Filed under: Economics — Christian Schneider @ 10:51 am
It’s the oldest political trick in the book: If you’re a lawmaker, you figure out what a piece of your legislation does, and give it a name that conveys the exact opposite of the bill’s intent. If you’re a Republican that wants to preserve the right to smoke in Wisconsin restaurants, you introduce a bill and call it the “Smoke Free Dining Act.” For Democrats, taxpayer funding of campaigns becomes the “Clean Elections Bill,” and censorship of conservative talk radio becomes “The Fairness Doctrine.” (If Barack Obama were President during Hurricane Katrina, he would have called it the “Bayou Modernization Act.”)
In recent months, Democrats have been taking a beating at the polls – despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “stimulus” spending, U.S. unemployment continues to hover in the double digits. Recent reports show that all this spending hasn’t actually created any jobs – and voters appear to be fed up, seeing as how they are now electing Republicans to statewide office in Massachusetts. (Which is a bit like Tim Tebow being elected president of Planned Parenthood.)
(Democrats argue that had the stimulus not passed, things would have been much worse – a fact that can’t be proven. They might as well say that the stimulus saved the Earth from being encased in lime jello. What we can prove is that their supposed “jobs” bill actually had nothing to do with creating jobs.)
Which brings us to this week, where both President Obama and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle spent a substantial portion of their “States of” speeches to discuss the new fad in mis-naming bills: “Green Jobs.”
Democrats have figured out that in order to counter the perception that they are responsible for dramatic job loss, they have to throw the word “jobs” in front of every bill they offer. When they introduce a bill that will raise energy costs on everyone on the state, they call it a “green jobs” bill. Doyle insists his “green jobs” bill will create 15,000 new positions – about the attendance of a Wednesday night Milwaukee Bucks game – by 2025. It appears many of these new jobs will be the result of funneling money to politically connected lobbyists, whose businesses stand to profit directly from the legislation. (In some cases, they even get to write the bills themselves.)
In the meantime, our study here at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute has demonstrated how higher energy costs will force current employers to cut nearly 43,000 jobs – and that estimate is as conservative as possible.
If a bill written by special interests to pad their own wallets at the expense of utility rate payers statewide is a “jobs” bill, then literally anything is a jobs bill. Spending a billion on new trains to run all over the state? It’s a JOBS bill.
Democrats are currently pushing a medical marijuana bill – how is that not a jobs bill under their definition? (And a true “green” jobs bill at that.) Marijuana users get hungry and buy a lot of Cheetos – won’t their bill keep Chester the Cheetah employed here in the state? (Last week, Chester was indicted on three counts of providing kickbacks to federal judges.)
This whole “jobs” crazy among Democrats is simply naked image rehabilitation – no different than John Edwards’ trip to Haiti with a personal videographer. It’s a verbal sleight of hand that has no basis in reality, and only serves to confuse the public.
To gauge the true effect of the bill, one needs only to listen to the businesses that actually create the jobs here in Wisconsin – who are nearly universally opposed to the climate change plan (except for those who State Rep. Cory Mason allows to write the bill to line their own pockets.) They argue, persuasively, that by jacking up energy costs, businesses will have less money to hire workers and re-invest in their communities.
On the other hand, the bill’s proponents want you to believe them because they…well… they belong to the Sierra Club. And their newsletter has a quote from Leonardo DiCaprio, saying climate change is bad.
(Incidentally, environmental groups are the best at mis-naming bills for their benefit. For instance, take the “Independent DNR Secretary Bill,” which eliminates the governor’s ability to choose the Department of Natural Resources Secretary. Because nothing says “independent” more than a cabinet secretary chosen by an unelected board of environmental activists.)
Asking liberal politicians to grow jobs in a bad economy is like trusting a doctor who amputated the wrong leg to get it right the next time. This climate change bill is nothing more than throwing good money after bad – giving Democrats an escape hatch from their disastrous job creation efforts of 2009.
Filed under: Economics — Christian Schneider @ 7:46 pm
In the last issue of WI Magazine, my end column explained how the traditional stereotype of union workers has become obsolete. While the idea of the typical union worker had always been a fat, mustachioed guy with work boots and a hard hat, union membership has fallen off significantly in the private sector. Thus the new typical union worker tends to be a high-earning, college educated female working in government – namely, teachers and librarians. Even more surprising is how fiscally conservative these new union members tend to be.
Even more intriguing, the typical union household is much more fiscally conservative than traditional stereotypes would suggest. Among union members, 52% listed either “holding the line on taxes and government spending” or “improving the state’s economy and protecting jobs” as the top priority of the Legislature. Traditional union priorities, such as making health care and prescription drugs more affordable (12%), scored much lower than expected.
