Fracking: An Existential Threat to Green Dogma
Mar 28, 2012
The Sierra Club and other environmental pressure groups are redoubling their efforts to “stop fracking in its tracks.” No wonder. The technology is an existential threat to fundamental “green” dogmas.
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is a true “game changer.” In less than two years, this proven but still rapidly advancing technology has obliterated longstanding claims that we are running out of petroleum. Instead, the USA now finds itself blessed with centuries of oil and gas.
Poland and Estonia are using it, China has invited companies to the Middle Kingdom, Britain, Israel and Jordan are evaluating their shale deposits, and other nations are following suit – coaxing oil and natural gas from shale and other rock formations that previously had refused to yield their hydrocarbon riches.
By making more natural gas available, fracking has reduced the US price for this clean-burning fuel to under $3 per thousand cubic feet (or million Btu), compared to a peak of $8 a few years ago.
Natural gas is also supplanting coal for electricity generation. Due to excessive, mostly unnecessary new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, many US coal-fired power plants are shutting down. Replacement plants are far more likely to be gas-powered than nuclear, especially in the near term.
Natural gas makes heating and electricity more affordable for families, hospitals, government buildings and businesses; feed stocks less expensive for makers of plastics, paints, fabrics and other petrochemical products; and the prospect of natural gas-power vehicles more enticing, without mandates or subsidies. That translates into thousands of jobs created or saved.
Companies are keeping chemical plants open that were slated to close, due to soaring prices for oil that they now can readily replace with cheap natural gas. Shell plans to build a $2-biillion ethane “cracking” plant near Pittsburgh – creating 10,000 construction jobs and 10,000 permanent jobs – thanks to abundant gas from Marcellus Shale. Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states are reporting subsidy-free employment and revenue gains from shale gas development. More are likely to follow, as companies seek new ways to capitalize on access to abundant, inexpensive, reliable gas.
Natural gas also provides essential backup power for wind turbines. Without such backup, electricity generation from these projects would plummet to zero 70-80% of the time, affecting assembly lines, computers, televisions, air conditioners and other electrical equipment dozens of times every day.
Even harder for environmentalists to accept, cheap natural gas also makes it harder to justify building redundant wind turbines that require large subsidies to generate far more expensive electricity only 5-8 hours a day, on average, while killing large numbers of raptors, migratory birds and bats. It makes more sense to simply build the gas turbines, and forget about the mostly useless wind turbines.
Fracking is also unlocking oil in the vast Bakken Shale formations beneath Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan. Oil production there has shot from 3,000 barrels a day in 2006 to nearly 500,000 today – creating thousands of jobs … and a growing need for the Keystone XL pipeline to Texas.
In response, eco-activists are spreading unfounded fears about this proven technology. Using words like “reckless,” “dangerous” and “poisonous,” they say unregulated fracking companies are operating with little concern for ecological values and causing cancer, earthquakes and groundwater contamination.
The claims have fanned borderline hysteria in some quarters and prompted Maryland, New York and other states to launch drawn-out studies or impose moratoria that will postpone drilling and the benefits it would bring.
Facts are sorely needed.
Drilling and fracking have been carefully and effectively regulated by states for decades. As studies by the University of Texas and various state agencies have documented, there has never been a confirmed case of groundwater contamination due to fracking. Even EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged that to a congressional panel.
These analysts, drilling companies and even an Environmental Defense expert now say fracking has not played a role in any of the rare cases where methane has gotten into drinking water.
Instead, the cause has generally been a failure of “well integrity” – the result of improper cementing between the well borehole and the steel “casing” and pipes that go down through aquifers and thousands of feet deeper into gas-laden shale formations. Similar failures occur in water wells drilled through rock formations containing methane (natural gas).
The solution is straightforward: better standards and procedures for cementing vertical pipes in place, and testing them initially and periodically to ensure there are no leaks.
Similarly, fracking fluids fail to match the “toxic” and “cancerous” opprobrium alleged by anti-drilling campaigns. Over 99.5% of the fluids is water and sand. The other 0.5% is chemicals to keep sand particles suspended in the liquid, fight bacterial growth and improve gas production.
Although industrial chemicals were once used, almost all of today’s are vegetable oil and chemicals used in cheese, beer, canned fish, dairy desserts, shampoo, and other food and cosmetic products.
As to “earthquakes,” barely detectable “tremors” have occasionally been measured near fracking operations and wastewater disposal injection wells. However, calling these snap, crackle and pop noises and movements “earthquakes” is akin to giving that label to rumblings from trains and cement trucks.
Despite these facts, EPA is nevertheless trying to invent problems and inject itself into already vigilant and responsive state regulatory efforts. The agency has conducted a roundly criticized study in Wyoming and is conducting water tests in Pennsylvania, where state officials view its activities as unnecessary meddling.
Additional over-reach and over-regulation would be hugely detrimental to US and global well-being. Fracking could help create numerous jobs and provide a far more secure, affordable, dependable and lower-pollution future than would ever be possible with wind or solar power.
By expanding oil and gas development, it could make North America the world’s new energy hub. Middle East sheiks, mullahs and OPEC ministers would lose economic, political and strategic power. Threats of Russian pipeline closures would no longer intimidate Eastern European countries. Politicians everywhere would waste less money on “renewable” energy T-Boonedoggles.
Unfortunately, though, fear campaigns are preventing some of America’s poorest counties and families from enjoying the economic benefits of Marcellus Shale development.
Baltimore’s Sage Policy Group calculated that fracking in western Maryland could reduce energy costs, create thousands of jobs, and generate millions of dollars annually in revenue for the state and Allegany and Garrett Counties. Similar studies in New York and elsewhere have reached similar conclusions.
Hydraulic fracturing technologies are proven. Regulations to protect drinking water are in place and improving steadily, as cementing and other legitimate concerns are recognized and addressed.
North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Poland and Israel are showing the way forward.
Communities that have not yet opened their doors to responsible drilling, fracking and production need to replace anti-hydrocarbon agendas and fears with facts, optimism and science-based regulations.
ANWR: Our Frozen Energy Debate
No better time to end the arguments about drilling in Alaska.
Confronted with an energy shortage, Congress debates opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. Senator Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) argues that “oil extracted from the wildlife refuge wouldn’t reach refineries for seven to ten years.” Senator Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.) is more pessimistic, saying “drilling in ANWR wouldn’t get us any oil for at least ten years.” Leading the successful filibuster of the provision, Senator John Kerry (D., Mass.) echoes Bingaman, saying, “If we opened ANWR today it wouldn’t produce any oil for at least ten years.”
This exchange happened in 2001, when President Bush proposed opening ANWR to drilling in his energy plan. But one need only change some of the details to update the story for today.
Last Wednesday, with gas prices over $4 a gallon, even before an expected summer spike, the House passed another provision to open ANWR for development, reopening the debate. A decade later, the arguments, and many of the actors, are the same. To wit, during a hearing in early February, Senator Cantwell, two months shy of the ten-year anniversary of her initial pronouncement, warned that oil from ANWR “would only decrease the price of gasoline three to five cents, and it wouldn’t even do that until 2030.”
ANWR’s fate has been debated in Congress since the late 1970s. Representative Don Young (R., Alaska) recounts that he’s helped pass provisions in the House to open ANWR a dozen times in his career. Had those provisions been successful, say, when the Exxon Valdez spill scared people away from the issue in the late 1980s, or when President Clinton vetoed the proposal in 1996, or when Senator Kerry filibustered it in the Senate in 2001, we would already have that oil on the market. The estimate that ANWR won’t provide oil for ten years is as much a reason for urgency as it is for postponement. In ten years, we’ll want that oil as much as we do now.
