Postal Reform: A Telling Survey

First-class mail is the USPS’s most profitable product. Thus, the large – and permanent – drop in first-class mail volume has the USPS facing red ink as far as the eye can see. The U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general recently reported its findings from focus group discussions held with high-volume first-class mailers and mail service providers. The…

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Detroit Doesn’t Need More Federal Money

With the City of Detroit heading toward bankruptcy, The Hill reports that Mayor Dave Bing has signed a $330,000 contract with a Washington lobbying firm to help the city grab more money from federal taxpayers. At the same time, Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) wants up to a $1 billion in “emergency aid” (i.e., bailout) for Detroit from Uncle Sam.

I typed “federal funds Detroit” in a Google search and the following headlines popped up on the first page:

Cockrel: ‘Idiotic Management of Federal Funds Cost Needy Detroit Resident a Chance at Jobs

Detroit Poorly Managed Federal Funds

Detroit Could Lose $20 Million in Federal Funds Due to Mismanagement

State Seeks Better Oversight of Detroit’s Federal Funds

Officials Examining Detroit’s Finances Find Federal Funds Poorly Managed

As I clicked through the search pages a pattern emerged: most of the articles are either about Detroit receiving federal funds or Detroit mismanaging federal funds. And Mayor Bing and Rep. Clarke think the rest of the country should give Detroit more money?

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U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Spending Cuts

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are pushing backagainst criticism from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over the GOP’s proposed cuts to domestic spending programs. They should.

The USCCB’s criticism comes at a time when it’s appropriately fighting the Obama administration’s mandate that Church-affiliated employers must provide health insurance that covers birth control. As a Catholic, it pains me that the bishops apparently do not recognize that a central government that is big and powerful enough to spend billions of other people’s dollars on housing, food, and health care programs, which the bishops support, is inevitably going to shove its tentacles into areas where they’re not wanted. In other words, if you play with fire, there’s a good chance you’re going to get burnt.

The bishops have now sent four letters to Congress that call on policymakers to “create a ‘circle of protection’ around poor and vulnerable people and programs that meet their basic needs and protect their lives and dignity.” Oh please. Even if it were the proper role of the federal government to fund such programs, the government’s efforts have been inefficient and often counterproductive. If anything, the massive federal welfare state that has sprung up over the past five decades has stripped countless Americans of their dignity by making them reliant on the cold hand of the bureaucrat.

Note this paragraph from a USCCB letter that argues against cuts to housing programs:

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Federal Funds for Cleaning Up Abandoned Mines

An article in the Wall Street Journal offers another example of the problem with the federal government tackling issues that should be left to the states to resolve. Congress passed a law in 1977 requiring coal companies to pay a fee that was to be used to help the states clean up abandoned mines. As is often the case, the distribution of funds to the states has been distorted by politics:

Wyoming officials figured they would get large payouts every year because their state was producing so much coal. But the money had to be “appropriated” by Congress, meaning lawmakers had to vote each year on who would receive it. That often didn’t happen, so a lot of the money sat unused, including hundreds of millions of dollars that Wyoming officials believed belonged in their state.

In 2006, as parts of the law were set to expire, Sen. Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) won passage of a measure that allowed the money to flow as “mandatory” spending, meaning it didn’t have to be voted on by Congress each year. In addition, it allowed Wyoming, three other states and three Native American tribes to use their money, including funds not distributed in prior years, with virtually no strings attached. Those four states and three tribes were certified as having taken care of their most severe abandoned coal mine problems. Other states had to use the money more narrowly for mine problems.

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Welfare and Private Charity

new policy paper from my colleague Michael Tanner analyzes the growth in the American welfare state and concludes that “throwing money at the problem has neither reduced poverty nor made the poor self-sufficient.” Michael makes an important point that—in my experience—most journalists don’t seem to appreciate:

In addition, whatever the intention behind government programs, they are soon captured by special interests. The nature of government is such that programs are almost always implemented in a way to benefit those with a vested interest in them rather than to actually achieve the programs’ stated goals… Among the nonpoor with a vital interest in antipoverty programs are social workers and government employees who administer the programs and business people, such as landlords and physicians, who are paid to provide services to the poor. Thus, anti-poverty programs are usually more concerned with protecting the prerogatives of the bureaucracy than with actually fighting poverty.

