Tag Archives: Congress

On ‘Free’ Community Colleges

Over on Facebook, my friends and I have had an interesting discussion on the elusive details of the President’s budget/SOTU proposal for ‘free’ community college education.

Because of a New Year’s resolution a few years ago, I rarely delve into long, drawn-out debates on Facebook. It’s usually not worth your time. But I made an exception here, in part because of the thoughtful insights from my friends (and a friend/former teacher!) and partly because I wanted to weigh in further.

Here’s my (lightly edited) rant:

Edward and Shawn, I agree with points you both make. The cost of ignorance is high and not everyone has the opportunity to attend a Jesuit school with great science teachers like Mr. Nolan. (Though the Jesuits are trying as hard as they can with the Cristo Rey model, which is phenomenal.)
I love community colleges. My grandfather was a professor at one, and my mother attended there before going to tOSU. I’m just opposed because I don’t think this level of involvement by the government is appropriate. It’s my libertarian side coming out.
Realistically, this has ~0% chance of passing Congress. The “Pay Go” rules don’t help because anyone who proposes it on the Democratic side will “pay for it” with a tax increase and not a cut, which is how the game is played in Congress these days.
If Obama / Congressional Democrats wanted to be clever, here’s how they’d structure it:
1.) You apply for this program and by doing so, you agree to forfeit your Pell Grants entirely.
2.) Under Pell Grants, you get up to 12 semesters (six years) worth of grants, which, under maximum level at max time before exhaustion represents a little under $35,000. Of course, not everyone qualifies for Pell Grants, or gets the full amount. But you could argue savings by doing this.
3.) Cynically, if you wanted to obtain a 4-year degree, then you’d likely go to the student loan market (effectively nationalized since 2010!) where the government could make the money back. (Though, they’ve already used the “profits” from that to defray the cost of Obamacare and it would be hard to count that twice.)
A friend of mine, an analyst type, observed that this would be among the cheaper proposals Obama has proposed, even though the costs would be in the tens of billions, according to some estimates.
Two states (and others I am sure) have tried “free college programs.” Their examples are instructive. (I still am weary about government involvement in this, but at the state level it is at least appropriate from a federalism perspective.)
Arizona, when I worked for Senator Kyl, had something called an AIMS scholarship. If you met certain requirements under their AIMS program — you got a full tuition waiver at in-state schools, provided you were accepted. Of course, the test was not terribly hard and lots of people qualified. Now, it covers 25%, and is renewable — subject to college-specific requirements — over the remaining three years.
It was poorly planned. And it was done by Republicans!
Tennessee has the “Tennessee Promise” program, a brainchild of their Republican governor, gives free community and technical college tuition (for 2 years) to high school graduates in the state. The program is funded by the lottery. The program, which I also think was poorly implemented as such measures often are, has seen 58k applicants. Double what they expected. They’re learning Freidman’s adage of “no such thing as a free lunch” despite being well-intentioned.
Details on Obama’s plan are still forthcoming, but right now we know you have to have a C+ average, these CC’s have to agree to certain stipulations about their programs and credit transferability, and some vague notions of “student outcomes.” The feds expect states to pick up 25% of the cost.
While I agree with Mr. Nolan about college/knowledge having an effect on real-world life outcomes, Shawn’s point about high school and those outcomes is also worth delving into. To paint with my partisan broad brush, Democrats only seem to be interested in spending more money, not reforming public education in meaningful ways. (Thanks, teachers’ unions!)
So, rather than improve the K-12 system, I think there is room to criticize this proposal as keeping the bad and just inflating the bar.
White House director Cecilia Muñoz told Politico that “Obama aims to make college ‘the norm in the same way high school is the norm now.'”
Depending on your partisan lens, this statement will be interpreted differently. I see this as what I alluded to earlier — education inflation rather than education reform.
Granted, we’re all wasting our time in a thought exercise because this has about the same chance of happening as anything in President Obama’s budgets. Budgets these days are a thought exercise in “how I’d like things to be, but obviously won’t be.”
This started the last two years of the Bush presidency, when Congress was controlled by Democrats. They became “Hope Documents” or “Wish Lists.” Even after Obama was elected, his budgets were never taken seriously by Congress because Congress was not serious about budgeting.
They quickly abandoned regular order and the normal appropriations process in favor of continuing resolutions and omnibus packages. A power grab by the leadership, disenfranchising moderate and oddball Democrats and castrating Republicans in the minority.
Presidential budgets have always been blueprints. Congress is under no obligation to consider them, but Presidents are still obligated by the law to churn them out. It used to make sense, but now it’s sort of a pointless partisan exercise.
Boehner tried to restore regular order when I went from the Senate to the House as a staffer. In that, he failed. McConnell has signaled he wants to try his hand at that, too.
I wish them luck and hope it succeeds, but I’m not optimistic.
Prospects for reforming K-12 education are equally dire, but then again, while I agree with conservatives on their reforms, I’m of the view that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in the first place on education, a position many conservatives share. Hard to argue that when you’re voting to essentially maintain some semblance of federal control over it, even if it is diminished.


