The back-and-forth over the so-called infrastructure bill working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives is helping perpetuate a myth that is distorting the people’s perception of where we as a country are. That perception is that there is, somehow, within the House and Senate and sprinkled throughout the Biden administration, a substantial cadre of moderate Democrats who are doing all they can to block a leftward lurch toward big-government socialism pushed by one wing of the party.
It makes for nice reading and it’s an easy story to write. Unfortunately, it’s inaccurate. As far as national politics is concerned, the Democratic Party has been running the moderates out for years. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pointed out in a recent policy document that’s making the rounds, virtually every Democrat in the U.S. House and Senate voted for the budget outline produced by Senator Bernie Sanders—a self-identified socialist.
The Sanders document, which includes $3.5 trillion in new and higher spending, $3 trillion in new and higher taxes, and a host of radical regulatory proposals intended to roll back 40 years of deregulatory reform that started with Ronald Reagan, is a left-winger’s pipe dream. The only objections to it Democrats have had—Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema excepted—have centered on the cost, not on what the proposed legislation would do.
The division among Democrats is real, but it’s not based on ideology. All but one Democrat recently voted for a bill that would eliminate state restrictions on late-term abortions and codify the Supreme Court‘s decision in Roe v. Wade. Democrats are united on policy but opposed (or at least some of them are) to doing things that will cost them their seats the next time they run.
It’s not principle that’s keeping the Democrats apart—it’s politics. Why were Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer insisting on Republican votes to pass an increase in the debt ceiling? Because some members of their party who are up for re-election in 2022 need to be able to vote “no” on that issue—and they can only do that if a few GOP lawmakers can be persuaded to vote “yes.”
The “moderate” myth is useful for those Democrats who want to go home and pretend they fought against the largest expansion of government since LBJ gave us the Great Society. They’ll promise their voters they’ll continue to fight for pro-business policies and might even again earn the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But it will all be a fallacy. The Democratic Party has been taken over by people who take their cues from the British Labour Party circa 1960—not the free-enterprise entrepreneurs who built this great nation.
The polling, the Gingrich document said, “is clear and devastating” for those who think the federal government needs to be bigger and do more. “Americans in general favor Free Market Capitalism over Big Government Socialism by a huge margin (59 percent to 16 percent),” Gingrich wrote while, among so-called independent or “swing” voters, the advantage for those who oppose the Sanders/Biden agenda grows to 82 percent to 18 percent.
The infrastructure bill was held up because too many Democrats refused to risk their seats by voting for it. It’s not a “moderate” piece of legislation even if it was written with Republican support. It includes such intrusive measures as the establishment of a pilot program that is supposed to come up with the best way to tax cars and trucks by the number of miles driven.
The reconciliation package? Even worse.
As Gingrich and others have observed, the Democrats in Congress were all-in at the beginning when it counted—when the process of getting these bills through began. The framework for each mostly survives, whether or not any given bill emerges from the legislative process intact. What cannot be accomplished in a day will be pushed by Democrats for weeks, months and years. President Joe Biden has said he has it in mind to correct 40 years of policy mistakes that, in his view, hobbled this formerly great nation. Biden’s objective: Roll back the Reaganite revolution that brought America back from the brink. What a foolish objective—and certainly not a moderate one.
Let’s start with the internet.
It has its roots in a program called the ARPANET, which was established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Private sector entrepreneurs then transformed the internet from an obscure government experiment into the cultural and economic success that it is today. It has made our technology sector the envy of the world and enables us to keep innovating and competing with the likes of South Korea, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, and China.
This matters in light of President Joe Biden’s recently unveiled American Jobs Plan. While billed as a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, less than 10% of allocated funds are actually for traditional infrastructure such as roads, highways, bridges, ports, airports, etc. Instead, Biden redefines infrastructure to include all sorts of things, including research and community colleges, that, while they are possibly meritorious investments, have nothing to do with infrastructure. On broadband internet services, which both parties agree isinfrastructure, Biden’s plan has a stated goal of 100% U.S. connectivity.
One problem: The plan wouldn’t actually help connect more people to the internet.
