Free Markets, Free People
I don’t understand the glee with which the left has greeted this story:
Warren Buffett is ready to call Republicans’ tax bluff. Last fall, Senator Mitch McConnell said that if Buffett were feeling “guilty” about paying too little in taxes, he should “send in a check.” The jab was in response to Buffett’s August 2011 New York Times op-ed, which made hay of the fact that our tax system is so unbalanced, Buffett (worth about $45 billion) pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Senator John Thune promptly introduced the “Buffett Rule Act,” an option on tax forms that would allow the rich to donate more in taxes to help pay down the national debt. It was, as Buffett told me for this week’s TIME cover story, “a tax policy only a Republican could come up with.”
Still, he’s willing to take them up on it. “It restores my faith in human nature to think that there are people who have been around Washington all this time and are not yet so cynical as to think that [the deficit] can’t be solved by voluntary contributions,” he says with a chuckle. So Buffett has pledged to match 1 for 1 all such voluntary contributions made by Republican members of Congress. “And I’ll even go 3 for 1 for McConnell,” he says.
What “bluff”? I don’t recall any of the Republicans in question complaining they paid too little in taxes, do you?
Instead it was about Buffet claiming he paid to little in taxes and his further claim that he was willing to pay more. What Republicans then promptly suggested is that he do so and even provided him an address to where he could send his voluntary contribution. They also insisted that taxes were high enough for all and that Buffett should speak for himself.
Now, at least as I see it, he’s trying to wiggle out of it by citing some sort of non-existent bluff which requires payment by Republicans before he is willing to pay.
Man up Warren Buffet … You made the claim and were provided with a solution. This has nothing to do with others paying as well, this is your baby.
Put up or shut up about paying more in taxes. You’ve become more than tiresome.
I think we all know what would be the number one story today had we been this close to having this happen on the last president’s watch.
At issue: The 1973 War Powers Act, which says if the president does not get congressional authorization 60 days after military action, the mission must stop within 30 days.
The president formally notified Congress about the mission in Libya with a letter on March 21, which makes Friday the 60-day deadline.
See, here’s how this works … Congress makes the laws and the President signs them into being. Everyone is obliged to follow them. And that includes the President. However, that’s not the case, or so it seems, with Libya. Today is the last day of the 60 grace period for the President to get Congressional authorization and there has been no move to accomplish that. Apparently the administration believes they’re above the law.
The irony, of course, is that it was Mr. Bush who was continually accused of waging an illegal war. Yet it has been the last two Democratic presidents who are guilty of doing so:
But it is virtually unprecedented for a president to continue a mission beyond 60 days without a resolution from Congress.
"Make no mistake: Obama is breaking new ground, moving decisively beyond his predecessors," Yale law professors Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway wrote this week in the Washington Post.
The only thing that comes close is President Clinton’s military effort in Kosovo.
He failed to get congressional approval before the 60-day deadline was up. His administration argued that Congress had effectively authorized the mission by approving money for it, and the Kosovo conflict lasted 78 days.
The Obama administration doesn’t have that option with Libya, because the Pentagon is using existing money. Congress never specifically funded the mission.
Now, the administration is trying to figure out what to do.
“Now?” Now the administration is “trying to figure out what to do”? And “what to do” is fairly straight forward – seek congressional approval for the continuation of the “kinetic event” or whatever it is we’re calling it this week, or stop our involvement.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, tells CNN he believes Obama is trying to "bring democracy to Libya while shredding the Constitution of the United States."
"He cannot continue what he is doing in Libya without congressional authorization. When a president defiantly violates the law, that really undercuts our efforts to urge other countries to have the rule of law," Sherman said.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, concurs.
"You could say, ‘Well, we have a good president, he’ll do the right thing.’ Well, someday you may have a president who does the wrong thing, and that’s why you have rules, because you can never count on people being good people," Paul told CNN.
Indeed. The process and rules are only there for the little people I guess. The President appears to believe he is above the law.
Finally, where’s the Congressional leadership on this? Why isn’t Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid both banging the drum loudly and persistently while calling the president “incompetent” ? After all, only an incompetent would just now be trying to figure out what to do, no? And tomorrow will they declare the war “illegal” like it actually will be?
And where are McConnell and Boehner?
Time to elevate this and get a little bit of a firestorm going boys. If it were your side, you can trust that Pelosi and Reid wouldn’t be dawdling in their offices, they’d be attacking the lawlessness of the presidency.
Where are you, Congressional “leaders?”
Before we proceed today, let’s take note of a couple of things.
One, President Obama has made an executive decision to freeze federal payrolls for 2 years at a savings of $5 billion over those two years. Good for him. Of course the left is outraged, disingenuously claiming this will adversely effect jobs and the economy. Hardly.
While that money won’t be available to be spent by federal employees, it won’t be borrowed either. Or, it won’t be taken from the pockets of taxpayers who can now spend it directly on creating jobs or buying goods.
"Saving" the money doesn’t make it disappear, it simply means federal employees won’t be spending it (those who earned it will) or we don’t add $5 billion to the deficits of those 2 years.
Bigger political question? Is this actually an act of triangulation? Are we seeing this as the first indicator of an administration attempting to move to the center by getting out in front of the GOP on something? Doing this before the big bi-partisan meet today between Obama and the GOP gives Obama the advantage of saying "OK, I’ve done something to reduce the deficit, what about you" (to which the GOP can say "earmarks"). Whether this is a political anomaly, just gimmickry or an actual move toward the center remain to be seen.
And two, on the GOP side, and in front of the meeting today, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell got their talking points out in an op/ed in the Washington Post. In sum they say the overwhelming message from the election says focus on jobs and the economy.
