The former fiscally sort-of-conservative state GOP

Dan O’Donnell:

It’s something of a rite of passage for teenagers to be left home alone for a weekend while Mom and Dad go out of town. Years of earned trust are put to the ultimate test: As soon as word gets out that the parents are gone, the peer pressure to host a drinking party can be overwhelming.

If it can be withstood, then the kids have proven that they can be responsible adults. If not, then it’s difficult for Mom and Dad to ever trust them alone again.

This year’s biennial budget process has proven to be a similar test for Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, as for the first time they have been left home alone without former Governor Scott Walker keeping them from hosting a spending party.

They haven’t exactly earned Dad’s trust.

Left to their own devices following Walker’s defeat in November, Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) have approved a staggering $1.88 billion on new construction projects. Not only is that nearly double the $1 billion in new construction spending in the 2017-2019 budget (Walker’s last), it tops even the previous record of $1.7 billion spent by Democratic Governor Jim Doyle.

That’s right: Left with the house to themselves, Republicans managed to outspend the guy who left Wisconsin with a $3.6 billion structural deficit.

To be sure, Walker’s budgets weren’t nearly as austere as his political opponents made them out to be—state spending steadily increased during his term—but he always kept the bigger spending legislators in his party from indulging their basest instincts.

He was the only adult keeping the kegs out of his kitchen. Now that he’s gone, though, it’s party time.

Governor Evers proposed spending $1.07 billion on building projects in the University of Wisconsin System. The Republican-led JFC approved $1.03 billion. Evers wanted to borrow $902 million to pay for it. Republicans approved $857 million—just four percent less.

Evers proposed spending an additional $537.7 million on transportation. Republicans approved $484 million—only ten percent less. They also increased K-12 education spending by $500 million and Department of Health Services spending by $1.63 billion.

As the MacIver Institute reported earlier this month, they even bragged about how their health and welfare “budget surpasses, in some cases doubling…Evers’ budget proposal.”

Fiscal conservatives should rightly question why Republicans would ever crow about outspending a Democrat, while anyone with even a passing knowledge of recent Wisconsin history should question the sanity of anyone of any party who outspends Jim Doyle.

Though Walker himself boasted of dramatically increasing education spending in his final budget and was perhaps over-reliant on bonding to fund ballooning transportation costs, he was always a fiscally sane Dad who kept the kids in line. With him out of the house, they’re running wild and risking the legacy they built together.

In the Walker era, legislative Republicans passed quite possibly the single greatest state spending reform in American history in Act 10 and then followed it up with Right to Work legislation and a partial reform of prevailing wage requirements.

Now they’re, as even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noticed, “fighting on Evers’ turf” by their focusing “their funding increases into Evers’ priorities — health care, education and transportation.”

Of course, JFC Republicans are quick to point out that they also passed a $536 million tax cut without adopting Evers’ plan of simultaneously raising taxes on businesses and retirees, but this is akin to a teenager promising to clean the house after Mom and Dad came home early and found all of the empty beer bottles: The damage is already done.

If, left to their own devices, Wisconsin Republicans can no longer be trusted to hold the line on spending—or to at least not try so desperately to outspend Wisconsin Democrats—then why should Wisconsin conservatives believe that they can continue to be responsible stewards of state funds?

Hopefully, adults in the full Senate and Assembly will rein in the JFC’s spending binge and adopt a more fiscally responsible budget than one that could potentially run a structural deficit as high as $1.5 billion over the next two years.

If they don’t, there’s a good chance that voters won’t leave the kids in charge of the house again.

One irony here is that Doyle’s last budget included several Doyle line-item vetoes of profligate spending of his own party. It was nevertheless so grossly out of balance that it torpedoed the state’s economy, already weakened by the Great Recession (thanks to the 2007–08 Democratic-controlled Congress). Ponder spending that is too high for even a Democratic governor.

The other thing, of course, is that this budget should be impossible and illegal because this state should have constitutional, not merely statutory, controls on spending and tax increases. Fiscal responsibility is the second most important thing government does, after preservation of our constitutional rights. Republicans failed to enact permanent (or as permanent as it gets in government) spending and tax controls through the constitutional-amendment process.

