Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Straight Talkin' Flim Flam Man

Is it too late to propose a New Year's resolution? It took me three and a half months, but I finally have one. By the end of the current decade, I am going to play quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.

You may scoff, but I've got it all figured out. First, I am going to read every book ever written by, about, and for NFL quarterbacks. I'll take the best advice from each and put it together to mold myself into the perfect signal caller. Then I'll hit the workout room for at least four hours a day, maximizing my strength and conditioning. I will also pick up the latest version of the John Madden video game, which will help me to hone my reflexes and test my strategy.

Finally, I'll wait for the football fairy to sprinkle some pixie dust on me and I'll be good to go.

At this point, you're probably wondering if I've been sampling some of the local mushrooms, but I can promise you I've been drug free since…well, since long after the statute of limitations expired. Besides, I don't need to convince you, because I already know that John McCain will believe me. In fact, right now, he's probably telling all of his friends back in Phoenix to invest in Cardinals' season tickets, if only for the resale value. McCain, after all, knows his economics just as I know my football, and he understands that my plan to participate in Super Bowl XLIV is every bit as plausible as his proposal to restore America to full fiscal health.

And sadly, he's right.

Let's start with yesterday's headline, McCain's plan for the temporary elimination of the federal gas tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Please join me in counting all the ways this proposal is frivolous. First, kicking eighteen cents or so off the price of a gallon of regular hardly gets us back to normalcy. Yesterday, I paid $3.35; had I paid $3.17 instead, I would have saved exactly $1.80. Now granted, I don't drive a movable fortress, but even you Hummer owners would only pick up about five bucks per fill up. And let's face it: if you own a Hummer, five dollars is chicken feed, and if you own a Hummer, screw you anyway.

Second, the gas tax is one of the few means the feds have to help repair our country's crumbling infrastructure. Take that away and the Minnesota bridge collapse we saw a few months ago could become a regular occurrence. It's like deciding that the best way to lose weight is to have your liver removed.

Third, why do this during the summer? The most serious problem with high gas prices is not that families won't be able to visit Auntie Em in Kansas during July. Rather, it's the day to day difficulties faced by commuters and those who operate motor vehicles for a living. Their problems aren't going to end in September.

Finally, as someone else mentioned (I forget where I saw it, or I'd give them credit), no tax cut should ever be regarded as temporary. At some point, one of two things would happen. Either everyone's gasoline tax would have to rise by a noticeable and presumably anger-inducing eighteen cents, or a timid Congress would simply make the cut permanent for fear that opponents would accuse them of voting to raise taxes again. And somewhere in the heartland, another bridge would fall.

OK, other than that foolish innovation, what else does Senator Straight Talk have in his bag of tricks? Well, most of it is warmed-over Bushism, the sort of economic genius that brought us to this moment of crisis in the first place. McCain wants to make Bush's tax cuts for the rich permanent. And yes, these are the very same tax cuts he voted against when they were originally proposed, proving to all doubters that the senator does, indeed, have a learning curve. It simply has a downward slope.

Perhaps his best idea—not really his, of course, but that's all right—is McCain's recommendation that the Medicare prescription drug benefit be needs tested. Single people earning over $82,000 a year and married couples taking home more than $164,000 would have to pay market price for their pharmaceuticals. I guess it's only fair that they should invest part of their sizable tax cut windfall to purchase a few more years of life, but my guess is that McCain will feel enormous pressure from the Republican base to dump this proposal. Maybe even before the election.

Then we get to the truly risible stuff. Remember my goal to use pixie dust to ease my way into the NFL? It turns out John McCain has similar plans for his presidency. He says that he'll freeze all discretionary spending for at least a year, veto any spending bill with earmarks, and institute a "top to bottom" review of the entire national budget. Except, of course, that military spending—including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—will be untouchable.

McCain estimates that these measures will save the federal government $100 billion per year. That's almost certainly false, but let's take Mr. Straight Talk at his word for the sake of argument. Even if he's right, the Iraq War current costs $341 million dollars each day, meaning that McCain's gains would be offset by his fixation on military "victory" by early October of each year, leaving us about $25 billion in the hole by December 31.

And that's only if he's right. There is a very simple and time-tested rule for judging the budgetary implications of any would-be president's economic policies. If he or she resorts to statements about cutting the fat in order to make the whole thing add up, then you know you are dealing with a hoax. There's obviously fat in the budget, of course, but not nearly as much as advertised, and when it comes time to bring out the axe, nobody can ever agree on what items are and are not necessary.

Same thing with pork barrel spending and earmarks. The whole notion of pork barrel spending is a right-wing misnomer. Nobody in Washington literally takes hundred dollar bills and burns them in a giant bonfire. All spending creates jobs, stimulates the economy, and furthers some laudable goal. That doesn't mean we shouldn't prioritize, but anyone who claims that local spending is inherently wasteful is a liar. And when a sitting member of Congress does so, he or she is a lying hypocrite.

McCain is running for president right now, so his Senate website has probably been scrubbed of all information regarding the money he has brought home to his Arizona constituents over the years. So let's look instead at the site of his GOP colleague from the Grand Canyon State, Senator John Kyl. Kyl says:

"I will also continue to seek funds outside the highway funding formula for priority highway, airport, and transit projects in the state. Some of the projects I’ve helped win funding for in recent years include:

"In Fiscal Year 2008:
· $1.25 million for taxiway improvements at Sky Harbor Airport;
· $1.75 million for taxiway construction at Williams Gateway Airport;
· $2 million for construction of the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge;
· $1 million for bus programs in Tucson;
· $500,000 for bus programs in Mesa;
· $1.375 million for I-10 Widening in Maricopa County; and
· $750,000 for the Houghton Road Corridor Bridge Replacement."

How about we ask John McCain exactly how many of these seven measures he voted against. I'd do it, but I have to get back to my pre-season workout. I'm cutting the fat as we speak. I can't wait for my phone call from President McCain when I finally win the Super Bowl.

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