As the U.S. Presidential Election Begins in Earnest, a Study in Contrasts

» With Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as presumptive Republican nominee for Vice President, the GOP is taking a clear stand on where it wants to take government. The effects on national transportation policy could be tremendous.

As chair of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan has assumed a prominent role in the national dialogue since the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives at the beginning of 2011. His position there has allowed him to define the party’s position on the federal budget, the social welfare state, and, yes, even transportation. We can only assume that Mitt Romney’s decision to share the platform with Mr. Ryan implies an endorsement of the latter’s views — especially in terms of policies where Mr. Romney has not been specific.

What is obvious is that Mr. Ryan has a dramatically different view of the role of government than President Obama; indeed, his perspective on that which Washington should be concerned is a deep expression of the conservative movement’s success in pushing the GOP to the right.

In matters of transportation, this attitude would steadily decrease the role of the federal government in sponsoring infrastructure projects, especially those that cannot be sponsored entirely through user fees. It would discourage the consideration of negative externalities, such as pollution and congestion, in deciding what subsidies should be provided for alternative transportation — because its political ideology opposes government subsidies altogether. It would dismantle enforcement of federal environmental regulations, especially those that recognise climate change, and encourage the privatization of public services such as transit systems or parking meters. These are the very tangible implications of a Romney-Ryan presidency.

Mr. Romney’s platform provides no indication of his views on transportation or other urban issues. Though as governor of Massachusetts between 2003 and 2007 he was a moderate on these issues, Mr. Romney has has made no attempt to discuss them at length during the campaign other than saying that Amtrak should be privatised.* Mr. Ryan’s past actions, therefore, speak loudly.

We can best examine Mr. Ryan’s views by reviewing his voting record and analysing the budgets he proposed in his leadership position in the House.

On transportation, Mr. Ryan voted against every piece of transportation legislation proposed by Democrats when they controlled the lower chamber between 2007 and early 2010, with the exception of a bill subsidizing the automobile industry to the tune of $14 billion in loans in December 2008. This record included a vote against moving $8 billion into the highway trust fund in July 2008 (the overall vote was 387 to 37), a bill that was necessary to keep transportation funding at existing levels of investment. Meanwhile, he voted for a failed amendment that would have significantly cut back funding for Amtrak and voted against a widely popular bill that would expand grants for public transportation projects. He did vote in favor of the most recent transportation bill extension.

Mr. Ryan’s views on the future of government in general are evident in the budgets that he has prepared as head of the Budget Committee for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, neither of which have been implemented as they conflict with proposals from President Obama and the Democratic Senate. These budgets, which are founded on the principle that the U.S. government must shrink considerably, would alter the American safety net massively through a dismantlement of Medicaid by handing it out as block grants to states and a privatization of Medicare. An analysis of the budget by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 62% of budget cuts would come from programs that benefit low-income Americans. All this while providing the wealthy a huge tax break.

The biggest cuts of all, however, would go to “discretionary” elements of the budget, including defense and programs like transportation, which Mr. Ryan wants to keep to 3.75% of the GDP, down from about 12.5% today.** The consequences would be dramatic. This is how Mr. Ryan’s fiscal year 2012 budget describes the Republicans’ goals for transportation:

“This budget anticipates that Congress can keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent without additional general fund transfers or increases in the gasoline tax by consolidating dozens of separate highway programs that GAO has identified as duplicative. This will help focus every dollar on pursuing a targeted and cohesive national transportation policy.”

Translation: All Department of Transportation programs that are not user-fee funded (like TIGER, high-speed rail, and perhaps even transit capital funding) would be eliminated. And ground transportation spending would be limited to revenues from fuel taxes, which he would not increase. Overall, DOT outlays would decline from $95 billion overall in 2011 to a low of $66 billion in 2016, rising to only $72 billion by 2020. As House Republicans showed with H.R. 7, their proposed transportation bill that would have eliminated the mass transit account of the highway trust fund and eliminated aid for bike and pedestrian projects, they are willing to sacrifice non-automobile transportation programs in favor of establishing a “targeted and cohesive” policy, which in this case appears to mean roads-only.

