Balanced Budget Amendment

George Will has come out again in support of a balanced budget amendment (BBA).  In fact, George thinks it should be job one for 2018:

We will discover that point [when debt influences growth]  the hard way, unless Congress promptly sends to the states for prompt ratification a constitutional amendment requiring balanced budgets. [Emphasis added]

He also has a explicit suggestion from Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane on what it should be.  Hubbard and Kane’s proposal

would limit each year’s total spending to the median annual revenue of the previous seven years, allowing temporary deficits to be authorized in emergencies by congressional supermajorities.

We have lived under balanced budgets at the state level and found them particularly vexing because most spending is committed when the budget shortfall shows up and then you must cut where available.  It is not a system that leads to good decisions.  In addition, or perhaps related to the first problem, there are accounting problems.  In the states an obvious problem is pensions.  The WSJ highlights New Jersey recently.  New Jersey has a new governor, Democrat Phil Murphy.

As he takes office later this month, Mr. Murphy must confront the state’s biggest problem—a pension system that is about $90 billion short of what it needs to pay future benefits.

The federal government’s obvious accounting problem is entitlements.

We like the idea of a BBA but the problem of writing the amendment, bad budgeting decisions, and the accounting problem lead us to oppose a BBA.  The federal budget is such a disaster, however, we are willing to consider that the current circumstances are worse than a BBA.

Let’s assume that the BBA George suggests has passed by June 2018 and there are no supermajorities to substantially raise taxes.  We are already in fiscal 2018 so fiscal 2019 would be the first year it applies to.  FY 2019 has expected spending of $3.93 trillion.  The spending limit is trickier because it would seem reasonable to limit to actual data.  If so the limit would be $2.775 trillion.  If we include estimated years then the limit would be $3.021 trillion.  So there would be a need for cuts and tax increases from somewhere between just under a trillion dollars to $1.2 trillion.

Sidebar: We don’t see a solution in writing the amendment by making it effective in say, 2030.  Each party is aware of the problem.  There is little interest in fixing the problem as the last two presidential elections have shown.  End sidebar.

Neither party would want to pass such rule.  Spending GOP capital on a failure is a bad idea when they might do something useful in 2018.  We know that politicians always wimp out when the “out” years come.  That is they promise to make cuts later and never do.  Reforming entitlements gets harder every year.  We expect a disaster but see the BBA as an even bigger disaster.  Sorry George.





Binary Still

The Morning Jolt is discussing Conrad Black’s polemic when Jim says:

Maybe you saw Election Day 2016 as that strict binary choice. But we’re past Election Day. It’s time to stop measuring Trump merely as an alternative to Hillary and to start measuring him on his own merits. [Emphasis added]

Maybe?  The 2016 presidential election was a binary choice.  It still is.

Sidebar: Has Conrad ever written something that is not a polemic?  We enjoy him but  he can’t help recycle the same material: Nixon and FDR were great presidents and the US justice system.  This time Conrad says the Never Trump group has defected from being conservative Republicans.  It is a wonderful turn of phrase designed to infuriate his friends.  End Sidebar.

Moreover, comparisons, this time not binary, are how we measure presidents.  Reagan isn’t a great president because he batted 1.000.  He didn’t and no president is anywhere close to that mark.  Instead we compare presidents.  We need to criticize The Donald when appropriate but recognize the road ahead.

The 2020 presidential race is not yet a binary choice. If The Donald runs for the GOP next time is there anyone in the current crop of Democrats that you prefer?  We are not suggesting that you become a shill for The Donald but that you remember that there will be binary choices in the future.  So, yes, The Donald is still the [superior] alternative to Herself.


Rex Again

Rex Tillerson seems to cause everyone to cover themselves with stupid.  Marco Rubio is the most recent.  Paul Mirengoff describes how at Rex’s hearing Mario was trying to get Rex at accept his laying down of markers.  Rex neatly parried them.  Mario seems most unhappy because Rex won’t accuse Putin of being a war criminal.  Really.

Sidebar One: Picking The Donald over Mario was a good choice.  We’re not sure about some of the others but Mario doesn’t have the right stuff.  End Sidebar One.

Sidebar Two: Mario and Corey are using the hearings to set up 2020 presidential runs in their parties.  We can safely eliminate them from folks we would support.  We hope neither of them turn out to be the best of a bad lot in 2020.  End Sidebar Two.

In a post-Obama world the State Department has many challenges.  We would like to convert Putin to a pre-Obama Gaddafi.  To do that you need some leadership (W rather than Obama) and some flexibility.  Saying no to Mario is a very small step but still a step in the right direction on both counts.

Building Momentum For Congress

Charles Krauthammer, as usual, has an interesting article at NRO.  He concludes:

Trump will continue to tweet and the media will continue to take the bait. Highly entertaining but it is a sideshow. Congress is where the fate of the Trump presidency will be decided.

