Wednesday, November 17, 2010

You would think...

You would think that the Washington Post would be a good source for an evenhanded treatment of the economic policies of the incoming House majority.

You'd be wrong.

Steve Pearlstein, who's been writing such gems as full throated defenses of Fannie Mae for as long as I can remember, sums up the incoming House majority's skepticism of current economic policy, to wit:

-quantitative easing
-retaining the Bush tax cuts for households making over $250,000
-unlimited unemployment benefits

as follows:

"GOP to jobless: Drop Dead"

To be fair to Pearlstein, this is from the headline, not the column, and headlines are generally written by editors - not the person who wrote the article or column, so I'll reserve the possibility he (a) didn't write it and (b) chewed out the person who did.

The fact is, there are serious policy arguments on these issues on both sides (see, for example, a critique of the fed's quantitative easing by some of the nation's leading economists).  Pearlstein himself claims to have concerns.  Why he can voice them but others can't isn't clear.  I think there's a distinctly unparliamentary name for criticizing others for something you do yourself, but let's not go there.  The name calling obscures these honest policy differences, and reduces our chances of finding the middle ground that Pearlstein and his ilk claim to seek.

Instead, Pearlstein goes on about William Jennings Bryant, and only cites economic authorities that fit the Post's preconceived preferences for big government.  If the big government policies are the right ones (and I have defended some, e.g. TARP) they certainly need better defenders.

Monday, November 15, 2010

McConnell and Earmarks

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that despite his longstanding support for earmarks as a member of the Senate appropriations committee, he was going to support a ban on earmarks.

I've written about my views on earmarks before.  In short, I view them as a bad practice in that their existence (a) politcizes spending and (b) incentivizes more of it than would otherwise occur.

Critics note that "earmarks account for just three-10ths of 1 percent of federal spending."  Yet, they're the tail that wags the dog.  If members aren't guaranteed their share of ribbon cuttings and publicity, the allure of running up big bills their constituents ultimate pay becomes much diminished.

Here are my questions for Senator McConnell:

(1) Why the late conversion given your past support?
(2) Given that Republicans are in the minority, the Senate's practice will likely still embrace earmarks regardless.  Are you pledging that Republicans (and yourself) will abstain from earmarks even as they see their Democratic colleagues engaging in it?
(3) House Democrats were down on "earmarks" before the 2006 election that brought them to power, yet once given the majority embraced "legislatively directed spending" (i.e. earmarks).  What pledge can you give that Republicans will retain their opposition to earmarks when it really counts (i.e., when they are in the majority)?