In contrast, President Obama’s proposed budget would expand transportation expenditures massively over the next six years, with a particular focus on intercity rail and public transportation. Under his budget, federal expenditures going to transit and rail would increase from 22.9% of transportation funding in 2013 to 35.7% in 2018; under Mr. Ryan’s program, they could decline to almost nothing, since transit cannot pay for itself using user fees, like it or not.

Reihan Salam argues that Mr. Ryan is simply charting the general path that the GOP wants to take — “toward smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom” — and that “there would of course be negotiation over the size of spending cuts and over revenue.” But in a time when the state of the nation’s built infrastructure is miserable, a negotiation over cuts is entirely the wrong discussion to be having, especially when state governments have not shown themselves willing to increase transportation spending; the argument we should be having is how much federal spending on transportation should expand.

Mr. Salam is convinced that Mr. Ryan “has always been careful to note that his support for entitlement reform flows from a deep commitment to preserving America’s social safety net,” but massive cuts to public transportation will not aid the poor and urban dwellers even if the hopeful vice president has a “deep commitment.” His budget would be a death blow to many millions of Americans who rely on transit to get around everyday because they have no other options — not to mention the many millions more who do, but choose to take transit and in such aid the nation in cutting congestion and pollution.

This campaign will be played out on issues that are far more important than federal transportation subsidies, of course. But we should be clear about what direction the United States may head after November’s election.

The Democrats have a choice: Accept Mr. Ryan’s commitment to undermining the role of government by agreeing that “things need to be reformed,” just with more moderation than Republicans would allow; or projecting a strongly held view of the importance of the role of government in American society. The fact is that significantly improved transit systems in the nation’s cities will require increasing federal investment, and that simply will not happen if Mr. Ryan gets his way.

Postscript: I’d simply like to quote Christian Wolmar’s nice commentary on the very successful London Olympics, as it feels relevant to this column:

“It is, though, worth stressing that these were the public sector games. They were bid for by the public sector, won by the public sector, organised by the public sector, paid for by the public sector – oh you get the picture. But there is more: the security ended up being rescued by the public sector and relied on public transport – organised and paid for by the public sector, even if at times provided by private companies… The whole event was a celebration of the way that people get together, form governments which then run things for the people, and shows that government is not something that necessarily we want less of, the favourite mantra of Romney and Ryan.”

* In part because the cities are largely the domain of the Democratic Party (other than in local races, the GOP does not make much of an effort to promote legislation that woud aid urban areas) and thus are rarely contested in national elections. Ironically, Mr. Romney’s father, George Romney (who was Governor of Michigan and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for President in 1968) was a persistant advocate for aid to the cities and was appointed by President Nixon to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he fought unsuccessfully for increasing housing aid for low- and moderate-income families before resigning in early 1973.

** Romney’s proposed budget, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, would shrink non-defense discretionary funding from 3.9% of GDP on average to between 1.1 and 1.6%, a massive reduction.

49 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • BrianTH

    The shift of the Republican Party from being in favor of urban development in the name of modernizing/industrializing to being anti-urban as part of their Culture War/Southern Strategy was a really terrible development for anyone who cares about rational policy-making in these areas.

    • Donk

      Does anyone have a good reference for the concept that Democrats support cities and Republicans support suburban and rural areas? This is pretty obvious, but I was trying to convince somebody of this and I had nothing to back it up.

      • Eric

        Democratic voters are primarily from cities and Republican voters from suburban/rural areas. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2004_US_elections_purple_counties.png – Most of the Democratic-leaning rural areas (deep South, Texas-Mexico border, New Mexico) are populated by Democratic leaning ethnic minorities. Other than that, the urban/rural divide is striking – pretty much every city is a bluish island.

        I suppose it is obvious that each party would support policies that benefit most of its voters.

        • Nathanael

          In fact Republican policies tend to suck for genuinely rural farm country voters. I think rural voters are still voting Republican mainly due to poor access to information (there’s very little high-speed Internet service in rural areas), and habit.