Among union households, President Obama is still popular, with a 64% approval rating. Yet Gov. Jim Doyle, who is to Wisconsin unions what Hugh Hefner is to teenage boys, actually has a high unfavorability rating, with 49.7% rating him “somewhat” or “very” unfavorably. This is even higher than the 47.4% unfavorable rating Doyle received from the public at large.
For the first time in American history, a majority of union members are government workers rather than private-sector employees, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Friday.
In its annual report on union membership, the bureau undercut the longstanding notion that union members are overwhelmingly blue-collar factory workers. It found that membership fell so fast in the private sector in 2009 that the 7.9 million unionized public-sector workers easily outnumbered those in the private sector, where labor’s ranks shrank to 7.4 million, from 8.2 million in 2008.
The article also notes what we already knew: that despite the recession, the total number government employment grew last year, inching up 16,000, to 22,516,000.
Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 12:28 pm
It appears many Democrats are refusing to learn the lessons taught to them by the voters of Massachusetts last week, when they elected a Republican to fill Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat. Many Democrats have actually used the drubbing to push for even quicker passage of unpopular programs to expand government into areas like health care.
Former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford has moved to New York to run for the U.S. Senate. (Apparently, anyone can move to New York in order to bring their political life back from the dead. Chances of a John Edwards run in New York in 2014 currently stand at about 95%.)
But it appears Ford is a Democrat who gets it. He lays out his 4-part plan in the New York Times:
Here are four simple steps we must take immediately to put us, and the nation, on a better course:
First, cut taxes for businesses — big and small — and find innovative ways to get Americans back to work. We can start by giving any companies that are less than five years old an exemption from payroll taxes for six months; extending the current capital gains and dividend tax rates through 2012; giving permanent tax credits for businesses that invest in research and development; and reducing the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.
America’s primary job-creating machine — the private sector — needs to be rejuvenated. Democrats must lead now on job creation or risk forfeiting Congressional majorities in November.
Second, we should pass a more focused health reform bill that restructures current health care costs before spending more, prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, enacts responsible reform on malpractice suits and extends health coverage to all children. And we must allow states to have input into the expansion of health coverage, as they will have to pay for much of the reform themselves.
This program isn’t all that Democrats wanted from health care reform right now, but it’s what the country wants. And it’s what the country can afford.
Third, we should reform our immigration policy to ensure that those who contribute to our economy, especially foreign math and science graduates of American universities, have a clear path to citizenship.
Finally, we need to address budget deficits now rather than waiting for some ideal future economic situation. It’s a good sign that the Obama administration is following the advice of Senators Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Evan Bayh of Indiana and other Democratic fiscal pragmatists who embrace the idea of a bipartisan commission to recommend spending cuts to rein in deficit growth. But we must be sure that the administration and Congress heed the commission’s advice.
We’ll see how many of his fellow Democrats grab hold of the life preserver he’s throwing them.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case which essentially granted free speech rights during campaign season to groups of people (corporations, labor unions), in addition to individuals. Incidentally, polls show that the U.S. public agrees with the Court. (To which a liberal friend of mine responded “just shows how dumb we are.” Apparently, she hasn’t connected that type of smarminess to the Democrats’ current dive in popularity.)
Of course, no debate on campaign finance in Wisconsin is complete without checking in with the state’s most vocal moonbat, former Gubernatorial candidate Ed Garvey. He offers these measured comments:
You appreciate the enormous wrecking ball that blasted through our world yesterday. This is, quite frankly, the worst day in American history. Pearl Harbor was awful but we were a democracy willing to lay our lives on the line to preserve that democracy. Not so after this catastrophe. The court has destroyed democracy in our land. This group of five have handed the once proud system to AIG, Goldman Sachs, U.S. Bank, and the other robber barons. Election 2010 may be the last real election.
There you have it. Determining that the government shouldn’t be regulating political speech is worse than Pearl Harbor. And 40% of the public in Wisconsin actually voted for this guy when he ran for Governor.
For those still not convinced that the ruling in Citizens United is the right one, read this excellent article in Reason Magazine. It concludes:
In the end, the right to speak does not mean the power to control the political process. It merely means the right to convey views that citizens are free to reject—which, if they distrust corporate power, is exactly what they are likely to do.
Under this ruling, corporations will be allowed to speak about politics, just as they may speak about their products. In both realms, though, the effort is wasted unless they offer something their audience wants. The marketplace of ideas is not so different from the marketplace of goods.
Corporations have the freedom to communicate what they want. But the people still have the ultimate right: the right to say no.
I have to admit, in the three years I’ve been posting on this blog about campaign finance issues, it seems like I’ve been yelling into a well. Being an opponent of “campaign finance reform” is often a lonely place – I feel like an attractive girl at a Star Trek convention.
It makes sense that campaign finance reform isn’t exactly the type of issue that moves people – mostly, because the rules for political speech are so arcane and confusing, it’s too difficult to untangle it all.
