SOTU (and his related comments to Republicans the following day that Americans need to see that trade is a two way street – starts at the 4:30 mark) indicates that Democrats believe the fig leaf still hangs.  It’s time to lose it.

According to what metric are we failing to enforce trade agreements?  The number of WTO complaints lodged? Well, the United States has been complainant in 93 out of the 403 official disputes registered with the WTO over its 15-year history, making it the biggest user of the dispute settlement system. (The European Communities comes in second with 81 cases as complainant.)  On top of that, the United States was a third party to a complaint on 73 occasions, which means that 42 percent of all WTO dispute settlement activity has been directed toward enforcement concerns of the United States, which is just one out of 153 members.

Maybe the enforcement metric should be the number of trade remedies measures imposed?  Well, over the years the United States has been the single largest user of the antidumping and countervailing duty laws.  More than any other country, the United States has restricted imports that were determined (according to a processes that can hardly be described as objective) to be “dumped” by foreign companies or subsidized by foreign governments. As of 2009, there are 325 active antidumping and countervailing duty measures in place in the United States, which trails only India’s 386 active measures.

Throughout 2009, a new antidumping or countervailing duty petition was filed in the United States on average once every 10 days.  That means that throughout 2010, as the authorities issue final determinations in those cases every few weeks, the world will be reminded of America’s fetish for imposing trade barriers, as the president (pursuing his “National Export Initiative”) goes on imploring other countries to open their markets to our goods.

Rather than go into the argument more deeply here, Scott Lincicome and I devoted a few pages to the enforcement myth in this overly-audaciously optimistic paper last year, some of which is cited along with some fresh analysis in this Lincicome post.

Sure, the USTR can bring even more cases to try to force greater compliance through the WTO or through our bilateral agreements.  But rest assured that the slam dunk cases have already been filed or simply resolved informally through diplomatic channels.  Any other potential cases need study from the lawyers at USTR because the presumed violations that our politicians frequently and carelessly imply are not necessarily violations when considered in the context of the actual rules.  Of course, there’s also the embarrassing hypocrisy of continuing to bring cases before the WTO dispute settlement system when the United States refuses to comply with the findings of that body on several different matters now.  And let’s not forget the history of U.S. intransigence toward the NAFTA dispute settlement system with Canada over lumber and Mexico over trucks.  Enforcement, like trade, is a two-way street.

And sure, more antidumping and countervailing duty petitions can be filed and cases initiated, but that is really the prerogative of industry, not the administration or Congress.  Industry brings cases when the evidence can support findings of “unfair trade” and domestic injury.  The process is on statutory auto-pilot and requires nothing further from the Congress or president. Thus, assertions by industry and members of Congress about a lack of enforcement in the trade remedies area are simply attempts to drum up support for making the laws even more restrictive.  It has nothing to do with a lack of enforcement of the current rules.  They simply want to change the rules.

In closing, I’m happy the president thinks export growth is a good idea.  But I would implore him to recognize that import growth is much more closely correlated with export growth than is heightened enforcement.  The nearby chart confirms the extremely tight, positive relationship between export and imports, both of which track similarly closely to economic growth.

U.S. producers (who happen also to be our exporters) account for more than half of all U.S. import value.  Without imports of raw materials, components, and other intermediate goods, the cost of production in the United States would be much higher, and export prices less competitive.  If the president wants to promote exports, he must welcome, and not hinder, imports.

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The Presidential Scold

Today, Politico Arena asks for comments on:

Duking it out in Baltimore

My response:

It’s all well and good that President Obama wants to meet with Republicans – giving the appearance of reaching out – but when it’s mainly to “chastise” them for opposing his programs, as the AP is reporting after his session at the House Republicans’ retreat in Baltimore today, it’s little but a continuation of the lecture he gave to Congress, the Supreme Court, and even the American people on Wednesday evening.  “I am not an ideologue,” he’s reported to have said.  Yet it appears that he rejected the Republicans’ proposals for a different approach to health care, a line-item veto for spending bills, and across-the-board tax cuts.

But why should that surprise?  Ideologues aren’t open to new or different ideas, because they have the truth.  Yet the deeper truth that’s been apparent all along is that we have here a president who, along with so many on his staff, has little grasp of economic reality, because he has no experience in the business world – indeed, appears often to be hostile to that world.  Just today, for example, the White House unveiled its plan for a new tax break to spur job creation.  As reported by CNN, Obama “wants to give businesses a $5,000 tax credit for each net new employee they hire this year.”  The CNN headline captures it all:  “Here’s $5,000.  Go hire someone.”  That’s not the way the world works.  Temporary tax gimmicks like that, which the White House estimates will cost $33 billion, are hardly what’s needed.  If businesses are to start hiring on a regular basis, they need assurance of a regular climate that will enable them to plan rationally.  This administration has given them anything but that kind of assurance.  And today’s meeting in Baltimore, like Wednesday night’s lecture, hasn’t helped.

More Data on “Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal” Voters

A study by the Tarrance Group for the Republican organization GOPAC provides further evidence on the existence of voters who don’t fall into the “conservative” or “liberal” box.  Tarrance asked people who voted in the 2008 election not just to label themselves conservative or liberal, but to describe their views on both fiscal and social issues. The questions were:

When thinking about fiscal issues, like taxes and government spending, do you consider yourself to be:
Very conservative, Somewhat conservative, Somewhat liberal, or Very liberal?

When thinking about social issues, like abortion and gay marriage, do you consider yourself to be:
Very conservative, Somewhat conservative, Somewhat liberal, or Very liberal?

Tarrance leaves out the “moderate” option, but a few respondents volunteer it.

The results were interesting. While 69 percent of respondents described themselves as conservatives on fiscal issues, only 53 percent said they were conservative on social issues. When you combine the responses, you find that 23 percent of respondents described themselves as fiscally conservative but liberal or moderate on social issues. That’s pretty close to the estimates of the libertarian vote that David Kirby and I presented in “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama.” See pages 4-7, especially Figure 3, in the full study. Using fairly strict criteria, we declared 14 percent of the electorate to fall into the libertarian category. But three other studies yielded 23 to 26 percent who gave libertarian answers to questions about both fiscal and social issues.

Tarrance presented the results to GOPAC this way (the “moderate” category includes both those who volunteered the word moderate and those who declined to pick either liberal or conservative as a label):

Interestingly, these “fiscally conservative, socially moderate or liberal” respondents made up 17 percent of Republicans but 24 percent of Democrats – and 41 percent of ticket-splitters:

So a couple of interesting points to take away from this study (which was actually done right after the 2008 election but I only just learned about): First, conservative pundits have talked a lot over the past year about Gallup’s findings throughout 2009 that conservatives outnumbered both moderates and liberals, suggesting a slight shift to the right among Americans. The GOPAC study shows us that lots more Americans think of themselves as fiscal conservatives than as social conservatives. That’s a result that Ramesh Ponnuru, who regularly argues that Republicans win more votes on social conservatism than on economic conservatism, might ponder.

Second, as Kirby and I keep saying, there actually are libertarian-ish voters, who generally prefer less government in both economic and personal matters, and politicians, consultants, and pundits ought to pay attention to them.

Third, Tarrance found that 23 percent of likely voters declare themselves conservative on fiscal issues but not on social issues (and only 7 percent say they’re socially but not fiscally conservative, and they’re almost all Democrats), and that number is very close to numbers found by other pollsters. But when Zogby asked people, “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?” 59 percent said yes. That’s a much larger number. Maybe the combination is particularly attractive – “best of both worlds.”