Budget bluster

It would be a matter of concern if the chairman of the House Budget Committee had come up with a plan to undo the Travel Promotion Act and dismantle Brand USA, the tourism promotion entity that it created.

But what Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has come up with in his recent budget proposal cannot be called a "plan." It's a collection of cliches.

Here, in its entirety, is what Ryan's proposal has to say:

Terminate Corporation for Travel Promotion. In 2010, Congress established a new annual payment to the travel industry and created a new government agency, the Corporation for Travel Promotion (now called Brand USA), to conduct advertising campaigns encouraging foreign travelers to visit the United States. This budget recommends ending these subsidies and eliminating the new agency because it is not a core responsibility of the federal government to pay for and conduct advertising campaigns for any industry. Moreover, the travel industry can and should pay for the advertising that it benefits from.

Where to start?

First of all, he's being a little loose with the facts. Brand USA is not "a new government agency." It's a nonprofit corporation. The law that created it specifically states, "The Corporation shall not be an agency or establishment of the United States Government." Its employees are not government employees. They don't get government salaries or benefits.

It is true that under the Travel Promotion Act the government makes an "annual payment," but it's not "to the travel industry." The government matches industry contributions to Brand USA. No for-profit enterprise gets any "subsidies."

And the funds don't come from taxpayers in any event. They are generated from user fees paid by foreign visitors.

We agree that the travel industry "can and should pay for the advertising that it benefits from," and it does. What Ryan's remark ignores is that the benefits of promoting the U.S. are not confined to the travel industry.

Congress knew when it passed this law, and research has confirmed, that funds invested in travel promotion benefit the entire economy by boosting service exports; improving the balance of payments; enhancing GDP; creating jobs; and generating close to $1 billion in federal, state and local tax receipts.

And that's not to mention the benefits to U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. image abroad that accrue when Brand USA engages in outreach to potential visitors, students and meetings planners to dispel misinformation, distrust and even fear.

Killing Brand USA will do nothing to balance the budget or reduce the deficit. Nothing in Ryan's budget message even pretends to show that it will.

In fact, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, which makes the definitive determinations on these matters, projected that the Travel Promotion Act would reduce the deficit by $425 million over ten years, something Ryan and every member of his committee well knows.

This "plan" is no plan at all. It is a collection of half-truths and ideological bullet points about the evils of "big government" and "subsidies," not a reasoned rebuttal to a law that is working and producing benefits for the nation at virtually no cost to the taxpayer.

If he really wants to undo the Travel Promotion Act, he has to do a lot better than this.

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