In President Obama's first speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009 outlined his administration's ambitious higher education agenda, saying that "by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world." As Peter Wood wrote at the Chronicle of Higher Education, "that would mean more than doubling the number of domestic students attending the nation's colleges and universities."
Pushing American students toward college is a goal that was called into question by a report from the Brookings Institution this week. In "Should Everyone Go To College?", authors Stephanie Owen and Isabel Sawhill find that college is a good investment - but only for certain kinds of students. Certain degrees will provide a very high return on investment - engineering degrees from public universities, for example - but others don't give college graduates very much of an advantage over high school graduates, and leave the college grads deep in debt. Additionally, they find that choice of school matters: going into debt to get a STEM degree from a top school can be worth it, but anything other than the very best schools - and the most lucrative degrees - can leave graduates unprepared and debt-ridden for the rest of their lives.
NPR reported on President Obama's higher education priorities and found some depressing info:
"A huge percentage of our nation's human capital is created in on-the-job training, not through formal schooling," Vedder says.
Vedder has spent the past 44 years teaching economics and writing about the connection between higher education and the labor force. He says he has been wary of Obama's higher education agenda ever since the president told a joint session of Congress that every American should pursue some form of education beyond high school.
"When I heard that, I was somewhat shocked because I think it's an impossible dream," he says.
The Brookings authors find two conclusions: "it is a mistake to unilaterally tell young Americans that going to college - any college - is the best decision they can make... a bachelor's degree is not a smart investment for every student in every circumstance."
Indeed, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry took a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on fast-growing jobs and found that jobs of the future will not necessarily be "high skill" jobs, or ones that require a college degree:
The jobs of the future are only “low skilled” if you define “low skilled” as not requiring college. Being a good carpenter (56% growth, Jesus is still with us) or, for that matter, a good medical secretary (41% growth), takes smarts (actual smarts, not just book smarts), hard work, and dedication.
Gobry's analysis echoes Vedder's, who says found that "only five of the 25 fastest-growing occupations over the next decade require any kind of college degree."
Coming at a time when student loan debt has exploded and new college graduates are struggling to find work, this is disheartening. Embracing the rhetoric of invaluable college for everyone does not have to be the policy of the future, though. There are alternatives.
Owen and Sawhill lay out a variety of alternatives to the push for four-year degrees. Colleges could make financial information to prospective students more readily available, letting enrollees know the cost of their degrees, their expected earning potential, and the amount of debt they'll be saddled with. Colleges could work harder at graduation rate, particularly for low-income students. The financial aid system could be reformed and improved. And policymakers could push for more alternatives to traditional four-year colleges for borderline students - like associates' programs and apprenticeships.
On the point of transparency, the American Enterprise Institute's Andrew Kelly wrote last week to warn new high school grads to be wary of their choice of college and degree:
Reforms could help prospective students become better informed about their options. Though we’ve always told students that a bachelor’s degree is worth an additional $1 million, the truth is that not all college degrees are created equal. For one thing, studies have shown that similarly qualified students stand a much better chance of graduating if they attend a more selective college than a less selective one. And research on the economic returns of college reveal that wages can vary significantly across disciplines, colleges and credentials. Graduates from science, technology and math majors tend to out-earn others. It’s even true that some occupational certificate programs boast a higher return on investment, at least in the near term, than some bachelor’s degrees.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden have cosponsored the Student Right To Know Before You Go Act, which could provide prospective college students with some of the information they need, and would give students the opportunity to "know how long it will take them to complete their education, what their likelihood of completion is, how far that education will take them after graduation, and at what cost." And to be charitable to President Obama, he's recently endorsed increased college transparency in his "College Scorecard" initiative.
Should everyone go to college? No. The continued push to send as many young Americans to college has given some underprivileged students better opportunities, but it's also pushed unqualified prospects into a life of low earnings, limited opportunity and massive debt. Policymakers should pull back their prioritization of four-year college and re-think how we envision both our K-12 and higher education systems should look like before throwing billions more dollars at subsidizing borderline students to go to borderline universities.
