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Government Spending

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Published: Sat, 24 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 24 Mar 2018 13:57:49 -0400


Trump Wants a 'Line-Item Veto' on Budget Bills. That Was Ruled Unconstitutional 20 Years Ago.

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 15:40:00 -0400

(image) Well, it's done. After his will-I-or-won't-I-sign-this antics this morning, President Donald Trump has signed the $1.3 trillion spending bill that passed the House of Representatives last night.

But Trump being Trump, he wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to air his many grievances with Congress, Frank Costanza–style. And he's got a lot of problems with you people.

Among the president's laundry list of complaints was that the bill contains too many random and unnecessary expenses. He's absolutely right, though the gripe rings awfully hollow coming from the one man on earth who was actually in a position to stop the budget from becoming law.

Trump's solution, unsurprisingly, was to give more power to Trump. Congress, he said, should pass a law granting the president a "line-item veto" over budget bills—that is, the power to strike out individual appropriations rather than having to choose between accepting or rejecting the bill wholesale.

A bold, innovative idea for streamlining American governance? Not exactly.

Way back in 1996, a Republican* Congress tried to do just that, passing the Line Item Veto Act in the hopes of giving then-President Bill Clinton the power to excise specific appropriations from the federal budget.

The act passed, but it didn't last long. In 1997, the City of New York and a number of health care companies who had lost funding to one of Clinton's line-item vetoes sued, arguing that the law impermissibly blurred the Constitution's separation of the legislative and executive functions of government. The Supreme Court agreed, holding in 1998's Clinton v. City of New York that the line-item veto violated the Presentment Clause, which is the portion of the Constitution which lays out the veto process. In essence, the Court said, Congress cannot delegate its constitutional power to craft and modify legislation to the executive.

Clinton v. New York isn't as universally known as Roe v. Wade or Brown v. Board of Education, but it isn't exactly obscure. It's a landmark case in U.S. constitutional law, a cornerstone of the "nondelegation doctrine" that underpins many past and ongoing debates about the structure of American government. If you went to high school after 1998, you've probably at least heard of it once.

If so, congratulations. You're apparently better informed on the structure of the U.S. government than the president.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the 1996 Congress was majority Democrat.

Your Friday Cliffhanger: Will Trump Sign or Veto the Omnibus? (UPDATE: Trump Signs)

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 11:25:00 -0400

What a difference 48 hours makes. Here's President Donald Trump on Wednesday, tweeting about the $1.3 trillion ominbus spending deal: Got $1.6 Billion to start Wall on Southern Border, rest will be forthcoming. Most importantly, got $700 Billion to rebuild our Military, $716 Billion next year...most ever. Had to waste money on Dem giveaways in order to take care of military pay increase and new equipment. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2018 Between then and now, after announcing John Bolton will be his new national security advisor and also insisting he could take former Vice President Joe Biden in a fight (Biden started it, Mom!), he seems to have changed his tune: I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018 The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been jeopardized because Trump insists on trying to use it as leverage to fund the border wall and push through other anti-immigration policies. Wednesday's tweet seemed like an acknowledgment from Trump that he wasn't going to get everything he wanted all at once. The border wall's initial funding reminds me of the high-speed rail construction in California. They only have a tiny portion of what they need to build the unnecessary boondoggle, but they figure once it gets started they'll get more money. Those fiscally responsible conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus sent a letter to Trump asking him to veto the $1.3 trillion spending bill. Oh, wait—scratch "fiscally responsible." They want him to veto the omnibus because it doesn't provide enough money to build the wall: Members of the @freedomcaucus sent the below letter to the WH: "Mr. President, we urge you to remember the countless forgotten men and women of America who placed their faith in you to change business as usual in Washington, D.C. We urge you to join us and reject this omnibus." — Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) March 22, 2018 Congress recessed with the assumption that Trump would sign the bill, The Wall Street Journal notes. If he vetoes the legislation, the federal government will run out of funding at midnight. There are much better reasons to veto the omnibus than the terrible border wall (which will not work). Eric Boehm noted yesterday all the ridiculous spending in the bill. I also noted legislation embedded deep into the spending bill that would weaken citizens' data privacy and potentially subject them to more secret government surveillance, and not just from the American government. Those concerns do not seem to be playing in the president's mind. Stay tuned. UPDATE: At a press conference at 1:30 p.m. Trump announced he was signing the bill, but he's not happy about it. He insisted that the spending was necessary to "rebuild" a "depleted military." He said he would not sign omnibus bills like this in the future. He also called on the Senate to get rid of filibuster rules so bills could move forward with a simple majority. He also called on Congress to give him the authority of a line-item veto.[...]