 

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Remember the deficit? Remember the debt?

Peter Suderman on …

For most of the Obama era, the federal deficit—and, by extension, the debt—was a crisis.

This was a bipartisan belief, held, or at least paid respectful lip service, by the Tea Party radicals and top administration aides as well as by President Obama himself. Hence the battles over the debt limit; the imposition of sequestration cuts that, fully implemented, were intended to reduce spending by more than $1 trillion over a decade; the concurrent increase in tax rates on high earners; the creation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, better known as the Supercommittee; and the Simpson-Bowles debt-reduction proposal to which it led.

In the end, that plan was rejected by party leaders on both sides. But the idea, that trillion dollar deficits and the pile-up of debt they incur represented a problem, remained alive and powerful to the end. Even President Trump campaigned on (fanciful and mostly incoherent) promises to eliminate the federal debt. The federal budget was an emergency or at least a looming threat. Something had to be done.

But two and a half years into the Trump administration, neither party acts as if there’s a crisis.

On the Republican side, the party’s most notable legislative accomplishment was a deficit-increasing tax-cut bill that reduced revenues without offsetting spending cuts. At least for a while, Trump appeared to be under the false impression that federal debt could be paid down with tariff revenue. Trump’s all-purpose acting henchman, the one-time fiscal hawk Mick Mulvaney, has argued in favor of new deficits.

Amongst Democrats, the GOP’s abandonment of deficit politics has freed the party’s progressives to propose massive spending increases, while elevating economic theoriesthat excuse, or even encourage, a deficits-forever approach to budgeting.

The budget process itself is deeply broken, leading to last minute, quasi-temporary spending deals that come together only because Republicans want to secure more funding for the military while Democrats obtain more funding for domestic programs. Medicare and Social Security remain the largest long-term drivers of the debt, yet the project of entitlement reform looks effectively dead.

The 2020 presidential campaign is in full swing, yet debt and deficits have barely been mentioned. Relatedly, public concern about the issue has dwindled since 2013. In just a few years, American politics has been overtaken by a free-spending sense that debt and deficits just. Don’t. Matter.

And yet the underlying fiscal situation hasn’t changed. If anything, it has become worse. The budget is now on a trajectory toward trillion dollar deficits, and the total federal debt has soared past $21 trillion. And old-age entitlements are rapidly nearing the point of fiscal failure.

Consider Social Security. Earlier this year, the program’s trustees projected that it would be insolvent—unable to pay all of its bills—in just 16 years. Starting next year, the program will begin tapping its trust fund assets in order to pay its full benefits. Eventually, that fund, which itself is a kind of accounting fiction, will be gone, and the program will only be able to pay out a portion of its benefits.

Medicare’s finances are, in some ways, in even more dire shape: Although Social Security’s shortfall is larger, Medicare’s main trust fund is expected to reach insolvencyin 2026, at which point it will be able to pay just 89 percent of its bills. That’s just two presidential elections away, and yet nearly all of the current discussion about Medicare is about whether and how to expand it.

This is the new free-lunchism, and it is driven almost entirely by the politics of convenience and short-term thinking: Voters want more benefits and more spending but not the broad middle-class tax hikes that other countries rely on to pay for those benefits, and politicians across the aisle have responded by offering them exactly the combination they want, with predictable results. There is a prevailing sense amongst both voters and lawmakers that there is little cost to doing so, at least for now. After all, the debt-driven calamities warned about during the Obama era never came to pass. So why worry now?

In part, this is a misunderstanding of how debt crises work. Typically they don’t announce themselves years in advance and provide the public and the political class time to prepare. By the time a crisis arrives, it is, almost definitionally, already too late.

And to the extent debt crises do announce themselves, it’s unlikely to be through anything dramatic. Instead, the early warnings are likely to come through boring and somewhat uncertain projections from actuaries and government economic offices, think tanks that seem to always warn of an impending debt crisis, and deficit-hawk politicians who gripe that no one ever listens to them. The signs and portents, in other words, would look something like what we’re already seeing now.

The current lack of concern about deficits is also partially a result of a re-thinking by some economists, especially on the left and center-left, about the relative importance of deficits; maybe deficits will matter at some point, this line of thinking goes, but not as much as previously thought, and certainly not at present.

