Free Markets, Free People

budget


Wisconsin heats up while "civility" takes a holiday on the left

Wisconsin is a great example of special interest constituency politics. I’m not talking about politics that focus on the constituents in your district or state if you’re an elected representative or senator.  I’m talking about special-interest constituents who provide you money and backing when you seek election or reelection – whether from your district or not.

That’s pretty much what is going on in Wisconsin boils down too.  Wisconsin’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker has proposed a number of ways to “repair” the budget.  In summary, those aimed at public service unions place limits on their existing power:

It would require most public workers to pay half their pension costs – typically 5.8% of pay for state workers – and at least 12% of their health care costs. It applies to most state and local employees but does not apply to police, firefighters and state troopers, who would continue to bargain for their benefits.

Except for police, firefighters and troopers, raises would be limited to inflation unless a bigger increase was approved in a referendum. The non-law enforcement unions would lose their rights to bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks.

Apparently such limits are simply outrageous.  Unions hold annual elections?  Public workers pay more toward their pensions and health care costs?  And, of course, the bargaining “rights” curtailed in everything but wages?

So that’s prompted an astroturf campaign which has involved organizations outside Wisconsin, to include the White House.  The one thing public sector unions can do effectively it seems is “flash mobs”.  Reports of advertisements in Illinois aimed at recruiting activists for protests in Wisconsin were common.

The Democratic National Committee also has involved themselves in the local fight

The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.

[…]

OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.

So anyone who thinks this is all “spontaneous” might want to buy a clue.

Meanwhile, all the Democratic state senators in Wisconsin have run off to Rockford, Ill to avoid having to do their jobs.   You see, Republicans hold a majority, but are one short of a quorum needed to pass legislation.  So without the Democrats, the Senate is unable to act on legislation.  Democrats have issued a “list of demands”:

“We demand that the provisions that completely eliminate the ability of workers… to negotiate on a fair basis with their employers be removed from the budget repair bill and any other future budget,” Miller said.

He also demanded legislative oversight on changes to the state’s medical programs, which are targeted for changes in the bill. The bill would also require union members to contribute to their health care and pensions.

My guess is there’s some negotiating room there, but if I were the governor I’d tell Dems that there’ll be no talk about their demands until they act like adults and show back up in the capital ready to do their jobs.   And Governor Walker has laid out the alternative fairly clearly:

Walker said the only alternative would be layoffs of 10,000 to 12,000 state and local employees.

Of course, without a quorum, that isn’t the strongest hand in the world.  But what Democrats are doing sure seems like a childish tantrum in my eyes.  Republicans may not have a quorum and state government may grind to a halt because of it, but I doubt that voters are going to blame members of the GOP for that. 

All of this has spawned the usual misinformation as charges and counter-charges fly.  Ed Schultz provides an example of a completely false statement about the controversy according to Politifact Wisconsin.  Said Shultz:

Under changes being debated, state employees in Wisconsin "who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year might have 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight."

Not true.  Although state employees would have to pay a higher percentage for their benefits (in the 6 to 11% range) none are looking at “20 percent of their income disappear[ing] over night”.

Unions have been losing favor in the eyes of the American public for years, with a fairly sharp downturn in their popularity in 2007.  Since then their favorability rating has stayed about the same, but unfavorable numbers continue to build:

Americans’ attitudes about labor unions changed only slightly over the past year, following a sharp downturn between early 2007 and early 2010. Currently, 45% say they have a favorable opinion about labor unions, while nearly as many (41%) say they have an unfavorable opinion.

In January 2007, 58% said they had a favorable opinion of unions; 31% had an unfavorable opinion.

Tantrums like this, astroturfing and the plain old uncivil behavior aren’t going to help their case.  Ann Althouse has some examples of the latter.   It appears that Adolph Hitler has made a comeback among the left in Wisconsin.   Civility is only a requirement for those on the right, apparently.  The left – well it’s the left and any insult and comparison, no matter how outrageous, is perfectly fine. Godwin’s law is in effect in Wisconsin.

