Tag Archives: obama

State of the Union Wrap-Up

I’ll post the full text of tonight’s live-blog sometime tomorrow.

Until then, here’s my one-sentence reaction: Bush’s third term continues.

6 Painless Ways to Cut Federal Red Tape

President Obama signed an Executive Order this week that will initiate a “government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.”

Over at AOL News, Wayne Crews and I explain why this will hardly change a thing. We also offer 6 suggestions for reducing regulatory burdens with a minimum of political pain. Here are three of them:

  • Appoint an annual bipartisan commission to comb through the books and suggest rules that deserve repeal. Congress would then vote up-or-down on the repeal package without amendment, to avoid behind-the-scenes deal-making.
  • Require all new regulations to have built-in five-year sunset provisions. If Congress decides a rule is worth keeping, it can vote to extend it for another five years.
  • Consider Sen. Mark Warner’s, D-Va., “one in, one out” proposal, which holds that for every new rule that hits the books, an old one must be repealed.

Read the rest here.

2010 Federal Register is Third-Largest Ever

Today is the last working day of 2010 which means the last edition of the 2010 Federal Register came out this morning. The final unadjusted page count is 82,589 pages. That’s the third highest ever.

Page counts are typically highest in years when power changes hands. This year was no exception. The two other highest unadjusted page counts occurred when Carter handed off to Reagan, and when Clinton handed off to Bush. The Bush-Obama handoff featured the largest-ever adjusted page count, 79,435.

This time, the spike happened with only the House changing parties. The next few years will tell us a lot. 2010’s high page count may have been a combination of this year’s ambitious legislation plus a midnight rush to get the White House’s regulatory wish list in place before the other team can block it.

Or, as in the past, it could be that we have reached a new, permanent plateau of frenzied federal activity.

I’m hoping for the former. But the Republicans in Congress are no friends of limited government, so one never knows. They will reliably oppose anything the other team comes up with. But as the Bush years showed, they’ll also vote for the exact same policies so long as it’s their team that’s proposing them. This is not a recipe for fiscal or regulatory health.

Federal Register Hits 75,000 Pages

The Federal Register is not a perfect barometer of how active government is. Sometimes rules that ramble on for dozens of pages are almost innocuous. An economically disastrous regulation can take up less than a page. But in general, high page counts mean a more active government.

Over at the AmSpec blog, I break down some of the numbers behind the Federal Register’s latest milestone — 75,000 pages.

President Bush still holds the adjusted page count record. But President Obama is putting up quite a challenge; at its current 327-page per day pace, the 2010 Federal Register would be 81,560 unadjusted pages long.

Foreign Money Is Not the Problem

President Obama has caused a stir recently by declaring that the Chamber of Commerce, which is running ads critical of his policies, is funded with foreign money.

It’s a weak criticism. And not just because the amount of foreign money involved is trivial. Or because labor unions and other political groups across the spectrum also accept small amounts of foreign money.

President Obama seems to be saying that people are smart enough to know whether or not a candidate or a political party is bamboozling them in their campaign ads. But people suddenly lose their wits when an outside group, or – gasp! – someone from another country does the exact same thing. That kind of cognitive dissonance must be difficult to live with.

Because arguments against foreign money in politics are so weak, people who use those arguments are either ill-informed or lying.

Lying is much more likely in this case. If your own arguments are weak, a common tactic is to distract your audience and hope they don’t notice. It works more often than not. Here, President Obama is taking advantage of the fact that almost all people suffer from anti-foreign bias. Not racism. Anti-foreign bias. They’re different. And pandering to that bias can be extremely useful politically.

Why does such a cheap tactic work? It’s because anti-foreign bias is in our DNA. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in small bands. Anybody outside that band was a very real threat to steal food, clothing, or potential mates. So people learned to be wary of outsiders. It was good for one’s life expectancy.

As tribes became villages, towns, cities, and now nations, the number of people we consider insiders has grown. And we treat outsiders much better than we used to. Trade is more common than war in most places. But most people are still instinctively leery of outsiders. It is our nature.