Intentionally or not, this line of thinking has given the political class, which rarely considers economic ideas with much nuance, a license to make ever-more extravagant and expensive promises. It has resulted in a calculation, probably correct, that offering voters more—and more and more and more—without the pain of tax hikes, is a path to easy victory with few consequences. Which by all appearances, it is, and will be…right up until it isn’t.

It is possible, I suppose, that this cavalier approach to public finance will work out, more or less, that we’ll muddle through, as we usually have, and that the recklessness of the political class will prove merely irresponsible in the usual way, rather than fully calamitous.

And yet. To believe that we should simply respond to the current fiscal situation with a collective shrug requires a belief not only that current levels of debt and deficits don’t matter, but that the inevitable future expansion of the fiscal gap won’t matter either.

Because one thing you can be certain of is that if today’s fiscal frivolity does not produce immediate dire consequences, then the next generation of politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, will push the envelope just a little bit further, and a little bit further after that, and so on and so forth, rather than settling in some comfortable stopping point where the country’s finances are messy but mostly hang together.

Sustaining this casual attitude toward fiscal looseness thus requires believing that there is essentially no limit, no meaningful upper bound, to the amount of debt that the federal budget can sustain, an idea that even many of today’s more sophisticated debt-doesn’t-matter boosters don’t subscribe to. Alternatively, it requires a high degree of confidence that our nation’s political class will more or less responsibly take our national ledger right up to the brink but no further, finding the precise last moment in which to exercise fiscal restrain. If you believe this, I would gently suggest you acquaint yourself with some politicians.

Otherwise, you have to worry, at least a little, that today’s trajectory is toward crisis, if not now, if not at current debt levels, then at some future date we’ll only discover when it’s too late to prevent, when the consequences can’t be avoided. And that worry should be increased a little more by the possibility that today’s free-lunchism is not only increasing the likelihood of an eventual crisis, but making it harder to solve, if and when it does arrive, by seeding amongst voters the idea that hard choices won’t ever be necessary. It is making the already challenging project of achieving public consensus harder still.

So yes, the predicted crisis may not have arrived quite yet. It may even hold off for a while longer. But the nature of politics means it draws ever closer, and ignoring the issue, as we are now, only makes it worse.

Brian Riedl explains the history and, perhaps inadvertently, shows the problem:

Seemingly no one cares about the budget deficit anymore. Republicans recently cut taxes by $2 trillion, while Democrats are promising a spending spree that could top $40 trillion over the decade. And this is on top of the current budget trajectory that shows annual deficits exceeding $2 trillion within a decade, and totaling a staggering $84 trillion over the next 30 years.

The cost of paying interest on this debt is projected to become the largest federal expenditure within a few decades, consuming one-third of all federal taxes. Even that assumes continued low interest rates. Every percentage point they rise adds another $13 trillion in budget interest costs over the next three decades.

In short, an avalanche of debt is upon us. Yet pandering politicians promise even more free lunches, paid for by our kids.

America desperately needs a “grand deal” on deficits, where Republicans and Democrats come together and make the difficult choices to avert a debt-based calamity. We’re all in this together, so everything should be on the table, with no sacred cows.

Such a deal seems wildly implausible. But it has not always been. In a new study, I analyzed the 14 largest deficit-reduction negotiations since 1980. Six of these negotiations successfully led to a deficit-reduction deal, and eight of them failed. Yet the outcome of nearly every negotiation was determined by the same three variables. Satisfying at least two of them always led to a deal. Satisfying one or zero produced failure.

First, there should be a “penalty default” that brings negotiators to the table. This is some painful policy — such as a government shutdown, debt limit default, or deep automatic spending cuts — that would be implemented automatically if a deal is not enacted by a certain date. The 1983 Social Security reforms were motivated by the program’s impending trust fund exhaustion that would bring automatic benefit cuts. The 2011 Budget Control Act was motivated by the need to quickly raise the debt limit and avoid a default on federal obligations.

Today’s challenge is that government shutdowns and debt limits have proven to be increasingly ineffective and dangerous ways to motivate a deal. New penalty defaults are needed to bring lawmakers to the table.

