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“Marco Rubio’s Terrible New Idea”: Pandering To Voters’ Most Simplistic And Uninformed Impulses

Campaigning for president requires one to come up with policy proposals, a need that from time to time produces innovative and promising ideas. But it also produces some extraordinarily dumb ones, as Marco Rubio is now demonstrating. Here’s his latest plan to fix what’s wrong with Washington:

Shortly after 11 a.m. on the East Coast, Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign alerted the media to their candidate’s latest position, inspired by the Founding Fathers and by Congress’s seeming inability to pass conservative legislation.

“One of the things I’m going to do on my first day in office is I will put the prestige and power of the presidency behind a constitutional convention of the states,” Rubio said as he campaigned in Iowa. “You know why? Because that is the only way that we are ever going to get term limits on members of Congress or the judiciary and that is the only way we are ever going to get a balanced-budget amendment.”

With this, Rubio manages to combine a promise for something that will never happen with a spectacularly terrible idea.

We’ll start with the constitutional convention. There are two ways an amendment to the Constitution can be proposed: when two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to do so, or when two-thirds of the states call for a convention to propose amendments. Rubio is saying that because you couldn’t get super-majorities in Congress to support his three ideas, he wants to push for the states to assemble a convention to offer these amendments.

The first thing to understand is that the president has nothing to do with this process. What Rubio is promising is that in between trying to pass his tax cuts and outlaw abortion and repeal Obamacare and wage war on the Islamic State, he’ll use the bully pulpit to advocate for a constitutional convention. So President Rubio will give a speech or two about it? Mention it in the State of the Union? That’s fine, but at best it might bring the chances of getting two-thirds of the states to sign on from approximately zero to ever slightly more than zero. Getting a constitutional convention might be a bit easier than assembling two-thirds majorities in Congress, but not by much.

So he can’t make these constitutional amendments happen. But what about the amendments themselves? Term limits for judges is the only one that might not be all that problematic, but it’s a little hard to tell what the problem is that Rubio is trying to solve. Lifetime tenure for judges is supposed to insulate them from momentary political concerns, but in practice it turns out that there’s plenty of politics on the bench. Presidents pick nominees they hope will reflect their own political values, and most of the time they’re right, with an occasional exception here and there. Some have suggested that the Supreme Court could use more turnover, so there should be a limit of some long but not endless stretch for justices (18 years is one common number). That might be fine, but it’s hard to see what kind of transformation in American justice would result from limiting all federal judges’ terms. If anything, the nominating and confirmation process would become even more political, since you’d need more judges.

But that’s the least bad of these ideas. The next is term limits for Congress, an idea that fell out of favor for a while and Rubio now wants to bring back. But what is it supposed to accomplish? Is Washington going to run more smoothly with more members who don’t know how to pass legislation? We’ve seen a huge influx of new members (mostly Republicans) in the last few congressional elections, and they haven’t exactly been committed to making government work. To the contrary, they’re the ones who care least about having a functioning government and are more likely to be nihilistic extremists who want to shut down the government, default on the national debt and govern by crisis.

Rubio is smart enough to know that the myth of the citizen legislator unsullied by contact with sinister lobbyists, who comes to Washington armed with nothing but common sense and a strong moral fiber and cleans up government, is just that — a myth. But he also knows that saying “Kick all the bums out!” is an easy way to pander to voters’ most simplistic and uninformed impulses.

I’ve saved the worst for last: a balanced-budget amendment. It has long been a popular item on the conservative wish list, but if you put it into practice, it would be an absolute disaster.

The childish way of thinking about it is that a requirement that the government spend no more than it takes in every year would impose fiscal discipline and make government live within its means. But in truth it would require radical cutbacks in everything government does — which means not only the programs Republicans don’t like anyway, but also the ones they do like. In the last half century, through Republican and Democratic presidencies and Republican and Democratic Congresses, we’ve had only five years when the government’s budget was balanced (four of which came during the boom of the Clinton years). Without the ability to issue bonds to cover each year’s shortfall, we’d be left without the ability to do what’s necessary to serve all of our many public needs.