Cardi B, Your New Libertarian Hero, Asks: 'Uncle Sam, I Want to Know What You Doing With My Fucking Tax Money!'

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 10:20:00 -0400

Cardi B, a rapper and Instagram celebrity best known for her hit "Bodak Yellow," posted a video on Instagram yesterday where she asks some hard questions about effective tax rates and government spending.

B notes that she is paying a 40 percent tax rate and not getting much for it. She asks for accountability, noting that "when you donate to a kid from a foreign country, they give you updates of what they doing with your donation."

By contrast, B has no idea what Uncle Sam is doing with her "fucking tax money." She speculates about possible uses for government revenues, but points out that "y'all not spending it in no damn prison," because incarcerated African-American men only receive "like two underwears, one jumpsuit for like five months." B wants transparency, demanding "receipts."

The video has been viewed over 4 million times since it was posted late last night.

In her work, B has talked about her experience as an entrepreneur, explaining that after her initial success, "I don't gotta dance, I make money moves."

Rand Paul Reads the Omnibus Spending Bill (Because Someone Has To)

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 19:00:00 -0400

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who might be thinking of holding up the Senate's vote on the insane and mysterious omnibus spending bill, is publicly conducting some basic due diligence for a legislator: demonstrating that, unlike pretty much all his colleagues in House or Senate, he's actually trying to read the monstrous thing before voting. (Paul notes it took over two hours for his office printer to even print the thing.) He's giving the American people some insights, good and bad, in real time via his twitter feed. Some highlights: Page 226 of terrible, no good, rotten deficit spending bill. I found a kernel of hope: "no funds in this act will be used to support or justify torture." — Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2018 Good news on the state-level marijuana rights front: Page 240 good news for states rights: no funds will be spent to prevent any state's medical marijuana initiatives. Thank you Congr. Rohrbacher — Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2018 Some things Paul wonders if require this level of public (i.e. you and me) funding: Here are a few more highlights: o $1m for the Cultural Antiquities Task Force o $6.25m for the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation o $20m for Countering Foreign State Propaganda o $12m for Countering State Disinformation and Pressure — Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2018 And more of that: o $1m for the World Meteorological Organization o $218m for Promoting Democracy Development in Europe (yep..the birthplace of democracy needs promoting) o $25m for International Religious Freedom o $10m for disadvantaged Egyptian Students — Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2018 Encouraging FISA news: on page 355. NSA prohibited from targeting US persons with FISA 702 program. sounds good —but — privacy advocates fear that NSA still does back-door targeting of US persons. Courageous Senator Wyden has asked how many US persons caught up in supposedly foreign data base. — Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2018 Paul wonders about the integrity of the often-ignored War Powers Act: Page 348 of terrible, rotten, no-good budget busting bill, a nugget that I wish we obeyed sec. 8103: none of the funds may be used in contravention of the War Powers Act — Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2018 And sheds light on our foreign policy apparatus' weird definition of "permanent": eyes getting tired but really someone should read this beast. Page 392 sec 9007: no $ shall be spent "for the permanent stationing of US forces in Afghanistan" Wonder what they meant by permanent? Some might argue that after 16 years we approaching the definition of permanent. — Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2018 Insight into how revenue no matter how high never seems to make overall debt shrink: Page 430 of "crumni-bus:" Good news. The government is going to "earn" $350 million by selling oil from Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Bad news is the $ won't go to reduce the $21 trillion debt. The $ will be instead be spent elsewhere by the Federal government. — Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2018 Paul is continuing to put himself through this hell for the American people in real time on his twitter feed. Reason's Eric Boehm also knows more about the omnibus than your average congress member.[...]

