Sunday, January 15, 2012

Can a Nonexistent Congress Issue $1.2 Trillion in Debt?

Pursuant to the Budget Control Act, brought to you by the GOP leadership’s sellout, Obama notified Congress yesterday that the federal debt is approaching the statutory ceiling of $15.194 trillion. [The actual total debt is already $15.237 trillion, but a small amount is not subject to the limit.]  As such, he is calling on Congress to grant him another $1.2 trillion in debt, conveniently enough to last him until after the election, with the possibility of saddling his successor with a tough decision over yet another debt limit increase.  It is really more of a notification than a request.  Obama will automatically receive his $1.2 trillion supercharged credit card unless two-thirds of Congress votes to disapprove of the request within 15 days.

In just three years, he has accrued $4.6 trillion in debt, more than Bush amassed during his entire eight-year tenure.  Now he will add another $1.2 trillion by the end of his first term, and, thanks to the horrendous budget deal, which was cheered on by the same outlets that are now fawning over Mitt Romney, there’s nothing we can do about it.

But here’s the question: If Congress is in recess and cannot fulfill its responsibility to advice and consent, as the President has suggested, how can Obama fulfill his obligation of submitting a certification to Congress?

The Budge Control Act requires the following of Obama:
“the President submits a written certification to Congress that the President has determined that the debt subject to limit is within $100,000,000,000 of the limit in section 3101(b) and that further borrowing is required to meet existing commitments, the Secretary of the Treasury may exercise authority to borrow an additional $900,000,000,000, subject to the enactment of a joint resolution of disapproval enacted pursuant to this section. Upon submission of such certification, the limit on debt provided in section 3101(b) (referred to in this section as the ‘debt limit’) is increased by $400,000,000,000.”
Is this submission invalid?  Do we need a new submission to start the 15 days Congress has to disapprove of the increase in debt?  How was the House able to file the resolution of disapproval and set up a vote for next week?   After all, Congress is all but gone, according to Obama.

If Obama wants Congress to issue $1.2 trillion of debt while their gone, imagine what they can do when they’re “in session.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Our Task Moving Forward: Focus On Congress

Irrespective of the outcome of the presidential primaries, it is highly unlikely that we will nominate a reliable and consistent conservative.  Unfortunately, with the exceptions of Coolidge, Goldwater, and Reagan, we never do.  Not on a presidential level.  This year we might nominate someone who is not a conservative at all.  Perforce, our most important task going forward (aside for defeating Obama) is to win majorities in both houses of Congress.

What is even more essential is that we elect enough reliable conservatives – ones who will keep their campaign pledges – that we will not be relegated to the minority in those majorities.  With the prospect of electing an unpredictable Republican president, in conjunction with tepid leadership in Congress, it is vital that we choose Republicans who will stand on principle, not benchwarmers who will merely serve as yes-men for leadership.

Last year, many of us thought we achieved a historic breakthrough by electing 87 “Tea Party” freshmen.  Undoubtedly, many of them have been stalwart fighters for liberty and the limited government principles that buoyed them into office.  Unfortunately, many of them voted for the debt deal and every single spending bill, in violation of multiple campaign pledges.  Indeed, many of them are anything but Tea Party leaders.
One of the unwavering and indefatigable members of the freshmen class, Mick Mulvaney, had this to say about his fellow rookies:
“I would be embarrassed to tell you how many folks ran saying that they weren’t going to spend a bunch of money, they weren’t going to raise the debt ceiling, and then they went to Washington, D.C., and did exactly that.” My dad told me something long before I was in politics, and when your dad gives you advice every single day, eventually one or two of the things stick in your mind. And he said, don’t believe what people say, believe what they do.”
“We cannot have another experience like we’ve had in my freshman class, of people saying one thing and doing another.”

Thus, despite Republicans winning control of the House, we are still a minority in the majority.
We must internalize this lesson and commit ourselves to harness any opportunity to elect a steadfast conservative.  We have very little time this year because all of the primaries have been moved up for the presidential election.  There are many solid conservative districts with members who supported every solitary sellout of the legislative session.  The disappointment of the presidential election is serving as my inspiration to highlight these races in the coming weeks.  Hopefully, you will share that inspiration as well.

For now, there are some clear winners in the Senate races.  Here is a list to build on:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Multiple Choice Mitt’s Changing Colors on Romneycare

April 12, 2006 is a day that will live on in infamy.  That was the day that then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed his signature socialized healthcare bill into law with Ted Kennedy standing over his shoulder.  It was the first time in American history that government of any sort compelled its citizenry to purchase health insurance.  It served as the catalyst for an individual mandate on a federal level, paving the road for Obamacare.

