Tag Archives: deficits

Bush’s Third Term Continues

President Obama’s policies are remarkably similar to President Bush’s. Most of their differences are in matters of degree, not principle. Both presidents believe in expanding federal involvement in health care, education, energy, you name it. Both grew regulation, spending and deficits at tremendous rates. Even their foreign policy is almost identical.

Over at the Daily Caller, I analyze last night’s State of the Union address (I also live-blogged it here) and find it wanting. There are some real stretches of logic:

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched a satellite into space. Therefore, taxpayers should give more money to politically favored corporations. This is not a rigorous line of thought. But it was typical of yesterday’s State of the Union address.

It wasn’t all bad, though:

There was some good in yesterday’s speech. The president would like to lower corporate tax rates. After Japan’s recent rate cuts, America now has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world — nearly 40 percent in most states. This is not the way to encourage businesses to invest in America.

I wish the president had spent a little more time on the rate cut. He could have explained to the country and his party that businesses don’t actually pay corporate taxes. That’s because businesses pass on their costs. Consumers — you and I — foot the bill.

Read the whole thing here.

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Fuzzy Math on Foreign Aid Shows Why Spending Cuts Are Difficult

According to a new poll, the average American thinks that 25 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid (or, more accurately, government-to-government transfers). They would like it cut to about 10 percent.

The actual figure is under 1 percent.

As Aid Watch’s Laura Freschi points out, that means most Americans want to increase government-to-government transfers ten-fold from current levels while also cutting them in half.

That most people think like this is a major reason why cutting the federal government’s $3.5 trillion budget is so difficult. The issues that people get worked up about tend to be small potatoes, in budgetary terms.

Besides transfer payments to other governments, earmarks are another lightning-rod issue. But even if earmarks were abolished entirely, that’s only about 2 percent of the budget. It would put the smallest of dents in spending.

Entitlement spending is the single largest driver of current and future deficits. That’s where the battle is. Aid spending and earmarks are not threatening to bankrupt the country. Social Security and Medicare are. And those programs are extremely popular. No politician with an eye on 2012 would be willing to cut them.

The government has made promises it can’t possibly keep. But most people refuse to believe that. So they don’t. As a guarding mechanism, they instead make grand assumptions about how much things like transfer payments to other governments and earmarks cost.

Why Government Layoffs Tripled in June

This graph from just-released Federal Reserve data caught my eye. It shows government layoffs and discharges from late 2000 through June of this year (raw data set downloadable here). Government jobs are remarkably stable. According to this BLS chart,government workers enjoy roughly three times the job security of private sector jobs. Government workers also compensated more than twice as well as the people who pay their salaries.

For most of the last decade, government workers had as small as a 1-in-200 chance of getting fired or laid off in a given month. This stability mostly held up even during recessions, which are marked as the shaded areas in the graph.

But notice the big spike that happened this June. The economy is out of recession. But times are still tough. And government deficits are at record highs. Is the sudden jump in layoffs and discharges due to government cutting spending to avoid fiscal disaster?

I’d guess not. June was when large numbers of temporary census workers finished their jobs. Still, for one shining second, I thought that Washington had come to its senses.

Making a Difference – A Very Small Difference

The House passed a budget enforcement resolution yesterday. It sets 2011’s discretionary spending $7 billion below what President Obama has requested.

Next year’s discretionary spending target is $1.12 trillion for next year. The $7 billion difference represents savings of 0.625 percent. Barely a rounding error. If total spending (including mandatory and defense spending) ends up at $3.5 trillion next year, the savings becomes 0.2 percent.

Of course, 2010 discretionary spending was $1.39 trillion. 2011 spending will very likely end up much closer to that than the targeted $1.12 trillion. The appropriations process is not kind to non-binding resolutions, however well-intentioned. Especially when the resolution “doesn’t detail how Congress should reach that [deficit reduction] goal.”

Congress lacks the will to cut $270 billion of spending. The interests benefitting from that spending will scream bloody murder the second their programs are put on the chopping block. In an election year when incumbents are more fearful than usual, no politician worth his salt wants to cause an uproar.