The Omnibus Spending Bill Is a Fiscal Embarrassment

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 00:15:00 -0400

Republicans are once again proving why they actually deserve the label of the biggest swamp spenders. The latest gigantic omnibus spending bill would fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year—with a price tag of $1.3 trillion. That doesn't include entitlement funding or payments for the interest on our debt—which continue to grow and drive our debt higher, as Republicans have apparently given up on slowing down spending. Most Republicans favor the bill as a way to avoid the self-inflicted risk of another government shutdown. Never mind that members have had no time to read the 1,000-page bill and figure out what is actually in it. They just have to take Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's word. He said, "It has some things no one likes, and it has a lot of things not everybody likes but most people like. It was a fair compromise." Schumer's uncharacteristic cheerfulness about the measure probably had much to do with the $900 million in funding for the Gateway tunnel project, a boondoggle supported by all New York-area lawmakers. It most likely won't be in the final bill, though, because President Donald Trump threatened to veto the bill if the project were to be included. Immigration is another sticky point, but we can all expect it to be resolved at some point by nudging the right people for their support. You can also expect Republicans and President Trump to spin this as a "yuge" victory for their team. After all, isn't it a sign that they can govern? Sure, if you tolerate massive deficit spending, being irresponsible, and pushing all that liability down the throat of future generations. I don't, because I actually care about the well-being of my kids and grandkids. To be fair, this is no surprise. These are the same guys who agreed back in February to add $300 billion of spending over two years to the already monstrous federal tab. Showing yet again that bipartisanship isn't good news for those of us who care about the fiscal path our country is on, the agreement blew the budget caps that were meant to control excess spending by opportunistic politicians. Democrats are, of course, loving it. Let's face it; they know that when Republicans are in power, they can act like a drunken teenager with Daddy's credit card, but they sober up when they have the gavel. What's worse, Republicans are terrible negotiators. For example, Democrats have once again managed to get most of their non-defense priorities funded by the Republican-controlled Congress and White House in exchange for allowing more defense spending. The result is a $143 billion boost to this year's spending above budget caps. Who cares about budget rules and deficits when you can throw more cash at the Department of Defense? This will, of course, lead to much larger deficits than originally projected. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, red ink for 2018 will reach $800 billion. That's a solid $230 billion higher than what was projected by the Congressional Budget Office in its June 2017 10-year forecast. That's a whole $2 trillion in additional debt after just one year of Republican control of the legislative and executive branches. Larger deficits also mean larger interest payments. A CRFB analysis found that "interest payments will quadruple, topping $1 trillion per year in as little as a decade. That's more than we will spend each year on the military or Medicaid, and as a share of the economy, it is the highest in history. ... Over the next decade, we'll spend around $7 trillion—$55,000 per household—just servicing our debt." The economy is growing. The scale of the Afghanistan War is relatively small—and even some defense hawks recognize that there's enough waste and unnecessary spending already in the military budget that could be cut to pay for whatever modernization is necessary. Unemployment is going down, and people feel more hopeful about the economy. This is hardly the time for Republicans t[...]

The Federal Government's TIGER Program Splurges on Sidewalks in Rural Florida and Recreational Boat Ramps in Iowa

Tue, 13 Mar 2018 09:45:00 -0400

A bipartisan desire to do something big with infrastructure has set off a clash of visions in Washington. The Trump administration has suggested, in both its budget and its infrastructure proposals, a relatively decentralist approach that would shift some of the financial burden onto states, localities, and private actors, though it would also provide $200 billion in new federal spending. Democrats have countered with demands to preserve and expand the feds' role in infrastructure, demanding anywhere from $1 trillion to $2 trillion in new spending. Caught in the crosshairs is the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which this past Friday announced $500 million in new grants. The Trump administration has called for killing the program. The Democrats have argued for spending an additional $10 billion on it. As the name might suggest, TIGER got its start as a part of President Barack Obama's stimulus program. But as the recession faded, TIGER stood firm, spending $5.6 billion in nine round of grants since 2009 on everything from street cars in Portland to streetscaping in Los Angeles. This year's portfolio of grant awards demonstrates how divorced the program has become from anything of relevance to federal taxpayers. Among the recipients is the city of Akron, Ohio, which received $8 million to install bike lanes, pedestrian infrastructure, bus shelter enhancements, and traffic calming devices along a 1,700-foot stretch of Main Street. Akron had previously received $5 million in 2016 to do the same thing on a different segment of the same street. Another lucky winner is Collier County, Florida, which received a $13 million grant for new sidewalks, bike lanes, and landscaping in the 24,000-person town of Immokalee. Burlington, Iowa, will also get new bike lanes, along with parking lot improvements, trees, and recreational boat ramps, all courtesy of $17 million from the feds. "This was us taking a half-court shot blindfolded and making it," Burlington city planner Charlie Nichols told The Hawk Eye. "It is an unbelievably good deal for downtown Burlington." That TIGER grants are a good deal for Burlington is not in question. Without the free federal money, city officials would have had to ask their own citizens to foot the bill for these projects. But what exactly taxpayers in Virginia or even Des Moines get from the deal is hard to say. Indeed, aside from a handful of port and rail improvements, few of this year's TIGER grants can be said to much to do with interstate economic activity or any other truly national purpose. The only winners at the federal level from these projects seems to be the politicians whose districts stand to benefit. Akron's grant award came with congratulatory press releases from both of Ohio's senators, as well as Akron-area Reps. Tim Ryan and Marcia Fudge. That aspect of the TIGER grants is not new. A 2012 report by the Reason Foundation, which publishes this website, found that 40 percent of the first two round of TIGER grants went to districts represented by Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; the four highest-ranking Democrats on the same committee each received at least one TIGER grant apiece. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have spoken of the need to preserve the program. While Trump personally shows little unease with either transactional politics or federal largesse, the members of his administration responsible for writing his infrastructure and budget proposals have other ideas. Every budget request the White House has submitted to Congress has called for the TIGER grant program to be eliminated, including the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, which says that "using Federal dollars to pay for non-Federal infrastructure projects has created an unhealthy dynamic in which State and local governments delay projects in the hope of receiving Federal funds." Democrats, contrastingly, have ce[...]

