Tag Archives: House

Today I Praise Republicans. Well, Three Republicans.


A couple of Republican Senators caught me by surprise on Sunday. Both Sen. Tom Coburn, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss said that raising government revenue should be considered in the attempt to balance the budget. This goes against not only the Republican budget proposal in the House, but also the Republican talking point that the governments problem is spending not revenue.

Coburn and Chambliss are both part of the “Gang of Six” who are Senators looking for a budget compromise in the Senate. Coburn has come under fire from conservative activist Grover Norquist who says he is going back on his word. Specifically, Sen. Coburn signed an oath with Americans for Tax Reform that said he would not vote to raise taxes. Coburn’s repsonse was very direct. He said:

“Well, I think which pledge is most important, David , is the pledge to, to uphold your oath to the Constitution of the United States or a pledge from a special interest group who, who claims to speak for all of American conservatives when, when in fact they really don’t.”

For a Republican to fire back at a conservative special interest group like that caught me way off guard. Sen. Chambliss was far less fiery when talking about revenue. On CNN, he said:

” Now, if we don’t want to pay the debt back, then we could just not worry about the revenues. But the fact is we’ve got a $14 trillion debt staring us in the face, and revenues has to be on the table if we’re serious about attacking that debt.”

Both quotes come from this NPR story.  It’s important that two Republican senators have put raising revenue on the table. Democrats have already acknowledged that spending needs to be cut. Now, we at least have a group working at both sides of the problem, revenue and spending.

Coburn’s idea for raising revenue is certainly going to be a hard sell to Republicans. He wants to eliminate tax deductions, and credits in the tax code. This will cause businesses and individuals to pay more in taxes. Republicans have often called this a “tax increase.”  As the Boston Globe reported  last July, House Republicans opposed the act to give healthcare to 9\11 first responders because it included a “corporate tax increase.” The bill would have prevented foreign corporations from not paying taxes on profit earned in the US.

I don’t see that as a tax increase. Our tax code says you should pay this much. It then says if you do certain things the government will give some of that money back (a tax credit) or not tax you on that income (a tax deduction.) This is the government’s way of influencing our behavior. It is a version of positive reinforcment. For those of you not schooled in psychology, positive reinforcement is when you provide a reward for a certain behavior with the intention of increasing the probability that the same behavior will reoccur. So, when the government offers a tax credit to first time homebuyers they are trying to increase home ownership by giving a financial incentive. Taking away that tax credit is not really raising taxes it’s just not providing that incentive.

I like to use the metaphor of a retail business, perhaps a grocery store. When you walk into a grocery store everything has a price. It’s usually listed right on the shelf below the item. From time to time the store wants to encourage you to buy particular items. Maybe they have a large supply of something and they want to move some product. For a time that item costs less. As people buy enough of a particular item, the store will end the sale. Did the store raise prices? Not really. The price of that item did technically go up, but it just went to the normal rate. In the same way, when the government says a particular tax credit or deduction is expiring, they aren’t raising taxes. They are really just saying we need to start paying full price again.

Perhaps thats not important right now, but I wanted to make a point. In the end I applaud Sen. Coburn, Sen. Chambliss as well as Sens. Conrad, Durbin, Warner, and Crapo for trying to do real work for the people of this country. I hope they are successful in finding a good compromise.

Advertisements

My Spending Fight Continues. . .


I will post a more in-depth look at this issue tomorrow. Unfortunately, I didn’t get started early enough today to finish it. Just as a preview, the House voted to eliminate all federal funding for public broadcasting. Like American children since 1969 I was raised on Sesame Street. This is one of those things in the budget that really gives back to society and to cut funding for informative, educational programming is disgusting. Without getting off on a rant, I believe we should all write our Congressmen and Senators; write the President if you want and say keep funding public broadcasting. It’s the right thing to do.

Republican’s Cut Spending By Funding NASCAR?


The spending battle continues and today it got just a little more ridiculous.  The House is nearing passage of its spending cut bill. they want to eliminate $61 billion from the budget for the rest of this year. Not surprisingly the money will come from a bunch of programs they don’t care about. You know the ones that don’t make corporations any money. The bill would prevent funding for Planned Parenthood and the Obama Healthcare law. So we’re going to make it harder for women to get medical care in case of an unplanned pregnancy. Especially since her insurance company may just drop her coverage because they can.

The National Endowment for the Arts would see a huge cut in funding. This makes sense because we don’t really need museums, theaters and symphonies.  It’s not really necessary to appreciate history and music. I’m sure they would appropriate that money if they could guarantee it was going to the Creation Museum in Tennessee.

In an action of real arrogance they are trying to prevent funding for so-called “policy czars” in the Obama Administration. These include the guy who makes sure that the financial institutions that received help from TARP obey certain rules about executive compensation. I wonder why Republican’s wouldn’t want that guy around. My guess is that their friends on Wall Street are complaining about not making millions of dollars while they destroy the economy. The Republicans say the reason is that these posts should have been confirmed by the Senate. Not long ago Senate Republicans and Democrats came to an agreement to cut the list of jobs needing Senate approval. Now the House wants them to add some. I think the House should stay out of the Senate’s business.

