Posts Tagged Congress
By TIMOTHY EGAN
House of Un-Representatives
Timothy Eganon American politics and life, as seen from the West.
Not long ago, the congressman from northeast Texas, Louie Gohmert, was talking about how the trans-Alaska oil pipeline improved the sex lives of certain wild animals — in his mind, the big tube was an industrial-strength aphrodisiac. “When the caribou want to go on a date,” he told a House hearing, “they invite each other to head over to the pipeline.”
Gohmert, consistently on the short list for the most off-plumb member of Congress, has said so many crazy things that this assertion passed with little comment. Last year, he blamed a breakdown of Judeo-Christian values for the gun slaughter at a cinema in Colorado. Last week, he claimed the Muslim Brotherhood had deep influence in the Obama administration, and that the attorney general — the nation’s highest law enforcer — sympathized with terrorists.
You may wonder how he gets away with this. You may also wonder how Gohmert can run virtually unopposed in recent elections. The answer explains why we have an insular, aggressively ignorant House of Representatives that is not at all representative of the public will, let alone the makeup of the country.
Much has been said about how the great gerrymander of the people’s House — part of a brilliant, $30 million Republican action plan at the state level — has now produced a clot of retrograde politicians who are comically out of step with a majority of Americans. It’s not just that they oppose things like immigration reform and simple gun background checks for violent felons, while huge majorities support them.
Alex Wong/Getty ImagesLouie Gohmert at a Tea Party rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.
Or that, in the aggregate, Democrats got 1.4 million more votes for all House positions in 2012 but Republicans still won control with a cushion of 33 seats.
Or that they won despite having the lowest approval rating in modern polling, around 10 percent in some surveys. Richard Nixon during Watergate and B.P.’s initial handling of a catastrophic oil spill had higher approval ratings.
But just look at how different this Republican House is from the country they are supposed to represent. It’s almost like a parallel government, sitting in for some fantasy nation created in talk-radio land.
As a whole, Congress has never been more diverse, except the House majority. There are 41 black members of the House, but all of them are Democrats. There are 10 Asian-Americans, but all of them are Democrats. There are 34 Latinos, a record — and all but 7 are Democrats. There are 7 openly gay, lesbian or bisexual members, all of them Democrats.
Only 63 percent of the United States population is white. But in the House Republican majority, it’s 96 percent white. Women are 51 percent of the nation, but among the ruling members of the House, they make up just 8 percent. (It’s 30 percent on the Democratic side.)
It’s a stretch, by any means, to call the current House an example of representative democracy. Now let’s look at how the members govern:
To date, seven bills have been enacted. Let’s see, there was the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship act — “ensuring the stability of the helium market.” The Violence Against Women Act was renewed, but only after a majority of Republicans voted against it, a rare instance of letting the full House decide on something that the public favors. Just recently, they rushed through a change to help frequent air travelers — i.e., themselves — by fixing a small part of the blunt budget cuts that are the result of their inability to compromise. Meal assistance to the elderly, Head Start for kids and other programs will continue to fall under the knife of sequestration.
On the economy, the Republican majority has been consciously trying to derail a fragile recovery. Their first big salvo was the debt ceiling debacle, which resulted in the lowering of the credit rating for the United States. With sequestration — which President Obama foolishly agreed to, thinking Congress would never go this far — the government has put a wheel-lock on a car that keeps trying to get some traction.
Meanwhile, not a day passes without some member of this ruling majority saying something outrageous. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, for example, has endorsed the far-side-of-the-moon conspiracy theory that the government is buying up all the bullets to keep gun owners from stocking their home arms depots. As for Gohmert, earlier this year he nominated Allen West, a man who isn’t even a member of Congress (he lost in November) to be Speaker of the House. Harvey, the invisible rabbit, was not available.
Gohmert, like others in the House crazy caucus, has benefited from a gerrymandered district. He can do anything short of denouncing Jesus and get re-elected.
The Beltway chorus of the moment blames President Obama for his inability to move his proposals through a dunderheaded Congress. They wonder how Republicans would be treating a silken-tongued charmer like Bill Clinton if he were still in the White House. We already know: not a single Republican voted for Clinton’s tax-raising budget, the one that led to our last federal surplus. Plus, they impeached him; his presidency was saved only in the Senate.
Obama may be doomed to be a reactive president in his second term, with even the most common-sense proposals swatted down because, well — if he’s for it, Republicans will have to be against it. What could be a signature achievement, immigration reform, faces quicksand in the House. But a gerrymander is good for only a decade or so. Eventually, demography and destiny will catch up with a Congress that refuses to do the people’s bidding.
- House of Un-Representatives (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Louie Gohmert, CPAC Superstar (nationalreview.com)
- Louie Gohmert: Boehner Has Concerns about the Tea Party, So I Have Concerns about Him (nationalreview.com)
- Gohmert accuses Obama regime of impeding Boston investigation (israelmatzav.blogspot.com)
- Tea Party Congressman Louie Gohmert (unclewilliejoe.wordpress.com)
- Rep. Louie Gohmert says administration is full of Muslim Brotherhood members (dailykos.com)
- REP. LOUIE GOHMERT: FBI’s willful blindness enabled Boston terror attack (rare.us)
- Louie’s Latest: Gohmert says radical Muslims are training to ‘act like Hispanics’ to get into the U.S. (chron.com)
- Egan on the House (snohomishobserver.com)
- Louie Gohmert treated like rock star at CPAC, of course (salon.com)
Obama goes wobbly
By Eugene Robinson, Published: May 2
President Obama had the opportunity this week to make an irresponsible Congress face the consequences of its own dumb actions. For reasons I cannot fathom, he took a pass.