Remy: I Like it, I Love it

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 10:54:00 -0500

src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

After years of complaining about Washington's fiscal irresponsibility, Remy is finally in office and ready to make a change.

Parody written and performed by Remy
Produced and Edited by Austin Bragg
Music tracks and backing vocals by Ben Karlstrom

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Spent four to eight years complaining about all the cash we spend
Asking for your vote and money, we need limited government
About how these deficits are costing us a trillion a pop
But vote for me, I'll be as stingy as a GameStop
And then I got elected and took over DC
Cutting back on all spending is what I would do you'd think

But I like it, I love it, I want some more of it
A wall so tall you can't climb above it
Don't know what it is about the spending that I covet
but I like it, I love it, I want some more of it

The Founding Father Daddies tried to teach me currency
Now my spending list is longer than a CVS receipt
Now I'm keeping old programs and taking out loans
I'm scrapping spending caps and I'm cranking out drones
I'm adding more spending, I'm throwing a parade

My list is shovel-ready (so is most of what I say)
Cuz I like it, I love it, I want some more of it
I talk a lot, it turns out I'm bluffing
Don't know what it is about the spending that I covet
but I like it, I love it, I want some more of it

Ben Carson Spent $31K on a Dining Table, and 5 Other Times Trump Cabinet Members Wasted Your Money

Thu, 01 Mar 2018 11:59:00 -0500

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials spent $31,561 on a custom hardwood dining table and chairs for Secretary Ben Carson's personal offices, violating a department policy capping office redecoration expenses at $5,000. A career agency employee alleged she was demoted from a high-level position within HUD after she repeatedly refused to approve expensive office redecoration plans being pushed by Carson's wife, Candy. A department spokesman told reporters that Carson was not aware of the purchase, but did not believe the price was too high, and would not be returning the table. But Carson isn't the first member of the current cabinet to play fast and loose with government expense accounts. Here's a (partial) receipt for the bill of questionable charges you'll be chipping in for next tax season: 1) Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's Private Jets: Approximately $1 million Tom Price, perhaps the Trump cabinet's most extravagant spender, resigned from the top job at HHS in October after it was revealed he had racked up more than a million dollars of expenses in private charter and military flights. Those expenses included at least 26 private domestic trips which combined government meetings with significant personal business and leisure, including a lunch with his son in Tennessee and time spent at a resort property in Georgia where he owns a home. After resigning, Price agreed to reimburse the government $51,000. 2) Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt's Fancy Secret Phone Booth: $24,570 In addition to some controversial expensive travel of his own, (which he said was necessary because airline passengers are mean to him) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt paid a contractor $24,570 to install a "privacy booth" in his office. The company apparently offered off-the-shelf standard models, but the EPA opted for a customized version, driving up the cost. No prior EPA boss had such a booth, apparently used to prevent eavesdropping on telephone calls, in the administrator's office. Furthermore, former EPA employees told The Washington Post that the agency already has a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), which are used government-wide to ensure the security of sensitive communications, on another floor in its headquarters. 3) Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin's European Vacation: $122,000 Back in September, it emerged that Shulkin had spent at least half of a 10-day trip to meet with British and Danish officials in Europe sightseeing with his wife. The couple toured Westminster Abbey, attended Wimbledon, and took a cruise on the river Thames. The federal government paid for Shulkin and his wife's flights to and from their trip and provided a per-diem reimbursement for meals and other personal expenses. A report from the V.A. inspector general's office claimed that during the trip, a V.A. employee "effectively acted as a personal travel concierge" to Shulkin and his wife. The Washington Post reported that "Shulkin's trip came less than two weeks after he signed a memo instructing top VA staffers to determine whether 'employee travel in their organization is essential.'" 4) Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's Charter Flights: $72,849 Following revelations about Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price's travel expenses, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke also came under scrutiny when press outlets learned that the department's Inspector General had opened an investigation into his travel expenses as well. The investigators later reported that Zinke had failed to properly document and disclose his official travel, which included a $12,000 flight from Las Vegas to Montana and $14,000 on helicopter flights. The total cost for non-commercial travel on six trips taken by Zinke came to $72,849, according to an Interior D[...]

