Commentary Magazine


Topic: Robert Byrd

Move the Capital to Nebraska?

Earlier this month, Ben Sasse, a Republican running for senator in Nebraska, briefly made national headlines when he suggested that the U.S. government should move the federal capital from Washington D.C. to Nebraska. His suggestion was clearly tongue-in-cheek:

“That’s it, the way to cure the incredible ineffectiveness and dysfunction of both parties in Washington — we move the capital to Nebraska,” he said in the spot. “Let’s move the capital to Nebraska and leave the lobbyists and influence peddlers back east,” he added.

Perhaps, though, there is some merit to his suggestion—not to move the capital from Washington D.C., but to relocate some branches of the executive out of the region. Once upon a time, critics castigated the late senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) for his unabashed embrace of pork, bringing as much as possible to his home state, not only short-term projects but also federal facilities. As CBS News noted upon his death:

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Earlier this month, Ben Sasse, a Republican running for senator in Nebraska, briefly made national headlines when he suggested that the U.S. government should move the federal capital from Washington D.C. to Nebraska. His suggestion was clearly tongue-in-cheek:

“That’s it, the way to cure the incredible ineffectiveness and dysfunction of both parties in Washington — we move the capital to Nebraska,” he said in the spot. “Let’s move the capital to Nebraska and leave the lobbyists and influence peddlers back east,” he added.

Perhaps, though, there is some merit to his suggestion—not to move the capital from Washington D.C., but to relocate some branches of the executive out of the region. Once upon a time, critics castigated the late senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) for his unabashed embrace of pork, bringing as much as possible to his home state, not only short-term projects but also federal facilities. As CBS News noted upon his death:

He made sure plenty of federal complexes were built in West Virginia, including the FBI’s fingerprint repository in Clarksburg, the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center in landlocked Kearneysville, and a training center and firing range near Harpers Ferry for customs and border protection officers.

Byrd’s motivations might have been selfish, wasteful, and often ridiculous, but the federal government has grown massively over the decades. Washington D.C. and its immediate suburbs have become a cultural bubble of government servants or those involved in lobbying, policy analysis, defense, or other related fields. As a home owner in the D.C. area, it’s been a blessing as I was inoculated from the bursting housing bubble in a way that I would not have been if I lived anywhere else in the country. The cultural bubble insulates from reality, however. If I did not do occasional lecturing for the U.S. military, I would have no reason to visit places like southwestern Louisiana, far upstate New York, central Wisconsin, or central Texas. Unless I made a real effort, I would not hear the local news, tune into the local radio station, or drive the back roads rather than the highway as I go from airport to base, or from facility to facility.

The cultural bubble and the detachment to which it can lead is one reason so many Americans dislike Washington D.C. At the same time, it can be unhealthy for government bureaucrats to be so detached from the lives of people who are so affected by the minutiae of regulations or the promulgation of decisions. Given the fact that so much, even within Washington D.C. itself, is now conducted by email or secure video teleconference, it really matters little whether one agency is two blocks away or 1,000 miles away when it comes to holding a meeting. Perhaps it makes sense for the Department of the Interior to be based somewhere in the interior, say Nebraska or Kansas. It might make more sense to have the Environmental Protection Agency based somewhere like Oregon or Montana, so that bureaucrats making decisions can interact with those whose lives and jobs might be directly impacted. Given the increasing importance of North Dakota to U.S. energy security, why not move the Department of Energy to Bismark? And wouldn’t the relocation of the Department of Homeland Security already scattered across facilities and states to Texas or Arizona make sense given issues of immigration and border security?

Admittedly, dispersing federal agencies further afield would be unpopular. It would decimate the Washington D.C. economy and be unpopular among those who like living in the nation’s capital. But the federal government doesn’t exist to subsidize indirectly Washington, or to make it into a boom town. And what Washington loses, other cities would gain. Just as military bases have become boons to cities like Fayetteville, North Carolina and Killeen, Texas, transplanting federal agencies might also spread the wealth, albeit in a different way than President Obama has envisioned. And if bureaucrats choose not to make the move to North Dakota, Oregon, Louisiana, South Carolina, or wherever departments might relocate, then that provides an opportunity for much-needed downsizing. Certainly no one would think about moving the White House, Congress, and even Pentagon, but for the remaining departments, perhaps breaking the Washington bubble would do the government some good, narrow the gap between government official and citizen, and improve function all around.

Perhaps Sasse’s “modest proposal” should enable some serious discussion about just what government has become, to what Washington D.C. is entitled, and how government might return to a time when it was far closer to the people whom it claimed to serve.

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Good Luck with That

West Virginia’s Senate seat is slipping away from the Democrats. In a wave election year, the voters there may decide it is more important to keep their governor home and to send to Congress someone to block Obama’s agenda. So Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin is trying to run from and against the Obama agenda:

In an interview on Fox News, Manchin said he is open to repealing the new healthcare law — the signature accomplishment of Democrats during Obama’s time in the White House.

The governor also took to the airwaves to tout his independence, releasing a TV ad in which he’s shown shooting a hole through the cap-and-trade bill favored by Obama and House Democrats.

The moves by the governor come amid new polls that show Manchin trailing Republican John Raese in the West Virginia Senate race. Manchin was once considered a shoo-in for the seat, long held by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D), but Raese has surged ahead in polls in part by branding Manchin as a rubber-stamp for the Obama administration.

So far, it is not working. Republican John Raese has a lead of 4.5 points in the RealClearPolitics.com poll. It’s not clear that running against Obama is a viable strategy for Democrats, but neither is running on his unpopular agenda. In short, that’s why so many Democrats will lose in three weeks.

