Chris Edwards

McCain’s Budget: Balance by 2013?

John McCainIn a new campaign document, John McCain detailed some of his economic proposals today. The promise that caught my eye is a pledge to balance the federal budget by 2013. That is curious promise for him to make.

The Joint Committee on Taxation projects that federal revenues in fiscal 2013 — with the extension of the current tax cuts and AMT relief — will be 17.6 percent of GDP.

This year federal spending will come in at about 20.6 percent of GDP. That means that in four years a President McCain would cut spending worth about 3 percent of GDP, or about $427 billion annually in today’s dollars.

That would be fabulous, and Mr. McCain can read my Downsizing plan to find out exactly where to cut. Indeed, he might have already read it (see the picture). However, today’s plan from McCain includes few specifics on discretionary spending cuts, and his (laudatory) entitlement reforms would probably not generate major savings in just the first four years.

Here’s where fiscal conservatives get nervous about Mr. McCain’s intentions. In the same campaign document. McCain repeatedly lauds bipartisan efforts to fix the budget. Thus, if elected, would he actually fight for $427 billion in federal spending cuts? Or would he just trim some minor waste and earmarks, and make up the vast bulk of the budget gap with tax increases in the name of bipartisanship?

What Use are Campaign Economists?

An irony of modern presidential campaigns is that they bring on board top tier economic advisors, but that doesn’t stop them from injecting economic nonsense into candidate speeches.  

Candidate Obama just added some skilled economists, but that didn’t prevent him from making ridiculous claims about recent economic policies in a speech yesterday. Take one Obama statement: “our president sacrificed investments in health care, and education, and energy and infrastructure on the altar of tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs.” Obama is wrong on every point in this remark.

Here are the facts from the federal budget looking at Bush’s first 7 years in office (FY2001 to FY2008):

High Prices for Snickers? Feds Shouldn’t Point Fingers

Recently I blogged about the federal government investigating businesses for keeping the price of milk too high, even though the government’s own policies push up milk prices.

Starved for Good Data: 35 Million Not Hungry

America’s supposed hunger epidemic is catching up to crocodiles in the sewers as the most popular urban legend. The difference is that the hunger epidemic is being promoted by the nation’s major media.

That’s Why They’re Called Beltway Bandits

Federal cost-cutting should be a central focus of the next president. One effort that should be bipartisan is overhauling the government’s out-of-control procurement system. Federal contractors routinely get away with outrageous cost overruns at taxpayer expense. From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Tom Davis: Policy, What’s That?

News of the intellectual demise of the Republican Party comes almost daily. In its coverage of the bipartisan vote in favor of the farm bill (which overrode a well-deserved Bush veto) the Washington Post included this reaction:

Give the People What They Want

The latest Rasmussen national survey “found that 62% of voters would prefer fewer government services with lower taxes. Nearly a third (29%) disagrees and would rather have a bigger government with higher taxes. Ten percent (10%) are not sure.”

No doubt that if Downsizing the Federal Government were on college reading lists, support for reform would jump from 62% to at least 90%.

Still, no matter how well-informed the public becomes, Congress poses a barrier to reform. The magic of Congress is its ability to consistently transmogrify the long-standing public preference for smaller government into ever larger budgets. Part of the trick is that members always claim that they support budget restraint in general, while arguing at the same time that each particular program, when it is up for a vote, desperately needs to be expanded.

How then can we realign congressional procedures to better reflect the 62 percent support for government downsizing? Part of the answer is to impose a cap on growth in the overall federal budget, allowing it to grow no more than the average family budget each year.

Unaffordable Promises at All Levels of Government

USA Today reporter Dennis Cauchon is an expert at distilling complex data about governments down to bite-size pieces. Today he finds that:

Taxpayers are on the hook for a record $57.3 trillion in federal liabilities to cover the lifetime benefits of everyone eligible for Medicare, Social Security and other government programs, a USA TODAY analysis found. That’s nearly $500,000 per household.

When obligations of state and local governments are added, the total rises to $61.7 trillion, or $531,472 per household. That is more than four times what Americans owe in personal debt such as mortgages.

Kudos to USA Today for running such hard-data stories on the front page. Too many newspapers opt for the ”human interest” angle when reporting on government economic policy.

Cauchon’s data raises many questions. For one, how could governments have gotten away with imposing $62 trillion of unfunded obligations on young Americans?

At the state and local level, taxpayers have been sleeping as union-backed politicians have jacked-up compensation levels for the nation’s 16 million state and local workers

Milk Madness

You don’t have to be a libertarian to be amazed at the way the government’s many tentacles often work at cross-purposes. The Wall Street Journal reports today on the U.S. milk industry:

Hungry for Program Expansion

Yesterday I blogged about a Washington Post column by Shankar Vedantam that began: “About 35 million Americans regularly go hungry each year, according to federal statistics.” I looked up the federal data, and the real number appears to be about 9 million.

I queried the Post about the discrepancy, and Shankar kindly pointed me to this study produced by academic health scholars and the Sodexho Foundation. (I appreciate the prompt replies by both Shankar and the Post’s ombudsman).

The Sodexho study is a classic example of program advocates apparently inflating the size of a problem in order to prompt “Congress to expand existing programs,” as it proposes. I am not a health specialist, but it seems to me that Sodexho using 35 million for the number of Americans going hungry is a huge exaggeration. 

On page 10 and 11 of the Sodexho study, the authors admit that they are including both those people who occasionally go hungry and those who are “food insecure,” which is a far larger group. As I noted yesterday, the USDA puts the narrower group (those sometimes going hungry) at only about 9 million people.

While the Sodexho authors admit that they are using the broader group, they do not tell readers how vastly narrower the actual hunger group is. (The table on page 11 only shows the broader measure).

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