I think Wisconsin is only the beginning of these sorts of spectacles and fights.  Entrenched bureaucracies and unions aren’t going to give up their power easily and go quietly in the night.  How they conduct themselves in this sort of fight will be important though.  The point, one assumes, is to bring visibility to their arguments and persuade the public to back them.  If that’s the case, I don’t think the way the Wisconsin protesters (and legislators) are prosecuting their case will be held up as a model to be emulated.

Cuts are coming – whether made willingly or forced by reality.   There’s no escaping that.   Gov. Walker is trying to get ahead of that curve.

Human nature says no one wants to see their ox gored, regardless of reality’s demands.  But in a battle for public opinion, acting like children, calling people Nazis and importing out-of-state protesters in what is really  a local fight doesn’t seem to be the best way to get the public on your side.

~McQ


NYT screams for adults while acting like a child

Reading the first paragraph in an NYT editorial gave me a rather cynical chuckle this morning

Are there any adults in charge of the House? Watching this week’s frenzied slash-and-burn budget contest, we had to conclude the answer to that is no.

Really – is that the answer?  Or is the answer there haven’t been any adults in charge for years – decades even – as evidenced by the horrendous fiscal mess we’re in today.

The NYT’s answer?  Apparently the status quo is alright with the Grey Lady.  Check this out:

First Speaker John Boehner’s Republican leadership proposed cutting the rest of the 2011 budget by $32 billion. But that wasn’t enough for his fanatical freshmen, who demanded that it be cut by $61 billion, destroying vital government programs with gleeful abandon.

Here we go … speaking of acting like adults, it would be nice if the NYT would try it.  As Rand Paul pointed out, $32 billion is about 5 days of government spending.  $61 then would be about 10.  And the $81 billion they’re now talking about – tack on 4 more days. The NYT wants you to seriously believe that eliminating that pittance would destroy “vital government programs”?   We’re talking a multi-trillion dollar budget here guys.  Until we’re talking trillions in cuts, we’re not talking about serious cuts.

In fact, what the NYT is worried about is cuts to some programs it considers to be vital but apparently others don’t. 

If the Republicans got their way, it would wreak havoc on Americans’ lives and national security. This blood sport also has nothing to do with the programs that are driving up the long-term deficit: Medicare, Medicaid and, to a lesser extent, Social Security.

Well here’s the bad news for the NYT – to get the budget back on a sustainable track, it is going to require a little “havoc” within the budget and certainly a dramatic lessening of spending.

Obviously I agree that the programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have to be addressed.  But that doesn’t exempt the other areas where spending may be less in terms of those programs but just as wasteful, unnecessary or unneeded.  You aren’t going to address the problems of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in a Continuing Resolution – that’s a ‘red herring’.  The fact that the big 3 haven’t been addressed yet doesn’t mean they won’t be nor does it mean discretionary spending shouldn’t be.

So, if the mean old Republicans end up cutting $81 billion out of the 7 month Continuing Resolution to fund government (since the Democratic Congress didn’t do its primary job and pass a budget) what will that mean?

Several credible economists have said that an $81 billion cut could result in up to 800,000 layoffs throughout the American economy.

The House freshmen seemed even less concerned about the effect of their budget slashing. “A lot of us freshmen don’t have a whole lot of knowledge about how Washington, D.C., is operated,” Representative Kristi Noem, a Republican of South Dakota, told the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. “And, frankly, we don’t really care.”

Frankly, he shouldn’t.  My guess is government will trundle along without a hiccup if the worst case (and you know that’s what is going to be presented here) scenario of 800,000 layoffs materializes.   It won’t, of course.   We all know how this works – if in fact the cuts were to cause layoffs, most would come through attrition and early retirement packages vs. being “let go”. 

No, this is the usual “if they do that, the baby ducks will die” rhetoric in which any cut is countered with the worst imaginable scenario whether feasible or not.  Government’s job is not providing employment.  It is doing the people’s business and protecting the nation.  And it should do that in as lean a posture as possible.  That’s what an adult would say.

