I’ve always wanted to be so “tech savvy” that I’d be blogging from an airplane. Well, here I am! I’m on a Virgin America flight (coolest airline ever) from DC to San Francisco–going to give a talk out there for my Concord Coalition work, and then spending a few days with friends and family and bringing my 16-year-old daughter back from her five-week art school pre-college program.
But while I’m here, let me point out Stan Collender’s intriguing column in today’s Roll Call (copied here on his blog). Stan says the “Cash for Clunkers” program is like a new (pretty sneaky) federal entitlement program. Some of his points sure hit close to (my) home:
I’ll leave it to others to debate the environmental and economic benefits of the program. But from a budget perspective, the critically important point here is that, when faced with the option of saying the fiscal equivalent Roberto Duran’s “No más,” many of those who in theory want to do something about the deficit and were in a position to make it happen instead demanded that additional funds be provided. The discretionary program that had been enacted with a specific dollar limit on what could be spent quickly became the equivalent of an entitlement with anyone who qualified being allowed to participate…
At most this is a reconfirmation that very little has really changed in the budget debate. Even those who over the past few months have been routinely and resoundingly criticizing the federal deficit as being too high are willing to tolerate it being even higher if they personally benefit from the spending increase or tax cut being considered. It’s still everyone else’s subsidies, benefits and tax reductions that are questionable…
Here’s the additional clunker-related information we need to know to get the full picture.
First, it almost goes without saying, but let’s see if the cash for clunkers program is extended again when, if it’s appropriated, the next $2 billion runs out.
Second, by state and Congressional district, it would be good to know how many people take advantage of the program. My strong suspicion is that it will be as popular in districts considered fiscally conservative as those generally thought to favor more spending. This, rather than a poll that doesn’t cost the respondent anything to respond, will be a far better assessment of what the American people actually believe.
Third, a similar analysis by income would also be helpful. Anecdotal reports so far seem to indicate that the program is as popular with those who earn more as those who earn less. This would not be surprising but would still be good to know when assessing the real politics of today’s deficit.
Finally, we should watch to see if any of the associations that regularly demand the deficit be reduced but have members who will benefit from the program support more cash for clunkers dollars regardless of whether the additional spending is offset…
Ouch! (I hang my head down in shame…)