Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Zero-Sum Earmarks - A new study finds that pork hurts at home

Zero-Sum Earmarks. WSJ Editorial
A new study finds that pork hurts at homeWSJ, May 27, 2010

For Members of Congress, becoming a committee chairman means more power to spend and thus help for the home district, right? That's certainly the common wisdom. But according to new research from Harvard Business School, the increased federal spending causes local companies to lose sales and cut back on research, payroll and other expenses.

The results surprised Harvard professors Lauren Cohen, Christopher Malloy and Joshua Coval, who expected to see politically connected firms prosper from federal largesse. Instead, the research, which covered 1967 to 2008, found that "strong and widespread evidence of corporate retrenchment" accompanied Congressional seniority. According to Mr. Coval, the research shows federal dollars "directly supplant private sector activity—they literally undertake projects the private sector was planning to do on its own."

The chairmanship of a powerful Senate committee such as Finance or Appropriations typically brings an increase of 40% to 50% in earmark spending for the home state. In the House, top dogs haul an average of 20% more to their states. Yet in the first year after a chairman's rise, the paper notes, the average firm in his state "cuts back capital expenditures by roughly 15%." The behavior typically continues until the Congressman steps down, and it is felt in particular by firms that have the strongest ties to the home state.

Part of the problem is that public money is "crowding out" investment opportunities for firms. "Some of our results point towards the role of competition for state specific factors of production, including labor and fixed assets such as real estates," the authors write. "Public spending appears to increase demand for state-specific factors of production and thereby compel firms to downsize and invest elsewhere." They add that "We also find evidence that the effects are most pronounced in sectors that are the target of earmark spending."

The same side effects may now be observed as the federal stimulus program also ripples through the broader economy: In the first quarter of 2010, USA Today reported, private paychecks made up the lowest share of personal income in history as government spending rose to its highest levels ever. That trend inevitably leads to higher taxes and further economic harm.

Democrats and Republicans have promised earmark reform for years, only to abandon the effort in favor of "bringing home the bacon" and incumbent protection. The Harvard study suggests the Congressmen are really bringing home less economic prosperity.

Obama's Russia Tribute - What he gave away in return for watered-down Iran sanctions

Obama's Russia Tribute. WSJ Editorial
What he gave away in return for watered-down Iran sanctions.WSJ, May 27, 2010

When the Obama Administration last week secured the Kremlin's support for U.N. sanctions on Iran, the White House touted a big dividend from its "reset" in relations with Russia. Now the price for Moscow's cooperation is becoming clearer, and the only ones who should be cheering are the Russians and Iranians.

Three days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the deal on a diluted Security Council resolution, she quietly met an explicit demand from Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Buried in last Friday's Federal Register, the State Department announced it was ending long-standing sanctions against four Russian entities that had helped Iran's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

The draft U.N. resolution also includes a loophole for Russia, which would be allowed to deliver the five S-300 surface-to-air missiles that Moscow agreed to sell Tehran in 2005. The S-300s can intercept missiles and aircraft but fall outside the U.N. resolution's ban on the sale of eight categories of conventional weapons to Iran. Mikhail Margelov, the head of the foreign affairs committee of Russia's upper house of parliament, crowed last Friday that sanctions "will not hit current contracts between Russia and Iran."

All of this came on top of the White House decision a week earlier to resubmit to Congress a civilian nuclear cooperation pact with Russia. This was another goodie for Moscow.

These so-called "123 agreements"—named after a section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954—open the door to technology transfers, commerce in nuclear materials and joint research between the U.S. and select countries. The Bush Administration negotiated the deal with the Kremlin but shelved it after the Russians invaded Georgia in August 2008.

President Obama said that "the situation in Georgia need no longer be considered an obstacle" and that "the level and scope of U.S.-Russia cooperation on Iran are sufficient to justify" the deal. Unlike a treaty, Congress doesn't ratify the pact but has 90 days to act or the deal automatically goes into force. Democrat Edward Markey and Republican Jeff Fortenberry last week introduced a resolution in the House to stop the deal.

It's an uphill but worthy effort. Russia continues illegally to occupy Georgian territory, but the larger problem is its proliferation. Both Republican and Democratic Administration have turned a blind eye to Russian misbehavior. When the Bush Administration submitted the agreement for review, the Government Accountability Office criticized the mandatory accompanying "proliferation statement" on Russia as shoddy and incomplete.

Starting in the 1990s, Moscow sold Iran nuclear centrifuges and missile technology. One company sanctioned until last week, the state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, was put on the list as recently as 2008, while the Moscow Aviation Institute helped Iran develop ballistic missiles.

Nonetheless, the Obama Administration now says "Russia's approach to Iran has evolved," in the words of State spokesman P.J. Crowley. Gary Samore, the White House arms control coordinator, insists that "the Russians understand that the consequences [of shipping the S-300s] would be very severe."

These assurances don't square with Russian statements or actions. The week that President Obama sent the nuclear cooperation pact to Congress, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in Damascus touting future nuclear business with Iran's close ally in terrorism. "Cooperation [with Syria] on atomic energy could get a second wind," he said.

In return for all this, the Administration gets weak sanctions similar to the three sets the Bush Administration won without paying such a high tribute. If this represents what the Administration calls "smart diplomacy," we'd hate to see what we give up when we're dumb.

Press Briefing

May 27, 2010

Federal Prez: The Promise of Clean Energy

The Ongoing Administration-Wide Response to the Deepwater BP Oil Spill: May 26, 2010

'Death panels' were an overblown claim – until now

Applying the Tools of 21st Century Statecraft to Public Engagement

Europe-Bank Lenders? Coalition of Unwilling
Few Step Up to Risk Their Money for Long; New SEC Rule Makes Money Funds Even Less Interested

US State Dept: Citizen Safety in the Western Hemisphere

The House has violated PAYGO rules by nearly $1 trillion

The Recovery Starts With Sound Money - The willingness to work for the sake of future prosperity is a universal human quality, but people must believe there is a link between effort and reward

Notable & Quotable - John Fund on Chris Christie's political toughness

Zero-Sum Earmarks - A new study finds that pork hurts at home

Congress Gets Mean - The Democratic tax bill's double whammy on carried interest firms

How Democrats’ Government Takeover of Health Care Will Lead Employers to Drop Coverage

Rising Rate of Media Misrepresentation
MSNBC's Nightly News last night  devoted a short segment to an "Extreme  Eating" list of high-calorie restaurant meals compiled by the  Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Remarks at the African Diplomatic Corp's Celebration of Africa Day. By Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs

U.K. Prosecutors Will Drop AIG Financial Unit Probe

Britain reveals extent of nuclear arsenal for first time

The Sun is Shining on Solar Subsidies in California Today

President Obama Talks Jobs in California

Obama's Russia Tribute - What he gave away in return for watered-down Iran sanctions

A New Age of Reform - The mood in the country suggests the U.S. may be at the start of an era of political and economic reform

The Ongoing Administration-Wide Response to the Deepwater BP Oil Spill: May 25, 2010

Yes, the Gulf Spill Is Obama's Katrina - Where was the White House plan, and why has it been so slow to make decisions?

ObamaCare vs. Small Business - Why the National Federation of Independent Business supports the constitutional challenge to the health-insurance mandate