The Federal Government's Finances Are a Total Wreck

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 15:00:00 -0500

The federal government's latest financial statements came out last week and they paint a dire picture of our nation's fiscal health. It's not just the annual deficit, which is too large and growing. The new report shows trillions in long-term liabilities that could burden the country for years to come. And it suggests that financial management in large government agencies, like the Department of Defense, is appallingly poor. The federal government reports assets of $3.5 trillion and liabilities of $23.9 trillion yielding a negative net position of $20.4 trillion. Although this last amount is similar in size to the national debt, net worth is conceptually different. Federal audited financial statements use accrual accounting, which means that obligations are recognized as they are incurred. For example, the $23.9 trillion in liabilities includes $7.7 trillion in veterans benefits and retirement benefits earned by federal civilian employees. Another $200 trillion in liabilities arise from various guarantees the government has made, including its commitment to backstop private pension plans—many of which are becoming insolvent. But the biggest federal liabilities of all do not appear on the government's balance sheet. According to a supplemental schedule, the federal government has $49 trillion in Social Security and Medicare liabilities. Although these retirement obligations are just as politically sacrosanct as federal employee pensions and federal guarantees for private pension systems, they receive very different accounting treatment. If these obligations were placed on balance sheet where they belong, the government's negative net position (i.e., its unfunded debt) would balloon to $69 trillion—well over triple the nation's $19 trillion gross domestic product. As the accompanying chart shows, the federal government's net position has been deteriorating throughout the 21st century. The only apparent bright spot occurred in 2010 when actuaries bumped down Medicare liabilities amidst optimism about Obamacare's prospects for reining in medical costs—a hope that has not fully panned out. The big spike between 2003 and 2004 was largely the result of George W. Bush's unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit. Although the government's fiscal year 2017 deficit was an already alarming $666 billion, its balance sheet net position worsened by over $1.1 trillion. Social insurance obligations increased a further $2.3 trillion. So, while the government added less than $700 billion in red ink during fiscal year 2017 on a cash basis, the total bleeding in accrual terms was closer to $3.4 trillion. Just as accountants and regulators insist that corporations use accrual accounting to properly inform investors about their financial condition, we should have similar expectations for sovereigns such as the federal government. Even worse, the chart doesn't include all federal liabilities. Government financial statements exclude $5 trillion in outstanding mortgage backed securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) were placed under federal conservatorship during the financial crisis. Although the federal government owns 79.9% of each of these entities and would undoubtedly cover any shortfalls they experience with taxpayer money (as they did in 2008), their liabilities are not consolidated onto the federal government's balance sheet. Finally, it is worth noting that the 2017 federal financial statements—incomplete as they are—received a negative audit opinion, as they do every year. Specifically, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) acting in its role as the federal government's CPA concluded: The federal government is not able to demonstrate the reliability of significant portions of the accompanying accrual-based consolidated financial statements as of and[...]