The ten-year estimation is also inflated. To listen to ANWR critics, it seems as if the very forces of nature have conspired to burrow oil so deep into Alaska’s arctic core that we would need a decade just to find and extract it. In reality, it could take less than five years to physically prepare for drilling. Given a year for the Environmental Impact Survey, between a year and 18 months for the Department of the Interior to lease out the land, and two years for test drilling and analysis (expedited by the fact that there’s already a test well in the area), ANWR oil wells could be operational by 2017. However, as John Basil Utley reported in Reason, there are eleven “litigation choke points” which could halt the process. It’s only after accounting for five years of legal and bureaucratic interruptions, then, that analysts conclude that drilling in ANWR is ten years away.
Even if oil from ANWR wouldn’t hit the market for a decade, other benefits would accrue during that period. One of the stated reasons for the GOP’s inclusion of ANWR in this year’s highway bill is that the site’s leasing fees would help pay for infrastructure projects. To that end, the CBO predicts $2.5 billion of net federal revenue from ANWR over the next decade. Republicans argue that the figure will be even higher. The preparations for drilling would also create thousands of jobs, though estimates range wildly, from 65,000 to 770,000. Many of these jobs would have to be filled before drilling starts, in order to build the 75-mile pipeline spur required to transport the oil to port.
In short, the argument that oil from ANWR won’t help for another decade shouldn’t turn anyone off of drilling. Prohibiting all oil drilling in ANWR has brought us nothing except endless arguments about drilling in ANWR.
By Mark Steyn
Had I been asked to deliver the State of the Union address, it would not have delayed your dinner plans:
“The State of our Union is broke, heading for bankrupt, and total collapse shortly thereafter. Thank you and goodnight! You’ve been a terrific crowd!”
I gather that Americans prefer something a little more upbeat, so one would not begrudge a speechwriter fluffing it up by holding out at least the possibility of some change of fortune, however remote. Instead, President Obama assured us at great length that nothing is going to change, not now, not never. Indeed the Union’s state – its unprecedented world-record brokeness – was not even mentioned.
If, as I was, you happened to be stuck at Gate 27 at one of the many U.S. airports laboring under the misapprehension that pumping CNN at you all evening long somehow adds to the gaiety of flight delays, you would have watched an address that gave no indication its speaker was even aware that the parlous state of our finances is an existential threat not only to the nation but to global stability. The message was, oh, sure, unemployment’s still a little higher than it should be, and student loans are kind of expensive, and the housing market’s pretty flat, but it’s nothing that a little government “investment” in green jobs and rural broadband and retraining programs can’t fix. In other words, more of the unaffordable same.
The president certainly had facts and figures at his disposal. He boasted that his regulatory reforms “will save business and citizens more than $10 billion over the next five years.” Wow. Ten billion smackeroos! That’s some savings – and in a mere half a decade! Why, it’s equivalent to what the Government of the United States borrows every 53 hours. So by midnight on Thursday, Obama had already re-borrowed all those hard-fought savings from 2017. “In the last 22 months,” said the president, “businesses have created more than 3 million jobs.” Impressive. But 125,000 new foreign workers arrive every month (officially). So we would have to have created 2,750,000 jobs in that period just to stand still.
Fortunately, most of the items in Obama’s interminable speech will never happen, any more than the federally funded bicycling helmets or whatever fancies found their way onto Bill Clinton’s extravagant shopping lists in the Nineties. At the time, the excuse for Clinton’s mountain of legislative molehills was that all the great battles had been won, and, in the absence of a menacing Russian bear, what else did a president have to focus on except criminalizing toilet tanks over 1.6 gallons. President Obama does not enjoy the same dispensation, and any historians stumbling upon a surviving DVD while sifting through the ruins of our civilization will marvel at how his accumulation of delusional trivialities was apparently taken seriously by the assembled political class.
An honest leader would feel he owed it to the citizenry to impress upon them one central truth – that we can’t have any new programs because we’ve spent all the money. It’s gone. The cupboard is bare. What’s Obama’s plan to restock it? “Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary,” the president told us. “Asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”
But why stop there? Americans need affordable health care and affordable Master’s Degrees in Climate Change and Social Justice Studies, so why not take everything that Warren Buffett’s got? After all, if you confiscated the total wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans it would come to $1.5 trillion.
Which is just a wee bit less than the federal shortfall in just one year of Obama-size budgets. 2011 deficit: $1.56 trillion. But maybe for 2012 a whole new Forbes 400 of Saudi princes and Russian oligarchs will emigrate to the Hamptons and Malibu and keep the whole class-warfare thing going for a couple more years.
The so-called “Buffett Rule” is indicative not so much of “common sense” as of the ever-widening gap between the Brobdingnagian problem and the Lilliputian solutions proposed by our leaders. Obama can sacrifice the virgin daughters of every American millionaire on the altar of government spending, and the debt gods will barely notice so much as to give a perfunctory belch of acknowledgement. The president’s first term has added $5 trillion to the debt – a degree of catastrophe unique to us. In an Obama budget, the entire cost of the Greek government would barely rate a line-item. Debt-to-GDP and other comparative measures are less relevant than the hard-dollar numbers: It’s not just that American government has outspent America’s ability to fund it, but that it’s outspending the planet’s.
Who gets this? Not enough of us – which is exactly how Obama likes it. His only “big idea” – that it should be illegal (by national fiat) to drop out of school before your 18th birthday – betrays his core belief: that more is better, as long as it’s government-mandated, government-regulated, government-staffed – and funded by you, or Warren Buffett, or the Chinese Politburo, or whoever’s left out there.
What of his likely rivals this November? Those of us who have lived in once-great decaying polities recognize the types. Jim Callaghan, Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street in the Seventies, told a friend of mine that he saw his job as managing Britain’s decline as gracefully as possible. The United Kingdom certainly declined on his watch, though not terribly gracefully. In last Monday’s debate, Newt Gingrich revived the line and accused by implication Mitt Romney of having no higher ambition than to “manage the decline.” Running on platitudinous generalities, Mitt certainly betrays little sense that he grasps the scale of the crisis. After a fiery assault by Rick Santorum on Romney’s support for an individual mandate in health care, Mitt sneered back at Rick that “it wasn’t worth getting angry over.” Which may be a foretaste of the energy he would bring to any attempted course correction in Washington.
Newt, meanwhile, has committed himself to a lunar colony by the end of his second term, and, while pandering to an audience on Florida’s “Space Coast,” he added that, as soon as there were 13,000 American settlers on the moon, they could apply for statehood. Ah, the old frontier spirit: I hear Laura Ingalls Wilder is already working on “Little House In The Crater.”
Maybe Newt’s on to something. Except for the statehood part. One day, when America gets the old foreclosure notice in the mail, wouldn’t it be nice to close up the entire joint, put the keys in an envelope, slide it under the door of the First National Bank of Shanghai, and jet off on Newt’s Starship Government-Sponsored Enterprise?
There are times for dreaming big dreams, and there are times to wake up. This country will not be going to the moon, any more than will be the British or French. Because, in decline, the horizons shrivel. The only thing that’s going to be on the moon is the debt ceiling. Before we can make any more giant leaps for mankind, we have to make one small, dull, prosaic, earthbound step here at home – and stop. Stop the massive expansion of microregulatory government, and then reverse it. Obama has vowed to press on. If Romney and Gingrich can’t get serious about it, he’ll get his way.
WHERE ARE THE GIRLFRIENDS?
I hadn’t thought about this – but where are O’s past girlfriends – surely he had at least one? No past girl friends popping up anywhere? Strange – strange to the point of being downright weird!
OK, this is just plain old common sense, no political agendas for either side. Just common knowledge for citizens of a country, especially American citizens, who know every little tidbit about every other president
(and their wives) that even know that Andrew Jackson’s wife smoked a corn cob pipe and was accused of adultery, or that Lincoln never went to school or Kennedy wore a back brace or Truman played the piano.
