Our American Discourse, Ep. 6: Federalism and the Battle for Partisan Power

We think we know how federalism works. Republicans believe in states’ rights, and Democrats want a strong federal government, right? Not so fast. New research reveals a whole different tug of war playing out on Capitol Hill. Our legislators don’t always do what they say, but they do have a strategy to design and implement our laws. It turns out that federalism is ground zero in their battle for partisan power — and now we finally know how the game is being played.

In this episode, we go behind-the-scenes with the researcher who uncovered these terms of engagement, Pamela Clouser McCann.

Prof. McCann is an assistant professor in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. Her new book, The Federal Design Dilemma: Congress and Intergovernmental Delegation, was published by Cambridge University Press in September.

To listen to this episode of Our American Discourse, click the orange arrow in the Soundcloud player at the top of this post. Or you can download it and subscribe through iTunes, Soundcloud, or Google Play.

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“Our American Discourse” is produced by Aubrey HicksJonathan Schwartz, and myself, and mixed by Corey Hedden.

Letter to a Trump Supporter #2: Path to Citizenship

This is the second in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

In keeping with the immigration theme, he sent me a video of Bill Clinton, as president, vowing to increase deportations. I responded:

Yes, President Clinton said that, and his administration did conduct a lot of deportations. But you know who ordered more deportations than any other president? Barack Obama.

Anyone who tells you that today’s Democratic Party is trying to encourage undocumented immigration is lying to you. The Democrats just don’t engage in race-baiting and fear-mongering, so they don’t get the headlines.

To this, my friend asked, “Do you agree to limit the number coming or agree to increase as Hillary wants?”

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

Good question, but I might need to clarify it a bit.

Hillary Clinton has never said that she wants to increase the number of immigrants coming into the United States without limit. Her website lists her immigration proposals, which don’t say anything about an unlimited increase in immigration.

Current immigration law does have annual limits, and Secretary Clinton has not proposed to change them.

There are a couple things you might be referring to.

She has said that she wants to allow 65,000 Syrian refugees into the country. This would be a one-time increase representing 0.02% of the American population. That is a cap, of course, and a very small one at that.

She has also said that she would give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, but that’s only for people who have already immigrated here. So it wouldn’t change the number of immigrants at all.

This is not a particularly liberal stance. In fact, the leaders of both parties supported a pathway to citizenship in 2013 when they tried to pass immigration reform.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning news outlet ProPublica recently published a fascinating behind-the-scenes investigation into the failure of that effort. The Senate had passed a bill. The House was negotiating a bill. They had gotten 140 Republicans onboard. They were literally celebrating that a majority of both parties were ready to vote yes…and then Eric Cantor, the number-two Republican in power, was defeated in the primary by a conservative challenger who campaigned against his support for immigration reform. The Republican reformers all realized they were in danger of losing their seat too, so they abandoned the negotiation and the bill died.

If extremists like Donald Trump had not been allowed to hijack the debate, we probably would have passed immigration reform.

It even had the support of Sean Hannity, who said, “It’s simple to me to fix it. If people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done.”

And Paul Ryan, who said, “I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, because I’m Catholic, and my Christian values say we cannot have millions of people in second-tier status.”

So, yes, to answer your question, I agree with Sean Hannity, I agree with Paul Ryan, and I agree with Hillary Clinton. Mass deportation is cruel and infeasible. A pathway to citizenship is in keeping with American values, Christian values, and common sense.

Best regards,
Anthony

The Ryan Budget Is an Affront to Economics and American History

A few years ago, when the unemployment rate was near its peak, two Swedish economists, Stefan Eriksson and Dan-Olof Rooth, conducted an experiment. They wanted to find out just how hard it was to get a job if you’d been unemployed for a long time. They sent 8,466 fictitious job applications to employers across Sweden. They varied the number of months that each “applicant” had been unemployed. For some, it was a matter of days. For others, several months. Then they waited for the employers to call them back for interviews.

Overall, one out of every four job “applicants” received an interview. Unsurprisingly, it was higher for high-skill jobs and lower for low-skill jobs. What was more significant was the effect of unemployment on the fictitious resumes.

Eriksson and Rooth found that unemployment didn’t matter if it lasted less than six months. Applicants who had been unemployed for the past six months were just as likely to receive an interview as applicants who just quit their job yesterday. If they had been unemployed for nine months or more, however, they were 20 percent less likely to get an interview, even if they had the same work experience, education, and other qualifications as everyone else.

In the United States right now, over 3 million people have been looking for work for nine months or more — and that doesn’t include the millions more who gave up searching because they couldn’t find anything.

Eriksson and Rooth have mostly confirmed what we already knew, but their experiment adds more specific and more reliable evidence to the overwhelming conclusion that these people need our help. Fortunately, another paper, published alongside Eriksson and Rooth’s, proves that we can help them.

While Eriksson and Rooth were sending out job applications, Emi Nakamura and Jón Steinsson were reading military procurement forms.

Both economists at Columbia University, Nakamura and Steinsson were trying to figure out what effect the federal government has on the economy when it increases its spending. They found a database at the Pentagon that summed up all large military purchases in every state in the U.S. from 1966 to 2006. It wasn’t exactly an experiment, but it was close enough.

The danger in estimating the effects of government spending is that it’s hard to tell whether states had faster economic growth because they received more funding — or whether they received more funding because they happened to enjoy faster economic growth. With military purchases, Nakamura and Steinsson knew they didn’t have that problem. States don’t receive military contracts based on the state of their economy. The two are usually independent.

Nakamura and Steinsson compared military spending in each state with subsequent economic growth over the course of four decades, and they found that a 1 percent increase in government purchases resulted in a 1.5 percent increase in income per person in that state.

Then they calculated the effect on the national economy. When the Federal Reserve couldn’t lower interest rates any further — the situation we’re in now, known as the “zero lower bound” — Nakamura and Steinsson found that a 1 percent increase in government purchases resulted in at least a 1.7 percent increase in national income per person.

In other words, the federal government can stimulate the economy and create jobs, and the resulting increase in income will far exceed any cost to the taxpayers.

Budget ProposalsLike Eriksson and Rooth, Nakamura and Steinsson aren’t telling us something we don’t know, but they are giving us another valuable piece of evidence that our government is headed in the wrong direction.

At a time when the long-term unemployed need more support, our government is giving them less. The leadership of both parties have agreed to shrink the federal budget drastically over the coming decade, and now Paul Ryan, the Republican chair of the House Budget Committee, has issued a new proposal that will cut the budget even further, to the point where most programs that support the unemployed will be half the size that they were during the Reagan administration, relative to the size of the economy.

This is a cruel, counterproductive path we are on, and that is not a statement of mere opinion. It is the inescapable conclusion of data-driven, cutting-edge economic research based on real-world evidence and the accumulated lessons of American history.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Huffington Post.