Spending

Why The Sequester Is Important

United States Capitol

On March 1st, the so-called sequester which is a series of automatic spending “cuts” that were agreed to in 2011 are supposed to take effect. The “cuts” are supposed to be around $1.2 trillion over 10 years spread equally among defense and non-defense spending. Democrats are complaining how women, children, and old people will be (insert one or more of the following here) starved, made homeless, and/or impoverished by the “cuts” in social welfare programs. Republican defense hawks are claiming that sequester will destroy the US military. Both groups also claim the sequester will put the economy back into recession and/or maybe even a depression. Indeed, both groups say that the sequester should be avoided at all costs and that we should “raise revenues” which is Washington speak for raising taxes to cover the amount that was supposed to be “cut”. However, if we are ever going to get our nation’s fiscal house in order, we have to allow the sequester to take effect.

Why I Hate The Sequester

Although I do believe that the sequester must be allowed to take effect, I don’t like it. For starters, $1.2 trillion in “cuts” (which are not actual budget cuts but instead are merely reductions in the rate of spending growth) is a very small amount when you look at how grave the nation’s financial condition is.

Secondly, the sequester does nothing to address entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare which are the two long-term drivers of future financial problems.

Third, the Democrats do have a point when they say the cuts fall disproportionately on non-defense spending. The Department of Defense is the largest single item of discretionary spending and all other agencies combined do not equal it. But the DoD is only taking 50% of the cuts.

The 100th Anniversary of the Income Tax…and the Lesson We Should Learn from that Mistake

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

What’s the worst thing about Delaware?

No, not Joe Biden. He’s just a typical feckless politician and the butt of some good jokes.

Instead, the so-called First State is actually the Worst State because almost exactly 100 years ago, on February 3, 1913, Delaware made the personal income tax possible by ratifying the 16th Amendment.

Though, to be fair, I suppose the 35 states that already had ratified the Amendment were more despicable since they were even more anxious to enable this noxious levy.

But let’s not get bogged down in details. The purpose of this post is not to re-hash history, but to instead ask what lessons we can learn from the adoption of the income tax.

The most obvious lesson is that politicians can’t be trusted with additional powers. The first income tax had a top tax rate of just 7 percent and the entire tax code was 400 pages long. Now we have a top tax rate of 39.6 percent (even higher if you include additional levies for Medicare and Obamacare) and the tax code has become a 72,000-page monstrosity.

But the main lesson I want to discuss today is that giving politicians a new source of money inevitably leads to much higher spending.

We Are All Modern Monetary Theorists Now

As a consequence of loose monetary policy with a fiat currency, the United States is rapidly descending into an economic reality of Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT.  While MMT (also known as Chartalism) is typically associated with its Keynesian predecessor and the policies of the Left, new developments reveal that both parties are responsible for the slip into a brave new economic world.

Essentially, there are four preconditions in Modern Monetary Theory:

1) Money enters the economy through government spending, as the total amount of money is constrained not by gold but by the total output of the national economy;
2) Government spending is speculative as it prints as much money as it needs to control production and, as a byproduct, employment, and spending beyond productive capacity leads to inflation;
3) Taxes do not pay for expenditures but are instead a way to throttle private sector demand; and
4) The government is the issuer of the currency, sovereign governments that issue their own currency are never insolvent, so debts essentially don’t matter.

Paul Ryan: “We would have fixed this fiscal mess by now” under Clinton

During an interview on Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) suggested that if Bill Clinton were president that the fiscal issues facing the United States could be worked out.

Ryan, who has served in Congress since 1999 and was the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, told David Gregory on Meet the Press that “if we had a Clinton presidency, if we had Erskine Bowles chief-of-staff at the White House, or President of the United States, I think we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now.” Ryan added, “That’s not the kind of presidency we’re dealing with right now.”

Noel Sheppard, who covered the story at Newsbusters, snarked, “one wonders if Ryan meant a Bill Clinton presidency or a Hillary Clinton presidency.” That aside, Ryan has a point that’s worth expounding upon.

Despite friction between then-President Clinton during the 1990s, Republicans in Congress were able to pass a balanced budget and enact welfare reform and pass capital gains tax cuts. While not all was perfect during these years as Republicans began their slide toward big government, a Democratic president and Republican-controlled legislature were able to reach a compromises that led to a largely prosperous era.

The Sequester May Not Be ‘Fair,’ but It’s Real and It Would Slow the Growth of Government

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Much to the horror of various interest groups, it appears that there will be a “sequester” on March 1.

This means an automatic reduction in spending authority for selected programs (interest payments are exempt, as are most entitlement outlays).

Just about everybody in Washington is frantic about the sequester, which supposedly will mean “savage” and “draconian” budget cuts.

If only. That would be like porn for libertarians.

In reality, the sequester merely means a reduction in the growth of federal spending. Even if we have the sequester, the burden of government spending will still be about $2 trillion higher in 10 years.

