government waste

Mr. Boehner, Please Move Beyond Earmarks

This from the House Speaker-designate for the 112th Congress in today's Wall Street Journal:

[T]here are several steps I believe the next speaker should be prepared to take immediately. Among them:

No earmarks. Earmarks have become a symbol of a broken Washington, and an entire lobbying industry has been created around them. The speaker of the House shouldn't use the power of the office to raid the federal Treasury for pork-barrel projects. To the contrary, the speaker should be an advocate for ending the current earmark process, and should adhere to a personal no-earmarks policy that stands as an example for all members of Congress to follow.

I have maintained a no-earmarks policy throughout my time of service in Congress. I believe the House must adopt a moratorium on all earmarks as a signal of our commitment to ending business as usual in the spending process.

And this from the President during his post-election news conference on Wednesday:

My understanding is Eric Cantor today said that he wanted to see a moratorium on earmarks continuing.  That’s something I think we can -- we can work on together.

In light of the economy, I can understand why Boehner is focusing on earmarks as the most visible symbol of what needs to be fixed on Capitol Hill. And I agree that we need to fix the abuse of the earmark process by reforming it. But the fact is that not all earmarks can be construed as wasteful spending and not all wasteful spending are in earmarks. It's easy to come up with rhetoric denouncing "the evils of earmarks," but what we should be focusing on substantively is wasteful spending.

I don't want to get into debates over how Republicans should define public goods and wasteful spending. I do however want to talk about what principles should be espoused by Republicans when it comes to spending and how we can be innovative on sound spending policies.

What are some budgetary principles that should be communicated by Republicans to the American people?

  • The Solution Principle: Every challenge facing the American people does not require a federal office and federal funding.
  • The Priorities Principle: Every family and every business has to balance their checkbooks, their revenues with their expenses. Through good times and bad times, families and businesses have to sacrifice what they might want and prioritize their spending. The government should operate like any prudent family or business does, and prioritize.
  • The Investment Principle: The American people are "forced to invest" their income into government. Each taxpayer is, therefore, a shareholder in government. Because taxpayers have invested their money into government, taxpayers deserve the best return on their money. This means the "portfolio of investments" (otherwise known as government projects and agencies) must be reviewed carefully and objectively in order for the government to fulfill their due diligence.

How can we turn those principles into solutions? The answer is to do what's difficult, not easy (i.e. earmark moratoriums), and be innovative about our budget from both procedural and substantive points of view:

  • Follow the lead of Paul Ryan and his "Roadmap for America's Future" when it comes to restructuring our entitlements.
  • Don't allow earmarks to be placed during conference committees between the House and Senate.
  • Install a biennial budgeting process, something promoted by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), while also requiring supermajorities to increase in a fiscal year after a budget has been passed (for legitimate emergencies).
  • Separate capital budgets from operating budgets for each department. Long term projects are very different from short term day-to-day costs.
  • Instead of an executive Chief Performance Officer that gets to pick and choose what works and what doesn't under subjective criteria, have Congress create a Congressional Agency Performance Office that has some independence (like CBO) to constantly scrutinize the operations of all government agencies.
  • On capital projects that go to specific state and local governments, quasi-agencies, and companies, start a Congressional Office for Spending Oversight. Just like every business has control officers, this independent office should scrutinize long term projects' spending practices. This can allow Congress to reward under-budgeted projects and punish over-budgeted projects.
  • Not only should spending be posted online before it's passed. It should also be posted online when it's spent. Just like many state governments have done, the federal government's checkbook should be posted online.

I'm glad that we're getting out in front of the President and Democrats on this. We need to be in a proactive position, not a reactive position. Talking about earmkars is too easy. This is just another area where we need to develop political communication and public policy entrepreneurship on a serious issue.

Is the US Government Efficient? Depends on Which Democrat You Ask

What do you think of federal taxes? Do you pay too much? Too little? More importantly, do you think you are getting value out of what you pay?

