A Challenge to Tea Party Elected Officials

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How can we find out, and find out quickly, whether the newly elected tea party senators and representatives are serious? Many of us want to know if this will be a 1994 sellout all over again but we don’t want to wait two years to find out. (Granted, Murray knew right away but we are mere mortals.)

I have an idea. Let’s pick a federal agency that is arguably extra-constitutional, notoriously corrupt, useless, wasteful, and has a proven history of making life worse for almost everyone it touches (except the bureaucrats and contractors of course.) Let’s also choose an agency that has a sizable budget. Granted, the 1994 sellouts would not even cut the tiny subsidy to the NEA when I challenged them to do so the last time. But the tea party movement has raised the bar and we will not be satisfied with a miniscule "sacrifice.” No, this offering up of political power and pelf has to really "hurt." It must be in the many billions of dollars. And it must be a complete elimination with no programs transferred to other federal agencies. Under true federalism, these functions could very well be absorbed by the states but that’s not our concern here. So be it. People can and do vote with their feet to escape high-tax states such as New York and fly to low-tax states such as New Hampshire. The Free State Project has institutionalized this efficient form of direct citizen action.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the acid test which will allow us to know if these tea party officials are serious or are just a bunch of egotistical politicians seeking a DC diversion from life "down on the farm."

The agency that they should abolish or at least de-fund is HUD. I could write a book about the damage HUD has wrought in its history and prominent libertarians James Bovard and Thomas DiLorenzo have exposed its failure in many articles over the years. A panoramic review will suffice here.

HUD has destroyed many urban neighborhoods and replaced them with gigantic Soviet-style public housing projects that are breeding grounds for crime and despair. In many cases, such as in my hometown of Buffalo, neighborhoods were destroyed and replaced by nothing! At 19:52 of The Incredible Bread Machine, Rothbard does a stand-up routine (sitting down) on how the federal bulldozer destroyed more housing units than HUD built. Billions of HUD development funds have been wasted (of course) and funneled into payoffs to contractors who kick back donations to keep the slimeballs in power. In Buffalo, about $556,000,000 was spent in recent years and it’s difficult to figure out where it went other than patronage jobs. HUD helped cause the mortgage meltdown by subsidizing mortgages that credit-unworthy home buyers could not afford. HUD is a poor manager of its properties, many of which are decaying and many of which have already been demolished. HUD has been called "the worst landlord . . . in the United States."

The actual solution to the problem of affordable housing is of course to be found in the free market. Government creates its own demand here as in other areas. First, it inflates the cost of housing through regulation, taxes and zoning. Then, it reduces the income of the poor through taxes, fees, occupational licensure, compulsory schooling and many other regulations. Having manufactured large numbers of poor people and created a shortage of affordable housing for them, it then created HUD in an attempt to solve the problem. It failed to solve that problem but created many new ones. It’s time to break the cycle of government failure leading to government programs that fail and create the demand for even more programs.

Why abolish HUD and not Education or Agriculture? Mainly, politics. Abolishing food stamps or student loans would be politically difficult right now. I want to make it easy on the tea partiers to do the right thing. Let’s start with HUD and maybe the savings can be used to phase out other federal departments. One step at a time beats sitting on your rear.

But, you say, it’s also politically impossible to abolish public housing. However, there is an easy answer to that concern not available with student loans or food stamps: privatization. Turn ownership of these units over to the current occupants. Don’t evict them; give them a deed. There’s no space here to argue the right and wrong of this proposal. My point is merely to show how to abolish HUD in a politically palatable way. Almost any means of privatization of assets is preferable to allowing them to stay in the public sector.

Leaving politics aside, privatization would produce many benefits. With the incentives of ownership, the occupants would take better care of their property. They would have an incentive to invest in the property rather than merely consume it. They would have an asset to use to borrow money for starting businesses. They would have greater control over the use of their apartments for business purposes. Privatization would help end the cycle of poverty whereby generation after generation has almost zero net worth and thus are easy prey for politicians promising a free ride. Owners could sell their apartments and move into a single-family home if they so choose. Security would improve as the people who live in these units gain control over access to their buildings. Of course, I can’t possibly list all the benefits of the free market applied to housing. That’s the great thing about the market — it’s much smarter than any one person.

