“Investment” as Politics

Aug 31, 2012

The really remarkable thing about President Obama’s rhetoric about the economy in this election season is just how little it has changed since 2010. Those who expected new ideas from this administration for getting the economy back on track must have been sorely disappointed, as the widely-anticipated “reset” on economic issues has really just been a “repeat.” Once again, he’s trotting out the same old strawmen and warmed over policies he has pounded relentlessly for the last three and a half years: he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, Republicans have stymied the recovery by refusing all compromise, and the only way we will remain competitive in the world economy is by “investing” in things like education, renewable “green” energy, and infrastructure development.

This “investment” angle has become so repetitive it’s easy just to ignore. 

But what does it really mean? 

When the president says he wants to invest in education, what, exactly does he want to invest in it?

It can’t simply be better education results, because 40 years of soaring costs for public education have already failed to do that.  Since 1970, the per-pupil cost of a K – 12 education has exploded from about $55,000 to about $150,000 in real, inflation-adjusted terms. Yet math and reading scores have stagnated, and science scores have actually declined.

Education Investment

Surely, President Obama cannot believe that “investing more in education and training” and “recruiting an army of new teachers” in math and science constitutes new and innovative education policy. We’ve been trying it for decades, and despite hiring 3 million more teachers and spending $210 billion more per year on public education, taxpayers have nothing to show for it.

If taxpayers and students have not benefited from all this public largesse, who has?  Teachers unions, of course, who are – not coincidentally – one of the Democratic Party’s most powerful constituencies and the single biggest obstacle to education reform in America today, continually sacrificing the interests of public school students to permanent job security and pay hikes for teachers.

When the president talks about investing in “education,” what he means is giving more money to the teachers unions in order to solidify their political efforts on his behalf.

The same goes for the other abstract nouns in which the president constantly demands more “investment.”

“Clean energy?”  We’ve been “investing” in that for years.  And what is the return on that investment?  Solyndra, a company whose failure cost taxpayers $528 million in Department of Energy loan guarantees.  A123 Systems, a recipient of $279 million in energy grants, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. First Solar, having procured $1.46 billion in loan guarantees, announced layoffs of over 2000 employees over the last several months. Dozens more “clean” energy companies are filing for bankruptcy or laying off thousands of workers after receiving federal funds. Is this “investment” producing better energy resources, or economic growth? 

But, as with the teachers unions, subsidized green energy executives do produce lots of campaign contributions. 

Time and again, when the president says “investment,” he doesn’t simply mean spending – he means a redistribution of wealth from successful individuals and businesses to those who support his liberal agenda.

The president compares his “investment” vision to the successes of Thomas Edison or the Wright brothers.  But none of them needed a government handout to invent the light bulb or the airplane.  Government “investments” invariably go not to the people with the most promising innovations, but those with the best political connections.  Politicians – of both parties – use the “investment” rhetoric to paper over payoffs to their friends and benefactors.  It’s both immoral and inefficient.

But for Obama, this spending is a matter of faith. “I don’t believe,” he asserted, “that a tax cut is more likely to create jobs than providing loans to new entrepreneurs or tax credits to small business owners who hire veterans. I don’t believe it’s more likely to spur economic growth than investments in clean energy technology and medical research, or in new roads and bridges and runways.”

If we are to take his rhetoric seriously, the president clearly believes that the way to get our floundering economy moving again is not to let employers keep more of the money they themselves created, but to tax them and spread the wealth around to special interests like teachers unions, labor bosses, and well-connected firms like Solyndra that embody the correct leftist policies.

Call it a boondoggle.  Call it crony capitalism.  Call it corporate welfare.  But let’s stop calling this “investment.”

Mike Lee is a U.S. Senator from Utah and a member of the Joint Economic Committee

Americans can’t afford Democrats’ tax increases

Jul 24, 2012

Last week, Democrats insisted that Congress raise taxes on the American people. So committed are they to the cause that one top Democrat said they would actually allow the country to drive off the so-called “fiscal cliff” if it gave them the leverage they needed to get their way.

A Hollow Victory for ObamaCare

Jul 2, 2012

This morning the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  But I believe it will ultimately prove to be a hollow and short-lived victory for the health care law.  