Rather than use the veto pen that must be gathering dust in some Oval Office drawer,Obama signed legislation that cushions air travelers from the effects of the crude, cruel budget cuts known as the “sequester.” The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now allowed to shuffle funds around to avoid furloughing air-traffic controllers — thus avoiding flight delays.
At his news conference Tuesday, Obama said he agreed to sign the measure because the alternative was to “impose a whole bunch of delays on passengers.” That’s true — and it’s precisely why the president should have vetoed this quick-fix bill.
Remember how we got here. Republicans in the House refused to compromise on a far-reaching budget deal, insisting that there had to be deep spending cuts but no new revenue. Both sides agreed to across-the-board cuts that were designed to be unacceptable. This Damoclean sword was supposed to provide an incentive for reaching a comprehensive deal. But the gambit failed.
Obama said he would not go along with attempts by Congress to selectively ameliorate the effects of sequestration. After all, the whole point was to make both sides so uncomfortable that they would fall into one another’s arms in a desperate embrace of deal-making. The incentive disappears if either side is allowed to alleviate its sharpest pains.
A few weeks of long flight delays, frequent cancellations and crowded airports full of angry, frustrated voters might have concentrated the minds of even the most anti-government Republicans on Capitol Hill. But now, no worries.
Meanwhile, Congress is offering no emergency legislation to restore Head Start funds for preschoolers. Nor is an urgent remedy being designed for poor people who will have to go without their Section 8 housing subsidies. The president could have told Congress that he will agree to make travel more convenient for their jet-set constituents, all right — if and when they send him a companion bill restoring needed benefits for low-income citizens.
Obama noted Tuesday that even in terms of air travel, the FAA bill was “not a solution.” The money that will keep the controllers on the job was originally slated for airport improvements. If these projects are not undertaken, the president said, those who use our aging airports will suffer congestion and delays in the future.
But he signed the thing anyway. Sigh.
A veto would have allowed Republicans to claim that the president was gratuitously making the American people suffer so he could score political points. But the gratuitous harm was done long ago, when both sides agreed to this whole sequestration nonsense. It is truly absurd that our highest elected officials would agree to impose measures that they knew were not in the public interest. But that’s what they did, and all who had a hand in making this uncomfortable bed should be forced to lie in it.
By agreeing to keep the planes flying on time, Obama keeps public opinion on his side, which should be an asset. But I see no indication that the Republican Party really cares what the public thinks.
About 90 percent of Americans support near-universal background checks for gun purchases, according to polls, but that legislation — a modest reaction to the horror of Newtown — couldn’t even make it out of the Senate, thanks mostly to GOP opposition. Even prospects for immigration reform, which is clearly in the Republican Party’s interest, are uncertain in the House. At the moment, the typical Republican officeholder cares more about avoiding a primary challenge from the Looney Tunes right than doing what the public wants and needs.
Looking and sounding like the one reasonable man on a ship of fools is good for Obama’s political standing, I suppose. But he’s no longer running for anything. Somehow, he has to govern until January 2017. In his quest to find a way to work with a hostile Congress, he might consider trying something new.
The next time Congress tries to undo one of the sequestration cuts, Obama should just say no. Let the Republicans jump up and down and call him names. Tell them to sit down and negotiate a proper budget deal, even a grand bargain — or else live with the pain.
The president should find that forgotten veto pen. And he should use it.
- Eugene Robinson: Could 1 life have been saved at Newtown? (goerie.com)
- Eugene Robinson: Thatcher embodied feminism, like it or not (goerie.com)
- Matthews Goes After ABC’s Jonathan Karl For Asking ‘Jock Question’ About Obama’s Waning Political ‘Juice’ (mediaite.com)
- EUGENE ROBINSON: US inaction is better than intervention (tauntongazette.com)
- Eugene Robinson: Say ‘never again’ to gun violence (goerie.com)
- Okay, who tried to cloak the president with “a fog of ambiguity”? (bokertov.typepad.com)
- Obama dithering on Syria keeps press minions in knots (bizpacreview.com)
- Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson unsure how anyone can determine who is crazy and who isn’t (theblaze.com)
- The drone issue is real, it is urgent (lissakr11humane.com)
- Obama Goes Wobbly (truthdig.com)
The economic whodunit
By E.J. Dionne Jr.,
And since last week saw a cross-party celebration of the opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library, I’d add a second mystery: Why is it that conservative Republicans who freely cut taxes while backing two wars in the Bush years began preaching fire on deficits only after a Democrat entered the White House?
Here is a clue that helps unravel this whodunit: Many of the same conservatives who now say we have to cut Social Security to deal with the deficit supported Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security — even though the transition would have added $1 trillion to the deficit. The one thing the two positions have in common is that Bush’s proposal also would have reduced guaranteed Social Security benefits.
In other words, deficits don’t really matter to many of the ideological conservatives shouting so loudly about them now. Their central goal is to hack away at government.
This goes to the larger argument about jobs and deficits. For a brief time after the Great Recession hit, governments around the world, including President Obama’s administration, agreed that the immediate priority was restoring growth. Through deficit spending and other measures, the 20 leading economies agreed to pump about $5 trillion into the global economy.
Obama and Democrats in Congress enacted a substantial stimulus. The package should have been bigger, but Obama — thinking he would have another shot later at boosting the economy — kept its size down to win enough votes to get it through Congress.
The second chance didn’t come because conservatives stoked anti-government deficit mania — and never mind that the deficit ballooned because of the downturn itself, and that the stimulus needed to reverse it and those fiscally improvident Bush-era decisions.
