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Chicago Tribune Editorial Board: The Next President’s Debate

August 3, 2015

On the mid-July day Jeb Bush candidly told Sioux City Republicans he wants to curb federal favors to Iowa’s ethanol industry, he got a lucky pick-me-up from First Budget: How, asked a member of this ascendant advocacy group, would he balance federal revenue and spending? Ethanol is but one drop in that bucket.

The Sioux City Journal reports that Bush, who favors raising the age at which Americans can draw Social Security, said he also backs a federal hiring freeze and not replacing all retirees.

“You are not going to get it to balance immediately, but with high (economic) growth and a focused approach to limiting spending, including entitlements over the long haul, you can get it in balance,” Bush said. “Without (the economy) growing, it won’t happen. And if we don’t fix the entitlement system, it won’t happen.”

Click here to read more.

Pro-Smarter Discussion and Anti-Simplistic Rhetoric


“Hates Americans.”

“Domestic terrorist.”

That’s the PG-version of the rhetoric Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s political opponents used to make the case against him.

While Walker is no stranger to fierce political combat, such name-calling coarsens the public policy debate and does a disservice to voters.

Using heavy-handed labels as political rhetoric is a time-honored American tradition. When we discuss politics, people often take shortcuts. Some reflexively frame any labor-related reforms as “anti-worker” while others call those same reforms “pro-taxpayer.” Even less hostile labels—”Left versus Right,” or the media favorite “Blue versus Red”— fail to advance meaningful debate.

Lost in this superficial label shuffle are real insights into the underlying, and meaningful, issues. Indeed, it seems that hyperbole is the refuge of those with weak arguments. At a time when our nation faces challenges of historic proportion, more substance and less rhetoric is surely a good idea.

For example, four months ago, Governor Walker made Wisconsin the twenty-fifth right-to-work state, signing a bill ending forced unionization. President Obama termed this common sense—and increasingly commonplace—policy change “anti-worker” and said at the time that Walker’s efforts were part of a”sustained, coordinated assault on unions.” (The name calling from the White House hasn’t stopped. Indeed, President Obama traveled to LaCrosse, Wisconsin two weeks to “double down” on his misguided criticisms of Governor Walker.) All this over a law that provides more freedom for workers.

Anyone who believes that Governor Walker views attacking unions as an end in itself know little of the governor or his record.

Before signing right-to-work into law, Walker faced an epic showdown with the public-sector unions over his 2011 proposal to fix the state’s budget mess. At the time, the state faced a $3.6 billion deficit, because generations of politicians made promises to government workers that could not be sustained. Without action, substantial layoffs of public-service employees were all but guaranteed. Instead of chasing ever-higher spending with tax increases, Walker forged a more sensible solution. He thoughtfully redefined organized labor’s relationship with state, municipal, and local governments.

Act 10 had several key elements:

  • It empowered local governments and school districts to bid out to get the best deal for benefits on the open market – something that was virtually impossible under the state’s collective bargaining structure.
  • It required public-sector union members to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries toward their retirement (they had previously contributed nothing) and cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums—still far less than the average benefit contributions for private-sector employees.
  • It ended the practice of the state automatically collecting union dues on behalf of unions, letting workers choose whether they want to pay to belong to a union.

    Passage of Act 10 was possible because of Wisconsin’s dire financial predicament. Walker not only made the math work, but made Wisconsin’s educational system and labor arrangements better in the process.

    By questioning Walker’s motives as “anti-union,” his political opposition ignores the fact that the reforms worked. Walker advanced his twin goals of job creation and more effective government:

    • Wisconsin turn a $3.6 billion budget deficit to a nearly $1 billion surplusWisconsin turned a $3.6 fiscal shortfall to a nearly billion dollar surplus;
    • The state’s unemployment rate has dropped from 8.1 percent to 4.6 percent; and
    • Wisconsin balanced its budget without raising taxes, and the state’s pension fund is the only one in the nation that is fully-funded.

