The Cost of CAFTA

Thursday, I wrote about the underhanded methods used to extend the vote in CAFTA until leadership like the outcome. Today, let’s look at what CAFTA cost. According to the Opinion Journal, it cost billions right off the bat:

President Bush had to twist a lot of arms to squeak his Central American Free Trade Agreement through Congress this week, but Republicans are about to make sure he pays for a whole lot more than their chiropractor bills. Having sacrificed to support free trade, the Members prepared for the August recess by throwing themselves a giant spending party.

Speaker Dennis Hastert had barely waited for dawn to break after the midnight Cafta vote before he directed the House to pass a $286.4 billion highway bill. He expects Mr. Bush to sign this because it is “only” $2.4 billion more than the President’s 2005 veto limit, which is “only” $28 billion more than his 2004 veto limit of $256 billion, which was “only” a 17% increase over the previous six-year highway spending level. “Only” in Washington could spending so much money be considered an act of fiscal discipline.

The bill is all about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” declared Mr. Hastert, and he’s right if he’s referring to the Members’ re-election prospects. The House version alone contained 3,700 special earmarks, doled out liberally across state and party lines.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) files this dispatch:

The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) today opposed the pork projects and special interest tax breaks found in the conference report on the Transportation Equity Act A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU). The conference version of the bill passed the House of Representatives today by a vote of 412-8. The Senate is scheduled to take up the bill before recess.

“This legislation is yet another example of lawmakers catering to special interests,” CAGW President Tom Schatz said. “The pork projects were not enough; Congress also had to include unrelated tax breaks in this bloated highway bill.”

The bill includes $200 million for the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” now renamed “Don Young’s Way,” connecting Gravina Island (population: 50) with the Alaskan mainland.

Also coming to light are questionable tax breaks in the bill that have little to do with transportation, including:

– Repeal of special occupational taxes on producers and marketers of alcoholic beverages

– Income tax credit for distilled spirits wholesalers

– Cap on excise tax on certain fishing equipment

– Tax breaks for luxury transportation: Exemption from taxes on transportation provided by seaplanes and certain sightseeing flights exempt from taxes on air transportation

Read the entire CAGW write-up.

Long story short, we massaged/bent/broke the rules to get the vote we wanted on an unrelated bill, and then spent billions of taxpayer money to grease the wheels.

Somehow, the argument that I should vote Republican because ‘the Democrats are worse’ is becoming less palatable by the minute.

*** Update ***

The good folks at Q and O are also observant of the decline of the ‘fiscally responsible’ Republican party.

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34 replies
  1. 1
    Steve says:

    I am in awe of Ted Stevens’ ability to bring money home to Alaska. I bet even Robert Byrd is jealous.

  2. 2
    TallDave says:

    I remember back in 1994, when the GOP was the reform party and was going to put an end to all this.

    Sigh.

  3. 3
    Stormy70 says:

    GOP was the reform party and was going to put an end to all this.

    Double sigh. Thus was it ever was. I am for CAFTA, though.

  4. 4
    TallDave says:

    Hey! Remember the line-item veto? That was supposed to be the “pork killer.” Maybe they should re-introduce the idea.

  5. 5
    TallDave says:

    Yeah, CAFTA serves a lot of good ends. I even wrote some columnists and asked them to try to bring some attention to it. Sad that so much pork was needed to pass what should have been a bipartisan no-brainer.

  6. 6
    John Thacker says:

    Well, how else would you have gotten the votes? CAFTA was absolutely one of my top priorities. I’d love to have gotten it passed without any of these promises, but it wasn’t doable.

    The rules weren’t broken in any way. Would you have preferred even more massive pork barrel spending in order to assure a larger majority, or a majority without the drama? That would have been possible.

    The Democrats ARE worse. They strongly opposed CAFTA. That completely eliminates ANY possibility of me supporting them for anything.

  7. 7
    John Cole says:

    The line-item veto was deemed to be unconstitutional. Robert Byrd, then Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, killed that dead and then danced on its corpse:

    On Capitol Hill, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who co-sponsored the law with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said the decision “means a retreat to the practice of loading up otherwise necessary legislation with pork-barrel spending.”

    By contrast, the law’s foes were ecstatic. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) raised his arm in a salute and exclaimed, “God save this honorable court.” Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said that Congress “tried to bend the Constitution [but] the court said it will not allow this to happen.”

    In his opinion, Stevens said Congress could alter the president’s role in determining the final text of a law only by constitutional amendment. But Coats and other line-item veto supporters acknowledged that mustering the two-thirds majority in each house needed to move the constitutional amendment process forward would be difficult.

    Personally, I find it distressing that A.) the party that once was so concerned with out of control spending that they pushed this legislation is now a bunch of out of control spenders themselves, and B.) that the desire for a line-item veto requires the belief that Congress can not be counted on to act ina fiscally responsible manner.