Trump’s New Budget Plan Is a Fiscal Disaster

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 16:20:00 -0500

The federal government's fiscal outlook has been in decline since the Bush administration, and President Trump's new budget plan is another step in the wrong direction. Trump's 2019 budget ramps up spending on the military and border security. Although the budget offers some ideas for domestic spending cuts, most of these won't see the light of day. In other words, it continues the long-term unwinding of the nation's fiscal discipline. The newly released 2019 plan calls for $4.407 trillion* of expenditures while forecasting $3.422 trillion* in revenue, resulting in an anticipated deficit of just under $1 trillion. The budget forecasts a similar amount of red ink in 2020, followed by declining deficits—but never a budgetary balance—through the rest of the ten-year projection window. Normally, it would be possible to benchmark White House forecasts against Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections. Not this year. In late January, CBO typically issues its own ten-year budget forecast. But that document has yet to appear, because CBO says it needs more time to calculate the impact of December's tax measure. CBO won't say when it expects the report to appear. The delay is just the latest milestone in the collapse of federal budgetary procedure—one in which a deliberative annual review process has given way to last-minute continuing resolutions and omnibus spending bills. Under Trump's new budget, the White House projects a $363 billion deficit in 2028. However, It only reaches that level by assuming over $1 trillion in unlikely cuts and reforms. Among the major deficit shrinking proposals in the budget are the repeal and replace of Obamacare, elimination of Overseas Contingency Operations (i.e., ending the endless wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere) and the "two-penny plan" which involves annual unspecified 2 percent reductions in non-defense discretionary spending. These concepts are likely to be dead on arrival in a divided Congress. The budget offers nothing on entitlement reform and combines increased military spending with new outlays for the President's wall, now that he has finally realized that Mexico won't pay for it. Trump's proposal might thus be called a "Guns and Walls" budget. Back in the sixties, the Johnson administration gave us the concept of "Guns and Butter"—the idea that we could lavish money on new social programs while also funding the Vietnam War. That policy gave rise to runaway inflation and weak economic performance in the seventies. After decades of deficits, Congressional Republicans and the Clinton Administration finally balanced the federal budget in the late 1990s. But fiscal restraint quickly unraveled under George W. Bush's administration, which launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as a Medicare prescription drug benefit without raising offsetting revenue. Trump's new budget includes $686 billion for the Department of Defense—13 percent more than the 2017 level—and matching the amount in the bipartisan spending bill approved Friday morning. But DoD spending is only part of the true cost of America's national security establishment. Spending on Intelligence, the Department of Energy's nuclear stockpile activities and the Veteran's Administration also need to be included. Those additional functions together raise the total defense tab to around $1 trillion annually. To get the higher defense spending they so desperately wanted, Republicans had to agree to Democratic demands for more domestic spending. Earlier in the decade we used to talk about a "grand bargain" between Republicans and Democrats to resolve the nation's fiscal problems through spending cuts and revenue increases. Instead, the bipartisan grand bargain we got last week busts through all previously agreed spending caps, and does not offset the added spending with new[...]

Did We Get the Tea Party Wrong?: Podcast

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 14:40:00 -0500

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed into law a two-year budget deal presented to him by the Republican-led Congress. The bill increases federal spending by around $300 billion, removes the last restraints imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, and pushes annual deficits back toward the awful $1 trillion level. On Saturday in this space, Matt Kibbe, formerly a key organizer in the Tea Party movement, wrote a piece headlined (in part) "The Tea Party Is Officially Dead." Today's Reason Podcast, which features Katherine Mangu-Ward, Nick Gillespie, Peter Suderman, and yours truly talking news of the week, begins with an autopsy of sorts. Did we delude ourselves about the strength of the fiscal conservatism in the Tea Party? When and where did the message of limiting government overreach get diluted by tertiary concerns and culture-war bombthrowing? Also discussed: the Nork Queen media outrages at the Winter Olympics, why certain libertarians are confused by nationalism and sports, and whether we should even be talking about the initial White House mismanagement of wife-beating accusations against the now-resigned Rob Porter. Audio production by Ian Keyser. Relevant links from the show: "How GOP Fiscal Sanity Died, in 7 Easy Steps," by Matt Welch "In Memoriam: The GOP Pretending to Care About Fiscal Restraint," by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg "Please Enjoy These Videos of Paul Ryan Being Concerned About Debt and Overspending," by Eric Boehm "Rand Paul Single-Handedly Tries to Stop Massive Spending Plan (Update: Congress Passes Budget Deal)," by Eric Boehm "The Senate Budget Deal Proves Republicans Love Government Spending," by Veronique de Rugy "Senate Reaches Bipartisan Deal to Keep the Government Open By Spending More Money On Everything," by Peter Suderman "Give Us Liberty? Q&A with Dick Armey & Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks," by Nick Gillespie, Jim Epstein, and Meredith Bragg Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason Podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.[...]

The Tea Party Is Officially Dead. It Was Killed by Partisan Politics.