Congress need not worry too much, though. Even in anti-incumbent years, re-election are almost always above 90 percent. The vast majority of congressional turnover happens through retirement, running for other office, or death.

The pattern is holding this year, so far. The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato recently pointed out that 5 incumbents have lost their state primary elections this year, while 240 were re-nominated. That’s a 98 percent success rate. There will be a few more casualties, especially in the November general elections.

Most members are safe. They can, and should, rock the boat by cutting unnecessary spending. If anything, the most aggressive cutters might become folk heroes like Chris Christie in New Jersey. They just don’t have the guts.

I will be more than happy if Congress proves me wrong. We’ll find out over the next few months.

On the Radio: Regulation

3,503 new regulations hit the books last year. That’s a new rule every two and a half hours, day and night, seven days a week.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be on the Paul Molloy Show at 10:15 EST to talk about that outrage and more. Tune in to WTAN 1340 AM if you live in the Tampa Bay area, KLRG 880 AM in Little Rock, AR, or click here to listen online.

Better yet, CEI’s Wayne Crews’ latest edition of “Ten Thousand Commandments” is coming out tomorrow morning. Read it to learn how much regulation costs the economy (8.3 percent of GDP), and how much we would prosper if Washington would just lighten the load.

Tax Freedom Day

Today, April 9, is Tax Freedom Day. The good folks at the Tax Foundation calculated how much money local, state, and federal governments harvested last year from taxpayers ($3,469,000,000,000), and compared that to national income ($12,901,000,000,000). At 26.89 percent of national income, you basically work until April 9 just to pay off your taxes.

April 9 is the national average; different states have different tax burdens, so Tax Freedom Day actually varies from state to state. If you live in Alaska, you already celebrated Tax Freedom Day on March 26. But if you live in Connecticut, you have to keep the champagne on ice until April 27.

That isn’t the whole picture, though. The federal government spends far more than it taxes. $1,414,000,000,000 more, last year alone. The burden of federal deficit spending adds another 40 days. Not even counting state and local deficit spending, that puts us out to May 19 by my calculations (May 17 by the Tax Foundation’s).

Even that’s not all. The hidden tax of federal regulation cost businesses and consumers an additional $1,187,000,000,000 last year, according to Wayne Crews’ soon-to-be-released 2010 edition of Ten Thousand Commandments (previous editions are online here). None of that extra trillion-plus actually shows up in the federal budget. Regulation eats up an additional 9.2 percent of national income, or 8.3 percent of GDP. So you have to work an additional 34 days until you pay off the federal regulatory burden.

It’s tempting to brush off regulatory costs, since most of them are borne by businesses. But remember, businesses pass on their costs to consumers. You pay for the regulatory state. Its costs are real.

Adding together total taxes, plus federal deficit spending, plus federal regulations pushes us out to June 22 by calculations, or June 20 by the Tax Foundation’s.

And remember, that’s leaving out state and local deficit spending. Nor does it count state and local regulations. I don’t have the data handy for that. But if they add up to at least $460,000,000,000 then we’re past the half-way mark of the year. Just to pay for government.

Even using the larger number of GDP ($14,253,000,000,000 in 2009), and leaving state and local deficit spending and regulation, we’re still talking 42.9 percent of the economy going to pay for government. That’s 157 days out of the year. You’re not free until June 6 even by that generous measure.

I’d argue that government has grown too big, but the data have already done that for me.

Friday Regulation Roundup

Some of the stranger governmental goings-on I dug up over the week:

EnergyStar has been certifying bogus products, such as a gas-powered alarm clock and a space heater with a feather duster stuck in it. Out of 20 fake items that the GAO submitted, 15 were approved, 2 were rejected, and 3 received no response.

-NASA spent $500,000,000 on a launching pad for a rocket that will probably never be built.

-In Norfolk, VA, it is illegal for hens to lay eggs between 4:00pm and 8:00am.

-In Minnesota, it is illegal for women to play Santa Claus.

-In California, it is against the law to enter a restaurant on horseback.

-From Jeff Flake’s office: The federal government is spending $935,000 on pasteurizing shell eggs in Michigan.

-The federal government is spending $73,000,000 this year on the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program.