Second, the public must want a deficit-reduction deal. The budget deals enacted between 1985 and 1997 — which helped balance the budget — were driven by voter deficit concerns that made it politically safer for politicians to impose spending cuts and tax hikes. Today, most voters either do not care about the deficit, or are willing to address it in only a partisan fashion.

Third, Congress and the White House must engage in healthy, good-faith negotiations. During the 1995 deficit-reduction negotiations, President Clinton and the Republican Congress attacked each other publicly (even running TV ads against each other) and relied on deception and intimidation to bully the other side into accepting a lopsided deal. These negotiations inevitably failed, leading to a lengthy government shutdown.

Two years later, both sides tried again. Each side honestly laid out their priorities, made generous concessions, avoided hardball tactics, and worked towards a deal in which both sides could claim victory. Neither side relied on leaking to the media or publicly bullying the other. The result was a popular, bipartisan budget deal that was followed by a balanced budget the following year.

This “healthy negotiations” variable was regularly present in the 1980s and 1990s budget negotiations — and has never been present since. That is the lead reason why only one successful deficit-reduction negotiation has occurred in the past 20 years. Republicans and Democrats no longer know how to negotiate with — or even tolerate — each other. And yes, both parties are to blame on that.

Future deficit negotiations also will be more difficult because past negotiations picked the low-hanging fruit. More than half of all savings from past deficit-reduction deals came from discretionary spending (mostly defense) — reducing the discretionary spending share of the budget to less than one-fourth within the next decade. Savings from small entitlement programs, modest tax changes and user fees also have played a role in past deficit-reduction deals.

What’s left? The Social Security and Medicare systems face a $100 trillion cash shortfall over the next 30 years, while the rest of the budget is projected to run a $16 trillion surplus. Closing this gap will require some combination of Social Security and Medicare reforms, and new taxes that include the middle-class. Defense cuts, social spending cuts, and millionaire taxes should be on the table, but cannot close more than a small fraction of that combined $84 trillion shortfall. The math is unforgiving.

This represents a challenge to both politicians and voters. The president and Congress need to get off of Twitter, rebuild relationships and learn to negotiate despite their strong disagreements. The public must also stop demanding more free lunch policies from politicians. After all, the climate change movement focuses on imposing relatively-modest reforms now to avoid calamity later. Imposing modest budget reforms now, before an $84 trillion deluge of debt brings a Greece-style economic calamity, also should be a top priority.

The problems are obvious. The biggest and growing cause of federal deficits are entitlements, specifically Social Security and Medicare, and yet suggesting that reform of Social Security and Medicare is needed is a good way to end your political career.

And yet, tax increases are always the wrong answer. Always. Tax increases, as everyone should know, end up slowing down the economy and make family finances worse. Who therefore should want a fix to federal deficits when the fix makes them worse off?

There are two ways to fix the deficit. One isn’t likely to happen — a constitutional requirement for a balanced budget with no wiggle-outs for alleged national emergencies. The other is a crisis.

 

Another excessively large state budget

Owen Robinson of the former Boots and Sabers blog:

Wisconsin has long been a tax hell where it is more expensive to live, work, and play than in most other states. Gov. Scott Walker and the legislative Republicans made some progress over the last eight years in making the state more affordable, but now many of those same legislative Republicans are allowing the state to slide back.

One of the myths perpetuated by Wisconsin’s liberals is that Governor Walker and the Republicans cut spending and starved government when Walker was in office. We have all heard the claims of cutting “to the bone” and draconian austerity measures. All of those claims are wrong. The truth is that every state budget that Walker signed spent more than the previous one.

What Walker and his Republican partners in the Legislature did was keep the spending increases smaller than normal while cutting taxes, deregulating, and aggressively working to improve the business climate. The result was a sustained period of improving in the national tax burden rankings (primarily because other states were jacking up taxes while Wisconsin held steady), higher employment, private-sector growth, and increasing tax revenues that resulted in budget surpluses.

