Later today, Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., will join Heartland Institute CEO Joe Bast and the heads of several other major organizations—National Wildlife Federation, American Rivers and Taxpayers for Common Sense—to discuss the need to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. Vitter and Tester have put together a letter with 41 signatures from their Senate colleagues asking for quick consideration of the bill. Among the current signatories:
Republicans: David Vitter, Louisiana; Mike Crapo, Idaho; Scott Brown, Massachusetts; Johnny Isakson, Georgia; Mike Johanns, Nebraska; John Boozman, Arkansas; Bob Corker, Tennessee; Saxby Chambliss, Georgia; Pat Roberts, Kansas; Susan Collins, Maine; Daniel Coats, Indiana; Jerry Moran, Kansas; Lamar Alexander, Tennessee; Olympia Snowe, Maine; James Inhofe, Oklahoma; Richard Burr, North Carolina.
Democrats: Jon Tester, Montana; Ben Nelson, Nebraska; Kay Hagan, North Carolina; Daniel Akaka, Hawaii; Michael Bennet, Colorado; Thomas Carper, Delaware; Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota; Jeff Merkley, Oregon; Mark Warner, Virginia; Herb Kohl, Wisconsin; Joe Lieberman, Connecticut; Bob Menendez, New Jersey; Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut; John Kerry, Massachusetts; Daniel Inouye, Hawaii; Jack Reed, Rhode Island; Bernie Sanders, Vermont; Claire McCaskill, Missouri; Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire; Patrick Leahy, Vermont; Sherrod Brown, Ohio; Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island; Al Franken, Minnesota; Mark Begich, Alaska; Christopher Coons, Delaware.
This is a lot, particularly on a bill that some people oppose. A letter I saw last week about President Obama’s recess appointments had only 33 signatures. Much as I care about flood insurance, I’m perfectly willing to admit that recess appointments are a more important issue.
Anyway, here’s the key passage from the Vitter-Tester Letter:
As you know, the House of Representatives passed its version of a long-term reauthorization on July 12, by an overwhelming vote of 406-22. The Senate Banking Committee has reported a committee print with overwhelming bipartisan support which is currently awaiting floor action. This bill makes essential changes to the program in an attempt to protect taxpayers and restore its solvency. We sincerely believe that, with a concerted effort on the part of Senate and Banking Committee leadership, as well as interested Senators, the bill can be brought to the floor of the Senate, debated and passed as soon as possible in order to ensure this process is completed before the NFIP expires at the end of May.
Enough said. It’s a fair bill (not a perfect one) and deserves speedy passage by the Senate as well as a quick signature by the president once it lands on his desk.
This past week, I met with Heartland’s coalition partners Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Public Citizen to discuss the Green Scissors’ agenda for 2012. We’ll be doing a new report looking at the ways that much government spending harms the environment.
No group, as best as I know, will get everything it wants from the report and that’s just as well. But I think it’s important to answer some concerns that have been raised about the report. More than a few conservatives, including colleagues I like and respect have compared the report to “unilateral disarmament”—to agreeing with left-of-center groups to cut subsides for “our team” (fossil fuels and nuclear power) while accepting lesser cuts in subsidies for things (alternative energy) favored by liberal groups.
The report has also been attacked for calling for higher taxes. Neither of these things are right as a factual matter, because the total cuts to alternatives are actually greater than the cuts to fossil power and the report never calls for a net increase in taxes. But these issues are still worth answering preemptively.
- People concerned about smaller government can’t protect sacred cows if they’re serious about shrinking government: It’s pointless to defend “our” bad programs while insisting that someone else’s be gored. Getting spending under control will probably require cutting some worthwhile programs. It’s best to start with programs that aren’t worthwhile even if they happen to benefit your friends. And, in my judgment, all energy subsidies of any kind fit that bill.
- Narrow tax provisions and broad ones really are different. It’s perfectly just for a low-tax conservative to insist that any change in a tax provision that impacts a significant number of people be counted as a tax increase if it brings in more revenue. Conservatives should insist that efforts to impose broad new energy taxes, eliminate the mortgage interest tax break, or tax health care benefits be canceled out by tax cuts elsewhere (I favor the last two things myself). But provisions that give tax breaks for certain water heater designs, encourage certain types of farming, and let oil companies take advantage of different tax rules than the rest of the world function a lot more like spending than taxes from an economic perspective. They’re also more prone to corruption and probably less likely to achieve their public purposes—provided those purposes are worthwhile—than spending the same amount of money. Thus, narrow tax changes are not tax increases. The difference between broad and narrow tax changes, I should admit, is a matter of art rather than science. But there’s a simple solution: nothing in Green Scissors suggests that broad-based tax cuts can’t “cancel out” any increases in spending.
- It’s worth giving the benefit of the doubt on environmental harm: The Green Scissors report includes cutbacks on nuclear power. On balance, I think that the environment would be better off if the United States had more nuclear power plants. But I’m still not convinced that nuclear subsidies are good for the environment: the burdensome regulatory and taxpayer-backed insurance that our current subsidies require result in reactor designs that are more likely to cause environmental problems than those that would emerge in a freer market.
In any case, people who want smaller government should rejoice when they find allies willing, ready, and able to shrink government.
Attending the Conservative Political Action Committee last week, I spoke on a panel on over-criminalization. It was a good panel. Here’s my favorite section from my own remarks:
Don’t be afraid of repealing bad laws. If it’s done carefully enough, nobody who commits a crime will get off…they will just be punished under different statutes. The best way to start may be to get rid of laws more than ten years old under which nobody has ever been convicted and which outlaw things that are clearly punishable under other existing laws. They are simply invitation for prosecutors to run amuck.
Until next week.