Free Markets, Free People

Doug Ross


Budget buzz–Obama’s effort seems to be unpopular on both sides of the political spectrum (update)

All sorts of coverage on the Obama budget, most of it negative.  While the White House spin machine works overtime to attempt to fashion a message saying the effort confronts the harsh fiscal reality we’re faced with and makes tough cuts and decisions, that’s not the way others are interpreting it.

Andrew Sullivan figured out Obama’s budget is a very political one:

But the core challenge of this time is not the cost of discretionary spending. Obama knows this; everyone knows this. The crisis is the cost of future entitlements and defense, about which Obama proposes nothing. Yes, there’s some blather. But Obama will not risk in any way any vulnerability on taxes to his right or entitlement spending to his left. He convened a deficit commission in order to throw it in the trash. If I were Alan Simpson or Erskine Bowles, I’d feel duped. And they were duped. All of us who took Obama’s pitch as fiscally responsible were duped.

Uh, yeah.  And it only took 3 years for Andy to figure it out. Speaking of the Simpson Bowles commission, Sullivan cites a David Brooks column where Brooks talks about a group of Senators who are taking the lead in writing up the recommendations of the commission for implementation. Says Sullivan of the effort:

They have to lead, because this president is too weak, too cautious, too beholden to politics over policy to lead. In this budget, in his refusal to do anything concrete to tackle the looming entitlement debt, in his failure to address the generational injustice, in his blithe indifference to the increasing danger of default, he has betrayed those of us who took him to be a serious president prepared to put the good of the country before his short term political interests. Like his State of the Union, this budget is good short term politics but such a massive pile of fiscal bullshit it makes it perfectly clear that Obama is kicking this vital issue down the road.

Lovely to see someone else finally realize that leadership is something this president knows nothing about, never has exercised and wouldn’t know how to do with a self-help book in front of him.  And, as Sullivan correctly surmises, this atrocity of a budget is firm proof of that (and no that doesn’t mean I endorse the Simpson Bowles commission – the point is about leadership).  Sullivan also finally ferrets out that the commission was nothing more than an artifice the president used to cover his rear and make it appear like he was focused on doing something about the fiscal shape of the UFederalSpending0471.002-thumb-440x330S government.  Instead we get exactly what those of us who’ve been on to this president’s act all along expected – pure politics.

John Hinderaker at Powerline gives graphic proof (left) that the media water carriers who are parroting the White House line about the President’s budget containing “steep” or “painful cuts” aren’t fooling anyone.  As you can see the only steep incline over the next few years is up.  There is nothing significant about any “cuts” or “savings” the Obama budget puts forward on the overall level of government spending except to keep the slope headed in a direction we can’t afford.

Instead it is more of the same simply couched in the same old obfuscating rhetoric that calls spending “investment” and taxation “savings”.  Someone needs to get the point across to Obama that the smoke and mirrors company in which he’s so heavily invested isn’t working for him anymore.

In fact, just to make the point even more evident, take a look at this chart by Doug Ross.  The yellow line you see (right) are the “steep” and “painful cuts” the president and some of the media are trying to pretend his budget is making.   Tough stuff, no?  No.  His steep and painful cuts are a veritable drop in the bucket and really do nothing structurally to actually cut spending to affordable and sustainable levels.  As Rep. Paul Ryan has said, Obama “punted” with this budget.110214-budget

Megan McArdle thinks, given this budget by the president, that it may finally be time to panic.

I was a laconic hawk when the deficits shot up in 2008, 2009, 2010.  A few years of deficits in an unprecedented crisis weren’t going to kill us; we had time to get them under control.

But I’m starting to think that it’s time to panic.  This deficit is $700 billion higher than the CBO projected in August 2009, of which $500 billion is lower tax revenues, and $200 billion is new spending.  It’s also $500 billion less revenue and $100 billion more spending than the CBO was expecting as late as August of last year, thanks to the extension of the Bush tax cuts.  For all that I keep hearing about deficit reduction and PAYGO rules, somehow those "fiscally responsible" Democrats have given us the largest peacetime deficit in history, one that keeps growing beyond all expectations–and for all their alleged worries about the budget deficit, so the Republican role in all of this has been to goad Democrats into cutting taxes even further, so that the wealthiest earners could enjoy their fair share of our collective fiscal insanity.

I know the arguments for stimulus, but at this point, I don’t think we can afford the luxury of a more stimulating economy.  Our politicians can’t be trusted to do the right thing later; we need to make them do it now.

I can’t emphasize that last sentence more.  If ever there was a time to do what is necessary to take a knife to the bloated government budget, it is now.   The public is as much on board as it will ever be and while it may whine and even scream and holler about some thing’s, most of the voters in this country know something pretty drastic must be done and done soon.

Even “Johnny one-note” Paul Krugman isn’t happy – for the usual reasons:

Andrew Leonard is right: the Obama budget isn’t going to happen, so in a sense it’s irrelevant. But it still has symbolic meaning. What is Obama saying here?

The important thing, I think, is that he has effectively given up on the idea that the government can do anything to create jobs in a depressed economy. In effect, although without saying so explicitly, the Obama administration has accepted the Republican claim that stimulus failed, and should never be tried again.

My favorite line in the Krugman piece was this:

What’s extraordinary about all this is that stimulus can’t have failed, because it never happened. Once you take state and local cutbacks into account, there was no surge of government spending.