          But true rural areas are low-population.

          Republican policies *are* still often geared to benefit the short-term interests of suburban “car commuter” voters, a much larger population. Though even this is changing as the party goes completely insane.

  • GOP Economic policy may as well be called the Ryan-Romney Budget Proposal. Note that Ryan want to shrink all forms of infrastructure government in defiance of what the vast majority of economists say we need right now. Pure madness.

    • Nathanael

      Ryan’s also completely dishonest; as Paul Krugman has noted, his math doesn’t add up. Ryan’s proposals would massively increase the national debt, thanks to his plans for giant tax cuts for the superrich, but Ryan claims that he would cut the national debt: outright lie.

      Of course “Etch-a-Sketch Romney” appears to be a compulsive liar, too.

      I’m not very happy with Obama, but Romney and Ryan are both evil and crazy; they would not be on a major party platform if our country had a functional political system. Romney/Ryan is proof (if more was needed) that the Republican Party is no longer a genuine political party, but merely a gang of hooligans intent on destroying the country.

  • US DOT guy

    Madness would consist of borrowing money to invest in infrastructure that produces no economic return. We have 4 million miles of paved roads. Do we really need them all?

    • Andre L.

      Yes.

      Actually, an ideal network would be at lest 1/4 mile per household.

      • CalT

        Not true at all. The current road system we have is more than adequate. All future road funding should go to road maintenance only, with very minimal additions to the existing network. The real money really needs to be spent on transit, more bus service, BRT, light rail, subways, commuter rail, etc.

        • Andre L.

          Generalizing statements like yours don’t consider that, at the local level, there might or might not be need for additional road infrastructure. If you are building a new subdivision, even if it is a relatively dense one, you will need road infrastructure.

          Moreover, there are bottlenecks that should be addressed in some way or other, more likely new tolled infrastructure.

          Finally, we must remember US is a giant country in terms of land area, and there are still many areas where one must drive dozens of miles to get to the nearest paved route (and I’m not talking of some national park, but regular farm/grassland areas). When some new housing subdivisions are built there, you surely need some infrastructure!

          • Why do new subdivisions “need” to be built out in auto-dependent areas, if they cannot afford to build the roads they require as part of the cost of the development?

            • Andre L.

              I never say developers shouldn’t build the new local access roads for greenfield development sites. I’m just contending the assertion that “no new roads are needed”.

      • Mike K

        So assuming 100,000,000 households in the US, you’re saying we need 25 million miles of paved roads? Meaning we need to build another 21 million?!?

    • Dexter Wong

      You think some of it is useless, but try and pay for the section that connects you to the rest of the nation and see if you can afford it? Then we’ll see what is useless and what is useful.

  • Progressive Capitalist

    Obviously, deficit-spending for upper tax brackets or SOV users is perfectly acceptable. Even in times of fiscal austerity, the privileged classes among us should expect no personal sacrifice.

  • ThomasD

    If it walks like a duck, sounds like duck and looks like a duck, lets call it what it is … The Ryan-Romney Budget Plan is for Plutocrats. Heaven help everyone else.

  • OceanRailroader

    What worries me is a lot of these politicians are not open to events that could change things greatly they try in all their power to keep the business as usual which doesn’t take into account changes such as the oil running out or sea level rise. Such as in North Carolina they have a law saying that the word sea level rise is a potty mouth word that you as a city planner are not allowed to say.

    I really want someone who could at least have common sense such as they scream murder about cutting $30 to $50 billion dollars from Medicare but don’t think twice about giving say 20 billion in over seas aid to counties who we know hate our guts. Or go grow $700 billion dollars down the war toilet no questions asked. Another thing is a lot of these medical companies are like wolves and bottom feeders preying off the sick and weak of our county like animals.