Cap South — What It’s Really Like to Work in Congress

There are tons of funny shows out there that touch on what it is like to work in the federal government. House of Cards is excellent, and the scene work is phenomenal. Veep — a show I just started watching — is entertaining, but not on the same level for me as House of Cards.

But, one new show might change all that. It’s a forthcoming web series starring my good friend / mortal prank enemy and former room mate, Andrew Heaton as the lead character. His girlfriend in real life, Naomi Brockwell, also stars in it.

It’s called Cap South. (You can learn more about it here eventually, but you can learn more now by following it on facebook.)

Since Andrew’s involved, and the show is run by a fellow Congressional Expat, I expected the dialogue to be highly realistic and very funny. I was correct. Below is what it is really like to answer un-screened phone calls.

Here’s the Trailer:

Answering the phone on the hill in real life (left) versus in Cap South (right). Spot on.


Congress and President Destroy 5,000 jobs overnight

With all of the chatter about the bleak job numbers, many news reports have focused on the lack of job growth. They’ve focused on President Obama and Mitt Romney’s trips to beleaguered and weary Ohio, where the two spoke about their plans to create jobs.

However, few news reports have focused on efforts where Congress and the President have consciously and deliberately chosen to destroy the livelihoods of about 5,000 people, including many in Northeast Ohio.

Just a few days back, President Obama signed H.R. 4348 into law. This was the Transportation Bill (and student loan fix).

Rewind to 2009, just days into President Obama’s term, when he signed a law that dramatically increased taxes on those who use tobacco products, most earning under $250,000 a year. That law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, increased tobacco taxes across the board. But, Congress (100% Democratically controlled at the time) didn’t anticipate how consumers would react.

Wait, Congress didn’t anticipate unintended consequences? What a surprise!

A promo for a roll-your-own-tobacco machine maker describes the opportunity this way:

Fact, with over 17 billion packs of cigarettes sold in the US annually, at retail prices averaging $5.50 a pack, this retail market spending of over 82 billion dollars a year is desperately looking for a way to save money. RYO Tobacco Machine is the answer to amazing value for your customers’ cigarette purchases, while you earn amazing profits at the same time with our amazing RYO Tobacco Machine system.

The Plain Dealer reports:

The disparity stems from taxes on roll-your-own cigarettes. Proponents of the new law say many are filled with pipe tobacco, which is taxed at a much lower rate than cigarette tobacco.

The businesses are a small but growing niche with their cabinetlike machines that roll 200 cigarettes in about 15 minutes. The prices hook customers: a carton of roll-your-own cigarettes made with loose tobacco costs under $25. A carton of brand-name cigarettes costs nearly $60, a difference based primarily on manufacturing costs and taxes.

In simple terms, the bill took dozens of small businesses across Northeast Ohio — and hundreds across the country — that have the machines and lumped them into the category of major cigarette companies on the issue of taxes.