    Walker’s reforms avoided layoffs and created flexibility for local governments to make smarter decisions about the use of tax dollars, unimpeded by a rigid collective bargaining framework that was out of step with reality.

    All leaders who enter the public arena—and who challenge the status quo—subject themselves to vitriol.

    As we begin another campaign cycle, we have an opportunity to elevate the debate. It is our hope that we can do better as a nation, and as Abraham Lincoln encouraged in his first inaugural address, act in accordance with “the better angels of our nature.”

    With our nation saddled with $18.2 trillion in debt and baby boomers retiring, the federal government is on an unsustainable path. The solution isn’t going to be easy, and will—at a minimum—require us to focus on substance, not sound bites. In the case of Scott Walker, there’s real substance to consider.

    J. Joe Ricketts and Todd M. Ricketts are the Chairman and CEO, respectively, of Ending Spending, a non-profit, government reform advocacy group.

  • D.C. Forgets about the Debt

    By Michael Tanner
    The National Review

    Although it is expected to top $17.6 trillion by August 1, the national debt has dropped out of the headlines recently. Out of sight may indeed mean out of mind, especially in Washington, but that hardly means the problem has gone away — as a new report from the Congressional Budget Office makes clear.

    Let’s start with the good news. The annual budget deficit continues to decline. This year’s deficit is expected to be just $492 billion. Of course “just” is a relative term — a $492 billion deficit still means that we are borrowing 14 cents out of every dollar that we spend. Even so, this represents a marked improvement from the $1.4 trillion deficit that we ran as recently as 2009. And, next year’s deficit is projected to be even lower, possibly as low as $469 billion.

    Unfortunately, this respite is expected to be very short-lived. As soon as 2016, the deficit will begin growing again. By 2023, it is likely to once again top $1 trillion.

    These ongoing deficits mean that our national debt is only going to get bigger too. The CBO report reminds us that the debt has been growing by leaps and bounds recently, doubling over the last six years.

    Today, every taxpayer owes $151,000 as his or her share of this debt. To this ocean of red ink, the CBO estimates that we will add an additional $9.4 trillion over the next ten years. And that’s the good news; after 2024, things really get bad.

    The CBO estimates that debt held by the public, the portion of our national debt that economists consider most worrisome, will hold steady as a percent of the economy for the next few years, falling slightly from 74 percent of GDP, then rising slightly to 77 percent of GDP by 2023. But by 2039, it will rise to 106 percent of GDP.

    Remember too, this represents only part of our national debt. If one includes intragovernmental debt (debt owed to government trust funds such as Social Security and Medicare), our national debt today is more than 103 percent of GDP, and will reach roughly 118 percent of GDP by 2025. The future unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare, beyond what is owed to the various trust funds, add another $66 trillion to that (in discounted present-value terms), bringing our real indebtedness to over 480 percent of GDP.

    The CBO report also points out that interest on the debt is becoming an ever larger portion of federal spending. This year, the federal government will pay $221 billion in interest charges. By 2024, that will rise to more than $876 billion. Not long afterward, we will be paying a trillion dollars every year just for interest on the debt. By 2035, in fact, interest on the debt will be tied with Medicare as the second largest line item in the federal budget, trailing only Social Security. And this assumes that interest rates won’t rise back to their historical norms (though the CBO assumes they do rise some).

    Bad as this news is, all of these estimates are likely far too optimistic. The CBO also provides an alternative fiscal scenario, based on much more realistic assumptions about future spending. Under this baseline, for example, the CBO assumes that the spending limits under the sequester are breached again, as they were under the December 2013 bipartisan budget deal, that the Medicare “doc fix” is not paid for, and that discretionary federal spending is not further reduced as a share of GDP.

    Under this scenario, debt held by the public alone would reach an astounding 205 percent of GDP by 2045. Shortly after that, the CBO says it is unable to make further projections because no one might be willing to buy U.S. government debt.

    Read the entire article here.