West Virginia’s Senate seat is slipping away from the Democrats. In a wave election year, the voters there may decide it is more important to keep their governor home and to send to Congress someone to block Obama’s agenda. So Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin is trying to run from and against the Obama agenda:

In an interview on Fox News, Manchin said he is open to repealing the new healthcare law — the signature accomplishment of Democrats during Obama’s time in the White House.

The governor also took to the airwaves to tout his independence, releasing a TV ad in which he’s shown shooting a hole through the cap-and-trade bill favored by Obama and House Democrats.

The moves by the governor come amid new polls that show Manchin trailing Republican John Raese in the West Virginia Senate race. Manchin was once considered a shoo-in for the seat, long held by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D), but Raese has surged ahead in polls in part by branding Manchin as a rubber-stamp for the Obama administration.

So far, it is not working. Republican John Raese has a lead of 4.5 points in the RealClearPolitics.com poll. It’s not clear that running against Obama is a viable strategy for Democrats, but neither is running on his unpopular agenda. In short, that’s why so many Democrats will lose in three weeks.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

How could Rep. Joe Sestak think he was supporting Israel when he called for a “fair” UN Human Rights Council investigation of the flotilla incident? The UNHRC has appointed its kangaroo court. (The identities of the marsupials matter not at all.) The Israeli response: “In response to the UN’s decision, a foreign ministry official said that the UN Human Rights Council’s made its decision in haste, and that it was ‘part of the Rights Council’s obsession against Israel.’ ‘The Israeli probe, conducted with transparency, makes the organization’s probe completely unnecessary,’ the [Israeli] official added.” I think a lawmaker who is really pro-Israel would understand that.

How low can Obama’s approval ratings go?

How long before Democrats throw in the towel on Blanche Lincoln? “Republican John Boozman holds a 25-point lead over Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race.”

How unhappy are they in West Virginia? “Residents of Hawaii led the nation in wellbeing in the first half of 2010, holding onto their 2009 top spot and delivering the highest Well-Being Index score on record for any state since Gallup and Healthways began tracking scores in 2008. West Virginia had the lowest Well-Being Index score, as it did in 2008 and in 2009.” Gosh, money — billions from Sen. Robert Byrd’s handiwork — really doesn’t buy you happiness.

How badly do the Democrats want to get rid of the Charlie Rangel story? “Thursday’s unexpected announcement that the House ethics committee would begin a trial on ethics charges leveled against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) came after a secret, months-long effort to settle the case fell apart, according to several sources close to the situation. The negotiations were designed to avoid the spectacle of a trial by his peers for Rangel, but talks apparently broke down. … One source close to Rangel suggested a compromise still may be reached next week before the opening steps in the trial get under way.”

How negatively have liberal economic policies impacted young Americans? “Today marks the first anniversary of Congress’s decision to raise the federal minimum wage by 41% to $7.25 an hour. But hold the confetti. According to a new study, more than 100,000 fewer teens are employed today due to the wage hikes. … Minimum wage laws are especially detrimental to black workers, who tend to be less experienced or have been trapped in failing public schools. The overall teen unemployment rate in June was 25.7%, versus 39.9% for black teens.” Imagine how Obama would be carrying on about this if he weren’t in the White House.

How in the world are Democrats going to defend this economic record? “New estimates from the White House on Friday predict the budget deficit will reach a record $1.47 trillion this year. The government is borrowing 41 cents of every dollar it spends. That’s actually a little better than the administration predicted in February. The new estimates paint a grim unemployment picture as the economy experiences a relatively jobless recovery. The unemployment rate, presently averaging 9.5 percent, would average 9 percent next year under the new estimates. The gaping deficits are of increasing concern to voters.”

How about a moratorium on apologies in the Shirley Sherrod incident? None of them behaved well, and we’ve really heard enough from all of them for a good long time.

How could Rep. Joe Sestak think he was supporting Israel when he called for a “fair” UN Human Rights Council investigation of the flotilla incident? The UNHRC has appointed its kangaroo court. (The identities of the marsupials matter not at all.) The Israeli response: “In response to the UN’s decision, a foreign ministry official said that the UN Human Rights Council’s made its decision in haste, and that it was ‘part of the Rights Council’s obsession against Israel.’ ‘The Israeli probe, conducted with transparency, makes the organization’s probe completely unnecessary,’ the [Israeli] official added.” I think a lawmaker who is really pro-Israel would understand that.

How low can Obama’s approval ratings go?

How long before Democrats throw in the towel on Blanche Lincoln? “Republican John Boozman holds a 25-point lead over Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race.”

How unhappy are they in West Virginia? “Residents of Hawaii led the nation in wellbeing in the first half of 2010, holding onto their 2009 top spot and delivering the highest Well-Being Index score on record for any state since Gallup and Healthways began tracking scores in 2008. West Virginia had the lowest Well-Being Index score, as it did in 2008 and in 2009.” Gosh, money — billions from Sen. Robert Byrd’s handiwork — really doesn’t buy you happiness.

How badly do the Democrats want to get rid of the Charlie Rangel story? “Thursday’s unexpected announcement that the House ethics committee would begin a trial on ethics charges leveled against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) came after a secret, months-long effort to settle the case fell apart, according to several sources close to the situation. The negotiations were designed to avoid the spectacle of a trial by his peers for Rangel, but talks apparently broke down. … One source close to Rangel suggested a compromise still may be reached next week before the opening steps in the trial get under way.”