In case you don’t buy the Wall Street argument, the bill will also cut the budget of the SEC. With the money the SEC had the past couple of years they couldn’t manage to regulate the financial industry. This year they’re supposed to do it with less money, and implement the new financial reform. The House also passed an amendment to eliminate Nancy Pelosi’s initiative to make the Capitol more environmentally friendly. It would have cost $1.5 million. That was deemed to expensive. They did it by voice vote, so we don’t know who supported it.

Don’t worry though. As the AP’s Andrew Taylor reports in a 281-148 vote the House approved letting the Pentagon spend over $7 million to sponsor NASCAR teams. That seems like money well spent.

An Interesting Vote


NPR had a very interesting report this evening.  The House of Representatives voted to stop a 465 million dollar a year program that builds an engine for the f-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This is not the primary engine, which is made by Pratt & Whitney. This is an alternative engine built by GE. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called it “the extra engine” in a Senate hearing. The Bush Administration wanted to kill the program. The Obama administration would also. The Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps agree. Most importantly the Defense Department says it’s unnecessary and the money could be used elsewhere. The House just did what they all recommended. Why is this an interesting story then? It seems pretty cut and dry.

The interesting part is the vote. It was 233 to 198. The majority of Republicans voted to sustain funding. They voted to keep a program that costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year when the people who benefit from that program want to get rid of it.  This is the party that is currently talking about the need for drastic budget cuts. This is the party claiming to be all about fiscal restraint. House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan proposed cutting billions of dollars from programs like HeadStart, and the funding for Pell Grants. Now his party votes to maintain funding for an “extra engine” for a fighter jet we probably don’t even need. Just last year after building 187 F-22 fighters the Defense Department decided they didn’t need them. They would rather put more time and money into the F-35. So now the question is will we need the F-35? Or after billions of dollars spent will they say we need to move on to the next generation? Defense spending has to be brought under control.

That is just a quick thought. I will talk a lot more about defense spending this weekend when I write my opinion on the upcoming budget battle. We will soon see if anyone in Congress is willing to tackle the deficit issue. Likely, we’ll see a bunch of people saying what they think is important to getting elected. Campaign season never really stops these days.

The Tea Party: Fed Up Fiscal Conservatives Or Anti-Obama Crusaders?


2009 saw the birth of America’s latest political outsider movement. In the 90’s it had been Ross Perot and the Reform Party. After that we had Ralph Nader and the Green Party. Today, in the age of Obama, we met the Tea Party. What was unique about the Tea Party was that they had no singular leader. There was no face of the movement. They were touted as everyday Americans fed up with Washington. An upstart grassroots movement meant to overthrow the establishment and put the power back in the hands of the people. That may be how it started. It didn’t last that long.

Since its inception the Tea Party has seemed to be a conservative movement. They claimed to have members from all walks of life; all political ideologies. They had only one core message. Control the deficit. Get government spending under control. Keep government limited. The banner at teapartypatriots.org reads: “Fiscal Responsibility, Limited Government, Free Market.”  Fiscal conservatism is supposed to be a Republican cornerstone. In the past 20 years that has changed. People who desire a balanced budget do come from both sides of the political spectrum. In fact, the only time recently that we have had a balanced budget was with divided government. When government has been completely in the hands of one party or the other the budget has not been balanced.  For a group of people to rise up and demand accountability from the government about its finances, and its intrusion on personal freedom, should be no surprise. That’s what the Tea Party’s message was. That’s what the Tea Party said they had been speaking out against for a long time. That wasn’t what happened. That version of history didn’t exist.

To claim that you are a group fed up with fiscal irresponsibility in 2011 means you need to account for some things. First off has to be why did you show up just now . The earliest references I can find to the Tea Party movement are in 2009. Our fiscal house was certainly out-of-order by then. It had been for some time however. Pres. Bush’s budget proposals led to the highest budget deficits in U.S. history. They were not only record-setting in number of dollars, but even if those dollars are adjusted for inflation. The first time the deficit has gone down since FY2002 (Pres. Bush’s first budget proposal) was FY2010 (Pres. Obama’s first budget proposal.) Yes Pres. Obama passed nearly a trillion-dollar stimulus package and the Tea Party was upset. Pres. Bush pushed a nearly trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street. Tea Party members today will tell you they were against it. They weren’t upset enough to protest. There were no raucous town hall meetings. Where was the anger over fiscal irresponsibility spanning a decade of deficit spending that ended with a collapse of the economy not seen since the Great Depression? Where was the anger over TARP? Where was the anti-establishment feeling against Washington run amok? It didn’t exist.