Consider what would happen during an economic downturn if we had a balanced-budget amendment. What you want in that situation is for government to step in and help people — by providing things like food stamps and unemployment compensation to keep people from falling into truly desperate situations of hunger and homelessness, and also to do what it can to spur job creation and keep the recession from being worse than it would otherwise be.

But in a recession, tax revenue also falls, because people are losing jobs and incomes are plummeting; as an example, between 2008 and 2009, the federal government’s revenues declined by more than $400 billion. With a balanced-budget requirement in place, just at the moment when government’s help is needed most, not only would it be powerless to do anything to mitigate the toll of the recession, it also would be required to impose brutal budget cuts, pulling money out of the economy and making things even worse. If Rubio got his way, every recession the country experienced would be deeper, longer and more punishing.

Some conservatives say, “Nearly every state has a balanced-budget amendment, so why can’t the federal government have one too?” But that’s actually another reason why a federal balanced-budget amendment would be so dangerous. When a recession hits, states have no choice but to cut back, slashing needed services and firing workers just when their economies are suffering. At those times, the federal government can step in to limit the damage, boosting the hundreds of billions of dollars it already provides in aid to the states. As it happens, many of the states run by Republicans are the ones most dependent on federal government aid. In 2012, according to the Tax Foundation, the federal government picked up 31.5 percent of all state budgets, including 44 percent of Louisiana’s, 45 percent of Mississippi’s and 41 percent of Tennessee’s. So in places where Republicans are denouncing the federal government in the loudest terms, without the federal government’s help their state finances would utterly collapse.

The good news is that none of what Rubio is advocating for will ever happen. But advocating for constitutional amendments is what you do when you don’t have the stomach for actual governing. It’s certainly seductive — we’ll just change the Constitution, and that will sweep away all the messiness that comes with politics. But it’s a fantasy. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of presidential candidates who don’t respect the voters enough to tell them that passing laws and solving problems is difficult and complicated, and to get what you want to you have to slog your way through it. That’s not an inspiring campaign message, but it’s the truth.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 31, 2015

January 1, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Constitution, Governing, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The GOP Magical World Of Voodoo ‘Economists’: Repeal The 20th Century

If you came up with a bumper sticker that pulls together the platform of this year’s crop of Republican presidential candidates, it would have to be:

Repeal the 20th century. Vote GOP.

It’s not just the 21st century they want to turn the clock back on — health-care reform, global warming and the financial regulations passed in the wake of the recent financial crises and accounting scandals.

These folks are actually talking about repealing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, created in 1970s.

They’re talking about abolishing Medicare and Medicaid, which passed in the 1960s, and Social Security, created in the 1930s.

They reject as thoroughly discredited all of Keynesian economics, including the efficacy of fiscal stimulus, preferring the budget-balancing economic policies that turned the 1929 stock market crash into the Great Depression.

They also reject the efficacy of monetary stimulus to fight recession, and give the strong impression they wouldn’t mind abolishing the Federal Reserve and putting the country back on the gold standard.

They refuse to embrace Darwin’s theory of evolution, which has been widely accepted since the Scopes Trial of the 1920s.

One of them is even talking about repealing the 16th and 17th amendments to the Constitution, allowing for a federal income tax and the direct election of senators — landmarks of the Progressive Era.

What’s next — repeal of quantum physics?

Not every candidate embraces every one of these kooky ideas. But what’s striking is that when Rick Perry stands up and declares that “Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done,” not one candidate is willing to speak up for the most important economic thinker of the 20th century. Or when Michele Bachmann declares that natural selection is just a theory, none of the other candidates is willing to risk the wrath of the religious right and call her on it. Leadership, it ain’t.

I realize economics isn’t a science the way biology and physics are sciences, but it’s close enough to one that there are ideas, principles and insights from experience that economists generally agree upon. Listening to the Republicans talk about the economy and economic policy, however, is like entering into an alternative reality.

Theirs is a magical world in which the gulf oil spill and the Japanese nuclear disaster never happened and there was never a problem with smog, polluted rivers or contaminated hamburger. It is a world where Enron and Worldcom did not collapse and shoddy underwriting by bankers did not bring the financial system to the brink of a meltdown. It is a world where the unemployed can always find a job if they really want one and businesses never, ever ship jobs overseas.

