Howard Rich's Blog

July 20, 2009

Europe Thumps U.S., Again

Filed under: Headlines — willfrable @ 5:08 pm
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From the Wall Street Journal

On present trends, most of Europe will soon have lower income tax rates than most of America. And now the European Union is stealing another competitive march on Washington, this time on a free trade deal with the world’s 13th largest economy, fast-growing South Korea.

Last week Brussels and Seoul finished the outline of a new trade agreement, and the two sides will now write up the technical language to codify it. As for the pending U.S.-Korea trade agreement, Congress has done . . . nothing.

South Korea has made negotiating trade deals a centerpiece of its foreign and economic policy. The U.S. FTA, signed in 2007 but still not ratified, is one example. Negotiations are planned or under way with a long list of countries, including India, Canada and Australia. On the EU side, the Commission is vigorously defending the pact against domestic critics, including the European auto industry. EU approval isn’t a sure thing, but Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is aiming to finish it by December.

Compare that to the U.S., where the FTA with Korea is bogged down in Big Labor politics. Bashing the deal became de rigueur in the Democratic Party primary before last year’s Presidential election. Candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both claimed the deal wouldn’t open Korea’s auto market to U.S. imports, all evidence to the contrary. Now, with Democrats running both the White House and Congress, prospects are bleak for any trade deal. Colombia has also been left hanging, even though its goods already enter the U.S. duty free under the Andean preferences program.

Don’t count on progress any time soon. President Obama’s trade representative, Ron Kirk, rose from his slumbers last week to give his first big speech but he failed to mention either South Korea or Colombia. Instead, he focused on “trade enforcement,” by which he seems to mean picking fights with U.S. trading partners. This will include, Mr. Kirk said, investigating “labor violations” inside other countries. “And if they don’t fix their labor problems, we will exercise our legal options,” he said. Just what our friends want to see when global trade is contracting: Another U.S. excuse for protectionism.

Korea’s progress with the EU shows how risky U.S. delays are. The European Commission says the EU-Korea deal will eliminate $2.2 billion in duties Korea currently imposes each year on European goods — and cut duties and eliminate nontariff barriers on imports of European cars. American companies could gain similar benefits if only Congress would approve the U.S.-Korea pact.

Across the globe, countries are moving ahead with similar bilateral trade deals, often giving their own national companies an edge over U.S. competitors. In a perfect world, all countries would be able to benefit from multilateral trade opening under the Doha Round. But for now bilateral deals are better than nothing, and America is leaving itself behind.


May 26, 2009

Obama ducks promise to delay bill signings

From the Washington Times

It seemed among the easiest of his transparency pledges and is entirely under his control, but President Obama is finagling his promise to post bills on the White House Web site for comment for five days before he signs them.

Mr. Obama last week signed four bills, each just a day or two after Congress passed and sent it over to him.

The White House said it posted links from its Web site to Congress’ legislative Web site about a week before Mr. Obama signed the measures, but transparency advocates say that doesn’t match the president’s pledge to give Americans time to comment on the final version he is about to sign.

“He didn’t say, ‘When there’s a bill heading to my desk,’ or ‘When we’re pretty sure a bill will soon be passed.’ He said when a bill ends up on his desk – a strong implication that public review would follow the bill arriving at his desk,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute.

During the campaign and again during the transition, Mr. Obama said opening bills up for public comment was a way of fighting back against special interests’ control of the process.

“When there’s a bill that ends up on my desk as president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing,” Mr. Obama said in a major campaign speech laying out his goals for transparency.

Mr. Harper said that to him, the pledge means putting a copy of the bill on and then waiting five days to allow comments to roll in.

“That’s the only interpretation of this promise that delivers solid transparency,” he said. “Posting a bill late in the process doesn’t give the public a chance to review the final legislation – especially last-minute amendments, which are where a lot of congressional hijinks happen.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the clock starts ticking when a link is posted to bills when they are in their final version, such as a conference report, even if they haven’t passed Congress.

“A conference report, as you know, is an unamendable piece of legislation that has to be approved by both houses, language has to be simultaneous, it gets sent down here, and we sign it,” he told reporters Friday.

But that was not the case for last week’s bills, at least some of which weren’t in their final form until a day or two before being sent to Mr. Obama.

In the case of a Defense Department weapons acquisition bill, the White House posted its link to the Library of Congress Web site,, on May 14, even though the conference report wasn’t done until May 20. Congress passed that bill on May 21 and Mr. Obama signed it the next day.

On the Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights Act, the White House posted a link to Congress on May 14, but the Senate didn’t finish its work until May 19; the House agreed to the Senate’s version on May 20, and Mr. Obama signed it two days later.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a White House official said the link to Congress’ Web site allows readers to find every version of the bill and is more up-to-date.

“We link to Thomas pages that list the latest version, so once they were amended people could still read that latest version once it got posted, as opposed to us posting text that became outdated,” the official said.

The link the White House posts goes to a list of bills in various stages of the process. In the case of the military procurement measure, the White House listed two bills winding their way through Congress, because it couldn’t know which version would actually be presented.

Mr. Obama has exempted emergency bills from his promise and used that to justify his signing some major measures such as the stimulus spending bill before a full five days had elapsed. But there was no stated emergency for last week’s bills.

“They’re certainly not making it a priority to live up to the pledge,” said John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation.

Sunlight is pressing for a waiting period for Congress, to prevent instances like last week, when House and Senate negotiators filed their final version of the weapons acquisition bill and put it to a vote in the Senate the same day. The House voted on it the next day.

Mr. Wonderlich said Congress is where the actual changes to a bill can happen. By the time it gets to the president, he can only sign or veto it. In light of that, Mr. Wonderlich said, some transparency advocates have questioned the value of Mr. Obama’s five-day pledge.