I would guess that most people feel that they pay too much in taxes. This belief seems likely given the Pew Research poll published over the weekend showing that only 22% of Americans feel they can trust Washington almost always or most of the time. Tough to pay taxes to a government you don’t trust. The poll also finds that nearly 50% of the population feels that government programs are run inefficiently. But are they right?

Professor Tom Schaller would argue they are not. In a recent article he contends that,

“Dollar for dollar, America offers the most effective and efficient government on the planet, doing so for about 20 cents on the dollar nationally, 28 cents if you include state and local taxes. If you ask a conservative to name a country that provides as many quality services for less, or more and better services for the same price, they can’t name one.”

There are two obvious flaws in Schaller’s logic that undermine his attempt to bait conservatives into an argument. One, the government of the United States is sadly rather unique in today’s world given the proliferation of the European nanny-state. This makes it hard to find any of the comparables he asks for. Hard to name a country that does more with less because that is not the name of the game in European style welfare states who are built around the principle of high taxes and more services.

Second, and more pertinent to the national mood, our huge national debt and operating deficits suggest we are not providing programs efficiently as he suggests. The national debt has reached a staggering $12.8 trillion and 2009s budget deficit was a record $1.4 trillion – figures which Schaller failed to include in his analysis. Eventually this unsustainable spending spree must be dealt with. The two clear paths are either higher taxes or cuts in government programs. Given that this choice is an inexorable part of our future, the efficiency and effectiveness of our tax dollars will wane greatly.

In contrast to Schaller’s argument, that we are getting bang for our tax buck, another liberal strategy has been to extol the virtues of Europe. This argument, exemplified in a recent article by noted political writer Steven Hill, posits that the European style welfare state actually delivers more. In the piece Hill recalls a conversation between a fiscally conservative Senator and a man who lived in Sweden.

“The problem with Americans and their taxes is that we get nothing for them.” He then told the senator about the comprehensive services and benefits that Swedes receive.

“If Americans knew what Swedes receive for their taxes, we would probably riot,” he told the senator. The rest of the ride to the theater district was surprisingly quiet.

Hill goes on to list all the things they receive including health care, affordable child care, retirement pensions, subsidized university educations, job retraining, paid sick leave, ample vacations, etc.

Hill and Schaller both approach the problem from the liberal perspective but take two completely different sides of the argument. Schaller argues that the United States government is incredibly efficient at using our tax dollars to fund programs for Americans. Hill on the other hand argues that the European welfare state model deliver an enormous amount of services at a comparatively modest cost in taxes. Despite two opposite positions they are both used to gird the same conclusion – that we should drop our fears of “big government” and pay more in taxes.

Talk about a heads I win, tails you lose argument. No matter which position conservative adopt to limit the size of government liberals have an answer. But only one of them can be right…right?

Frankly, in my view they are both wrong. The problem is they start from the wrong premise. Why should we compare ourselves to European welfare states at all? We are not Europe and we should not seek to be Europe. America was built on a foundation of limited government and personal freedom. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

A nanny state and a mommy government in the mold of Europe is just not in our DNA. From the absence of those traits has sprung a United States that is different and blessedly unique in its vision of government. We want it to pave the road for individuals to succeed but not be driving the car. Why now should not now feel the need, or allow anyone to impress upon us the need, to stray from the principles that made us great in the name of mirroring what other nations are doing?

In returning to the words of our founders, George Washington wrote that “[s]ome day, following the example of the United States of America there will be a United States of Europe.” How sad would he have been to find it turned out just the opposite.

by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee

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Worst argument for socialized medicine. Ever

I know there's a lot of competition in what is the worst reason to eliminate competition from the health care sector, but I think we have a winner.


Megan McArdle's piece on why she opposes national health care got deservedly wide coverage, and provoked some generally limp objections, such as this offering from Ezra Klein:

For all its waste, elevating the U.S. government to sole purchaser seems to ensure a much-higher rate of military technology innovation than if we left it to the private sector.