That’s why it’s disappointing to see President Obama so cynically play that card. Clearly he and the Chamber of Commerce prefer different policies. It would be nice to see the President engage the Chamber at a higher level than the ad hominem.

Study: Cash for Clunkers Didn’t Work

A new NBER working paper from Atif Mia and Amir Sufi finds that the Cash-for-Clunkers program didn’t work. Here’s part of the abstract:

We find that the program induced the purchase of an additional 360,000 cars in July and August of 2009. However, almost all of the additional purchases under the program were pulled forward from the very near future; the effect of the program on auto purchases is almost completely reversed by as early as March 2010 – only seven months after the program ended. The effect of the program on auto purchases was significantly more short-lived than previously suggested. We also find no evidence of an effect on employment, house prices, or household default rates in cities with higher exposure to the program.

In other words, cash for clunkers didn’t change how much people spent. It only changed when they spent. Sales were higher than normal during the program, and lower than normal after.

As the data come in, they are proving what theory predicts: fiscal stimulus doesn’t work. President George W. Bush tried Keynesian stimulus in 2001. It didn’t work. He tried again in 2003. It didn’t work then, either. President Obama’s stimulus programs aren’t faring any better. It’s time for a different approach.

The Iraq War Isn’t Over

Invading Iraq was one of the Bush administration’s worst mistakes. It is a waste of blood and treasure to send troops to a country that never attacked us and poses no security threat. I’ve been looking forward to the day when President Obama would announce that misguided war’s end.

Today is that day. He has declared an official end to combat operations. But the announcement rings hollow.  There are still 50,000 troops in Iraq. They are still being fired upon. They are still firing back. Their lives are still at risk every day. That sounds an awful lot like “combat operations.”

Iraq will be a free country some day. But that requires massive institutional reform. That kind of sea-level change will take a generation or more. And it has to come from within. It cannot be imposed from without by a foreign army.

Armies can fight wars. They cannot build nations. Freedom is not a top-down construction. It is a bottom-up process. It is well past time to withdraw all troops from Iraq and put a real end to combat operations.

America does have a role in Iraq’s future. Engaging in trade and commerce with Iraqis will help build the economy there, while benefiting consumers in both countries. Tourism and cultural exchange can build up good will for a nation currently viewed by many Iraqis as an occupier.

Most importantly, intellectual exchange can give Iraq’s future leaders an understanding of liberalism that they can make their own and adapt to Iraq’s unique circumstances.

It’s a long and messy road. But nobody can take the first step until combat operations actually end. We are still 50,000 troops away from that noble goal.

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.

Federal Register hits 30,000 Pages

With a notice from the Defense Department that it is selling $122 million of equipment to Great Britain, the 2010 Federal Register passed 30,000 pages.

After 103 working days, the total page count is 30,265. Assuming 250 working days in a year, this year’s Federal Register is on pace for 73,459 pages.

The average count during the Bush administration was 73,416 pages.

Like most of President Obama’s policies, this represents less than a one percent change from the Bush years.

The Myth of Bush the Deregulator

Here’s a letter I sent recently to The New York Times:

May 14, 2010

Editor, The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

To the Editor:

Your May 12 article “With Obama, Regulations Are Back in Fashion” (page A15) asserts that the Bush administration had a “deregulatory agenda.” If that is true, then President Bush failed miserably in executing it.

His administration added 31,634 new regulations to the books, and repealed hardly any. The cost of complying with federal regulations exceeded $1 trillion for the first time on Bush’s watch. 587,321 new pages were added to Federal Register during the Bush years.*

Even the regulation-intensive Obama administration is passing new regulations at a pace nearly ten percent slower than President Bush.

Contrary to the article, the Bush administration was the best friend regulators have had in a generation or more.

Ryan Young
Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Washington, DC

*All data from Wayne Crews, Ten Thousand Commandments.