Debt, Jobs and Criticism—Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 19th, 2013

History 101

The Democrats used the Power of the Purse to oppose the Reagan Agenda wherever they Could

The left hated President Reagan.  They called him just a “B” movie actor.  With many references to Bedtime for Bonzo.   With the implication that Reagan was a chimpanzee.  He was called stupid.  Senile.  And they said he hated the poor.  The usual stuff when it comes to Democrats calling the opposition names.  But as about as demeaning as it gets.  For the Democrats hated Ronald Reagan with a passion.  They may have hated him even more than George W. Bush.  Another president they called stupid.  Even making similar chimpanzee references.

They fought Reagan tooth and nail.  The Democrats held the House and they used the power of the purse to oppose the Reagan agenda wherever they could.  So Reagan had to compromise on some things.  Especially tax hikes.  But for the most part he kept his word to the American people.  And maintained high approval ratings.  Making it harder for the Democrats to block all of the Reagan agenda.  Which just made the left hate him more.

It’s funny the short memories Democrats have.  For any criticism of President Obama is met with charges of racism.  And because of that few criticize him.  Because no one wants to be called a racist.  Giving President Obama a free pass for most if his presidency.  Something neither George W. Bush nor Ronald Reagan ever enjoyed.  Yet the left says the right says the most vile things about President Obama.  Unprecedented things.  Like calling him a liar when he lied during the State of the Union Address.  Which must be different from saying ‘Bush lied people died’ over and over again.

President Obama is on Pace to add more Debt than Ronald Reagan

Among the terrible things the left said Ronald Reagan was doing was running up the debt to unsustainable levels.  And he did run up the debt.  About 99.4% during his 8 years.  Or about 12.4% a year.  Much of that spending, though, was to reverse the damage Jimmy Carter did to national defense.  He had gutted defense spending so much (cancelling bombers and missile programs) that the Soviet Union thought for the first time that they could win a nuclear war against the United States.  At least with Jimmy Carter as president.  They actually started drafting nuclear first-strike plans to replace the deterrence of mutually assured destruction (MAD).  Anyway, that spending led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Allowing the U.S. to win the Cold War.  Giving Bill Clinton a huge peace dividend during his presidency.

Bill Clinton wanted to nationalize health care.  And it didn’t go over well.  His big spending liberal agenda got neutered at the midterm elections.  As he angered the people so much the Republicans won both the House and Senate.  Forcing Clinton to the center.  Dropping any thoughts of national health care.  With Republicans even forcing welfare reform on him.  The Republican Revolution kept spending down.  And the debt only grew 13.6% during Clinton’s 8 years.  Or about 1.7% a year.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks George W. Bush ramped up military spending.  For national security.  And two wars.  He also ramped up domestic spending.  Giving us Medicare Part D.  A program to subsidize the prescription drugs for Medicare recipients.  In the 8 years of the Bush presidency he added about 41.4% to the national debt.  About 5.2% a year.  Which sounded like a lot until President Obama came along.  A near trillion dollar stimulus bill that stimulated little.  Investments into failed solar power companies and electric car companies.  Automotive (i.e., union pension fund) bailouts.  In his 5 years in office Obama has raised the debt by 53.8%.  Or 10.8% each of his 5 years.  A little more than twice the rate of George W. Bush.  At this pace he will even add more debt than Ronald Reagan.  Adding up to 18.3% per year (over 8 years) if no one stops his spending.

Under President Obama the Gap between Black and White Unemployment grew Greater

President Obama said those ‘wise’ investments and higher taxes on those who could afford to pay a little more would generate economic activity.  His income redistribution would balance the playing field.  And raise the poor out of poverty.  While people everywhere celebrated the first black president.  For it would bring the races together.  This is why some on the right joked that President Obama was the messiah.  Because he was going to do all of that.  As well as make the ocean levels fall.  Black America especially loved the nation’s first black president.  As 95% of the black vote went to Obama in 2008.  Though the enthusiasm waned a bit in 2012.  As only 93% of the black vote went to Obama.  And how has black American done under the Obama economic policies.  Well, not as good as they did under the Bush economic policies (see archived data from Table A-2. Employment status of the civilian population by race, sex, and age in the Employment Situation Archived News Releases by the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Unemplyment Rates by Race Age Sex 2003-2013 R2

The Great Recession officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009.  Which corresponds to the transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama.  People often call the Great Recession the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Of course they say that primarily because the current economic recovery is the worst since that following the Great Depression.  And the reason for that is President Obama’s economic policies.