It is a formula that works for a while, but it does not fix the root cause of the issue. Wisconsin is a tax hell because the government spends too much. Politicians can feed the spending beast without tax increases for a while by borrowing, juicing the economy with tax cuts and deregulation, and financial gimmickry, but eventually the bill must be paid. State government does not have the ability to print money like the federal government.

Now that Governor Walker has been replaced by a doctrinaire, tax-and-spend Gov. Tony Evers, the legislative Republicans who worked so well with Walker are regressing.

The state budget is being crafted by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. Once the JFC is finished with the budget, it will be sent for votes and possible amendments in the Assembly and the Senate. Since the Republicans still command sizable majorities in both houses of the Legislature, the Republicans are in complete control of what goes into, and what gets left out of, the budget.

Over the past few weeks, the Republicans on the JFC have been on a spending spree. They decided to spend an additional $500 million on K-12 education despite no correlation between spending and educational outcomes. The Republicans increased spending on UW by $58 million even though the UW System has refused to consolidate and economize in the face of declining enrollment.

Last week, the JFC cranked up spending on transportation to the tune of $484 million. Perhaps remembering the 2017 audit completed by the Legislative Audit Bureau that found billions of dollars of waste and overruns in the Department of Transportation, Republican leaders have promised a series of reform bills are in the works, but it is worth noting that they are willing to spend the money before any reforms are even introduced — much less in place.

On those three items alone, Republican leaders in the Legislature are already committing increasing spending by over a billion dollars — and there are dozens of state departments to go.

Republicans are also already acknowledging that the days of increasing spending without tax increases are over. Their desire to spend more is outstripping their ability to keep taxes in check. In order to support the spending increases for transportation, the Republicans voted to increase vehicle title fees by $95 and annual registration fees by $10. They expect these to extract an additional $393 million from hardworking Wisconsinites to support their gross spending habit.

Even during the Walker era, Wisconsin’s Republicans have never been able to shake their spending addiction. They spend a little less than Democrats, but never actually cut spending. And if we never cut spending, we can never sustain cutting taxes. Now that Governor Evers has moved the spending goal even higher, the Republicans in the Legislature seem to be reveling in exploding spending without any pressure from the governor’s office to restrain themselves.

The Republicans lost every statewide election in Wisconsin last year largely because they gave up on the conservative revolution and failed to give the Republican grass roots anything to be excited about. Their behavior in this budget is evidence that they have not learned the lesson.

One reason Republicans overspend is because Republicans, Democrats and everyone else is able to overspend because this state does not have constitutional limits on spending and taxes. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights hasn’t been forwarded for a constitutional referendum vote by Republicans. That’s because Republicans want unlimited control of government when they’re in office, just like Democrats want unlimited control of government when they’re in office.

Politicians of any or no party will overspend and overtax unless they are prevented from overspending and overtaxing.

 

From Obama to Trump to …

George S. Will:

“It is a great advantage to a president,” said the 30th of them, “and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.” Or, Calvin Coolidge would say today, a great woman. While today’s incumbent advertises himself as an “extremely stable genius” and those who would replace him promise national transformation, attention should be paid to the granular details of presidential politics, which suggest that a politics of modesty might produce voting changes where they matter, and at least 270 electoral votes for a Democrat.

If the near future resembles the immediate past, which it often does, the Democratic nominee in 2020 will be, as the Republican nominee was in 2016, the person favored by the party faction for whom government is more a practical than an ideological concern. For Republicans in 2016, the faction — non-college whites — felt itself a casualty of an economic dynamism that has most benefited people who admire this faction least. In 2020, the decisive Democratic faction in the nomination contest is apt to be, as it was in 2016, African Americans, whose appraisal of government is particularly practical: What will it do regarding health care, employment, schools?

For them, packing the Supreme Court, impeaching the president, abolishing the Electoral College and other gesture-promises probably are distractions. African Americans were at least 20 percent of the vote in 15 of the 2016 primaries, and in all the primaries combined they gave 76 percent of their votes to Hillary Clinton. This is why Trump did not get a chance to defeat Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who narrowly defeated Clinton among white voters in the primaries.