That’s because it relies on government-run broadband to improve America’s internet experience. Government-run networks have a history of failure. They tend to drive out private investment and leave taxpayers holding the bag when the plans fail — without the better broadband they were promised. A perfect example of how government often stymies innovation and entrepreneurship is found in Kentucky. Kentucky Wired, a $1.5 billion plan to improve connectivity across the state was announced under Gov. Steve Beshear. Andy Beshear, Steve Beshear’s son and the state’s current governor, vowed to complete the project by October 2020. But Kentucky Wired has failed. Lesson: Investing public money in laying cable when increasingly affordable satellite networks are at our doorstep is not only counterproductive but irresponsible.
Biden’s plan ignores the dynamics of the marketplace in a similar manner. It also signals rate regulation and arbitrary speed mandates that would discourage satellite providers such as Amazon and SpaceX (Starlink) from investing in infrastructure and creating new jobs. Instead of bridging the digital divide, Biden would widen it by hampering the free market.
Biden’s plan focuses exclusively on a single technology for providing internet access: fiber. To be clear, fiber is often the backbone of the internet and works well in densely populated areas. Private industry has invested billions in deploying fiber across the country. Yet, laying thousands of miles of fiber optic cable is very expensive. Many factors affect the cost of fiber infrastructure, but, on average, the cost of deploying fiber runs between $18,000 and $22,000 per mile. In rural areas, it is often far too expensive for most businesses to recoup their fiber deployment costs. The good news is that America uses a mix of technologies to get online — from cable and fiber to 5G and NextGen satellites. If Biden chooses not to impose a one-size-fits-all solution, the private sector can meet the challenge of closing the digital divide. But as it now stands, Biden’s plan would stop this competition between technologies. Instead, it would replace that competition with a top-down approach in which government picks the winners and losers rather than letting consumers make the choices.
A better idea would be for Biden to expand Broadband Opportunity Zones and encourage billions in investment where it is needed the most. Private enterprise will invest in solutions that work for underserved areas.
Put simply, Biden’s infrastructure bill is a bad deal for America. It is entirely reasonable to fund the building and maintenance of interstate roads, bridges, ports, and highways. It is also good to incentivize innovation and investment. Sadly, Biden’s bill discourages those imperatives without good cause and at great risk.
Freelancers are rising up in opposition to the state’s new law regulating “gig workers.”
By City Journal•
Are California Democrats—responsible for the state’s new anti-gig-worker law, AB5—so out of touch that they’re not aware of the growing anger of their constituents? It appears so.
Since AB5 took effect on January 1, hundreds of thousands of Californians are finding their businesses in tatters. Musicians can’t join bands for a one-night gig, chefs can’t join forces with caterers, nurses can’t work at various hospitals, and writers must cap their submissions per media outlet to 35 per year. Under the law, these freelancers can no longer conduct the same business-to-business transactions they have for years or even decades. Clients with whom they fostered valuable relationships are gone—as are their successful careers and incomes. An overwhelming majority of professionals in fields affected by AB5 identify as liberals and have generally voted along the blue line. Today, however, many are so disillusioned with their representatives that they’re changing political loyalties.
When Gloria Rivera, a San Diego-based, Peruvian-born translator and interpreter, achieved U.S. citizenship, the first thing she did was register as a Democrat. “Now I’m seeing a lot of people like me who are either going Independent or Republican,” she says, “myself included. The Democrats are not listening to us.”
Lorena Gonzalez, the San Diego assembly member who authored AB5, faces public condemnation wherever she goes. Online and in person, independent contractors are confronting Gonzalez and demanding a repeal of the law. Her condescending response: independent contractors need the protection of union-driven labor laws. In a damning KUSI news interview, Gonzalez denied that AB5 has resulted in widespread income loss. Her dismissive attitude has fueled outrage against Democrats. “Lorena Gonzalez is doing a great job turning everybody red,” says Rivera.
