The Republican Way Forward: Restoring Constitutional Order



We have a pretty good idea of what President-elect Trump’s priorities are:

  • Faster Economic Growth, accomplished with tax and regulatory reform, to create more jobs and higher paying jobs for the blue-collar middle class.
  • Rethinking NAFTA and TPP to make sure that American companies and workers are not being penalized by unfair trade agreements.
  • Immigration Reform to make sure that law-breaking illegal immigrants are deported and then figuring out some sort of legal (guest worker?) status for the remainder.

What remains to be determined is the role of Congress under the new administration. Utah’s Senator Mike Lee makes a very strong argument that one of the biggest problems with American government is the weak authority of Congress in recent years and the need for Congress to reassert itself.

With a new president who is more populist than partisan, now is an excellent opportunity for Congress to do exactly this. Here is what Congress should do:

  • Reinstitute annual budgeting and appropriations for executive branch agencies. This is essential for controlling how the funds are spent.
  • Pass new legislation for healthcare, tax reform, immigration policy and financial regulation, giving up lazy policy delegation to the executive branch and relearning the art of legislating and collective choice.
  • Cry foul if President Trump tries to settle these and other momentous matters through Obama-style executive decrees without legislative input.

Conclusion. Our system needs the disruption which Donald Trump will provide and that is why he got elected.  But at the same time Congress has a golden opportunity to restore its prerogatives which have withered away in recent years.  It would be a shame if Congress doesn’t take this golden opportunity to get this done.

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We Need Fundamental Change and Now We’re going to Get It!


I want to emphasize that I voted for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday because Donald Trump has such a sleazy and mercurial personality. But Mr. Trump was clearly the change candidate and we need change big time.  His strongest base of support is the white working class which has not really recovered from the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and he will surely try to help out these people.

Here are the changes we need in order of importance:

  • Grow the economy faster. Tax reform, individual and corporate, and regulatory reform are what are most needed. Mr. Trump and the House Republicans are in rough agreement on both of these major initiatives and hopefully the new Republican led Senate will go along. The best kind of tax reform means to lower tax rates and shrink deductions enough to avoid losing tax revenue. This can be accomplished if a real effort is made to do it this way.
  • Begin to shrink our massive debt. This can only be done by major entitlement reform, meaning to control the costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare should be transitioned over from a single payer system to a premium support system, consistent with a reformed Affordable Care Act. Healthcare costs can only be contained by giving consumers more skin in the game, meaning higher deductibles supplemented with health savings accounts.
  • More assertive foreign policy. Worldwide peace and stability depend on our own economic and military strength. Right now China, Russia and Iran think they can push us around. President Trump will not let this happen.
  • Trade and immigration policy. Most knowledgeable people agree that international trade is generally beneficial. We simply have to do a better job of retraining American workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition. The key to immigration reform is tougher border security plus an effective guest worker visa program.

Conclusion. The Republican House of Representatives has an excellent plan, “A Better Way,” for American economic, fiscal and social renewal and Mr. Trump is largely supportive of it. This augers well for fundamental progress in the next four years.

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How to Get Our Country Back On Track


In my last two posts, here and here, I have said that I like some of Donald Trump’s policy ideas but he is too personally repugnant for me to support and vote for.  Hillary Clinton is morally less objectionable than Mr. Trump but her economic policy proposals are unlikely to have much success.
capture66The best hope for our country is to keep the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives.  They have put together an excellent plan, “A Better Way,” for reviving the American economy and boosting the American spirit.  Its main principles are:

  • Poverty. Every capable person is expected to work or prepare for work. Poverty fighting programs will be directed to get people back on their feet. The poor will have more opportunities to succeed at every stage.
  • National Security. It is a top priority to defeat radical Islamic extremism. We must restore American influence, advance free enterprise and expand the community of free nations.
  • The Economy. We need to take a smarter approach that cuts down on needless regulations while making the rules we do need more efficient, especially for our small businesses.
  • The Constitution. Agencies and bureaucracies should be subject to more scrutiny from Congress. Give Congress more say – and the final word – over what is being spent and why it is being spent.
  • Health Care. Individuals should have more control and more choices in order to improve quality and lower costs. No one should have to worry about having coverage taken away regardless of age, income or medical conditions.
  • Tax Reform. The tax code should be simpler, fairer and flatter while remaining progressive. It should be constructed to create jobs, raise wages and expand opportunity for all Americans.

Conclusion. These principles are widely supported by almost all Republicans in Congress and are more important than specific differences on immigration, trade, or entitlement policy.  Their serious consideration depends upon returning a Republican controlled House in 2017.

