The White House Does a Gary Bettman

If you’re a hockey fan, you’re probably pretty irritated that the National Hockey League’s owners and players still haven’t reached a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement, and thus the 2012-2013 season remains in limbo. You also probably know that negotiations got off to a rough start after the owners, who are presumed to have the upper hand, made a rather insulting initial offer to the players.

Well, the Obama administration must’ve stolen a page from the NHL owners’ negotiating playbook. Yesterday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner—playing the role of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman—delivered to congressional Republicans the president’s opening proposal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The proposal’s reported contents were too extreme for the GOP, and they should insult anyone who gives a fig about the federal government’s unsustainable budgetary path.

Here are the details as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

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Paying for Storm Damage

According to the New York Times, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s congressional delegation want the federal government to pay for $33 billion in storm damage from Hurricane Sandy plus another $9 billion for preventative measures:

“I understand the fiscal pressures that Washington is under,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I also understand the fiscal pressure that New York is under. And I know that the taxpayers of New York cannot shoulder this burden, and I don’t think it’s fair to ask them to shoulder this burden.”

I suppose one could make the argument that it wouldn’t be “fair” to make New York citizens foot the bill given that New Yorkers have helped pay for the cleanup following natural disasters in other  states. But is it “fair” for the residents of other states to subsidize rebuilding efforts on coastal areas that are prone to natural disasters? Is it “fair” for Gov. Cuomo – rumored to have eyes on running for president – to use Hurricane Sandy as an opportunity to get federal taxpayers to fund infrastructure projects that he would have otherwise had to ask his constituents to pay for?

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Voting to Save Pork Programs Doesn’t Save Allen West

House freshman Allen West (R-FL) – a tea party and Fox News favorite – finally conceded defeat to his Democratic opponent on Tuesday. According to a Politico article, “The congressman’s unexpected loss left his advisers, donors and legion of tea party fans searching for answers.” Here’s one answer: West’s hypocritical votes in favor of federal programs that…

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‘Mediscare’ and the Pennsylvania Senate Race

Back in August, Cato adjunct scholar Veronique de Rugy expressed concern about Republican campaign rhetoric on Medicare. As Republicans tell it, they want to “protect” and “strengthen” Medicare, whereas President Obama wants to “cut” and “weaken” it. Veronique thinks that the GOP’s “Mediscare” campaign could end up backfiring by making it harder to reform Medicare if Republicans succeed in taking control of Washington.

What I find irritating is that for all the standard platitudes from Republicans about getting federal spending under control, they’re simultaneously attacking Democrats for allegedly wanting to cut the budget’s big-ticket items like Medicare and military spending. Democrats might deserve it for decades of trying to scare the pants off of seniors, but the GOP’s adoption of their tactics is evidence in support of the view that the parties merely represent two sides of the same coin. (Don’t forget the last big expansion of entitlements came from the Republican-engineered addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare in 2004.)

That brings me to the Pennsylvania race for U.S. Senate , where Republican challenger Tom Smith is trying to unseat Democrat Bob Casey. Smith is apparently in striking distance after months of running television ads attacking Casey. However, one particular ad being run by the Smith campaign is a good example of how low Republicans have sunk when it comes to Mediscaring:

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Members of Congress Financially Benefit from Legislation They Support

A Washington Post investigation found that 73 members of Congress have “sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested.” Here’s the part that caught my eye: When the House and Senate wrote their first set of modern ethics rules in the…

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Subsidies for Electronic Medical Records Leads to Higher Medicare Bills

Government subsidies often produce unintended consequences. The latest example comes from the New York Times, which reports that federal subsidizes to encourage doctors and hospitals to use electronic billing and recording records are leading to larger Medicare bills. That means that taxpayers are taking a double hit even though policymakers claimed that electronic record-keeping would make health care delivery more efficient, and thus less costly.

From the article:

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The ‘No More Solyndras Act’ Charade

Last week, the House passed the “No More Solyndras Act” on a mostly party-line vote. However, instead of terminating the Department of Energy loan guarantee program that subsidized Solyndra and other boondoggles, the bill allows applicants who filed before the first of this year to still receive handouts. The DOE will still have $34 billion in…

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How GOP Freshmen Voted on Continuing Resolution

Last week, the House passed a continuing resolution that will keep the government funded for the next six months. Republicans and Democrats were eager to avoid a budget fight—and possibly a government shutdown—with little more than a month to go before the elections. With that potential distraction out of the way, the two sides can now focus on convincing voters that their brand of big government is the superior choice.

Politico has a good breakdown of the CR’s contents. Here are a couple of snippets:

[The continuing resolution] restores the higher spending targets set in the Budget Control Act—and with such haste and pique—that billions will go out without any distinction between the merits of different programs. Labor, health, and education spending that’s so often targeted for cuts by the GOP will grow by close to $1 billion. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission budget, the bane of anti-regulatory forces, inches up again, albeit far less than the White House requested…

The new top line for non-emergency appropriations will be $1.047 trillion, an $8 billion increase over what the Congressional Budget Office estimates is the current rate of spending… But in their desire to keep the bill simple—and move fast—Republicans opted to distribute most of the increase, $5.9 billion, through a mechanical formula that automatically ups most accounts by 0.612 percent.

As Roll Call noted earlier in the week, the CR vote represented a test for Republican freshmen, a.k.a., the “Tea Party Class”:

The defining narrative of this Congress has been deficit reduction, pushed mostly by an anti-government-spending class of 87 freshman House Republicans. But as November inches closer, Members will have to balance their promises to slash spending against the reality that a shutdown could be an irreversible gamble in their bid to win back the Senate and White House. For his part, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) seems optimistic, having recently said the group has “matured.”

After the jump, the table shows that only 28 of the 87 Republican freshmen—32 percent—voted against the CR. (A “yes” means they voted against the CR.) I guess that means that, per John Boehner, those 28 members have maturity issues.

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Groundhog Day II: The Fiscal Cliff

Back in May, I said that Congress would avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’ by agreeing to some sort of deal that would effectively kick the can down the road (yet again). According to Politico, a group of Senators are considering a can-kicking idea that immediately brought to my mind the movie Groundhog Day: Several sources said the lawmakers are working on…

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