Monday, October 29, 2007

Is Ron Paul's Spending Record As Good As Advertised?

The Club for Growth says no. They still give him overall high marks, but there are some definite red flags in this report, and some that aren't. I identified 9 areas of criticism in the Club for Growth's report:
1. Line-item veto. Given the current expansion in Executive Power under the Bush Administration, I think Paul's opposition to any line-item veto legislation is more than justified, constitutional or not; frankly, my position on the line-item veto has changed over the years, and I now firmly believe that the separation of powers concerns far outweigh any improvement in fiscal restraint.
2. Federally-mandated election reform; the vote was to increase funding for the Help America Vote Act, specifically for updated election equipment. Given that federal elections are conducted locally, their importance, and the need for reliable results, this is probably as constitutionally appropriate an area of funding as you're going to get.
3. Paul's sudden drop from 100% in 2006 on designated pork barrel votes to 29% in 2007. This number, in and of itself is quite disturbing. (More on this point below).
4. Newfound sponsorship of earmarks, along with a statement of essentially, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." This is frankly inexcusable, since that is the logic of virtually every pro-pork congressman, and any Paul supporter needs to question their candidate's commitment to his stated ideals if he is willing to start backing earmarks as soon as he starts running for President.
5. Opposition to trade agreements. This is something that Paul is pretty open about, and I understand his position. I just disagree with it- the goal of free trade is global free trade, and it's tough to get other countries to eliminate their restrictions on free trade without working with them through agreements. Frankly, this is clearly an area where even I think government has an important role to play.
6. Paul's impractical opposition to "reforms" of broken systems. Sometimes, "reforms" are worse than the broken system they're trying to fix. Admittedly, Paul's absolutism about just immediately eliminating programs is impractical, but at least it's intellectually honest. Club for Growth's mild rebuke on this issue is still, I think, legitimate.
7. I disagree with the mild rebuke on Paul's approval for negotiation of pricing on Medicare drugs. This won't lead to "de facto" price controls, as the article suggests, since the drug companies would still be free to charge whatever they wish to non-government entities (who, I might add, would be able to negotiate their own pricing structure). If government should be run like a business (and it should), then permitting it to negotiate pricing is part of the deal.
8. School vouchers. Paul's support of credits as opposed to vouchers (which he correctly points out will increase government's role in private schools) is perfectly consistent with small government principles. Indeed, as Cato Fellow (and old acquaintance of mine) Adam Schaeffer has argued, credits are the more practical approach to school choice both legally and politically, and are likely to be just as effective. Club for Growth's characterization that Paul's support of credits over vouchers places him with the Dems and NEA in opposing reform is seriously misplaced and out of line.
9. Tort reform. While I generally agree with the principles behind Paul's opposition to most tort reform (and thus disagree with Club for Growth's position on most tort reform), Club for Growth's very muted criticism is fair and appropriate.

As I suggested above, Paul's sudden embrace of earmarks and sudden approval of pork projects in the last few months is troubling indeed for anyone who views him as an icon of consistency and intellectual honesty. I took a look at each earmark that was the subject of the Club for Growth's study, and there is little doubt that, in each case, the earmark is the very definition of "pork." It does appear that for several of the votes, Paul was simply not present in Congress, and was likely on the campaign trail so you can't read that as support of the pork (though some would make a legitimate argument that being on the campaign trail during a vote raises other question marks). Still, the votes that Club for Growth selected for inclusion in its rankings seem to be a fair choice- the pork at issue in each selection is very, very clearly pork. Ron Paul's sudden votes against the anti-pork amendments (especially beginning in July) are extraordinarily puzzling.

What is most puzzling about these votes is that they serve no apparent political purpose, so you can't say that he's just trying to curry votes for the primaries (although that is the only legitimate inference given the sudden shift from absolute opposition to general acceptance). Essentially, I just don't see how voting for a few small pork barrel projects in other people's districts is going to noticeably increase your support (especially in the primaries) in those areas. Did Paul cut some sort of a deal with some of the Democrats?

In all, these questions aren't enough to get me to stop backing Paul, but it sure as hell makes McCain and Thompson look more and more palatable- and Obama even more so (since he has the best shot of stopping Hillary without managing to be as scary as Hillary).