Gonzalez deserves much of the blame for the AB5 train wreck, but she had plenty of support from her party: nearly every assembly member who approved AB5 is a Democrat, including Governor Gavin Newsom. Those opposed: Republicans and Independents. Senator Patricia Bates, a Republican state senator representing parts of Orange and San Diego counties, has been hearing from constituents who had no idea that they were swept up in the AB5 net. “They’re asking, ‘Who did this to me?’” says Bates. “I don’t like to make it partisan, but I have to tell them the majority party that runs the show did it. There’s a new awareness about the anti-business environment and how it affects their right to work, to be free.”
Independent contractors are entering new territory. Suddenly, a more conservative approach seems more attractive. “My entire political mindset has changed drastically following the enactment of AB5,” says Cathy Hertz, a freelance copyeditor of STM (science-technology-medicine) books, from Loma Linda. Hertz campaigned for Barack Obama cross-country at her own expense in 2008; she campaigned for him locally, in Los Angeles, in 2012. “Now I feel that the rights of entrepreneurs are being stifled, trampled upon, violated,” she says. “Free enterprise is one of the main pillars of modern democracy.”
Apparently oblivious to the reaction in California, congressional Democrats have passed HR 2474, a national version of AB5, known as the “Protecting the Right to Organize” or “PRO Act.” The PRO Act, designed to boost union membership, will put 57 million independent contractors across the country out of work if it becomes law. These enterprising professionals will be forced into low-paying jobs—if they can find them—with none of the autonomy, flexibility, or opportunity that they currently enjoy. When the Trump administration denounced the bill, people who normally hiss at mention of the president’s name found themselves in a peculiar position: feeling grateful.
As for Gonzalez, she’s up for reelection this year and is aiming for secretary of state in 2022. Her campaigns will be tougher than she likely imagines. The movement against her is ramping up.
“I see a revolution on the horizon,” says David Mills, a musician from Lake Elsinore who created the Facebook group Freelancers against PRO Act. “This may be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back. But I think it’s leading to something good. The American people on all sides are waking up. We’ve gotten too caught up in partisan support. Now we’re paying attention. There is a huge uprising. People had to lose their jobs to find out what it was.”
Kevin Kiley, a Republican assembly member representing a large swath of Sacramento and a vocal ally of independent contractors, agrees. In January, he led a rally on the steps of the state capitol against AB5 and introduced a bill to repeal it. “We have a capital that’s controlled by special interests, and the public good isn’t even considered,” says Kiley. “That disconnect is stark. I’m more motivated to change this law than anything I’ve ever worked on because it has such a direct and negative impact on peoples’ lives. I believe very deeply in economic freedom, the right to pursue your calling. AB5 is a grave moral offense. So if there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s giving a diverse range of people a window into the dysfunctional nature of politics in Sacramento. For those who are disenchanted with the political majority, there is now an opportunity for alternatives.”
Such alternatives are popping up around the state. Evan Wecksell, a comedian and tutor by trade, is running for state senate as a write-in candidate for District 25, which encompasses parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino county. He was registered as a Democrat until recently. Today, he’s a Libertarian.
“I definitely sense a change,” says Wecksell. “People who swore they would never vote for a Republican are doing it. We were not up to speed with knowing what was going on in Sacramento, but AB5 was a lesson and we’re learning from it. They’re taking away our natural human rights.”
Independent contractors are a unique bunch. Deeply committed to individual liberty, they’re becoming a unified group of fighters in California. They come from all walks of life and political persuasions, and if voting differently means that they can continue to run their businesses as they see fit, then so be it. Unless Democrats change course, the AB5 revolt may be the Brexit that the U.S. never saw coming. California certainly didn’t.
By Red State•
It’s bad enough when politicians rob from future generations by piling on debt to the nation’s ruinous finances. Now the Administration and Senate Republicans are considering paying for Nancy Pelosi’s exorbitant spending demands by decimating medical innovation.
But don’t worry, kids: sure it’ll kill future life-saving medicines from ever coming to market, but when you’re done paying for this Pelosi-scale largess, I’m not sure you’ll be able to afford anything nice, anyway.
The deal reportedly under discussion in the Senate would be to meet almost all of Pelosi’s spending demands — did I mention that Republicans control the Senate and President Trump is our chief executive? — and “paying” for it in part by installing crudely designed price controls on the drug industry.
