Politics: March 2011 Archives

Congressman John Sullivan was the lone House member from Oklahoma to vote against H.J.Res. 48, the latest short-term continuing resolution, designed to continue funding the government in the absence of an actual budget. Sullivan issued this statement:

Enough is enough, the American people didn't elect us to continue kicking the can down the road with week to week spending bills that pacify Senate Democrats and the White House - they elected us to end the spending spree in Washington. We cannot continue forcing our government to operate on week to week measures, when the problems we face require serious long-term solutions. No one wants to see a government shutdown, but President Obama has been completely absent from the debate, and his lack of leadership in finding common ground ultimately shows his actions don't match his rhetoric, and regaining fiscal sanity is not on the top of his priority list.

The Federal Government is now nearly halfway through the fiscal year without a budget. A budget should have been in place before the fiscal year began on October 1, 2010; at the time both houses of Congress had large Democrat majorities.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Capitol, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has proposed an additional $20 billion in cuts in S. 493, in the form of seven amendments to the small business appropriations bill. Coburn's cuts include duplications identified in the GAO report and subsidies for ethanol (an "alternative energy source" that consumes more energy than it produces and drives up world food prices by diverting corn from guts to gas tanks):

1. Eliminate funding for the ethanol subsidy$6 billion
2. Eliminate funds for leftover earmarks$7.3 billion
3. Eliminate program duplications identified by GAO$5 billion
4. Eliminate unemployment payments to millionaires$20 million
5. Reduce new car purchases by the government$900 million
6. Eliminate funds for 'covered bridges' program$8.5 million
7. Eliminate taxpayer subsidies for public broadcasting$550 million

Coburn has posted on the web a 31-page, heavily footnoted, and detailed description (PDF) of the cuts Coburn proposes and the rationale behind each. A few selections from the section on ethanol subsidies:

Consumers pay $1.78 per gallon of subsidized ethanol-blended fuel. Meanwhile, U.S. biofuels consumption remains a small share of national transportation fuel use--7.5 percent in 2012 and 7.6 percent in 2030

Ethanol burns at two-thirds the efficiency of gasoline (68 percent of the energy content of gasoline), ultimately increasing fuel consumption nationally as drivers and boaters are forced to burn more fuel to travel the same distances.

Increases of corn used for fuel production puts pressure on corn prices, demand for cropland, and the price of animal feed. Those effects, in turn, have raised the price of many farm commodities (such as soybeans, meat, poultry, and dairy products) and, consequently, the retail price of food--USDA estimates 40 percent of last year's corn crop will be used for ethanol production....

According to CBO: The increased use of ethanol accounted for about 10 percent to 15 percent of the rise in food prices between April 2007 and April 2008.

In turn, that increase will boost federal spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp program) and other child nutrition programs by an estimated $600 million to $900 million in FY 2009." These domestic nutrition programs comprise over 60 percent of the farm bill....

Emira Woods, Chairperson of Africa Action said, "In the midst of a global food crisis and rising hunger, the ethanol industry expropriates land in Africa and elsewhere to grow food that fuels cars. We applaud Senators Coburn and Cardin for introducing legislation to end this shameless subsidy."...

[According to a 2007 report from the National Academy of Sciences] "Fertilizer and pesticide runoffs from the U.S. Corn Belt are key contributors to 'dead zones' in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast. A 2008 study by independent researchers, published in the academy's Proceedings journal, calculated that increasing corn production to meet the 2007 renewable fuels target would add to nitrogen pollution in the Gulf of Mexico by 10 to 34 percent."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is upset about the Republican House budget plan, which would eliminate federal funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering every January in Elko, Nevada.

"The mean-spirited bill, H.R. 1 ... eliminates the National Endowment of the Humanities, National Endowment of the Arts," said Reid. "These programs create jobs. The National Endowment of the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a cowboy poetry festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist."

Now, I can believe that some people may have been conceived at a National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (between sessions, presumably) who might not otherwise exist, there being little to do in Elko in the winter besides gambling and visiting the local cathouses (which Reid wants to shut down, despite the jobs they sustain). But I imagine the vast majority of attendees would nevertheless exist even if they didn't happen to visit Elko in January.

I like cowboy poetry and cowboy music (the kind that Riders in the Sky makes), and if federal money is going to be spent on culture, preserving the culture of the Old West is certainly more worthwhile than paying for crucifixes dunked in urine.

But given our country's dire fiscal situation, this is the time to strip the Federal government down to the bare necessities, the responsibilities spelled out in the Constitution, and leave the rest to local government and private initiative. I'm disappointed that House Republicans couldn't find more than $61 billion to cut from a budget that will overshoot revenues by about $1 trillion.

I doubt that losing NEH funding will cause the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering or the Western Folkways Museum to shut down. More likely it will mean that tasks currently handled by a paid staffer will fall to a volunteer instead.

(By the way, it's really hard to find out how much money each NEH grant recipient gets. Whatever happened to the Coburn/Obama plan to let us "Google the federal government"?)

Meanwhile, recently departed NPR Foundation head Ron Schiller has added to the reasons to eliminate federal funding for public radio and TV. Schiller told investigative reporters, posing as potential donors from a Muslim organization promoting the spread of sharia in America, that NPR would be better off in the long run without federal money and that it would survive, along with most of its stations, if it were defunded.

Finally, Bill Gates recently spoke on the fiscal crisis faced by state governments. Despite being required by their constitutions to balance the budget every year, they have dug a deep hole for themselves by underfunding pensions and medical insurance for state government retirees incurring future liabilities without setting aside sufficient funds to meet those commitments. States use gimmicks to hide the extent of their liabilities and to produce a balanced budget that isn't balanced at all. Gates is concerned because he believes funding for K-12 and higher education will suffer as a result. Click that link to watch his 10-minute-long presentation on the TED website.

Anything government touches gets more expensive, because the recipients of government funding have less incentive to control costs. In fact, higher costs result in calls to increase funding. When funding is handled privately or entirely by local government, when the beneficiaries are paying for the benefit directly, there's more incentive to economize, to find creative ways to accomplish more for less, to recycle and adapt materials and facilities rather than buying or building new.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from March 2011.

Politics: February 2011 is the previous archive.

Politics: April 2011 is the next archive.

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