Mr. Harper, though, said the value will come if and when Mr. Obama enforces the rule.

“Members of Congress are very skilled political risk analyzers. When the president is enforcing this rule and they know their work is going to sit for five days before signing, they’re going to know they can’t slip in that last earmark,” he said.

He pointed to the language that allowed American International Group executives to claim bonuses as an example. That language was added in the conference committee between House and Senate negotiators, at the very end of the legislative process.

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May 19, 2009

Audit the fed

I’ll be the first to admit that the notion of Washington politicians auditing the Federal Reserve initially struck me as a little bit kooky – and more than a little bit backward.

Shouldn’t the financial geniuses be auditing the politicians, not the other way around?

In fact, one of the reasons that the Fed has been given such wide latitude throughout its history is the widely-held belief that our nation’s monetary policy should be conducted free from political “interference.”

Continue Reading: Audit The Fed

March 18, 2009

Public voting equals coercion

I came across this letter to the editor while reading the Washington Times today. I feel the need to highlight it because I cannot agree more. Whether or n0t intimidation will take place is irrelevant. The fact is that a public ballot opens the door for intimidation and there is absolutely no benefit to an open ballot. This in my opinion is just another way the government is chipping away at our individual rights.

From the Washinton Times:

LETTER TO EDITOR: Public voting equals coercion

The Employee Free Choice Act would end the secret ballot when employees vote on whether to unionize at a workplace. Basically, under the law, they could vote in a union through a public card check. Though the name of the act sounds just peachy, it would remove the right to a secret ballot and allow for much potential coercion and violence.

Currently, unions have a card check to push for the right to unionize a workplace. This is, then, the trigger for a secret-ballot vote on unionization. The fact that the percent of those voting for unionization drops dramatically in a secret ballot compared to a public card-check vote is the reason the unions want the nonsecret card check.

That our Congress would even consider removing the right to secret ballots at any level within our society is chilling. How would any of us feel if we had to vote publicly for president or for any other elected position? The intimidation such public votes bring within any society would be oppressive, to say the least.


Royal Oak, Mich.

February 9, 2009

Government Band Aids

Filed under: Howard Rich's Weekly Column — howierich @ 5:27 pm
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Do you remember the book: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus? Women generally talk about a problem and seek empathy from others. Men want to solve a problem before they even know what it is.

Superimpose that on the high time preference of politicians and you get a bunch of career, male politicians “solving” today’s economic problems.

Debt implosion, aka de-leveraging, has a major negative effect on the economy. It’s obviously the opposite of new equity investments with new debt which tends to create jobs and build the economy.

There’s something like $10 to 15 trillion of debt which has to implode. There’s been tremendous malinvestment caused by two government creations: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Lowering interest rates to one percent after the dotcom debacle didn’t help either. (more…)

October 29, 2008


U.S. Markets Surge As Credit Starts to Thaw

Washington Post


2 Rivals’ Plans on Fiscal Issue Add to Deficits

New York Times


Dems fish for 60 in the Mississippi Delta

The Hill


And of course don’t forget to visit Howie Rich‘s website.

October 21, 2008


U.S. Is Said to Be Urging New Mergers in Banking

The New York Times


Lobbying Backlash Builds in Congress

The Wall Street Journal


McCain targets white Clinton strongholds

The Washington Times


White House warms to second stimulus

The Hill

October 10, 2008

From the USA Today

Filed under: Uncategorized — howierich @ 12:15 pm
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Opposing view: Americans favor term limits

By Howard Rich

A friend of mine once compared politicians’ persistent efforts to undermine term limits to the frustration of an intoxicated person trying in vain to unlock a car door.

They keep fumbling through key after key, trying time and again  — to no avail.

“Eventually it dawns on them,” my friend said. “They’re trying to force their way into a car that doesn’t belong to them.”

Such is the fundamental disconnect between career politicians and the people they represent, although sadly it hasn’t dawned on many of our elected officials that citizens belong behind the wheel  — no matter how badly the ruling elite wishes to remain in the driver’s seat.

This is why voters across America continue to overwhelmingly support term limits, expressing that allegiance in compelling bipartisan majorities every time term limits are threatened by politicians who see change as an impediment to their own ambitions.

Put simply, citizens value fresh ideas, new perspectives and more competitive elections more than the so-called institutional knowledge of the political ruling class.

They also instinctively see through the transparent attempts of power-hungry politicians wanting to weaken or eliminate term limits, appeals that invariably revolve around distortions and abstract concepts completely at odds with political reality.

For example, politicians like to argue that term limits unfairly enhance the influence of special interests, yet in states where term limits are challenged, special interests are always the first to try to eliminate them.

Politicians also like to argue that term limits create “weak legislatures,” a point governors in California, Michigan and Ohio would most likely be inclined to disagree with.

In fact, the only anti-term limits campaign to come close to succeeding recently was in California  — and its primary selling point was the misleading premise that it would actually strengthen term limits.

Once again, though, voters saw through the charade and reaffirmed their support for citizen legislators. No matter what excuses might come, term limits will remain a force for positive change in our democracy for the simple reason that voters want it that way.

Howard Rich is chairman of the advocacy group U.S. Term Limits.

October 6, 2008


Obama sought HUD grant for donor’s project

The Washington Times


House Republicans defend deregulation

The Hill


RNC to file FEC report against Obama

The Hill


Supreme Court’s Direction Hinges on Who Wins ’08 Race

The Washington Post

September 29, 2008


Lawmakers face difficult vote on financial bailout

The Washington Post


Palin-Biden debate called ‘must-see TV’

The Washington Times


Lieberman:  McCain ‘important’ to financial deal

The Hill


Un-American Bailout, Paulson Should Have Quit, Gingrich Says

ABC News

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