Tag Archives: republicans

Much Ado about Nothing: Budget Cut Edition

Democrats want the federal budget to be about  $3,730,000,000,000. Republicans want it to be about $3,630,000,000,000. As with many other issues, the difference between the two parties is less than three percent. Even so, it nearly led to a federal government shutdown.

The deal that the two parties recently struck to avoid a government shutdown meets somewhere in the between. It is advertised as cutting $38.5 billion of spending. But on closer inspection, it would actually cut $14.7 billion. That would cut total federal spending by 0.39 percent.

I have a hunch that even those small cuts may not actually happen. This blog post I wrote in 2005 explains why.

The rules of the game in Washington are severely stacked in favor of spending increases. Presidents Bush and Obama grew the federal government by about 100 percent in only a decade with little political pain. And it apparently takes the specter of a government shutdown to reduce spending by 0.39 percent.

If anyone is looking for a reason for fundamental institutional reform, that would be a big one.

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An Optimistic Take on the Election

CEI President and Founder Fred Smith and I have an article in The Daily Caller expressing cautious optimism about yesterday’s election results. Our main points:

-We are (cautiously) optimistic because voters turned out in droves to make a statement against big government, not to endorse GOP policies. But no reforms will happen unless people keep fighting for them.

-Activists have a lesson to learn from the Bush-era anti-war movement. Anti-Iraq War protestors vanished into thin air almost the moment President Obama was elected. They gave up. That’s one reason there are still 50,000 troops in Iraq and America’s presence in Afghanistan has doubled. The next few years will be the true test of the tea party movement. Will it grow complacent in victory?

-GOP politicians have a lesson to learn from their 1994 victory and subsequent fall from grace. The 1994 Republicans gave up as reformers after about six months. Voters kept them around because they did a tolerable job of checking Clintonian excesses. But six years of one-party rule under Bush were more than enough to show that Republicans were far more concerned with staying in power than with shrinking government. Federal spending roughly doubled under Bush, and that was enough to give them the boot.

It will be interesting to see what happens. The 2010 election might be nothing more than a blip on the radar. Or it could be the start of a genuine reform movement that will take on the coming entitlement crisis. We’re hoping for the latter.

Bill to Regulate Political Speech Fails

The Hill:”Senate fails to advance campaign finance bill

The First Amendment: “Congress shall pass no law… abridging the freedom of speech.”

Good news for anyone who wants to engage in political speech. But how sad that this happened because of politics, not principle.

It was mostly Democrats who favored the DISCLOSE Act. And according to today’s Senate vote, it was only Democrats who favored the bill. But Republicans are no heroes on this issue. Don’t believe their posturing. If the political winds were currently favoring Democrats, Republicans would be working their tails off to pass similar legislation.

The primary effect of campaign finance regulation is to stack the rules of the game in favor of incumbents. Both parties know this. And both parties will seek to use campaign finance regulation to their advantage however they can.

A Telling Headline

From The Hill: Vulnerable Democrats defend support for campaign finance legislation

Campaign finance regulations are an incumbent’s best friend. The incumbent already has name recognition, and a deep network of fundraising contacts. Heck, Congress’ franking privilege allows incumbents to send out de facto campaign messages for free. Challengers have none of those advantages.

It takes a lot of money to buy enough ads to get a challenger’s name recognition anywhere near the incumbent’s. Campaign finance regulations make it harder to raise that money, and harder to put up a fight against established officeholders. No wonder so many incumbents from both parties favor strict campaign finance regulations! It’s good for their job security.

The Kagan Nomination: What Matters, What Doesn’t

One of the criticisms being hurled at Elena Kagan from the right is that she might be a lesbian. This concerns me.

Not the lesbian part; few things are less important to one’s judicial qualifications. My worry is that Republicans have so atrophied intellectually that this is their loudest reason for opposing her.