Of course Obama has bowed up and claimed he will veto any such “job killing” measure.  If I were the GOP I’d be saying “go ahead, make my day”, because it then becomes a matter of explaining that the GOP attempted to cut spending and the size of government, but Big Government Obama, who depends on the votes of public service unions to win reelection, opted for them over the will of the people.

~McQ


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


It is budget day in Washington DC

Today is the day President Obama’s budget is published.  It promises “cuts” and “savings”.  Before we venture too far in our analysis of the budget, let’s be clear on what those two words usually mean in Washington.  A “cut” in spending usually means that whoever is saying it is talking about not spending as much as originally planned.  And neither have a thing to do with debt reduction.   What they actually mean is they’re still going to spend buckets of money we don’t have – they’re just not going to spend “buckets and buckets” of it.

“Savings” is normally used in about the same way.  I call it wife math (my apologies to the ladies, but come on, admit it, you’ve used it).  Wife math announces, “I saw this scarf on sale for $75.  It is normally $100.  I "saved" $25.”   Of course what she really did was spend $75 that perhaps the family didn’t have or couldn’t afford.

So when you see or hear the words “cuts” and “savings” in discussions of the budget this year, please understand the context of the words when used in those discussions.  “Cuts” mean they don’t plan spending as much as they originally planned to spend.  In the case “cut”, not a single dollar has yet been spent, but they’re going to try to convince you that those “cuts” translate into “savings”.  For most of us “savings” means we have spent less money on necessities (by being frugal)  and the money we’ve saved (i.e. actual money in hand – not borrowed, but earned) can be applied to paying down something else– such as credit card debt or something.  Yeah, it’s real money we have in hand, not spending we “cut” from something we didn’t have the money for to begin with.

Not so with double talking Washington – “savings” in their jargon means not spending as much.  It is slightly different than “cut” in that “savings” are usually “realized” from a proposed program of spending while “cuts” usually come from an existing program of spending.   In the case of “savings” what is “saved” can’t be applied anywhere because we’re in a cycle of deficit spending.  It isn’t revenue they’re talking about that they can spend elsewhere to reduce the debt, it is borrowed money of which they don’t plan on borrowing as much.

This year alone we’re looking at a record deficit of 1.6 trillion dollars.  What they’re talking about “saving” over the next 10 years (1.1 trillion – or 110 billion a year – chicken feed in 3.x trillion dollar budgets) is simply proposed reductions on what they had planned to borrow.  Meanwhile the debt continues to climb.

Keep in mind that we’re looking a 4 years worth of budgets from the administration with over a trillion dollars in deficit spending.  What they’re trying to do is soften that with is 1.1 trillion in “cuts” and “savings” over 10 years that will help “reduce the deficit”.  I’m sure you’re able to do the math and realize total debt keeps climbing.  But also remember that “cuts” and “savings” are what are going to be trumpeted, not the truth:

An administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the budget was released, said one-third of the $1.1 trillion in deficit reduction the administration is projecting over the next decade would come from additional revenue with the bulk of that reflecting the limitations on tax deductions by the wealthy.

So not only are they “cutting” money they don’t have or haven’t spent, they’re “saving” money that will trim the deficit (while the debt still goes up) by assuming revenue not in hand.

The point?  Well, when you see things like this from AP Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger …

“Two-thirds of [the budget's] savings [of $1.1 trillion over 10 years] would come from spending reductions including $400 billion in savings from a five year freeze on spending in many domestic government agencies. The other one-third of savings would come from tax increases. The biggest tax hike would come from a proposal to trim the deductions the wealthiest Americans can claim for charitable contributions, mortgage interest and state and local tax payments. The administration proposed this tax hike last year but it never advanced because of widespread congressional opposition."

… You’ll now know how to translate it. 

I mean where else would you find a line like “the other one-third of savings would come from tax increases” than in a Washington DC budget discussion?

Confused?

Well join the club … and it will get worse.

~McQ


Blue Dogs — might as well support the GOP budget

As mentioned in the previous posts, the Blue Dogs in Congress aren’t feeling the love from minority leader (don’t you love that title) Nancy Pelosi and the crew.  And that may have a beneficial effect for the GOP.

