Category Archives: Congress

Blue Dogs Singing The Blues

In my desperate attempts to find news not about Anthony Weiner, I went to POLITICO’s website and found an article about Blue Dog Democrats, or I should say, the lack of Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. The Blue Dog Caucus was started in 1995 and was always a thorn on the side of liberal Democrats of the west coast and north east. Whenever it came to taxes, health care, and especially the farm bill, these moderates always seemed to have the upper hand.

Coming from the Dakota’s, Tennessee, Kentucky, and “Pennsyltucky,” these Congressmen and women would always use the same argument; our “rural” constituents don’t want more spending, so I can’t vote for this unless I can tell them how they will benefit from it. Or they would lay the guilt on the Democrats in safe seats and rant about how in order to keep the majority the liberals need to put together more moderate policy proposals. Well guess what, the Democrats did pass moderate legislation that benefited every single state in the union, and they still lost.

According to the article “The Blue Dog decline has been sharp, to put it mildly. Following the 2008 elections, the coalition counted 54 House members. When the dust settled from the 2010 midterms, just 25 remained.” Of course if they were real Republican’s it would be a lot easier for them to win reelection. They do come from more conservative districts, but I find it hard to believe Blue Dogs lost because of the policies that were passed between 2008 and 2010.

The hardest votes Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to get were for the bailout, stimulus, and health care, and had to work hard to convince the Blue Dogs. They were worried about keeping their job, and since the media and Republican’s hit the panic button whenever they get a chance, they have to go with the flow. The communications staff of House and Senate members (usually between 2-5 people) don’t have the time or tools to work on all the stories the media is covering. Most congressional offices have a policy of sticking to a limited amount of stories that make the member look good. But Blue Dogs can’t say the Democrat’s didn’t try to help them.

One of the biggest bills (and one that gets the least attention) was the Farm Bill in 2008, which is set to expire in 2012. It always carries huge subsidies for America’s least productive industry (1.2 percent of GDP) but there is never, ever, a debate of whether it should be passed. As far as the people who benefit from it are concerned, the more people who can benefit from it the better, and you can forget all that deficit stuff. The subsides in this law are with billions. I will also be writing a letter to Anheuser Busch. Since the law extended the tariffs for ethanol allowing local breweries to charge less to bars, I want to know why I still have to pay triple the price for a Budweiser.

Both Democrat’s and Republican’s need a wide variety of candidates in order to keep the gavel. The difference is while Democrat’s make a big deal out of their differences, Republican’s pretend there aren’t any. When the Democrats took back the House in 2006, there were stories coming out of Blue Dogs telling their leadership they were the reason they control the House. But the leadership should have reminded them about all the money they so the Blue Dogs could have their seat.

There will be Blue Dogs coming back in the next year, and yes it will help the Democrats get control of Congress, but that doesn’t mean the Democratic leadership should bow down to their every wish. If they wind up losing their seat it’s because their constituents didn’t see what their representative did for them. But if you look at what the GOP has accomplished this year (cut to Eric Cantor trying to fix his whip), and considering the seriousness of the issues coming up (cut to John Boehner crying), Democrats should stop singing the blues and replace it with rock and roll.

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Deficit, Democrats, Politics, Uncategorized

Policy and Debt Collide

After failing to pass a “clean” debt vote, Republican’s in Congress are looking for a compromise. The Hill reported today that Senator Jon Kyl said “the GOP would look to a shorter-term increase in the debt ceiling if the talks fail to produce more than $2.5 trillion in cuts.” The Treasury has been dipping into reserve funds to forestall the worst case scenario, but those funds will run out in July, and it looks like the GOP is still willing to play politics until the very last moment.

It left me with two questions. 1) What is Kyl thinking? $2.5 trillion worth in cuts?! In a time where most states are strapped for cash Republican’s have decided that cutting social programs that millions of American’s rely on is OK by them.