Thus, it is gratifying to see the U.S. Supreme Court strike a blow for freedom today by removing many of the limits on political speech that have accrued over decades – most recently, under the McCain-Feingold law as enacted in 2002. (If you really feel like blaming George W. Bush for something, blame him for signing that abomination into law. Ironically, it was his own Supreme Court appointees that struck down this law he signed.)
The ruling eviscerates much of the limits on so-called “express advocacy,” where citizens band together and pay for ads in support or in opposition to political candidates. The more campaign activity we have, the more citizens will be informed about candidates and campaigns – leading to more vigorous debate over our elected officials.
This recent Supreme Court decision also certainly kills a bill working its way through the Wisconsin Legislature that would have placed even more strict limits on political speech. In 2008, I showed up to debate Senate bill authors Mike Ellis and Jon Erpenbach, who clearly didn’t even know what their own bill did, and how it related to past Supreme Court opinions. The event was sponsored by Common Cause Wisconsin, and it was fairly clear I was the only one in the room who considered campaign spending to be free speech. You can watch it here.)
Rather than lay out all the arguments we’ve made over the years, feel free to peruse the “Campaign Finance Reform” section over there in the right column. So-called campaign finance reform advocates will kick and scream over what the Court did today, citing “corruption,” but now U.S. Citizens will me more free to speak their minds come election time. For years, Congress has been doing to free speech what they’re trying to now do to health care. It’s just that nobody noticed.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 12:03 am
In his novel “Straight Man,” Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo offers his key to a happy marriage: “Two people that love each other need not necessarily have the same dreams and aspirations, but they damn well ought to share the same nightmares.”
Americans still have wildly diverse dreams and aspirations. (Although, admittedly, most men have been dreaming about this since Sunday.) But former naked person Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts on Tuesday signals one thing – that we all seem to be having the same nightmares about increased government intrusion in our lives. And when we all start having the same nightmares, it’s incumbent politicians that start waking up in cold sweats.
Of course, rank and file liberals argue that it was Martha Coakley’s fault that she lost a seat held for 47 years by Edward Kennedy in a state Barack Obama won by 26 points in 2008. They willingly deceive themselves into believing that the people of Massachusetts voted against her because she mistakenly identified Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling as a Yankee fan. Yet Coakley is the state’s elected Attorney General – she’s not a proverbial tomato can candidate – she emerged victorious with 73% of the statewide vote for AG in 2006.
Clearly, something is going on greater than Coakley’s personal failings as a candidate. Generally, when political people look at seats their party can win, they scrap any seats where their candidate’s party is below, say, 44%. Yet Brown’s party lost the Presidential race by TWENTY SIX percentage points! In any other year, Martha Coakley could have campaigned wearing a Buffalo Bills football helmet and doing shots of Wild Turkey during her speeches and she would have won by 10 percentage points. And yet she lost.
And why? Because of the borderline criminal manner in which congressional Democrats have handled the health care issue. People are catching on to what would happen if the gang in DC were to get their hands on their health care. And they are recoiling at not only what would happen if the bill were to be enacted, but how it is being assembled.
In 2007, I wrote a column predicting health care could be the Wisconsin Democrats’ undoing, just as failure to pass a Taxpayer Bill of Rights unraveled the Republicans:
Secondly, if a universal-type health plan were to pass, suddenly citizens would start to recognize the downside of such an expansive new framework. The cracks in the plans would actually start to show. Long waiting lists and substandard quality of care would become major issues, as would sick people from other states flooding Wisconsin’s system. Suddenly, voters may not be giving Democrats much credit when grandma has to wait a year for hip replacement surgery.
Legislative Republicans went through a similar high-profile meltdown in recent years with the highly publicized Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) debacle. After taking control of both houses of the Legislature in 2002, a movement began to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to cap local and state taxes and spending. The bill badly fractured legislative Republicans, and led to some well-publicized and embarrassing episodes on the floor of the Senate. It even cost the sitting Senate Majority Leader her job.
(The main difference, of course, is that voters blamed the GOP for not passing something, while Democrats will most surely feel the brunt of voter discontent if they do pass a bill.)
For Republicans, however, the real guessing game starts now. A lot of “what-if” scenarios present themselves with regard to federal races.
For instance, what if a prominent ex-governor of Wisconsin decides to run for Senate against 18-year incumbent Russ Feingold, seeing as how no national Democratic senate seat seems to be safe? What if a well-liked up and coming state senator (a la Scott Brown) who has previously defeated Democratic incumbents decided he wanted to take a shot at Feingold? What if Democratic congressional stalwarts like Ron Kind and Dave Obey get serious challenges for the first time in years? (When Obey first took office, Congressmen weren’t picked by who got the most votes, they earned their seat by winning a soup eating contest.)