A thoughtful soul (I forget who) recently remarked that twenty years from now, almost everyone currently on the wrong side of gay rights issues will be embarrassed to admit it. Yet the obsolete epithets being hurled at Kagan — which may or may not be accurate, and frankly, who cares — are what many of Kagan’s opponents seem to care about the most.

And people wonder why I often take visible offense when someone tries to call me a conservative.

There are substantive reasons to be skeptical about Kagan. One of them is how she views the executive branch. “She is certainly a fan of presidential power,” one scholar remarks. This is important.

Chief Justice Roberts has similar views. He was picked in part because the Bush administration knew he wouldn’t strike down that administration’s more controversial power grabs. Harriet Miers was not rejected for her views, which are utterly conventional. Her nomination was only struck down because her lack of subtlety in expressing those views was considered gauche.

While I have never been an Obama fan, one of my hopes for his administration was that he would repudiate Bush-era excesses such as the PATRIOT Act. He embraced them instead. Having all those cool powers at his disposal was just too much to pass up.

President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees so far seem no different from Roberts or Miers: what the other branches of government want, they shall get. The exceptions, such as the Citizens United decision, are so rare that they garner weeks worth of headlines; such outbursts must be kept to a minimum. Hence Kagan.

What the Supreme Court needs is a healthy dose of judicial activism. Kagan, like Roberts, Sotomayor, and other recent nominees, is a judicial passivist. They reflexively defer to the executive and legislature, right or wrong.

What we need are Justices who will stand up and say “no” when Congress passes a law that is unconstitutional, or when the president abuses his powers. That’s why judicial review exists in the first place. This tradition goes all the way back to Marbury v. Madison, often the very first case that students read in undergraduate constitutional law classes.

As Kagan goes through the pomp and circumstance of the confirmation process, maybe she’ll prove better than her likely soon-to-be colleagues. Maybe she won’t. But so long as her Republican opponents are fixated on something so trivial as her sexual orientation, we may never find out. Given her relative youth, three decades or more of jurisprudence are at stake.

Advice to Tea Partiers

I have mixed feelings about the tea party movement. On one hand, it is wonderful that there is a large and vocal constituency agitating for lower taxes and lower spending. And while many tea partiers are appropriately wary of the Republican party, they certainly seem to skew conservative. And conservatives are no friends of limited government.

John Samples from Cato nails my sentiments exactly in the video below. Here is a list of his main points:

1. Republicans aren’t always your friends.
2. Some tea partiers like big government.
3. Democrats aren’t always your enemies.
4. Smaller government demands restraint abroad.
5. Leave social issues to the states.

Regulation of the Day 123: Donating Blood

If you’re gay, you can’t donate blood. It’s illegal. The ban was put in place in 1983, during the early days of the HIV/AIDS scare. It may have made some sense in those days, when HIV testing was less than trustworthy. But it sure doesn’t now, with modern screening technology.

Obviously, keeping HIV-positive blood out of circulation is a wise policy goal. But most gay people don’t have HIV/AIDS. Rather than screening donors for sexual preference, they should be screened for blood-borne diseases. Straight people already are. And it works quite well. Current policies are keeping healthy, willing donors out of the system.

The outdated ban could soon be coming to an end. Sen. John Kerry and 15 of his colleagues, usually more prone to passing regulations than repealing them, are urging the FDA to repeal this one. You can read their letter here.

The one disconcerting thing about the letter is that every single one of the signees is Democratic. Not one Republican joined in. That could be because Sen. Kerry and the others deliberately excluded them for political reasons. But the GOP is famously behind the curve on gay rights issues. So maybe Republicans were asked, and said no. I don’t know.

Republicans should send their own letter supporting Sen. Kerry’s position. Enlarging the pool of eligible blood donors is an unabashed good. It’s a classic gay rights issue. It’s also a health issue. Blood would be more readily available for patients who need it. Economists would add that increasing the supply of blood will lower its price – a good thing in this age of rapidly rising health care costs.