These numbers are from the National Journal‘s Josh Kraushaar, who noted that in a 2016 Pew survey, ‘just 28% of African-American Democrats identify as liberal, with a plurality describing themselves as moderate.’ Some of that plurality surely resent the idea of reparations for slavery as a badge of an irremediable damage. And the importance of ensuring robust African American turnout for Democrats is illustrated by this fact: If in 2004 John Kerry had received as many black votes in Ohio as Barack Obama was to receive in 2008, Kerry would have been the 44th president.

Furthermore, in the 110-day sprint between the end of the Democratic nominating convention in Milwaukee and Election Day, the earliest voting — this is subject to change — begins September 18 in Minnesota and at least one-fifth of 2020 voters will probably cast their ballots before Election Day. The decisive voters might be those who crave not transformation but restoration — the recovery of national governance that is neither embarrassing nor exhausting.

So, the Democratic party, the world’s oldest party, which for the first time in its history has won the popular vote in six of seven presidential elections, should be keenly focused on how to subtract states from Donald Trump’s 2016 roster, and to do so by carrying more than the 487 counties (out of 3,142) that Clinton carried. Democrats might try to decipher the almost 41-point swing in northeast Iowa’s inscrutable Howard County, the only U.S. county that voted in a landslide for Obama over Mitt Romney (by 20.9 points) in 2012 and four years later in a landslide for Trump over Clinton (by 20.1 points).

Democrats must make amends with the 402 other counties that voted for Trump after voting for Obama at least once. This will require the Democrats’ progressive lions to lay down with the Democrats’ moderate lambs, a spectacle as biblical as it is inimical to progressives’ pride about their wokeness. They might, however, be encouraged to be more politically ecumenical by remembering this: In 2016, Clinton won cumulatively a million more votes than Obama did in 2012 in New York, Massachusetts and California, but won one million fewer than he received everywhere else.

Everything, however, depends on Democrats jettisoning, before they allow it to influence their selection of a candidate, their self-flattering explanation of 2016. As William Voegeli, senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books, has written:

Ascribing the 2016 election to your opponents’ bigotry makes clear that the problem was not that Democrats didn’t do enough to deserve people’s votes, but that the people weren’t good enough to deserve Democrats’ governance. . . . One imagines that, sooner rather than later, even Democrats will come to suspect that denigrating people until they vote for you lacks a certain strategic plausibility.

Sooner than the Milwaukee convention?

 

Trump, Amash and various Democrats

The Hill:

Rep. Justin Amash, the lone Republican in Congress to call for President Trump’s impeachment, says he has no desire to play “spoiler” if he launches a third-party bid against Trump in 2020.

“I have no interest in playing spoiler. When I run for something, I run to win,” the Michigan Republican told The Hill on Wednesday as he descended the steps of the Capitol toward his office.

“I haven’t ruled anything out,” Amash replied when asked if he’s made a decision about a possible presidential bid.

But if he does run, some of his GOP colleagues worry that the five-term Libertarian-leaning congressman from Grand Rapids could siphon tens of thousands of votes away from Trump in a general election, potentially moving Rust Belt states that Trump won in 2016 — such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — into the Democratic column next year.

Some Republicans acknowledged that an Amash candidacy could be enough to hand the White House to the Democratic nominee, be it former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or someone else.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) said a third-party bid by Amash “could screw things up.”

“I respect Libertarians, I like them a lot. But it doesn’t take away from the Democrats. It will take away from the conservative viewpoint and that hurts our side,” LaMalfa said. “You guys want to elect Biden or Crazy Bernie, then that’s the way to do it.

“I don’t have anything against him, but when people do this stuff, all it does is tear down the ability of Republicans to unite,” he added. “Maybe it’s some sort of vendetta against Trump.”

Some GOP colleagues close to Amash, 39, predict he ultimately will not challenge Trump next year.

“He has no plans to run,” said one close friend.

But other Republican lawmakers said the headline-grabbing steps Amash has taken in recent weeks suggest he is gearing up for a presidential bid.

Amash rocked Washington last month when he became the first Republican lawmaker to declare — after reading the 448-page report from special counsel Robert Mueller — that Trump had obstructed justice and engaged in “impeachable conduct.”

On Wednesday, Amash broke with Republicans again when he was the only GOP member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee to vote in favor of holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt.