At the time, John Kerry heaped accolades on Romney, ominously suggesting that “we really need to be doing that on the national level.” Ted Kennedy praised it as “just what the doctor ordered,” and observed that we “may well have fired a shot heard round the world.”  It took less than four years for the shot to metastasize into a bombardment – one that will permanently attenuate our free-enterprise economy.

So how did Romney feel about his signature accomplishment of an otherwise uninspiring one-term tenure as governor?

At the time of its passage, Romney dubbed it as a “once in a generation” achievement.  He referred to his magnum opus, which created subsidies for government run exchanges (larger than those created under Obamacare), as a “landmark” achievement “to get all of our citizens insurance without some new government-mandated takeover.”

From Romney’s perspective, did he consider final passage of MassCare a meritorious ideal or a mediocre compromise watered down by the Democrat legislature?

Well, immediately after he signed the bill into law, he told Newsweek reporter Jennifer Barrett that “the final legislation incorporates about 95 percent of my original proposal.”

At the time, did Romney feel that the framework for his healthcare plan was a virtuous policy endeavor for the rest of the nation?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Romneycare, Bain Capital, 2012, and the Lost Opportunity to Assail Obamacare

“Romney’s career as a venture socialist governor is what should concern us; not his career as a venture capitalist in the private sector.”
At this point, residents of South Carolina are already getting tired of those TV ads and documentaries detailing the destruction wrought by Romneycare.  They are jaded by the flashing screens of middle class sob stories from respectable Massachusetts taxpayers – taxpayers who never requested handouts – being forced to struggle with skyrocketing health insurance costs as a result of the market-distortions engendered by Romneycare.

Every South Carolina resident can recite the now infamous closing line of the anti-Romney ads by heart: “shall we nominate the grandfather of Obamacare to run against its father?”

Oh, wait.  Those ads never ran.

Amidst this week’s contretemps over Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, for some reason, we are obscuring the real albatross around Romney’s neck; the issue of healthcare.  While Romney’s record at Bain might provide Obama with his biggest campaign weapon, Romneycare will disarm Romney, and by extension, all Republicans, of our biggest campaign weapon, namely, Obamacare.  And while Bain might provide Romney’s Republican opponents with a useful political argument (Romney’s electability problems in the general election), it does not provide them with a prudent and virtuous ideological argument.  Romneycare, on the other hand, provides the Mitt-alternatives with inviolable ideological arguments as well as political ones.

Romneycare is the antecedent to Obamacare.  It dramatically distorted the free-market of private insurance; it dumped a few hundred thousand people onto federally funded Medicaid; it set up gov’t-run exchanges that disincentivize success and offer larger subsidies than those proposed in Obamacare; it placed unreasonable mandates on employers to fund their employee’s healthcare.  The net result of Romneycare was the archetypical outcome of every statist policy; the price of a vital service was purposely distorted as a means of enticing more people to become dependent upon government.

Yes, it was all orchestrated by state government, not the federal government.  Such a rationalization, according to Mitt, will ameliorate all of Romneycare’s vices – vices that are identical to those inherent in Obamacare.  Somehow, regressive statism is desirable simply because Romney had the “right” to implement it as governor of a state.

Oh Yes, It’s in Article 1

At the beginning of the 112th Congress, as part of an effort to inject more transparency into the legislative process, the House adopted a rule requiring that each bill be accompanied by a Constitutional Authority Statement.  The purpose of the rule was to expose the cavalier attitude of those members who desire to legislate ‘just because they can.’

Well, after a year of legislating under this rule, it appears that we are in serious need of accountability measures to provide some clarity and specificity to the authority statement.  Otherwise, the rule will be regarded as yet another “transparency” gimmick of Congress.

Republican congressional staffers combed through almost 3800 bills and joint resolutions that have been introduced this year, in an effort to gauge the clarity and specificity of the Constitutional Authority Statements.  For the most part, the results are pretty pathetic.  Here are some of their key findings:
  • Overall, 945 bills contained authority statements which do not reference a specific power granted by the Constitution.  Many of these merely cited “Article 1” or “Article 1 Section 1” “Article 1 Section 8.” In other words, they just cited the fact that Congress has the power to legislate, but failed to divulge which constitutional power or specific clause is supporting their legislation.
  • There were 732 bills which only referenced the commerce clause, 660 which only referenced the general welfare clause, and 321 which mentioned the necessary and proper clause without reference to a previous Constitutional clause to which the necessary and proper clause might apply.
  • In total, there were 2658 Constitutional Authority Statements that were either questionable or vague.  That represents roughly 69% of all bills and resolutions introduced in the 1st Session of the 112th Congress.
  • While more of the vague citations are attributable to Democrat bill sponsors, many Republicans were lax in offering meaningful authority statements.  Almost as many Republicans used the inexplicit commerce clause as Democrats.
After the first year of the Constitutional Authority rule, it is clear that it has failed to dissuade members from proposing frivolous legislation.  At a minimum, every authority statement should detail the specific clause and power that authorizes the legislation.  Moreover, the statement should be accompanied by a brief explanation describing the reason why there is a constitutional mandate for that particular bill.  Without further improvements, this rule is just a waste of ink and paper.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Anatomy of a Keynesian Recovery