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Donald Trump’s Best Chance to Win in November


As I occasionally remind my readers, I am a non-ideological fiscal conservative and a registered independent. In November I will vote for the presidential candidate who has the most credible plan to address what I consider to be our country’s two more serious problems:

  • Slow Economic Growth, only 2.1% per year for the past seven years since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. Faster growth will create more jobs and bigger wage gains for America’s workers.
  • Massive Debt. Our public debt (on which we pay interest) is now 75% of GDP, the highest it has been since the end of WWII, and likely to keep getting worse unless strong measures are taken to prevent this from happening.

According to current polls, Hillary Clinton is strongly predicted to be elected our next president. However her policy proposals will do little, if anything, to stimulate economic growth and are likely to make our debt much worse than it already is.
Capture8Donald Trump has a strong base of support among working class whites who are suffering in today’s economy and blame illegal immigration and unfair foreign trade for their woes.  However this base of support, while large enough for Mr. Trump to win the Republican nomination, is not nearly large enough to bring victory in November. The only way Mr. Trump can win is to greatly expand his base of support by appealing to moderate Republicans and Independents who are highly concerned about the direction our country is taking.
Capture9The best and most direct way for him to do this is to endorse the reform program, “A Better Way,” developed by the Republican House of Representatives, under Speaker Paul Ryan. This reform program has already unified the fractious Republicans in the House, and could easily serve as a vehicle for unifying the entire Republican party as well as many independents.
In my next post I will delineate how the Trump platform could easily mesh with “A Better Way.”

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Thank God for the Republican House of Representatives


It is now almost certain that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President and that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. The two biggest problems facing our country today are:

  • Slow economic growth, averaging just 2.1% since the end of the recession in June 2009, seven years ago. Even though unemployment is down to 5%, stagnant wages for the middle class have not nearly recovered from their pre-recession high.
  • Massive debt. The public debt (on which we pay interest) is now at 74% of GDP and rising. When interest rates go up, as they surely will eventually, debt payment will rise by hundreds of billions of dollars per year and be a huge drain on government revenues.

The likely Presidential nominees are not adequately addressing these problems:

  • Hillary Clinton wants to increase government spending by about $100 billion per year to be spent on various new programs and raise the top tax rate to 45% to pay for them. This will do nothing to either grow the economy faster or shrink our already sizable deficit.
  • Donald Trump has promised to keep entitlements as they are and spend more on infrastructure and defense. He also sees debt as useful. “I probably understand debt better than anybody” he has stated. His tax plan (which he says is negotiable) will create massive new debt.

If Clinton is elected, she may pull the Senate Democratic along with her. But either way the House of Representatives will likely remain Republican with Speaker Paul Ryan.
Capture3Since the Republicans took over the House in 2010, they have consistently proposed budgets each year to shrink the deficit and produced a balanced budget within ten years.  The new President, either Clinton or Trump, will have to negotiate their own ideas on spending and taxes with a fiscally conservative House.
The country is indeed very fortunate for this circumstance.

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We Agree There Is a Huge Debt Problem! How Do We Fix It?


Yesterday I gave my second “Fix the Debt” presentation, this time to the Greater Omaha Kiwanis Club.  The main slide (just below)
Captureis all they needed to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.  Their main interest was “How do we fix it?”  They listened politely to a bipartisan list of possible actions:

  • Policies that grow the economy
  • Health care cost containment
  • Social security reform
  • Defense spending cuts
  • Other spending cuts
  • Tax reform and tax expenditure cuts
  • Budget process reform

Then one member asked, “How about a balanced budget amendment?” and this became the focus of the discussion. A balanced budget amendment going forward would not pay off the debt but would stop adding to it.  It would shrink the debt over time as a percentage of GDP as the economy continues to grow.  This is the best we can do in a practical sense and represents a satisfactory solution. There are lots of problems, however, associated with passing a Balanced Budget Amendment:

  • First of all, it will be difficult to accomplish. It requires approval by a 2/3 vote of each house of Congress and ratification by ¾ of the states. This means that it could be stopped by just 13 state legislatures.
  • How would a BBA be enforced? By having the Supreme Court step in and require specific actions to raise taxes or cut spending? This seems problematic.
  • There would have to be a provision for override in the case of emergency (war or other catastrophe). A 2/3 vote by each house of Congress would be a logical way to handle a situation like this. But such a system could easily be abused.

The goal is to significantly shrink the debt as a percentage of GDP over time as the economy grows.  This does not require a balanced budget but only that annual deficits be lower on average than annual growth of the economy.  Representative Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” plan, for example, would shrink the debt by 30% over a 20 year period without a single annual balanced budget. The important thing is to shrink the debt as a percentage of the economy, and to get going on this as soon as possible.  If it requires a somewhat rigid amendment to get this done, then that’s what we need to do!

Barack Obama vs Paul Ryan: Who Is Moving Us in the Right Direction?