How negatively have liberal economic policies impacted young Americans? “Today marks the first anniversary of Congress’s decision to raise the federal minimum wage by 41% to $7.25 an hour. But hold the confetti. According to a new study, more than 100,000 fewer teens are employed today due to the wage hikes. … Minimum wage laws are especially detrimental to black workers, who tend to be less experienced or have been trapped in failing public schools. The overall teen unemployment rate in June was 25.7%, versus 39.9% for black teens.” Imagine how Obama would be carrying on about this if he weren’t in the White House.

How in the world are Democrats going to defend this economic record? “New estimates from the White House on Friday predict the budget deficit will reach a record $1.47 trillion this year. The government is borrowing 41 cents of every dollar it spends. That’s actually a little better than the administration predicted in February. The new estimates paint a grim unemployment picture as the economy experiences a relatively jobless recovery. The unemployment rate, presently averaging 9.5 percent, would average 9 percent next year under the new estimates. The gaping deficits are of increasing concern to voters.”

How about a moratorium on apologies in the Shirley Sherrod incident? None of them behaved well, and we’ve really heard enough from all of them for a good long time.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

How dumb does Obama think businessmen are? “The White House has launched a coordinated campaign to push back against the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that President Barack Obama is promoting an anti-business agenda.” Besides, wasn’t his populist, anti–Wall Street rhetoric supposed to be the key to minimizing midterm losses?

How upset do you think the White House is that the West Virginia governor has put another Senate seat at risk? “West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) cleared the way for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to call a November 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat. The legal opinion McGraw issued Thursday did not give a specific timeline for a special election, but suggests using the already scheduled election this November.”

How slow do you think things are in Washington if the Politico forum is about whether Sarah Palin should replace Michael Steele? Yeah, like she needs, or would ever contemplate taking, that job.

How nervous do you think this Sarah Palin ad made the 2012 GOP contenders? Whatever you think of her, the ad is really good.

How much weight do you think the neo-isolationists and paleo-conservatives have in the GOP? Not much right now if Ann Coulter and Ron Paul are the only pro–Michael Steele voices. But Republicans should be wary — there is always the temptation to pull up the drawbridge.

How angry do you think Americans will be with Obama when they realize this? (More than they already are, that is): “After nearly a decade of federal tax cuts, Americans could awaken New Year’s Day with a whopper of a hangover. Breaks covering everything from child tax credits to the death tax are set to expire that day, less than six months from now, bringing higher payments for nearly every American who pays taxes. ‘We’ve never in history seen anything quite like this, where such a major portion of the tax code is set to expire on a single date and affect so many Americans all at once,’ said Scott Hodge, president of The Tax Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks tax policies.”

How much trouble do you think Obama is in when Ruth Marcus sounds like John Podhoretz?

How many GOP 2012 candidates do you think will take this smart advice on immigration reform from Charles Krauthammer?It seems to me that the Republicans ought to argue enforcement first — and then a very generous, open and humane solution for those already here.” Not enough, I fear.

How dumb does Obama think businessmen are? “The White House has launched a coordinated campaign to push back against the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that President Barack Obama is promoting an anti-business agenda.” Besides, wasn’t his populist, anti–Wall Street rhetoric supposed to be the key to minimizing midterm losses?

How upset do you think the White House is that the West Virginia governor has put another Senate seat at risk? “West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) cleared the way for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to call a November 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat. The legal opinion McGraw issued Thursday did not give a specific timeline for a special election, but suggests using the already scheduled election this November.”

How slow do you think things are in Washington if the Politico forum is about whether Sarah Palin should replace Michael Steele? Yeah, like she needs, or would ever contemplate taking, that job.

How nervous do you think this Sarah Palin ad made the 2012 GOP contenders? Whatever you think of her, the ad is really good.

How much weight do you think the neo-isolationists and paleo-conservatives have in the GOP? Not much right now if Ann Coulter and Ron Paul are the only pro–Michael Steele voices. But Republicans should be wary — there is always the temptation to pull up the drawbridge.

How angry do you think Americans will be with Obama when they realize this? (More than they already are, that is): “After nearly a decade of federal tax cuts, Americans could awaken New Year’s Day with a whopper of a hangover. Breaks covering everything from child tax credits to the death tax are set to expire that day, less than six months from now, bringing higher payments for nearly every American who pays taxes. ‘We’ve never in history seen anything quite like this, where such a major portion of the tax code is set to expire on a single date and affect so many Americans all at once,’ said Scott Hodge, president of The Tax Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks tax policies.”

How much trouble do you think Obama is in when Ruth Marcus sounds like John Podhoretz?

How many GOP 2012 candidates do you think will take this smart advice on immigration reform from Charles Krauthammer?It seems to me that the Republicans ought to argue enforcement first — and then a very generous, open and humane solution for those already here.” Not enough, I fear.

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Another Senate Seat in Play?

This report suggests that the Democrats will have another Senate seat to defend:

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin voiced support for holding a special election this year to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s seat, announcing that he would request a legal opinion from the state attorney general to determine if a vote could be held. Manchin, a Democrat who said he would be “highly” interested in running for the seat himself, expressed discomfort with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s ruling that the governor should name a placeholder to the seat until it comes up for election in 2012.

I imagine Rahm Emanuel must be pulling his hair out — another contested Senate race, and this time, the administration can’t very well give the governor a job to get out of the race (or rather, to make sure there is no race). Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito would make it a real contest. If a Republican can take “Ted Kennedy’s seat,” why can’t a Republican take Byrd’s?

This report suggests that the Democrats will have another Senate seat to defend:

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin voiced support for holding a special election this year to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s seat, announcing that he would request a legal opinion from the state attorney general to determine if a vote could be held. Manchin, a Democrat who said he would be “highly” interested in running for the seat himself, expressed discomfort with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s ruling that the governor should name a placeholder to the seat until it comes up for election in 2012.