Plus, what is a “short term” increase? Congress has voted to raise the debt ceiling every year for the past decade. If the time period is any shorter than that, it means the Republican’s aren’t kicking the can down the road, they’re crushing it.

If you’re a politician, the rule of thumb you follow in any crisis is to do no harm. Well, many families are in a crisis right now, and by not raising the debt ceiling Congress will be doing them harm. All the positive “estimates” that economists made for 2011 will be wiped out because, as the U.S. is already broke, there won’t be any room to make the investments it needs to execute programs that will help create jobs or make sure families are taken care of. As the majority of the debt is for paying programs such as Medicare and Social Security, asking for $2.5 trillion in cuts means these vital programs will be a part of it.

2) Can the Republican’s do math? Even though the Congressional Budget Office has stated numerous times The Affordable Care Act will reduce future deficits, all the GOP talks about is how it will ruin America. But as it will help our fiscal situation, it also saves lives. The law forbids insurance companies from saying no to certain medical treatments, and giving parents the ability to keep their children insured under their plan until they are 26. It also includes tax credits for small businesses, and makes sure seniors can pay for their prescription drugs. I’m not making this up.

But politics has succumbed over policy once again. The Affordable Care Act is better known as Obamacare, and recent polls show 47 percent of American’s do not want the debt ceiling raised. A Pew study also found the majority of people are not in favor of raising taxes or cutting benefits. But this is not because they are irrational people, it’s because they don’t have enough information. Our “leaders” in Congress are supposed to tell us what we need to know so we understand the actions they are taking. Instead, it has become a battle of words and trying to figure out which ones will position their party or candidate to win the next election. Instead of calling them out on it, the media focuses on it and polls the candidates that don’t even try to have credibility.

If the emergency funds run out and the debt ceiling isn’t raised, it means America will have to default on its loans, leading to an even worse economic down turn than the one we’re still recovering from. President Obama has said his decision to vote against raising the debt ceiling while still in the Senate was a mistake; it’s the Republican’s turn to stop playing politics and deal with the matters at hand.

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Filed under Congress, debt ceiling, Jon Kyl, Politics, Republicans

Boehner’s Pork

If you are arguing with your friends about how John Boehner doesn’t wield much power, here’s some ammunition. When the Republican’s took control of the House of Representatives last year, Speaker Boehner said he would put an end to all earmarks. Well, guess what? Lawmakers found a loophole for their own rule.

Instead of directly asking money from a committee, the committee members have set aside money for lawmakers where they can request money to be allocated for their district. Walter Pincus reported that the House Armed Services Committee reserved one billion dollars (that’s twenty zeros) for what has been dubbed the Mission Force Enhancement Fund (MFEF). In this Fund, members of Congress could request money for projects in their districts through the appropriate federal agency within the Defense Department. Ironically, or maybe not, even before the bill could be passed half of the money within MFEF was already allocated for members who sit on the House Armed Services Committee.

This proves two things. First, Speaker Boehner can’t handle his job. You don’t run on reducing the deficit and the size of government, then allow your members to spite you on those very issues. In the 90’s Tom Delay threatened to remove members of his own caucus of their chairmanship if he didn’t like what they were doing. If Boehner had the same control like The Hammer once did, the Committee chairs would be afraid of applying this run around.

Second, the Tea Party doesn’t have as much influence as they like to believe. If members really cared about reducing the deficit and America’s debt, they wouldn’t take place in this practice. Instead, Freshman members like Congressman Joe Heck walk a tight line between getting the funds their district needs, and making sure they don’t get a primary challenge for doing so. Congressman Heck, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, realizes if a terrorist attack does occur in the high tourist area of Las Vegas, it could be detrimental to the local economy. As someone who recently went there for the first time (I broke even), and wouldn’t mind going back one day, I would like to know that I’m safe doing so. Also, as a tourist attraction for people and businesses around the world, you could give a good argument for why terrorists would want to attack the city.