Sun, 11 Feb 2018 08:00:00 -0500

It has finally happened: The Tea Party is dead. The grassroots movement that fought so hard for fiscal sanity in government over the past decade is no more. It was killed off by the very same Washington establishment it sought to overthrow. Its death leaves proponents of limited government with some big questions: What went wrong? And what do we do now? For me, it's personal. For years, the Tea Party was my life, and I have the the battle scars—and tattoos—to prove it. When I was the President of FreedomWorks, I worked side by side with tens of thousands of citizen activists as a Tea Party organizer, organizing protests and knocking on doors, hoping to topple the Goliath of government. But now the party's over. I know, you've heard it before. Virtually every Beltway pundit in DC has pronounced the Tea Party dead at one time or another. Republican Senators well past their sell-by dates and Democratic apparatchiks alike have gleefully built a cottage industry on the prediction. But this time is different. Republicans, now controlling both the legislative and executive branches, jammed through a "CRomnibus" spending bill that strips any last vestiges of spending restraint from the budget process. Gone are the Tea Party's biggest and most hard-fought policy victory—mandatory caps in domestic and defense spending. The budget deal replaces them with $300 billion in new spending over the next two years, and, in all likelihood, sets a precedent for greater spending in the decade to come. It's 2009 all over again, with trillion dollar deficits, and red ink as far as the eye—or at least CBO projections—can see. As budget deals go, it's a total fiasco. The supposed fiscal hawks in the House Freedom Caucus drew a line in the sand on House budget plan that was only slightly less bad. They demanded "full funding for the military and community health centers." In the Senate, Rand Paul and Mike Lee fought the good fight, but they couldn't even convince Ted Cruz to stand firm. Cruz, the one-time Tea Party darling, "reluctantly" supported the spending measure, making sure to itemize all of the spending increases he helped procure with his fellow Texas senator, John Cornyn, while simultaneously decrying "unfettered spending." Cruz's statement is world class political jujitsu. Meanwhile, there are plenty of Republicans and Democrats in our nation's capitol celebrating the Tea Party's demise. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the primary architect of this steaming pile of budget prolificacy, has been actively plotting the Tea Party's demise for years. So what went wrong? Ultimately, I think partisan politics broke the Tea Party. To understand what I mean, we need to clear away some popular tropes employed by critics to discredit what I still believe to be one of the most important social movements in my lifetime. The Tea Party was never the product of some top-down design, and it wasn't owned or controlled by anyone. It was organic and leaderless. That's why it was so powerful, fueled by new social technologies that allowed citizens to self organize outside of traditional political parties. Like-minded people, once anonymous and silent, found each other and found their collective voice. The Tea Party also wasn't partisan. It was held together by a common set of values that united an otherwise disparate group. What did the Tea Party stand for? I would ask everyone I met as I traveled the country. The answer was always some iteration of the same thing: "Individual freedom, fiscal responsibility, constitutionally-limited government, and free markets." This consistency of purpose made the Tea Party community a potent counter balance to the typical special interest inertia that drives the growth of government. The grassroots backlash against [...]

In Memoriam: The GOP Pretending to Care About Fiscal Restraint

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 17:10:00 -0500

Congress is "spending us into oblivion," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a blistering speech on the Senate floor yesterday.

This morning, President Donald Trump signed a massive new spending bill that will increase the discretionary budget by about $400 billion.

In memoriam: The GOP once actually pretended to care about fiscal restraint.

Produced by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg.

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Our Infrastructure Is Not 'Crumbling.' Repeat: Our Infrastructure Is Not 'Crumbling'