I believe it will prove hollow because the Supreme Court was able to find the individual mandate constitutional only through a series of extraordinary logical gymnastics that led the Court to conclude that the mandate is actually a tax.  But, of course, members of Congress did not vote to pass the ACA as a tax.  Nor did the American people understand it to be a tax.  Indeed, President Obama himself flatly stated that the individual mandate “is absolutely not a tax increase”—that “nobody” considers it a tax.

As Justice Kennedy noted in his dissent, “[i]mposing a tax through judicial legislation inverts the constitutional scheme, and places the power to tax in the branch of government least accountable to the citizenry.”  There is simply no way that the ACA would have become law had the American public and their representatives understood it as a tax.

As a result, I believe the practical effect of today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the mandate will be short-lived.  As numerous public opinion polls confirm, the majority of citizens already oppose the individual mandate.  As more Americans come to understand the individual mandate as a middle-class tax hike, it will only become more unpopular.  According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, at least 75 percent of the penalties or “taxes” imposed by the individual mandate will fall on hard-working Americans who make less than $250,000.  In making choices at the ballot box this November, I believe the American people simply will not stand for the ACA to remain the law of the land.

When we look back at today’s decision in the coming months and years, it may ultimately be regarded less as a victory for the Affordable Care Act and instead as an important recognition and validation of the freedoms protected by our constitutional structure.  The Court’s decision today upheld the individual mandate as a tax, but it also validated fundamental principles of limited government and federalism.   

A majority of the justices rightfully concluded that Congress had exceeded its regulatory authority under the Commerce Clause by attempting to impose the individual mandate as a government directive.  As Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion explained, “The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated. . . . Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. . . . That is not the country the Framers of our Constitution envisioned.” 

In so holding, the majority opinion expressly embraced the limiting implications of the distinction between activity and inactivity, put forward by critics of the Act.  The Court noted that although its Commerce Clause jurisprudence throughout much of the last century had been notoriously expansive, even at its most expansive in cases like Wickard v. Filburn, it had always limited Congress to regulating preexisting activity.  The ACA, by contrast, impermissibly attempted to reach inactivity.  The Court refused to countenance such limitless congressional regulatory power. 

Today’s ruling also includes an important precedent upholding the right of the States not to be coerced into administering federal regulatory programs.  The Court held that the manner in which the ACA sought to expand Medicaid violates the Constitution and our nation’s system of federalism.  The federal government may not bully the States into expanding Medicaid coverage by threatening to take away all preexisting Medicaid funding.  As the federal government increasingly attempts to circumvent the Constitution by coercing States through funding threats, this aspect of the Court’s opinion may prove to have enormous significance.

For now, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the ACA’s individual mandate as a tax puts the call to action squarely back on the people’s elected leaders in Congress.  As the majority opinion reminded, the Court “possesses neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments.  Those decisions are entrusted to our nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.”

Without a single Republican vote, Congress enacted an intrusive and burdensome mandate on the American people—a mandate that is hugely unpopular and has the potential to do our country great harm.  The individual mandate violates basic American freedoms and personal liberty in a way no Congress had before attempted in the 225 year-history of our Republic.

With a new administration and new leadership in Congress, we can repeal the ACA and restore individual liberty to all Americans.

Click here to read article as originally published in the National Review

Corporate Tax “Fairness” that is Anything But

Apr 19, 2012

Far from making the corporate tax system "fair," the president’s corporate tax plan punishes smaller businesses, worsens the punitive double taxation of American companies that operate overseas, and, at a time when gas prices are spiking, selectively hikes taxes on American oil producers.

SENATE JUDICIARY: Obamacare not an enumerated power

Mar 29, 2012

This month marks the two-year anniversary of Obamacare’s enactment. For most Americans, it is not a time to celebrate with cake or confetti; it is a solemn acknowledgment of the looming implementation of Obamacare’s most controversial provision - the “individual mandate” that will force every American to purchase government-approved health insurance.

Obama's constitutional disregard

Mar 28, 2012

As inconvenient as constitutional limits may seem, individual liberty requires that they be respected. In fact, it is precisely when temptation is greatest to disregard constitutional structures to achieve some national policy outcome that our Constitution’s limits must be enforced. As the Supreme Court once explained, though the Constitution’s restrictions may at times appear “formalistic” and may prohibit measures that are “the product of the era’s perceived necessity,” our founding document wisely “protects us from our own best intentions … so that we may resist the temptation to concentrate power in one location as an expedient solution to the crisis of the day.”