Indeed, it's not the spending side of the ledger that has shrank the budget deficit, but the tax side. Projected outlays for the first half of the 2013 fiscal year are $11 billion smaller than in 2012, while the federal government collected $220 billion more in tax revenue.
As the CBO detailed:
Taxes withheld from workers’ paychecks rose by $99 billion (or 9 percent), mainly because of higher wages and salaries, the expiration of the payroll tax cut in January 2013, and increases (beginning in January) in tax rates on income above certain thresholds.
And about the small dip in government spending:
Some of the decline in spending from 2012 to 2013 stems from changes to the estimated cost of past transactions of several credit programs (notably for TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program). With those changes excluded and with adjustments for the timing shifts, the difference would have been smaller — about 0.5 percent.
One of the largest dips in spending is due to military cuts - the federal government spend $16 billion less over the first seven months of 2013 than it did for that time period in 2012.
Much of this is to be expected - as the economy recovers, there will naturally be an increase in tax revenue and a drop in social safety net spending. At least part of this, however, is due to President Obama's ideal version of a "grand bargain" on tax hikes and spending cuts - mostly tax hikes on upper income-earners and spending cuts that fall heavily on the military. It also is not a sign that President Obama is some kind of deficit hawk. He's just a textbook Keynesian.
The intra-conservative war over the working immigration reform legislation was ramped up today when the Heritage Foundation's economic analysis gave the opposition a major piece of ammunition in the form of a study showing that the reform legislation could cost $6.3 trillion.
Conservatives who have been proponents of immigration reform legislation jumped to discredit the Heritage study as it made the rounds this morning. Rep. Paul Ryan questioned its methodology, saying "the Congressional Budget Office has found that fixing our broken immigration could help our economy grow. A proper accounting of immigration reform should take into account these dynamic effects.”
The principal criticism of the Heritage study is precisely that it does not take into account the effects of immigration on economic growth. Conservatives in the past have criticized economic modeling for leaving out projections of economic growth - on tax cuts, for example - but some are defending the Heritage Foundation's methodology.
Sen. Jeff Sessions trumpeted the results of the study. "The study puts to rest the contention that the bill will benefit American taxpayers, reduce our deficits, or strengthen our already endangered Social Security and Medicare programs," Sessions said in a statement. Sen. Sessions has been one of the leading skeptics of the comprehensive immigration reform legislation on Capitol Hill.
Other conservative coalition groups like Americans for Tax Reform and the American Action Forum jumped on the dynamic scoring issue today, noting the inconsistency apparent in the Heritage Foundation's approach. ATR's Josh Culling said on a media call this afternoon that "though Heritage is a treasured ally... this report looks only at the cost side of the economic equation and completely ignores any economic benefit."
The Heritage Foundation report acknowledges a certain amount of growth that would take place but cautions growth-enthusiasts that the prosperity might not be widely-shared:
While it is true that unlawful immigrants enlarge GDP by roughly 2 percent, the problem with this argument is that the immigrants themselves capture most of the gain from expanded production in their own wages. Metaphorically, while unlawful immigrants make the american economic pie larger, they themselves consume most of the slice that their labor adds.
Former CBO director and President of the American Action Forum Douglas Holtz-Eakin challenged that line of thinking in an AAF policy brief last month:
There would be effects above and beyond that of greater population as well. Labor force participation rates are higher among the foreign born, especially among males and later in work careers. Similarly, the rates of entrepreneurship among immigrants are higher than among the native born population, raising the possibility of greater innovation and productivity growth in the aftermath of immigration reform. Finally, the combined effect of these impacts on economic growth would allow greater productivity growth through the embodiment effect on quality of capital goods.
While the Heritage Foundation has stood by their study's methodology as sound with regard to National Academy of Sciences standards, Holtz-Eakin questioned their defense today. "Their methodology is absolutely not the same as the National Academy of Sciences... the NAS tries to estimate the impact of immigration on the size of the economy, which Heritage does not do."