As politicians who are always quick to point out that it is only the private sector that creates economic growth, I found it rather comical to watch the governors at last week’s debate duke it out over who “created” the most jobs while in office. I know it must have just been an oversight, but I couldn’t help noticing that neither Mitt Romney nor Perry thought to exclude the thousands of government jobs included in their calculations — the kinds of jobs they and their fellow Republicans now view as economically illegitimate.

And how wonderfully precise they can be when it comes to job numbers. Romney is way out front when it comes to this kind of false precision. His new economic plan calculates that President Obama would “threaten” 7.3 million jobs with the ozone regulation that, in fact, the president had just canceled. By contrast, Romney claims his own plan will create 11 million jobs in his first term — not 10, not 12, but 11 million.

When you dig into such calculations, however, it turns out many are based on back-of-the-envelope extrapolations from industry data that totally ignore the dynamic quality of economic interactions.

One recent example comes from the cement industry, which now warns that new regulations limiting emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide could close as many as 18 of the 100 cement plants in the United States, resulting in the direct loss of 13,000 jobs.

Then again, where do you think all those customers of the 18 plants will get their cement? Do you think they might get some of it from the other 82 plants, which in turn might have to add a few workers to handle the additional volume? Or that a higher price for cement might induce somebody to build a modern plant to take advantage of the suddenly unmet demand? Or perhaps that higher prices for cement will lead some customers to use another building material produced by an industry that will have to add workers to increase its output? And what about the possibility that the regulation will encourage some innovative company to devise emissions-control equipment that will not only allow some of those plants to remain open but generate a few thousand extra jobs of its own as it exports to plants around the world.

Such possibilities are rarely, if ever, acknowledged in these “job-scare studies.” Also left out are any estimates of the benefits that might accrue in terms of longer, healthier lives. In the Republican alternative universe, it’s all costs, no benefits when it comes to government regulation. As they see it, government regulators wake up every morning with an uncontrollable urge to see how many jobs they can destroy.

If consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, then these Republican presidential candidates are big thinkers, particularly on fiscal issues.

In the Republican alternative universe, allowing an income tax cut for rich people to expire will “devastate” the U.S. economy, while letting a payroll tax cut for working people to expire would hardly be noticed. Cutting defense spending is economic folly; cutting food stamps for poor children an economic imperative.

My favorite, though, is a proposal, backed by nearly all the candidates along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to allow big corporations to bring home, at a greatly reduced tax rate, the more than $1 trillion in profits they have stashed away in foreign subsidiaries.

“Repatriation,” as it is called, was tried during the “jobless recovery” of the Bush years, with the promise that it would create 500,000 jobs over two years as corporations reinvested the cash in their U.S. operations. According to the most definitive studies of what happened, however, most of the repatriated profits weren’t used to hire workers or invest in new plants and equipment. Instead, they were used to pay down debt or buy back stock.

But fear not. In a new paper prepared for the chamber, Republican economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin argues that just because the money went to creditors and investors doesn’t mean it didn’t create jobs. After all, creditors and shareholders are people, too — people who will turn around and spend most of it, in the process increasing the overall demand for goods and services. As a result, Holtz-Eakin argues, a dollar of repatriated profit would have roughly the same impact on the economy as a dollar under the Obama stimulus plan, or in the case of $1 trillion in repatriated profit, about 3 million new jobs.

It’s a lovely economic argument, and it might even be right. But for Republican presidential candidates, it presents a little problem. You can’t argue, at one moment, that putting $1 trillion of money in the hands of households and business failed to create even a single job, and at the next moment argue that putting an extra $1 trillion in repatriated profit into their hands will magically generate jobs for millions.

It took a while, but even Richard Nixon came around to declaring himself a Keynesian. Maybe there is still hope for Perry and the gang.