We agree with the first two sentences but are not fully onboard with the last.  As it would happen, the next article is Andy Koenig’s how-to piece on rolling back the regulatory state.  Andy deals with the economic difficulties unleashed by the current administration.  Much of this work will need to done by the bureaucracy and appointments must become policy.  Andy does not cover the two pipelines that can be dealt with at the White House level.  He doesn’t discuss immigration directly but with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General the Department of Justice can begin enforcing the people’s law in this and other areas.  Andy notes that Congress must be involved in some of this.  It might not all pass but we need votes on these issues.  So The Donald can have significant accomplishments without the aid of Congress

In addition, we can’t leave out foreign policy.  Much of these parts don’t include Congress although he might submit the Iran deal as a treaty to the Senate and encourage votes on big administrative policies.  Trump would seem an unlikely vessel, he uses I only slightly less than Obama, to create a Congress that George Will would be proud of (e.g., see) but politics can make strange bedfellows.

To make progress with Congress, a president must focus on Congressional priorities.   The Donald’s domestic priorities must include: immigration, healthcare reform, and judges.

Sidebar: Congress may have separate priorities that The Donald must cope with.  We would love to see the Congress act on saving entitlements.  End Sidebar.

The Donald can create momentum by quick administrative action where he can and provide the time for full Congressional debate that will be necessary on healthcare reform. By changing the fact on the ground via Sessions and the DOJ he can bring out the best in the GOP and responsible Democrats.

Congress will be important to The Donald but many things can be improved by executive action.  Improvements in administration, including immigration, and foreign policy would not be a bad fate for The Donald’s presidency.  The momentum he creates by executive action might lead a highly satisfactory presidency and to a more Willian Congress.  For example, we might get a real budget rather than continuing resolutions.  Healthcare reform would not be left to the unelected bureaucracy as was true with the wording of Obamacare.  Of course, if The Donald fails to create momentum then it will be trench warfare and the chances of progress that entails.  We are feel optimistic today.



Is Comedy Dead?

Jason Riley at WSJ starts with this comment that should be hilarious.  Unfortunately, it becomes serious because so few folks recognize it:

Only liberals could get away with bashing the incoming Trump administration for its alleged ties to white nationalists while simultaneously backing a former supporter of black nationalistLouis Farrakhan for head of the Democratic National Committee.

The failure of the press to address such issues makes them less of a serious part of any national discussion.  We are great admirers of Truman because he cast out the crazies that FDR let hang around the fringes of the Democratic party.  Twenty years later, c. 1968, those folks came back as part of the leadership of the Democrats.  Their influence has waxed and waned over the last four decades with their ascendancy during the Obama years as the Democratic center lost their elected offices.  Conservatives have generally done Truman’s duty for the Republican Party over the past five decades with the notable failure of NeverTrump this year.

The question is: What is next?  Will we have an openly racist leader of the Democratic Party competing to bring out the worst interpretation of Trump?  We are with Karl Rove’s conclusion on this one [although his headline says Ellison will help the Republicans]:

While the GOP might make short-term gains while Mr. Ellison is DNC chairman, the country would be better served in the long run by a healthy two-party system. That means Democratic Party leaders should pick a chairman who can actually rebuild the party instead of marching even further to the left and deeper into the political wilderness.

Trump has some bad ideas but they are ideas from the center.  The country will benefit if the Democrats move in that direction.   Competition is a good thing but we fear that the remaining Democrats need one more dose of fire before they reconsider.  Until then political comedy won’t be very funny.

Good News And Bad News

Part of Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt is posted at the Corner.  It includes the following:

This morning Ron Fournier, who’s been covering the Clintons since the 1980s, offers an intensely groan-inducing report: “Raising doubts about legitimacy of election, even w/out overturning result, is part of Clinton’s plans to keep her options open for 2020… Make some calls. You’ll hear the same from her confidants.”

It is both the good news and the bad news.  It is bad news for the Democratic Party and the country.   Bringing the Democrats back to the center is going to be long, painful, and uncertain.  It will be bad for the country because, like baseball, politics needs competitive balance.  We hope they will make progress but we are not sanguine about it.

It is short term good news for the GOP.  They will win lots of elections.  Just like in baseball, however, competition is needed to bring out the best.  The country needs two good parties.  Great is too big an ask.  In the past parties have turned around quickly.  Here is hoping it happens again for the Democrats like in ’94.  It was a matter of meeting the GOP ideas.  It didn’t last long for either party but those four years had a bigger impact.


Wishing It Were So?

We don’t know if the principals care about the states but they probably care about taking blame for it.  Janet Hook discusses what the Democrats should do next and says:

And President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who held the White House at a time when the party’s ranks were decimated in statehouses, both say they may remain engaged and help the party rebuild.  [Emphasis added]

Decimation is killing one in ten.  Obama has been much more prolific:

To put it bluntly, when Obama entered office the party controlled 60 Senate seats and 258 House seats.  When he leaves office the party will likely hold less than 185 House seats and a mere 46 Senate seats.

The devastated Democratic landscape looks even bleaker at the state level.  The party will hold a mere 18 [compared to 28] Governorships while the GOP holds 31 (or 32 depending on Alaska) The GOP will control 68-69 legislatures (out of 98) [Dems went 60 to 29 with one tie] and have complete control in 23 states.  Democrats will have complete control in a mere 7 [compared to 17] states (NE and Pacific Coast).

The Obama legacy for the Democratic Party is at least double-decimation at all levels.  We hope they will turn back to the center because it will be better for the country to have two realistic choices.   We are, however, not optimistic it will happen before 2020.  It will happen eventually.