Archives for January 3, 2013

The Uselessness of Politician Op-Eds

If Congressman Charlie Dent thinks that the national debt is a problem, then maybe he should have named even one single spending cut he supports in his op-ed calling for spending cuts.

In reality, the debt and deficit are well within control, and are responsible for zero of our current economic problems. We only need $1.2 trillion more in spending cuts and tax increases between now and 2022 to stabilize the debt.

The reason you worry about debt or deficits is the impact on interest rates – that government borrowing could raise interest rates and crowd out private sector investment. That is objectively not happening. The fundamentals of the US economy right now are high unemployment, low inflation, and low interest rates. You worry about the deficit when there is low unemployment, high inflation and high interest rates – the opposite of current conditions.

This all just serves to demonstrate the uselessness of politician op-eds. No self-respecting newspaper should allow this kind of drivel to be printed on its editorial page. If a politician wants to deliver a message to your readers, you make him do it through a Q&A with the Editorial board.

In this case, Editorial board members would surely have pointed out that Congressman Dent’s big scary debt numbers lack any meaningful context. The topline number means nothing – it’s the debt-to-GDP ratio that matters. What is the denominator? Dent doesn’t say. $1 trillion sounds frightening by itself, but it matters how big the economy is. $1 trillion of government debt in a $2 trillion economy would be terrifying, but $1 trillion of government debt in a $100 trillion economy isn’t worth worrying about.

Right now, the US structural deficit – the difference between spending and revenue – is about $325 billion , or 2.1% of GDP. It’s a non-problem.

In Obama’s Second Term, Forget Legislating and Learn to Love the Veto

I’m not sure who is arguing that we need 435 liberals in the House to get anything good done. Personally my goal is 218+ Democrats. No doubt that’s a heavy lift. There are only about 35 swing districts, and Democrats need to win 17 to take the majority. Because of the wildly successful round of Republican gerrymandering, Democrats need something like a 7% win in the popular vote to win a majority of the districts as they are currently drawn. This year Democrats won the national House popular vote by 1.12%. About 1.4 million more people voted for a House Democrat than voted for a House Republican, but Republicans kept a majority of seats anyway.

So I’m with Rich Wilkins on his point that liberals who want a House majority need to get used to working alongside the kind of right-wing Democrats who can win in more conservative districts:

Today’s GOP establishment is yester-year’s nutjobs, and these Congressmen breaking from them provide a glimmer, a small one that I’m sure will close next week, of hope that there can be agreements made in President Obama’s second term. We now know who we’re reasonably going to have any chance of ever speaking to, and who not. The idea that we’ll replace all the “moderate” Republicans is also not really going anywhere. When the Dents, and Leonard Lances of the world, are moved into more conservative leaning districts, if we beat them it will have to be with a moderate Democrat, which many in our party have grown to hate.

More importantly, this is political reality. We will never get 435 solid progressive votes. Never. You would like to have 218, and that would be great, but we don’t have that now, not even close, and we probably won’t this decade. Thanks to re-districting, if we want the House back, the activists on the left are going to have to kiss and make up with the concept of “Blue Dogs,” especially in districts that we don’t currently have. Six Republicans are in left-leaning districts, and we need 17 seats, so we’re going to have to cut our losses and accept some people who break with us 20%, maybe even 30% of the time to win. In the meanwhile, the only way to pass any meaningful legislation going forward during President Obama’s time in Washington is going to require a coalition of some portion of our 201 House members and these 85 Republicans. Otherwise we fail. This is the Congress we have, so yes, I do think we have to stop thinking of these guys as the devil.

Two points about this:

If you want to say we should run more conservative Democrats in marginal districts, I want to agree with that, but everybody needs to say what positions their dream Blue Dogs would take.

I have no problem with Democrats running to the right on issues where the Republican position is actually popular in the district. What I disagree with is the notion that rural and exurban voters want to be ruled by insurance and bank lobbyists, or are clamoring for Social Security cuts. Those are not the conservative positions that are popular in swing districts, and I see no reason for Democrats to think that nominating Social Security cutters or bank-friendly future lobbyists will help them win over Reagan Democrats. My view is that swing district voters are receptive to a populist economic message, and that Republicans have done a good job framing their agenda in populist terms, while Democrats have been very squeamish about that kind of messaging. Democrats crave the approval of DC chin-strokers and chafe at accusations of “class warfare,” while Republicans understand that they pay no electoral penalty for DC disapproval of crude populist framing.

Second, I don’t agree that a successful second Obama term requires passing legislation through the House. The big agenda items in the second term involve vetoing bad ideas and protecting the policy wins from the first term. Obama needed to let all the Bush tax cuts expire and propose some different Obama tax cuts, he needs to implement the Affordable Care Act and veto Congressional efforts to change or defund it, he needs to veto changes to Dodd-Frank, etc. This is what the second term is all about. All the things happening automatically over the next 4 years advantage Obama. He just needs to sit back, make veto threats, and do all that he can through executive orders and various agency policy changes.