We are Americans! Our Media vets these things out! We are known for our humanitarian interests and caring for our ‘fellow man.’ We care, but none of us know one single humanizing fact about the history of our own
Honestly, and this is a personal thing … but it’s bugged me for years that no one who ever dated him ever showed up. Taken his charisma, which caused the women to be drawn to him so obviously during his campaign, looks like some lady would not have missed the opportunity….
We all know about JFK’s magnetism, McCain was no monk, Palin’s courtship and even her athletic prowess were probed. Biden’s aneurisms are no secret. Look at Cheney and Clinton-we all know about their heart
problems. How could I have left out Wild Bill before or during the White House?
Nope… not one lady has stepped up and said, “He was soooo shy,” or “What a great dancer!”Now look at the rest of what we know… no classmates, not even the recorder for the Columbia class notes ever heard of him.
Who was the best man at his wedding? Start there. Check for groomsmen. Then get the footage of the graduation ceremony.
Has anyone talked to the professors? Isn’t it odd that no one is bragging that they knew him or taught him or lived with him.
When did he meet Michele and how? Are there photos? Every president provides the public with all their photos, etc. for their library. What has he released? Nada – other than what was in this so-called biography!
And experts who study writing styles, etc. claim it was not O’s own words or typical of his speech patterns, etc.
Does this make any of you wonder?
Ever wonder why no one ever came forward from Obama’s past, saying they knew him, attended school with him, was his friend, etc. ?
Not one person has ever come forward from his past.This should really be a cause for great concern. Did you see the movie titled, The Manchurian Candidate?
Let’s face it. As insignificant as we all are… someone whom we went to school with remembers our name or face…someone remembers we were the clown or the dork or the brain or the quiet one or the bully or something about us.
George Stephanopoulos, ABC News said the same thing during the 2008 campaign.Even George questions why no one has acknowledged that the president was in their classroom or ate in the same cafeteria or made impromptu speeches on campus.
Stephanopoulos was a classmate of Obama at Columbia-class of 1984.He says he never had a single class with him.Since he is such a great orator, why doesn’t anyone in Obama’s college class remember him?And, why won’t he allow Columbia to release his records?
Do you like millions of others, simply assume all this is explainable – even though no one can?
NOBODY REMEMBERS OBAMA AT COLUMBIA
Looking for evidence of Obama’s past, Fox News contacted 400 Columbia University students from the period when Obama claims to have been there, but not one remembers him. For example,Wayne Allyn Root was (like Obama) a political science major at Columbia, who graduated in 1983. In 2008, Root says of Obama, “I don’t know a single person at Columbia that knew him, and they all know me. I don’t have a single classmate who ever knew Barack Obama at Columbia … EVER! Nobody recalls him. Root adds that he was, “Class of ’83 political science, pre-law” and says, “You don’t get more exact or closer than that. Never met him in my life, don’t know anyone who ever met him.”
At our 20th class reunion five years ago, who was asked to be the speaker of the class? Me. No one ever heard of Barack! And five years ago, nobody even knew who he was. The guy who writes the class
notes, who’s kind of the, as we say in New York, ‘the macha’ who knows everybody, has yet to find a person, a human who ever met him.”Obama’s photograph does not appear in the school’s yearbook, and
Obama consistently declines requests to talk about his years at Columbia, provide school records, or provide the name of any former classmates or friends while at Columbia. How can this be?
NOTE: Wayne Allyn Root can easily be verified. He graduated valedictorian from his high school, Thornton-Donovan School, then graduated from Columbia University in 1983 as a Political Science major in the same ’83 class in which Barack Hussein Obama states he was.
Some other interesting questions.
Why was Obama’s law license inactivated in 2002?Why was Michelle’s law license inactivated by court order?
According to the U.S. Census, there is only one Barack Obama – but 27 Social
Security numbers and over 80 aliases.
The Social Security number he uses now originated in Connecticut where he is never reported to have lived.
No wonder all his records are sealed!
Please continue sending this out to everyone. Somewhere, someone had to know him in school…before he”reorganized” Chicago and burst upon the scene at the 2004 Democratic Convention and made us swoon with his charm, poise, and speaking pizzazz.
One of the biggest CONS this country has ever seen, and getting away with it. Go watch the movie The Manchurian Candidate, with Lawrence Harvey! Good movie!
Twelve Great Reasons to Love a Great Country
An excerpt from the new revised edition of The American Patriot’s Almanac.
Why should Americans love their country? Here are a dozen good reasons to be grateful and proud to live here. William Bennett
1. The United States was the first nation in history created out of the belief that people should govern themselves. As James Madison said, this country’s birth was “a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society.” The U.S. constitution is the oldest written national constitution in operation. It has been a model for country after country as democracy has spread across the continents.
2. America really is the land of the free. There are large parts of the world where people can’t say what they think, learn what they’d like, or even dress the way they want. There are places where people spend years in jail or disappear if they question their rulers. Less than half of the world’s population lives in countries where people are truly free. In this nation, as George Washington put it, the love of liberty is interwoven with every ligament of American hearts.
3. No other country has done a better job of establishing equal rights for all citizens. Certainly there have been times when the United States has fallen tragically short of its founding principles. But especially in recent decades, no country has worked harder to eliminate discrimination and protect the rights of minorities. There are plenty of nations where people’s ethnicity, religion, or gender defines them as second-class citizens. In contrast, America has been a pioneer in striving toward the ideal that all are created equal.
4. This is the place where dreams can come true. U.S. newspapers are full of stories that read almost like fairy tales: the son of a laborer who grows up to be a doctor, the stay-at-home mom who turns a hobby into a flourishing business, the immigrant who becomes a movie star and governor. The United States has long been the country people flock to for the chance to make better lives. No other country has built a sturdier ladder for people to climb to success.
5. We enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. Americans live longer, have better health, and enjoy safer and more comfortable lives than the vast majority of the world’s people. Ours is one of the most prosperous nations in history. U.S. companies provide some of the best jobs in the world. They have also built countless hospitals, libraries, and parks; created great universities; filled museums with works of art; found cures for diseases; and improved human life in countless ways.
6. No other country has welcomed and united so many people from so many different shores. From its beginnings, the U.S. has been the world’s great melting pot. Never before have so many people from different backgrounds, races, nationalities, and religions lived and worked together so peacefully. In no other nation has the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood accomplished more than it has in the United States.
7. The U.S. military is the greatest defender of freedom in the world. Twice in the 20th century, the United States led the way in saving the world from tyranny — first from the Axis powers, then from Soviet totalitarianism. Throughout history, other superpowers have used armies to conquer territory and build empires by force. America, with its unrivaled military, has chosen a different course. The United States has liberated more people from tyranny than any other nation in history.
8. America is a world leader in scholarship and invention. The United States is home to the world’s finest collection of universities and research institutions. Name just about any subject — from ancient philosophy to quantum physics — and chances are good that leading authorities work here. The record of American inventions and discoveries goes on and on, from the mechanical reaper to the microchip. American medical research facilities are among the best in the world. The United States leads the world in space exploration. The computer revolution started here.
9. Americans are among the most generous people on earth. The United States has built the most extraordinary collection of charitable, philanthropic, and civic organizations in the world, and this country is the planet’s largest source of humanitarian aid. American government programs and private giving constitute one of the greatest efforts to help people in history. In 2009, Americans donated more than $300 billion to charities. When disasters strike overseas, Americans are among the first to offer help and support.
10. The United States is the world’s greatest marketplace for the free exchange of ideas and information. In some countries, governments shut down newspapers and broadcast stations they don’t like, and limit access to the Internet. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are bedrock principles of American democracy. The staggering volume of information traded here every day — via books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, TV, and radio — makes this country the liveliest center of thought and debate in history.