Almost two and a half years since the recession officially ended, we are finally observing a modest recovery in the job market.  Even if we discount the 42,000 new holiday season jobs for “couriers and messengers,” there is clearly some jobs growth in key sectors of the economy.  Unfortunately, aside for the fact that the recovery is languid and underwhelming by historical standards, it is also unwholesome.  Our economic recovery is similar to a computer that is repaired from a serious virus; it functions adequately but is never the same.  In other words, we are reaping the benefits of a government-managed Keynesian recovery.

During 2008-2009, instead of letting the economy settle and enjoy a robust recovery through the perennial business cycle, the Bush and Obama administrations engaged in fiscal stimulus, monetary stimulus, housing stimulus, bailouts, and takeovers of major industries.  Perforce, our economy, as much is it will inevitably recover, will be fundamentally weaker than it was prior to the recession.  Historically, we have always come out of recessions in a stronger position than prior to the economic downturn, but not this time.

Nothing is more emblematic of our permanently damaged economy than the interminable shrinkage of our labor force.  Our labor force is roughly 850,000 smaller than it was when the recession ended in middle of 2009, even though the civilian population of working age people has increased by roughly 4 million.  At this point in the Reagan recovery, the labor force had expanded by 4 million.

The labor force participation rate has steadily declined from 65.7% in mid-2009 to 64.0%, even as unemployment has eased.  During that same period, almost another 200,000 people gave up looking for work.  If the participation rate were back to its recent average, the U3 unemployment rate would be well over 11%.  This is not even accounting for the U6 number of underemployed and part-time workers, which is still astronomically high (15.2%).  Overall, 23.7 million are either out of work or underemployed.

Oh, and what about the fact that the Black unemployment rate has climbed another 0.8% to 15.8% over the past three months?  Is this good news?  Or is it more soft bigotry of low expectations?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Biggest Mistake of the Worst Debate

Let’s face it: the ABC News New Hampshire debate was the worst debate of the entire election cycle.  And that is saying something, considering the sheer volume of debates.  How many years and election cycles will it take before Republicans learn to turn to conservatives as moderators for presidential debates, instead of washed up Democrat hacks disguised as journalists?

Now, to the extent that such a pathetic debate is worthy of any analysis, the clear winner was Mitt Romney.  Watching the debate, you’d think Ron Paul was the frontrunner.  All of the verbal altercations played out between Ron Paul and one of the other candidates.  Romney was able to sit pretty throughout the entire debate, except for one monologue from Santorum at the end of the debate.  Undoubtedly, the platform for the debate, along with the inane questions, wasn’t exactly conducive to attacking Romney’s liberal record as governor.  However, they all had an opportunity during the opening salvo of the debate.  They failed miserably.

The candidates were given an opportunity to assail Romney’s business record at Bain Capital as a job killer.  Gingrich and Santorum should have parried the question and gone after Romney on his record in politics.  They should have praised Romney’s record as a businessman while ticking off his liberal vices and his terrible record as Governor, most prominently, his record on healthcare.  They should have decried the fact that we are on the precipice of nominating Obama’s inspiration for Obamacare as his successor.  Instead, they chose an awkward position – one that placed them to Romney’s left on free-market entrepreneurship.  Why attack his record as a CEO when you can destroy him on his liberal record as governor?  This was the biggest mistake on the part of those who are seeking to derail Romney.

To be sure, it was refreshing to hear Santorum finally take Romney to task for his class system rhetoric; however, he obviated his argument by making “blue collar worker” a prominent part of his lexicon.  Santorum should have also used that response as an opportunity to attack Romneycare for its inherent class warfare.  Romneycare disincentivizes success and upward mobility by offering greater subsidies for lower income earners.