I imagine Rahm Emanuel must be pulling his hair out — another contested Senate race, and this time, the administration can’t very well give the governor a job to get out of the race (or rather, to make sure there is no race). Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito would make it a real contest. If a Republican can take “Ted Kennedy’s seat,” why can’t a Republican take Byrd’s?

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Senator Brown Objects

Scott Brown, who was a critical vote in passing the financial-regulation bill in the Senate, proves he’s as smart as CONTENTIONS readers. He writes a letter to Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd:

I am writing you to express my strong opposition to the $19 billion bank tax that was included in the financial reform bill during the conference committee. This tax was not in the Senate version of the bill, which I supported. If the final version of this bill contains these higher taxes, I will not support it.

It is especially troubling that this provision was inserted in the conference report in the dead of night without hearings or economic analysis.  While some will try to argue this isn’t a tax, this new provision takes real money away from the economy, making it unavailable for lending on Main Street, and gives it to Washington. That sounds like a tax to me. …

Imposing this new tax is the wrong option. Our economy is still struggling. It is wrong to impose higher taxes and ignore the impact it will have on our economy without considering other ways we might offset the costs of the measure.  I am asking that the conference committee find a way to offset the cost of the bill by cutting unnecessary federal spending. There are hundreds of billions in unspent federal funds sitting around, some authorized years ago for long-dead initiatives. Congress needs to start to looking there first, and I stand ready to help.

Well, maybe this isn’t a done deal yet. And maybe — in tribute to the legendary Robert Byrd — there should be some extended, very extended debate on the whole bill. Really, how many senators know what’s in this thing?

Scott Brown, who was a critical vote in passing the financial-regulation bill in the Senate, proves he’s as smart as CONTENTIONS readers. He writes a letter to Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd:

I am writing you to express my strong opposition to the $19 billion bank tax that was included in the financial reform bill during the conference committee. This tax was not in the Senate version of the bill, which I supported. If the final version of this bill contains these higher taxes, I will not support it.

It is especially troubling that this provision was inserted in the conference report in the dead of night without hearings or economic analysis.  While some will try to argue this isn’t a tax, this new provision takes real money away from the economy, making it unavailable for lending on Main Street, and gives it to Washington. That sounds like a tax to me. …

Imposing this new tax is the wrong option. Our economy is still struggling. It is wrong to impose higher taxes and ignore the impact it will have on our economy without considering other ways we might offset the costs of the measure.  I am asking that the conference committee find a way to offset the cost of the bill by cutting unnecessary federal spending. There are hundreds of billions in unspent federal funds sitting around, some authorized years ago for long-dead initiatives. Congress needs to start to looking there first, and I stand ready to help.

Well, maybe this isn’t a done deal yet. And maybe — in tribute to the legendary Robert Byrd — there should be some extended, very extended debate on the whole bill. Really, how many senators know what’s in this thing?

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The Law of Unintended Consequences

In addition to the insightful comments by John’s friend who works in finances, I wanted to call attention to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on the Dodd-Frank financial “reform” bill.

According to the Journal,

The bill represents the triumph of the very regulators and Congressmen who did so much to foment the financial panic, giving them vast new discretion over every corner of American financial markets. … In the name of responding to a crisis, the bill greatly increases the power of politicians and regulators without addressing the real causes of that crisis. It makes credit more expensive and punishes business without reducing the chances of a future panic or bailouts.

Politico is reporting that several factors have converged, from the death of Senator Robert Byrd to the early negative reactions to the conference report by at least one key Republican, Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. This means that the Democrats face the real possibility of falling several votes shy as they try to finish the bill.

What ruffled several Senate feathers is the late addition of a 10-year, $19 billion tax on banks — something added without proper scrutiny, discussion, or debate. None of the Republican senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, were pleased. Neither was Senator Brown, who said he was “surprised and extremely disappointed” with a $19 billion bank tax added to the conference report and who signaled he might switch his vote from yes to no. “While I’m still reviewing the bill’s details, these provisions were not in the Senate version of the bill, which I previously supported,” Brown said. “My fear is that these costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher bank, ATM and credit card fees and put a strain on lending at the worst possible time for our economy. I’ve said repeatedly that I cannot support any bill that raises taxes.”

The Dodd-Frank legislation has generated attention in the world of finance. But if it passes, its ramifications will be felt far beyond Wall Street. It is an example of the law of unintended consequences, a concept understood by most social scientists but very few politicians. In this case, legislation that was crafted to respond to a very real problem would make things many times worse. The temptation for lawmakers to do something, anything, is often injurious.

What has emerged from Congress is a bill that is deeply flawed. If that legislation becomes law, it will do enormous harm to our financial sector and our country. It would, indeed, be fitting, if the addition of the dead-in-the-night tax on financial institutions helped bring this monstrosity down. We saw these kinds of shady dealings and legislative tricks during the health-care debate. It is becoming standard operating procedure for the 112th Congress, and something that will eventually cost them. The same may be true, alas, for the rest of us.

In addition to the insightful comments by John’s friend who works in finances, I wanted to call attention to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on the Dodd-Frank financial “reform” bill.

According to the Journal,

The bill represents the triumph of the very regulators and Congressmen who did so much to foment the financial panic, giving them vast new discretion over every corner of American financial markets. … In the name of responding to a crisis, the bill greatly increases the power of politicians and regulators without addressing the real causes of that crisis. It makes credit more expensive and punishes business without reducing the chances of a future panic or bailouts.