  8. 8
    Jim says:

    Hey at least they are for the balanced budget amendment. (Just not balanced budgets.)

  9. 9
    neil says:

    Remember the line-item veto? That was supposed to be the “pork killer.” Maybe they should re-introduce the idea.

    Somehow I don’t see Bush as someone who’s terribly eager to put an end to all this.

  10. 10
    John Cole says:

    Somehow I don’t see Bush as someone who’s terribly eager to put an end to all this.

    While I appreciate your knee-jero criticisms of Bush, a couple quick facts.

    A.) Bush campaigned on reinstating the line-item veto.

    B.) The line-item veto is unconstitutional, according to SCOTUS, but it could be reintroduced in another form.

    C.) Texas has the line-item veto, and Bush did not campaign to have it repealed, and, I am willing to bet, used it more than once.

    D.) If Bush asked for the line-item veto to be reinstated, do you know who would be most against it? Congresscritters, with Democrats being the loudest (it is,after all, their programs that Bush would gut first).

    E.) Bush is not responsible for crafting legislation. While it is a valid point (one you did not make) Bush has not vetoed any legislation, but he is not the real problem. The spenders in Congress are.

    I understand you hate Bush- please try to at least make it a coherent hate.

  11. 11
    KC says:

    One of the major reasons I became a Democrat, a conservative one, is because I think we need one house to go Democratic. CAFTA would have taken a lot longer to pass, if it passed at all, if the Dems were in charge of one house. More to the point, splitting Congress is probably the best way to cut spending or at least slow the sort of psuedo-corrupt legislative gimmicking going on in right now.

  12. 12
    Carol says:

    [i]Bush has not vetoed any legislation, but he is not the real problem. The spenders in Congress are.[/i]

    I’m a moderate & I’ve seen the light. The Republicans aren’t the same party that I’ve grown up with. The Republicans put party above the good of the country & they stick together.

    Bush tells Congress how to vote. I’m not comfortable with a Republican majority in every branch. I’m appreciating Democrats a lot more.

    Like I said, I’ve seen the light.

  13. 13
    KC says:

    Oh, just to add, I don’t think the line-item veto is worth a damn. California’s governors, Republican and Democrat, have had a line-item veto for a longtime now. It hasn’t done a lick of good as far as I can tell. Moreover, I think that some things are best left the way they are. It’s the President’s job to either approve or disapprove of legislation; it’s Congresses job to create legislation. Abrogating one more duty of Congress to the executive branch, as far as I’m concerned, is unnecessary and unwarranted. Sometimes I fear we have a system of elected people who sit around, get a bunch of perks, then when it comes time to do a job, delegate their responsibilities to the president.

  14. 14
    Bob says:

    CAFTA and its predecessors have been put forward to enrich the oligarchy. The combined Republican/DLC Party is the group that feeds at this trough. CAFTA, from what I see, weakens our constitutional government through international treaty. In essence, corporations, which are international and have no allegiance to any country, only to accumulation of wealth, have achieved super-citizenship in our country. Our armies fight wars for corporations at the lowly citizens’ expense. In return, the oligarchies’ minions pass laws to reduce their fiduciary obligations, or better, just off-shore it all.

    Those conservatives who used to preach individual rights have been left in the cold, as well as those ACLU-ers on the left. The rights of an individual without extreme wealth (and its accompanying power) is being ground into the dirt.

    Top versus bottom, not left versus right. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

  15. 15
    Stormy70 says:

    Sometimes I fear we have a system of elected people who sit around, get a bunch of perks, then when it comes time to do a job, delegate their responsibilities to the president.

    Or to the Supreme Court. Never been a fan of the Senate, as alot of you know by now. The House I’ve liked a tad more, but they seem to get things done, whereas the Senate goes out to eat and jockeys for position on the Sunday shows. Bleh.

  16. 16
    Linette says:

    James Kroeger explains the real opportunities that Free Trade could ultimately bestow on U.S. workers.

    From his article On Job Losses & Trade Policy:

    As a general rule, a country must strengthen its currency in the foreign exchange markets in order to improve the purchasing power of its citizens in the global market. That happens when foreign goods & services become cheaper. But there are more benefits to be had than simply an increase in global purchasing power. Currency appreciation provides a country with the same essential benefit that productive efficiency improvements provide. Human resources are freed up that can then be used to produce more things of value. The problem with free trade is not that it eliminates jobs; firm investments in machinery do the same thing. Economists understand that this is a net benefit to society if those who are thrown out of work are re-employed in other productive activities. The problem is that elected officials do not seize the opportunity that unemployment gives them to increase the production of public wealth.”