Then along came academic economists to bless the anti-deficit fever with the authority of spreadsheets. In a 2010 paper cited over and over by pro-austerity politicians, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff argued that when countries reached a debt level above 90 percent of their gross domestic product, they almost always fell into slow growth or contraction.
Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens compactly takes the story from there: “The implication was that deep retrenchment was the only route back to prosperity. Now, economists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst say the results reflected a data ‘coding error’ and some questionable aggregation. The assumption that high debt always equals low growth is not sustained by the evidence.”
While Reinhart and Rogoff acknowledged their error, they dismissed the controversy in a New York Times op-ed as an “academic kerfuffle” and insisted that their findings had often been “exaggerated or misrepresented” by, among others, politicians. (They also complained about the “hate-filled, even threatening, email messages” they received. I’d be happy to share my e-mail with them. Friends, if you have the good fortune to be engaged in public debates, you get a lot of angry missives these days.)
The two economists would have added to their credibility by showing a bit more humility about their data problem. But the damage was done. Europe and the United States moved prematurely to austerity. Tens of millions of people have suffered from joblessness or lower real incomes. Reinhart and Rogoff didn’t force these decisions, but they abetted them.
Now, through the “sequester” cuts, we are compounding the problem. It’s outrageous that Congress and the administration are moving quickly to reduce the inconvenience to travelers — people fortunate enough to be able to buy plane tickets — by easing cuts in air traffic control while leaving the rest of the sequester in place. What about the harm being done to the economy as a whole? What about the sequester’s injuries to those who face lower unemployment benefits, who need Meals on Wheels or who attend Head Start programs?
Instead, we should be using this period of low interest rates to invest in our infrastructure. This would help relieve unemployment while laying a foundation for long-term growth. But anti-government slogans trump smart-government policies. For reasons rooted in both ideology and the system’s bias against the less privileged, we hear nothing but “deficits, deficits, deficits” and “cuts, cuts, cuts.”
To paraphrase a French statesman from long ago, this is worse than a crime. This is a mistake. Its costs are being borne by good people who ask only for the chance to do productive work.
- The economic whodunit: E.J. Dionne Jr. (oregonlive.com)
- E.J. Dionne Jr: The economic whodunit (wickedlocal.com)
- E.J. Dionne Jr: The economic whodunit (metrowestdailynews.com)
- The Economic Whodunit (truthdig.com)
- E.J. Dionne: The end of majority rule? – The Washington Post (mbcalyn.com)
- Misdiagnosing A.D.H.D.; cheap clothes from Bangladesh: Opinion roundup (oregonlive.com)
- The economic whodunit (washingtonpost.com)
- E.J. DIONNE: Apologist for Criminals, Propagandist for Statism (directorblue.blogspot.com)
- Week In Politics: Jobs Numbers, President Obama’s Budget (npr.org)
- E.J. Dionne: Get facts before you judge (goerie.com)
Is Constant Obstruction in Congress Putting Our Republic at Risk?
When legislatures stop functioning, executive branches tend to grab power in order to “save the Republic.”
March 6, 2013
When a government lacks the authority or the ability to govern effectively, to meet the urgent needs of its citizens, history has shown it will not long survive. There will be resistance, civil unrest, and if the government cannot respond, revolution.
Most Americans would say it can’t happen here. Our government has been relatively effective and stable for over 200 years. We are, however, the exception when compared to the 30 developing countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa that have established constitutions based on separation of powers
All of these countries have had frequent breakdowns by coup d’etat or revolution ending in despotism. Typically, these breakdowns begin with a legislative branch that fails to act or actively obstructs badly needed legislation. When this happens, the president may act to accomplish what he deems are much-needed policy objectives using his executive power. This may start as a genuine effort to preserve a functioning government, but it can easily evolve into an abuse of power, which descends into a usurpation of power and then the dissolution of the legislature and dictatorship.
We may be seeing the beginnings of such a pattern in the United States. The series of manufactured crises, from the debt ceiling debacle to the sequester are indicators of a failing system. Congress is certainly in trouble when root canals, head lice and cockroaches are viewed more favorably, according to a recent PPP poll. (To be fair, Congress did beat out gonorrhea, meth labs and North Korea, and the cockroaches had just a slim two-point advantage.) Overall, Congress had only a 9 percent favorable rating with 85 percent unfavorable.
While the poll provided great fodder for comedians, the disgust with Congress has much larger implications for all of us. In our government, the principle of separation of powers makes Congress a co-equal partner with the President in governing our nation. If Congress fails to function in its constitutional role to set policy, approve spending, raise taxes, advise and consent to presidential appointments, oversee the results of its actions and hold the executive accountable, our system of government is impaired. If the dysfunction lasts long enough, the republic itself could eventually fail, as has happened in all other systems with similar constitutions.
When the President and at least one house of the Congress are of different parties, it may be hard to accept that both have a responsibility for governing, not just for obstruction. The recently ended 112th Congress operated more like those third-world legislatures that led to the demise of their elected governments. They passed the fewest bills of any Congress since World War II. The House wasted time on futile gestures such as voting 33 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Their self-created “crisis” over the debt ceiling damaged the economic recovery, which was just gaining steam, and caused a drop in our credit rating. The 113th Congress appears to be following a similar path as the current refusal to deal with the sequester threatens to throw the economy back into recession.
The Senate minority has filibustered virtually every significant bill or presidential appointment. The House simply refuses to legislate at all. The federal bench was damaged due to the number of judicial appointments being delayed by holds or filibusters. The holds by individual senators and the filibusters were intended only to obstruct as no alternatives were put forward – when they ended, often large bipartisan majorities have approved appointees.
