Chris Edwards

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).

Real Budget Reform

Senator John McCain and other budget reformers are right to rail against the institutionized corruption of federal “earmarking.” Earmarks are, however, just a small part of the massive bloat in the federal budget. Earmark reform is needed, but presidential candidate McCain needs to propose more fundamental budget reforms in the coming months.

Representatives John Campbell (R-CA) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) have just introduced an idea that McCain could champion: A constitutional cap on the overall federal budget. You can read the proposed amendment here, but essentially these House budget experts propose that annual federal spending growth should not exceed the long-run average growth in the U.S. economy, except with a two-thirds vote or a declared war.

I’ve proposed a similar budget cap that would be statutory, not constitutional, and thus easier to implement. See here and here.

Either way, the point for Mr. McCain (or Mr. Obama, if he is so inclined) is to promote some sort of overall cap on the budget to drive home that the government’s budget should not grow any faster than the average family’s budget.

Bush’s Dishonest and Spendthrift Budget

Here are some notes on the federal budget released by the Bush administration today:

Bush: The $3 Trillion Dollar Man

Here are some bullet points regarding the new federal budget to be released on Monday:

  • The Bush administration will introduce yet another irresponsible federal budget, which this year features a huge $400 billion deficit and spending that tops $3 trillion. Amazingly, President Bush was also in office when federal spending topped $2 trillion (back in 2002).
  • President Bush promises once again that the budget will be balanced sometime down the road, but he again uses phony accounting to make that claim. For one thing, he hasn’t accounted for future relief from the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which Congress will surely provide. Also, Bush has not included all the likely future Iraq war costs in his budget.
  • To his credit, President Bush proposes some savings to Medicare and Medicaid, two of the largest and fastest growing federal programs.

Endless Earmarks

One sure way to create an uprising against big government would be to sign up every American voter to Senator Tom Coburn’s daily email reports on pork spending. I should take news about pork in stride, but I can’t help myself. I get disgusted every time I read the Coburn blasts.

Today’s item that turned my stomach was from the Waterbury Republican American (Connecticut):

Endless Earmarks

One sure way to create an uprising against big government would be to sign up every American voter to Senator Tom Coburn’s daily email reports on pork spending. I should take news about pork in stride, but I can’t help myself. I get disgusted every time I read the Coburn blasts.

Today’s item that turned my stomach was from the Waterbury Republican American (Connecticut):

One of the more enlightening disclosures from the legislature’s latest ethics eruption was the state spends about $10 million a year on the salaries and benefits of more than 50 agency administrators whose main function is to lobby lawmakers.

For taxpayers, this may be the costliest appropriation in the distended $16.3 billion state budget. It funds squads of unfettered lobbyists who wheedle and when necessary sleep with key legislators for ungodly sums of your tax dollars for dubious programs and projects. One reason state taxes are so high, state budget growth easily outstrips inflation every year and the state’s per-capita debt is among the highest in the nation is the government constantly lobbies itself to spend and borrow more.

The self-reinforcing or perpetual motion aspect of big government is one of the most disturbing aspects of federal subsidies, which I explore in this study.

Independence in 1776 to Dependence on 1776

I recently updated data I presented last year on the total number of federal subsidy programs.

It turns out that the federal government currently operates 1,776 subsidy programs. These include subsidies for states, cities, individuals, non-profit groups, and businesses.

As the chart shows, the number of subsidy programs has increased 25 percent since 2000. 

Number of Federal Subsidy Programs

George W. Bush: He’s no Thomas Jefferson.

Are 35 Million Americans Going Hungry?

A news story and op-ed in the Washington Post recently noted that about 35 million Americans, or more than 10% of the population, are “food insecure.” It sounds like there is a massive underclass of people in the nation who are so poor that they can’t get enough to eat and are going hungry. No doubt that is the idea that many articles want to put across on the reader.

Edwards' Budget Law

More evidence that when the government says a project will cost $1, taxpayers will end up paying $2 or more.

The Washington Post notes that Congress is considering further funding of a Navy ship program: ”The congressional action followed months of delays as costs ballooned. The cost for the initial two ships was estimated at about $220 million each but now appear to cost up to double that.”

Washington Post's Popular Programs

Washington Post, September 18: “The Democratic Congress is considering 2008 spending bills that increase funding for politically popular programs….”

Washington Post, September 19: “With a difficult war debate looming and presidential vetoes for a host of popular legislation….”

Washington Post, September 20: “Republicans and Democrats in the [Virginia] General Assembly proposed election-year spending increases for popular programs….”

Notice any pattern? 

The Washington Post is a great paper, but like many papers it reveals a pro-spending bias when it reports on government budget issues. One aspect of this is the common portrayal of any increase or cut as affecting “popular programs.” Every type of program is portrayed as “popular,” whether it provides benefits to 50% of Americans or just 0.05% of Americans.

Presumably, Post reporters don’t do a public poll to find out which programs really are ”popular.” Instead, they just automatically stick the word in stories to perhaps suggest, “Ohhh, policymakers better not cut spending on that one or else there will be hell to pay.”

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