    “Those who worry about the unemployment caused by free trade do so simply because most members of the world’s legislative bodies do not realize the great opportunity a stronger currency gives them (to produce more Public Wealth). If Congress were to commit itself to the goal of creating and maintaining a sustained labor shortage—an economic environment where there are more jobs available than there are people to fill them—most objections to free trade would be completely silenced. In such a labor market, workers would enjoy the best of all possible economic worlds. Jobs would still be lost, but it wouldn’t matter. New jobs would be easy to find. Market forces would put upward pressure on wages & benefits, obviating the need for government band-aid remedies like minimum wage legislation. An optimal level of national wealth would be produced, benefiting everyone—in real terms—both rich & poor.”

    Sounds like a much more positive approach to trade policy than anything else I’ve heard. We get the cheaper imports AND an ideal labor market.

    Why aren’t Democrats advocating this alternative?

  17. 17
    KC says:

    Linette, what if James Kroeger is wrong?

  18. 18
    Sojourner says:

    The House I’ve liked a tad more, but they seem to get things done, whereas the Senate goes out to eat and jockeys for position on the Sunday shows. Bleh.

    It figures you don’t like the Senate. After all, it’s the deliberative side of the Congress, or at least it used to be.

  19. 19
    la says:

    When in the history of capitalism have we EVER have a sustained labor glut? Free trade is used to control workers worldwide, and put them in a cooperative mode because they are afraid of starving to death.

  20. 20
    Bob says:

    Better nutrition for the hungry, more wealth to the needy, healthcare for everyone. Universal education through college.

    Kroeger’s vision suggests that corporations are citizens of nations. They are not. Exxon does not care about America. It cares about its armies as far as defending and conquering wealth-production units, about the value of its currency as to its investments.

    By the way, how much has NAFTA bettered the average Mexican? We know that NAFTA hurt their farming, driving people off the farm and across the border. We know that, without worker protections and the right to unionize, we have gotten little hovels of factories across the Rio Grande where teenage work for pennies until they are raped and murdered. The work they do is the work that blue-collar Americans used to do. How many of those Americans have been given “better jobs”?

    By the way, are these the same economists who have supported the administration into this huge deficit?

  21. 21
    Jimmy Jazz says:

    Somehow, the argument that I should vote Republican because ‘the Democrats are worse’ is becoming less palatable by the minute.

    I’ve always been more comfortable with split government. It’s obviously the only way to hold either party accountable.

  22. 22
    RanDomino says:

    NAFTA happens, and then we wonder why there are so many illegal immigrants. Free Trade is only good for shareholders (and not you or me, either- I mean the people with millions of shares).

  23. 23
    keith says:

    CAFTA will benefit the wealthy and the corporate stockholders only. This “free” trade deal is another nail in the coffin of American dominance. These CW’s dont care about people, they care about profits for the richest.

    You people should be charged with treason . You make me sick.

  24. 24
    DougJ says:

    The “tax and spend” Democrats are still worth. Word is that “Hilary care” (read: huge government health care boondoggle) is back on the table if they come back into one of the houses in 2006. Sorry, but I don’t want Ms. Clnton telling me which doctor to go to.

  25. 25
    Luddite says:

    To any real Conservative Republicans left in the GOP: after reading John’s post on this thread you have my sympathy. Pat Buchanan once made the analogy that the Republicans were the “Dutch Uncles” who always insisted on reining in the reckless spending of the Democrats. Except for the military of course. Indeed Liberals always complained about Conservatives back in Reagan’s presidency for slashing the Federal budget and hurting the poor and the working poor.

    200 Million dollars for a bridge to serve 50 PEOPLE! Good God even Byrd can’t top that! Are there ANY Republicans left in Congress who actually give a shit about the deficit?

    I know several Republicans who have left the GOP and joined the Libertarian Party because of issues like these and becuase of the Religious Right taking over the party.

  26. 26
    J. Michael Neal says:

    D.) If Bush asked for the line-item veto to be reinstated, do you know who would be most against it? Congresscritters, with Democrats being the loudest (it is,after all, their programs that Bush would gut first).

    This gets close to the heart of the problem with the line-item veto. It wouldn’t eliminate any net pork at all, it would just make the President more of a player in determining what pork gets passed. Does anyone really think that Bush would veto any of the spending that was promised to Representatives to get them to pass CAFTA even if he had the power to do so?

    It wouldn’t even do much if government were divided. Unless the President is in a position where he just doesn’t want anything passed, he still has to negotiate, and he’s still going to have to leave the agreed upon pork untouched if he wants to negotiate any more. Since government is an iterated process, meaningful change from the line item veto is something that would work once, and then will be taken into consideration whenever anyone is talking to the executive.

    If the President really wants to derail compromise, then vetoing entire bills is just as useful a tool.

  27. 27
    guyermo says:

    John,

    George W. Bush also campaigned against nation building and his administration intially said Iraq’s WMD programs were long dead.