It is truly urgent that members of Congress take action to protect and preserve the institution. Changing the filibuster rule in the Senate, so that not everything requires 60 votes would have been a positive step, but key senators did not want to give up their individual power despite the damage being done to the institution by endless obstruction. This rule, which is not part of the original constitution, allows minority control of the Senate. When abused, the institution’s governing responsibilities cannot be exercised.
The Senate has so many arcane procedural rules, it has long required “unanimous consent” to move even the most routine business forward. This requires trust, reciprocity and collegiality – something that is missing from the Senate today. Every procedural step, every appointment, every bill is now subject to a filibuster. The business of the country is held hostage or sacrificed entirely to the whims of a single Senator or a disciplined minority.
The House has also given great power to a minority of its members. Since the 1990s, House Republicans have used a rule, created by former Speaker Dennis Hastert, that nothing would be brought to the floor for a vote unless a majority of the majority party supports it. This has allowed a small but vigorous minority within the majority to block needed action.
Thus in both houses, small, often uncompromising minorities can block the will of the majority preventing our government from dealing with the serious issues we confront. Meanwhile, the slow recovery and continuing high unemployment is caused by Congress’s refusal to take action on numerous jobs and infrastructure bills. The Congressional Budget Office makes this point in its report, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2013 to 2023.”
The legislative gridlock has led to calls for the President to take more executive action to get things done. It was even suggested by a prominent journalist that the President ignore the sequester law and act on the basis of his role as Commander-in-Chief of the military — in other words, like a dictator. Here is Bob Woodward, speaking during the February 27 “Morning Joe” program:
“Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there saying, ‘Oh, by the way, I can’t do this because of some budget document?’” Woodward said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Or George W. Bush saying, ‘You know, I’m not gonna invade Iraq, because I can’t get the aircraft carriers I need?’ Or even Bill Clinton saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to attack Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters’ — as he did when Clinton was President — because of some budget document? Under the Constitution, the President is Commander-in-Chief and employs the force. And so we now have the President going out, because of this piece of paper and this agreement, I can’t do what I need to do to protect the country. That’s a kind of madness that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Let’s be clear. This is a member of the elite media establishment telling the President that a law passed by Congress and signed by him can and should be ignored. This is how it begins.
The temptation of power is real, and so far we have been lucky to have had presidents who resisted that temptation. Now we have a President being excoriated for obeying the law, even though he has made clear he believes the actions required under the law are wrong and damaging to our country.
This President gives every indication that he will follow the Constitution and the laws as enacted by Congress, even though the actions (or inactions) of Congress are putting the country at risk. As the dysfunction continues, the damages mount, and the press and public call for action, can this President or some future President resist the temptation to ignore Congress and act on his own to “save the Republic?”
We should not count on executive restraint. It’s time for members of Congress to recognize their responsibility to govern. By refusing to talk to the President, to negotiate with the President – or with each other – or to allow votes on legislation, they are contributing to the disgust people feel toward their government, especially the Congress. It is strange how some members of Congress claim to revere the Constitution but hate the government it created.
The separation of powers was designed to prevent the abuse of power by safeguarding the interests of minorities. It has worked well to accomplish that goal, but the Founders did not anticipate the growing need of modern governments to provide effective policy leadership and implementation over a wide range of extremely complex issues. Minority rule rather than majority tyranny has too often prevented large majorities from acting. The result is gridlock and self-generated “crises” while important issues go unresolved. The separation of powers has thus far protected our liberties, but these will be small comfort if our democracy collapses in the face of problems it cannot or will not solve due to implacable minorities who block any attempt at solution.
- What did the RandPaulibuster tell us about filibuster reform? (washingtonpost.com)
- Filibuster Abuse (robertlindsay.wordpress.com)
- The Sequester as a Tea Party Plot | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- Filibusters (brainiac-conspiracy.typepad.com)
- Bipartisan Senate filibuster challenges Brennan CIA nomination (constitutioncampaign.org)
- No More Excuses: Soaring Market Latest Evidence of Need to Tax Wall Street | Alternet (robertlopez144.wordpress.com)
- Filibusted? (niallbarron.wordpress.com)
- Editorial: Filibuster on Hagel irresponsible (journalstar.com)
- Rand Paul and the Filibuster (lewrockwell.com)
- Sen. Jeff Merkley on the filibuster deal: ‘There are two pieces I’m excited about’ (washingtonpost.com)
Congressman, Florida’s 26th District
No to Sequestration: It’s Time to End ‘Government by Crisis’
Posted: 02/28/2013 5:47 pm
I came of age in a Republican household during the Reagan years. My dad, Joe Sr., was a small business owner who served as a committee man for the local party. My mom, Carmen, like most Cuban exiles of her generation, voted Republican down the ticket. When the family would gather around the dinner table and discuss current affairs, my brothers and I wouldn’t always agree with our parents’ politics, but we were taught from an early age to respect other people’s views and keep an open mind because nobody has all the right answers.
This is a valuable lesson that has stuck with me, but it is one that many of my colleagues in Washington either never learned or have perhaps forgotten. The refusal of some in the Tea Party controlled Congress to compromise, learn from members of the other party, listen to reason, and put ideology and partisan politics aside has resulted in a government that is too often dysfunctional, reckless and irresponsible. From the debt ceiling, to the fiscal cliff and now the sequester, what we have is a Congress that governs and responds only to self-inflicted crises.
The consequences of sequestration are dire for Florida. Here are a few of the many examples of what they look like:
· Parents in neighborhoods like Kendall and Perrine will experience dramatic cuts in funding for Head Start and Early Head Start resulting in 2,700 fewer children in Florida from having access to those programs.
· Students at schools like FIU, FKCC and MDC will see cuts in work-study programs that help them pay for college.