Blue dogs didn’t feel the love of voters last November either, with about half of them going down to defeat after they supported the health care law. Message sent, message received.  Sooo … they’re taking a look at the Republican budget and some are saying (surprise, surprise) it might be something they can support:

Blue Dog Democrats might support a plan from House Republicans to cut $32 billion in discretionary spending this year, a spokesman for the fiscally conservative bloc said Monday.

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said the Blue Dogs are waiting to see the details of the proposed GOP cuts before taking a position. The draft legislation from the House Appropriations Committee is due on Thursday.

Now, of course, the GOP doesn’t need a single Democrat in the House to pass the budget.  Just as the Democrats didn’t need a single Republican to pass health care.  But having a “bi-partisan” budget with significant enough Democratic support to call it that (and not snicker) would put more pressure on Democrats elsewhere. 

But the comments from Ross and other Blue Dogs suggest at least some of the coalition’s members are willing to defect from their party and vote for the plan despite the vocal opposition of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). 

Last week Pelosi rejected the GOP plan and said that $32 billion in proposed cuts “will come at the expense of economic growth and American jobs.”

“We must put our fiscal house in order, beginning with an aggressive attack on waste, fraud and abuse; but we must do so without jeopardizing targeted investments that are helping the private sector grow and hire new workers,” Pelosi said.

Got to love it  — “waste, fraud and abuse”, the fall back of those who don’t intend to cut a dime while still talking about cutting spending.  No one ever does anything about “waste, fraud and abuse” except talk about it.  No one.  And If Ms. Pelosi is so fired up about aggressively attacking it, why wasn’t that a priority when she was Speaker?

However the GOP doesn’t get off Scott free either – what happened to the $100 billion in cuts promised prior to the election?  Why $32 billion (one of the questions I plan on asking Paul Ryan if I get the chance)?

Anyway, back to the point at hand – minority leader Pelosi is simply reaping a bit of what she’s sown:

The Blue Dog openness to the GOP comes amid strained relations with Pelosi. On Monday, Blue Dog leader Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), who challenged Pelosi for the job of Democratic leader in the 112th Congress, said the coalition has been shut out by the leader’s office.

So, no surprise – the Blue Dogs aren’t liberal enough for the leadership (yes that’s today’s theme).   In fact, they recently met with Bill Clinton to plot a bit of strategy:

The 26-member Blue Dog Coalition met Monday in New York with former President Clinton to discuss ways to move a centrist political agenda through a divided Congress. Clinton advised the group on ways to handle the situation and discussed budget, housing and energy policy, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) said.

“One of the reasons we invited President Clinton was he had to work with Republicans after the ’94 election,” Ross said.

Now you know if that coalition is plotting a “move to a centrist political agenda”, it along with just about everyone else have decided that the “main stream” Democrats are way to the left of them.   And they may find more leverage with the opposing party by being the designated “bi-partisan” validator with some “compromise” from the GOP to include some of their ideas.

And Nancy and the gang?  Out in the cold gobbling on about “waste, fraud and abuse”.  About the only real example of waste, fraud and abuse I’ve seen is the minority leader herself.  A waste of time, a fraud as a representative of the people and an abuse of power all rolled up into one liberal politician.  Can we do away with her?   It will certainly save taxpayers money.

~McQ


Air superiority and national security–two concepts that go hand-in-hand

"There has not been a single soldier or Marine who lost his life in combat due to a threat from the air in over 56 years."

Let that statement sink in for a minute. The reason we’ve not lost a single soldier or Marine to enemy air is we’ve maintained such a dominant edge in both technology, ability and numbers that no enemy has been able to challenge our dominance of the air over any battlefield on which we’ve fought since Korea.

The military defines air superiority as "that degree of dominance in the air battle of one force over another which permits the conduct of operations by the former and its related land, sea, and air forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the opposing force.”

But that dominance and superiority in the air are in serious jeopardy.  In our drive to cut budgets, we are about to cut capability instead of costs.  And that could result in a serious threat to the war fighting ability of our military and  eventually threaten our national security.  There is a developing fighter gap and if it continues as it is presently proceeding, it may be unrecoverable.