Remember, what was spent was about $300 billion more than Krugman recommended.  But if it never happened I assume Krugman will now quit attempting to say that the trillion dollars which was thrown out there to stop the fall and stimulate growth did it’s job, right?  That was his previous stance and all that was needed was more spending to have an even greater effect.  Correct?   Now he’s in the middle of rewriting history:

Yes, I know, it’s argued that Obama couldn’t have gotten anything more. I don’t really want to revisit all of that; my point here is simply that everyone is drawing the wrong lesson. Fiscal policy didn’t fail; it wasn’t tried.

MIA – a trillion dollars.  Yeah, it “wasn’t tried”, was it?  About the nicest thing Krugman can muster to say about the Obama budget (in another article) is it isn’t the Republican budget:

It’s much less awful than the Republican proposal, but it moves in the same direction: listening to the administration, you’d think that discretionary spending, not health care, is at the heart of our long-run deficit problems — and you’d also think that the job of rescuing the economy was done, with unemployment still at 9 percent.

It could be worse — the GOP proposal is — but it’s hardly something to cheer about.

Well, we’ll see how much either is to cheer about when we take a look at the Republican budget.

Finally, to inject a little humor into a basically humorless debate – even if the humor is unintentional – read Jonathan Chait’s piece in The New Republic.  You get the idea he was on his third or fourth scotch and up late when he wrote it.  It is the journalistic equivalent of trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse and coming up with an ugly fuzzy pouch that smells like bacon.  Even his title points to a very tentative approval, something he had to talk himself into in order to make the attempt:  “Why Obama’s Budget Is OK”.   And while some of his points are valid (the president’s budget is a political document) how he got from some of his observations to some of his conclusions can only be explained by booze and sleep depravation.

UPDATE: Steve Eggleston has a good post up full of charts that makes the point with the government’s own numbers that Paul Ryan was right yesterday – “doing nothing would be better than passing [Obama’s] budget”.

~McQ


“Dealergate”: Things To Keep In Mind

Whether or not the decisions to close certain Chrysler dealerships was political motivated is still an open question, and based mostly on anecdotal evidence as well as an incomplete analysis data. Regardless, the evidence available thusfar, when viewed in light of the Obama administration’s previously demonstrated willingness to meddle for partisan gain (UAW anyone?), suggests that in the very least more investigation is warranted.

As the investigation unfolds (the yeoman’s work of which is being done by Doug Ross and Joey Smith), there are couple of things to keep in mind. Although many people have referred to the closing list of dealerships as a “hit list” it makes much more sense to concentrate on the dealerships remaining open and regarding it as a potential “friends Obama supports” list. By way of example, the evidence unearthed by Joey Smith regarding the RLJ-McLarty-Landers enterprise reveals that big time Democrat donors and partisans are reaping enormous benefits from the Chrysler plan in the form of all its competition being wiped out. So who owns this luckiest of dealerships?:

In my analysis of the Chrysler dealers that will remain open, I came across one dealer group that stood out to me.
The company is called RLJ-McLarty-Landers, and it operates six Chrysler dealerships throughout the South. All six dealerships are safe from closing.

[...]

The interesting part is who the three main owners of the company are. The owners are Steve Landers (long-time car dealer, 4th-generation dealer), Thomas “Mack” McLarty (former Chief of Staff for President Clinton), and Robert Johnson (founder of Black Entertainment Television and co-owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats). Landers has given money to Republicans in the past, but McLarty campaigned for Obama in 2008, and Johnson has given countless amounts of money to Democrats over the years.

Smith has found a similar fortune for Lithia Motors, whose CEO Sidney Deboer is a Democratic donor (although he’s also given to Republicans) and has come out publicly in favor of the Obama administration.

Of course, all of this is still anecdotal, but the planned closings look awfully fishy when the list of canceled dealerships is so totally dominated by Republican donors, and the list of survivors features prominent Democrat supporters.

Regardless of the above, Nate Silver has provided the excuse for Obama supporters to safely ignore this story by declaring the percentage of Republican car dealers to be so high in comparison to Democrats, that there should be little to no surprise when the closing list is so chock full of GOP partisans:

There is just one problem with this theory. Nobody has bothered to look up data for the control group: the list of dealerships which aren’t being closed. It turns out that all car dealers are, in fact, overwhelmingly more likely to donate to Republicans than to Democrats — not just those who are having their doors closed.

[...]

Overall, 88 percent of the contributions from car dealers went to Republican candidates and just 12 percent to Democratic candidates. By comparison, the list of dealers on Doug Ross’s list (which I haven’t vetted, but I assume is fine) gave 92 percent of their money to Republicans — not really a significant difference.

There’s no conspiracy here, folks — just some bad math.

Despite what Silver asserts (i.e. that the control group of non-closing dealerships should be examined), he does no such thing. Instead, he researches the Huffington Post’s Fundrace database for donations from car dealers to arrive at his decision that such occupation gives to the GOP at the tune of 8-1. However, Open Secrets arrives at a much different conclusion, especially over the long term, in which dealers only gave to the GOP at approximately a 3.5-1 clip. At those numbers, one would expect to find somewhere around a quarter of the closings to affect Democrat donors, instead of the 2.36% found thus far:

In fact, I have thus far found only a single Obama donor ($200 from Jeffrey Hunter of Waco, Texas) on the closing list.

Another review of all 789 closing dealerships, by WND, found $450,000 donated to GOP presidential candidates; $7,970 to Sen. Hillary Clinton; $2,200 to John Edwards and $450 to Barack Obama.

Of course, it’s important to remember that statistics do not prove the existence of anything, just its likelihood of existing. Nevertheless, the details uncovered so far suggest that partisanship may have indeed played a role in deciding which franchises remained open.

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