· Florida will lose approximately $54.5 million in funding for primary and secondary education.
· Local hospitals that we all depend on will experience a loss of $368 million from cuts, potentially limiting first responders’ capabilities to respond to heart attacks, strokes and other critical medical issues.
· Longer lines at Miami International Airport with as many as 31,000 civilian Department of Defense employees being furloughed throughout our state.
These aren’t just numbers on a page. The sequester will impact the lives of millions of real people, such as our neighbors, grandparents, teachers, friends, and loved ones. The cuts that will go into effect if Congress does nothing are avoidable. There is a solution and a better way, but it’s going to require hard work and a willingness to compromise — two things that unfortunately are anathema to some in Washington. Consider the following: Despite these looming disastrous cuts, Congress was only in session for six of the 31 calendar days in January (about one day a week). Imagine how your boss would react if you only showed up to work one day a week. You probably wouldn’t have that job for too long.
This is unacceptable to me and I know it is unacceptable to many of my colleagues from both parties. Just a few weeks ago, I joined a bipartisan coalition of over 20 members — Republicans and Democrats, alike — who are committed to avoiding the sequestration by working in a bipartisan manner and compromising. For Democrats, this means we are open to spending cuts so long as seniors can retire with dignity, receive the benefits they have paid for and have access to affordable, quality health care. For Republicans, this means they are willing to look at revenue increases so long as Democrats meet them half-way.
This framework is similar to how most people go about their lives. When you and your coworkers disagree, you don’t stop showing up to work and take your company to the brink of disaster. Rather, you simply gather around a table, discuss your differences and find solutions. Not everyone will get what they want, but progress isn’t held hostage at the expense of ideological purity. It’s ironic that many of the same politicians who decry government for not operating more like the private sector have adopted a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to governing that would leave them fired, bankrupt or both in corporate America.
I hope my colleagues find it within themselves to compromise and learn how the rest of America works when people disagree and yet want to move forward. My family’s dinner table is a great place to start.
- Frankel, Murphy say Congress should stay in session until budget deal reached (postonpolitics.com)
- What Obama Isn’t Telling You About Sequestration – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Sequestration Looms Large For Florida (miami.cbslocal.com)
- Sequestration: Top 4 States With Largest Losses (theepochtimes.com)
- Sequestration will leave Pentagon cash-strapped but operational (stripes.com)
- What Sequestration Really Tells Us About Our Government (evergreeninstitute.wordpress.com)
- White House, Republicans dig in ahead of budget talks – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Obamacare/Sequestration Double Whammy For GOP (youviewed.com)
- Will A Government Shutdown Threat Determine The Winner Of The Sequestration Fight? (tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com)
- WaPo/Pew sequestration poll question oddly missing an option (hotair.com)
A Tax to Pay for War
By R. RUSSELL RUMBAUGH
Published: February 10, 2013
NOW that Congress has discarded the idea that taxes can never be raised, we must change how we pay for the wars we ask our military to fight. We should institute a war tax.
With leading officials calling for action in Syria, and the American military providing support for France’s intervention in Mali, the need for such a tax is urgent. And President Obama’s call for tax reform as the next round of budget negotiations begins offers a perfect opportunity to enact it.
Military spending has been declining since 2009, easing the conflict between pursuing our national security interests and solving our fiscal crisis. But if we undertake new military interventions, that tension will come roaring back.
Those who look at our military spending as a percent of gross domestic product and argue that we could spend more are right. At our current level of $646 billion, we are spending roughly 4 percent of G.D.P. on national defense, well below cold war averages. The missing part of their argument is whether we can afford to pay for it now or would have to borrow, adding to the national debt. After all, war spending — like all government spending — wrecks public finances only when more money is spent than is brought in.
This simple equation is nothing new. Three years ago, the Senate Budget Committee adopted a bipartisan amendment requiring that wars be paid for. The Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission and Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, both proposed doing much the same thing. None of these proposals resolved the question of whether to pay for future wars through spending cuts or raising more revenue. Now that Congress has finally passed legislation letting taxes increase, we must make a choice and require a tax surcharge to pay for any military operation.
War traditionally has motivated major changes in tax policy. The Civil War brought the first income tax. World War I made the federal income tax permanent. World War II brought tax withholding. In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, the United States ran a budget surplus because of a tax surcharge Congress forced President Lyndon B. Johnson to accept.
Today’s budget negotiations offer a similar opportunity to make a surcharge permanent. President Obama called for counting as savings the money that will not be spent as the war in Afghanistan winds down. Many decried the scheme as playing with funny money because he plans to exit Afghanistan in 2014 anyway; the savings only exist because of an accounting trick in Congressional budgeting. But if those savings were associated with an actual policy change, they would start looking more real.
Since the Budget Control Act already caps military spending, there is an easy way to implement the surcharge: any spending over the caps would require it. If we felt the need to use the military and could do so under the spending caps, as the Obama administration did in 2011 responding to the earthquake in Japan and the uprising in Libya, no surcharge would be necessary. But if military action required supplemental financing, any amount over the caps would be offset with new revenue raised by an automatic surcharge on taxes.
By tying military action to additional revenue, the president would actually have a freer hand in deciding when to use force. Every argument the Obama administration makes for military action would explicitly include a call for increased taxes, forcing the question of whether the stakes in the military situation are worth the cost. If the American people agree they are worth it, the president will get both the political support and financing he needs.
Syria is the most immediate example. We now know that some top officials have argued for arming the rebels, as the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did last year. Others argue for an even more robust military response, while detractors insist that we should learn from Iraq and not get involved at all.