    Improper Payments Top $500B During Obama Years


    By its own estimate, the government made about $100 billion in payments last year to people who may not have been entitled to receive them — tax credits to families that didn’t qualify, unemployment benefits to people who had jobs and medical payments for treatments that might not have been necessary.

    Congressional investigators say the figure could be even higher.

    The Obama administration has reduced the amount of improper payments since they peaked in 2010. Still, estimates from federal agencies show that some are wasting big money at a time when Congress is squeezing agency budgets and looking to save more.

    “Nobody knows exactly how much taxpayer money is wasted through improper payments, but the federal government’s own astounding estimate is more than half a trillion dollars over the past five years,” said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. “The fact is, improper payments are staggeringly high in programs designed to help those most in need — children, seniors and low-income families.”

    Read More.

    Fiscal Balancing Act

    Original Posted by The Peter G. Peterson Foundation
    Janice Eberly (Northwestern University, NBER) and Phillip Swagel (University of Maryland)

    Though many argue that we face a binary choice between either growing our economy or stabilizing our long-term fiscal position, in a new paper commissioned by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a bipartisan team of leading economists explores how policies to achieve economic growth and fiscal stability are related and complementary. In “Fiscal Balancing Act,” economists Janice Eberly and Phillip Swagel look at ways to balance existing federal commitments with the need to invest in our future, examining a range of short- and long-run policies aimed at creating an environment for broadly-shared income gains, greater competitiveness and social mobility.

    Key Findings from “Fiscal Balancing Act”

    • America’s economic health is closely tied to its fiscal health. A strong and stable economy with sustained job creation and broadly-shared growth requires a foundation of fiscal responsibility. Likewise, a solid long-term fiscal foundation is supported by a growing, thriving economy. A well-targeted, balanced fiscal adjustment is thus not only a budget issue; it is an issue of long-term productivity and growth.
    • Our long-term fiscal picture remains unsustainable. While the U.S. fiscal position has improved in recent years as we have emerged from the Great Recession, long-term sustainability has not been achieved, and economic growth remains below desired levels.
    • Addressing the long-term fiscal imbalance can support economic growth and job creation. A gradual fiscal adjustment would provide a foundation for economic growth and stability, creating room in the budget for activities that promote broadly-shared income gains and mobility. Effective and well-targeted public investments contribute to prosperity by enhancing productivity and by creating an economic environment in which the private sector can thrive.
    • Flexibility for future policymakers. Putting our long-term fiscal house in order during “good” times will give future policymakers more flexibility to use fiscal tools to support growth and job creation during the “bad” times. A stable and sustainable fiscal position, therefore, both ensures the ability to address future slowdowns and sets an economic foundation for long-run growth and prosperity.
    • Fiscal adjustment should be gradual, fair, and protective of the most vulnerable. Fiscal policy changes should be implemented gradually as the economy improves and monetary support is correspondingly withdrawn. Because fiscal tools help to establish the safety net we value, fiscal adjustment should protect the most vulnerable and those least able to adjust to these changes.

    Read more here.

    The Majority Matters When It Comes to Earmarks

    Ending Spending and its community of supporters and activists worked hard in 2010 to convince Congress finally to abandon the wasteful practice of earmarking. When Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they promised to rein in out-of-control federal spending and change the way Congress spends taxpayer money.  One important step in that process was banning earmarks.

    Now that Congress is finally passing an appropriations bill, we can see the results. In March 2009, in one of his first acts in office, President Obama signed omnibus appropriations legislation that included approximately 9,000 earmarks. In January 2014, House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on omnibus appropriations legislation that includes NO earmarks.

    What a difference a few years — and our collective efforts — have made.


    Brown gets more encouragement to launch Senate bid in N.H.

    (CNN) – An advocacy group that is encouraging former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts to launch a Republican challenge next year in neighboring New Hampshire against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is going up with a new TV commercial criticizing the Democrat for her support of the federal healthcare law.