Politico is reporting that several factors have converged, from the death of Senator Robert Byrd to the early negative reactions to the conference report by at least one key Republican, Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. This means that the Democrats face the real possibility of falling several votes shy as they try to finish the bill.

What ruffled several Senate feathers is the late addition of a 10-year, $19 billion tax on banks — something added without proper scrutiny, discussion, or debate. None of the Republican senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, were pleased. Neither was Senator Brown, who said he was “surprised and extremely disappointed” with a $19 billion bank tax added to the conference report and who signaled he might switch his vote from yes to no. “While I’m still reviewing the bill’s details, these provisions were not in the Senate version of the bill, which I previously supported,” Brown said. “My fear is that these costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher bank, ATM and credit card fees and put a strain on lending at the worst possible time for our economy. I’ve said repeatedly that I cannot support any bill that raises taxes.”

The Dodd-Frank legislation has generated attention in the world of finance. But if it passes, its ramifications will be felt far beyond Wall Street. It is an example of the law of unintended consequences, a concept understood by most social scientists but very few politicians. In this case, legislation that was crafted to respond to a very real problem would make things many times worse. The temptation for lawmakers to do something, anything, is often injurious.

What has emerged from Congress is a bill that is deeply flawed. If that legislation becomes law, it will do enormous harm to our financial sector and our country. It would, indeed, be fitting, if the addition of the dead-in-the-night tax on financial institutions helped bring this monstrosity down. We saw these kinds of shady dealings and legislative tricks during the health-care debate. It is becoming standard operating procedure for the 112th Congress, and something that will eventually cost them. The same may be true, alas, for the rest of us.

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Can We Find Out Who Kagan Is Before She Takes the Bench?

Election-law professor Rick Hansen (h/t Taegan Goddard) writes:

If you were trying to schedule Senate hearings on a Supreme Court nominee to garner the least attention possible, you could not have picked a day better than today. The sad death of Senator Byrd; the Supreme Court decides four major cases, including the gun case; Congress poised to pass a major financial reform bill, with now some uncertainty as to timing given the death of Sen. Byrd; the Afghanistan McChrystal fallout; continued concern over BP’s cleanup operations. It is no wonder that many Americans don’t know who Elena Kagan is.

Actually, they don’t know who she is because there is not much that is knowable. Most senators don’t have much more than her biography, her slender body of writings, and a pleasant office visit by which to assess her. Sen. Jeff Sesssions set forth the problem in his opening remarks:

Ms. Kagan certainly has numerous talents and many good qualities, but there are serious concerns about this nomination. Ms. Kagan has less real legal experience of any nominee in at least 50 years. And it’s not just that the nominee has not been a judge. She has barely practiced law and not with the intensity and duration from which I think real legal understanding occurs. Ms. Kagan has never tried a case before a jury. She argued her first appellate case just nine months ago. While academia certainly has value, there is no substitute, I think, for being in the harness of the law, handling real cases over a period of years.

We know less about this nominee than we did about every other justice at this stage in the confirmation process. Part of this problem may be solved by a spasm of candor from the nominee. That’s not likely, and even if she is more forthcoming than expected, we have no basis by which to assess whether she will be a competent jurist. Democrats who rubber-stamp her on the theory that the White House must know something they don’t are taking a risk — and neglecting their constitutional obligation. I suppose it’s old-fashioned to expect that senators read groundbreaking legislation before they vote and to demand answers from an underqualified, stealth nominee. (These are the same folks who wax lyrical about Sen. Robert Byrd’s defense of the world’s “greatest deliberative body.”)

Unfortunately, senators insist on blathering on, asking unintelligible questions that give nominees the chance to run out the clock and flatter their questioner by commending the blather. Here’s a suggestion for the senators: ask a questions that are fewer than 20 words, ask them again if she doesn’t answer, keep track of the list of unanswered questions, and demand that she provide real answers before a vote is taken. Obama got through a campaign without being adequately vetted; it’s not a standard we should emulate for a lifetime Supreme Court appointment.

Election-law professor Rick Hansen (h/t Taegan Goddard) writes:

If you were trying to schedule Senate hearings on a Supreme Court nominee to garner the least attention possible, you could not have picked a day better than today. The sad death of Senator Byrd; the Supreme Court decides four major cases, including the gun case; Congress poised to pass a major financial reform bill, with now some uncertainty as to timing given the death of Sen. Byrd; the Afghanistan McChrystal fallout; continued concern over BP’s cleanup operations. It is no wonder that many Americans don’t know who Elena Kagan is.

Actually, they don’t know who she is because there is not much that is knowable. Most senators don’t have much more than her biography, her slender body of writings, and a pleasant office visit by which to assess her. Sen. Jeff Sesssions set forth the problem in his opening remarks:

Ms. Kagan certainly has numerous talents and many good qualities, but there are serious concerns about this nomination. Ms. Kagan has less real legal experience of any nominee in at least 50 years. And it’s not just that the nominee has not been a judge. She has barely practiced law and not with the intensity and duration from which I think real legal understanding occurs. Ms. Kagan has never tried a case before a jury. She argued her first appellate case just nine months ago. While academia certainly has value, there is no substitute, I think, for being in the harness of the law, handling real cases over a period of years.

We know less about this nominee than we did about every other justice at this stage in the confirmation process. Part of this problem may be solved by a spasm of candor from the nominee. That’s not likely, and even if she is more forthcoming than expected, we have no basis by which to assess whether she will be a competent jurist. Democrats who rubber-stamp her on the theory that the White House must know something they don’t are taking a risk — and neglecting their constitutional obligation. I suppose it’s old-fashioned to expect that senators read groundbreaking legislation before they vote and to demand answers from an underqualified, stealth nominee. (These are the same folks who wax lyrical about Sen. Robert Byrd’s defense of the world’s “greatest deliberative body.”)