11. This nation possesses an amazing capacity for self-renewal. Time and again, Americans have been able to address the country’s problems and flaws. Think of those Americans at Philadelphia in 1787 who devised the most miraculous political document in history just as the young nation seemed to be falling apart. Or think of those Americans in the civil-rights movement prodding the country to right the wrongs of segregation. The American people have a genius for self-correction. Sometimes it takes a while, but in the end we find our way.
12. America is a nation that looks to God for guidance. It was founded to be a place where all are free to worship, or not to worship, as they please. Amid a diverse array of beliefs, the vast majority of Americans draw strength from faith in God’s goodness and wisdom. “In God We Trust” is our national motto, and we have never had a president who has been reluctant to say, “Let us pray.”
We Won’, Part One
By Arnold Ahlert
63 House and 6 Senate seats later, “compromise” and “working together” have become the new memes for Democrat progressives and their media apparatchiks. That’s quite an amazing turnaround for those who, only a year ago, rammed a health care bill through Congress without the slightest concern for working together or compromise. It’s the very same bunch whose leader expressed his idea of compromise in two words: “I won.” Still, compromise sounds reasonable — until we get to the actual issues where progressives wish to “split the difference.” To wit:
• How do we split the difference between bankruptcy and solvency? Without the slightest interest in compromise, progressive Democrats rammed Keynesian economics down America’s throat with one stimulus package after another. They treated us to “3 million jobs created or saved,” “Recovery Summer” and “Quantitative Easing, Part 2.” The only thing “stimulated” was the unionized public sector workforce and a bunch of state governments with a pathological refusal to confront their own fiscal profligacy.
Millions of ordinary Americans didn’t get off their Barcaloungers and show up at rallies, town hall meetings, and the mall in Washington, D.C. because they wanted to slow down America’s headlong rush towards bankruptcy. They want it stopped — dead in its tracks. And the overwhelming majority of them know the bottom line: it’s the spending, stupid. Or, more importantly, it’s the spending, period. Spare us all the nonsense that raising taxes is an indispensible part of the equation. It’s only part of the equation for those members of the ruling class who wish to be relieved of making tough, responsible decisions, explaining them to a skeptical public, and standing by them when the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth begins.
The progressives’ “your killing granny and small children” strategy is hackneyed and tired. Bottom line: out-of-control spending is killing the whole country, grandma and small children included. And for those Americans who will inevitably say “cut every program but the one I like,” I have four words:
Snap out of it!
• Regarding war, what’s the middle ground between victory and defeat? Exactly what we’ve been witnessing the last eight years. Maybe the only thing dumber than fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda with one hand tied behind our back is telling them when we’re going to stop. Even the dimmest Afghani hillbilly can draw sustenance from that nonsense. And what does al Qaeda think when we allow them to remain open for business in North Waziristan, while were feeling up grandma and the kids at O’Hare Airport?
Memo to our clueless Commander-in-Chief: the last time we were faced with an enemy that used suicide to advances its political agenda, we nuked them. Twice. You want to “win hearts and minds?” Me too — right after we completely demoralize and destroy anyone unwilling to get with the program. In 1651, English philosopher Thomas Hobbs remarked that life was “nasty, brutal and short.” War should be an exponential expansion of that philosophy. If you can’t stomach it, bring our men and women in harm’s way home — or resign.
• What’s the middle ground between national sovereignty and a defenseless border? Again, exactly what we have now. Millions of law-breakers who not only don’t fear being here illegally, but who are now demanding the right to stay. This is perhaps the biggest black eye in history for a country which has long prided itself as being a “nation of laws, not a nation of men.” Even as Mexican drug cartels run wild — on both sides of the border — Eric Holder’s Justice Department is determined to sue Arizona into surrendering its own sovereignty for nothing more than political correctness and the progressive hope they can Dream Act their way to a 2012 Hispanic voting bloc keeping them power.
Last week a report, “Broken Neighbor, Broken Border,” complied for the House Immigration Reform Caucus was made public. It was a sobering and scary look at what may be the hottest war in the world going on right now, right on our southern border — and beyond. Two of its principal recommendations? First, “Let the states secure their own borders.” Second, engage in a “long-term deployment of a minimum 25,000 armed troops with enforcement power… on our southern border to preserve U.S. sovereignty and the lives of American citizens from organized armed forces hostile to the United States.” (italics mine)
Question: when does the deliberate failure to enforce the Constitutional mandate to “provide for the common defense” rise to an impeachable offense? As for compromise, where in the Constitution does it say that national security is a part-time job, or a pick-and-choose affair?
• What’s the compromise between free-market capitalism and all-out socialism? Thirteen trillion dollars of debt and an unemployment rate of almost ten percent. Millions of jobs outsourced to “business friendlier” locales. Out-of-control public sector unions pushing virtually every state and local government in the country to the brink of insolvency. Banks, car and insurance companies and a host of other crony capitalists who despise genuine competition, bailed out by taxpayers because they’re “too big to fail.” An ideologically-inspired and idiotic refusal to allow the housing market to find a true bottom, even as the concept of moral hazard receives a steroid shot, and responsible Americans are made to feel like fools for being responsible.
Once again for the terminally clueless: progressivism, and its redistributionist mantra, is the super-highway to sloth, serfdom and subjugation. Anyone who thinks “more government” is the answer is either a moron — or a public school and university graduate. And anyone who thinks someone will bust his butt strictly out of the goodness of his heart — as opposed to having an incentive to do so — is even dumber than that.
There are reasons the United States has long out-performed all of South America economically, despite being settled by the exact same groups of people. There are reasons one of the youngest nations in the world leapt to the head of the pack in less than two hundred years. All one has to do is cast one’s eyes towards the individual states where progressives have been firmly in charge, or to Eastern Europe, where they broke the Berlin Wall down from the inside, to understand what happens to people when the “beneficence of the state” replaces personal ambition, individual achievement — and human dignity.
For those of you who are still unconvinced, two simple questions will suffice: could socialism survive without capitalism? Not a chance. Could capitalism survive without socialism? Absolutely, positively. The former eventually “runs out of other people’s money,” exactly as it’s doing now. The latter made us the most prosperous nation on earth.
Americans have to be realistic. The rejection of progressivism is, at the very least, a two-election process. Getting a majority of Republicans in the House can only stop the progressive agenda. Rolling it back will require an equally determined electorate in 2012. Not just to put Republicans in the control of the Senate and the White House, but to put conservatives in control of the Republican party. Heaven help us all if 2012 turns into another choice between an aging squish with liberal tendencies, and a dedicated Marxist looking for four more years to undo everything this nation has stood for, for two-plus centuries. As for his partner in crime, our current as Secretary of State, anyone who thinks Mrs. Clinton is any better than Mr. Obama is kidding themselves. That’s nothing more than a choice between two deck chairs on the Titanic.
Between now and 2012, Americans need to pay attention. The Democrats are a known socialist/marxist commodity which was made crystal clear by their re-election of one of the least popular women in American politics, Nancy Pelosi, to speaker. What that means is simple: the most left-leaning conglomeration of Democrats in the nation’s history have decided to lean further left, despite a complete repudiation in the 2010 election. Does that sound like “compromise” to you?
Republicans? Perhaps all they can do for the next two years is stand on conservative principle — but they sure as hell better do that. Memo to the RNC: Americans didn’t elect Republicans, they tossed Democrats under the bus. And while some common ground with Democrats may be found, Republicans had better understand that people who put them back in power have little patience for those willing to “go along to get along” when it comes to the critical issues mentioned above. These are Americans who saw the true face of Democrat progressivism, and weren’t merely upset, but thoroughly appalled.
They don’t want compromise. They want a line drawn in the sand.
Victor Davis Hanson
Abandoned farms, Third World living conditions, pervasive public assistance — welcome to the once-thriving Central Valley.