Under the new provision, the owner of the machines would be responsible for paying federal excise taxes on the products the machines produce, according to published reports and interviews.

Business owners say they can’t pay the higher taxes, and they will either go out of business or look for different ways to make money. Some businesses like the Brunswick Smoke Shop offer more than just the machines, selling various brands of cigarettes and pipe tobaccos.

For those interested in the Congressese, section 100122, about 75% way through the bill, contains this language:

A person making such a machine available for consumer use shall be deemed the person making the removal as defined by subsection (j) with respect to any tobacco products manufactured by such machine. (source)

To those hundreds of business owners across the country who invested large sums of money in those machines, with a few votes and a stroke of the pen, are now effectively out of business.

Funny, we thought they actually cared about jobs. I guess instead of people competing to earn smokers’ business, people can still buy the costlier cigarettes with government assistance

Boudreaux Gets It

Prof. Don Boudreaux, one of the two main bloggers at CafeHayek, has this to say today at the Pittsburgh Tribune:

So the economist bent on advising politicians will either too often find that her time and effort have been wasted, or she will, step by step, be corrupted into offering only economic-sounding apologies for policies that are politically expedient.

There’s a far better use of whatever time the economist devotes to communicating with noneconomists — namely, challenging the many popular misconceptions that distort the general public’s understanding of the way economies work.

In my experience, Boudreaux hits the nail on the head. 

Congress is Now Using Memes

This “Call me Maybe” Meme is one of my least favorite memes out there. I blame Canada. But Rep. Schweikert (R-AZ) seems to have embraced it.

UPDATE: This might make some sense now. Note: some sense.

Thursday Links

Metro Glare

Russ Roberts: Alternatives to Austerity

[poll id=”28″]

Reason: Broke Arizona Town Wastes Nearly 10% of its Annual Budget Subsidizing Professional Hockey (But I do like the Coyotes, even if the subsidies are wrong.)

Landsburg: News of the Day

Weekly Standard: Obama on Biden: ‘Got Out a Little Bit Over His Skis’ (He french fried when he shoulda pizza’d. When you do that, you’re gonna have a bad time!)

Weekly Standard: No Labels Fundraises Off Lugar Defeat

Roll Call: Democrats Betting On Blong Xiong in California

Photo of the day: Children Hipsters

ArlNow: Water Pollution Control Bureau Apologizes for Smell

DCist: D.C. Council Finds Middle Ground on Extended Bar Hours

FamousDC is now selling coffee mugs

GGW: Affordable housing advocates should talk about land use… and land use advocates need to talk about affordability | WMATA still says blogs aren’t news media

ClotureClub: 14 Avengers of Congress


HotAir: Romney apologizes for high-school pranks | Black voters in NC supported Amendment One by 2-1 margin

DailyCaller: Terrelle Pryor addresses scandal

Mojo: Ind. Senate Candidate: We Should Stop Electing Senators (Totally agree.)

Daily Caller: Obama on gay marriage: Is he a reformed bigot or a liar?

Consumerist: Invoking eBay Buyer Protection? Don’t Use Multiple Accounts


BoingBoing: What YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest would have looked like in the ’80s and ’90s

Reason: Creating a risk free world

Daily Caller: Interview with Dr. Thomas Sowell: Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson [VIDEO]

Will: Taxing jobs out of existence

LitReactor: National Review Columnist Catching Flak Over Dust Jacket Flap

AEI: How liberal are you? Take the cliché quiz (I got a 0%)

Jim Swifts in the news

Wednesday Links

Muggy NoMa

Black Ops 2 Trailer

[poll id=”25″]

Why I am a member of the USSFCU (Suck it, House)

Justin Vincent: Yelp, You Cost Me $2000 by Suppressing Genuine Reviews, Here’s How You Fix It

Consumerist: Did IKEA Use East German Political Prisoners To Make Its Adorable Furniture? | Try Your Hand At Stabilizing The National Debt

WSJ: Voter Turnout: Three Scenarios for 2012

Heaton: I’m doing Yoga now

Cars in NYC > Organic Forms of Transportation

BI: European Markets Just Got Punched In The Face

ClotureClub: 21 Members of Congress that resemble muppets 

Goldberg: Republicans have bad brains?