Unfortunately, senators insist on blathering on, asking unintelligible questions that give nominees the chance to run out the clock and flatter their questioner by commending the blather. Here’s a suggestion for the senators: ask a questions that are fewer than 20 words, ask them again if she doesn’t answer, keep track of the list of unanswered questions, and demand that she provide real answers before a vote is taken. Obama got through a campaign without being adequately vetted; it’s not a standard we should emulate for a lifetime Supreme Court appointment.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Every Supreme Court nominee is an advocate of judicial restraint, but not all justices are. Elena Kagan: “[T]he Supreme Court is a wondrous institution. But the time I spent in the other branches of government remind me that it must also be a modest one – properly deferential to the decisions of the American people and their elected representatives. … That process is often messy and frustrating, but the people of this country have great wisdom, and their representatives work hard to protect their interests. The Supreme Court, of course, has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals. But the Court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people.” Like the choice to insist that military recruiters be given access to campuses?

Every Supreme Court confirmation hearing now seems like a charade. As Tom Goldstein noted: “There is nothing in her opening statement that would distinguish her from John Roberts or Sam Alito.” Except the fact that they really believed what they were saying.

By virtually every standard, Kagan is underqualified for the job: “Solicitor-General Elena Kagan practiced law at the Williams & Connolly firm here in the nation’s capitol for only two years, a much briefer stint than the 20.5 year average of other Supreme Court Justices who had no prior judicial tenure before joining the nation’s highest court.”

Not every case is as important as McDonald v. Chicago. Steven Calabresi: “The McDonald holding will lead to a slew of additional challenges against state and municipal laws around the country regulating or restricting the firearms rights of law-abiding citizens. Justice Alito’s opinion is also of tremendous importance because it is based on the premise that substantive due process rights must be deeply rooted in American history and tradition before the Supreme Court can protect them.”

Every new utterance by Peter Beinart is wackier than the last. “Even as Republicans claim political momentum, the country is in the midst of a major shift leftward when it comes to the role of government.” Yeah, right. Well, if every poll on the subject is wrong, I suppose this could be true.

Obama’s “reset” means giving in to every Russian demand without extracting anything in return. David Christy thinks we shouldn’t “feed the Russian bear” when it comes to entry into the WTO: “Everyone is focused on timing, but the issue is not whether or when Russia should join, but the terms. The fact of the matter is that Russia has yet to accept a set of commitments that justifies entry into the WTO. Terms that are too soft might have a negative impact on the WTO, Russia’s trading partners, and, in the long term, Russia itself.”

Every time someone calls Robert Byrd legendary, remember: “He participated in a filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was the only member of the Senate to vote against the confirmation of both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.”

Every Supreme Court nominee is an advocate of judicial restraint, but not all justices are. Elena Kagan: “[T]he Supreme Court is a wondrous institution. But the time I spent in the other branches of government remind me that it must also be a modest one – properly deferential to the decisions of the American people and their elected representatives. … That process is often messy and frustrating, but the people of this country have great wisdom, and their representatives work hard to protect their interests. The Supreme Court, of course, has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals. But the Court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people.” Like the choice to insist that military recruiters be given access to campuses?

Every Supreme Court confirmation hearing now seems like a charade. As Tom Goldstein noted: “There is nothing in her opening statement that would distinguish her from John Roberts or Sam Alito.” Except the fact that they really believed what they were saying.

By virtually every standard, Kagan is underqualified for the job: “Solicitor-General Elena Kagan practiced law at the Williams & Connolly firm here in the nation’s capitol for only two years, a much briefer stint than the 20.5 year average of other Supreme Court Justices who had no prior judicial tenure before joining the nation’s highest court.”

Not every case is as important as McDonald v. Chicago. Steven Calabresi: “The McDonald holding will lead to a slew of additional challenges against state and municipal laws around the country regulating or restricting the firearms rights of law-abiding citizens. Justice Alito’s opinion is also of tremendous importance because it is based on the premise that substantive due process rights must be deeply rooted in American history and tradition before the Supreme Court can protect them.”

Every new utterance by Peter Beinart is wackier than the last. “Even as Republicans claim political momentum, the country is in the midst of a major shift leftward when it comes to the role of government.” Yeah, right. Well, if every poll on the subject is wrong, I suppose this could be true.

Obama’s “reset” means giving in to every Russian demand without extracting anything in return. David Christy thinks we shouldn’t “feed the Russian bear” when it comes to entry into the WTO: “Everyone is focused on timing, but the issue is not whether or when Russia should join, but the terms. The fact of the matter is that Russia has yet to accept a set of commitments that justifies entry into the WTO. Terms that are too soft might have a negative impact on the WTO, Russia’s trading partners, and, in the long term, Russia itself.”

Every time someone calls Robert Byrd legendary, remember: “He participated in a filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was the only member of the Senate to vote against the confirmation of both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.”

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Senator Robert Byrd, R.I.P.

Senator Robert Bryd was the longest serving senator in U.S. history. He cast more votes than any other senator. Others have commented on his maturation on civil rights issues. We’re told that his colleagues are bereft — they hardly can imagine the place without him. Indeed, he was a model – and the envy of many an eye. Really, who could come close to him when it came to looting the taxpayers?