The last three weeks I have traveled about, taking the pulse of the more forgotten areas of central California. I wanted to witness, even if superficially, what is happening to a state that has the highest sales and income taxes, the most lavish entitlements, the near-worst public schools (based on federal test scores), and the largest number of illegal aliens in the nation, along with an overregulated private sector, a stagnant and shrinking manufacturing base, and an elite environmental ethos that restricts commerce and productivity without curbing consumption.
During this unscientific experiment, three times a week I rode a bike on a 20-mile trip over various rural roads in southwestern Fresno County. I also drove my car over to the coast to work, on various routes through towns like San Joaquin, Mendota, and Firebaugh. And near my home I have been driving, shopping, and touring by intent the rather segregated and impoverished areas of Caruthers, Fowler, Laton, Orange Cove, Parlier, and Selma. My own farmhouse is now in an area of abject poverty and almost no ethnic diversity; the closest elementary school (my alma mater, two miles away) is 94 percent Hispanic and 1 percent white, and well below federal testing norms in math and English.
Here are some general observations about what I saw (other than that the rural roads of California are fast turning into rubble, poorly maintained and reverting to what I remember seeing long ago in the rural South). First, remember that these areas are the ground zero, so to speak, of 20 years of illegal immigration. There has been a general depression in farming — to such an extent that the 20- to-100-acre tree and vine farmer, the erstwhile backbone of the old rural California, for all practical purposes has ceased to exist.
On the western side of the Central Valley, the effects of arbitrary cutoffs in federal irrigation water have idled tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land, leaving thousands unemployed. Manufacturing plants in the towns in these areas — which used to make harvesters, hydraulic lifts, trailers, food-processing equipment — have largely shut down; their production has been shipped off overseas or south of the border. Agriculture itself — from almonds to raisins — has increasingly become corporatized and mechanized, cutting by half the number of farm workers needed. So unemployment runs somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.
Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards. The public hears about all sorts of tough California regulations that stymie business — rigid zoning laws, strict building codes, constant inspections — but apparently none of that applies out here.
It is almost as if the more California regulates, the more it does not regulate. Its public employees prefer to go after misdemeanors in the upscale areas to justify our expensive oversight industry, while ignoring the felonies in the downtrodden areas, which are becoming feral and beyond the ability of any inspector to do anything but feel irrelevant. But in the regulators’ defense, where would one get the money to redo an ad hoc trailer park with a spider web of illegal bare wires?
Many of the rented-out rural shacks and stationary Winnebagos are on former small farms — the vineyards overgrown with weeds, or torn out with the ground lying fallow. I pass on the cultural consequences to communities from the loss of thousands of small farming families. I don’t think I can remember another time when so many acres in the eastern part of the valley have gone out of production, even though farm prices have recently rebounded. Apparently it is simply not worth the gamble of investing $7,000 to $10,000 an acre in a new orchard or vineyard. What an anomaly — with suddenly soaring farm prices, still we have thousands of acres in the world’s richest agricultural belt, with available water on the east side of the valley and plentiful labor, gone idle or in disuse. Is credit frozen? Are there simply no more farmers? Are the schools so bad as to scare away potential agricultural entrepreneurs? Or are we all terrified by the national debt and uncertain future?
California coastal elites may worry about the oxygen content of water available to a three-inch smelt in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, but they seem to have no interest in the epidemic dumping of trash, furniture, and often toxic substances throughout California’s rural hinterland. Yesterday, for example, I rode my bike by a stopped van just as the occupants tossed seven plastic bags of raw refuse onto the side of the road. I rode up near their bumper and said in my broken Spanish not to throw garbage onto the public road. But there were three of them, and one of me. So I was lucky to be sworn at only. I note in passing that I would not drive into Mexico and, as a guest, dare to pull over and throw seven bags of trash into the environment of my host.
In fact, trash piles are commonplace out here — composed of everything from half-empty paint cans and children’s plastic toys to diapers and moldy food. I have never seen a rural sheriff cite a litterer, or witnessed state EPA workers cleaning up these unauthorized wastelands. So I would suggest to Bay Area scientists that the environment is taking a much harder beating down here in central California than it is in the Delta. Perhaps before we cut off more irrigation water to the west side of the valley, we might invest some green dollars into cleaning up the unsightly and sometimes dangerous garbage that now litters the outskirts of our rural communities.
We hear about the tough small-business regulations that have driven residents out of the state, at the rate of 2,000 to 3,000 a week. But from my unscientific observations these past weeks, it seems rather easy to open a small business in California without any oversight at all, or at least what I might call a “counter business.” I counted eleven mobile hot-kitchen trucks that simply park by the side of the road, spread about some plastic chairs, pull down a tarp canopy, and, presto, become mini-restaurants. There are no “facilities” such as toilets or washrooms. But I do frequently see lard trails on the isolated roads I bike on, where trucks apparently have simply opened their draining tanks and sped on, leaving a slick of cooking fats and oils. Crows and ground squirrels love them; they can be seen from a distance mysteriously occupied in the middle of the road.
At crossroads, peddlers in a counter-California economy sell almost anything. Here is what I noticed at an intersection on the west side last week: shovels, rakes, hoes, gas pumps, lawnmowers, edgers, blowers, jackets, gloves, and caps. The merchandise was all new. I doubt whether in high-tax California sales taxes or income taxes were paid on any of these stop-and-go transactions.
In two supermarkets 50 miles apart, I was the only one in line who did not pay with a social-service plastic card (gone are the days when “food stamps” were embarrassing bulky coupons). But I did not see any relationship between the use of the card and poverty as we once knew it: The electrical appurtenances owned by the user and the car into which the groceries were loaded were indistinguishable from those of the upper middle class.
By that I mean that most consumers drove late-model Camrys, Accords, or Tauruses, had iPhones, Bluetooths, or BlackBerries, and bought everything in the store with public-assistance credit. This seemed a world apart from the trailers I had just ridden by the day before. I don’t editorialize here on the logic or morality of any of this, but I note only that there are vast numbers of people who apparently are not working, are on public food assistance, and enjoy the technological veneer of the middle class. California has a consumer market surely, but often no apparent source of income. Does the $40 million a day supplement to unemployment benefits from Washington explain some of this?
Do diversity concerns, as in lack of diversity, work both ways? Over a hundred-mile stretch, when I stopped in San Joaquin for a bottled water, or drove through Orange Cove, or got gas in Parlier, or went to a corner market in southwestern Selma, my home town, I was the only non-Hispanic — there were no Asians, no blacks, no other whites. We may speak of the richness of “diversity,” but those who cherish that ideal simply have no idea that there are now countless inland communities that have become near-apartheid societies, where Spanish is the first language, the schools are not at all diverse, and the federal and state governments are either the main employers or at least the chief sources of income — whether through emergency rooms, rural health clinics, public schools, or social-service offices. An observer from Mars might conclude that our elites and masses have given up on the ideal of integration and assimilation, perhaps in the wake of the arrival of 11 to 15 million illegal aliens.
Again, I do not editorialize, but I note these vast transformations over the last 20 years that are the paradoxical wages of unchecked illegal immigration from Mexico, a vast expansion of California’s entitlements and taxes, the flight of the upper middle class out of state, the deliberate effort not to tap natural resources, the downsizing in manufacturing and agriculture, and the departure of whites, blacks, and Asians from many of these small towns to more racially diverse and upscale areas of California.
Fresno’s California State University campus is embroiled in controversy over the student body president’s announcing that he is an illegal alien, with all the requisite protests in favor of the DREAM Act. I won’t comment on the legislation per se, but again only note the anomaly. I taught at CSUF for 21 years. I think it fair to say that the predominant theme of the Chicano and Latin American Studies program’s sizable curriculum was a fuzzy American culpability. By that I mean that students in those classes heard of the sins of America more often than its attractions. In my home town, Mexican flag decals on car windows are far more common than their American counterparts.
