July 21, 2006 12:45PM

Political Graffiti

Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would name a future federal courthouse after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.


As National Journal reports:

The panel even named a yet‐​to‐​be‐​built courthouse after Senate Majority Leader Frist, unusual for a sitting member of Congress. That was a compromise forged after Senate Transportation‐​Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Christopher (Kit) Bond, R‑Mo., could not spare enough funds within his limited allocation to build the Nashville courthouse that Frist requested, a committee aide said.

So it seems that appropriators are not only shamelessly slapping the names of sitting senators on federal buildings; they are also using the naming rights to encourage additional spending.


It is too early to know if this provision will remain in the final version of the spending bill, but for what it’s worth, the Rules of the House of Representatives state:

It shall not be in order to consider a bill, joint resolution, amendment, or conference report that provides for the designation or redesignation of a public work in honor of an individual then serving as a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator.

Rules, however, are meant to be broken. And broken again.

July 21, 2006 12:03PM

The Big Dig

With Boston’s Big Dig highway project in the news, a brief review is in order:


As the project was getting started in 1985, government officials claimed that it would cost $2.6 billion and be completed by 1998. The cost ultimately ballooned to $14.6 billion and new problems continue to arise as the project finally nears completion. (The federal share of the project’s cost was $8.5 billion.) In 2004, hundreds of leaks were found in the project, which added millions of dollars in taxpayer costs. And in recent weeks, parts of new road tunnel ceilings have collapsed. 


Raphael Lewis and Sean Murphy wrote an excellent Boston Globe series a couple of years ago revealing how the Big Dig had been grossly mismanaged. A key problem was that Massachusetts repeatedly bailed out bungling Big Dig contractors instead of demanding accountability. Contractors were essentially rewarded for delays and overruns with added cash and guaranteed profits.


When federal money is involved, state and local profligacy and corruption are usually the result. For background on the general problem of cost overruns on federally funded projects, see my compilation of evidence here.

July 20, 2006 2:23PM

Boldly Buying Votes

Yesterday, at a news conference featuring New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) unveiled “a bold new plan” for American higher education. The American Dream Initiative would “award states $150 billion over 10 years to reduce tuition and increase graduation rates”; consolidate several federal tax breaks into “a single, refundable $3,000 college tuition tax credit”; and bolster “accountability” by instituting federal price controls.


What terrific, bold ideas these are! First, plow even more government money into a system that has grown obese on taxpayer funds, then throw government “accountability” on top of it, creating a groundbreaking socialist blend of wealth redistribution and government control!


Of course, in reality there’s nothing bold or new about anything in the DLC’s proposal; politicians have been dumping huge loads of money into higher education for decades, and proposing price controls for years. No, far from being “bold,” the American Dream Initiative is just another disgusting attempt to buy American votes by politicians who believe that a big enough dollar sign, wrapped in just enough lofty rhetoric, is the key to political power.

July 20, 2006 9:49AM

If We Bomb Them, They’ll Like Us?

One hesitates to make it all Bill Kristol, all the time around here, but if he keeps offering up fodder of this quality, our hand is going to be forced.

Click here to watch Kristol defend his idea to start a war with Iran by deploying the logic that

the Iranian people dislike their regime. I think they would be — the right use of targeted military force — but especially if political pressure before we use military force — could cause them to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power. There are even moderates — they are not wonderful people — but people in the government itself who are probably nervous about Ahmadinejad’s recklessness.

Right, so once the bombs start dropping on Iran's nuclear facilities — some of which are buried deep beneath civilian population centers — the people of Iran will — under bombardment — overthrow the regime for us!

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July 20, 2006 9:43AM

Reality Sets In on Capitol Hill … Finally

A number of Republicans on Capitol Hill have come forward in recent days with a new "spin" on events in Iraq, reports the Washington Post:

Faced with almost daily reports of sectarian carnage in Iraq, congressional Republicans are shifting their message on the war from speaking optimistically of progress to acknowledging the difficulty of the mission and pointing up mistakes in planning and execution.

Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.) is using his House Government Reform subcommittee on national security to vent criticism of the White House's war strategy and new estimates of the monetary cost of the war. Rep. Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), once a strong supporter of the war, returned from Iraq this week declaring that conditions in Baghdad were far worse "than we'd been led to believe" and urging that troop withdrawals begin immediately.

The Post's Jonathan Weisman and Anushka Asthana write, "Republican lawmakers acknowledge that it is no longer tenable to say the news media are ignoring the good news in Iraq and painting an unfair picture of the war."

Read the rest of this post »
July 20, 2006 9:18AM

Healthy Interstate Commerce

The judge who threw out Maryland’s Wal‐​Mart law (which would have required large employers to dedicate at least 8 percent of its Maryland employee compensation to health care benefits) apparently did so on interstate commerce grounds:

In yesterday’s decision, Judge J. Frederick Motz of Federal District Court ruled that the Maryland law, which was overwhelmingly passed by the Democrat‐​controlled state legislature in January, was pre‐​empted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or Erisa.


The act sets out a national standard for company benefit plans, replacing what would otherwise be a patchwork of state regulations.


The law “violates Erisa’s fundamental purpose of permitting multistate employers to maintain nationwide health and welfare plans, providing uniform nationwide benefits and permitting uniform national administration,” he wrote in the decision.

Maybe that same judge should throw out state health insurance mandates. They have the effect of making it impossible for private health insurance companies to engage in interstate commerce. Once upon a time, the right to engage in interstate commerce free of state regulation was something in the Constitution — it did not merely depend on Erisa.