Government: February 2011 Archives

WSJ columnist John Fund asks the most important question about the budget battle going on in Wisconsin: Who's in charge of our political system - Voters or unions?

To hear the unions tell it, the rest of us should shut the hell up and fork over our hard earned dollars to fund their unsustainable pensions and benefits.

Myron Lieberman, a former Minnesota public school teacher who became a contract negotiator for the American Federation of Teachers, says that since the 1960s collective bargaining has so "greatly increased the political influence of unions" that they block the sorts of necessary change that other elements of society have had to accept.

The labor laws that Wisconsin unions are so bitterly defending were popular during an era of industrialization and centralization. But the labor organizations they protect have become much less popular, as the declining membership of many private-sector unions attests. Moreover, it's become abundantly clear that too many government workers enjoy wages, benefits and pensions that are out of line with the rest of the economy.

Again, it's the unions demanding the rest of us give more when there is nothing more to give. The voters are not an bottomless ATM machine for the legislature to tap whenever they need more money to reward their union cronies.

Fund's piece is telling if for no other reason than it's generated more than 700 comments (when this was written), a very large majority of which are not supporting the public sector unions. If nothing else they delve deeper into the confrontation taking place in Madison, tearing apart one union claim after another and showing them for the prevarications they are.

Probably one of the more cogent observations made compares private sector unions with public sector unions, showing how private sector unions know they can only push so far before they cripple the very companies they work for, forcing them to shut down or relocate because they can no longer compete. Public sector unions have no such self-limiting mechanism because there is no competition, no immediate consequences if costs are too high...until now.

The voters of Wisconsin elected Scott Walker to trim the bloated budget because they have grown tired of the profligate spending by the state and aren't willing or able to give another penny to the state to fund something that does nothing more than take ever increasing amounts of their hard earned money from them. The Democrats and their union masters..err..sponsors...ehh...contributors don't see it that way and figure they can safely ignore the will of the people as they have for decades.

They're wrong.
There's an entry at my favorite blog from a long-time correspondent, one I know is honorable, about an un-named hamlet in New Hampshire where a Skip Murphy-type is serving on a town budget committee and is criminally harassed in appalling ways for fighting against the local public sector unions raping taxpayers.

I wonder where this allegedly occurred. My curiosity is piqued; this would make good newspaper fodder at the Union Leader.

Budget Battles Expanding

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The budget battles have started ay both the state and federal level. In Washington, Congress is dealing with the soon-to-expire continuing resolution that has funded government operations up till now. The GOP representatives are trying to trim $100 billion from budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, and moving to trim the bloated budget proposed by President Obama for the coming fiscal year.

Here in New Hampshire the governor put forth a budget that will bring spending down to pre-2008 levels in FY2012, trims the state workforce by 1100 jobs (10%), though only 255 jobs actual will be lost (the balance are jobs unfilled due to a hiring freeze), lowers the amount of state aid to towns and cities, pushes back the retirement age for state employees, and delays funding for hospital expansions. The new proposed two-year budget is $800 million lower than the present biennial budget, which helps fill the $800 million deficit created by the formerly Democrat majority legislature over the past 4 years.

To read some of the comments about the slimmer budget, you'd think the governor and the legislature is proposing stealing bread from the mouths of the poor at the behest of the rich. Some are proposing a state income tax or sales tax to fill the budget gap despite plenty of history showing the tax monies raised would only be wasted and, in the end, leave the state even more vulnerable to economic downturns. (All one needs to do is look at the states with such taxes to see what an unmitigated financial disaster was created by dependence on those taxes.) Far too many of the economic ignoramuses seem to thing we have a revenue problem when the truth is we've had a spending problem. As one commenter put it, "This is less than a 10% reduction in state spending. I know families that have reduced their spending by 10%, and some by as much as 40%." If we can do it, so can the state.

Other states, like Wisconsin and Ohio are seeing pushback by their state employees despite the fact that both states are facing huge budget deficits and raising taxes any further would cause far more economic harm.

In Wisconsin, state employees protested at the state capitol building, decrying Governor Scott Walker's push to limit the public employees unions' grip on state payrolls in an effort to deal with an $8.3 billion budget shortfall. Listening to some of the protesters you'd think they believe they have the right to a job for life and that the state's taxpayers had better come up with the cash to pay their salaries and benefits, or else. They complain about measures the state has taken that private businesses have had to take in the recent past in order to survive, like increasing the the amount employees pay towards their health insurance. What makes them think they are somehow immune from the effects of a bad economy and state cash flow problems? As if that isn't bad enough, Wisconsin State Senate Democrats have fled the state and hidden themselves in Illinois in order to prevent any further legislative action from being taken on the matter.

Similar scenes are taking place in Ohio as well, where the state faces a similar $8 billion budget shortfall.

The question is, when will the state legislatures and employees start listening to the taxpayers, who have said "Enough! We can't afford any more!" The answer? Not any time soon.
Cuts, my arse. Don't listen to the media--they lie or are stupid/lazy.