The other common argument against the sequester is that it represents an unthinking “meat-ax” approach to the federal budget.

But a former congressional staffer and White House appointee says this is much better than doing nothing.

Here’s some of what Professor Jeff Bergner wrote for today’s Wall Street Journal:

Is Anybody Surprised that Krugman Was Wrong about U.K. Fiscal Policy?

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Just like in the United States, politicians in the United Kingdom use the deceptive practice of “baseline budgeting” as part of fiscal policy.

This means the politicians can increase spending, but simultaneously claim they are cutting spending because the budget could have expanded at an even faster pace.

Sort of like saying your diet is successful because you’re only gaining two pounds a week rather than five pounds.

Anyhow, some people get deluded by this chicanery. Paul Krugman, for instance, complained in 2011 that “the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback.”

Rocketing Towards the True Fiscal Cliff

You mad, bro?

Now that the “fiscal cliff” deal is law, we move on to the next acts in this kabuki theater we call Congress. The fiscal cliff deal locked in most of the Bush-era tax rates permanently, raised taxes on the highest earners, allowed the payroll tax to increase on all earners (a shock to many Democrats, who thought the re-coronation of the Obamessiah exempted them from more taxes). It once again kicked the can of spending excess, specifically entitlement spending, down the road. It supposedly reduces the huge annual deficits, yet will bring in only $620 billion over ten years (enough revenue in a decade to pay HALF of THIS year’s deficit). Since entitlement spending drives our growth in debt, the fiscal cliff deal did not avert a fiscal crisis; it simply delayed it and insured that it will be much worse when it hits.

The irony is that Obama’s fiscal cliff deal theoretically demands higher taxes for “fairness,” to get the rich to carry more of the burden. However, a recent Huffington Post article quotes Professor Emmanuel Saez of UC-Berkeley, who reveals that income inequality is actually higher under Obama than it was under Bush. Or, as the writer explains, “That means the rising tide has lifted fewer boats during the Obama years — and the ones it’s lifted have been mostly yachts.” In other words, his uber-rich friends hit the jackpot even as the poor and middle class he supposedly protects suffer more.

Despite hand-wringing and breathless proclamations of impending doom, Congress and Obama showed they were completely unserious about fixing the problem, voting on the “fiscal cliff” bill without having a clue what was in it. According to Congressman Ron Paul, the bill was voted on in the House just 22-hours after the text was made available, and the Senate voted on the 154-page bill just three minutes after it was presented.

Rand Paul’s New Plan to Prioritize Spending

Rand Paul

Senator Rand Paul has a new plan to prioritize government spending in order to stave off defaults and bring the country back towards solvency:

In a renewed attempt to force President Barack Obama’s hand on the debt limit, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul is pushing legislation that would ban federal spending on anything but interest payments on the national debt, Social Security checks, and military salaries.

Paul, who is traveling through Israel this week, told Business Insider here Thursday that he believes the GOP should take a more pro-active approach to the coming fight over raising the debt ceiling. Rather than march the country toward a government shutdown — and spook markets with possible default — Paul argued that Republicans should pass a bill that would force the government to prioritize payments to bondholders.

Real Defense Budget Alternatives

With the “fiscal cliff” behind us, it’s important to remember that in less than two months, the Congress will be dealing with another manufactured crisis: The budget cuts of the 2011 Budget Control Act known as “sequestration.”  The Department of Defense will bear 41% of the prescribed cuts, eliminating an additional $492 billion over 10 years.  Although entitlement spending will also be on the table, the initial fight will be over cuts to the Defense budget.

A new study by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation concludes that the defense budget cuts cannot be taken without altering our overall defense strategy, and that “the department should modify defense strategy to fit the new resource constraints and prepare its course of action sooner rather than later.”

The authors highlight three alternative strategies, which anyone interested in this topic should read and consider.  An accompanying article by the authors states, “Reductions of the magnitude implied by sequestration—some $500 billion over the coming decade—cannot be accommodated without a re-examination of current defense strategy.”

A Compact for America to Rein in Government

Written by Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that the one thing missing from the newly minted Constitution was some kind of limit on federal debt:

I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government to the genuine principles of its Constitution; I mean an additional article, taking from the federal government the power of borrowing.

Now that Washington has kicked the can on our out-of-control spending yet again, isn’t it time to reconsider Jefferson’s wish?

It may be easier than previously thought, through an ingenious spin on the balanced budget amendment (BBA).  Compact for America, a Texas-based nonprofit advised by the Goldwater Institute’s Nick Dranias, is advancing an agreement among the states — called an “interstate compact” — to transform the constitutional amendment process into a “turn-key” operation.  That is, a single interstate compact can consolidate all the state action involved in the Article V process: the application to Congress for an amendment convention, delegate appointments and instructions, selection of the convention location and rules, and ultimate ratification.  It then consolidates all the corresponding congressional action, both the call for the convention and ratification referral, into a single omnibus concurrent resolution.


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