A short digression to make a point.  There are two basic types of fighter aircraft in our inventory today.  One is the air superiority fighter. Its job is to establish and maintain air superiority so that opposing aircraft don’t pose a threat to other air operations and our ground forces.  Imagine how difficult the use of attack helicopters would be in support of ground operations if the enemy was the superior force in the air.  So that air superiority fighter works to keep the skies clear of enemy fighters to allow the second type of fighter to work under that umbrella.  That’s something we’ve successfully done for 56 years.

That second type of fighters is the strike fighter which is usually a multirole fighter with a mission of support for ground operations. They can deliver close air support or go deep and hit key targets that will help cripple the enemy’s ability to fight.

At the moment, we have a fleet of 4th generation air superiority fighters (F15′s, etc.) that numbers about 800.  Those fighters have reached the end of their service life and technology has advanced such that their effectiveness has been badly degraded.  The F-22 Raptor, a 5th generation air superiority fighter, was developed to replace the aging 4th generation fleet, and the original plan was to buy 700 of them.

The aircraft is expensive at over $300 million a copy, but it is the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world and maintains our edge over would be competitors/enemies. But with cuts in the budget becoming a priority, the Defense Department made the decision to limit the number of F-22′s it would buy to 187 and then shut down production. 187 5th generation air superiority fighters doesn’t even begin to replace the 800 4th generation fighters we have.  In fact, the Air Force has conducted over 30 studies which all agree the bare minimum that the Air Force needs to maintain a minimal air superiority capability is 260 F-22s. But the last F-22 has been made, the production line is shutting down and the high paying jobs it created going away.

We’re seeing much the same scenario played out with the other critical player in our fighter future – the F-35. Designed as a multi-role joint strike fighter, the F-35 brings advanced stealth and other technology to the strike fighter role.  As with any developmental aircraft it has had its share of problems, but now seems to be on course to fulfill the promise it holds to deliver an aircraft superior to all the other strike aircraft in the world.

But again, we see talk about cutting capability in the name of cutting cost.  The promised number to be purchased both by the US and it’s 7 partners continues to shrink.  We’re being told we can’t "afford" the F-35. The real question, given the possible ramifications of having too few survivable air superiority or strike fighters is can we afford not to buy them?

Certainly we can "upgrade" the non-stealthy and aged 4th generation fighters. But the emergence of competitive 5th generation fighters in Russia (T-50) and China (J-20) mean that as soon as the competitive aircraft are fielded, our pilots flying those old fighters are essentially cannon fodder and our ground troops become vulnerable.

While it is certain cutbacks in defense spending are necessary, they must not jeopardize our military’s survival or our national security. 5th generation air superiority and strike fighters are critical to both.

Those making the hard budget decisions to come must remember the opening line above.  Air superiority and the ability to deliver ordnance and survive are critical tasks that cannot be "cut" for austerity’s sake.  And we must ensure our military not only has the best fighters we can produce, but enough of them to do their mission of keeping our nation secure.

[First published in the Washington Examiner]

~McQ


The return of the monster 2,000 page debt-fueled bill

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nyone who remembers the recent passage of ObamaCare remembers the size of the bill – over 2,000 pages – and the fact that almost no one knew what was included in its pages.  Nancy Pelosi infamously said, “we’ll have to pass the bill to find out what’s in the bill”.

There was very little if any debate on the bill and it ended up being rammed through Congress under the reconciliation process.   We’re still finding out all of the little poison nuggets in that mess of a law.

Then November shows up and the American pubic spanks the Democrats for doing business the way they did, taking away 63 seats and a majority in the House in a bloodbath of an election.  Quit spending like drunken sailors and focus on jobs and the economy the people said.

And the Democrats learned what?  Nary a freakin’ thing.  They’ve never passed a budget for government this year in Congress – one of its main functions – but instead have passed a series of continuing resolutions to keep it funded.  That last continuing resolution is about to run out and – back up to their old tricks — Congressional Democrats have advanced a 2,000 page, 1.1 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill that is designed to fund government (and lard out the pork) through 2011.