  • I think there are two assumptions here that I don’t agree with:

    Assumption 1. Romney shares Ryan’s views. Every Republican president other than Reagan has balanced the ticket by picking someone more conservative (Bush II-Cheney, Dole-Kemp, Bush I-Quayle). Why should Romney be different? Moreover, this assumption seems to me to be especially unlikely as to minor issues that neither candidate has any reason to think about on a daily basis.
    Assumption 2. The President’s budget matters. Obama’s budgets have been dead on arrival over the past two years, and unless the Democrats take over the House this will continue to be the case.

    • ThomasD

      Although moderate Republicans after Reagan have picked VPs to the right of them, this Republican VP candidate is more Libertarian than others preceding him. Ryan’s Budget Plan also appears to undergird 90% of the budget plan Romney eventually dresses up and puts lipstick on. So here are my comments on what a Ryan Budget suggests for transportation and oil-based energy for transportation (70% of oil consumed in America is for Transportation).

      The Ryan Budget ignores the shift to higher population growth within major metro areas than rural areas. As this forum knows, Paul Ryan voted for the infamous House of Representatives Surface Transportation Proposal to eliminate Federal Transit and Amtrak/HSR funding — the proposal was DOA in the Senate. But Ryan’s point of emphasis remains — it ignores the need for a higher percentage of transit funding and upgrading intercity trains that reduce highway and airport congestion.

      The Ryan Budget ignores America’s D-grade transportation report card. Unless Romney changes it, the Ryan Budget calls for revenue from only gasoline taxes & toll fees. Ryan’s insufficient number lets even more highways, bridges and tunnels fall into disrepair and danger. Furthermore, Ryan would have all that revenue go to Highways despite major cities shifting larger percentages of their federal funding requests to Transit and Amtrak/HSR. If Ryan substantially succeeds after Congressional negotiation, that’s a win for his rural backers to add more freeway lanes while sticking it to urban dwellers.

      The Ryan Budget creates more traffic congestion in large metro areas. More traffic congestion overwhelms the benefit of America’s slow shift to higher MPG autos. Hence, more congestion means more oil consumption to enrich Ryan’s Big Oil backers. But for the rest of us, increased urban traffic congestion produces more urban smog and air particulates contributing to chronic breathing diseases. Its as though, he doesn’t care about America’s largest cities increasing number of smog alerts under global warming.

      The Ryan Budget exacerbates American oil dependency conditions that could lead to another War like Iraq. That dependency produces more leeway for a future President/VP to claim “Its in our national interest to invade another Middle East/African country (for oil).”

      The Ryan Budget worsens the ongoing trade imbalance caused by increasing our #1 import, oil. If America only imported the current level of oil from Canada and Mexico, we’d have a lot more money circulating in America. Unfortunately, as T. Boone Pickens notes, importing foreign oil continues to produce that greatest wealth transfer out of America (and I add, more reasons to stick our nose in Middle East business).

      So, what could some economists possibly like about the Ryan budget concerning transportation and oil-for-transportation in America?

      • Ryan talks libertarian, but on the issues libertarians and orthodox conservatives disagree on, he’s conservative.

        You’re right that the Ryan budget shafts transit and cities, but that doesn’t mean Romney-Ryan would. Romney doesn’t care either way, and because transit is such a tiny part of the budget, Romney could invest in it almost for free. It’s a cheap way to buy centrist cred, too. (Then again, shafting transit is a cheap way to buy conservative cred; I don’t presume to know which one Romney will want.)

        For what it’s worth, Josh Barro’s theory is that Romney didn’t pick Ryan to endorse his budget, but to co-opt him. His chief economists are Keynesians and would support further stimulus (in fact, Mankiw did, even in real time, though he said it should be tax cuts and not spending increases). Most likely Romney would engage in stimulus rather than austerity, just as Reagan and Bush II did, and so Barro’s theory is that Romney picked Ryan so that he’d be able to look tough to the party so that he could sell it on stimulus.

        • Amtrak is somewhere around $1.5b in a multi-trillion dollar budget, and Romney proposed to privatize Amtrak.

          The fact that it might be possible to head off the proposal if its not a high priority item is not the same as Romney proposing keeping or expanding Amtrak.