That move came just days after Amash resigned from the House Freedom Caucus he helped launch four years ago with Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and other conservatives. The caucus has stood for reduced federal spending, limited government and protecting the Constitution, and helped send then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) into an early retirement in 2015.

But after Trump’s election, Amash grew increasingly frustrated that many caucus members exhibited what he considered blind loyalty to Trump, defending the president at any and all costs.

“Justin’s not running for reelection” to the House, said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a Trump loyalist. “Justin’s running for president.”

Trump is now taking direct aim at Amash, huddling with Vice President Pence, Meadows and others to discuss the prospect of backing a GOP primary challenger to Amash in his reelection bid in the House, Politico reported Wednesday.

A new poll out this week showed Amash trailing little-known GOP challenger Jim Lower by 16 points — 49 percent to 33 percent.

But Amash seems unfazed by it all, saying he’s not worried by the threat of a Trump-backed primary challenge and that he would have no regrets if his call for impeachment ended his political career.

“I’ve spent my whole time in office under fire from different people, so it doesn’t worry me. I’ve had multiple elections where people thought I was the underdog and won by large margins,” Amash said in Wednesday’s interview. “I don’t really worry about any of that stuff. I have a lot of confidence in what I’m doing, in the American people, and especially the people in my district.”

“First I’m not going to lose, and second, I don’t have any regrets about doing the right thing,” he added, referring to a House race. “I didn’t run for office to sell out my principles to the party or to any one person. I’ve promised the people of my district I would operate in a certain way, uphold the Constitution, uphold the rule of law, fight for limited government and liberty, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Amash, the first Palestinian American to serve in Congress, won election in the Tea Party wave that swept Republicans into power in 2010. The attorney and former state lawmaker burnished a reputation as a strict constitutionalist and constant thorn in the side of GOP leadership.

His divorce from the ultraconservative Freedom group has been a trying episode.

“It’s certainly sad. It’s not like a happy moment to leave a group I helped found,” Amash said. “But I felt it was the right move under the circumstances.”

He also said he remains friends with Jordan, Meadows and others in the Freedom Caucus. On Wednesday, Amash sat next to and chatted with Jordan during an Oversight hearing before the contempt vote.

When asked Wednesday if he was aware of an Amash presidential bid, Meadows told The Hill: “I only have heard about his desire to run for reelection for his congressional seat. Nothing more.”

Amash’s call for impeachment put many of his GOP colleagues in an extremely difficult spot. Many Republicans want to be able to say that Amash is standing on principle and a man of conviction, one senior GOP lawmaker explained, but they don’t want to incite the wrath of Trump.

“He’s radioactive right now,” the GOP lawmaker said. “Even his closest friends and most trusted allies are in an awkward position of defending him as a person, because then they become part of the headline.”

Asked if Amash is a man of principle, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) replied with a smile: “Justin is a friend.”

Davis described a possible Amash presidential bid as “a quixotic adventure.”

“I just don’t see it happening. It’s going to come down to the president and a major Democratic candidate,” said Davis, former chairman of the Republican Main Street Caucus. “He is somebody who marches to his own drummer. What we are seeing with Justin right now is not new to the Republican conference.”

One Freedom Caucus colleague, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), called an Amash presidential bid “political suicide.”

Amash’s push for impeachment “was really over the top. He got elected and is entitled to his own position, but I totally disagree with him,” Lesko said. “I think he should change his mind and get out. He has no chance.”

More than 50 House Democrats have now called on their leadership to launch an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump obstructed justice and committed other crimes. Amash’s Michigan colleague, freshman Democratic Rep. Rashida Tliab, who has known Amash for years, has introduced a resolution calling on the Judiciary Committee to explore impeachment.

But Amash said he is not prepared to sign on as a co-sponsor to any of the Democratic pro-impeachment resolutions, especially since Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not expressed any desire to move forward on impeachment.

“Unless the Speaker is interested in acting, the resolutions don’t really have much meaning at this point,” Amash said. “If the Speaker doesn’t want to move forward, the whole thing is dead in the water anyway.”