Instead of bringing up a straight spending bill that funds government at its current levels (or, here’s an idea, maybe 2008 levels so they could show the American people they’re serious about cutting spending?  Nah.), we get 1.1 trillion in pork, payoffs and profligacy.

Same old Democrats doing the same old thing as though November never happened.

And they’re not alone:

Despite strong opposition from Thune and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), several Senate Republicans are considering voting for the bill.

“That’s my intention,” said retiring Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) when asked if he would support the package.

Bennett said earmarks in the bill might give some of his GOP colleagues reason to hesitate but wouldn’t affect his vote.

“It will be tough for some, but not for me,” he said.

GOP Sens. Kit Bond (Mo.), George Voinovich (Ohio) and Susan Collins (Maine) also told The Hill on Tuesday they would consider voting for the omnibus but want to review it before making a final decision.

And there you have it.  If Bennett wonders why he’s soon to be unemployed, it couldn’t be more plainly obvious than his remarks about this.  And as for the other “usual suspects”, apparently they don’t much care about the November message either (and if you happen to have one of those people as your Senator, you might want to remind them of that message).

This is the “business as usual” nonsense that has to stop and stop now.  This Congress has all but abrogated its budget responsibilities for the entire year and now, on the eve of a government shutdown and the end of their session, they decide to act. But not with a continuing resolution to keep essential government services funded until the new Congress can meet to take up the budget, but with a 2,000 page pork laden, 1.1 trillion debt-fueled monstrosity that will be allowed little debate and passed without most knowing what the hell they’re voting for.  On that principle alone, I’d vote “no”.  “No” until I can read and consider the bill, debate it, amend it and do what is supposed to be done before passing legislation.

There are a few things that have leaked out concerning what is in the bill:

The 1,924-page bill includes funding to implement the sweeping healthcare reform bill Congress passed earlier this year as well as additional funds for Internal Revenue Service agents, according to a senior GOP aide familiar with the legislation.

Obviously that doesn’t cost “1.1 trillion”, so there’s an awful lot more (I wonder if the IRS agents mentioned are those whose job it will be to enforce health insurance compliance through the tax system?).

So here we are again, faced with a debt-fueled, pork laden 1.1 trillion dollar last spending fling by Democrats and you have 4 Republican Senators thinking about supporting this nonsense in contravention of the will of the people.  For those like Bennett, Bond and Voinovich (both of the latter  I believe are retiring) there’s probably nothing that can be done to punish them or change their mind.  That’s the problem with the lame duck session of a Congress.  And it is, as I’ve pointed out before, a major problem.  There is no accountability mechanism for those who’ve been defeated or are retiring so they can do pretty much what they wish.  This is their last fling and they’re going to go out as they’ve always been – earmark addicts and debt spending fanatics who really don’t give a rip about what Americans have said they want. 

Collins, of course, is always ready to side with those who spend like fools and have gotten us in the shape we’re in.  And unfortunately Maine GOP voters have yet to ensure Collins understands their new priorities.  She’s not up for re-election again until 2014.  With that cushion and no apparent pressure from her constituency, she appears to feel free to proceed as usual.  However, we can’t afford “as usual” anymore.

Many think that stopping this bill and insisting that it be a clean, clear continuing resolution to fund government is a priority.  I’d be one of those.  But the GOP worries that if it does so, and government gets shut down right before the holidays, they’ll be blamed and suffer for it as they did when Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton went toe-to-toe one year over spending and shutting down government.

I’m not so sure, given the current conditions, that Democrats would enjoy the same wide-spread support now that they did then.  Not given the midterms, not given the message very forcefully sent by the electorate and certainly not given this deficit building monstrosity of a bill being considered.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 12 Dec 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Obama Tax Compromise, and its repercussions this week.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 05 Dec 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Budget Comission, and Washington’s refusal to even consider making any of the hard choices it represents.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


The progressive deficit plan, ala Krugman

In case you’re interested a group of progressive think tanks has produced an eighty-something page deficit reduction proposal.  Paul Krugman says he’ll have to study it, however:

It’s at least as responsible as any of the other plans being advanced, with a very different emphasis: more reliance on revenue, no attack on Social Security. Some of the revenue comes from indirect taxes — green taxes and fuel taxes — but the rest comes from measures that would raise taxes mainly on upper-income Americans.

