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Posts Tagged ‘Republican Party’

A few days ago, I gave the theoretical logic for why the availability of the government shutdown results in growing government spending. Advocates of smaller government should advocate a default budget rule that is far milder than shutdown. Now, I have come across academic research by David Primo finding just this at the state level. States with an automatic shutdown provision actually spend on average $64 more per capita than states without such a provision.

As Tea Party Republicans approach the final denouement of their humiliating, destructive defeat on the latest budget battle, it bears thinking about how U.S. fiscal institutions essentially predestined this outcome.

HT: Matt Mitchell

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Following Marc’s great post on congressional dysfunction, I’d like to point how political science tells us that the availability of government shutdowns actually causes the growth of government spending. The analysis follows the 1979 spatial analysis of zero-based budgeting by Thomas Romer and Howard Rosenthal.

Suppose that there is one dimension of politics: the size of the federal budget. There are a fiscally conservative party and a fiscally liberal party. For simplicity, assume the median, electorally decisive American voter is somewhere between the two. We could plot the parties’ and median voters’ positions on this dimension like this, where “C” is the conservative party, “M” is the median voter, and “L” is the liberal party:

Federal budget

 0|----------------------------------|--------|-----------|------------------------------------------| 100% of GDP
                                    C        M           L

Now suppose that there is a need to pass a budget. If the budget doesn’t pass, the government partially shuts down (S). Once the government shuts down, the median voter M perceives the outcome as being more favored by the conservative party, with ideal point C. The liberal party with ideal point L can make a budget proposal that must get approval from both parties, so conservatives have the opportunity to accept or reject it – in the latter case, the government stays shut down. After the budget is approved or rejected, there is an election, and the median voter M votes for the party with the closer budget position. Parties care most about winning election, then secondarily obtaining their preferred budget.

In this example below, once the conservative party gets associated with S, causing the shutdown, then L is able to propose its ideal point (L). Conservatives accept the budget, because otherwise they would remain associated with S, and the median voter prefers L to S, so would turn conservatives out at the next election.

 0|----------|-----------------------|--------|-----------|------------------------------------------| 100% of GDP
            S                       C        M           L

The median voter will only be willing to vote for conservatives who reject a liberal budget proposal if S is closer to their ideal point than the liberal budget proposal. Knowing this, L will propose something close enough to the median voter to prevent that outcome – and conservatives will accept it. Take the following example, where P is the proposal liberals make:

 0|----------|----|-----|----------|----------------------|------------------------------------------| 100% of GDP
            S    C     M          P                      L

P is infinitesimally closer to M than S is, so M votes for the liberal party, unless the conservatives also vote for the budget.

So once a shutdown happens, a bigger budget than the median voter prefer (let alone the conservative party) looks inevitable. Knowing this, conservatives won’t want the government to shut down to begin with. But that still means liberals have a lot of bargaining power, and the budget will tend to grow.

In real life, of course, shutdowns happen very occasionally. Why? (more…)

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Following Grover’s urging, I’m revealing my vote and my pairwise preference in the presidential contest. My vote in safely Democratic New York is for Libertarian Gary Johnson, but I do have a slight pairwise preference for Romney-Ryan over Obama-Biden. The reason is that while both sets of candidates are equally bad on all sorts of issues, as Marc notes below, the PPACA (Obamacare) really is a tiebreaker. It’s not just that the PPACA is bad policy, but also that it vitiates an important area of federalism. The feds have summarily executed all the state-level experiments in regulating and providing health insurance. The free-market option of permitting low-mandate, high-deductible, low-cost policies to expand coverage has forever been foreclosed. If Obama wins, the PPACA will go into effect and will never be repealed, and another chunk of American federal institutions will go down the drain forever.

Of course, the PPACA will only be repealed if Republicans take both the presidency and the Senate, the probability of which must hover around something like 3% at this stage. If I lived in a swing state, I might well cast my first-ever vote for a Republican in a presidential general election, but I don’t, so I won’t.

Randy Barnett’s argument that we shouldn’t vote Libertarian because it only encourages them to continue existing does not persuade me. The Libertarian Party provides a safe harbor for principled votes when both Democrats and Republicans are genuinely terrible (have we forgotten George W. Bush, Tommy Thompson, et al. so soon?). They also help keep the two parties, especially Republicans, aware of the possibility of being punished by libertarian voters for bad policy decisions, theoretically promoting good policies in the long run even if facilitating some short-run defeats of “lesser of two evils” candidates. Now, admittedly, this strategic role would work much better if Libertarian candidates were strategic about the races they enter (why in the world is a Libertarian running against Jeff Flake in Arizona?), but even so, I would regret very much the demise of the Libertarian Party as a national political option.