How does this remotely make any sense? The reason the government is the sole purchaser of laser-guided 500 lbs bombs and Tomahawk cruise missiles is that we don't allow civilians to lob them around at each other. There is no private market for such military technology, unlike for Lipitor or Viagra. Utterly ridiculous

Is the argument the Left is now making is that we need to make civilian health care as cost-effective as Pentagon weapon procurement?  Hello, let's let the folks who gave us $700 hammers get into the bandage business.

 Indeed, one of the shills for socialized medicine once used the Pentagon as a poster child for waste.  And the Center for American Progress, one of Klein's soulmates,decried the program we've used to buy weapons.  So the same system that was utterly broken for the Pentagon prior to Obama is the way to reform health care under Obama? 

Hello? I'm a mick lawyer from deepest suburbia, not someone like Klein who is kingpin of Jornolist and part of the Beltway Brain Trust, but Talking Heads described this whole concept about the time Klein was born.    

Even if you thought these folks made sense before, they sure aren't now that they are in charge.

And Ezra, you know, most of the stuff in this movie happened about the time you were in utero or slurping down formula, and the Pentagon had nothing to do with it.   Innovation? No government bureaucracy to be found here.

Maybe in Klein's future the NEA will be distributing posters "Wouldn't be great if the schools got all the money they needed and they had a bake sale to buy an MRI machine"

$100MM In Government Cuts? Get Serious!

You have to assume that when Team Obama announced that the President would convene his cabinet and challenge them to cut $100MM from their budgets, they were thinking people would be impressed. Government doing its bit, setting an example, showing that they can be good managers and not just spenders of OPM.

So they are probably surprised at the derision with which their announcement was met. People like me who've worked all their lives in what Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr has called "the dreaded private sector" have always suspected that government managers live in a different world, one where prices can be increased in bad times, where budget baselines ALWAYS grow, year over year, by at least 3-5%, where the consumer of your services -- the taxpayer -- can be treated with indifference, since they cannot bring their business to a competitor.

President Obama's laughable idea of managerial frugality only confirms our worst fears. We're laughing because we work in smaller organizations than the federal government that have been cutting, cutting, cutting -- way beyond 1/36,000 of our company's budget.

Corporate managers across America are used to getting challenged to cut costs every year. Just one example: One of the Silicon Valley's largest and most important concerns, Cisco, committed last year to cut its expenses by over $1 billion over the following year. By all accounts, they are getting there.

From what I hear, people are Webexing instead of flying, eating in rather than out, reducing everything down to cafe hours and office supplies. Cisco is a company of about 60,000 employees, with total revenues in excess of $50 billion. By any measure, the federal government is several orders of magnitude larger -- and yet Cisco's frugality measures are several orders of magnitude larger than the federal government's.

There are similar examples here in the Silicon Valley, but only one makes the point: The President's challenge to his top managers belies either an ignorance of what frugality is all about, or is a disingenuous PR announcement that shows contempt for people's intelligence.

A while ago on this blog, I suggested that the President challenge his cabinet to reduce their administrative budgets by a percentage -- say, 10% -- and that they implement a hiring freeze to stop the growth of the federal workforce, to ensure that stimulus dollars go to local communities, not growing DC bureaucracies. Do more with less -- that's what good organizational managers should always try to do.

Instead, we're told that one cabinet secretary figured out how to save a million or so buying office supplies in bulk from Staples. (Guess the Bushies never captured that low-hanging fruit!).

C'mon Mr. President, set the bar higher than that.

Obama's Cartoonanomics, Part I. The Apprentice to FDR and LBJ's sorcerer

As the father of a young-ish boy, I have had some Disney videos permanently hardwired into my conciousness. Ironically, the more attention I pay to current events in Washington and Wall Street, the more applicable they become.