I still can’t get over the fact that we are about to nominate the godfather of market-distorting government-run healthcare in an election against government-run healthcare.  This is insane.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Obama’s Imaginary Senate Recess

Yesterday, Barack Obama engaged in one of the most unprecedented assaults on the Constitution.  He appointed Richard Cordray as the first chief of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and named three new members to the National Labor Relations Board, even though the Senate did not approve them and is not in recess.  Obama employed absurd casuistry to suggest that the Senate has in fact been in recess for weeks:
Here are the facts:  The Constitution gives the President the authority to make temporary recess appointments to fill vacant positions when the Senate is in recess, a power all recent Presidents have exercised.  The Senate has effectively been in recess for weeks, and is expected to remain in recess for weeks.  In an overt attempt to prevent the President from exercising his authority during this period, Republican Senators insisted on using a gimmick called “pro forma” sessions, which are sessions during which no Senate business is conducted and instead one or two Senators simply gavel in and out of session in a matter of seconds.  But gimmicks do not override the President’s constitutional authority to make appointments to keep the government running.  Legal experts agree.  In fact, the lawyers who advised President Bush on recess appointments wrote that the Senate cannot use sham “pro forma” sessions to prevent the President from exercising a constitutional power.
You might have been at the golf course on December 23, Mr. President, but here are the real facts.  On that day, during a “gimmicky” pro forma session, the House and Senate passed a sweeping tax extenders bill, which granted tax cuts to almost every worker, unemployment benefits to millions of the jobless, and reimbursement payments to hundreds of thousands of healthcare providers.  That is much more consequential than a few agency appointments.  If Congress can do all that during a “recess,” they certainly have the ability to advise and consent on a handful of executive branch nominations.

And if a pro forma session is indeed considered a recess, can we now vitiate the ridiculous two-month extenders package?  What if Congress would send you another stimulus bill to sign during a “gimmick” pro-forma session; would you reject it?  As you know, Mr. President, many consequential things can occur during those few “seconds.”

Update: House Democrats seem to disagree with Obama.  They held a press conference calling on Republicans to come back to Washington and join them in working on the conference committee for the extenders package.  That’s some recess going on there.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Result of Iowa: They Didn’t Want Mitt in 2008;They Don’t Want Him Now

The results of the Iowa Caucuses are in.  To the extent that you can draw conclusions from the votes of 123,000 individuals, here are some quick observations.

1) The Media will invariably focus on which conservative candidates should drop out.  They will also focus on the fact that there is nobody who has a definitive roadmap to defeat Romney.  But the larger point they will overlook is how much the Republican electorate dislikes Romney.  He spent million of dollars in 2008 and got crushed by Huckabee.  He spent millions of dollars this year, yet he failed to improve on his 2008 showing (Santorum spent just $30,000 on ads).  The punchline is that 75% of GOP voters are willing to vote for anyone anyone against Romney.

2) It appears that Romney’s base of support is limited to rich secular voters.  That’s not exactly the appeal you want to have going into this election.  There is very little overlap between Romney’s 2008 voters and his current supporters.  In other words, he is last cycle’s McCain.

3) As we head into New Hampshire and South Carolina, I have a feeling that Romney will finally incur aggressive and sustained attacks from multiple candidates.  In particular, Newt is seeking his revenge – to the extent that he wants Romney to lose more than he wants to win himself.

4) With 27% of the electorate being Independent voters, and Ron Paul garnering support of almost half those voters, can we finally end this nonsense of having non-Republicans vote in a Republican primary/caucus?

5) With the prospects of electing a conservative president becoming dimmer by the day, we really need to divert some of our attention to the congressional races.  In a presidential election year, all of the primaries are much earlier, including those for Senate and House candidates.  We need to mobilize for conservatives down the ticket.  Our Republican president will need a strong conservative Congress to prevent a rehash of the 2001-2006 era of compassionate conservatism.

6) The most important observation from Iowa?  Republicans are dramatically underwhelmed by the current field.  In a year when Republicans are fired up to defeat Obama, they barley broke the 2008 turnout record, and when the increase in Independent voters is factored in, there were probably less Republican voters this time around.  Unlike previous elections, there is a huge opportunity for a conservative candidate to enter the race and sweep the field.  Unless someone else gets in, Gingrich appears to be the only one who still has a decent level of national support to drag Romney into a protracted primary battle.

7) On a personal level, I’ve always said that I would support the anti-Romney whomever that would be (except for Paul), just as I would support any Republicans nominee against Obama in the general election.  For now, with Perry headed back to Texas and Santorum with little support outside of Iowa, it appears that Newt is the only hope for those who proudly declare: Mittens Delenda Est.  McCain’s impending endorsement of Romney will only galvanize us to kill (politically, of course) two Republican imposters with one stone.