          And, indeed, it will be necessary to ruthlessly slash non-defense spending across the board, given the proposals that Romney has made regarding tax policy and budget policy, which means that if transit is not a high enough priority at the same time that proposals are being made to gut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, it could well get slashed simply because most of its usual defenders are too busy fighting for their own higher priorities.

        • Nathanael

          Romney is such a complusive liar (google “Etch-a-Sketch Romney”) that there is no way of telling what he is going to do from what he says.

          But if you look at Romney’s record at Bain Capital, it’s one of looting and destroying actual industries for personal profit.

          You should expect a President Romney to do exactly the same thing. Much like Bush II, he will attempt to make the federal bureaucracy totally non-functional, while making it larger — because he will be doing his best to convert it into a machine for funnelling money to his cronies. Just like the sweetheart contracts in the Iraq war, or the Nudie-Scan Machine sweetheart contract.

          That’s what you can expect from a Romney administration. Transportation? He’ll support looting it, just as he supports looting everything else.

          It’s not actually Keynesian to print money *and give it to your superrich buddies* — Keynes understood that the money had to go into the hands of the *masses*. Romney certainly does not understand this.

      • FG

        There won’t be more congestion because the economy will tank. Simple, right? Or we’ll all be home telecommuting.

  • Joseph

    Anyone who thinks Amtrak should be privatized has failed to review the history of transportation. Railroads had a vast, private empire in the early 1900s, and it crumbled. Many decades later, Margaret Thatcher privatized the railways in Britain, and there is almost universal agreement that the system over there runs horribly. And air travel, an industry entirely privatized in the United States, is getting more expensive and inconvenient all the time (which is why people are actually choosing to take Amtrak instead of flying).

    Whether people like it or not, transporting people across distances, through metros that are seeing increasingly high amounts of car traffic, is a very needed, worthwhile pursuit, even if it doesn’t bring in the big bucks for private investors. These people would probably agree that time is money, and yet they fail to understand that being stuck in traffic because you’ve given an increasingly dense population no other alternative represents billions in lost dollars every year.

    Who knows, maybe they want it to fail, because they don’t like cities and urbanity. But the joke will eventually be on them; over 80% of the United States is considered urban today, an the number keeps on rising.

    • Andre L.

      Joseph, the United Kingdom saw a strong rebound of rail traffic and ridership has surpassed the highest levels first attained… in 1925 and then never again (except for a brief period on WW2 with troop movements included).

      • Paul P.

        The good summary of British Railway Privitazation is here:

        “How Privitization Became a Train Wreck” by Eric Morris
        http://www.uctc.net/access/28/Access%2028%20-%2004%20-%20How%20Privatization%20Became%20a%20Train%20Wreck.pdf

        • Andre L.

          That is not a “good summary”, it is an extremely biased, activist-esque, ballooning piece of writing.

          • Steve G.

            I disagree. I found it to be quite objective.

            • Andre L.

              No objective, emotion-less report starts with metaphoric titles and tasteless puns like “train wreck”.

              • Nathanael

                You don’t need to be emotion-less to be objective; in fact, any decent objective report is going to compel an emotional response.

                The fact that an objective report hurts your feelings because it disagrees with your preconceived biases is neither here nor there. Of course, you provided no particular evidence that the British privatization train wreck was anything but a train wreck (look up “Hatfield” for why “train wreck” is an appropriate term).

                Rail patronage is up EVERYWHERE, because people want to travel by train, because oil prices are rising, etc. But rail patronage is up *less* in countries which have done stupid privatization crap.

              • Andre L.

                Well, Nathanael, I’m not an activist and I’m neutral, I don’t get excited or anger by transportation decisions since I’m fortunate enough to be able to bail myself out of most political choices I don’t agree with.

              • Nathanael

                Andre, do you live in a country with a more-functional political system, like, you know, France?

                If so, that’s what allows you to be able to “bail yourself out” of political choices you disagree with — the government doesn’t make *completely deranged* choices with *massively destructive* effects.