This bright idea is the brain child of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the chairman, er, ranking member, of the Senate Finance Committee. (Sorry – it’s easy to get confused about who is running things over there).
The headline at Politico tells you everything you need to know: “Senate Republicans pray Trump will take budget deal.”
Imagine how that’s going to go:
“So you’re meeting Pelosi’s spending levels?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. President.”
“And raising the debt ceiling?”
“How the hell are you going to pay for it?”
“Price controls, sir.”
It’s a complete disgrace, and I expect Trump will not take kindly to an outcome where he gets taken for a ride by Nancy Pelosi.
The price controls under discussion are a “Squad”-caliber idea, the “Squad” being the quartet of Socialist Democrats led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who spent last week attacking Pelosi as a racist for not being left-wing enough (you can’t make this up!).
I describe it that way because the proposal is the same combination of Che Guevera-t-shirt-wearing ideological zealotry and breathtaking economic illiteracy responsible for such gems as AOC’s comically melodramatic pronouncement that “the world is going to end in 12 years” because of global warming.
Price controls are already the economic equivalent of a child demanding a pony: they demand an outcome without any regard or awareness of the reality of making it so. We want lower prices, so we’ll order them lower! Except, the cost of production remained just the same, or even increased once the people putting nation-state-level amounts of capital on the line just noticed the infantile children bickering in Congress are about to make a big mess.
The cost of producing one new drug is typically $2.5 billion. Private companies have to pay that up front, without knowing if the effort will succeed or fail, or in this case whether Wyden and Pelosi will decide they need some of that moolah to pay for women’s studies departments, free abortions and sex changes, and only Heaven knows what other insanities they can dream up.
But, you know, some children at least know something about ponies. Some demand a Shetland, for example. The Wyden child doesn’t even know what a pony is, he’s just throwing a tantrum. That’s my best attempt at explaining how stupidly designed these particular price controls are.
First, the proposal punishes price increases of individual drugs compared to inflation. Not only does this ignore any particular circumstances (sudden spike in supply cost for a particular compound, for example), it creates a giant incentive to pad price increases across the entire product line, untethering the price of any individual drug from actual production costs.
Second, the vehicle for delivering these price controls is the Medicare Part D, otherwise known as the one part of the entire federal health care system that shows any sanity and cost-effectiveness — thanks to its use of market principles.
Part D is the only large government program in the history of humanity to come in 40% under budget, which is practically on par with feeding the crowd of 5000 from a basket when you think of the endless list of failed health care “reforms” that cost an eye-watering amount above their price tag.
Why did Part D work? Because it managed to install some semblance of a market, which consumer choice, and real competition, in the form of the plans that compete for patients. Exactly the opposite of the price controls we may be on the verge of adopting to “pay for” Pelosi’s world domination tour — sorry, the obscene spending she demanded and the Senate Republicans appear all too happy to accept.
It’s shameful. Something deep inside the chests of Senate Republicans should cause them to reject a bad Pelosi proposal — simply as a matter of self-respect! But if you believe that most politicians have anything more than trace amounts of self-respect, boy have I got some wonderful price controls to sell you!
A new proposal under discussion by the Senate Finance Committee is a perfect example of the folly of trying to centrally design the economy — in this case by a ham-handed attempt at price controls.
The proposal, from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and under consideration by Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would change the Medicare Part D prescription drug rebate to penalize drugs whose prices rise faster than the rate of inflation.
It’s ironic the proposal targets Part D, one of the few islands of economic sanity to be found in the health care sector, which, beset by rampant government intervention, suffers from a wide variety of perverse unintended consequences.
Part D is one of the few government health care programs to successfully foster price-based productivity increases. In most parts of the economy, over time, prices go down and quality goes up, due to increases in productivity. The underlying mechanism driving this is competition.
One sign of how successful Part D has been in wielding competition is that in its first decade of existence, it cost over 40% less than what the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would, a historical and underappreciated achievement.
Tacking on feel-good, one-off pricing rules like Wyden’s “faster than inflation” penalty could easily disrupt the market-based dynamics that enabled Part D to flourish in the first place.