I noticed this little gem of spending tucked into the House "stimulus package"

Let's see :$88 million to build new schools in a city with 15 vacant schools and declining enrollment But this is what liberals do. They start programs that will never end, even after the initial problem they were meant to address has long since passed., or in the case of Milwaukee, simply assume from hundreds of miles away the city needs new schools even if the locals have no need for them. This classic cartoon explains what happens when liberals start spending money, and the Obama plan is just the latest and most monumental example.  Yes, long after the well is filled the liberal "brooms" keep filling it with water. And in our case, the "water" is paid for with borrowed money from Beijing which future taxpayers will need to pay back with interest.

Sign Petition Protesting Bloated Stimulus Plan

Senator McCain sent an email to supporters explaining his opposition to the current emergency economic stimulus package stating that...

Yesterday, the Senate began debate on an economic stimulus package that is intended to get our economy back on track and help Americans who are suffering through these difficult times. Unfortunately, the proposal on the table is big on the giveaways for the special interests and corporate high rollers, yet short on help for ordinary working Americans. I cannot and do not support the package on the table from the Democrats and the Obama Administration. Our country does not need just another spending bill, particularly not one that will load future generations with the burden of massive debt. We need a short term stimulus bill that will directly help people, create jobs, and provide a jolt to our economy.

He further explains the myriad of problems with this bloated stimulus package and asks for people to sign a petition to voice their disapproval of this bill.

Sign Vote No On The Stimulus Package Petition


John McCain Sponsors Petition Protesting Bloated Stimulus Plan

What's wrong with this picture ?

The U.S. Senate has decided we all need four more months to go out and prepare for digital television...which will cost the average TV viewer, what...$40/set before coupon

Meanwhile, the President and Congress can;t spend four weeks figuring how to spend a trillion dollars, and perhaps, actually trying to figure out the best way to fix the economy. Which might mean NOT spending the trillion dollars.

  There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper

Yes, America, our government truly has reached the "Outer Limits".


The New New Deal: Senior Centers and Salt Sheds

Here's a look at the brave new old world of make work taxpayer funded pork barrel projects.

The lobbying group for CT municipalities has amassed a wish list of over $2.8 billion in "shovel-ready" projects it claims would be worthy recipients of President-elect Obama's largesse.

Get your nostrils ready for a pungent smell test .

Darien--perhaps the state's richest town--- "needs" $17 million for a new police station.

Clinton--population 15,000---thinks it has a variety of ways to spend a mere $74 million; including dredging a pond. 

East Hartford thinks a new senior center ought to cost $30 million

New Fairfield--which has virtually no pedestrian traffic---needs to finish its "downtown' sidewalks

New Haven has a mere $506 million in wishes, including this cryptic $20 million item . "Prospect/Trumbull area for CSO in conjunction with GNHWPCA" Thankfully, its Mayor was not elected Governor in 2006 or the state would have already filed for Chapter  9 (the municipal version of Chapter 11).    

Newtown has $132 million in needs; although one wonders if the design and bid for the high school at $40 million is a bit duplicative of the $42 million for the high school addition. Double counting?

Portland needs $1.5 million for a public boat launch. Guess this beats floating a bond, eh?

Putnam must have $13 million for a community center with a swimming pool. 

Stamford---run by the other Democrat who wanted Jodi Rell's job in 2006--needs only $478 million. This list includes $4 million for an "absorbsion chiller"; $48,000 for foreign language classes for officers, and $164,000 to train K-9's. Who said our economy is going to the dogs?

Westport is looking for $7.2 million. including $200,000 for the Longshore Golf Club halfway house. Is this for golfers in rehab? Guess financial times there are tough since Martha moved away? 

Wethersfield has among its $4.175 million in urgent needs building a "gateway entrance" at the north end of town. Trust me, You don't need to spend a dime to know when you've left the City of Hartford.

Woodbury needs another $2.5 million for a salt shed. Guess global warming isn;t here yet.

Folks, we are going to be treated to the biggest pork fest in human history under President Obama. My suggestion is to watch in awe and try not to get in front of the trough.



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