Unemployment was lower for everyone under Bush.  On average the unemployment rate for white/black men, women and 16-19 year olds under Bush was 4.2%/9.3%, 4.0%/8.2% and 14.7%/31.1%, respectively.  Under President Obama these numbers jumped to 7.8%/15.7%, 6.7%/12.2% and 21.8%/40.3%.  Which should give black America cause for concern.  For under President Obama the gap between black and white unemployment grew greater.  The gap between black and white men went from 5.1 to 7.9.  An increase of 55.6%.  The gap between black and white women went from 4.2 to 5.5.  An increase of 32.9%.  And the gap between black and white 16 to 19 year olds went from 16.5 to 18.5.  An increase of 12.7%.  So whatever President Obama is doing it isn’t helping America find work.  Especially black America.

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Funding Gaps and Government Shutdowns

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 15th, 2013

History 101

The Constitution prevented the Executive from Ruling Arbitrarily and becoming Judge, Jury and Executioner

There have been funding gaps.  And there have been government shutdowns.  But not always both.  For once upon a time the executive branch stayed open for business even when the House of Representatives did not approve their bills for payment.  But that all changed in 1980 thanks to Jimmy Carter’s attorney general.  Benjamin Civiletti.

Civiletti wrote two opinions as attorney general changing the way government spends money.  The first said the executive can’t spend any money without the House of Representatives’ approval.  A strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.  His second opinion softened the first.  Giving the executive power to spend money the House of Representatives doesn’t approve of when necessary to protect life and property.  Such as funding the military.  And so grew the delineation between essential and nonessential spending.  Or what some would say essential spending and pork.

The Founding Fathers saw the damage absolute monarchies could do.  Even a constitutional monarchy with too much power.  So they separated powers.  They created three branches of government.  The executive, the legislative and the judiciary.  One branch to write the law (the legislature).  One branch to enforce the law (the executive).  And one branch to interpret questions in the law (the judiciary).  Thus preventing the executive from ruling arbitrarily and becoming judge, jury and executioner.  Like a king.

The Founding Fathers gave the Power of the Purse to the House to rein in Executive Spending

The Founding Fathers took the separation of powers further.  The House of Representatives was the people’s house.  Where the people voted in their representatives by popular vote.  But to keep a check on federal power the Senate was the states’ house (since changed by constitutional amendment, thus greatly increasing the power of the federal government over the states).  Each state in the union had an equal voice.  Thus requiring not only a majority of the people it also required a majority of the states to pass federal law.  To keep the larger urban populations from dictating policy to the lesser populated rural areas.

The Founding Fathers took the separation of powers even further.  Giving the power of the purse to the House of Representatives.  So the executive couldn’t wage costly wars.  Or expand bloated bureaucracies to reward campaign donors with patronage.  Or expand a welfare state to buy votes.  Especially since Alexander Hamilton opened Pandora’s Box with his interpretation of the necessary and proper clause.  Which expanded the scope of the federal government to include whatever it thought was necessary and proper.  Giving rise to the progressive/liberal state.  Something that would have horrified Alexander Hamilton if he were alive today to see the behemoth the federal government became.  And had he known then what would become of the federal government today he would have been a Jeffersonian.  Jefferson and Hamilton would probably still have hated each other but they would have agreed on keeping limited government limited.

Civiletti understood that the Founding Fathers meant to rein in the spending powers of the executive branch.  To meet the intent of the separation of powers they felt was essential for representative government.  A government of the people, by the people and for the people.  As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently said in the Gettysburg Address some 76 years later.  Hence his first opinion.  Which he softened with his second when it hurt his boss and the Democrat cause.  For Civiletti was a Democrat.