If the Tea Party really had a major influence over what the Republicans were doing, these funds never would have been created. They only represent a tiny proportion of conservative Americans, and the GOP knows they can’t retain their majority by exclusively pandering to them. The current speaker hasn’t figured out how to handle either of these issues, and instead has let his caucus take votes that he knew would hurt them at the polls leading to its recent defeat in NY26.

Personally, I don’t mind members of Congress asking for money. It is part of their job, and if they weren’t their constituents would be asking them why they haven’t been doing anything. Which happens to be the case for this Congress anyway.

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Filed under Congress, debt, John Boehner, NY26, Politics, Pork

Boehner Wields A Little Gavel

Ever since Barack Obama became President the Republican Party’s argument to everything was simply no. No to raising taxes on the wealthy, no to the Affordable Care Act, and now it is no to raising the debt ceiling. While it is important for all politicians to make sure their base is happy, they still need to pass legislation. Of course that is easier said than done with a divided Congress, but what doesn’t help is when their isn’t strong leadership that is capable of herding the cats.

In a recent article from The Hill, it describes how some members of the GOP have missed the old days of Tom Delay where they were able to get things done without much bickering. While at times upset with the leadership style of late 1990’s and early 2000’s, these members are eager to get things done and don’t see Speaker John Boehner being able to. Tom “the hammer” Delay and Dennis Hastert were never shy of wielding their power to get what they wanted. “In 2004, then-Transportation and Treasury Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) tried to rescind Amtrak earmarks, sparking a heated fight with then-Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) and other GOP legislators. Istook’s subcommittee was reorganized in the next Congress, stripping him of his gavel and ‘cardinal’ status.”

Coming back to today, we still don’t have a full budget, not many appropriations have been passed, and can I ask you to name one thing Republicans have done since taking over the House that has helped you? Of course Paul Ryan’s budget was passed, which would have ended Medicare, cut taxes for the wealthy and businesses, plus increase defense spending when all the major players within the Pentagon are calling for cuts. But this isn’t a sign of strength for Boehner.

Ryan’s budget proposal is being used right now by Democrat Kathy Hochul running in a special election in New York’s 26th district, far far away from the liberal city. In fact, no one thought this race would even be close, but since Hochul started running against this budget she has picked up a large amount of momentum. It has gotten so bad for the GOP that Boehner had to head to Buffalo to try and help the Republican candidate Jane Corwin. But the election is Tuesday and recent polls show Hochul with the lead.

Boehner is struggling with members that are afraid they will be facing Tea Party candidates, and they know their “leader” won’t be able to help them. Since coming out in favor of the bailout in 2008, and accomplishing nothing to decrease the debt, he won’t be able to speak for the candidates who came into office saying they will make the government smaller. While many Democrats believe the GOP tends to agree on everything, they clearly haven’t, otherwise more legislation would have passed the House. The major accomplishments of the GOP since Boehner was minority leader had been getting his entire party to vote against the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus when Democrats took over. But most of the credit for was given to GOP Whip Eric Cantor.

When Truman was running for reelection in 1948, he branded the “Do Nothing Congress” as the reason he was not able to enact policies that will help the American people. So far in this first session of Congress, the House has passed twenty-nine pieces of legislation, compared to 2001 under Speaker Hastert, where seventy-five pieces of legislation were passed in its first session. While some of these bills are to change the name of a court room or post office, the majority of them were appropriations for member’s districts. Appropriations, (or pork, whatever you prefer) that could create jobs and stimulate the economy.

Even as the Republicans took over the House, Boehner was pushed to the sidelines by the RNC because he wasn’t good at using the talking points they gave him. Obama needs to do the same as Truman. The election isn’t going to be won over Iraq, Israel, or Osama Bin Laden, it’s going to be about the economy and the state of the nation. The reason why Tom Delay was able to keep his majority was because he got things done. But while the president has tried to get Congress to pass legislation that will help millions of Americans, all John Boehner has said is no, without offering an alternative, and unable to form a consensus for his party.