Friday, September 14, 2007

Greenspan book criticizes Bush and Republicans #2

From the Wall Street Journal, courtesy of the Drudge Report.

Mr. Greenspan writes that when President Bush chose Dick Cheney as vice president and Paul O'Neill as treasury secretary -- both colleagues from the Gerald Ford administration, during which Mr. Greenspan was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers -- he "indulged in a bit of fantasy" that this would be the government that would have resulted if Mr. Ford hadn't lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But Mr. Greenspan discovered that in the Bush White House, the "political operation was far more dominant" than in Mr. Ford's. "Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he writes.

You can read the whole post here.

This is a case where Greenspan is exactly right - the fact the Republicans strayed from their limited government principles, created a situation where they deserved to lose.

I admit I hadn't really looked at the President Ford connection before, but perhaps Greenspan is right, I'd have to concede. If President Ford would have won in 1976, perhaps this is what the economic world might have looked like.

On the other hand, the entire course of the economy would have been different - perhaps we wouldn't have had the double-digit inflation of the Carter era, President Reagan might not have been elected in 1980 (perhaps Nelson Rockefeller or Bob Dole would have been elected in his place), taxes might have been continually high, the economy might have been more stagnant if Mr. Greenspan was not appointed to replace Paul Voelker as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Heck, a whole host of things could have/would have happened if President Ford won in 1976. However, he didn't and we are now dealing with what we have - still a growing economy bigger than anyone would have imagined in 1976, despite Congress and the President borrowing and spending more.

Let's hope the fiscally conservative Republicans can get their backbone again and get the spending back under control.

Greenspan book criticizes Bush and Republicans

Coming soon from the Wall Street Journal, courtesy of the Drudge Report.

AP - Deficit running behind 2006 levels #2

I took a look at the Treasury Direct website to see if the latest Interest figures were out. Sure enough, they were. For the current fiscal year, the U.S. Government paid $410,791,175,365.56 in interest payments on our National Debt.

If the deficit prediction comes true next month (September is the last month in the Government's fiscal year), then we are borrowing $158 billion and paying out $411 billion in interest payments, with the final fiscal year numbers due to report in about 3 weeks.

Methinks Congress is in great need of fiscal discipline and a dose of reality.

AP - Deficit running behind 2006 levels #1

The following appeared in the Sept. 14, 2oo7 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The federal deficit is running shaprly lower than last year even though spending in August set an all-time high, the government reported Thursday. The Treasury Department said that the deficit through the first 11 months of this budget year totaled $274.4 billion, down 9.8 percent from the same period a year ago. Analysts believe the deficit for all of 2007 will be even lower because they are forecasting a sizable surplus in the final month, reflecting in part timing issues related to Social Security and Medicare payments. The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that when this budget year wraps up Sept. 30, the deficit will total $158 billion, which was down by 36.2 percent from last year's $248.2 billion.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Not ANOTHER Trust Fund? #3

After reading and rereading Congressman Oberstar's rant, I am still unconvinced that we need neither a 5-cent per gallon gas tax increase nor a Bridge Trust Fund.

The Congressman is right, insofar as the fact we are paying 18.4 cents per gallon fuel tax currently. He is wrong in his insinuation that transit and bike paths should come out of that tax. most American's I talk to don't have a problem with paying their "fair share" of the gas tax. The problem they have is the wasteful spending in Congress that dedicates money that drivers are paying and putting it to thing that have no benefit for them.

If the Congressman wants a tax to pay for light rail transit or bicycle paths, that's fine. As long as the funds come from transit users or bicyclists.

I have spent countless hours on the New York City subway and the Washington, D.C. metro over the years and admire the way they handle their mass transit system. I've also paid my way through the fares that they charge. As a young Staff Sergeant stationed at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland in the late 1990s, I've also utilized the Maryland Area Rail Commuter (MARC), and admire the way they handle the needs of the consumer.

However, MARC, NYC and DC spent years analyzing population growth patterns and it fits their geographical area much better than the Twin Cities. The Hiawatha light rail line from the Mall of America to Downtown Minneapolis is quite convoluted. It doesn't pay for itself, despite claims of 'high ridership,' there are no controlled turnstyles to ensure that riders have actually paid to get on (I'd like to know what the yearly loss is from the 'transit theives' who don't pay for the service but utilize it anyway), and they still haven't straightened out the frequency for the lights on Hiawatha Avenue. I've driven Hiawatha many a day with few cars in front or behind me, only to have the lights turn red because a train is coming. As soon as that train passes, another one comes and trips the light a block later. An that isn't counting the time I tried to get onto Hiawatha after a storm knocked out the power to the switches. The lights were on, the gate arms were down and not a train in sight.