The Democrats want to Break the Republican Opposition and Govern Against the Intent of the Founding Fathers

Before Civiletti’s opinions there was little urgency to settle funding gaps between what the executive branch wanted and what the House would approve.  So at the end of a fiscal year the executive often continued to operate without spending authority.  Letting the durations of these funding gaps last for a week or more.  With no interruption of government services.  But after Civiletti’s opinions the government shut down nonessential services.  Which did speed up the closing of the funding gap.  For when the funding gap included a government shutdown resolving the funding gap went from a week or more to a few days.

Funding Gaps and Government Shutdowns

To date there have been 18 funding gaps that went unresolved into the new fiscal year.  One of which is still ongoing.  In the table you can see how much quicker the House and the executive branch resolved their differences with the threat of a government shutdown.  The exception to that being the longest shutdown during the Clinton administration.  Which ultimately led the way to welfare reform.  Which greatly dampened President Clinton’s costly liberal agenda.  And was the law of the land until President Obama used sweeping powers he does not have to roll back some of that legislation.

President Obama and the Democrats have called the House Republicans about every derogatory name in the book for dare trying to enforce the Founding Fathers’ separation of powers.  Saying that never before has a radical fringe held a gun to the head of the executive, took hostages, demanded ransom, etc.  But that’s not true.  Of the 18 funding gaps where the House of Representatives did not give the president all the money he wanted that president was a Republican 55.6% of the time.  So Republican presidents got their way fewer times than Democrat presidents.  And as far as hostage takers, the Democrats held the power of the purse 15 of those 18 funding gaps/shutdowns.  Or 83.3%.  So the president and the Democrats aren’t telling the truth when it comes to the historical record.  Who seem to be more interested in swinging public opinion to their side.  So they can break the Republican opposition.  And govern against the intent of the Founding Fathers.

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LESSONS LEARNED #17: “The raison d’être of federalism is to keep big government small.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 10th, 2010

ALEXANDER HAMILTON WAS a real bastard.  John Adams hated him.  Thomas Jefferson, too.  George Washington looked at him like a son.  Aaron Burr killed him.  Politics.  It can get ugly.

Hamilton’s father was having an affair with a married woman in a loveless marriage.  Fathered two children with her.  First James.  Then Alexander.  Both born on the British island of Nevis in the Caribbean.  His father then moved the family to the Danish island of St. Croix.  Shortly thereafter, Hamilton’s father abandoned his family.  Alexander was 10ish (there is some disagreement about his year of birth). 

At age 11ish, Alexander became a clerk at Cruger and Beekmen, an import-export firm.  There he learned about business and commerce.  People noticed his talent and ability.  Soon, they collected some money and sent him off to the American colonies for a college education.  Hamilton’s fondest memory of his childhood home was seeing St. Croix disappear into the horizon from the ship that delivered him to America.

Hamilton’s father did have some nobility in his lineage but he squandered it before it could do Alexander any good.  He was an illegitimate child (a real bastard).  His father abandoned him.  His mother died while he was young.  He had little but ability.  But that was enough to take him from St. Croix to the founding of a new nation.

Hamilton served in the Continental Army.  He served as General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Hamilton was in the know as much as Washington.  His understanding of business, commerce and money made him acutely aware of the financial disarray of the Army.  And of the Continental Congress.  What he saw was a mess.

The Continental Congress was a weak central government.  It could not draft soldiers.  It could not impose taxes to pay her soldiers.  It could only ask the states for money to support the cause.  Contributions were few.  The congress tried printing money but the ensuing inflation just made things worse.  The Army would take supplies for subsistence and issue IOUs to the people they took them from.  The Congress would beg and borrow.  Most of her arms and hard currency came from France.  But they ran up a debt in the process with little prospect of repaying it.  Which made that begging and borrowing more difficult with each time they had to beg and borrow.