Is Price Gouging Immoral? Should It Be Illegal?

BLH: Victims of Communism Day

DailyCaller: Repeat: The Cleveland 5, the geniuses who tried to blow up a bridge for the 99%, are all Occupiers


Webmonkey: New Firefox Design Will Offer Uniform Look Across Desktop and Mobile

WSJ: White House Efforts to Relax Gun Exports Face Resistance

HotAir: Krugman to Obama: You’re gonna lose unless you demand a huge stimulus package

TWS: Romney’s Latest Web Ad

Reason: What We Saw at Occupy Wall Street’s May Day Protest in NYC (feat. Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello)

Gov’t Creating Jobs: Secret Service hooker plans to pose nude

Politico: Obama: ‘New York girlfriend’ was composite

Read Reason Magazine’s May issue for Free!!

Media Bistro: Four Ways to Make the Most Out of a Flexible Schedule

WaPo: 10 Questions with Jeff Flake

WSJ: Target to stop selling Kindle

Monday Links

H Street Bridge


WJW: Chardon High School in ‘Crisis Mode’ After Shooting

Weird: Fake pictures on the internet of the alleged Chardon shooter. 

Daily Caller: This actually might be his facebook page

Cleveland.com: At least 4 students hurt in shooting at Chardon High School, shooter still at large

Channel 5: Listen to the police scanner traffic

Micro-commentary: I think there is a very troubling tendency in the wake of shootings to immediately use them to make a point about gun laws. This is troubling because it’s done weeks before the facts about the shooting are actually known, regardless if those points are made by conservatives or liberals.

MR: China’s Congress is way richer than ours

The Atlantic: The grocery store of the future?

Reason: Kickstarter Kicks the NEA’s Butt in Arts Funding

CafeHayek: Hungry for attention

CQ: The election’s second front

A new article at bomble.net

Cartoon of the day

Obama vs. the Koch Brothers

Heaton on Terrorists

Sleepy Larry: The US tax system needs rebuilding

Politico: Dick Lugar, the grandfather of the Indiana GOP, fights for reelection

The HillPoll: Likely voters prefer lower individual, business tax rates

Prof. Switzer: Perfectly ignorant

Deadspin: Marquette Coach Buzz Williams Flirted With Death By Dancing In Front Of WVU Students After Last Night’s Win

Examiner: Owners: Rosecroft Raceway would close without slots

WSJ: U.S. Manufacturing and the Skills Crisis

Mashable: Jolie legbombs the internets

ABC: From the department of “Dead people make for the worst laws…”

ThinkProgress: STUDY: Ron Paul Never Attacked Romney Once During 20 Debates, But Attacked Romney’s Rivals 39 Times

WSJ: How to Fix Executive Compensation

Jonathan Turley: Pennsylvania Judge Throws Out Charge For Harassing Atheist While Calling The Victim A Doofus

I don't think the City Paper will find this amusing

Gawker: The CEO of Pizza Hut Took His Dates to Pizza Hut

Dan Novak has a great auto-biography which tells about his very humble upbringing. Gawker’s tongue in cheek profile barks up the wrong tree.

Alternative Energy Revolution

WS: Insufferable Portland

Given the lack of critical attention to the city, I guess it falls to me to state the obvious: Portland is quietly closing in on San Francisco as the American city that has most conspicuously taken leave of its senses.

NRO: Innovate or Legislate

Yo, is this racist?

OUP: Oh Dude, you are so welcome

Sportspickle: “Moneyball” Loses Best Picture to Big-Budget Yankees Highlights DVD

THIS DAY IN HISTORY: A member of Congress first successfully used the insanity defense

PCWorld: What browser should you use?