                Here, our government is quite capable of doing so, screwing up in ways you simply could NOT compensate for individually. Our lack of universal health care comes to mind.

                So perhaps we understand why it matters. And it matters on transportation too. I’m very well-to-do, but even I couldn’t afford the *car and driver* which I would need for intercity travel if the intercity rail system were destroyed.

    • Matt

      Joesph, private rail transport, or at least private passenger transport collapsed mainly because of three main actions by the federal government: 1) the Interstate Commerce Commission maintained a policy of “network neutrality” for ticket costs because the ICC was made up of railroad executives. This allowed them to use government power to destroy smaller lines because the larger lines they represented could afford to operate that way; 2) the government began building public highways for private automobiles, with eminent domain and no need to be profitable because they were paid for by taxation, encouraging auto ownership and unfairly competing with passenger rail and 3) Combined with the second thing, railroad tracks, which had previously been exempt from property taxes, started to be taxed after World War Two, so not only was the government unfairly competing with passenger rail by building and operating highways at losses, they were forcing the railroads to pay for their competition. Other factors included the unions forcing railroads to obtain archaic positions from steam locomotives even after fleets had gone diesel and the high capital cost of maintaining trackage and trains year in and year out.

    • Privatization with payments to the winning bidder in return for the desired services is one thing ~ the Republican “privatize Amtrak” is rather about cutting the spending on non-automotive transportation, both in the highly urbanized and therefore increasingly solidly Democratic (in national politics) Northeast, and the collection of niche transport markets served by Amtrak corridor and long distance services.

      The transportation challenge facing an auto-dependent system is that the volume of cross-subsidies from settled urban and inner suburban populations to new developments in outer suburban locations have declined as a result of the shift of population toward the outer suburbs that those very subsidies created.

      With a long term upward trend in the cost of gas, and people engaged in “drive until you can afford it” house hunting finding that they have driven further than they can afford, raising the gasoline tax to fund the unfunded maintenance obligations of those roads we have already built is politically unpalatable, since the income to pay those taxes have already been transferred to the property developers who sold the houses. The leverage of cross-subsidy has been continuously dropping. Since the gas tax is set in nominal terms, the road maintenance funded by any given gallon of gas has been dropping for over a decade. And with the early 2000′s policies to promote purchase of gas hogs being dropped, and replaced by policies to promote fuel efficient vehicles, the gallons of gas required per hundred vehicle miles is dropping.

      That is part of why we need to shift away from total auto dependence, but the problems caused by auto dependence created financial strains that can only be squared with a small government, tax cutting ideology by cutting total transport funding, cutting non-automotive funding entirely, and putting all of our eggs into the auto-dependent basket.

  • I’m a bit surprised that Yonah is buying into the myth that highways and roads are supported by user fees (gas tax). That is simply not true. General fund revenues from income, property and sales taxes have always been used to build and maintain roads.

    • User fees absolutely do not cover the full costs of the highway system. But they certainly cover some of their costs. My point was simply that the Ryan budget wants to limit Federal transportation spending to revenues from the Highway Trust Fund and avoid distributing funds to users who did not pay into it (i.e., non-drivers). Obviously I think that’s bad policy.

      • Eric

        Wouldn’t it greatly decrease spending on highways if the only federal funding allowed to them was user fees?

        It’s not like transit would disappear either. It could still be funded on the state/local level – as it is already to a great extent.

  • Patrick

    There’s a great article on Time Magazine’s website about how Ryan (along with other Republicans) voted against Obama’s stimulus plan, but proposed 2 other plans (one which was mainly tax cuts and raised unemployment benefits, with no infrastructure spending – the other was $715 billion, but not quite as much as the Obama $787 billion plan that was passed, but its only infrastructure spending was for roads) – both of which Ryan voted for. He also voted for multiple spending increases and tax rebates that increased the national debt under Bush (including the senior drug plan, both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Bush tax cuts, TARP). He also wrote letters to cabinet members and other officials trying to get money for projects in his home state of Wisconsin, many in green technologies. He, like many Republicans, is a hypocrite – only caring about deficits when it is a Democrat running them up.