It doesn’t get any easier to explain the Tea Party’s desires for limited government. The Tea Party really gained traction during the debate over healthcare. The original healthcare reform proposals included a provision known as the “public option,” or the “government option,” depending on which party or media outlet you listened to. The idea was that the government would provide an option for citizens to buy health insurance from a government program if they could not obtain it through an employer. Republican’s denounced it as a “government takeover of healthcare.” Town hall meetings about the reform descended into chaos across the country. Finally the “public option” was removed from the final bill. The Tea Party movement generally seemed to be against the bill even after the “public option” was taken out. As the Tea Party Patriots website says, they are for limited government. Are they? The healthcare bill does put government into the healthcare field, but only slightly. It doesn’t even give the people the freedom of government help. It only helps people deal with private companies. That’s something the “free market” Tea Party should be happy about. The real problem is that this is small government intrusion compared to what has happened over the past decade. After Sept. 11th, the Bush Administration used the fear of the American people to start a war and engage in the largest expansion of the federal government in 50 years. They created a new cabinet level post. They established a new level of bureaucracy over the intelligence community with the NID(National Intelligence Director.)  It later came out that they authorized the NSA to conduct a warrantless wiretap program that circumvented all laws set by Congress for surveillance.  Was that limited government? Was that the freedom ensured in the Constitution? Where was the Tea Party outrage? Where were the calls to end the invasion of our rights? They didn’t exist.

The real story of the Tea Party lies beneath the rhetoric and anger of everyday people. Everyday people may have had the passion for the movement but they didn’t make it happen. The major Tea Party groups all have strong affiliations with some more familiar organizations like American’s For Prosperity. So what’s wrong with that? American’s For Prosperity is a front group funded by the Koch brothers. The heads of Koch Industries. Charles and David Koch are far-right Libertarians with a lot of money. Combined they have more wealth than anyone but Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet. It doesn’t end there. Tea Party rallies were organized by all kinds of conservative groups. Tea Party leaders have often been linked to conservative groups. A quick survey of the Tea Party Express website shows that they endorse only Republican candidates, and sometimes far-right candidates over more moderate Republicans. All this points to a movement funded by ultra-conservatives to achieve an ultra-conservative agenda. The Tea Party may have started out with a message of fiscal responsibility, but that has been lost. They are only the pawns of the conservative money movement. They are the far-right’s “Anti-Obama Army.”  When Obama comes out and endorses something they will be right there to refute him. That is why Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann have become Tea Party darlings. They oppose Obama no matter what. They will attack him and his supporters no matter how ridiculous it sounds. Evidence doesn’t need to exist.

Third party movements have made huge changes in American politics. The Whig Party shook us in the mid-19th century. Teddy Roosevelt’s third-party bid nearly won the presidency in 1912. The Reform Party can be credited with electing and keeping Bill Clinton in office. Without the Green Party Al Gore would have almost certainly been president. The Tea Party does not seem to be destined for that outcome. A movement based on opposition to a man instead of issues has no future. Until Obama, they were not against a decade of fiscal irresponsibility. Until Obama, they allowed government to expand unchecked and intrude into our lives. Until Obama, they didn’t exist. After Obama, they won’t exist.

News Flash: Partisanship a Thing of the Past


Reports from Washington are rolling in. The partisan divide has been crossed. Compromise is the name of the game. Bipartisanship reigns supreme.  In just about one hour, Republicans and Democrats will hear the State of the Union and they will sit together. Apparently, this year they are abandoning the standard separation in a show of unity.

I’m tired of this. Is it really possible that anyone on Capitol Hill believes this makes a difference. Do the members of Congress really think that because they can sit next to each other for a couple of hours anyone will think they actually working together. It bothers me to think that our elected officials hold us in such high regard.

If Congress wants to make the public think they are working for the benefit of the country, they should just do it. I’m tired of politicians thinking that a show of bipartisanship doesn’t actually have to involve working together. I hope that in a little while the President might say the same thing. I suppose we will see.

A Quick Thought about Tomorrow Night


Here’s a short version of what I would like to hear from Pres. Obama when he gives the State of the Union address tomorrow.

I want him to challenge Congress. He needs to stand up and say this is what we accomplished over the past two years. After partisan bickering we had the a hugely productive lame-duck session. In between fighting to win elections, legislators came together. They repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They ratified an extremely important nuclear arms treaty. They even came together and compromised on a bill that extended both tax cuts and unemployment benefits. That all comes after a Congress that enacted sweeping healthcare and financial reform measures. A Congress that streamlined the student loan process and saved the government money while doing it.

Pres. Obama should praise these achievements, but he should tell Congress that they can work together to do better.  Education reform is still on the table. The Dream Act has yet to be passed. Much is left to be done.  The State of the Union is a chance for the President to outline an agenda for the whole year, but he must emphasize one thing. Divided government requires divided responsibility. Republicans must step up and provided ideas not just criticism and then both sides must work together to find solutions.

This is a huge goal. It is difficult to reach, but one man should start the conversation. He is the President of the United States. Tomorrow night is his chance.