Wall Street Journal: The Power of the Purse

The Wall Street Journal examines the $1 trillion dollar budget Congress presented  in it’s recent Review & Outlook. There’s a lot in the budget to be unhappy about, but the Democrats do not relinquish control of the Senate until Jan 3 2015.  While the “true cons” are screaming about the funding of ObamaCare and Obama’s executive amnesty, this budget does pose a glimpse of what may be when the GOP gains complete control of the Congress.

The 113th Congress is sprinting to a finish, and few besides Harry Reid will lament its passing. In its final budget splurge, however, Congress is at least showing hints of better governance and how a Republican majority might effectively use the power of the purse next year.

House and Senate appropriators late Tuesday unveiled a $1.01 trillion bill to fund the federal government through September. Its 1,600 pages contain thousands of spending and policy changes that deserve more time to assess. Yet the House plans to vote Thursday.

Blame for this rush job is bipartisan, starting with Mr. Reid, who six years ago shut down regular appropriations to shield Democrats and the White House from having to make spending choices. Government has lurched from one short-term funding bill to the next, and an important measure of the new GOP majority will be if it returns to regular budget order.

We’ll also be watching Speaker John Boehner to see if he honors his promises to give the House and the public 72 hours to review legislation. The Dec. 11 deadline for government funding has been known for months, yet Mr. Boehner is now presenting his Members with a choice of passing his bill or shutting down the government. He owes voters better.

This Gargantua is nonetheless giving Republicans a chance to press some of their priorities. The bill funds 11 of 12 parts of the government through September and generally stays within the spending caps laid out in last year’s budget agreement—providing $521 billion to defense and $429 billion for domestic discretionary programs. It funds the Department of Homeland Security only through February, when Republicans will tee up a debate over President Obama’s immigration decree.

Some on the right are calling the caps a sham, and that’s partly true, since the bill adds $64 billion to fight Islamic State and $5.4 billion for Ebola that are outside the caps. Then again, the war has to be funded and defeating Ebola should be a priority.

More encouraging is that Republicans are showing how they can use Congress’s spending power to steer policy. Most of government has been on autopilot since 2010. This week’s bill starts to set new spending priorities.

The bill cuts nearly $350 million from an Internal Revenue Service that targeted conservative nonprofits and is acting as tax collector for ObamaCare. It slices $60 million from the imperial Environmental Protection Agency, whose budget is 21% below 2010 levels and will soon have as many employees as it did in 1989. The bill even does the unheard of and eliminates funding for programs, including Mr. Obama’s Race to the Top initiative that has stopped pushing useful education reform.

There are also useful policy riders, notably on regulation. Republicans began to reform the Dodd-Frank financial law by amending a rule that threatened to raise costs on Main Street businesses. They are also banning the Fish and Wildlife Service from placing the sage grouse on the Endangered Species list, ending the threat of a government land grab in 11 states. They are sparing farmers from an EPA plan to apply the Clean Water Act to small ponds and irrigation ditches, and truckers from new rules that slash their work weeks.

School districts will soon have more flexibility in implementing Michelle Obama’s proscriptive school-lunch menus. Failing multi-employer pension plans will be able to reduce benefits to reduce the chances that the plans are dumped on taxpayers.

And Republicans are helping taxpayers and the cause of free speech by raising the contribution limits to political parties. The higher limit, which will increase by 10 times to $324,000, is designed to allow the parties to fund their conventions with private dollars, since Republicans have eliminated taxpayer funds for those political shindigs.

Republicans were forced to concede on some of their highest priorities, such as the Keystone XL pipeline and substantive changes to ObamaCare, and they also gave in to Democratic spending increases for financial regulators, college loans, mass transit and federal employees, among other things. But Democrats still control the Senate, and Mr. Obama has the veto pen.

The omnibus nonetheless shows that Republicans can use the power of the purse if they pick the right fights and don’t insist on strategy of their-way-or-a-shutdown. Some breathless Beltway conservatives don’t seem to understand the difference.

Democrats like Henry Waxman used their majorities to build the entitlement and administrative state in increments year after year even with Republicans in the White House. Their method was to press small but notable liberal initiatives on so many fronts that the President’s men couldn’t stop them all. If the GOP brings along some Democrats in Congress, Mr. Obama find it even harder to veto. The mistake is portraying anything less than total victory as surrender.

