Republican Congressional Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia has decided to get into the texting act that CNN’s Anderson Cooper and MSNBC’s Ed Shultz use to “poll” their viewers. Cantor has launched an attempt at crowdsourcing, which has accomplished everything from improving Netflix’s movie-rating algorithms to creating custom songs to music compositions.
Here’s how it works: you visit Cantor’s “You Cut” web site, vote on a list of federal government programs that you believe should be cut by texting or clicking a button, and then you have the option of suggesting another program you believe should be ditched.
Here’s the reality: just about all the suggested programs are those that (surprise!) would be in Republicans’ crosshairs. Granted, we can debate the need to pay for reforming Kenya’s constitution (additional evidence that our President really is not a US citizen, eh?), subsidizing Amtrak sleeper cars, duplicative physical education programs (just buy every teacher a whistle and a pamphlet full of Jane Lynch lines), and selling federal government property. And to be fair, had this been a Democratic idea, we would probably see votes to end some military spending programs, business tax subsidies, and earmarks for John Wayne, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Hope airports.
My reaction is that this is a stunt to raise awareness of “big government,” which of course most politicians of both parties define as federal dollars landing outside their district. I am also curious why it is the public’s job to vote on these projects, when we pay 535 elected officials to do this job for us (I know, lobbyists, but I will not open that can today). Plus, when push comes to shove, Americans will finally use the ballot box as a slap in the face at the ruling party, as the elections of 1946, 1966, 1974, 1986, 1994, 2006, and most likely, 2010, demonstrate.
With all that said, I would like to propose some subsides on which the public should vote:
- Fossil fuel subsidies. Fossil fuel producers received over $72 billion dollars from 2002 to 2008. Over 20% of this subsidy was from the Foreign Tax Credit, applicable to the overseas production of oil through an obscure provision of the US Tax Code, which allows energy companies to claim a tax credit for payments that would normally receive less-beneficial tax treatment.
- Farm subsidies. Farmers have received over $242 billion in subsidies since 1995. Actually, 10% of all farmers collected 74% of all subsidies, while 62% of farmers during this period never collected payments from the US Department of Agriculture. Corn, wheat, and cotton combined accounted for over half all subsidies during this period. Republican Jerry Moran’s congressional district was number 2 in total farm subsidies received—eked out by the at large district of North Dakota. In case you were wondering, apple producers have collected about a quarter of a billion dollars—tobacco growers, close to a billion.
- John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport: Oh, we may be too late, as the airport, named after the Pennsylvania Democratic congressman who passed away earlier this year, has received over $200 million in stimulus funding the past decade—for an airport served by one passenger airline that flies to two cities. Granted, much of the money has gone to support the infrastructure of local national guard units. But $8 million of that went to a radar system that the airport has never used.
- Phone subsidies. Verizon and AT&T are among other telecommunications that received over $8 billion in subsidies for projects ranging from broadband to rural areas to installing wireless networks. That’s enough to buy two-thirds of all Americans a free Magic Jack. Okay, that may be a ridiculous analogy, but you get the point.
The economic arguments against subsidies include the one that government should not pick “losers” over “winners.” Fair argument. But the above subsidies I have suggested add up to a fairly healthy drop in the bucket. And the amount of subsidies going towards programs attempting to wean us away from foreign oil are fairly small in comparison.