The debate over the comprehensive immigration reform legislation has been crackling ever since Marco Rubio emerged as the conservative face of the Gang of Eight, and among Capitol Hill staffers it threatens to explode to a full blaze. The Heritage Foundation's report today adds fuel to the fire. As Mediaite's AJ Delgado tweeted,
It's clear that the Gang of Eight will need more conservatives beyond its four Republican members in order to pass through the Senate - to say nothing of how a comprehensive immigration reform legislation would pass through the House of Representatives. Today's Heritage Foundation study could prove the dividing line between grassroots conservatives who see the legislation as a sellout and Republicans who see it as full of the compromises necessary to get something passed.
The so-called "Marketplace Fairness Act" passed the Senate today on a 69-27 vote, meaning that businesses with more than $1 million in sales will be subjected to tax collection laws no matter where they're located in the United States. The bill would give state governments the blessing to collect tax on retailers across state lines.
Andrew Moylan of the R Street Institute ran down some of the major problems with the bill and detailed some of the straw men arguments used by the tax legislation's proponents:
MFA would close a tax “loophole” - Supporters often say that the MFA exists to close a 20-year old “Internet loophole,” to stop government from “picking winners and losers” among different types of retail businesses. But there is no loophole and government isn’t attempting to advantage one type of business over another. The 1992 Supreme Court decision Quill v. North Dakota is what established current law, which says that a state can only force a business to collect its sales tax if it is physically present within its borders. That’s the law for online and traditional retailers alike.Some, like Walmart, chose a business model that included a physical retail storefront in every state and they’ve benefited handsomely from their ubiquity and uniform shopping experience. Some, like Overstock.com, have chosen a business model that (generally) included a web interface instead of a physical store, with a handful of warehouses across the country to facilitate shipping to consumers. It should be incumbent upon legislators to treat them consistently under existing rules, NOT to equalize their tax burdens at the end of the day.
MFA’s $1 million small seller exception means only big businesses will have to comply – Another whopper MFA supporters tell is that only really big businesses will have to comply with its mandates since they included a $1 million small seller exception. But if you do some back-of-the-envelope math, the claim falls apart rather quickly. Industry data says that the specialty retail sector (which includes businesses like Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Amazon) enjoys an average net profit margin of just 2.1%, while catalog and mail order retailers (which include eBay and Overstock) average 1.7%. For those of you not quick with a calculator, that means that the average such entity would have only $21,000 and $17,000 left over, respectively, after accounting for all the costs of doing business on $1 million worth of sales. Does a business with $17,000 in profit at the end of the year sound big enough to easily comply with 9,600 taxing jurisdictions across the country?
The internet sales tax bill split some online retailers down the middle, with Amazon supporting the bill and eBay lobbying against it. Amazon is the country's largest online retailer - and since their infrastructure exists in almost every state already, they're already subject to a lot of same-state sales taxes.
The legislation will now go to the House of Representatives, where anti-tax proponents are more hopeful that the more conservative majority will be able to either delay and fix the bill or kill it altogether.
While Congress investigates the Obama Administration's actions during the Benghazi terrorist attack this week, President Obama will be leaving town to promote his "jobs" agenda in what the Associated Press dubs "a series of day trips."
The White House says President Barack Obama's trip to Austin, Texas, on Thursday will kick off a series of day trips aimed at highlighting his proposals on jobs and the economy.
While in Texas, Obama will visit a technical high school and meet with entrepreneurs. He'll also drop in on a tech company and talk with blue-collar workers.
The trip shows Obama wants to keep Americans focused on his economic proposals even while Congress is busy with an immigration overhaul and confirmation for Obama's second-term Cabinet nominees.
Despite the fact that the Obama White House continues to condemn the spending cuts of sequestration as economically devastating, President Obama will reportedly "travel every few weeks" in order to promote his economic agenda.
Austin seems an unlikely place to make a jobs pitch - their economy is doing well, as The Hill reported that unemployment dropped by 9% in Obama's first term, spurred by businesses like Apple and General Motors moving jobs there. Nonetheless, Obama will urge the residents in Austin that tens of billions of dollars need to be spent by the federal government to boost the economy - and he will continue his pitch to hike the minimum wage.
