Legislative Lowdown: Obama and Romney entering the fourth quarter

Brian Darling Liberty Government Affairs
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The clock is winding down on this presidential race, which can’t end soon enough. Americans already feel burned out by the extended nominating and general-election process. It feels like we are in the last minute of an extended football game. One more debate and a few more weeks to go, then the final buzzer will sound — finally.

The Senate Republican Conference (SRC), chaired by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), puts out a report on economic indicators over the past four years. This data shows that President Obama has put the economic football on the turf. The numbers of unemployed Americans has gone from 12.05 million to 12.09 million during Obama’s term. Total jobs are down by 61,000. The long-term unemployed numbers have spiked from 2.7 million to 4.8 million Americans.

On the spending side, the numbers are also horrifying. The SRC estimates that the federal debt has spiked from $10.6 trillion to $16.2 trillion over the past four years. Debt per person has gone from $34,731 to $51,364, an increase of $16,633 per person. Add in the fact that President Obama has run deficits in excess of $1 trillion every year in office, and you have a federal government that is out of control. The Obama team’s defense on spending and debt has been porous and giving up big points.

It will be interesting to see how the Obama team’s fumbling of the economy affects the final score in the election.

Welfare spending exploding

Every time somebody tells you how great the economy is doing, ask them why safety-net spending is exploding.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) requested a report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to provide numbers on means-tested federal welfare spending for 2011. According to Sessions, “CRS identified 83 overlapping federal welfare programs that together represented the single largest budget item in 2011 — more than the nation spends on Social Security, Medicare, or national defense.” Sessions has concluded, using data from the CRS report, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Oxford Handbook of State and Local Government Finance, that “the total amount spent on these 80-plus federal welfare programs amounts to roughly $1.03 trillion.” These numbers exclude Social Security and Medicare.

As the Obama economy sputters, welfare spending is increasing. Sessions’ statistics indicate that the federal share of spending on means-tested welfare programs is up 32% since 2008 and these programs equal about 21% of federal spending. These programs include overlap and waste like the Obamaphone.

The Obama administration has encouraged the spike in welfare spending. One needs to look no further than spending on food stamps. According to Sen. Thune, food stamp spending has gone from 32 million to 47 million recipients. This proves the dire need for reform of our nation’s welfare spending.

President Obama promises tax hikes for all

President Obama is on the campaign trail promising tax hikes for all Americans. According to the Washington Post, “President Obama is prepared to veto legislation to block year-end tax hikes and spending cuts, collectively known as the “fiscal cliff,” unless Republicans bow to his demand to raise tax rates for the wealthy, administration officials said.” The story termed Obama’s strategy as “hardball,” and the concern is that if Obama wins, he’ll have leverage to force some Republicans to cut a bad bipartisan deal.

The Obama strategy hinges on brinksmanship. If President Obama wins a second term, expect the lame-duck session of Congress to include a negotiation by Republicans and Democrats to get a deal to extend only lower-end reductions in tax rates. Obama will push Republicans to violate the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to increase revenues through the closing of tax preferences. Conservatives should hold the line and save the closing of these loopholes for serious comprehensive tax reform.

EPA job-killing rules

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has put out a report arguing that the EPA has delayed environmental regulations until after the election because they will kill jobs. These rules include “greenhouse gas regulations to water guidance to the tightening of the ozone standard” that will cause job losses and price hikes after the election.

Lachlan Markay, a reporter for Heritage, says that “tensions between the White House and top environmental regulators flared when the president announced he would delay an EPA rule on ozone emissions until after the election. EPA chief Lisa Jackson was livid, but the president assured her that he would move forward with the rule after the election.”

No wonder the administration delayed implementation until after the voters go to the polls in two weeks.

Brian Darling is Senior Fellow for Government Studies at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).