Such decisions should not be divorced from economic considerations, but neither should we allow our finances to prevent us from pursuing vital American security interests. Putting in place a permanent tax surcharge to pay for wars would ensure that we could achieve our interests throughout the world without further worsening our finances.
If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth our treasure, too — not just in the abstract, but in the form of a specific ante by every American.
- A Tax to Pay for War (dailyqueernews.wordpress.com)
- President Delivers a New Offer on the Fiscal Crisis to Boehner – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Stabilization Won’t Save Us – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Congress inaction on budget could affect raises, benefits for military (stripes.com)
- How will he pay for it? Fiscal realities put Obama agenda in question – NBCNews.com (blog) (nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com)
- Tax rules change, but advice remains the same (cantonrep.com)
- War Addiction Default: America’s Political Dysfunction at Root is an Unwillingness to Cut War Spending (nationofchange.org)
- The GOP’s Defense Spending Problem (anirrationalviewoftheirrational.wordpress.com)
- Spoiled Brat Syndrome (safehaven.com)
- Obama’s War on the Troops (freebeacon.com)
Making Sense, by Michael Reagan
We have junk food, junk mail and junk bonds.
Now, thanks to our dysfunctional and devious Congress, we have junk laws like the “Taxpayer Relief Act.”
Junk laws are really nothing new. The people we send to Washington to represent us have been passing legislation larded with pork or special privileges for their friends in business, agriculture and labor since the country was born.
Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News
Insiders have always known how this cynical bipartisan game is played. But now, thanks to the failure of Congress to deal with the government debt crisis it in large part created, the average American is starting to become aware of these junk bills.
Even the liberal media were outraged by what went on when Congress passed the “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012″ — which, ironically, raised the taxes of every working American by 2 percent by returning the Social Security tax to its usual 6.2 percent level.
The “Fiscal Cliff Bill” did virtually nothing to solve the federal government’s money problems or create a single job. But it was junked up with nearly $70 billion of pure pork — including tax credits for the owners of NASCAR racetracks, wind turbine makers, Hollywood moviemakers and rum-makers in Puerto Rico.
While President Obama was promising to raise taxes on the rich but really shafting the working poor, congressional folk were so busy loading up the “Fiscal Cliff Bill” with presents for their friends that they forgot to pass the relief bill to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Members of Congress are grandmasters of deceit and dishonesty. Taking maximum advantage of every crisis or disaster that comes along, they attach their favorite pieces of pork to dishonestly named bills such as the “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012″ and the “Affordable Healthcare Act.”
Members know these big important super-bills have to pass to avert a crisis, so they junk them up with their $200 million “Bridges to Nowhere” and their $59 million tax credits for the algae-growing industry.
A perfect example of how Congress gets its junk bills passed has to with the way it funds FEMA. Congress always underfunds the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Why?
Because Congress knows each year there will always be a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy that FEMA will need billions of federal dollars to address.
And when FEMA comes asking for emergency funding, members of Congress will clean out their closets and throw every piece of junk legislation they have into the relief bill, which they know will automatically pass without scrutiny.
Another reason we get junk laws is that few members of Congress actually read these monster bills before they vote for them. Nancy Pelosi’s career quote is going to be her comment on the healthcare bill, “But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.”
Law-making is not supposed to work that way. There’s a rule in Congress that a bill has to be posted for 48 hours before it can be voted on. But that rule has become a joke.
Just watch C-SPAN the next time a vote is being taken in the House. You’ll probably hear someone say something like, “Under suspension of the rule, we’ll now vote.”
What arcane parliamentary rule are they talking about? The 48-hour rule. No wonder Congress is always finding out after they vote what they just voted for. If members of Congress don’t read the damn bill, they shouldn’t vote on it.
I’m getting real tired of people saying, “My guy’s a good guy and your guy’s a bad guy.” They’re all acting like bad guys.
We need to start holding every member of Congress accountable. And we need more up-and-down votes in Congress, so that the next important piece of legislation doesn’t become another “Fiscal Cliff Junk Bill.”
- Congress to vote on Sandy aid as FEMA warns funds low (cnn.com)
- Sandy Shows Disaster-Relief Funding Is a Disaster – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Sandy Relief Bill Filled With $9 Billion of Pork (theburningplatform.com)
- Voting Against Sandy Relief is the Only Moral Option (txwclp.org)
- Long funding process to follow irate Sandy rhetoric (nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com)
- The Pork Filled and Expensive Non-Relief Sandy Relief Bill (conservativeread.com)
- HARD TO ARGUE: Taxpayer Advocate Says Tax Code is “Unconscionable Burden,” Suggests Junking the… (pjmedia.com)
- House passes $9.7B Sandy relief bill (cbsnews.com)
- Republican Congressman Says He’s Not Convinced Sandy Victims Need Relief (politicususa.com)
- Not So Fast, Governor Christie (personalliberty.com)
Political Disaster — Members of Congress Expected to Spend 5 Hours a Day Begging for Money | Alternet
Political Disaster — Members of Congress Expected to Spend 5 Hours a Day Begging for Money
Why politics is so dysfunctional, in a nutshell.
January 9, 2013
Members of Congress don’t know anything about “the issues” and they spend all their time fundraising, according to both a new Huffington Post story and “an easy inference to make after observing Congress for almost any length of time.”
The HuffPo’s Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui obtained a PowerPoint presentation given to incoming Democratic freshmen legislators by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the DCCC’s recommended schedule for House members includes four hours spent on the phone begging rich people for money and one hour spent begging rich person for money in person. This is the daily schedule.