Point is: in 2010, Wisconsin could be looking at an entirely different landscape – it leans towards Democrats, but it is FAR less of a blue state than Massachusetts. And it would be a mistake to survey the candidates out there right now and assume that will be the final slate in November. Scott Brown just threw Wisconsin Republicans a life preserver – it’s up to them to paddle over and grab it.
Other notes from Tuesday:
I paid close attention to the on-stage handshake between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Brown during the new Senator’s speech. If America’s love affair with outsiders running for President holds up, who’s to say that handshake won’t take place in a GOP presidential debate in two years? Romney grinned as much as he could, but it was obvious he was treating Brown like he had swine flu. I mean, here Brown won statewide in Massachusetts by running a conservative campaign, while Romney had win with the governorship by essentially selling out many of the positions he had held earlier in his career. If Massachusetts sends anyone to the national stage in two years, it could very well be Brown.
I don’t particularly feel bad for Coakley supporters or liberals in general – conservatives suffered through much worse nights in November of 2006 and 2008. But Fox News going to Sarah Palin and Karl Rove for comment right after Brown was declared the victor was really twisting the knife. It was a Brett Favre-esque running up of the score after the opponent had been beaten down. But it made me laugh, so well done, Fox News. (And it’s not like any lefties were watching anyway.)
I actually remember Scott Brown from his daughter being on American Idol. (Something I shouldn’t admit, I know.) So let’s see – how many times has this guy been famous for different things? He’s been a Cosmopolitan model, his daughter was on the most watched show in America, and now he’s pulled off one of the biggest upsets in American political history. What’s next for Scott Brown? Is he going to run against horses in the next Kentucky Derby? Is he going to cure swine flu with his tears?
Finally, a message for future politicians: I don’t care what kind of car you drive.
Filed under: Education — Christian Schneider @ 9:43 am
On Sunday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a column I wrote that demonstrates what a truly awful 2009 the Milwaukee Public Schools had. The column compared MPS’ travails to those of a well known athlete that had a rough go of it last year:
If you attended a New Year’s Eve party, chances are you were cornered by someone you barely knew who asked you how your 2009 was. “Better than Tiger Woods’ year,” you answered, followed by tepid laughter, as you tried to sneak back to the crock pot to get more meatballs.
Yet despite becoming a national punch line, in 2009 Tiger Woods actually managed to have a better year than the Milwaukee Public Schools. And just like a chance encounter with a fire hydrant in front of Woods’ home has exposed the public to the turmoil in the golfer’s life, new governmental accounting rules are exposing many of MPS’s untoward secrets.
Things got worse for MPS, the state’s largest school district, when new Government Accounting Standards Board rules forced the district to calculate the unfunded liability it had accrued over the course of decades by offering generous post-employment benefits to retirees. While this is a problem in large governmental bodies across the nation, the situation in MPS has proved to be especially dire.
MPS has an annual budget of roughly $1 billion – yet district actuarial documents show that its unfunded liability is expected to grow to $4.8 billion by 2016. If the district made the annual required contribution to fully fund the liability, it would swallow up an unconscionable 54% of the district’s entire payroll in six years ($348 million). As it stands, the district is only funding a fraction of the required amount – which causes the liability to grow at a much faster rate. All to pay for health benefits for teachers who may not have worked in the district for decades.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 2:28 pm
Via Charlie Sykes, a video of GOP Senate candidate Dave Westlake explaining why it’s a great thing that he’s suspending all his campaign’s fundraising. Bless his heart, but his pitch comes off with all the sincerity of one of famous motivational speaker Matt Foley’s tirades:
Look, Westlake seems like a nice enough guy. But this tactic is embarrassing – claiming that you’re suspending all your fundraising on moral grounds, when, in fact, it’s clear you aren’t able to raise money at all. This has been a common tactic in campaigns for ages – taking your campaign’s weakness and declaring it to be a strength. Every man, woman, and child in Wisconsin could be wearing one of his blaze orange t-shirts and it wouldn’t be enough for him to mount a serious challenge to Feingold. (Clearly, nobody took my exploratory committee seriously.)
For instance, during the reign of Chuck Chvala as Wisconsin Senate majority leader, it was rumored that Chvala would take vengeance against any special interest that contributed political action committee (PAC) money to a Republican senate candidate. Thus, GOP candidates would proudly issue press releases bragging that they refused to accept “special interest” money on strictly moral grounds – when in fact, they couldn’t raise any of it anyway. Chvala’s specter was always watching.
This would be like me in high school proudly declaring myself to be abstinent – when, if truth be told, I would have gladly provided any young lady the opportunity to receive my lovin.’ Sadly, none ever took me up on my offers. But hooray! I was saving myself! (Clutching whiskey bottle, sobbing quietly to self.)