“Dead in the water” might describe Amash’s chance of winning the electoral votes of at least Wisconsin and many of those battleground states anyway. As a sort-of fan of Amash (because I believe the GOP needs to become more libertarian and less big-government-that-we’re-in-charge-of), I have pointed out here that there is less difference between Amash and Trump than some might think based on voting records.

But even if that were not the case, political history shows that with the lone exception of alcohol, Wisconsin is a very un-libertarian state. Wisconsin has the second most units of government of any state, high taxes, and big government in other senses. There is really no one at the federal level representing who could be considered remotely libertarian, and the last libertarian Republican in the Legislature was probably Sen. Dave Zien. Wisconsin Republicans — both politicians with the big R after their names, and those who support them — do not support smaller government or much else that libertarians support. And to think that self-identified Republicans will vote for Amash is, from the Democratic Party view, a triumph of hope over experience.

That’s Wisconsin. This analysis also ignores the fact that the Democrats may well not coalesce around current presidential frontrunner Joe Biden in the same way that Democrats didn’t coalesce around Hillary Clinton three years ago. Recall that Bernie Sanders claimed to support Hillary after she stole the Democratic nomination from him, but Comrade Sanders’ supporters didn’t vote for Hillary. Not enough has changed to make one think that a four-way race among Trump, Biden or another Democrat, someone left of Biden and someone more libertarian than Trump is impossible next year.

 

Trump’s “radical” government restructuring

Daniel Greenfield:

D.C. is the ultimate big government town. Food doesn’t grow there. A swamp does.

The USDA, under Trump, is trying to actually move personnel closer to where food does grow.

Employees at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) intend to move from Washington, D.C. to an unspecified area in the Kansas City region by the end of 2019, the Washington Post reports.

Of course there’s screeching at the idea.

Why it matters: “Employees, congressional Democrats and a bipartisan coalition of former USDA leaders” have warned that the move “would devastate the two agencies,” per the Post. ERS and NIFA have both recently unionized and some “union officials have promised to fight the move.”

Food.

Washington D,C. doesn’t grow it. Missouri on the other hand has over 100,000 farms.

The swamp is whining that it might actually have to be located near where its supposed jurisdiction is located as opposed to enjoying the good life in D.C. while coming no closer to actual agriculture than the lobbyists for various concerns.

This should be the beginning of a precedent.

Several hundred employees of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture will be asked to move “closer to customers,” in the language of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who announced the final location on Thursday morning.

“Following a rigorous site selection process, the Kansas City Region provides a win-win–maximizing our mission function by putting taxpayer savings into programmatic outputs and providing affordability, easy commutes and extraordinary living for our employees,” Perdue said. “The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America’s heartland. There is already a significant presence of USDA and federal government employees in the region, including the Kansas City ‘Ag Bank’ Federal Reserve,” his statement continued. “This agriculture talent pool, in addition to multiple land-grant and research universities within driving distance, provides access to a stable labor force for the future. The Kansas City Region will allow ERS and NIFA to increase efficiencies and effectiveness and bring important resources and manpower closer to all of our customers.”

A new cost-benefit analysis—a tool that critics of the planned move had long said was lacking—showed that the move will save nearly $300 million over 15 years, or $20 million a year, the department said. The state and local governments involved offered relocation incentives of more than $26 million.

But… our entire country is supposed to be run out of a few blue urban cities.

That prompted this Wisconsin comment:

Imagine that…the people who regulate agriculture having to live near it. Now they will smell the manure in person, but it won’t smell nearly as bad as their right of entitlement corruption.

Make them all inspect hog pens in person. If they don’t, fire them and hire one of the tens of thousands of farmers who have gone broke because of the corruption in DC.

Governor Walker tried to move the Department of Natural Resources out of Madison but was met with all kinds of ridiculously hyperbolic resistance. Wisconsin’s DNR has become a haven for man-hating lesbian environmentalists who use their power as game wardens or attorneys to attack hunters and fishermen. They didn’t want the DNR to leave their power base in Madison.

The protesting employees should be mandated to move or seek employment elsewhere. This should have been done yesterday. For instance, there was this other comment:

Next thing you know, “Homeland Security” will be moving to the Southern Border.

On the other hand …

I feel sorry for the people having their lives ruined. In KC.