That’s one reason why you have federal officials actually celebrating the fact that more and more Americans are signing up for food stamps. Sure, adding millions of people to the food stamps roll is good for the Department of Agriculture’s budget, but is it good for the country? Perhaps if one thinks that government bureaucracies are ideally suited to provide for the less fortunate. However, that’s a tough claim to make given the fraud, abuse, and wasteful bureaucratic overhead costs associated with the government model. And let’s not forget that the government is not a charity; rather, it must resort to compulsion and force in order to carry out its politically-inspired objectives.

Instead of celebrating government dependency, we ought to be celebrating those private charities that are effectively meeting the needs of the less fortunate through voluntary donations. For example, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) recently went to the House floor to laud a private charity called Convoy of Hope. From Paul’s speech:

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General Services Administration: Let the Taxpayers Eat Cake

The head of the General Services Administration, which is the federal government’s procurement and property manager, has resigned in the wake of a report from the agency’s inspector general that uncovered extravagant spending at a GSA “training conference” in Las Vegas. Here’s the Washington Post’s summary of festivities: Among the “excessive, wasteful and in some cases impermissible” spending the…

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Postal Problems: the Role of Government Micromanagement

Postal expert Michael Schuyler has released a follow-up to his January paper that compared the recent financial performance of the U.S. Postal Service to foreign postal service providers. Not surprisingly, the USPS has fared relatively poorly in comparison to its foreign counterparts. In his new paper, Schuyler looks at the role government micromanagement plays and finds that “Foreign posts have much more flexibility than USPS to adjust operations to keep costs in line with revenue.”

The following are some key points:

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How Not to Make the Case for Terminating Federal Programs

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney recently gave the following response to a reporter’s question on what programs he would cut:

Of course you get rid of Obamacare, that’s the easy one, but there are others: Planned Parenthood, we’re gonna get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrak, I would eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, both excellent programs, but we can’t afford to borrow money to pay for these things.

It’s good that Romney can actually name federal programs that he would terminate (even if they’re relatively small programs). But how on earth does he expect to garner support from Congress to terminate the NEA and NEH after having called them “excellent programs”? Sorry, but the “federal government is broke” argument won’t get the job done. In fact, it’s just a cop out that Republican politicians often use to avoid having to provide a coherent, principled justification for spending cuts.

Last year, I criticized the Boehner Republicans in the House for making a similarly weak case for spending cuts:

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Paul Ryan’s Budget: It’s Still Big Government

Chris Edwards provided an ample overview of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal, so I won’t rehash the numbers. Instead, I’ll just add a few comments.

Democrats and the left will squeal that Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is a massive threat to the poor, the sick, the elderly, etc, etc. It’s baloney, but a part of me thinks that he might deserve it. Why? Because the excessive rhetoric employed by the left to criticize lower spending levels for domestic welfare programs isn’t much different than the excessive rhetoric Ryan uses to argue against sequestration-induced reductions in military spending. For instance, Ryan speaks of the “devastation to America’s national security” that sequestration would allegedly cause. (See Christopher Preble’s The Pentagon Budget: Myth vs. Reality).

Now I’m sure that I’ll receive emails admonishing me for failing to recognize that the Constitution explicitly gives the federal government the responsibility to defend the nation while the constitutionality of domestic welfare programs isn’t quite so clear. Okay, but what are Ryan’s views on the constitutionality of domestic welfare programs?

At the outset of Ryan’s introduction to his plan, he quotes James Madison and says that the Founders designed a “Constitution of enumerated powers, giving the federal government broad authority over only those matters that must have a single national response, while sharply restricting its authority to intrude on those spheres of activity better left to the states and the people.” That’s nice, but then he proceeds to make statements like this:

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