Abolishing HUD would also shrink the political class by over 10,000 employees. That is 10,000 fewer people who will donate money and volunteer for politicians and automatically vote for the bad guys. HUD’s budget is about $48,500,000,000. That’s not pocket change. In my book, Direct Citizen Action, I emphasized the importance of starving the beast. My rule of thumb is that one percent of government spending will be siphoned off for direct use by the political class to maintain power. Thus, abolishing HUD takes $458,000,000 away from the political class for campaign funds and deprives them of the free labor of government employees who work on campaigns in their free time. Also, HUD owns many unoccupied properties that can be sold off or otherwise returned to private ownership. Just as every government expansion fuels further expansion, government contractions can fuel future contractions by the same logic.

So, I’m not saying that all the other ABC agencies are sacrosanct or should not be abolished. I’m saying let’s do HUD first. If this current crop of so-called limited government folks can’t abolish HUD, then there’s no need to waste any further time or energy on them.

Let me quickly dispose of the bogus argument that we can’t get rid of HUD because the Senate will not go along and even if they did, Obama would veto the bill. This is the same phony argument that Nancy Pelosi made about why the Democrats could not end the Asian land wars: Bush would veto the bill. The left accepted the lie. The truth is, all spending bills must originate in the House (Art. I, Section 7). All you need to defund an agency like HUD is a tie vote on the budget in the House. In that case, although HUD might still exist in theory, its programs would cease to function.

The New York Times identified five tea party Senate candidates and forty-one tea party House candidates who won or are leading.

Senate

PA- Pat Toomey
KY- Rand Paul
FL- Marco Rubio
WI- Ron Johnson
UT- Mike Lee

House

AR-1 Rick Crawford
AR-2 Tim Griffin
AZ-1 Paul Gosar
AZ-5 David Schweikert
FL-2 Steve Southerland
FL-22 Allen West
FL-24 Sandra Adams
GA-9 Tom Graves
ID-1 Raul Labrador

IL-8 Joe Walsh
IL-10 Robert Dold
IL-11 Adam Kinzinger
IL-14 Randy Hultgren
IL-17 Bobby Schilling
IN-3 Marlin Stutzman
IN-9 Todd Young
LA-3 Jeff Landry
MI-1 Dan Benishek
MI-3 Justin Amash
MO-4 Vicky Hartzler
NC-2 Renee Ellmers
NH-1 Frank Guinta
NV-3 Joe Heck
NY-13 Michael Grimm
NY-20 Christopher Gibson

NY-25 Ann Marie Buerkle
OH-1 Steve Chabot
OH-6 Bill Johnson
OH-15 Steven Stivers
OH-16 Jim Renacci
SC-1 Tim Scott
SC-3 Jeff Duncan
SC-4 Trey Gowdy
SC-5 Mick Mulvaney
TN-4 Scott DesJarlais

TX-17 Bill Flores

TX-27 Blake Farenthold

VA-9 H. Morgan Griffith
WI-7 Sean Duffy
WI-8 Reid Ribble
WV-1 David McKinley

I will send this article to each of the winners. I urge you to do so as well.

I will report back to you in thirty days to see how many are on board. Please keep me posted as well.

This will be lots of fun, one way or another.

Let’s call this the HUD is a DUD campaign.

James Ostrowski is an attorney in Buffalo, New York and author of Government Schools Are Bad for Your Kids: What You Need to Know and Political Class Dismissed: Essays Against Politics, Including "What’s Wrong With Buffalo." His latest book is Direct Citizen Action: How We Can Win the Second American Revolution Without Firing a Shot. See his website.

The Best of James Ostrowski

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