    Ending Spending tells CNN that its TV spot will start running Tuesday in the Granite State. The group says it’s spending in the low six figures to run it for a week.

    The commercial starts with the narrator saying: “On health care, Jean Shaheen didn’t tell the truth.” That’s followed by a clip of Shaheen from a Senate floor speech in 2009 in support of the Affordable Care Act that cleared Congress the next year with only Democratic support.

    “You can keep your insurance if you like it. It will increase choices for families. It will promote competition,” says Shaheen in the clip.

    Those comments, first made a number of times by President Barack Obama as he pushed for passage of the sweeping health care measure, came back to haunt him this fall as some Americans were informed they wouldn’t be able to keep their coverage because their plans didn’t meet standards mandated by Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

    Read more here.

    Ending Spending Supports House Bill To Let Americans Keep Their Healthcare Plan

    President Obama famously promised: “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

    In reality, millions on Americans learned the hard way that under Obamacare, the President’s statement simply wasn’t true and MILLIONS OF AMERICANS HAVE RECEIVED THE BAD NEWS — they are losing their insurance.

    Now, Ending Spending has signed on with other conservative and free market groups to support H.R. 3350, introduced in the House by Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and over two dozen Republicans. The bill would allow Americans to keep their health care plans if they like them – fulfilling President Obama’s “promise” made time and time again.

    To learn more about the bill, read our letter to Congressman Upton here.

    Let’s get rid of (the term) entitlements

    By Robert J. Samuelson
    The Washington Post

    Let’s drop the whole notion of “entitlement.” Just eliminate it. Politicians, pundits and academics who talk about entitlements would then have to name the actual programs and argue their merits and demerits. This would encourage clarity and candor. Of course, that’s why it won’t happen. Generally, Americans don’t want clarity and candor in their fiscal debates. We blame our leaders for budget brawls — this latest was a doozy — but forget that our leaders are largely governed by public opinion, which is awash in contradictions.

    So the government is “open” and the immediate threat of default has lifted. Great. But the political stalemate remains. Americans oppose excessive government spending and persistent deficits. Yet they also support the individual benefit programs (a.k.a. “entitlements”), led by Social Security, that drive spending and deficits.

    Until the 1980s, entitlement wasn’t part of everyday language. Ronald Reagan was apparently the first president to use the term extensively. He may have “tired of getting beaten up every time he mentioned Social Security, and wanted a broader and more neutral term,” political scientist Norman Ornstein has suggested. Entitlement is a bland label. To say there’s an “entitlement problem” shrewdly avoids connecting it explicitly with popular programs. President Obama evasively speaks of entitlements in this way; so do most Republicans. Their veiled references cover Medicare and Medicaid as well as Social Security.

    Read more here.

    Do as I say, not as I do – Members of Congress exempt themselves from Obamacare

    “Obamacare is good enough for you, but not for us.”

    That’s the message Senate Democrats sent to America when they voted to exempt themselves from Obamacare.

    Senator David Vitter (R-LA) offered an amendment to make members of Congress subject to the Obamacare regulations that every other citizen is subject to. Vitter’s amendment was rejected on a 54-46 vote. Every Senate Democrat voted against the amendment and exempted themselves from Obamacare.

    On the other hand, all Republican Senators voted to hold members of Congress to the same standards as the rest of Americans. These Senators, including Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, have consistently stood up against out of control spending and fought Obamacare at every turn.

    The 54 Senate Democrats who voted against Vitter voted to shut down the government just to keep their special privileges. PERIOD. They also made it clear they want to force you into Obamacare whether you like it or not, but they don’t want to abide by the very same law they worked so hard to pass.

    Ending Spending President Brian Baker recently attended and spoke at a press conference with Senators Vitter, Johnson and Enzi to push to end the special Obamacare exemption for Members of Congress. Watch below:

    Taxpayers Connected:

    Our national debt is  
    $ 00 00 , 000 000 , 000 000 , 000 000 , 000 000
    and each American Taxpayer owes $119,236 of it.