The reason liberals didn’t like the cliff deal was that doing nothing and going over the cliff would’ve given us a much better deal automatically than anything House Republicans would’ve agreed to. Rich thinks we should’ve agreed to Social Security cuts (chained CPI is a 3% benefit cut) and whined less about the $400,000 cut-off in exchange for a better deal. I disagree. The only items worth bargaining for were a permanent end to the debt ceiling and an extension of the payroll tax holiday. Republicans ruled out both early on, even while the chained CPI trial balloon was still being floated by the White House. With those items off the table, there was no point in making a deal. Going over the “cliff” and negotiating from the 2013 baseline where all the Bush tax cuts have expired would have put Democrats in a way better negotiating position.

It’d be nice if we could win a House majority in 2014, but the big important pieces of the Obama agenda in the second term don’t require Congress. The White House’s agenda is mostly on autopilot, and the only way to screw it up is if Obama pre-compromises with the Republicans to please the DC bipartisanship fetishists.

Strong Towns Speaking Tour Coming to Easton and Other PA Cities

Strong Towns is one of my favorite blogs on cities and land use politics, so I’m excited to see that Charles Marohn is doing a speaking tour through PA. Here’s an important post Marohn did on the Ponzi scheme of exurban development. If you like real estate development and land use issues, you really need to check this out. In the Lehigh Valley he’ll be speaking in Easton and Lower Macungie Township.

From the inbox:

Curbside Chat with Strong Town’s Chuck Marohn

West Ward Neighborhood Partnership; a program of Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, in cooperation with Envision Lehigh Valley, is hosting a Curbside Chat with Strong Towns; a non-profit organization from Minnesota, on Tuesday, January 8 at 6:00 pm. The presentation will be held in Oechsle Hall, Room 224, at Lafayette College. The event is free and open to the public. A social hour with refreshments will follow the presentation.

Please RSVP to Dennis Lieb at

Ruckus Brewing Looking at Expanding into Allentown Neuweiler Brewery

I’ll leave it to others to debate whether $25 million is an appropriate estimate of the cost of redeveloping the Neuweiler Brewery, but Hoptimus Prime is pretty good and so is the idea of leasing extra tank space to other local craft brewers. It would allow for collaborative batches between different brewing companies, which is a common thing, and further reinforce the Lehigh Valley’s craft beer cluster.

Doug Brill:

Allentown’s former Neuweiler Brewery could soon make beer again.

Josh Wood said tonight that his Manhattan-based Ruckus Brewing Co. will buy the long-vacant brewery near a hockey arena now being built and make beer there as early as 2014. He said Ruckus has lined up most of the roughly $25 million it needs to buy the brewery from the city and redevelop it.

The brewery, which Ruckus is calling Brewer’s Hill, would give Ruckus the capacity it needs to meet increased demand for its craft beers, which include popular labels Hoptimus Prime and Hedonism, Wood said. Ruckus doesn’t currently have its own brewery.

“Where we are in our business model, we needed to get into the facility,” Wood said, adding that the brewery would create 50 to 150 jobs. “When you’re in 11 states and Canada and demand is outgrowing supply, you really want to have control of your own production.”

Grasping Toward a 2013 Municipal Election Questionnaire

Municipal elections are low-information affairs, so I would like to do my part to try to increase the amount of real policy substance we hear from the candidates. What do you want to know from the various municipal candidates? I’m starting a running list, and will consider adding your question if I like it. Once I am satisfied with the questionnaire I will offer candidates a free blog post with their questionnaire answers, free of comments from me.

1. How much say should local politicians have in telling people how to use their own property? Do you support form-based zoning or use-based zoning?

2. Should grocery stores be allowed to open near housing? What about other businesses?

3. Should new roads near residential areas be required to have sidewalks and bicycle lanes?

4. Will you adhere to the zoning and land use recommendations in the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Plan?

5. How can local government better assist people who want to start new businesses?

6. What is the best way to improve LANTA bus ridership? How can LANTA increase trip frequency?

7. How often should the County’s real estate be assessed?

8. Would you support lowering taxes on property improvements, and replacing them with taxes on land or site value?

9. When do you think it’s appropriate to use special tax tools like TIF and LERTA?

10. What is the best way for local government to increase local living standards? to help the economy?

11. Do you support the County’s efforts to protect farmland and open space?

12. Would you support the creation of a bi-county public health department for Lehigh and Northampton Counties?

13. How can the County government help municipalities?

14. Would you support teaming up with other towns to share services? (e.g. police, fire protection, garbage collection, planning, administration, code inspection)