Republicans now have the opportunity and the responsibility to govern in accordance with their longstanding principles of civic decency and egalitarian upward mobility based on merit instead of privilege or government fiat.
After the midterm elections, Republicans are no longer a bereft minority required to kowtow before politically dominant, elite Democrats who in the past might occasionally have thrown them a few crumbs or condescendingly accorded them small amounts of intellectual credibility provided they were sufficiently compliant. Unfortunately, however, some self-appointed gurus who purport to “advise” Republicans from their high perches in think tanks are, in the run-up to the new Republican-led Congress starting next year, having difficulty breaking their longstanding habits of subservience to Democrats.
Some so-called Republicans are cooperating in a covert inside-the-Beltway effort by Democrats to dupe the incoming Republican leadership of the House and Senate into reappointing Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Elmendorf to a second four-year term. In a trick worthy of Houdini, the Democrats are trying to convert Elmendorf into an imaginary paragon of intellectual integrity and nonpartisanship. Even more hypocritically, they are utilizing a few woolly-headed Republican bloggers such as the Hoover Institution’s Keith Hennessey or the American Enterprise Institute’s deputy director of economic policy studies Michael Strain in an effort to promote the totally specious idea that Republicans need the “credibility” provided by Elmendorf in order to govern effectively.
One fully suborned and too-clever-by-half supposedly Republican “strategist” has suggested that vital tax, budgetary and entitlement reforms on the Republican agenda would be acceptable to Democrats if the all-important underlying calculations of their effects were made by a “trustworthy” Democrat like Elmendorf instead of by a “suspect” Republican. What utter nonsense! It is impossible to imagine that President Obama and congressional Democrats in Congress would vote for much-needed substantive reforms simply because Elmendorf was CBO director. The only realistic consequence of such an appointment would be to allow Elmendorf and the Democrats to sabotage all such reforms by continuing to “cook the books” in ways that cynically misstate the toxic side effects that taxes, regulations and spending have on the economy, jobs and families.
Elmendorf is no doubt a nice person -- good to his wife, Treasury Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy Karen Dynan, and his family and friends -- but the idea that the Republican Party “needs” the spouse of a high-ranking Obama official for credibility is insulting to the incoming chairmen of the congressional committees most closely concerned with the work of CBO.
To be credible, respected, fair-minded and effective, incoming House Way and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (outgoing chairman of the House Budget Committee) does not need Elmendorf. The same can be said of incoming Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Dr. Tom Price, and his excellent staff. Neither they nor CBO need Mr. Elmendorf. What CBO does need is an economist who will look at CBO’s basic assumptions and make reforms.
For instance, CBO states that redistributive policy stimulates the economy because low-income people spend a higher proportion of their income than do upper-income individuals. This implies that saving and investment have no potential to increase economic growth. If that were correct, then economies with high tax rates would show higher rates of growth as assets were redistributed and economic growth would increase with higher taxes. In fact, the reverse is generally true.
Over on the Senate side, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jeff Sessions and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch are among the most experienced and respected members of that august body and they have on their staffs several of the most skilled and widely admired staffers on the Hill. One staffer was recently given an award by the Tax Foundation for outstanding competence and integrity. Another has the near-perfect combination of technical skills and moral and intellectual integrity to handle the CBO job with great distinction. In addition, there are several Republican candidates in the private sector who have similarly high qualifications.
So the question recurs: Who needs Doug Elmendorf to be CBO Director? Answer: The Democrats need him or someone similar to help block Republican reforms of the tax code, the budget process and regulatory overreach by the federal government.
Recent Republican victories at the polls may signal the beginning of a new era of moral and intellectual integrity in public affairs -- but the good prospects for that effort depend on Washington turning over a new leaf. It must start telling the people the truth about the side effects that taxes, spending and regulation have on the economy and, therefore, on their lives. Much of that truth-telling will have to pass through the gates at CBO.
If the newly elected Republican leadership rises to the occasion and appoints a new director who is a Republican and who will do the job in a genuinely “nonpartisan” way by telling the truth, whichever way it cuts politically, the prospects for success on the big reform issues yet to come will be bright. On the other hand, if Republicans allow themselves to be duped on this very first issue of congressional staffing, the prospects will not be good.
It is hard to take seriously the idea that Republicans would reappoint Elmendorf, but mistakes unfortunately do occur and it is best to stop the Elmendorf bandwagon before it gets out of hand. The American public voted decisively for change on November 4, not a continuation of Democratic control of Congress.
Ernest S. Christian is a Washington lawyer and former Treasury official.
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