Joe Or No Joe

With the calendar turning to August, it’s officially the silly season in American politics.  On the Republican side, a loudmouthed, self-promoting, angry anti-politician is leading in the polls, and 10 of 17 declared presidential candidates will crowd onto the stage to have a “debate” on Thursday.  And on the Democratic side, politicos and pundits are talking seriously about drafting Joe Biden to throw his hat in the ring.

Wait a second . . . Joe Biden?  72-year-old, two-time also-ran, vice president Joe Biden?

Evidently so.  There’s apparently concern in some Democratic quarters about Hillary Clinton being damaged goods.  Her trustworthiness numbers aren’t good — whether it is because of her State Department email server fiasco, or because everything she does and says seems so carefully scripted and calibrated, or for some other reason — and she hasn’t exactly been lighting it up on the campaign trail.  In fact, there seems to be a lot more excitement about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist who has been drawing big crowds in the early decision states.  So while Hillary has raised tons of money and signed up legions of heavyweight staffers and fundraisers, people are beginning to wonder whether her nomination is as inevitable and certain as, say, Ed Muskie in 1972.

But if you think Hillary Clinton may not be the best candidate to carry the Democratic banner, where do you turn?  America isn’t likely to elect a 70-something socialist, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley doesn’t exactly have people buzzing.  Most of the leading Democratic politicians on the national scene don’t seem especially keen to take on the Clinton political machine.  That leaves good old Joe.  He’s been on the national Democratic scene forever, he’s a known commodity, and although he’s been a gaffe machine in his prior races he’s one of those pols who seems to love being on the campaign trail — whereas Hillary Clinton seems to consider it to be a painful hassle.

I have no idea whether Joe Biden will end up running — he’s just lost his son to cancer, but once the presidential bug bites it’s hard to shake the obsessive lure of the Oval Office.  What’s more interesting to me is that the national Democratic bench seems so shallow — and, with the exception of O’Malley, so long in the tooth.  Why aren’t the party bigwigs talking about Democratic governors (other than California’s Jerry Brown, who is 77), or Senators like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown?  Why aren’t more up-and-coming Ds willing to risk a long-shot run, like Bill Clinton did in 1992?

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California On The Brink

California is teetering on the precipice.  Yesterday Governor Jerry Brown said the state is facing a $16 billion budget deficit.  He proposed some spending cuts to make up the shortfall and asked voters to vote to raise taxes, “temporarily.”

If I were a California voter, I’d be a bit skeptical of Brown’s budget figures.  He forecast a $9.2 billion deficit in January; only four months later that amount has nearly doubled.  His budget also assumes economic growth, a sharp increase in new home construction, and $1.5 billion from Facebook’s initial public offering.  The Governor’s budget also counts on the use of one-time funds, and assumes that he will be able to convince state employee unions to accept a reduced workweek and that he will be able to convince the Democrats in the California state legislature to cut spending on social services.  Notably, Governor Brown also refuses to cut spending on a high-speed rail program.

In short, it’s the by-now-familiar scenario where voters are asked to approve “temporary” increases to the sales tax and income tax on the promise of cuts that never quite materialize.  Brown’s budget contemplates spending $91.4 billion.  Can’t California assign priorities and just cut those programs at the bottom of that priority list?  Rather than relying on phony promises of reduced workweeks and percentage cuts, or overly optimistic growth forecasts, how about making tough decisions and ending programs altogether?  How about firing employees, rather than negotiating to trim their workweek?  How about cutting the dreamy high-speed rail program in the face of budget realities?

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece contrasting how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dealt the deficit he inherited with Brown’s approach.  Christie ended a high-speed rail program as an unaffordable luxury.  Christie vetoed tax increases as economically suicidal.  Christie was able to close New Jersey’s budget deficit without raising taxes.  Why can’t California make similarly tough decisions?

California DREAMing

You have to give the California state government some serious credit for apparently being completely divorced from fiscal realities.

The Golden State is facing a crushing, multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall — so much so that Governor Jerry Brown has ordered state departments to turn in their cell phones and BlackBerrys — and yet the state is getting ready to pass the California DREAM Act, one part of which makes public tuition assistance funds available to “undocumented immigrant students.”  The bill has passed the Assembly, seems certain to pass the Senate, and Governor Brown has said he will sign it.  The availability of tuition assistance comes on top of the fact that California allows the “undocumented immigrant students” to pay tuition at California state colleges at in-state levels, which are significantly lower that the tuition charged to out-of-state students.

I have nothing against immigrants — to borrow the linked editorial’s deft phrase, “illegal or otherwise” — but doesn’t it seem like fiscal nuttiness for a state that is billions of dollars in debt to be extending new benefits to anyone, much less to illegal immigrants?  With this kind of responsible management of the public purse, is it any wonder how California got into its current predicament?