Tag Archives: Senate

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.

What’s The Problem With Promoting Morals? You Have To Actually Have Them.

Nevada Senator John Ensign is resigning. He is facing an ethics investigation over an affair with a campaign aide. A story about a politician and adultery may not seem that newsworthy anymore. Ensign is a Republican though and that warrants attention. If you ask yourself why so many Republicans fall into this trap and get news coverage, the answer is easy. It’s because they spend they’re public lives attacking people who do these things and then they go and do the same things. It’s simple hypocrisy. When Mark Foley says he’s gay, or Larry Craig tries to solicit gay sex in an airport bathroom, it’s news. If Barney Frank did it, no one would care. Why? Barney Frank is openly gay. The trouble with defending morals and “traditional family values” is that you have to live up to them. John Ensign argued against gay marriage citing the sanctity of the institution. He was having an affair with a campaign aide, whose husband was a friend and aide of the Senator. He apparently forgot about, “Don’t covet thy neighbor’s wife.”

I’m working on a big post about the current attack on teachers that is occuring in this country. It’s insane to think that cutting teachers pay, and benefits will reap any positive rewards, but the research to prove that is taking some time. In the meantime I wanted to say a little bit about this issue. On a sidenote, John Ensign had already said he wouldn’t run for another term in the Senate. As the LA Times reports, when asked if he was concerned about an ethics investigation he apparently said, “If I was concerned about that, I’d resign.”  I guess he’s living up to his word.

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.

I Emerge From Hibernation

It’s been a couple of days since I posted anything. Providing one post everyday has proven more difficult than I imagined. As we here in the Midwest recover from a blizzard like none I have ever seen, it is important for bloggers, journalists, and citizens to get back in the game. Politics has not stood idly by. Republicans are proposing budget cuts and in the past week tried to redefine rape. North Africa is exploding in anti-government protests, healthcare is being debated again. The budget fight is brewing and eventually we’re going to have to talk about education. The point is this. It is time to speak up. It is time to make our voices heard. Whatever your viewpoint, ideology, or political slant, it is time to make our arguments, persuade our peers, and with a little luck we may just raise the level of public debate in this country. Wouldn’t that be something?

News Flash: I May Have Been Too Cynical

Senate Democrats and Republicans worked out a compromise over parliamentary tactics that slow down legislation. I can’t believe it, but the 112th Congress is being bipartisan. Granted it isn’t about major reforms, and  they might be small concessions. It is something to be hopeful about though. While they didn’t take a strong move to reform the filibuster as some Senator had hoped, they did agree to eliminate the practice of “secret holds.” “Secret holds” allowed any Senator to prevent a vote on a presidential appointee for any reason they saw fit. They also got to do it anonymously.  No more said the Senate leadership and we can be happy for that. Along with eliminating holds, they’ve decided to reduce the number of presidential appointments that require Senate approval by 1/3. That’s a substantial step to address a confirmation process that sometimes takes months or years.

What will be most interesting to watch is the “hand-shake agreement”  between Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell, in which they both agreed to use tactics that limit the other. Sen. Reid promised to rarely limit the ability to offer amendments. Sen McConnell said he would rarely require unneccessary procedural votes.

This is by all accounts a small victory for bipartisanship, but it is a victory. As long as the Senate lives up to its promises, the next two years might just signal a change in Washington. As we all know, however, promises are easy. Talk is cheap. Living up to promises has not been Washington’s forte. Let’s hope this is a change.

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.