“If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day.  If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.”
Chinese Proverb

Several weeks ago my post, “How to Improve America’s Welfare System,” described a new proposal from the House Budget Committee (Chair, Paul Ryan) to let selected states experiment in consolidating separate federal programs such as SNAP, TANF, child-care and housing assistance programs, into a new composite Opportunity Grant Program.  The idea is to let participating states choose qualified providers who would then be held accountable for moving people off of assistance, out of poverty and into productive employment.
CaptureA recent report from the Tax Foundation compares what families pay in taxes with what they receive in government benefits.  In 2010, 60% of American families (with incomes up to $86,000) received more in federal benefits than they paid in federal taxes.  However in 2012, this percentage grew to 70% (those families with incomes up to $109,000).  In other words, the trend under Obama is for more people to be net receivers of benefits than net payers of taxes. There are two basic problems with this trend towards more and more benefits for more and more people:

  • As it stands right now, we’re making people more dependent on government programs. Instead we should be helping them become more independent and more capable of supporting themselves on their own. This would improve their quality of life.
  • Our federal government is spending way too much money and not collecting enough tax revenue to pay the bills. According to report after report from the Congressional Budget Office, the trajectory of growing debt is getting much worse and the problem will become harder and harder to rectify as we continue down this path.

My natural inclination is to be optimistic that our political process will respond to this bleak current path we’re on and that things will be turned around before we have another financial crisis.  But it is easy to imagine a course of events where this does not happen.
It’s clear what we need to do but how will this get done?


How to Improve America’s Welfare System


Several months ago I had a post entitled “A Balanced and Sensible Antipoverty program,” describing four characteristics of effective antipoverty programs: work requirements, work incentives, supporting married, two-parent families, and supporting business growth.
The Budget Committee of the House of Representatives has just released the outline of a new plan, “Expanding Opportunity in America,” designed to implement the above basic principles of welfare reform.  The introduction states that “Fifteen percent of Americans live in poverty today – over 46 million people. … A key tenet of the American Dream is that where you start off shouldn’t determine where you end up. …  Of all Americans raised in the bottom fifth of the income scale, 34% stay there and just 38% make it to the middle class or above (see the chart below).”
CaptureThe idea is to let selected states experiment in consolidating separate means-tested programs such as SNAP, TANF, child-care and housing assistance programs, into a new holistic Opportunity Grant program.  The purpose is to make these programs more effective in lifting welfare recipients out of poverty. Here is how the program is envisioned to work:

  • Each participating state will approve a list of certified providers who are held accountable for achieving results such as moving people to work, out of poverty and off of assistance.
  • Needy individuals will select a provider who will conduct a comprehensive assessment of that person’s needs, abilities and circumstances.
  • The provider and the recipient will develop a customized plan and contract both for immediate financial needs and also for long term goals towards self-sufficiency.
  • Successful completion of a contract will include able-bodied individuals obtaining a job and earning enough to live above the poverty line.

The U.S. is currently spending over a trillion dollars a year on welfare programs for low income families and individuals.  A good way to increase both the efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs is to shift them over to state control.  The Opportunity Grant program proposes to do this on an experimental basis.  It makes good sense to try it!

Nowhere to Cut? II. Are You Really Trying?

The New York Times has a story today, “A Dirty Secret Lurks in the Struggle Over a Fiscal ‘Grand Bargain’”, suggesting that there are really two reasons why the House-Senate Budget Conference Committee, chaired by Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray, is unlikely to accomplish very much.  The simple reason is that the Republicans will not support tax increases, on which the Democrats insist, and the Democrats will not support major changes to entitlement programs, on which the Republicans insist.
But the “dirty secret” (according to the NYT) is that Republicans don’t really want to trim either Social Security or Medicare, which many Tea Partiers receive, and Democrats don’t really want to raise taxes on the upper income individuals who support them.  Furthermore, the deficit for 2013 was “only” $680 billion, and is expected to drop further in the next few years, while interest rates are so low that borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars each year is not expensive.  In other words, just kick the can down the road.  Let somebody else worry about the problem in the future.
My previous post “Nowhere to Cut”, based on the report from the Congressional Budget Office, “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2014 – 2023”, picks 14 possible budget cuts or revenue enhancements out of a total of 103 such items listed.  Just these 14 items alone amount to a savings of $566 billion over ten years, more than enough to offset half of the entire sequester amount.
For example, raising the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 would save $23 billion (over 10 years), using the ‘chained’ CPI to measure inflation for all mandatory programs would save $162 billion, tightening eligibility for food stamps would save $50 billion, taxing carried interest as ordinary income would save $17 billion, limiting highway funding to expected highway revenues would save $65 billion, reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition would save $43 billion, limiting medical malpractice torts would save $57 billion, and modifying Tricare fees for working-age military retirees would save $71 billion.  Just these eight savings total $456 billion and would offset almost half of the entire sequester.
What is so difficult about making a tradeoff deal like this?  Isn’t this what we send people to Washington to do?