By: Steve Pearlstein, Columnist, The Washington Post, September 10, 2011

September 14, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Banks, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Economic Recovery, Economy, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Budget, Global Warming, GOP, Government, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, Taxes, Tea Party, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Unemployed, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Boehner’s Unreality Check On The Deficit

The news out of House Speaker John Boehner’s speech to the New York Economic Club was his demand for “cuts of trillions, not just billions” before the debt ceiling can be raised. Not just broad deficit-reduction targets, the Ohio Republican insisted, but “actual cuts and program reforms.”

That’s alarming enough. It is all but impossible to get this done in the available time. It certainly can’t be accomplished on Boehner’s unbending, no-new-taxes terms. And if the speaker truly believes that it would be “more irresponsible” to raise the debt ceiling without instituting deficit-reduction measures than not to raise it at all, we’re in a heap of trouble.

Even more alarming, because it has consequences beyond the debt-ceiling debate, is the incoherent, impervious-to-facts economic philosophy undergirding Boehner’s remarks.

Reporters naturally tend to ignore this boilerplate. Journalistically, that makes sense. Boehner’s economic comments were nothing particularly new. Indeed, they reflect what has become the mainstream thinking of the Republican Party. But that’s exactly the point. We become so inured to hearing this thinking that we neglect to point out how wrong it is.

My argument with Boehner is not that he believes in a more limited role for government than I do, not that he is more skeptical of government intervention and regulation, and not that he is more worried about the economically stifling implications of tax increases. Those are legitimate ideological differences. American politics is better off for them.

I’m talking about statements that are simply false.

“The recent stimulus spending binge hurt our economy and hampered private-sector job creation in America.”

Reasonable economists can disagree about the effectiveness of the stimulus spending and whether it was worth the drag of the additional debt, but no reasonable economist argues that it hurt the economy in the short term.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the stimulus added, on average, about one percentage point annually to economic growth and reduced the unemployment rate by half a point between 2009 and 2011. And that’s the low-end estimate. The high-end numbers show the stimulus spending adding more than 2 percentage points annually to economic growth and cutting the unemployment rate by more than 1 percentage point.

The CBO is not alone. Economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi estimated in a July 2010 paper that without the stimulus spending, the unemployment rate would be 1.5 percentage points higher.

“The massive borrowing and spending by the Treasury Department crowded out private investment by American businesses of all sizes.”

Crowding out occurs when government spending drives up interest rates and makes borrowing unattractive to the private sector. As economist Joseph Minarik of the Committee for Economic Development explains, “When interest rates are on the floor, you can’t say federal government borrowing is crowding out business investment.” The lackluster investment climate reflects low consumer demand and underutilized capacity. You can’t be crowded out of a room you’re not trying to enter.

“The truth is we will never balance the budget and rid our children of debt unless we cut spending and have real economic growth. And we will never have real economic growth if we raise taxes on those in America who create jobs.”

Never? Under President Clinton, taxes were raised, primarily on the wealthy. During the eight years of his administration, the economy grew by an average of close to 4 percent.

“I ran for Congress in 1990, the year our nation’s leaders struck a so-called bargain that raised taxes as part of a bipartisan plan to balance the budget. The result of that so-called bargain was the recession of the early 1990s. It wasn’t until the economy picked back up toward the end of that decade that we achieved a balanced budget.”

Boehner blames the budget deal for tanking the economy, but the recession actually started in July 1990, two months before the agreement was reached. And that revived economy? It came despite the supposed dead weight of the Clinton tax increase.

“A tax hike would wreak havoc not only on our economy’s ability to create private-sector jobs, but also on our ability to tackle the national debt.”

During the early 1980s, taxes were cut and public debt ballooned, from 26 percent of GDP in 1980 to 40 percent by 1986. In 1993, taxes were increased (and spending cut); debt as a share of the economy fell, from 49 percent to 33 percent. In 2001 and 2003, taxes were cut. By the time President Obama took office, debt had climbed to 40 percent of GDP.

Listening to Boehner, I began to think the country suffers from two deficits: the gap between spending and revenue, and the one between reality and ideology. The first cannot be solved unless we find some way of at least narrowing the second.

By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 10, 2011

May 15, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Journalists, Lawmakers, Media, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Press, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Taxes, Unemployment, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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