I guess agreement or disagreement rests in your definition of the word “responsible”.  Let me just say I disagree.  A quick look at the plan (here, PDF) shows it’s pretty much the same old stuff.  Cap-and-trade, raise the income cap on Social Security, tax the crap out of the “rich”, an increased fuel tax and keep at least 50% of the electorate off the tax rolls.  Meantime cut the bejesus out of defense spending – one of the few actual constitutionally allowed federal government expenditures – and lay all those “savings” on health care and infrastructure.

Well here, let’s use their own 5 step plan:

1. Jobs first. Jobs and economic growth are essential to our capacity to reduce deficits, and there should be no across-the-board spending reductions until the economy fully recovers. In fact, efforts to spur job creation today will put us on a better economic path and create a solid revenue base. We believe there should be no consideration of overall spending reductions until unemployment has fallen to 6% and remained at or below that level for six months (Irons 2010a).

No “across-the-board spending reductions” until the economy fully recovers.  Really?  So the assumption here is in many areas of government, there is no “fat” that can be cut and thereby reduce spending?  That’s just nonsense and it puts into immediate question the credibility of this report.  Of course, unsurprisingly defense is not one of those areas which shouldn’t see such across the board spending cuts.

So immediately we have a “keep spending” recommendation until they deem the economy to be fully recovered (what’s that point, 5% unemployment?  3% GDP growth?) with economic predictions saying that we may not see joblessness reduced significantly by 2012.  So far, unimpressed.

2. Stabilize debt. Over the long term, national debt as a share of the economy should be stabilized and eventually brought onto a downward trajectory.

Well duh.  The key question here, given the “let’s keep spending” recommendation above is what constitutes the “long term”?  My guess is “never”.

3. Build on economy-boosting investments. We must build and maintain initiatives that directly support long-term job and economic growth. Failing to invest adequately in these efforts – or sacrificing them to short-term deficit reduction – would be a dereliction of sound public management.

Are you snickering yet?  Or are you already in the full out belly laugh mode?  If you are then you spotted the code words to “keep on spending” didn’t you?  So we have goal 1 – keep spending until the economy recovers and goal 3 – keep spending, er “investing” in stuff that will directly support “long-term job growth” even at the expense of deficit reduction.  But, wait, goal two – stabilize that debt folks.  How do you do that in light of 1 and 3?

4. Target revenue increases. Revenue increases should come primarily from those who have benefited most from the economic gains of the last few decades.

Tax the rich. Wow … that’s new. Don’t forget cap-and-trade and increased federal fuel “fees” as well.

5. No cost shifting. Debt reduction must be weighed against other economic priorities. Policies that simply shift costs from the federal government to individuals and families may improve the government’s balance sheet but would worsen the condition of many  Americans, leaving the overall economy no better off.

See unfunded mandates.  See ObamaCare.  See any number of “target revenue increases”.  See the nonsense?

Krugman goes on to say:

I’ll need to work through the proposal, but one thing it clearly does is to explode the myth that there is no alternative to the Bowles-Simpson-type regressive proposal.

What myth?  Did anyone honestly believe (or say) there wasn’t an alternative?  The fact that one exists doesn’t make it worth a damn though.  It simply exists.  Lots of  “alternatives” exist for all sorts of things.  The fact that they exist doesn’t make them credible or viable.  And my cursory reading of this paper presents nothing new and most of which has already been rejected by much of the American public.

And my favorite:

And it’s definitely worth noting that even with the revenue measures in the progressive plan, the US would have lower overall taxation than almost any other advanced country.

You mean like Greece and Ireland, Paul?  Japan? 

What a ridiculous argument for paying more taxes.   The problem in America, Mr. Krugman, isn’t that Americans are taxed to little – its because the politicians in our government spend too freakin’ much.  There’s not much in that plan that addresses that basic problem, is there?  And that’s why it’s as worthless as Krugman’s commentary.

~McQ