ObamaCare’s Backwards Approach to the Constitution

Mar 26, 2012

The arguments made by proponents of ObamaCare thus turn the Constitution on its head and would create a federal government of unlimited power where the Constitution authorizes a federal government of limited, enumerated powers. Because none of the federal government’s enumerated powers authorizes the kind of government coercion imposed by ObamaCare, that law must be considered unconstitutional.

Democratic Hypocrisy

Mar 14, 2012

Claims of Republican obstruction are not only demonstrably false, they are highly hypocritical. The very Democrats now seeking to manufacture confirmation controversy personally devised and carried out a systematic effort to block President Bush’s judicial nominees through an unprecedented use of the Senate filibuster.

LEE: Obama’s lawless recess appointments

Feb 28, 2012

The president cannot expect the Senate’s full cooperation at the same time that he does violence to Congress‘ constitutional prerogatives. In response to the president’s unconstitutional actions, the Senate must adopt a new threshold for confirming his nominees. Simply put, there is a new standard for Senate confirmations.

Obama’s Dangerous Hypocrisy

Feb 23, 2012

As published by the Deseret News:

This year America will celebrate the 225th anniversary of our Constitution.  Its legal framework of checks and balances, enumerated powers, and individual rights has helped create and maintain the freest, most prosperous nation in history. 

As a United States Senator, I pledged an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.  It is because of my fidelity to this oath and my commitment to protecting liberty through constitutional government that I recently made public my tremendous disappointment with President Obama’s decision to ignore the constitutional limitations of his office.

Earlier this year, the President made an appointment to head a controversial new agency known as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and filled three vacancies at the National Labor Relations Board. 

The Constitution specifies that the President may appoint nominees with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, and that in exceptional circumstances he may make appointments when the Senate remains in a lengthy period of recess. Neither of these constitutional requirements was satisfied at the time the President made the appointments.

In doing so, the President violated the fundamental system of checks and balances enshrined in our Constitution that protect against the dominance of one branch of government over another.

I take this violation seriously, as must all Americans. To allow the President to take power that does not belong to him without consequence is a step toward tyranny.

Not too long ago, Democrats understood the importance of preserving the Senate’s shared role in the appointments power.  From December of 2007 to January of 2008, the Democratic-controlled Senate used procedural tactics to prevent President Bush from making recess appointments during the normal Christmas break. 

On January 18, 2008, Senator Ben Cardin from Maryland in a press release wrote, “This rare procedural step has been necessary to prevent the Administration from making recess appointments to circumvent the Senate's responsibility of ‘advice and consent’ of senior government officials.”

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia said that such recess appointments would break with “a really important principle” and amount to “violating the intent of the [appointments] provision of the Constitution.”

Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota explained that President Bush wanted to make "appointments that could not possibly be confirmed by the Senate ... through recess appointments and we aren't going to let them do that."

These Democratic Senators were exercising an authority well within their rights as members of a coequal branch of government.  They correctly concluded that the White House was attempting to thwart their constitutional authority and they took action to retain that power. 

Even then-Senator Barack Obama once respected and defended the constitutional role of the Senate in the appointments process. “There are some who believe that the President, having won the election, should have complete authority to appoint his nominee,” the future president explained. “I disagree with this view. I believe firmly that the Constitution calls for the Senate to advise and consent.”

Today, the President cares nothing for the wisdom of the Founding Fathers nor feels restrained by clear constitutional limitations.  Unlike President Bush, who made no such intrasession recess appointments, President Obama took the unprecedented step of flouting constitutional guidelines, as well as nearly 100 years of Senate procedure, and installed his appointments unilaterally.

This is a dangerous hypocrisy that threatens our liberty and I will not sit idly by and allow the President to trample the legitimate constitutional limitations placed on his office. 

Ours is not a government of one. The Constitution isn't always efficient, but for nearly 225 years it has protected our God-given rights from would-be despots and self-styled monarchs. 

It is our fundamental law and I am duty-bound to uphold it. The American people deserve better than to have the Constitution overlooked.