The army held together.  But it suffered.  Big time.  Washington would not forget that experience.  Or Hamilton.  Or the others who served.  For there was a unity in the Army.  Unlike there was in the confederation that supported the Army.

WARS ARE COSTLY.  And France fought a lot of them.  Especially with Great Britain.  She was helping the Americans in part to inflict some pain on her old nemesis.  And in the process perhaps regain some of what she lost to Great Britain in the New World.  You see, the British had just recently defeated the French in the French and Indian War (aka, the 7 Years War).  And she wanted her former possessions back.  But France was bleeding.  Strapped for cash, after Yorktown, she told the Americans not to expect any more French loans.

Wars are costly.  The fighting may have been over, but the debt remained.  The interest on the debt alone was crushing.  With the loss of a major creditor, America had to look elsewhere for money.  The Continental Congress’ Superintendent of Finance, the guy who had to find a way to pay these costs, Robert Morris, said they had to tax the Americans until it hurt they were so far in debt.  He put together a package of poll taxes, land taxes, an excise tax and tariffs.  The congress didn’t receive it very well.  Representation or not, Americans do not like taxes.  Of the proposed taxes, the congress only put the tariffs on imports before the states.

Rhode Island had a seaport.  Connecticut didn’t.  Rhode Island was charging tariffs on imports that passed through her state to other states.  Like to Connecticut.  Because they generated sufficient revenue from these tariffs, their farmers didn’t have to pay any taxes.  In other words, they could live tax free.  Because of circumstance, people in Rhode Island didn’t have to pay taxes.  Connecticut could pay their taxes for them.  Because of the Rhodes Island impost.  And the Robert Morris’ impost would take away that golden goose.

As the congress had no taxing authority, it would take a unanimous vote to implement the impost.  Twelve voted ‘yes’.  Rhode Island said ‘no’.  There would be no national tax.  ‘Liberty’ won.  And the nation teetered on the brink of financial ruin. 

DEFALTION FOLLOWED INFLATION.  When the British left, they took their trade and specie with them.  What trade remained lost the protection of the Royal Navy.  When money was cheap people borrowed.  With the money supply contracted, it was very difficult to repay that debt.  The Americans fell into a depression.  Farmers were in risk of losing the farm.  And debtors saw the moneymen as evil for expecting to get their money back.  The people demanded that their state governments do something.  And they did.

When the debtors became the majority in the state legislatures, they passed laws to unburden themselves from their obligations.  They passed moratoriums on the collection of debt (stay laws).  They allowed debtors to pay their debts in commodities in lieu of money (tender acts).  And they printed money.  The depression hit Rhode Island hard.  The debtors declared war on the creditors.  And threw property laws out the window.  Mob rule was in.  True democracy.  Rhode Island forced the creditors to accept depreciated paper money at face value.  Creditors, given no choice, had to accept pennies on the dollars owed.  No drawbacks to that, right?  Of course, you better pray you never, ever, need to borrow money again.  Funny thing about lenders.  If you don’t pay them back, they do stop lending.  The evil bastards.

Aristotle said history was cyclical.  It went from democracy to anarchy to tyranny.  Hamilton and James Madison, future enemies, agreed on this point.  A democracy is the death knell of liberty.  It is a sure road to the tyranny of the majority.  If you don’t honor written contracts, there can be no property rights.  Without property rights, no one is safe from arbitrary force.   Civilization degenerates to nature’s law where only the fittest and most powerful survive.  (In the social utopias of the Soviet Union and Communist China, where there were no property rights, the people’s government murdered millions of their people).

WINNING A WAR did not make a nation.  Before and after the Revolution, people thought in provincial terms.  Not as Americans.  Thomas Jefferson hated to be away from his country, Virginia.  Unless you served in the Continental Army, this is how you probably thought.  Once the common enemy was defeated, the states pursued their own interests.  (Technically speaking, they never stopped pursuing their own interests, even during the War).