I note this because hundreds of students here illegally are now terrified of being deported to Mexico. I can understand that, given the chaos in Mexico and their own long residency in the United States. But here is what still confuses me: If one were to consider the classes that deal with Mexico at the university, or the visible displays of national chauvinism, then one might conclude that Mexico is a far more attractive and moral place than the United States.
So there is a surreal nature to these protests: something like, “Please do not send me back to the culture I nostalgically praise; please let me stay in the culture that I ignore or deprecate.” I think the DREAM Act protestors might have been far more successful in winning public opinion had they stopped blaming the U.S. for suggesting that they might have to leave at some point, and instead explained why, in fact, they want to stay. What it is about America that makes a youth of 21 go on a hunger strike or demonstrate to be allowed to remain in this country rather than return to the place of his birth?
I think I know the answer to this paradox. Missing entirely in the above description is the attitude of the host, which by any historical standard can only be termed “indifferent.” California does not care whether one broke the law to arrive here or continues to break it by staying. It asks nothing of the illegal immigrant — no proficiency in English, no acquaintance with American history and values, no proof of income, no record of education or skills. It does provide all the public assistance that it can afford (and more that it borrows for), and apparently waives enforcement of most of California’s burdensome regulations and civic statutes that increasingly have plagued productive citizens to the point of driving them out. How odd that we overregulate those who are citizens and have capital to the point of banishing them from the state, but do not regulate those who are aliens and without capital to the point of encouraging millions more to follow in their footsteps. How odd — to paraphrase what Critias once said of ancient Sparta — that California is at once both the nation’s most unfree and most free state, the most repressed and the wildest.
Hundreds of thousands sense all that and vote accordingly with their feet, both into and out of California — and the result is a sort of social, cultural, economic, and political time-bomb, whose ticks are getting louder.
This morning, political commentators are paying a great deal of attention to one of the Los Angeles Times’ stories about Barack Obama’s plans for a Republican takeover of Congress. Unfortunately, they are focusing on the wrong one. Most commentators spent the morning quoting the president’s remarks on a black radio program that a GOP-dominated Congress will result in “hand-to-hand combat.” The reality is most of the action will take place behind their backs and over their heads. All indications are, if Obama cannot get his legislative agenda enacted by Congress, he will impose it by decree.
The evidence comes buried elsewhere in today’s L.A. Times in a piece by Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons under the hum-drum headline, “Obama Reshapes Administration for a Fresh Strategy.” The story makes clear the “fresh strategy” borders on government by executive fiat. It begins, “As President Obama remakes his senior staff, he is also shaping a new approach for the second half of his term: to advance his agenda through executive actions he can take on his own, rather than pushing plans through an increasingly hostile Congress.” This rule by divine right of kings is confirmed by no less an Obama insider than David Axelrod, who said, “It’s fair to say that the next phase is going to be less about legislative action than it is about managing the change that we’ve brought.” The Times states candidly: This means more executive orders, more use of the bully pulpit, and more deployment of his ample regulatory powers and the wide-ranging rulemaking authority of his Cabinet members. Nicholas and Parsons note how the president has replaced the few appointees with ties to Capitol Hill in place of Chicago insiders. They specifically state the “the Environmental Protection Agency is determined to use its regulatory power…to begin lowering [carbon] emissions, in the absence of congressional action.” In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, although the act did not have these “pollutants” in mind. Seizing on this ruling, an anonymous insider who “was not authorized to speak publicly” told the Times, “The ambition is to get a reasonable start” on implementing his extremist vision.
The plan fulfills a threat Obama made earlier this year. The Associated Press reported in June, “The Obama administration says it would prefer that Congress enact climate change legislation, but has used the threat of EPA regulations to goad lawmakers into action.” Within the last week, Congressional Republicans have called the regulations job-killers, and Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia has sponsored a two-year freeze on certain EPA regulations. Now it looks as though the president will run roughshod over Rockefeller, the Republicans, and the will of the American people. More concerning than the aims to which Obama plans to use unfettered executive fiat power is the circumvention of Congress, and the Constitution, in the first place. William Galston of the Brookings Institution took the LAT Obama will employ this strategy even if Republicans do not take back either House of Congress. “Whether or not the Republicans take over majorities in one or both houses, the margins will be so much narrower that the strategy of putting together a Democratic bill and picking off a handful of Republicans to push it over the top won’t be viable anymore,” he said. Rather than triangulate, repackage his radicalism, or take an electoral chastening, Obama plans to ram his agenda down the American people’s throats “by any means necessary.”
What will this agenda look like? In part, it is already in place. On illegal immigration, the president has already excluded Congress, several states, and the overwhelming majority of the American people to aggressively promote an Open Borders agenda. A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services draft memo that surfaced this summer contemplated ways to enact “meaningful immigration reform absent legislative action.” Shortly thereafter, an ICE draft memo appeared, instructing all law enforcement – including any “state, local, or tribal officer” – that no one “should not issue detainers against an alien charged only with a traffic-related misdemeanor.” Traffic stops have been one of the most fruitful ways of finding and deporting illegal aliens and make up the heart of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, allowing state and local law enforcement agencies to exercise their federally delegated power in arresting illegal immigrants.
When the Obama administration is not making law, it is busy ignoring it. The New York Times reported that the government simply stopped deporting young illegal aliens this summer – an exemption that applies to 726,000 people – because they may be eligible for the DREAM Act, which Congress has not yet passed (and probably never will). The administration began dismissing virtually all cases against illegals who had not committed any violent crime, letting a potential 17,000 illegals off-the-hook. Janet Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security seems to have let a Congressionally mandated program to assure visa recipients leave the country slide – although overstays are the entry point for 40-45 percent of all illegal immigrants in the United States. That is how six of the 9/11 hijackers entered the country. Although Congress supports enforcement, the administration has simply shut down their requests. Obama has unilaterally decided not to apply equal rights to disenfranchised white voters, dropping all such lawsuits targeting minority organizations. DoJ appointee Julie Fernandez said, “the Obama administration was only interested in bringing…cases that would provide political equality for racial and language minority voters.” Two former, high-ranking DoJ voting rights lawyers have testified the racist arrangement is an official government policy. The Obama administration has already begun to entertain aspects of the Green Left’s agenda, a trend it will increase in the second half of its first (and, we hope, only) term. The EPA considered, then rejected, banning fishing gear and traditional bullets this summer. Obama has taken steps toward nationalizing millions of acres of land in the American West. In July, the president established the National Ocean Council, staffed with 27 members, by decree. Rep. Sam Farr boasted at the time, “We already have a Clean Air Act and a Clean Water Act. With today’s executive order, President Obama in effect creates a Clean Ocean Act.” Some have written this panel will implement the never-ratified UN Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST).
The danger is not merely that the president will enact legislation with the stroke of a pen, like Caesar. It appears likely he will accelerate his trend to pre-empt domestic political questions before the United Nations. I was the first reporter to discover that Obama hauled Arizona before the UN Human Rights Council this summer over the state’s aforementioned immigration law. Last week, the UN’s Global Migration Group issued a new report blasting opponents of Open Borders and welfare for illegal aliens as “xenophobes and racists.” Now, the Justice Department has solicited 11 Latin American nations to weigh in on its lawsuit stating the Arizona law violates the U.S. Constitution – as though any of the parties would know or care. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer called the foreign intervention “incredibly offensive,” adding, “American sovereignty begins in the U.S. Constitution and at the border.” The Obama administration has already rendered one of these moot and is now working to undermine the other. He has appointed two Supreme Court justices who believe in supplanting the U.S. Constitution with foreign law.Obama used the same UN report to push a far-Left agenda (including card-check union organization, bilingual ballots, universal preschool, and gays in the military) under the guise of “human rights.” He likewise extended benefits to the same-sex “partners” of some federal employees in advance of a Congressional bill to do the same.
