Dumb People With Good Intentions

Did you know Pat Sajak was not the original host of the Wheel of Fortune? Well, it’s true, the original host was Chuck Woolery, who bailed on the show in order to host Love Connection and Scrabble. Clearly a great business move.

Well now Woolery is pitching his plan to balance the budget. An eye toward balancing the budget is an admirable goal, even if it is a “crisis” that is completely overblown. However, I don’t fault people for seeking to balance the budget because certainly something can to be done even in these tough economic times, and, when the economy improves, balancing the budget should become a central focus of the government as it was in the Clinton administration and should have been in the early years of the Bush administration.

But then you have dumb people like Woolery pitching policies. One of my mantras is that government is both simpler and more complex than you would think. Politicians often attempt to obscure simple decisions to protect their domain as gatekeepers of power, but it is equally true that many policies involve nuance and can have unintended consequences that only having a professional government (the purpose of a Constitutional Republic) can recognize and address. It’s not that every one of Woolery’s suggested cuts is a bad idea — indeed some are good ideas long overdue — but so many are laughably ill-conceived. First, let’s look at the video and then break it down.

So here we go:

  • $90 million for free mail for Congress — This idea is great AND has the secondary benefit of helping to save the post office, a critical institution in this country that is suffering for many reasons including an overpayment into retirement funds that the President has not reversed because he is afraid merely correcting an error will lead to him being accused of engineering another bailout.
  • $146 million for 1st class travel upgrades — This number comes from a GAO investigation from 2005-06 so it’s unclear if this reflects the reality of government travel today. But the most important problem with Woolery’s argument is that this number does not reflect an official policy that can be cut. Rather, the expenditures cited by the GAO report stem from trips that were ”not properly authorized, not properly justified, or both.” When fraud is the source of the waste, two things are true: 1) you can’t just “cut” the expenditure and 2) you have to spend MORE on investigation and enforcement of the rules, and is that worth it when this total represents a mere 1% of federal travel? Maybe, maybe not.
  • $3.6 billion to “run” the UN — The US does not “run” the UN, but it is obligated to provide 22% of the UN budget. Woolery glosses over the role of the UN when he limits its purpose to providing a forum for hostile nations to criticize the US. However, George H.W. Bush had the right view on this institution. The UN has its share of problems, but the UN Security Council in particular plays a critical role in US national security, and, when used effectively allows the US to engage in world affairs with the unified voice of multilateral partners. Additionally, funding UN peacekeeping operations allows the US to keep the lid on some international hotspots without placing US troops in harms way. Remember the first Gulf War? The successful one? That was a UN joint.
  • $200 million from the Presidential travel budget — Now we enter pure laughability. One of the most important roles of the President is traveling at home and abroad. The Presidency already employs Skype, telephones, email and every other conceivable communication technology to minimize unnecessary travel, but sometimes Presidents need to go to Iraq to visit troops and that involves the President’s travel and the travel of security personnel because we don’t want the President vulnerable when traveling.
  • $30 billion in farm subsidies — One of Woolery’s best and yet least considered opinions. Farm subsidies have gotten out of control, not only promoting waste, but promoting the overproduction of unnecessary crops. However, the agricultural sector in America have made business decisions based upon the expectation of subsidies, and a rapid withdrawal of that support would further depress the economy in the Midwest. Woolery engages in a classic display of bad rhetoric cherry-picking a couple of anecdotal celebrities who enjoy subsidy payments while ignoring America’s family farmers or mega-Agribusinesses like ADM. Cuts need to be made, but do not make the mistake that this can be addressed with a simple slash of the budgetary scythe.
  • $30 billion for the Department of Energy — This actually overstates the DOE budget by $3 billion, but who cares? We’re not talking seriously anyway. You know what almost half the DOE budget is? NUCLEAR WEAPONS! Yes, the building, deploying and safety of nuclear warheads. I guess we can get rid of those, but maybe zeroing the budget is a little hasty. Woolery attacks oil subsidies as unnecessary, which is probably true, but not the responsibility of DOE, but a tax code issue. He attacks compact fluorescent bulbs which is also not a DOE issue and the government IS NOT FORCING YOU TO BUY THEM. The whole “ban” is not longer funded and was just an effort to give cover to the light bulb companies because they were making the change anyway because the free market recognizes that CFLs are superior in every way. Solyndra was a mistake, though these loan guarantees are not nearly as scandalous as they are made out (and a longer term problem than people think — the loans were approved clear back in the Bush administration), but this was a mistake to give functional corporate welfare to a company without better due diligence.
  • $1 million for an Albino Squirrel sanctuary — Well, it’s either $269,000 or $111,804, but point well taken. I’m not a fan of this project, but unlike some kind of environmental “Spotted Owl” protection, the purpose of this was to build a functional zoo for Kenton, Tennessee, who claims to be the Home of the White Squirrel and was trying to build tourism to boost revenue in the city. Not exactly an objectionable goal, but also probably not the federal government’s job. Thankfully, Woolery lets this one slide. Phew.
  • $77 billion for the Department of Education — Let’s turn it over to Lisa Simpson to explain “specious reasoning.” American students are failing. The Department of Education exists and the state of education isn’t perfect, so let’s eliminate it. Local funding issues and states that deny evolution seem to be more devastating to education than efforts to create national standards in education.
  • $10.7 billion to eliminate the EPA — It’s $10.486 billion, but once again Woolery put monkeys on his research staff. This hallmark of the Nixon administration has been critical in improving the air and water Americans consume. He also says that this will create 40K jobs by drilling for oil and building a pipeline. 1) That pipeline is being built anyway, so what does eliminating the EPA do? 2) his 40K jobs number seems created from whole cloth. The primary effect of the EPA is, ironically, to help businesses, because EPA regulations provide certainty and prevent businesses from facing a litany of lawsuits from citizens over random environmental conditions. So Chuck, if you want to turn over all environmental regulation to class action lawyers and juries, be my guest.

This is what happens when we don’t take government seriously — and it hurts America because it contributes to the strain of anti-intellectualism that threatens to undermine the goal of the Republic.

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