Dan Mitchell, a policy wonk who has long been at the Heritage Foundation and has in recent years migrated to the libertarian Cato Institute, does a splendid job showing that the "cuts" are more in name than substance.

Just look at the massive increase in spending a multiple gubmit programs!

His excellent blog is worth several looksees a week.
Has the next in a series of death blows been visited upon ObamaCare? If the recent decision by Federal Judge Roger Vinson striking down ObamaCare is any indicator, then the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

As Judge Vinson took pains to emphasize, the case is not really about health care at all, or the wisdom--we would argue the destructiveness--of the newest entitlement. Rather, the Florida case goes to the core of the architecture of the American system, and whether there are any remaining limits on federal control. Judge Vinson's 78-page ruling in favor of 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business, among others, is by far the best legal vindication to date of Constitutional principles that form the outer boundaries of federal power.

ObamaCare mandated every citizen must buy health insurance in order to remain a citizen on good standing, in effect forcing people into an economic activity - buying a service from a provider whether they want to or not - and justifying it under the Commerce Clause. The judge wasn't buying it, nor the governments claim that even inactivity is really economic activity, particularly in light of the fact that citizens can't buy health insurance across state lines, therefore the activity isn't considered interstate commerce. (In case you aren't aware, the Commerce Clause in the constitution deals with regulating interstate commerce as a means of preventing one state from putting up barriers to trade with other states.) The government really tried to stretch the meaning of the Commerce Clause into areas it was never meant to cover.

Ironically, congressional Democrats of the 111th Congress may have laid the foundations of the law's own destruction.

Judge Vinson also went beyond the Virginia case in striking down the entire ObamaCare statute--paradoxically, an act of judicial modesty. Democrats intentionally left out a "severability" clause if one part of the bill was struck down, and the Administration repeatedly argued that the individual mandate was "essential" to the bill's goals and mechanisms and compared it to "a finely crafted watch." Judge Vinson writes that picking and choosing among thousands of sections would be "tantamount to rewriting a statute in an attempt to salvage it."

As such, severability allows for one portion of a statute in question to be struck down as unconstitutional without affecting the rest of it. Without it, if one portion is struck down, the entire statute is struck down. Should Judge Vinson's decision survive appeal, and if required, Supreme Court review, ObamaCare will be dead.

So much for Nancy Pelosi's dismissal of ObamaCare's constitutionality.

Vinson went deeper, also addressing the backdoor use of the Necessary and Proper Clause to justify the government's actions.

Judge Vinson flatly rejected the administration's attempt to escape the restrictions of the Commerce Clause by appealing to the Necessary and Proper Clause. His decision acknowledges that, while reforming an insurance market is a regulation of commerce, Congress cannot artificially create its own "free rider" crisis in the insurance market and then use that crisis to justify an otherwise unconstitutional mandate as "necessary and proper" to save the market from collapse.

So, in effect what the government was trying to do was create a health care crisis, and then use that crisis to implement control over the health care system. It sounds almost like the old Mob "protection" racket: "Gee, that's a nice health care system you've got there. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to it...." It's almost like something out of The Untouchables. (Hey, didn't that take place in Chicago? And isn't Obama a creation of the Chicago political machine? I'm just sayin'....)

The decision has affected at least one state not part of the suit.

Here in New Hampshire, Republican House leaders have called on the Executive Council to reject a proposed $610,675 consulting contract that would lay the groundwork for implementing the provisions of ObamaCare.

...Gov. John Lynch (sic) press secretary Colin Manning said the council may not get the chance to take up the contract at their meeting -- it could be pulled from the agenda by Lynch or withdrawn from consideration by Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny.

"My understanding is that it will not come up for a vote," Manning said late Tuesday.

If the council does vote to reject the contract, Lynch cannot override the vote.

While the previously Democrat majority legislature and Executive Council would have likely gone along with this effort, the present legislature - a heavy GOP super-majority in both the House and Senate - and the all Republican Executive Council, are likely to block any action or funding for such an effort, particularly in light of Judge Vinson's decision. With a return to fiscal sanity in Concord, it is highly unlikely the legislature or the council will go along with something that will eventually lead to millions being added to the budget deficit already facing the state.

It seems ObamaCare is on the path to a well deserved death.

UPDATE: David Harsanyi delves into the claims by the White House that Judge Vinson's decision was nothing more than judicial activism.

Writes Harsanyi:

Co-opting conservative terms like "judicial activism" is a cute way of trying to turn the tables on those who have some reverence for the original intent of the Founders.

--snip--

Vinson may be overruled, but his decision is cogent and persuasive and doesn't seek out excuses for abuse. His ruling asks for the kind of government restraint that judges rarely have the appetite to call for, even though, need I remind you, "judicial activism" in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Apparently judicial activism is only proper when a decision expands the power of progressives working to weaken individual rights in favor of more control by the state, ignoring the Constitution or creating new rights out of thin air.

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