Fiscal Wisdom from ESPN.com

More good stuff to share from Gregg Easterbrook of ESPN.com. His weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback column is a must-read for me. Here are some non-football notes he threw down yesterday. Smart stuff.

Of Course They Vote for More Subsidies, They Themselves Are Subsidized:

In the spring, as a dozen Democratic and Republican officeholders were crisscrossing the country campaigning for presidential nominations yet still receiving taxpayer money for jobs they were making no pretense of performing, TMQ declared there should be a federal resign-to-run law. Several states now have resign-to-run laws: They prevent officeholders from taking tax-funded salaries while not doing their jobs. Why is it assumed that saying the words, “I am running for president” makes it OK for a senator to pull in $200,000 or so per year in pay and benefits, yet perform no duties? If you told your employer you would not perform your duties for a year because you were running for president, yet still expected full pay, your employer would say two words that are not “Merry Christmas.” Now we’re down to four White House-seeking freeloaders, and both parties look bad. All three senators are billing the federal taxpayer to self-promote around the clock; the governor is billing her state’s taxpayers to self-promote around the clock. Either presidential candidates should be required to resign to run, or at least anyone who declares for the presidency or vice presidency should have his or her public salaries and benefits suspended.

What, No Subsidies for Rum-Soaked Wool?

SENATE ADDS SWEETNERS TO BAILOUT BILL was a standard headline last week. Oh, so it’s not enough to give away $700 billion of taxpayers’ money, we’ve got to add sweeteners! Special-interest groups across the spectrum tacked wish-list items onto the bailout bill, which also passed the House and became law with George W. Bush’s signature. Some $100 billion in business and upper-middle-class tax breaks were added, along with tax favors or direct subsidies for solar power, wool marketing, subway maintenance, Puerto Rican rum sales, “motorsports racing track” facilities, and investing in the District of Columbia (already among the most heavily subsidized place on Earth; Alaska, which consistently ranks first or second in federal spending per capita, may be the most subsidized — scan down to “Alaska” in this study), tax breaks for farmers, eligibility of foreign banks for U.S. bailouts, tax favors for people who won money from the Exxon Valdez lawsuit, subsidies for “certain wooden arrows used by children” — the list goes on. Scan the bill for the word “wool,” for example. It’s the noise of the lambs! What started as a $700 billion bailout could easily cost taxpayers $850 billion, and every penny of it borrowed from our children.

Three points need to be made about the bailout legislation. First, conservatives in the House torpedoed the initial bill, calling it too expensive at $700 billion, then voted for the second version, bloated to $850 billion. Now there’s a profile in courage! Second, the bill was originally three pages — and grew to 451 pages as enacted, as giveaway after giveaway was tacked on. The United States Constitution and all amendments is about 20 pages; it takes 451 pages to legislate a bank recovery payment? Super-long legislation is both inherently too complex and litigation-prone — last year’s Warner-Lieberman greenhouse gas regulation bill, which almost passed the Senate, was 491 pages — and invites giveaways. In a brief, straightforward bill, a tacked-on special-interest favor stands out and looks embarrassing to the sponsor. In a gigantic laundry-list bill with hundreds of pages of special favors, none stand out. Everybody else’s constituent is getting a handout, where’s mine? Proposal: Congressional legislation should be limited to the word length of the United States Constitution. If Congress can’t say something in fewer words than the Framers required to found the country, then Congress shouldn’t say anything.

Third, why do members of the national legislature give away your money as fast as it can be borrowed? Because they want campaign donations. Polls show Americans don’t like the idea of public funding for House and Senate elections, because it seems like a giveaway. But the public already funds congressional elections, just in an incredibly overpriced, inefficient way. Members of the House and Senate give away billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to special-interest groups, in order to get back thousands of dollars in campaign donations. The $150 billion or so in sweetheart handouts in the bailout legislation will probably result in several million additional dollars given to House and Senate members as campaign donations. It would be far, far cheaper for taxpayers just to fund congressional campaigns! Suppose the public funded each House race at $1 million (435 races every second year) split between the parties, and each Senate race at $5 million split (roughly 34 races every second year), then banned campaign contributions. (Skip whether the Supreme Court would allow the latter, this is a thought experiment.) The cost would be about $600 million every second year, when there are national elections. That’s peanuts compared to the amounts House and Senate incumbents give away to PAC-backed lobbies in order to inspire campaign donations. Federal financing of House and Senate races would save the public tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars.

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One thought on “Fiscal Wisdom from ESPN.com

  1. This is great stuff.Members of congress have done such an unbelievably crappy job in representing the people, who are so angry about it that they will re-elect 80% of the current legislature in November.3rd party? Anyone? Anyone?

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