The largess he bestowed on his state is legendary. He has more than 30 buildings, roads, and monuments — in a very small state (41st in the nation) – named after him. But we do have some data that put into perspective how much taxpayer money was spent on all those buildings and countless other pork-barrel projects. As the Tax Foundation explained:

West Virginia taxpayers benefit significantly more than the average state from federal spending. Per dollar of federal tax collected, West Virginia citizens received approximately $1.76 in the way of federal spending. This ranks West Virginia 5th highest among all states. This represents a significant rise from 1995, when West Virginia received $1.59 per dollar of taxes in federal spending, ranking it 2nd nationally.

With a huge helping hand from Byrd, since 1981, West Virginia never dropped below 13th in the grabbing-money-from-taxpayers department.
I asked a number of budget gurus the total value of the taxpayers’ money that Byrd has hauled into his state since 1959. The unanimous response: it’s impossible to tell. But it’s a really big number. You can imagine that’s the sort of epitaph many a U.S. senator would love to have.

Senator Robert Bryd was the longest serving senator in U.S. history. He cast more votes than any other senator. Others have commented on his maturation on civil rights issues. We’re told that his colleagues are bereft — they hardly can imagine the place without him. Indeed, he was a model – and the envy of many an eye. Really, who could come close to him when it came to looting the taxpayers?

The largess he bestowed on his state is legendary. He has more than 30 buildings, roads, and monuments — in a very small state (41st in the nation) – named after him. But we do have some data that put into perspective how much taxpayer money was spent on all those buildings and countless other pork-barrel projects. As the Tax Foundation explained:

West Virginia taxpayers benefit significantly more than the average state from federal spending. Per dollar of federal tax collected, West Virginia citizens received approximately $1.76 in the way of federal spending. This ranks West Virginia 5th highest among all states. This represents a significant rise from 1995, when West Virginia received $1.59 per dollar of taxes in federal spending, ranking it 2nd nationally.

With a huge helping hand from Byrd, since 1981, West Virginia never dropped below 13th in the grabbing-money-from-taxpayers department.
I asked a number of budget gurus the total value of the taxpayers’ money that Byrd has hauled into his state since 1959. The unanimous response: it’s impossible to tell. But it’s a really big number. You can imagine that’s the sort of epitaph many a U.S. senator would love to have.

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RE: The Tax Issue Is Back

As I’ve noted before, Obama has brought the tax issue roaring back. Nothing like a liberal president willing to raise taxes on the non-rich (after promising not to), small businesses, and capital before the economy has rebounded to remind voters of the difference between the two parties. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note:

Bipartisanship has broken out in the Senate, not that the media bothered to notice. Last week John McCain introduced a resolution stating that “It is the sense of the Senate that the Value Added Tax is a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.” The resolution passed 85 to 13.

A VAT is a form of national sales tax applied at every stage of production and carried through to the final price paid by consumers. The typical VAT rate in Europe is close to 20%. That’s about how high a VAT would have to be in the U.S. to balance the federal budget, according to the Tax Foundation. Mr. McCain said about his VAT resolution that “With the economy in such bad shape, we should be cutting tax rates now, shouldn’t we?”

Who were the 13? Two who are retiring — George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) — and a whole bunch of Democrats: Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Tom Udall (N.M.), James Webb (Va.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.). Kaufman may be toast already, but the others might come to regret walking out on the tax limb.

As I’ve noted before, Obama has brought the tax issue roaring back. Nothing like a liberal president willing to raise taxes on the non-rich (after promising not to), small businesses, and capital before the economy has rebounded to remind voters of the difference between the two parties. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note:

Bipartisanship has broken out in the Senate, not that the media bothered to notice. Last week John McCain introduced a resolution stating that “It is the sense of the Senate that the Value Added Tax is a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.” The resolution passed 85 to 13.

A VAT is a form of national sales tax applied at every stage of production and carried through to the final price paid by consumers. The typical VAT rate in Europe is close to 20%. That’s about how high a VAT would have to be in the U.S. to balance the federal budget, according to the Tax Foundation. Mr. McCain said about his VAT resolution that “With the economy in such bad shape, we should be cutting tax rates now, shouldn’t we?”

Who were the 13? Two who are retiring — George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) — and a whole bunch of Democrats: Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Tom Udall (N.M.), James Webb (Va.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.). Kaufman may be toast already, but the others might come to regret walking out on the tax limb.

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Jumping When Unions Holler

Obama’s promise of  a better, cleaner, and more transparent brand of politics has not been fulfilled. Not by a long shot. The president appoints the SEIU boss to the deficit commission. Congress behind closed doors churns out colorfully named sweetheart deals on ObamaCare. And then they really reveal the depths of their dependence on special-interest patrons.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert Jr. explain that the $450 billion spending bill last year “effectively dismantled a small, successful education program benefiting low-income children in the nation’s capital.” All hope is not lost that a scholarship reviled by Big Labor as a threat to its education monopoly may disappear. But we’re getting close. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is trying to restore the program. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may prevent the Senate from even voting on the measure. He has, it seems, little support from Democrats:

Who wants to vote against an effective program serving poor minority children?

Congress needed only to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — as the local community asked it to do and as the research should have compelled it to do — but the members who mattered ignored the families outside their white marble offices, even rescinding scholarships to hundreds of hopeful students.

Where is Obama in all this? Nowhere to be found. They write:

Obama could have stood up for these children, who only want the same opportunities that he had and that his daughters now have. Instead, his education secretary, Arne Duncan, proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren’t so sad: Scholarships for poor students aren’t worth supporting because not enough of them are given out.

Note to Duncan: You could give out more.