It’s just silly to think that something as complex, distributed and organic as a worldwide market for pharmaceutical drugs could be controlled by something as ramshackle as a “faster than inflation” rule.
Consider the variety of pricing mechanisms that exist in well-functioning markets. In retail, there are coupons, package deals, membership plans and other discounts. In the stock market, there is the “continuous auction,” providing ongoing price discovery that can react to new information in a matter of seconds.
Amazon’s server rental business offers clients a tremendous range of pricing options, split by eighteen datacenter regions, dozens of server types, and several tiers of availability.
There is a whole world of financing, from store-offered, no interest payment plans to credit cards to mortgages. Stores employ all manor of psychological pricing tricks, such as charging 99 cents instead of $1. One of the more incredible such tricks, which would be hard to believe without the well-established research backing it up, is that prices that contain fewer syllables (when read out loud) are more attractive than those with more syllables. For instance, $28.16 (five syllables) is better than $27.82 (seven syllables).
The incredible diversity in pricing practices stems from the decentralized nature of the market. You could never ask a single committee, or even a large organization, to come up with this level of creativity and variety on its own. It’s only from the organic interaction between millions of businesses and billions of customers, each expertly seeking their own interests, that it can ever arise.
You might compare Wyden’s “faster than inflation” proposal to the fences in Jurassic Park — “life finds a way,” as Dr. Ian Malcolm tells us, foreshadowing the inability of the park to contain the beasts contained within. Except, at least the 40-foot electric fences were a good faith effort. Wyden’s proposal is more like if they attempted to keep the T-Rex at bay with only the thin walls of the bathroom hut the hate-able lawyer ran and hid inside, shortly before becoming a dinosaur’s dinner.
In other word’s this “faster than inflation” rule is a laughable, pitiful attempt at something that isn’t even achievable by the most expert, determined effort — something like, say, the Soviet Union, which tried, and failed, to put price controls into practice at super power scale.
But that’s not to say it can’t do harm. At the very least, it will increase the cost of participating in the market, both in terms of compliance costs, and in the changed incentives and their inevitable unintended consequences. For example, a company that requires more revenue to survive might raise the prices slightly on all its products, instead of steeply on just one. How this all plays out is impossible to predict. What can be said for certain is the market’s “logic” would now be less about providing the most value for customers at the lowest price, and now more about the political ramifications of pricing decisions.
More specifically, as it relates to the Part D drug market in particular, the rule could crowd out existing rebates negotiated by the plans buying the drugs. Many plans have already secured “price protection rebates” which kick in if prices increase more rapidly than some agreed-upon threshold. In other words, the market has already invented, in a much more sophisticated and dynamic way, the “faster than inflation” rule on its own.
The worst case scenario is more dire. Generally speaking, fostering well-functioning markets in the health care sphere is exceedingly difficult, given the immense government intervention at every level. Part D’s success in doing so is nearly unique. Additional rules that make supply and demand less important to how the market functions could result in it ceasing to function as a market entirely. It certainly would not be the first time the government accidentally killed a market.
Wyden’s proposal exemplifies the folly of centrally-designed price controls. It will harm one of the only well-functioning parts of the federal government’s health care policy. For those reasons, Chairman Grassley and Committee Republicans should cast it in the dustbin of bad socialist ideas.
In the first two months of the new fiscal year, tax revenues are up. But so is the deficit. Why? Because spending continues to outpace revenues. So why do tax cuts keep getting blamed?
The latest monthly budget report from the Congressional Budget Office shows the deficit jumping $102 billion in just the first two months of the new fiscal year.
That sure looks like the deficit is “soaring,” as one news outlet claimed. But as the CBO makes clear, almost all that deficit increase was the result of quirks of the calendar. Depending on where weekends fall, significant sums of spending can get shifted into different months.
A true apples-to-apples comparison, the CBO says, shows that the deficit climbed by just $13 billion. Continue reading
By Michael Barone • National Review
The Republicans have passed their tax bill, without a single Democratic vote, despite low to dismal poll ratings. It’s reminiscent of the passage by Democrats, without a single Republican vote, of Obamacare in March 2010.