    • ThomasD

      Thanks for the insight about Ryan being a Wisconsin homer for stimulus and budget hawk everywhere else. What a shameless hypocrite.

    • Nathanael

      Of course Ryan approves of increasing the budget deficit. He just doesn’t want money to go to people who aren’t his buddies. This is an absolutely typical sociopathic-tool-of-the-1% behavior.

  • Matt

    The author’s praise for the transportation spending proposals in Obama’s budget conveniently ignore the fact that our country is drowning in federal debt, and Mr. Obama’s policies would only add to that problem. Also, Mr. Obama’s budget didn’t receive a single vote in the Congress.

    • ThomasD

      Matt,
      How is the Ryan Budget fiscally sound and good for our the long term economic health of the nation when it continues to overspend on military and cut taxes for the wealthiest? Sounds like snake oil to me.

    • Jack Hope

      Hardly, but too many people like you have bought into the big lie. Right now, with Fed Rates as low as they are, the United States is practically being offered money to take on debt. Given that and the desperate need to get the economy moving and the United States should be engaged in a prudent strategy of additional borrowing to fund infrastructure.

      But hey, if you’d rather commit national suicide by allowing your infrastructure to further fall to third world status and trigger a second austerity driven recession, be my guest. Just opens opportunity for the rest of us.

      • Nathanael

        Some weeks the US is literally being offered money to take on debt — negative interest rates at Treasury auctions.

        Debt costs the US absolutely nothing right now. In the future, *if* we manage to make the economy recover, we can elimnate the debt — Keynes said the time to cut spending was during boom times.

        (This is the thing which Reagan ignored when Reagan massively increased federal spending, mostly on useless military pork. Bush II repeated the same insane policies of borrowing money during a boom in order to blow it up.)

        But anyway, right now, the US should either be borrowing money or (better) printing money, and it should be spending it on something useful, *not* on military adventures which do nothing but hurt the US.

        Of course, Ryan and Romney want to keep spending money on the useless, destructive wars, and the wasteful military contractor pork.

        • Adirondacker12800

          …ah remember those conversations back during the 2000 campaign about how eliminating the Federal Debt, not the deficit, would be damaging to the economy? Wasn’t it supposed to be paid off in 2011-2012?

  • I pine for a return to the days of the pro-infrastructure, Keynesian Republican. It’s not called the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Interstate Highway System.

    • Nathanael

      Nowadays folks like Eisenhower are considered left-wing Democrats.

      Folks like FDR… well, they’re pretty hard to find. They’re called “socialists”.

      • Eric

        “Socialist” is not a compliment when it refers to someone who attempt to fire the Supreme Court judges who rule his policies unconstitutional.

        • Nathanael

          The Supreme Court Judges needed to be fired if they blocked all of FDR’s actions. Allowing the Great Depression to continue without a New Deal was neither an acceptable choice, nor a politically sane one — the people were ready for revolution if the government didn’t address the problems. FDR’s New Deal was the only thing preventing a bloody revolution.

          In the US the Supreme Court has had a nasty, and long, record of antidemocratic, partisan political moves. The _Taney_ court is the most famous, freelancing outside the confines of the case in _Dred Scott_ to claim that black people could never be citizens.

          More relevantly, the _Lochner_ court is infamous for its deliberate misinterpretations of the 14th amendment — the very misinterpretations. That court’s line of cases where it invented doctrines preventing the government from regulating busineses is what led to the court which was hostile to the New Deal, until the “Switch in Time that Saved Nine”.

          The Supreme Court (and the current one is frighteningly corrupt and political, too) must be subordinate, when push finally comes to shove, to democracy — otherwise the Court will end up as nothing more than a political agent, and an undemocratic one, as it has several times through US history.

          In the UK the courts are *explicitly* subordinate to Parliament, and this has allowed the the courts to be *less political*.

          For a long and careful historical political analysis of why this is the case, see here:
          http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10613/10613-h/10613-h.htm

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