The mayor and school chancellor support the scholarship plan but not the Democratic leadership. (“Unfortunately, congressional leaders — especially Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — crumpled before teachers union threats, led by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who declared everything open to negotiation ‘except vouchers.’”) Vouchers, of course, threaten to send students to schools with no teacher unions, and teacher unions are in the business of sustaining their unions, not in maximizing educational opportunities for students. So the union squawks, the Democrats jump, and the D.C. kids get the short end of the stick.

Amis and Robert note that there is a bipartisan group — which includes Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) — seeking to save the program. But what the D.C. schoolchildren and their parents need is the president and Senate and House Democratic leadership. Too bad they’ve got Big Labor patrons to mollify.

Obama’s promise of  a better, cleaner, and more transparent brand of politics has not been fulfilled. Not by a long shot. The president appoints the SEIU boss to the deficit commission. Congress behind closed doors churns out colorfully named sweetheart deals on ObamaCare. And then they really reveal the depths of their dependence on special-interest patrons.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert Jr. explain that the $450 billion spending bill last year “effectively dismantled a small, successful education program benefiting low-income children in the nation’s capital.” All hope is not lost that a scholarship reviled by Big Labor as a threat to its education monopoly may disappear. But we’re getting close. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is trying to restore the program. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may prevent the Senate from even voting on the measure. He has, it seems, little support from Democrats:

Who wants to vote against an effective program serving poor minority children?

Congress needed only to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — as the local community asked it to do and as the research should have compelled it to do — but the members who mattered ignored the families outside their white marble offices, even rescinding scholarships to hundreds of hopeful students.

Where is Obama in all this? Nowhere to be found. They write:

Obama could have stood up for these children, who only want the same opportunities that he had and that his daughters now have. Instead, his education secretary, Arne Duncan, proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren’t so sad: Scholarships for poor students aren’t worth supporting because not enough of them are given out.

Note to Duncan: You could give out more.

The mayor and school chancellor support the scholarship plan but not the Democratic leadership. (“Unfortunately, congressional leaders — especially Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — crumpled before teachers union threats, led by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who declared everything open to negotiation ‘except vouchers.’”) Vouchers, of course, threaten to send students to schools with no teacher unions, and teacher unions are in the business of sustaining their unions, not in maximizing educational opportunities for students. So the union squawks, the Democrats jump, and the D.C. kids get the short end of the stick.

Amis and Robert note that there is a bipartisan group — which includes Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) — seeking to save the program. But what the D.C. schoolchildren and their parents need is the president and Senate and House Democratic leadership. Too bad they’ve got Big Labor patrons to mollify.

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Reid’s Bad History

Poor Harry Reid. With his health-care plan deeply unpopular and with him trailing Republican opponents in Nevada, he is beginning to show signs of cracking under the pressure. On the Senate floor, for example, he compared Republicans who oppose ObamaCare to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. In Reid’s words:

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: “Slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.” If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, “Slow down, it’s too early, let’s wait, things aren’t bad enough.”

For one thing, the Senate majority leader’s retelling of history is a wee bit off. It was the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. According to Stephen B. Oates’s With Malice Toward None, in the South, Democrats called Lincoln the greatest “ass” in the United States, a “sooty” and “scoundrelly” abolitionist. Lincoln and his “Black Republican, free love, free N—–” party were the object of fierce hatred by Democrats. And the only person serving in the Senate today who was an “Exalted Cyclops” — that is, the top officer in a local Ku Klux Klan unit — is former Democratic majority leader Robert Byrd.

For another thing, Harry Reid’s incivility has burst forth in the past. To take just one example: he called President George W. Bush a “liar” and a “loser.” Yet no words of condemnation by Democrats were heard.

Recently, I have taken both James Fallows here and here and E.J. Dionne Jr. to task for their glaring double standard on the issue of incivility in public discourse. Their outrage is expressed only when Republicans cross certain lines; they remain silent when Democrats do. A Dionne colleague wrote me to say I was being unfair to him. Well, then, here’s a fine opportunity for Dionne and Fallows — and for many other commentators — to condemn the kind of hateful rhetoric they say they find so distasteful. It’ll be instructive to see how many actually do.

Poor Harry Reid. With his health-care plan deeply unpopular and with him trailing Republican opponents in Nevada, he is beginning to show signs of cracking under the pressure. On the Senate floor, for example, he compared Republicans who oppose ObamaCare to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. In Reid’s words:

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: “Slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.” If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, “Slow down, it’s too early, let’s wait, things aren’t bad enough.”

For one thing, the Senate majority leader’s retelling of history is a wee bit off. It was the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. According to Stephen B. Oates’s With Malice Toward None, in the South, Democrats called Lincoln the greatest “ass” in the United States, a “sooty” and “scoundrelly” abolitionist. Lincoln and his “Black Republican, free love, free N—–” party were the object of fierce hatred by Democrats. And the only person serving in the Senate today who was an “Exalted Cyclops” — that is, the top officer in a local Ku Klux Klan unit — is former Democratic majority leader Robert Byrd.

For another thing, Harry Reid’s incivility has burst forth in the past. To take just one example: he called President George W. Bush a “liar” and a “loser.” Yet no words of condemnation by Democrats were heard.

Recently, I have taken both James Fallows here and here and E.J. Dionne Jr. to task for their glaring double standard on the issue of incivility in public discourse. Their outrage is expressed only when Republicans cross certain lines; they remain silent when Democrats do. A Dionne colleague wrote me to say I was being unfair to him. Well, then, here’s a fine opportunity for Dionne and Fallows — and for many other commentators — to condemn the kind of hateful rhetoric they say they find so distasteful. It’ll be instructive to see how many actually do.

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