Where does the president derive these dictatorial powers? Simple: he claims them. Article II of the U.S. Constitution delegates to the president only the powers to act as commander-in-chief of the military, grant pardons, make treaties (which must be approved by the Senate), appoint ambassadors and Supreme Court justices, and give the State of the Union address.
And, if necessary, the “right” to be impeached.
Barack Obama is dedicated to use whatever time he has in office forcing as much of his agenda on the United States – and so transforming the economic and electoral make-up of our nation – that his radical vision can be foisted upon Americans as a fait accompli.
Many Americans believed the velvet words of hope and change during the 2008 campaign. If the thuggishness of the past two years has not convinced them of his disregard for popular will, the U.S. Constitution, and the rule of law, two years of radical, royal decrees may.
If Congressional Republicans do their jobs in 2011, Obama may not fill out two more years in office.
As Senate Republicans prepare to vote on an earmark moratorium, I would encourage my colleagues to consider four myths and four realities of the debate.
Myths of the earmark debate:
1. Eliminating earmarks does not actually save any money
This argument has serious logical inconsistencies. The fact is earmarks do spend real money. If they didn’t spend money, why defend them? Stopping an activity that spends money does result in less spending. It’s that simple. For instance, Congress spent $16.1 billion on pork in Fiscal Year 2010. If Congress does not do earmarks in 2011, we could save $16.1 billion. In no way is Congress locked into to shifting that $16.1 billion to other programs unless it wants to.
2. Earmarks represent a very tiny portion of the federal budget and eliminating them would do little to reduce the deficit
It’s true that earmarks themselves represent a tiny portion of the budget, but a small rudder can help steer a big ship, which is why I’ve long described earmarks as the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington. No one can deny that earmarks like the Cornhusker Kickback have been used to push through extremely costly and onerous bills. Plus, senators know that as the number of earmarks has exploded so has overall spending. In the past decade, the size of government has doubled while Congress approved more than 90,000 earmarks.
Earmarks were rare until recently. In 1987, President Reagan vetoed a spending bill because it contained 121 earmarks. Eliminating earmarks will not balance the budget overnight, but it is an important step toward getting spending under control.
3. Earmarking is about whose discretion it is to make spending decisions. Do elected members of Congress decide how taxes are spent, or do unelected bureaucrats and Obama administration officials?
It’s true that this is a debate about discretion, but some in Congress are confused about discretion among whom. This is not a struggle between the executive branch and Congress but between the American people and Washington. Do the American people have the right to spend their own money and keep local decisions at the local level or does the federal government know best? Earmarks are a Washington-knows-best solution. An earmark ban would tell the American people that Congress gets it. After all, it’s their money, not ours.
An earmark moratorium would not result in Congress giving up one iota of its spending power. In any event, Republicans should be fighting over how to cut government spending, not how to divide it up.
4. The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility and authority to earmark
Nowhere does the Constitution give Congress the authority to do earmarks. The concept of earmarking appears nowhere in the enumerated powers or anywhere else in the Constitution. The so-called “constitutional” argument earmarks is from the same school of constitutional interpretation that led Elena Kagan to admit that Congress had the authority to tell the American people to eat their fruits and vegetables every day. That school, which says Congress can do whatever it wants, gave us an expansive Commerce Clause, Obamacare, and a widespread belief among members of Congress that the “power of the purse” is the power to pork.
Earmark defenders are fond of quoting Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution which says, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” They also refer to James Madison’s power of the purse commentary in Federalist 58. Madison said the “power of the purse may, in fact, be the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.”
Yet, earmark proponents ignore the rest of the Constitution and our founders’ clear intent to limit the power of Congress. If the founders wanted Congress to earmark funds to specific recipients, micromanage American society, and ride roughshod over state and local government they would have given Congress that authority in the enumerated powers. They clearly did not.
Our founders anticipated earmark-style power grabs from Congress and spoke against such excess for the ages. James Madison, the father of the Constitution said, “With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, spoke directly against federally-funded local projects. “[I]t will be the source of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get the most who are the meanest.” Jefferson understood that earmarks and coercion would go hand in hand.
Also, if earmarks were a noble constitutional tradition, how did we thrive for 200 years without an earmark favor factory in Congress?
Finally, for those worried about ceding constitutional authority to the executive branch, I would respectfully remind them that the president has zero authority to spend money outside of the authority Congress gives him. The way to hold the executive branch accountable is to spend less and conduct more aggressive oversight. Earmarks are a convoluted way for Congress to try to regain authority they have already ceded to the executive branch through bad legislation. The fact is there is nothing an earmark can do that can’t be done more equitably and openly through a competitive grant process.
Beyond these myths, I would encourage members to consider the following realities.
1. Earmarks are a major distraction
Again, earmarks not only do nothing to hold the executive branch accountable — by out-porking the president — but take Congress’ focus away from the massive amount of waste and inefficiency within federal agencies. In typical years, the number of earmark requests outnumbers oversight hearings held by the Appropriations Committee by a factor of 1,000 to 1. Instead of processing tens of thousands of earmark requests the Senate should increase the number of oversight hearings from a few dozen to hundreds. The amount of time and attention that is devoted to the earmark chase is a scandal waiting to be exposed.
2. This debate is over among the American people and the House GOP
If any policy mandate can be derived from the election it is to spend less money. Eliminating earmarks is the first step on that path. The House GOP has accepted that mandate. The Senate GOP now has to decide whether to ignore not only the American people but their colleagues in the House. The last thing Senate Republicans should be doing is legislative gymnastics to get around the House GOP earmark ban.
3. Earmarking is bad policy
In recent years the conventional wisdom that earmarks create jobs has been turned on its head. The Obama administration’s stimulus bill itself, which is arguably a collection of earmarks approved by Congress, proves this point. Neither Obama’s stimulus nor Republican stimulus — GOP earmarks — is very effective at creating jobs.
Harvard University conducted an extensive study this year of how earmarks impact states. The researchers expected to find that earmarks drive economic growth but found the opposite.
“It was an enormous surprise, at least to us, to learn that the average firm in the chairman’s state did not benefit at all from the unanticipated increase in spending,” said Joshua Coval, one of the study’s authors. The study found that as earmarks increase capital investment and expenditures by private businesses decrease, by 15 percent specifically. In other words, federal pork crowds out private investment and slows job growth. Earmarks are an odd GOP infatuation with failed Keynesian economics that hurts local economies.
Earmarks also crowd out funding for higher-priority items. Transportation earmarks are a good example. Pork projects like the Bridge to Nowhere and bike paths divert funds from higher priority projects according to a 2007 Department of Transportation inspector general report. Thousands of bridges continue to be in disrepair across America in part because Congress has taken its eye off the ball and indulged in parochial spending.
4. Earmarking is bad politics
If the Senate GOP wants to send a signal that they don’t get it and are not listening they can reject an earmark moratorium. For Republicans, earmarks are the ultimate mixed message. We’ll never be trusted to be the party of less spending while we’re rationalizing more spending through earmarks. The long process of restoring fiscal sanity in Washington begins with saying no to pork.
What Spending to Cut
If the 2010 election produced any conservative mandates, they are to create jobs and to rein in soaring spending and deficits. Republicans should begin implementing this agenda by extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and paring back a government that now spends a staggering $30,000 per household annually.
Despite liberal claims to the contrary, rising spending — not declining revenues — drives America’s long-term deficits. Once the economy recovers, revenues are projected to return to their historical average of 18 percent of the economy — even if all tax cuts are extended. Federal spending — rising from its historical average of 20 percent of the economy to a projected 26 percent by the end of the decade — is the moving variable.