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 13:15:00 -0500

One of the great myths of American politics, no matter who is president and no matter who runs Congress, is that our infrastructure is "crumbling." Former President Barack Obama repeatedly warned us about our "crumbling infrastructure." President Donald Trump now tells us that our infrastructure is "crumbling." The next president is going to hatch a giant plan to fix our crumbling infrastructure as well, because most voters want to believe infrastructure is crumbling. The infrastructure is not crumbling. Ask someone about infrastructure and his thoughts will probably wander to the worst pothole-infested road he traverses rather than the hundreds of roads he drives on that are perfectly safe and smooth. That's human nature. So "crumbling infrastructure" peddlers play on this concern by habitually agonizing over things like the impending outbreak of tragic bridge collapses that will kill thousands. They bring up tragedies like the 2007 disaster with the Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis even though, according to federal investigators, the collapse was due to a design flaw rather than decaying infrastructure. Many outlets and politicians simply ignore the inconvenient fact that the rare fatality involving infrastructure typically has nothing to do with "crumbling" and everything to do with natural elements or human error. In reality, the number of structurally deficient bridges, never high to begin with, has been dropping over the past 30 years despite all the hand-wringing. The overall number has fallen from over 22 percent in 1992 to under 10 percent in 2016. According to a Reuters analysis of those bridges, only 4 percent of those that carry significant traffic need repairs. Of the nation's 1,200 busiest bridges, the number of those structurally deficient falls to under 2 percent—or fewer than 20 bridges in the entire country. And none of those bridges need repair to save them from collapse. That has never stopped politicians from fearmongering, however. "Our roads and bridges are falling apart; our airports are in Third World condition," Trump claimed during his 2016 campaign. Yet as the Heritage Foundation's Michael Sargent points out, the percentage of airport runways deemed as poor has fallen from 4 percent in 2004 to 2 percent in 2016. And for the past 30 years, the number of "acceptable" or above roads has remained relatively consistent at approximately 85 percent. Perhaps because they're constantly being told that America's roads are on the verge of disintegrating into dust, some voters aren't aware that federal, state and local governments spent $416 billion on transportation and water infrastructure in 2014—around the same 2.4 percent of gross domestic product they've been spending for decades. About $165 billion of that $416 billion, incidentally, was spent on highways. (This doesn't count the bipartisan Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act of 2015, which added another $305 billion over five years.) It's also worth remembering that when liberals talk about infrastructure, they don't necessarily mean roads or bridges or airports or water-processing plants. They mean expensive social engineering projects and Keynesian job-creation schemes. In 2017, Senate Democrats unveiled their own $1 trillion infrastructure plan, claiming the additional spending would create 15 million jobs over 10 years. Despite years of hearing otherwise, there is still no evidence that infrastructure bills create self-sustaining jobs—or any jobs, for that matter. According to a 2010 Associated Press analysis, the first 10 months of Obama's economic stimulus plan showed virtually no effect on local unemployment rates, which rose and fell regar[...]

The Senate Budget Deal Proves Republicans Love Government Spending

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 14:30:00 -0500

Warning: This post contains numbers that may upset anyone who dreams of a smaller government. With the Senate budget deal announced yesterday, congressional Republicans have proved that they aren't merely big spenders: They bear primary responsibility for Washington's complete lack of fiscal responsibility. At the same time, they have reaffirmed the fact that bipartisanship means a determination to spend us into oblivion. The bipartisan budget deal that the senators proclaimed so proudly yesterday would add $300 billion over two years to discretionary spending, not counting emergency funds and other add-ons. It would yet again burst the budget caps that Republicans negotiated in 2011 during a debt ceiling deal in exchange for giving more borrowing authority to the Department of Treasury. The debt ceiling would be hiked once again, allowing the Treasury to keep borrowing without asking Congress for an increase. Legislators wouldn't even have to pretend they care about how fast our national debt is growing. Trillion-dollars deficits are coming back fast and probably are here to stay. And this time you can't blame that on a recession or a major war. It's a direct result of a Republican spending binge—an unwillingness to couple tax cuts with reductions in spending. Republicans claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, but the GOP has repeatedly broken the budget caps imposed during the Obama administration. Yes, Democrats were often partners in these deals; they get a good portion of the blame too. But they have never pretended that they wanted these budget caps. And they could not have repeatedly broken through federal spending limits without Republicans leading the effort. The Budget Control Act of 2011 imposed separate caps on military and nonmilitary spending. Yet before the ink of President Obama's signature was dry on that deal, Republican hawks were throwing fits about imposing any fiscal restraint whatsoever on the Pentagon. The party that won't shut up about fraud and abuse in government when it's in the minority also believes that military spending is immune to waste, fraud, and abuse. Republicans refuse to accept that the Pentagon budget is burdened by a poorly designed spending strategy, which leads to malinvestment and outdated military goals. They also seem to believe that an increase in Pentagon spending always, always, always leads to more security and that the military budget should always go up, even when we are not at war. As a result, we've repeatedly witnessed Republican hawks make deals with Democrats that amount to mutual back scratching: You can spend more at home if we can spend more abroad. This week's deal resembles those earlier ones in many ways, except that it's even worse. Military spending caps were $549 billion. The Senate wants to jack that up to $629 billion, with an addition $71 billion for war supplementals and emergency funding. The total for this year would be a cozy $700 billion, rising to $716 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. In exchange, the Democrats get to hike nonmilitary spending by $131 billion over two years. The spending cap in this area stood at $516 in the 2018 fiscal year. It will now be $579 billion, with an extra $12 billion for war supplementals. That results in a sweet balance of $591 billion this year and $605 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. All this extra money will be spending on largely bipartisan priorities, such as infrastructure and the opioid crisis. The deal will probably pass in the House, despite the objections of the Freedom Caucus. Worse still, the Republican leadership is trying to sell this spending spree as a bipartisan budget victory. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a[...]