On ABC's This Week, Heritage Foundation President and former South Carolina Senator Jim DemMint previewed a Heritage study of the Gang of Eight's "comprehensive immigration reform" bill, saying that the bill might cost "trillions."
“The study you’ll see from Heritage this week presents a staggering cost of another amnesty in our country,” DeMint said this morning on “This Week,” based on the “detrimental effects long-term” of government benefits that would eventually go to the millions offered a path to citizenship under the reform legislation currently being considered. “There’s no reason we can’t begin to fix our immigration system so that we won’t make this problem worse. But the bill that’s being presented is unfair to those who came here legally. It will cost Americans trillions of dollars. It’ll make our unlawful immigration system worse.”
But, as ABC News notes, the Heritage economic modeling approach to immigration reform is not without its critics:
The 2007 [Heritage] study is not without its critics, such as Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute, who wrote in April that the study’s “flawed methodology produced a grossly exaggerated cost to federal taxpayers of legalizing unauthorized immigrants while undercounting or discounting their positive tax and economic contributions.”
The immigration reform bill will continue to go through other iterations as it gets analyzed, criticized and amended. Sen. Marco Rubio, the most prominent Republican member of the Gang of Eight, said recently that the legislation has "shortcomings" and that he welcomed the amendment process.
"Public scrutiny has helped identify shortcomings and unintended consequences that need to be addressed," he wrote.
He mentioned a strengthening of border security issues and the cost of immigration to American taxpayers, saying a review of the bill offers the opportunity to make appropriate changes.
Conservatives will need to keep a close eye on the amendment process. The Gang of Eight legislation is already causing sharp divisions among conservatives on Capitol Hill and the devil will be in the details when it comes to conservative support for the final bill.
This Wednesday, three State Department officials will testify before the House Oversight Committee on the subject of the attacks in Benghazi last year. They've been previously referred to as "whistleblowers" and have been intimidated by the Obama Administration. Now, as Fox News reports, their identities have been revealed for the first time.
Appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be three career State Department officials: Gregory N. Hicks, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya at the time of the Benghazi terrorist attacks; Mark I. Thompson, a former Marine and now the deputy coordinator for Operations in the agency’s Counterterrorism Bureau; and Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who was the regional security officer in Libya, the top security officer in the country in the months leading up to the attacks.
Nordstrom previously testified before the oversight committee, which is chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in October 2012. Of the three witnesses, he is the only one who does not consider himself a whistleblower. At last fall's hearing, however, Nordstrom made headlines by detailing for lawmakers the series of requests that he, Ambassador Stevens, and others had made for enhanced security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in the period preceding the attacks, requests mostly rejected by State Department superiors.
"For me the Taliban is on the inside of the [State Department] building," Nordstrom testified, angry over inadequate staffing at a time when the threat environment in Benghazi was deteriorating.
All eyes will be on the Benghazi hearing on Wednesday, where the Benghazi whistleblowers will detail exactly what happened and how the Obama Administration has bungled both the lead-in to the attack in Libya and the post-attack spin.
The Republican Party's post-2012 introspection has focused principally on America's growing Hispanic population and how the GOP can capture larger percentages of the Hispanic vote, but Republicans aren't sitting back on their heels when it comes to other groups that conservatives have traditionally struggled with.
African-Americans turned out at the polls at much higher rates in 2008 and 2012 than in previous elections. As Jamelle Bouie writes, President Obama's vote margin in Ohio "can be explained solely by higher black turnout." And while it's possible that this could be due to the historic nature of President Obama's candidacy, the Republican National Committee sounds like they're treating increased participation in the political process by the black community as a permanent trend.
This week, the RNC brought Amani Council on board to be Director of African American Communications. "It's a new position," Council tells Townhall. "I'm not filling anyone's shoes. I'm basically going out to get African-Americans engaged on a level which they haven't been in a really long time."
African-Americans are indeed engaged at a much higher rate than they have been historically. The Associated Press recently found that if the demographics of the presidential vote had been at 2004 level, Mitt Romney would have won the election. As demographic trends are turning, however, 2004 looks like it's going to be a demographic makeup never seen again.