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“You know about Agenda 21, right?” It’s always said in a tone approaching a hushed whisper. If I can manage to nod and smile, at least, rather than rolling my eyes, I will be admitted into the club: a club of knowing, Alex Jones-listening “true conservatives” or “patriots.” Because I — we — know what They are Really Doing.

Agenda 21 is the latest bugbear for conspiracy-minded right-wingers. The Economist recently reported on how jogging and biking trails were opposed by elected Republican officials on the grounds that they would advance the United Nations’ sinister Agenda 21, as part of a grand plan to abrogate American sovereignty.

In case you’re wondering what Agenda 21 actually is, here’s the Wikipedia page. This is just another feel-good, do-nothing UN statement of Things That We Like that has no legal force anywhere — from 20 years ago. (It’s interesting how the bêtes noirs du jour that conspiracy theorists seize on are so… arbitrary.)

My ire was raised on this topic this morning when reading on the New Hampshire Union-Leader‘s website that the former chair of the NH GOP (before he was forced out by sensible folk), Jack Kimball, has endorsed a maverick sheriff candidate on the grounds that he’s anti-Agenda 21:

Kimball said that Szabo is “not only aware of Agenda 21, but was prepared to stop it, if elected Sheriff. Frank is truly a breath of fresh air and it is good to know that we have a true Constitutional Candidate for Sheriff.”

I suspect conservatives like to resort to conspiracy theories because it is all too easy to ascribe evil intent to one’s political adversaries, and because it provides a “short cut” of sorts to development of one’s issue positions. Instead of actually learning about transportation issues, let’s just take our stance from the fact that the other side wants to usher in the Antichrist.

Conservative activists, you might want to try actually learning how to communicate how conservative policies benefit the average American (if they do), rather than wallowing in paranoia. The swing voter is not impressed.

And no, I’m not a member of the Council on Foreign Relations or the Trilateral Commission.

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I’ve never voted for a Democrat or Republican for president at a general election. I’ve always voted for a Libertarian (in 2008 I voted for George Phillies, who was on the ballot as a Libertarian in New Hampshire in addition to the official candidate, Bob Barr), and I’ve never had reason to regret my vote. Throughout my adult life (I first voted in 1996), every U.S. president has been worse than the one before, and the major-party candidates they defeated would almost certainly have been just as bad.

One common argument I hear from Republicans is that libertarians should vote for Republican presidential candidates because of the Supreme Court. And indeed, libertarians generally share conservatives’ enthusiasm for the prospect of the Supreme Court’s overturning at least part of the PPACA. However, the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision authorizing invasive strip searches of all arrestees shows us the other side of the coin: the Supreme Court’s conservatives are disturbingly willing to defer to the executive branch on issues of non-economic personal liberties. Most of the politically controversial cases with which the federal judiciary deals have to do with civil liberties and civil rights. Major Commerce Clause cases come around only once every few years — and even there, Scalia and Kennedy are unreliable.

How will the current Court (more…)

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Because of this and this:

Pressed about the constitutional basis for the individual mandate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got snippy, and argued that it wasn’t the U.S. Constitution that mattered. “Are you familiar with the Massachusetts constitution? I am,” he all but sneered before proceeding to note that states force people to do all sorts of things, like make children attend school. Why should buying health insurance be any different?

Romney’s right. His health insurance regulations were a bad idea, but they weren’t unconstitutional, since state legislatures have plenary power. Any presidential candidate who says different should be considered automatically disqualified for the office.

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Peter Beinart argues that

Over the last half-century, the Republican Party has been, at times, a genuinely anti-government party and, at times, a politically successful party. But it’s never been both at the same time. Once this fall’s elections are over, I suspect the Tea Partiers will begin learning that, the hard way.

If a post-election GOP House starts trying to cut spending, will voters punish them? Of course, as documented on this blog and others, there’s very little evidence that Republicans will want to take on federal spending in any serious way. Nevertheless, it’s difficult for libertarians to berate them for this failing if it’s essential to their political preservation. However, I think there’s a much stronger case that fiscal profligacy has undermined the Republicans in the medium term. A failed, expensive war and the image of hypocritical budget-busting & earmarking in the GOP Congresses of 2001-2006 helped doom the party to voter wrath. Now, in my view, reforming entitlements isn’t going to happen without a grand, bipartisan deal, so that neither party can take the lion’s share of the blame. But at the very least, a Republican majority should end earmarking and make serious efforts to defund unpopular programs, like the government takeover of health insurance, and programs that only benefit people who vote for them anyway, like ag subsidies.

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