Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

Save the Date

I’ve written before about  Uncharted: The Truth Behind Homelessness.

The film focuses on how Indianapolis deals with its homeless population. It illuminates the issues that all major cities have to confront about their homeless citizens: downtown panhandling, homeless camps in the way of urban gentrification, underfunded human services, and endless debates over whether local government has an obligation to provide services to homeless people and if so, the nature of those services.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Indianapolis doesn’t do very well dealing with these issues–which may be why Mayor Ballard has thus far refused filmmakers’ invitations to view the documentary. That’s too bad; I have seen it twice, and I can attest to the fact that it is meticulously even-handed; interviews with a number of City representatives are included, and there are no “bad guys” hung out to dry.

Plus, it is a really gripping, well-done film.

The filmmakers, A Bigger Vision, have invited the community to attend one of two free screenings at the IMA on August 30th, at 1:00 pm and 4:00.

You can get tickets here.

You can see a trailer here.

The issues are anything but simple, and (despite the Mayor’s evident fears) their treatment is non-accusatory. Anyone concerned with the quality of life—let alone the quality of mercy– in Indianapolis should make an effort to attend one of the upcoming showings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presidents versus Monarchs

Over at his blog, presidential scholar Matthew Dickenson reminds us that U.S. Presidents are not monarchs–they aren’t even particularly powerful heads of state.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote an interesting column two days ago under the headline “It’s Virtually Impossible to be a Successful Modern President.” Cillizza begins his piece like this: “Being president is the most powerful job in the world. At which you will almost certainly fail.”

Both those statements are wrong, of course. As I and other presidency scholars have written repeatedly, the presidency is not a very powerful office and it is certainly not the most powerful job in the world. Indeed, even among elected chief executives in modern democracies, the presidency is one of the weaker offices. The primary reason, of course, is because the Framers wanted it that way, as indicated by their decision to embed the presidency within a constitutional system of shared powers. That’s why presidents cannot dismiss Congress, call for new elections, or even count on the support of a legislative majority to pass legislation – all expectations that many prime ministers in other nations possess. And, with the ratification of the 22nd amendment, presidents lucky enough to win reelection serve most of their second term as defacto lame ducks. As Brendan Nyhan notes in his column today, however, this weakness has not stopped individuals from exaggerating the president’s potential degree of control over events.

It always amuses me (in a black humor sort of way) when Americans criticize the President–any president–for failure to do X, Y or Z. He promised to do it, and he hasn’t, so he lied…or he’s weak, or he’s in someone’s pocket. Now on occasion, some or all of those things may be true, but more often that not, the person complaining displays a total lack of understanding of how our government works.

Or increasingly, doesn’t.

I Kid You Not….

Can you spell irony?

Per ThinkProgress:

Hours before Congress broke for the August recess, House Republicans claimed that the President could use executive action to fix the border situation with unaccompanied children fleeing violence in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

In a press statement released Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and other House Republican leaders indicated that President Obama could address the crisis “without the need for congressional action,” a statement tinged with some irony given that just the day before, House Republicans had slammed the President with a lawsuit claiming executive overreach.

“There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.”

That sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor.

Self-awareness evidently isn’t one of the Speaker’s attributes.

As a post to Daily Kos put it, a bit more baldly, “I shit you not. Republicans in the House are encouraging the President to act on his own — for which lawless actions, of course, Republicans in the House earlier this week voted to sue him. You really can’t make this crap up.”

Correcting My Goof

A few days ago, I reported that the deficit and debt had steadily declined during Obama’s tenure. A reader pointed out that although we have seen the deficit dramatically reduced, so long as there is any deficit at all, the debt continues to grow.

He was absolutely right, of course–my mind was evidently elsewhere when I wrote that particular sentence. (It is a bit worrisome that, as I grow older, my mind increasingly takes these small trips to…somewhere.) The question that naturally arises, then, is: as the Obama Administration increasingly tames the deficithow worried should we be about the debt?

Paul Krugman has the answer to that question.

About those projections: The budget office predicts that this year’s federal deficit will be just 2.8 percent of G.D.P., down from 9.8 percent in 2009. It’s true that the fact that we’re still running a deficit means federal debt in dollar terms continues to grow — but the economy is growing too, so the budget office expects the crucial ratio of debt to G.D.P. to remain more or less flat for the next decade.

Things are expected to deteriorate after that, mainly because of the impact of an aging population on Medicare and Social Security. But there has been a dramatic slowdown in the growth of health care costs, which used to play a big role in frightening budget scenarios. As a result, despite aging, debt in 2039 — a quarter-century from now! — is projected to be no higher, as a percentage of G.D.P., than the debt America had at the end of World War II, or that Britain had for much of the 20th century.

So perhaps we need not freak out about the debt, but still, it would be nice to eliminate it entirely. (Had W. left Clinton’s tax rates in place and not taken us into a costly and unnecessary war of choice, the debt was on track to disappear…but that was then and this is now…). So how much pain would we need to endure now in order to at least stabilize the debt–to keep it at its current ratio to GDP? Krugman has that information also:

Still, rising debt isn’t good. So what would it take to avoid any rise in the debt ratio? Surprisingly little. The budget office estimates that stabilizing the ratio of debt to G.D.P. at its current level would require spending cuts and/or tax hikes of 1.2 percent of G.D.P. if we started now, or 1.5 percent of G.D.P. if we waited until 2020. Politically, that would be hard given total Republican opposition to anything a Democratic president might propose, but in economic terms it would be no big deal, and wouldn’t require any fundamental change in our major social programs.

These facts would be comforting–if the people screaming bloody murder over the terrible, horrible, menacing debt were genuinely concerned about fiscal policy–and not motivated by partisan rancor or personal gain.

 

Fiscal Responsibility Doesn’t Look Like This

The White House recently announced that the federal budget deficit will fall to 583 billion this year. That’s the smallest deficit since Obama became President, and it continues a widely-ignored trend of falling deficits during his tenure.

If you listened to the Republicans, you’d never know that the debt and deficit have both been declining (if you listened to Faux News, you wouldn’t know the difference between them), and you’d certainly get the impression that the GOP is the party watching out for the public purse. That impression would be wrong.

Very wrong.

The Washington Monthly notes that

The Republican House just voted for an inexcusable $287 billion supply-side corporate tax giveaway:

The GOP-led House of Representatives embraced a former stimulus measure Friday, voting to make it and another related tax cut permanent, adding $287 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

The largest part of the cut, worth more than $263 billion, is making permanent so-called bonus depreciation, which allows businesses to write off the cost of capital investments and improvements much more quickly.

It was enacted twice during the administration of President George W. Bush, and the most recent version expired last year. The idea behind it is that if lawmakers give businesses a break during tough economic times, they will speed up major equipment purchases and stimulate economic activity.

Those who support making such a stimulus measure permanent argue that it would give businesses the certainty to be able to plan their investments. But opponents — primarily Democrats — mocked the idea, pointing to Congressional Research Service reports that found the break was a weak stimulus to begin with, and that the stimulative effect is likely to fall even further if the break becomes permanent.

Not only is the GOP not party of fiscal responsibility, it has become the pro-redistribution party–a reverse Robin Hood cabal intent upon taking from the poor to give more and more to the rich. (Except, of course, when there is an advantage to doing otherwise.)

Welfare for the well-off. Bupkis for the poor. Welcome to dystopia.