In addition to all the other problems a weak Continental Congress was trying to resolve, states were fighting each other for land.  A localized war broke out between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over the Wyoming region in north east Pennsylvania.  And a region of New York was demanding their independence from that state.  Hamilton helped negotiate a peaceful solution and the confederacy admitted the new state, Vermont.

There were problems with the confederation.  And people were getting so giddy on liberty that that they were forgetting the fundamental that made it all possible.  Property rights.  States were moving closer to mob rule with no check on majority power.  And the smallest minorities held the legislation of the Confederate Congress (the Continental Congress renamed) hostage.  Land claims were pitting state against state with the Congress unable to do anything.  Meanwhile, her finances remained in shambles.  She had no credit in Europe.  And creditors wanted their money back. 

They were choosing sides.  And you can probably guess the sides.  Hamilton had no state allegiances, understood finance and capital, saw how an impotent congress was unable to support the Army during war, saw provincial interests hinder national progress and threaten civil war.  George Washington, Virginia’s greatest son, had long looked to the west and saw America’s future there.  Not Virginia’s future.  His war experience only confirmed what he believed.  America had a great future.  If they could only set aside their provincialism and sectional interests.  James Madison saw the tyranny of the majority in the Virginian State House first hand.  He liked partisanship.  He liked competing ideals debated.  He did not want to see a majority stampede their vision into law.

These were the nationalists.  Madison wanted a strong federal government to check the tyranny of the states.  Hamilton wanted to do away with the states altogether.  Washington wanted what was best for these several united states as a whole after so many labored for so long during the Revolutionary War.  Ultimately, he wanted to capitalize the ‘u’ and the’s’ in united states and make it a singular entity.

On the other side were many of the old 1776 patriots.  Many of who did not have any army experience.  Such as Thomas Jefferson.  In them, the Spirit of ’76 was alive and well.  The Revolutionary War was to free the states from the yoke of British oppression.  They remained provincials.  They did not spend up to 8 years in an army made up of soldiers from different states.  They had no sense of this nationalism.  They saw everything through the eyes of their state.  And a strong central government was just another yoke of oppression in their eyes.

THE ANSWER TO all of their concerns was federalism.  Shared sovereignty.  The states would give up a little.  And the new central government would take up a little.  The drafters of the Constitution set up a 3-branch government.  It included a bicameral legislature.  Membership in the House of Representatives would be proportional to a state’s population.  They would have power of the purse.  Including the authority to levy taxes.  In the Senate, each state would get 2 senators.  They would be chosen by the states’ legislatures (a constitutional amendment changed this to a popular vote).  This was to keep the spending of the House in check.  To prevent mob-rule.  And to check national power.  Each chamber would have to approve legislation for it to become law.  But each chamber did not need to have unanimous approval. 

That was in the legislature.  In the executive branch, the president would be head of state and execute the laws written by the legislature.  He would also conduct a uniform foreign policy.  The president could veto legislation to check the power of the legislature.  And the legislature could override the president’s veto to check the power of the president.  Where the law was in dispute, the judiciary would interpret the law and resolve the dispute.

At first glance, the people didn’t love the U.S. Constitution.  Those at the convention didn’t either, but they thought it was the best they could do.  To help the ratification process, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of essays, subsequently published as the Federalist Papers making the case for ratification.  Those opposed wanted a Bill of Rights added.  Madison did not think one was necessary.  He feared listing rights would protect those rights only.  If they forgot to list a right, then government could say that it wasn’t a right.  He acquiesced, though, when it was the price to get the Virginian Baptists on board which would bring Virginia on board. 

Madison promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification.  So the states ratified it.  And he did.  The final document fell between what the nationalists wanted and what the ‘states’ government’ people wanted. 

OVER THE FOLLOWING years, each side would interpret the document differently.  When Hamilton interpreted broadly to create a national bank, to assume the states’ debts and to fund the debt, the other side went ballistic.  Madison, the father of the Constitution, would join Jefferson in opposition.  For they believed the point of the constitution was to keep big government small.  Hamilton was interpreting the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the Constitution to make government big.  Nasty, partisan politics ensued.  And continue to this day.

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