Is Harry Reid Really the Most Successful Majority Leader?

Yesterday, Roll Call published an article suggesting that Harry Reid has had quite an auspicious year as Majority Leader.  They observe the fact that Reid has won a larger percentage of cloture votes this year than in 2010, even though his caucus has been diminished from 59 senators to 53:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid managed to win more than half of the filibuster-breaking votes on the Senate floor in 2011, besting his success rate from the previous year.
Of the 32 cloture votes pushed by the Nevada Democrat this year, Reid won 19, or 59 percent. He lost 13 cloture votes.
That comes after hitting a success rate of 54 percent in 2010, when he won 28 cloture votes and lost 24. Sixty votes are needed to cut off debate and kill a filibuster, or invoke cloture.
Reid’s majority shrunk from 59 Senators in 2010 to 53 in 2011, increasing the number of Republicans needed to vote with the majority of Democrats in order to reach the 60-vote threshold.
I’ll be the first person to tell you that Senate Republicans have capitulated too much this year; however, that is not the primary reason for Harry Reid’s successful cloture record.  His high degree of success this year is more a symptom of a do-nothing Senate than a successful rate of filibuster-busting on the part of Reid.  In fact, there have been very few actual filibusters this session, and the few that were mounted were successful.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Quash the Ethanol Beast in Honor of Iowa Caucuses

We still have work to do in ridding ourselves of the ethanol juggernaut

As the clock struck 12 am January 1, one of the most anti free market government interventions expired without renewal and without fanfare.  In honor of the Iowa Caucuses, we can now declare that the ethanol subsidies and tariffs are finally dead.  However, before we celebrate this rare piece of good news, we must remember that in order to deracinate the ethanol beast from our midst, we must destroy its third leg; the 10% blenders mandate.

Over the past decade, ethanol has been the poster child for the worst aspects of big-government crony capitalism.  The ethanol industry has used the fist of government to mandate that fuel blenders use their product, to subsidize their production with refundable tax credits, and to impose tariffs on more efficient sugar-based ethanol from Brazil.

This onerous mega-intervention on the part of government has had a devastating effect on the price of food and gas and it has forced consumers to purchase inefficient and often damaging fuel.  Yet worst of all, it has enriched an industry that would have otherwise faltered in the natural order of the free-market.  Ethanol production has increased 719% during the past decade, as almost half of all corn grown in the country is diverted for this unnatural and odious use of a product that was traditionally grown for livestock feed.  Government-backed venture socialism is indeed a powerful force.

Ethanol blenders have benefited from the 45-cent per gallon Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), which may be refundable for those companies that lack any excise tax liability.  The ethanol industry has pocketed over $45 billion in subsidies since 1980, with a $6 billion annual price tag in recent years.  Additionally, all foreign ethanol imports incurred a 54-cent-per-gallon import tariff, which coupled with a mandatory 2.5% ad valorem tax, adds up to an increased cost of about $0.60 per gallon.

These two policies are unlikely to be renewed; however, the most egregious part of the three-legged ethanol beast –the mandate – is still intact.  Industry leaders are employing a rope-a-dope strategy vis-à-vis the subsidies, while launching a counterattack to double down on the mandates.  They must be stopped.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Will Obama be a Debt Man Walking in 2012?

2011 was a disastrous year for our debt.  Yes, the Republican Congress prevented Obama from passing his budget, which would have added $1.6 trillion in new deficit spending.  Instead, they passed a budget that added an additional $1.3 trillion to the national debt.  Overall, federal outlays in FY 2011 (which ended September 30) were $141 billion more than the previous year.  For FY 2012, thanks to the disastrous omnibus bill, we are on pace to spend at least an additional $55 billion, including $10 billion more in discretionary spending.  With welfare programs skyrocketing out of control, and as unemployment continues to remain abnormally high, those mandatory spending estimates will ineluctably be revised upward.

This president is so pathetic that after just three years in office he has accrued $4.5 trillion in debt, worth 30% of our current GDP.  That’s more debt than Bush’s compassionate conservatism left us with after eight years in office.  By the end of his first (and hopefully, only) term, he will leave the taxpayers with a $5.7-$5.9 trillion bill.  Historically, most major spikes in deficit spending were precipitated by major increases in defense and war spending.  This president will rack up record deficits even as he downsizes the military.  In their chart of the week, the Heritage Foundation compares the average annual deficits of each president as a percentage of GDP.  As you can see, it is no contest:

As this election year begins to mature, we will finally receive an answer to the $15 trillion question: With 47 million people on food stamps, 50 million on Medicaid, and almost 50% not paying taxes, are there enough people who care?