Democrats lost 63 seats and their House majority that fall. Republicans hope they won’t follow suit. They argue, accurately, that their bill will lower taxes for almost all taxpayers and that it will stimulate economic growth, which already has risen above the growth in the Obama years.
The effects of Obamacare, in contrast, were harder to model, and some backers’ claims — if you like your insurance, you can keep it — soon were revealed as glaringly untrue. We’ll see whether the greater simplicity of the tax bill makes a difference in political fallout.
One thing in common between the two bills is that voters have seemed congenitally skeptical about the claims of the party in power. Obamacare continued to be unpopular until, presto, Donald Trump took office and Republicans threatened repeal.
by Peter Huessy
The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget makes a defense spending request that exceeds the Budget Control Act (BCA) spending cap for FY16 by $35 billion with a “base” defense spending request of $534 billion, while also asking Congress for an additional $51 billion for what is known as Overseas Contingency Operations(OCO) that are, under law, not subject to the spending caps.
Of the amount requested by the President, for what is known as the “base” defense budget, $209.8 billion is for operations and maintenance (O&M), $107.7 billion is for procurement, and $69.8 billion for research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E).The remaining costs (largely personnel) are exempt from any cuts.
For the OCO accounts, $40.2 billion is for O&M, and $7.3 billion is requested for procurement with half of that for the US Army. Continue reading
By Shawn Macomber
In the wake of the International Criminal Court’s controversial decision to allow Palestine join its ranks, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed to lobby nations friendly to the Jewish state to cut funding to the aspiring transnational entity.
That effort, it appears, is essentially DOA, but the threat such a move, if realized, poses to the Court is hardly trivial, as the following excerpts from a Reuters report makes clear:
Federal tax revenues continue to run at a record pace in fiscal 2014, as the federal government’s total receipts for the fiscal year closed April at $1,735,030,000,000, according to the Monthly Treasury Statement.
Despite this record revenue, the federal government still ran a deficit of $306.411 billion in the first seven months of the fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2013 and will end on Sept. 30, 2014.
In the month of April itself, which usually sees the peak tax revenues for the year, the federal government ran a surplus of $106.853 billion. While taking in $414.237 billion in total receipts during the month, the government spent $307.383 billion.
In fiscal 2013, the federal government also ran a one-month surplus in April, taking in $406.723 billion during the month and spending $293.834 billion, leaving a surplus of $112.889 billion. Continue reading
Dr. Thomas Sowell, the Stanford University based economist, wrote this week that when he was teaching he would ask his students to consider this: “Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do?” Sowell posits that the agency would naturally cut back on medications for children. He explains that is the only result that would lead to getting the budget cuts restored. And he pointedly explains why the government wouldn’t cut back on the silly statues: “If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.”
Dr. Sowell is absolutely correct! Years ago, when I served on a local school board I witnessed this almost reflexive response every year the budget was tight. The most absurd things were never offered for cuts. They always threatened to cut the things that would most outrage the public. They talked about cutting bus routes for kids that lived far away from schools. They talked about crowded classrooms. Continue reading
Worse, a veiled liberal threat to correct what they deem a “misallocation of wealth.”
by Scott L. Vanatter
Over the past week liberal House and Senate leaders have spoken openly about how they see America’s spending problem. They don’t see it. They claim that we don’t have a spending problem.
First, Rep. Pelosi (D-CA) relabeled it as a “priorities problem.” Then, Rep. Hoyer (D-MD) redefined it as a “paying-for problem.” Finally, Senator Harkin (D-IA) revealed the usually hidden liberal designs on capital. He turned the equation upside down by describing problem of a lack of funds to pay for what we have spent, not because we do not have a budget, but because we have “misallocation of wealth problem.” Continue reading
“There is great anger that Obama could force higher tax rates on small businesses simply by saying no.”
by Grover Norquist
The 2001 and 2003 “Bush tax cuts” were enacted with an expiration date because 60 votes are required in the Senate to make a tax cut permanent. Other tax cuts such as the “patch” limiting the Alternative Minimum Tax and the Research and Development Tax Credit would lapse every two years giving politicians an opportunity to “sell the same horse” again and again to voters and campaign contributors. Continue reading