The omnibus bill has plenty of barnacles, and its rush-to-a-vote is a disgrace, but Republicans are using it to make more policy progress than they have in four years. Next year they can make even more, if they understand that their spending power is formidable but not unlimited.

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Wall Street Journal: ObamaCare’s Casualty List

As Jonathan Gruber gets set to testify today before Congress, today’s Review & Outlook in the Wall Street Journal examines how “three elections later, the law continues to be a political catastrophe for Democrats:”

Mary Landrieu’s defeat in Saturday’s Louisiana Senate runoff was no surprise, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored as inevitable. Ms. Landrieu was a widely liked three-term incumbent, and her GOP foe was hardly a juggernaut, yet she lost by 14 points after Washington Democrats all but wrote her off. Think of Ms. Landrieu as one more Democrat who has sacrificed her career to ObamaCare.

It’s hard to find another vote in modern history that has laid waste to so many political careers. Sixty Democrats cast the deciding 60th vote for the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010, but come January only 30 will be left in the Senate. That’s an extraordinary political turnover in merely three elections, the largest in the post-Watergate era. As it happens, the law has been nearly as politically catastrophic for Democrats as Watergate was for Republicans.

Three of the ObamaCare 60 died in office, while 19 declined to run for re-election. Some of the retirees left for reasons such as becoming Secretary of State ( John Kerry ), but others left because their own re-election prospects were hardly stellar. Think Chris Dodd of Connecticut in 2010 or Virginia’s Jim Webb in 2012. At least Democrats succeeded them.

Yet no fewer than eight of the retirees handed their seats to Republicans: They include Ben Nelson, of Cornhusker Kickback fame, who deprived his state of the pleasure of returning him to private life in 2010. After five terms, Jay Rockefeller was increasingly out of step with West Virginia, not least on ObamaCare. Max Baucus (Montana), Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.) would have had rough rides had they tried to stick around.

When they got the chance, voters dumped eight ObamaCare incumbents who dared to seek re-election. In addition to Ms. Landrieu, four are moderate-in-name-only Democrats who went along with President Obama ’s lurch to the left: Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagan (North Carolina), Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor (Arkansas).

But conventional liberals like Russ Feingold (Wisconsin) and Mark Udall (Colorado) also lost in states Mr. Obama carried twice. In Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter left the GOP to vote for ObamaCare after Republican Pat Toomey announced he’d run against him in a primary. Specter, since deceased, lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak, who lost to Mr. Toomey in two degrees of ObamaCare separation.

Mr. Obama told Democrats at a March 2010 pep rally that he knew they faced “a tough vote” but was “actually confident” that “it will end up being the smart thing to do politically because I believe that good policy is good politics.” That month, New York Senator Chuck Schumer claimed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “by November those who voted for health care will find it an asset, those who voted against it will find it a liability.”

Mr. Schumer has since recanted, calling ObamaCare a disaster for the party of government. Nancy Pelosi said his remarks were “beyond comprehension,” which for liberals like her happens to be true. Their goal is to expand the entitlement state whether the public likes it or not, figuring that sooner or later enmity will subside and new programs will acquire a constituency. So it has always been in the Entitlement Age—until ObamaCare.

The law was supposed to be a landmark of liberal governance but is more unpopular now than on the day it passed. Credulous Democrats are telling each other that the insurance exchanges are working, yet voters are dissatisfied with the higher costs and fewer choices, Republicans continue to campaign and win on repeal, and a potentially debilitating legal challenge to the subsidies will be heard at the Supreme Court this spring.

Liberals like Ms. Pelosi take solace in believing that these losses were worth passing national health care, but she may be wrong even about that political bet. ObamaCare is so unpopular that Republicans may still have a chance to rewrite it after 2016, and even Hillary Clinton may acknowledge the need to reform the reform.

Such is the political price Democrats are paying for ignoring voters and passing what we called at the time the worst law since FDR ’s National Industrial Recovery Act and the Smoot-Hawley tariff.

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Bill Whittle: Obama’s Black Skin Privilage

In this must watch Firewall segment, Bill Whittle says what many have been saying privately, and some not so privately, for years:

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