Nearly all of this new spending will come from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt. Combined and adjusted for inflation, these annual expenditures will rise from $1.6 trillion to $3 trillion over this decade. Therefore, budget reform must include putting Social Security and Medicare on a fixed long-term budget with a capped growth rate.
Yet major entitlement reforms would be phased in slowly. In the meantime, Congress should enact government-wide spending caps that gradually return spending to 20 percent or less of GDP.
After a $727 billion spending increase since 2007, there is no shortage of programs to cut to meet that 20 percent target. The 112th Congress should target programs based on their economic impact, their cost, and the feasibility of reforming them. It should build credibility with the public by including cuts in the federal government’s spending on itself, unpopular earmarks, and even traditional conservative spending programs. Conservatives could begin with the following twelve projects:
One. Freeze and reform federal pay. Before Washington asks Americans to tighten their belts, it must tighten its own. While some federal employees are undercompensated, the average federal employee receives 30 to 40 percent more in total compensation than the equivalent private-sector worker; all this extra pay adds up to $47 billion. Lawmakers should freeze federal pay until it can be fundamentally reformed.
Similarly, Congress should cut its own budget and salaries to 2008 levels, pare back the surging federal travel budget (not every federal conference has to be in Maui), suspend acquisition of federal office space, competitively outsource more federal work, and require federal employees to fly coach domestically.
Two. Ban earmarks. These symbols of waste and corruption cannot be salvaged. Taxpayers will never accept Social Security and Medicare reforms if they believe the savings will go toward bridges to nowhere. Beyond costing $20 billion annually — a non-trivial sum, even if it’s just under 1 percent of the federal budget — earmarks encourage lawmakers to vote for budget-busting bills and divert their attention from higher priorities.
Republicans should not leave unelected Washington bureaucrats to distribute federal dollars to fund local projects in place of earmarks. Rather, grants can be distributed by formula to state and local governments, which are in a much better position than Washington, D.C., to decide where to put their streetlights.
Three. Ban corporate welfare. Even before bailing out Wall Street, Washington spent more on corporate welfare than on homeland security. The public will not trust conservatives to reform middle- and lower-income entitlement programs unless they are also willing to stop granting special favors to their friends in business. A free market means that businesses rise and fall on their own, without politicians’ picking winners and losers.
Most corporate-welfare spending is buried in obscure projects with harmless-sounding names like the “Technology Innovation Program.” Rather than terminate each program individually, Congress could ban subsidies for (but not contracts with) businesses that have gross revenues above a certain level.
Four. Reform farm subsidies. The $25 billion farm-subsidy system is a case study in economic illiteracy. It subsidizes growers of five crops (wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans, and rice) even if they’re millionaires while bypassing producers of nearly all other farm products even if their income is meager. It simultaneously pays some farmers to grow more of their crops (through subsidies) and other farmers to grow less (through a conservation program). Overall, subsidies harm small family farms, taxpayers, consumers, the environment (by encouraging over-planting to maximize subsidies), trade (by inviting retaliation against farm protectionism), impoverished nations (by undercutting their farmers), and even our health (by subsidizing corn and soy, which are often used to create sugary and fatty foods, rather than healthier fruits and vegetables). About how many programs can we say that?
The defeat of more than half the members of the House Agriculture Committee presents an opportunity for reform. The policy challenge is not farmer poverty (the average farmer significantly outearns the average worker) but rather income instability (farmers can earn very little in bad years). Replacing farm subsidies with improved crop insurance and new Farmer Savings Accounts (in which farmers can save tax-free in good years, and from which they can withdraw tax-free in bad years) will help family farmers smooth out the fluctuations in their income at minimum taxpayer cost.
Five. Recall unspent stimulus funds. The economic failure of the stimulus has become a political disaster for Democrats. Most stimulus dollars have been spent or obligated, yet perhaps $60 billion could still be recalled in areas including energy, transportation, and state aid. If the president vetoes an outright recall of unspent stimulus funds, Congress could instead use them to offset any new spending the White House requests.
Six. Vote to repeal Obamacare. The president’s inevitable veto should not dissuade conservatives from passing legislation to repeal the recent health-care law. Such a vote would leave no doubt as to where conservatives stand, and would force Democrats to go on the record before the 2012 election.
Conservatives can also attack Obamacare piece by piece, by refusing to fund discretionary bills to implement the law and by offering legislation to block or delay its implementation.
Seven. Repeal CLASS. Buried in Obamacare is a massive new long-term-care program known as Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS). Like Social Security, CLASS will run initial surpluses (a $70 billion surplus in the first decade will be raided to cover up Obamacare’s deficits) before falling into deep deficit afterward.
The Congressional Budget Office, the Medicare chief actuary, and the American Academy of Actuaries have all acknowledged that CLASS is financially unsustainable. Even Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) called CLASS “a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of.” (He then proceeded to vote for Obamacare.)
If CLASS is allowed to begin enrolling participants in the next couple of years, it will almost surely collapse within two decades. The resulting taxpayer bailouts could cost trillions.
Eight. Return highway spending to states. Washington collects the 18.4 cent–per–gallon gas tax, subtracts a hefty administrative fee, and then returns the funds to state governments with numerous strings attached. These strings include thousands of earmarks, as well as requirements to divert highway dollars into bike paths, museums, and prevailing-wage regulations. There is no reason for Washington to decide where to build a road in Appleton, Wis.
Congress should eliminate the middleman and allow states to opt out of the federal-highway program. In return for agreeing to maintain their interstate highways, these states could collect and retain the federal gas tax themselves.
Nine. Defund high-speed-rail projects. The Obama administration has provided $8 billion to states for high-speed-rail projects and promised more funding later. Yet high-speed rail is extraordinarily expensive (California received $2.3 billion for a new project that some estimate will cost $81 billion), and cash-strapped states will certainly seek more federal funding. Moreover, these projects are estimated to reduce the average travel time by as little as 30 minutes compared with driving, and to lower auto ridership by as little as 1 percent. Congress should follow the voters’ backlash against these projects by cancelling their funding.
Ten. Trim Pell Grants. After doubling Pell Grant spending from $16 billion to $32 billion since 2008, President Obama proposes to give it entitlement status and spend $52 billion by 2020. Fiscal reality demands that lawmakers instead return funding to 2008 levels.
Concerns about whether students will be able to afford college are unfounded. Over the past three decades, student-aid increases have been one of the causes — not the result — of tuition increases. The more aid students receive, the higher colleges raise tuition to capture that aid.
Higher student-loan limits for low-income families are a fairer way of guaranteeing college access. There is no justification for taxing waitresses and welders so that future college graduates — who will outearn them by $1 million over their lifetime — won’t be burdened by the typical $24,000 student loan.
Eleven. Reduce aid to states. Over the past decade, federal aid to state and local governments has surged, rising 129 percent faster than inflation. Endless bailouts have made Washington one of the top sources of state revenue. These bailouts allow profligate states to delay their inevitable belt-tightening and instead be subsidized by the taxpayers of responsible states.
There is no compelling reason for Washington to finance state-level education, justice, and economic-development expenditures — especially through failed programs such as COPS and firefighter grants. State and local governments should be empowered to address local problems with local solutions — financed and held accountable by local voters.
Twelve. Reduce waste. Although the budget cannot be balanced by cutting waste alone, Congress should not ignore this low-hanging fruit. For instance, Washington runs 342 overlapping economic-development programs, lost $98 billion last year to program payment errors, and recently spent $33 million enhancing the Kennedy family image through the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
Conservatives should harbor no illusions that cutting spending is easy. However, by carefully selecting its targets, Congress could save as much as $3 trillion over the next decade and lay the groundwork for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid reform.