IRS: Understanding taxes

WSJ: Gordon Gekko Is Cooperating with the FBI

Senorgif: Glad we got rid of LeBron

Atlantic: The impact of bad bosses

Politico: Billy Crystal jabs GOP field at Oscars

Jezebel: Co-Creator of The Berenstain Bears Dies at 88

WUSA9: DC-area arrest photos

WHNPA: Photo finalists

Google: Inside search

The American: Economics: A Million Mutinies Now

Commentary: Media Matters gets “Buchanan’d” Will it work?

DC: Xena, warrior hypocrite | Media Matters’ Brock paid former partner $850k in ‘blackmail’ settlement

Uberfacts: Apple iPads Would Cost $14,970 If Made In The U.S. (Surely they’d be more expensive, but this much?? Original source.)

Victory Kid: Mind blown

io9: The first flying car was based on the Ford Pinto, and killed its inventor


Plain Dealer: Robert Griffin III is worth 3 first-rounders, but might not make sense for Cleveland Browns, says Dennis Manoloff (SBTV)

Plain Dealer: Kelly Holcomb looks back at his years with the Browns: Audio

Via Frank Alvarez: “Get Ready for Kelly Holcomb


Come earn the Lacy Clay Minimum Wage! $0.00 per hour!

I’m not a big fan of my former Congressman, Lacy Clay.

As a former constituent of his in St. Louis, I was about 100% dissatisfied with his performance, which is something I could not say about the late Stephanie Tubbs-Jones.  As my Congresswoman in Cleveland, I virtually always disagreed with her, but generally respected her. Jim Moran, my current Representative in Virginia, is a whole other story. I’ll spare you.

Politics is a vicious business, and if you look hard enough, you can find concrete examples (or draw and connect your own) of hypocrisy to varying degrees by legislators. It’s not hard to do. I usually avoid mentioning specific legislators on the blog as a matter of policy, but this has to be an exception. You might have seen this earlier post I shared about Nancy Pelosi’s apparent double standard on the minimum wage. Of course, she’s not alone in this, as my home-state Senator is equally guilty.

So, in looking at job postings, I see this:

Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay is seeking full time unpaid interns for Winter/Spring 2011. Interns should be responsible, focused, organized and have a general love for politics. Duties will include, but are not limited to: answering phones, processing mail, researching issues, drafting correspondence, attending hearings and briefings, and conducting tours. Ties to Missouri are preferred but not required. If you are interested, e-mail a cover letter, resume, and short writing sample to <redacted> with Winter/Spring 2011 in the subject line. Deadline to apply is December 14, 2010.

But, on Lacy Clay’s campaign site, you see this:

Am I against unpaid internships? Not at all. Should Clay be able to offer them? Of course he should. Virtually all Capitol Hill offices offer unpaid internships or ones with stipends below the minimum wage. Campaigns are the same way.

Betsy (my sister) had a plethora of paid and unpaid internships. I volunteered politically a lot in my youth, but was never officially an intern anywhere. Unpaid internships are fine. Jobs/apprenticeships below the minimum wage are fine, too. What’s not fine, in my view, is government mandating pay or making standards for what qualifies for paid or unpaid work. Especially when government is held to a different standard than the “for-profit” private sector employers.

The Pelosi video examines what is the difference between “volunteering” to work in an internship below minimum wage, versus choosing to take a position with pay below minimum wage at a McDonald’s.  Pelosi says there isn’t one while the videographer says they’re not different at all. Opinions obviously vary, but why are people prevented from choosing to work below minimum wage in the private sector but not the public sector?

Gee, I wonder, on a related note, why teenagers have such a hard time finding work?

If what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, Clay should pay all of his interns the minimum wage or change his position on it. That’s just hypocritical in my view. The minimum wage he championed isn’t helping women and minorities, whom his vote was purported to help, who are seeking internships in his office.

Work for free to get the experience to get a job in D.C. or you’d be hard pressed to find a job in government. How is that different than if McDonald’s wanted to require a probationary period for potential new employees? Not very different at all.