Tuesday, August 2, 2011

D-Day Panel

You are probably as weary of the debt ceiling discussion as I am. But, this being d-day, I’m following up with a report of a panel discussion I witnessed last night. Catherine Engelbrecht of King Street Patriots was in Washington, DC (for a Judicial Watch panel to be held today, along with Christian Adams and John Fund, which will be streamed live). So while she was there, she took the opportunity to host a panel discussion on the debt ceiling with Congressman Kevin Brady, R. TX, and Dean Mitchell from the Cato Institute. The Cato Institute is, I believe, a Libertarian think tank; on economic issues their views nearly always fit on the Spherical Model well into the free-enterprise zone. 
On the back wall at King Street Patriots
Back at the KSP home in Houston, radio host Chris Baker played the role of liaison with the live audience. At the time of the panel, nothing had been signed, but it was considered inevitable (and has indeed been signed by this writing). Not everyone is happy with the outcome. But there were some slightly positive observations. I was writing notes, so my apologies for any inexact quotes. 

Dean Mitchell, when asked about how he would sum up the results, said, “We would like to have gone further, but with Harry Reid, etc., it’s a good first step. We can be happy to be having the debate about reducing government rather than what’s been going on for years and years—moving toward Greek style bigger government.” 
Chris Baker was asked what he’d been hearing back in Texas: “Many Tea Party citizens are highly offended at being called terrorists by Vice-President Biden today. Terrorists kill babies…. It’s a personal insult to every freedom-loving person in America. When did you become a terrorist just by asking if we can follow the Constitution?” 

Catherine Engelbrecht added, “Call us what you will; we’re not going away.” 

There was some discussion about the “supercommittee” that is part of the bill, described by Rep. Brady as a way to fast-track cuts, with the focus on entitlements. He assured that, “with only three GOP House members, out of 204, on the supercommittee, you can be certain that they will be solid conservatives.” 

Dean Mitchell then talked a bit about the MAP (Maximizing America’s Prosperity) Act, put forward by Congressman Brady, as a procedural way to deal with budget process reform. “How do you bind a future congress? You can’t—unless you change the budgeting process.” 

Rep. Brady added that he had designed the MAP Act using lessons learned from what hasn’t worked, to create guardrails around the Ryan plan, to make sure we never face gridlock. (I was unaware of the MAP Act prior to last night, so you might want to give it a fair reading yourself.) Rep. Brady added, “You can’t control interest rates, but if you keep shrinking the principle of the debt, you’re going the right direction.” He also pointed out that, through this legislation, every program has a sunset, “like we have in Texas, which has worked so well.” 

The big question for me, and apparently for others in the room, was whether downgrading is inevitable. The short answer is yes, if not now, then eventually, and probably deserved. The entire debt ceiling debate, as a crisis meant to avert downgrading, has been pretty much a sham. Nothing was debated that will convince these agencies that we are getting a handle on our debt/overspending problem. Rep. Brady admitted there will be an impact. Interest rates will increase. Institutions that can only hold the highest rated assets will not be able to hold ours. The question, really, is why we’re just now looking at the possibility of a downgrade. “Many are still in denial, but we’re still at risk after this bill.” 

Mitchell was a little less fatalistic about this mysterious process. He said that the agencies aren’t that accurate historically. They missed the housing crisis and financial meltdowns. They did nothing about Obamacare or the bailouts or stimulus spending. So they aren’t all that accurate at predicting volatility to begin with. “We probably deserve to be downgraded,” he said, “but the question for international investors is, where else do you have to invest? The US is benefitting because everyone else is messing up so badly.” 

Catherine Engelbrecht asked, “What is our best strategy out in the Tea Party? Rep. Brady answered, “Do what brought you here, that you do so well. The Tea Party is great at getting policy right and then going after the votes. Mitchell added that there’s another debt ceiling debate coming, and Obama will try to get more entitlements, and reminded us, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” 

Mitchell pointed out that government has doubled in size in the past decade. “If we would go back to spending levels like we had at the end of Clinton’s presidency, we’d have savings overnight.” He made sure we understood that the problem is not with the House. “The House passed the Ryan budget; the Senate didn’t even take it up. The House passed Cut, Cap and Balance; the Senate hasn’t even voted on a budget the past two years. The House has pulled its weight. The problem is the Senate. The Problem is the White House.” [I’ve had this question: why, when the House has already passed multiple solutions to the debt ceiling, did they feel obligated than to do anything other than wait for the Senate to respond? Please explain.] 

Regarding baseline budgeting, and whether the current bill contains any actual cuts, Rep. Brady said a qualified yes, a little, $22 Billion this year, which in comparison to the debt is not even noticeable. After the laughter died down, Brady added seriously, “All projections are we’ll add trillions in debt over the next decade. If you want to change the projections, you have to change the lawmakers.” To this, Catherine added, “We have to clean up the Senate, clean up the presidency. So, hold the line and then go get ‘em in ’12.” 

Mitchell used a dieting analogy. “Imagine I go on a diet, and I report that it has been successful. I gained 10 pounds. But I let you know I was going to gain 15 pounds, but I only gained 10, so I lost 5 pounds. (pause) If this makes sense to you, then you’ll understand how government thinks. The Ryan plan took 5% down to a 2% increase per year. They complained about cuts. It’s a dishonest approach.” 

Next Monday, after people have had a chance to read the final bill, KSP will discuss the details and outcome. If you’re interested, it will be streamed live, 7:00 PM CDT, from KingStreetPatriots.org. 

After the cameras went off, Chris Baker took a moment to make these comments to those of us in the audience: “I am awed by what I see here, and what Catherine has been able to build. You may not realize the victory, but Tea Party citizens here put Washington on notice, and you haven’t backed down. This is a good conservative free TV channel—no one even thought this could happen. They don’t understand your commitment to liberty. It’s better than a gun. There’s a revolution going on and you don’t need a gun.” 

Just a word about KSP. King Street is the street in Boston that the original tea partiers had to cross to throw tea into Boston Harbor. In itself, it isn’t a Tea Party organization. It is a grassroots entity designed to help get information to citizens, so it can be a resource to Tea Parties. It has a strong focus on free and fair elections, training poll watchers and trying to prevent voter fraud. And it has weekly one-hour meetings with speakers and panels that are meant to provide citizens with information they’re looking for as they try to take appropriate actions. It functions totally on donations and almost all on volunteer labor. It’s easy to donate online, if you’re so inclined.

I am not anything but an interested citizen; I've been through KSP's poll watcher training and served as a poll watcher, and I attend the informative meetings when I can. And lately I've been using what I've learned there for the occasional blog post. I hope you find the info valuable.

No comments:

Post a Comment