As Kevin Drum notes, this leaves no time for studying or homework. Members rarely know much about anything, policy-wise. An unnamed member confirmed to HuffPo that these guys basically are exactly as ill-informed as you feared:
One member of Congress said that the fundraising takes up so much time that members don’t even have time to become experts on bills they sponsor. “One thing that’s always been striking to me is even the members playing a leading role on specific issues actually could not talk about the issues,” said the member, who didn’t want to be quoted by name. “They didn’t have enough knowledge on their own issues to talk about them at length. I’m probably guilty of that.” He recalled one meeting early in his career, where he brought several members together to try to hash out a compromise, just as he had done earlier as a state legislator.
“Staff members were all twitching at the discussion, because their principals were saying things that were just flat-wrong or uninformed or wondering aloud about what the industry practices really were,” he recalled. “The staff members of course had a pretty good idea. … The members were sitting around the table having a remarkably uninformed and unproductive discussion.”
This, as much as anything else, is why our Congress is both dysfunctional — legislators have no clue what they’re voting for or against most of the time — and so attentive to the priorities of the very wealthy.
Newt Gingrich completely dismantled the internal institutions that used to provide Congress with objective information and research, both because that information frequently contradicted conservative dogma and because he knew that doing so would force Congress to rely on outside (ideological) organizations for information, which would strengthen the corporate-funded policy shops and think tanks that powered the conservative movement. Now nearly everything Congress “knows” about policy comes directly from self-interested, industry-funded groups. Simultaneously, as Lorelei Kelly recently wrote, congressional staff began shrinking, which means expertise was, once again, outsourced — now, increasingly, lobbyists perform the educational function that well-versed staffers used to.
So: the constituents members of Congress have the most direct contact with, and the ones they see themselves as reliant upon to remain in office, are the ones who have the ability to write massive checks. And the people the members talk to to understand the issues are either think tank ideologues or paid representatives of industry or both.
The result is Congress as it’s been since the second Clinton term: Hundreds of dim bulbs, a couple of brilliant-but-evil guys, and a handful of dedicated and intelligent people who frequently do weird and inexplicable things like “voting for the horrible 2005 bankruptcy bill.”
The annoying thing is that the solutions to these problems are incredible simple: public financing of elections and huge increases in congressional staff budgets. But you might notice that both of those solutions involve spending more money on the government, making them non-starters in our age of bipartisan agreement that government spending is unseemly.
The alternative to constant fundraising by the members is for outside groups to take care of it for them, which is a model conservatives already sort of practice. In their “Behind the Caucus” column on Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas freshman who will vote against raising the debt ceiling because he explicitly wants the United States to default, Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei explain that Cotton won his primary because the ultra-conservative Club for Growth simply sent Cotton “a FedEx envelope full of checks that he didn’t ask for.” And that certainly saves some time. Allen and VandeHeil also note that Cotton, and his peers, explain why we are probably about to induce a recession for no reason:
Many in the media — us included — often underestimate just how conservative and how impervious to criticism and leadership browbeating these members are when appraising the chances for change in the next two years.
Hey, Mike and Jim, that’s what we’ve been saying for a while now. We’re screwed, because the people who spent thousands getting Cotton elected are the ones explaining the issues to him and his dumber peers.
- Political Disaster — Members of Congress Expected to Spend 5 Hours a Day Begging for Money (alternet.org)
- Congress is awful because members spend all day long talking to rich people (salon.com)
- 6 Reasons the Fiscal Cliff is a Scam | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- “Dumb And Dumber”: Congress Is Awful Because Members Spend All Day Long Talking To Rich People (bell-book-candle.com)
- “Dumb And Dumber”: Congress Is Awful Because Members Spend All Day Long Talking To Rich People (cadesertvoice.com)
- Tea Party Republicans Flaunted Their Nihilist Extremism During Fiscal Cliff Negotiations | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- CRS – Roles and Duties of a Member of Congress (bespacific.com)
- Life Among the Plutocrats – What Unimaginable Wealth Does to a Person | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- “Dumb And Dumber”: Congress Is Awful Because Members Spend All Day Long Talking To Rich People (mykeystrokes.com)
- America’s White Male Problem | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
Communications Satellites Made Legal for Export
Published: January 3, 2013
To the delight of American satellite makers, communications satellites — which orbit Earth to relay phone calls, link ships to shore and broadcast television programs — will become legal for civilian export under legislation that President Obama signed into law on Thursday.
Although the United States founded the industry, manufacturers were forced to pull back from international markets after a 1999 law categorized the satellites as weapons and restricted their export. At the time, Congress was fearful that selling satellites abroad could allow technology secrets to fall into the wrong hands.
The defense bill that President Obama signed will undo that step and let American companies sell communications satellites as civilian technology rather than as deadly arms. Among the beneficiaries will be companies like Boeing, Hughes and Space Systems/Loral.
“This is a tremendous assist for an industry that is inherently international,” said Patricia A. Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association, a business group in Washington. “It will ensure our place at the forefront of space.”
As a practical matter, communications satellites made their debut in 1964 and quickly became stars of the space age. The first craft, orbiting at 22,300 miles, relayed signals to the United States from Japan that let American television viewers watch live coverage of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
But the industry stumbled 13 years ago after Republicans in Congress pressed for a law that restricted communications satellite exports. The lawmakers praised it as a security precaution that would prevent China and other perceived foes from stealing technology secrets. Detractors saw it as a cynical ploy meant to discredit the Clinton administration and its policy of Chinese engagement.
That law put communications satellites on Washington’s list of export-controlled munitions: tools of war like tanks, bombs, missiles and equipment for making nuclear arms. Foreign companies took the opportunity to increase their satellite sales.
The new law gives Mr. Obama the authority to return communications satellites to their previous status as civilian technology. It retains provisions that restrict the export of satellites to nations like China and North Korea, and to sponsors of state terrorism like Iran.
Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, who introduced a bill to change the policy on satellite exports and whose state is a space industry hub, said the measure offered satellite manufacturers a crucial lift.
“Companies across the country have been operating at a disadvantage due to these policies,” he said in a statement. “These reforms will give our businesses a chance to compete globally while still protecting our national security interests.”
The strict export controls arose from a political fight over satellite launchings by China, which in the 1980s began offering cheap rides into orbit on low-cost rockets. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, both Republicans, approved transfers of American spacecraft to Chinese rockets, as did President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Starting in early 1998, a series of upsets brought the expanding trade to a halt. Two American satellite makers involved in the Chinese launchings, Hughes and Loral, were accused of giving China advice about making not only commercial rockets, but also military missiles.
Republicans, who controlled Congress at the time, argued that satellite exports could lead to a hemorrhage of secret materials and information, and said that China might already have stolen encryption secrets.
After the strict export rules took effect in 1999, the legal complications involved in selling communications satellites and components abroad contributed to a sharp decline in the American share of the market, from a dominating position to about 50 percent today.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama said the rules had “unduly hampered the competitiveness of the domestic aerospace industry” and vowed to push for change.
Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California, who for a decade helped lead the movement for change, said its culmination as law would help restore the nation’s competitiveness in the global satellite market.
“Treating commercial satellites and components as if they were lethal weapons, regardless of whether they’re going to friend or foe, has gravely harmed U.S. space manufacturers,” he said.
Mr. Berman added that the benefits extended beyond the manufacturers. The national security establishment relies on the companies and their technological skills to fulfill the government’s satellite needs and to develop spacecraft involved in a wide range of military missions.
“If they can’t compete in the international marketplace,” he said of the companies, “they can’t innovate and cannot survive.”
- Obama Drops Satellite Ban, Gives Aerospace Industry A Lift (forbes.com)
- Communications satellites no longer classed as weapons, US export ban lifted (theverge.com)
- Boeing Ships 3rd Intelsat 702MP Satellite for Launch (spacemart.com)
- ISRO planning to acquire Ka-Band Communication satellites for India [Space] (aame.in)
- Space Systems Loral Selected by USAF to Develop Next Gen Protected Military Satellite Communications (spacewar.com)
- Obama signs legislation relaxing satellite export rules (bizjournals.com)
- Turkish engineers will lead production of domestic satellite (worldbulletin.net)
- Russia works to fix satellite’s off-target orbit (space-travel.com)
- Sri Lanka partners Chinese communication satellite (spacemart.com)
- Tenders called for military satellite (stuff.co.nz)
The last forty-eight hours have been a complete failure for the Republican Party leadership in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House and scores of their members. With a clear majority in the House of Representatives 85 Republicans voted for a $620 billion tax increase on all Americans. In the Senate, only five Republicans stood their ground and voted against the bill…five! The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that the “Fiscal Cliff Compromise” will raise taxes on 77.1 percent of Americans. What is the Republican leadership in Congress doing, and do they stand for anything anymore?
As Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said on New Year’s Eve, and who ultimately voted against this flawed piece of legislation, “Not only are they raising taxes — maybe on a smaller percentage of people but a large amount of money — they’re also going to spend more money…So it’s a spending bill.”
America has a spending problem not a revenue problem. With the passage of this “compromise” the Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal government’s spending will actually increase by $330 billion over ten years. To put it in even starker terms, for every$1 in spending cuts $41 is generated in tax increases. A real compromise would have included entitlement reform and meaningful cuts in all federal spending programs across the board.
So how did we get here? Since the failure of the “Super Committee” in the fall of 2011, thanks to President Obama’s jihad against successful people, a ticking time bomb was set in motion where a number of tax increases and unsavory defense cuts would go into effect on January 1, 2013. Congress waited to the last possible second to come to a resolution. The House of Representatives did pass a number of bills that alleviated pressure from the “Fiscal Cliff” but those pieces of legislation died in the Democrat controlled Senate. Harry Reid and President Obama skillfully played Republicans by using the hourglass to their advantage and forcing this bad piece of legislation through Congress in the dead of the night.
To be an honest broker, one also has to fault the failed presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. The Romney Campaign chose not to make the “Fiscal Cliff” a central theme of the campaign. If they had a detailed plan, they did not make it public and by doing so the campaign and the Republican Party lost the message war to the Obama campaign in the fall.
So where do we go from here? Thankfully Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did not give the whole store away and cede control of the debt ceiling to President Obama. In two months Republicans in Congress will have a chance to redeem themselves in holding the line on spending when it comes to our $16 trillion plus national debt.
Republicans in both the Senate and the House must aggressively cut government spending. Punting yet again is not an option after the fiasco of the “compromise” that passed last night. Our debt is out-of-control and future generations of Americans depend on what will happen in Washington in the near future. When will America’s leaders show courage to tackle entitlement reform?
- U.S. ‘fiscal cliff’ deal passage ends standoff (thehindu.com)
- Congress approves fiscal cliff deal (bizjournals.com)
- U.S. House joins Senate in voting to clear fiscal cliff bill (vancouversun.com)
- House Republicans clear way for fiscal cliff vote (thehindu.com)
- Congress staves off ‘fiscal cliff’ of tax hikes (thehindu.com)
- Cliff avoided: Congress staves off tax hikes (cnsnews.com)
- Congress OKs cliff deal‚ signaling future fights (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Fiscal cliff deal under threat from hardline conservative Republicans (guardian.co.uk)
- US Senate approves ‘fiscal cliff’ deal‚ crisis eased (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Congress’ deal signals future fights (toledoblade.com)