Council says that, through her position and efforts at the RNC, Republicans will go after these new demographics in a way that recognizes that new reality. "We're doing a lot of rebranding of our image... we're building in a way that just hasn't been done before," she says. "I think it's great that there was a lot of African-American involvement in the political process in these last two elections. We have to give credit where credit is due. Obama did things that the Republican Party just wasn't doing. We're going to build off of that. There are more minorities who are engaged in the process, and getting them engaged in our values and our messages so that the people who are already active in various states get mobilized in a way that gets more people to the polls."
"I don't see that as a negative - I actually see that as a positive," Council says. "It will be a challenge but not one that can't be met."
Republican leaders have been more active recently, as well. Sen. Rand Paul received a mixed reception during a speech and Q&A session at Howard University recently, and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus held a "listening session" at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn as a part of this rebranding effort.
Council sees a lot more room for growth. "Town hall meetings and events, they're great, yes, but I think another piece that we're going to add is that instead of just hosting an event and leaving... having people on the ground who are continually working on these efforts even when we're gone. So having the Chairman come and show presence in these communities that he hasn't done before is key, but it can't stop there."
To that end, the RNC will be trying to focus on building permanent networks of support. Council emphasizes a boots-on-the-ground strategy. "You've already got people there who understand what it means to be a Republican and understand what it means to be involved in the political process, and those people who are connected to the community are then going out and building relationships with others." She says that must entail conversations about what it means to be a Republican. "Just because you're black doesn't mean you have to be a Democrat," she says. "Tell me why you are a Democrat. Tell me what that means to you. And let me tell you why I am a Republican. Just getting people involved - I know there's power in that."
To a certain extent, the RNC can only take one side in the "policy or message" debate about GOP rebranding. Policy is up to the individual politicians that make up the GOP's electoral efforts. The RNC is first and foremost about messaging. The RNC is largely out of ammo when it comes to critics claiming that the primary reform effort must be to change its underlying policies.
Council, who brings Hill experience, lobbying efforts and advocacy work to her position, believes that her hire is a step in the right direction for the RNC. "I know there's going to be a challenge because of the impression that African-Americans have about the Republican Party. It's not positive," she says. "But I believe doing something is better than doing nothing at all."
The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects. With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.
By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say. And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.
To a certain extent, this makes obvious sense. The U.S. government considers the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay far more dangerous than domestic prisoners at high-security prisons in the United States. But it's still a fairly shockingly large amount of money to spend on imprisoned terrorists.
President Obama also cited the cost of Guantanamo as one reason he wants to shut it down. But remember, when he blames Congress for his own inability to shut down the terrorist prison camp, he's lying:
In fact, Obama’s “close GITMO” plan — if it had been adopted by Congress — would have done something worse than merely continue the camp’s defining injustice of indefinite detention. It would likely have expanded those powers by importing them into the U.S.
President Obama's health care law was projected to spend $898 billion over ten years when it was passed. That price tag largely masked the true ten-year cost because of the delayed implementation of the law, and the CBO revised its cost estimate in 2013 to show that the law will spend $1.85 trillion in the next ten years.
Obamacare is already experiencing cost overruns, and the Obama Administration expects the states to pick up the tab.
One of Obamacare's provisions, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, has nearly run out of its $5 billion budget, and HHS Secretary Sebelius has proposed that the states that run the administration of the program find a way to pay for it themselves.
The root of the problem is that the federal health care law capped spending on the program at $5 billion, and the money is running out because the beneficiaries turned out to be costlier to care for than expected. Advanced heart disease and cancer are common diagnoses for the group.
Obama did not ask for any additional funding for the program in his latest budget, and a Republican bid to keep the program going by tapping other funds in the health care law failed to win support in the House last week.
State officials say one likely consequence of the money crunch will be a cost shift to people in the program, resulting in sudden increases in premiums and copayments. Many might just drop out, said Keough.
Republicans should have pushed harder to fix this program, but the issue brings up that Obamacare was poorly designed and poorly implemented from the start. It turns out that if legislation relies on moving pieces, state partnerships, and delayed implementation, the legislation is just poorly designed.