Last week was Stop Government Abuse Week in Congress, and the House passed a number of reform bills that would increase government transparency. One of the bills that passed, the ALERT Act, was partially based on reform ideas from CEI Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews.
This is supposed to be a year of action. Unfortunately, there will likely be very little action in the area of regulatory reform. Over at The Hill‘s Congress blog, Wayne Crews and I make the case for reining in the regulatory state as a way to improve the federal government’s fiscal health. Here’s a taste:
Take the much-discussed annual federal deficits under presidents Bush and Obama. In recent years, the government has been spending a little less than a quarter of the nation’s GDP, but its revenues rarely top 20 percent of GDP. Given Congress’s and the president’s continuing unwillingness to reduce spending to match revenues, they could turn instead to regulatory reform as a budget balancer.
A deregulatory “stimulus” would help create the conditions for rapid economic growth. If government’s 20 percent slice comes from a much larger pie, revenue gains could cover most, if not all of the shortfall, eventually erasing deficits. This, of course, would require keeping spending in check, which may be wishful thinking. But it offers a solution, if politicians really want one.
Read the whole thing here.
The trade debate is heating up in the wake of President Obama’s nod to trade in his State of the Union address, the introduction this month of a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, and the on-going negotiation on two major trade deals.
A major schism among Democrats on trade broke out January 29, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in an interview that he was against TPA, commonly known as “fast-track” legislation, which gives the president authority to negotiate trade agreements that are then voted on by Congress without amendments. Without fast-track, it’s difficult to negotiate final trade deals with other countries when they know Congress can change the terms. Reid was quoted as saying: “Everyone would be well-advised just to not push this right now.”
Reid’s opposition is in contrast to President Obama’s endorsement of fast-track authority in his State of the Union address earlier this week when he said:
We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.” China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.
Reid’s stance is at odds too with some leading Democrats, such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who joined with Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., to introduce a TPA bill on January 9. However, Baucus’ active leadership on TPA may be in question, since he was nominated to be Ambassador to China.
Last night House and Senate conferees agreed on a nearly $1 trillion farm bill that would eliminate long-standing direct payments to farmers but beef up the heavily subsidized crop insurance program. Farmers are pretty happy about that because federal crop insurance covers farmers’ crop losses or revenue losses, while the government pays a high percentage of the premiums’ costs and underwrites most of the insurance companies’ administrative costs.
The five-year farm bill replaces the 2008 farm bill, which had expired and was extended because Congress could not reach agreement on components of a new bill.
The command-and-control sugar program remains in place, with its combination of controls on domestic supply, price supports, and restrictions on sugar imports. It has been estimated that the sugar program costs consumers up to $4 billion a year in increased costs, while driving many confectionery companies out of business or out of the country.
The bill would also continue U.S. country of origin labeling requirements for meat – COOL – even though the protectionist program is being challenged by Canada and Mexico as being discriminatory under World Trade Organization rules. COOL requires labeling that indicates where the animal was born and raised, where it was slaughtered and processed.
The conference agreement would include modest cuts to the food stamp program – about a one percent cut over 10 years or about $9 billion. Originally the House had pushed for more extensive cuts, but the Senate balked at those.
WikiLeaks on January 15 leaked another chapter of the negotiation text of a major trade agreement – the environmental chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Environmental groups jumped on the text and said the U.S. position outlined in the documents shows backward steps in areas such as enforcement of environmental provisions and deference to multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).
According to an article in the New York Times, the U.S. seems to be pushing for more extensive environmental provisions, but the other eleven negotiating parties are pushing back, arguing that such provisions would hamper needed growth in their countries.
For example, in the Chairs’ summary of different countries’ views on incorporating measures in TPP to fulfill specific MEAs and making those enforceable, only the U.S. supported that position. Ten of the twelve countries thought otherwise and indicated that since those agreements were negotiated in different circumstances, those obligations shouldn’t be subject to dispute settlement in TPP.
In an apparent reaction to the leaks and to negative reaction from environmental activists, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative late Wednesday afternoon issued a press release stating its strong commitment to the environmental chapter:
The United States’ position on the environment in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is this: environmental stewardship is a core American value, and we will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement.
The release went on to state:
In December the trade ministers of the 12 TPP countries met for three days to tackle tough issues together, including in the environment chapter. There, the United States reiterated our bedrock position on enforceability of the entire environment chapter, as well as our strong commitments to provisions such as those combating wildlife trafficking and illegal logging.