As for bike paths, why is it that the transit nuts were the same people who advocated taking the old rails from abandoned train lines and turned them into the bike paths. Couldn't they have been used for commuter rail and saved the taxpayers money?

If Oberstar wants funding for bike paths, let him tax the bicyclists. If he wants funding for mass transit, let him tax the end user. If he wants to rebuild bridges, then dedicate the current funding from the 18.4 cent/gallon gas tax to roads and bridges, since automobile users are the ones who use the roads and bridges anyway. We don't need a trust fund to handle this - we just need to make sure the current tax is used for the intended purposes and not siphoned away with more wasteful spending only to put another I.O.U. in it's place.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

August Monthly Statement of the Public Debt now available

The Monthly Statement of the Public Debt, published by the Bureau of the Public Debt for the U.S. Treasury Department is now available at the following site:

Gift Contributions to Reduce Debt Held by the Public for the month of July 2007 amounted to $15,846.10, with an aggregate total for Fiscal Year 2007 of $2,586,883.15.

Oberstar Responds: Star Tribune Commentary Sept. 8, 2007

This was published in the Sept. 8, 2007 issue of the Star Tribune. This is the entire commentary, no editing has been done.

James L. Oberstar: The truth about my position on bridges infrastructure

The things I support are in the public interest, and I've been at it a long time.

If you believe Katherine Kersten, I am single-handedly responsible for the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge. She paints a picture of me as a modern Slovenian-American Nero, cheerfully pedaling, rather than fiddling, in the face of disaster.

According to her Aug. 23 column, I paid little attention to bridges before Aug. 1. But I don't recall reading any Katherine Kersten columns about bridge safety before the collapse, either.
Here is the cold, hard truth: I was promoting bridge safety before bridge safety was cool, to paraphrase the country song. I have been calling for greater investment in our transportation infrastructure all my professional life.

Kersten insinuates that the bridge failed because I brought money into the state for other things, such as light-rail lines to relieve traffic congestion in the Twin Cities (not in my congressional district, by the way); bike and pedestrian trails (in the Twin Cities and in my district) to provide transportation and recreational opportunities and promote economic development, and highway reconstruction projects in my district to correct unsafe road conditions and save people's lives. How appalling!

The projects I championed all serve the public interest, and I stand by every one of them. They were included in a surface transportation bill designed to invest in a variety of modes, including nonmotorized transportation.

The metro area is the economic, political, media, population and, yes, transportation hub of Minnesota. Often, however, the sheer gravitational pull of this area keeps government services from adequately reaching other parts of the state.

Roughly half the population of Minnesota lives outside of the metro area, in places without the skyscrapers, stadiums and star power of Minneapolis-St. Paul. These hard-working, tax-paying, play-by-the-rules Minnesotans have every right to ask their elected officials, including their members of Congress, to help them get the services they need.

The projects I supported did not spring from my imagination. They were brought to me by state, county and municipal officials, chambers of commerce and individual citizens who made a valid case for each of them. I responded as an elected representative should.

This country is facing a huge deficit in transportation infrastructure. The 18.4-cent federal tax on a gallon of gasoline has stayed flat for 14 years. There are few things that cost the same or less today than they did 14 years ago, but we can't pave highways and build bridges with computers and cell phones. We need steel, stone and heavy equipment, which are much costlier today than in 1993.

In 2002, when we were drafting the surface transportation bill popularly known as SAFETEA-LU, my colleagues and I -- Democrats and Republicans -- proposed a 5-cent increase in the fuel tax to make up for the buying power lost to inflation. Our proposal met with stiff opposition from the White House. Instead we were forced to accept a bill that fell some $90 billion short of our needs, and our infrastructure deficit grows because of it.

A 5-cent increase would have cost the average driver less than a dollar a week. In the meantime, the price of gasoline has increased by more than a dollar a gallon. And none of that increase goes to a public purpose. It goes to OPEC.

After the I-35W collapse, I developed a National Highway System Bridge Initiative to address the problem of deteriorating bridge structures. This initiative has four components: raise the standards for bridge inspections and increase training and provide new technologies for bridge inspectors; create a trust fund to finance the repair, rehabilitation or replacement of deteriorating bridges; distribute funding on the basis of safety and need -- with no earmarks allowed, and create a dedicated revenue stream to keep that trust fund solvent.

I suggested a return to the 5-cent fuel tax increase because I believe it is the most fair and appropriate source for this revenue. But, while the tax increase is not a central component of the bridge initiative -- there are other sources to consider -- it is the part that has gotten the most attention from the media and drawn the most fire from critics. That's unfortunate.

My staff and I spent a good deal of time talking with Kersten as she prepared to write her column. Unfortunately, she chose not to let the facts get in the way of a good rant. Instead, she wove a political fairy tale, and decided to cast me as the ogre under the bridge.
All just to save a nickel.

James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., is chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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