Perhaps the most important paragraph in the piece was this:
Despite what some Democrats in Congress have suggested, voters did not signal they wanted more cooperation on the Democrats’ big-government policies that most Americans oppose. On the contrary, they want both parties to work together on policies that will help create the conditions for private-sector job growth. They want us to stop the spending binge, cut the deficit and send a clear message on taxes and regulations so small businesses can start hiring again.
I think that’s mostly right. Cooperation for cooperation’s sake isn’t what is being demanded. Cooperation with a focus on jobs and the economy is. And it is also clear, as Boehner and McConnell state, that the American public wants some sort of workable plan to stop the huge deficit spending and to settle the business climate to the point that corporations and small businesses feel confident enough in it to begin hiring and expanding again. That means settling any number of outstanding issues like proposed tax increases.
Bottom line? Don’t expect much cooperation from either side on things like energy, immigration, health care and the like except at the very margins. However, there seems to be some signaling from Obama that he may be interested in more substantial cooperation when it comes to the jobs, economy and government spending/taxation. If so, it would mean that Obama has set his cap for reelection in 2012 and believes that this is the route to accomplishing that (engage the GOP, give a little here and there, do high profile things like freeze government worker pay, and hope the economy and unemployment improve fairly significantly in the next 2 years so he can claim credit).
My guess is he now realizes that his agenda items are DOA. But I also think he’s satisfied that what he has managed to get passed (ObamaCare and the like) is probably pretty safe from GOP meddling. So he’s defining the area in which he’ll work and essentially demanding the GOP cooperate. It will be difficult for the GOP to refuse that.
It is going to be interesting to watch the two sides maneuver over the next two years. In ‘94 much the same sort of situation existed. Bill Clinton was deemed irrelevant. He came roaring back via smart politics and GOP mistakes to be reelected easily.
We’ve already talked about the new narrative the left is trying to impose – the “GOP in charge” narrative, in which the GOP will be tagged with every failure of government even though Democrats still control the Senate and Executive branch. But that won’t matter if the GOP House moves aggressively to do what Boehner and McConnell outline in their op/ed. Make Democratic Senators defeat GOP House legislation. And if it manages to get through the Senate, make Obama veto it.
Obama claimed that the difference between ‘94 and ‘10 midterms was “you’ve got me”. That led to the worst “shellacking” in recent memory and much worse that ‘94. Another difference between ‘94 and ‘10 is the new media. If the GOP sticks with its guns, makes every attempt to carry out what it said is the people’s message and is thwarted by the Democrats, that story will actually be told.
It will indeed be interesting to see how the big meeting goes today. I don’t expect much in terms of substance, but if Boehner and McConnell are smart they’ll essentially relay their op/ed message to Obama and then stand back and see how he chooses to react.
For the moment, popular sentiment is on the side of the GOP. They need to retain it by actually doing something. If they don’t and the left succeeds in painting them in a negative way, 2012 could see the backlash from hell, 4 more years of Obama and possible Congressional gains by Democrats.
It is easy to be cynical about politics today, especially for long-time observers. Years of watching fingers carefully placed in the political wind to determine its direction has given those watching the process a decided and well earned reason for cynicism.
But that has to be leavened somewhat with the understanding of how this political process works, why the incentives it offers is one of the main reasons it is broken, and then applaud actions which – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant they are – work toward changing those incentives in a meaningful way.
It has been said by many that “earmarks” are both trivial and insignificant when it comes to the budget deficit. They’re barely 1% of the budget. We’re told they’re no big thing in world of trillion dollar deficits.
Yes they are significant. For many reasons. Most obvious among them is they’re part of that incentive system that encourages profligacy and waste. As one wag pointed out, they’re the Congressional “gateway drug” for profligacy and waste on a much grander scale.
Secondly while it is easy to waive away “1%” of the budget as “insignificant”, you have to ask, “is it really?” Certainly in terms relative to a 2.8 trillion dollar budget, a few billion dollars doesn’t seem like much. But it is.
We know – all of us, even the left – that we must cut spending. Period. There’s no argument about that. The argument is where we cut. And how much. Cutting 1% of spending wrapped up in earmarks should be a “no-brainer”. It is a good first step. If you’re going to say to the country, “we’ve all got to cut back”, what better way – speaking of leadership – is there to make the point than to cut out spending that is advantageous to you politically.
That’s certainly the case with earmarks and has been for decades. It is the Congressional method of using tax dollars to help ensure a high return of incumbents on election day. So the symbolism involved in cutting them out is important. Especially, as I noted, when the country is going to be asked to take cuts in things which they find advantageous to themselves.
That all brings me to Sen. Mitch McConnell essentially reversing himself and signing on to the earmark ban. I’m cautiously optimistic that the GOP leadership is actually beginning to get the message that I think was transmitted loud and clear on November 2nd. Said McConnell:
“What I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.”
Good. What I’m not going to do is look this particular gift horse in the mouth and try to determine whether it is a cynical political ploy or genuine. I’m simply going to take it at face value and put a plus next to earmark reform. I’ll take McConnell at his word and demand that he now be consistent in applying the same received message to areas of spending that will indeed make a huge difference. Or said another way, I appreciate the sentiment and the symbolism of the earmark ban, but that doesn’t satisfy me or anyone else. It just indicates some seriousness and willingness to do what is necessary to rein in the government’s spending. While appreciated, it in no way means anything much more than that.
McConnell acknowledges the “wishes of the American people”. Those wishes were clearly expressed as a much smaller, much less costly and intrusive federal government. Banning earmarks is as good a place to start as any. But the serious work of cutting government down to size must continue immediately after the ban is in effect. The electoral gods will have no mercy on the GOP in 2012 if the American people don’t see a concerted effort by the party toward that goal.