    Personally, once any elected official is elected (democrat or republican) I think all bets are off as far as their public campaign promises. It’s the private ones that matter.

  28. 28
    Sojourner says:

    A line item veto would make it that much easier for Bush to pay people off for votes they otherwise wouldn’t make. Of course, that doesn’t matter now because the Republican congressional leadership is already Bush’s lap dog.

  29. 29
    Steve says:

    I think the only way anyone can be in favor of the line-item veto is because they unrealistically imagine it being used in ways they would personally favor.

    In reality, it would just give way, way too much power to the Executive. The scenario of the President vetoing all spending in districts controlled by the opposite party is just one problem. Imagine how that would allow one party to consolidate power, by making it impossible for members of the opposing party to get elected since everyone knows they won’t be able to accomplish anything for the district.

    If you want a more reasonable reform to kick around, consider that some states have a constitutional provision providing that any piece of legislation can only have one purpose. No more of this business where pork for the home district gets hidden in some totally unrelated bill. No more throwing ridiculous crap into the homeland security bill because “no one would dare vote against the homeland security bill.” I’ve never heard anyone suggest this at the national level, but it’s a much more sensible reform than the line-item veto.

  30. 30
    Sinequanon says:

    John,
    The pork on the Energy Bill was much mich worse. It was astronomical. And, talk about strong arm tactics! Down here in TexAss, Sugarland depends on Delay for their paychecks, not to mention the state reps, which is no doubt why we saw that really fishy under the table amendment, after the amendment session was closed, added by Delay and Hastert. There were a lot of valid reasons it took 5 years to get this nasty energy plan through…not to mention our other proud proud delegate from TexAss, Mr. Junk Science himself…Rep. Joe Barton. This is where the crime really occurred….
    S-

  31. 31
    moonsha says:

    John Thacker stated: “Well, how else would you have gotten the votes? CAFTA was absolutely one of my top priorities. I’d love to have gotten it passed without any of these promises, but it wasn’t doable.”

    If CAFTA is such a good deal, then there would be no need for PORK. Also, it was Republicans who held the vote open passed the scheduled timeframe. This is breaking the rules that the Republican controlled House even sets! Prime example of Republicans running a “Do as we say, Not as we do” Congress. Time and time again Republicans are breaking the rules in the House. One example is when the those voting No clearly won on a voice vote, BUT the presiding chair called it for the Yes votes!

  32. 32
    Sinequanon says:

    Steve, I like that idea. Let a piece of legislation stand on what it is supposed to be and not what it ultimately becomes these days. You know, recent studies have indicated that a lot of the pork barrel spending in the past 10-12 years has been to private interests rather than collective interests. So, that tells you that the money, breaks and so on are going to corporate or business interests rather than back to the people. Makes you wonder doesn’t it? Must be why there is such a shortfall for domestic spending and programs. Don’t ever say there has been a plethora of collective goods spending in this administration – all there has been is a transfer of that spending over to private interests, and on a massive scale. Private interest groups these days appear to be exceeding the quantity of public interest groups as well. If anyone is interested in these studies, I can send you the authors and titles in bibliographic fromat. They are all from published journals and some from books. Or, I can even send you an abstract of research I did that was submitted to Dr. Godwin on the subject. Godwin is one of the better known interest group theorists.

  33. 33
    Rome Again says:

    Luddite stated:

    200 Million dollars for a bridge to serve 50 PEOPLE! Good God even Byrd can’t top that! Are there ANY Republicans left in Congress who actually give a shit about the deficit?

    Deficit? What Deficit? All I keep hearing from Republicans is that line “Our economy is strong”, which seems to me to translate into the idea that there is no problem with our economic structure at all. Apparently if you repeat something enough it becomes truth, or so they think. I wish I could be a fly on the wall when they realize what they’ve done.

    A bridge to serve 50 people out in the middle of nowhere at 4 million per person… gee, I wish my government treated me to something only 1% as nice. I’m lucky if I can get a pothole fixed on a narrow street (I’m forced to drive over that pot hole everyday) that only serves a low income rental complex. Of course, down the street, on a main thoroughfare that George Bush visited a year ago, they paved the street twice in less than 4 month’s time. It was a beautiful roadway just before the second paving began.

    Is this what God meant when he forbade pork?

  34. 34
    Tito says:

    “consider that some states have a constitutional provision providing that any piece of legislation can only have one purpose.”

    That has a ton of holes in it. “One purpose” could be very broad, like “helping the economy”, and justify pretty much anything.

    However, what would you thing of a bill can be “no larger than 20 pages, of 10 pt, single spaced Times New Roman”? Or X Words or Y Letters long? That size limit would limit what could be done in a single bill. Of course, there could still be cross bill backscratching, but Veto would be more useful then.

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