While You Were Tweeting

I trust that you all had an enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend.  In many ways we have so much to be thankful for so it is always nice to take time out and to reflect on our good fortune — whatever form that may take.

In our nationally induced tryptophan haze, one may have noticed, or more hopefully ignored, a bevy of tweets and other distractions that obscure the many important legislative challenges coming up in the next four weeks.  Or more accurately, in the few days that the House and Senate are actually in session before Christmas.  Nearly all of the following impact Americans in some form or another and are important to the smooth functioning of our nation.  These are important issues that deserve serious consideration and discussion.  I will let you decide whether or not that will happen.

To name a few:

  • Tax cuts.  The president promised a “great big beautiful Christmas present” with completion of the Republican tax cut.  Both the House — which passed its version before Thanksgiving — and the Senate — which hopes to pass its version this week — have significantly different bills designed to permanently cut corporate taxes and to cut some lower and middle class taxes for a while.  The Republican leadership is touting both bills as a boon to the middle class.  Sorry, but I don’t see it.  Besides adding at least 1.5 trillion dollars to the national debt over the next ten years, it makes some puzzling changes.  For example, nearly all deductions (mortgage, student loan, state and local taxes, medical expenses, moving expenses and about 40 some more) are removed from the individual taxpayers’ ability to use them but keeps them in place for corporations.  The argument is that the individual standard deduction will greatly increase (roughly doubled) and therefore there will be no need to itemize.  At the same time, corporate taxes drop roughly 40 percent (from 35% to 20%) but they still keep all itemized deductions, including those listed above that go away for the rest of us.  The real kicker is that corporate tax rates and rules are permanent and the rules for the rest of us are temporary.  The non-partisan Tax Policy Center (TPC) estimates that for many of us, our taxes will actually go up over the next ten years as compared to current law.  This happens primarily because of the “sunset” provisions impacting everyday Americans.  Many Republicans are arguing that some time “in the future” Congress will make them permanent and so in the end, we all benefit.  Except.  Except.  There is no guarantee that they will become permanent.  If they don’t, we are victims of a big lie.  And if they do, then it all has been a sham and a trick.  In order to meet the rules of the Senate, they cannot exceed the 1.5 trillion dollar addition to the national debt.  (To do so, they need 60 votes in the Senate, which means getting Democrats onboard, who, so far, have been shut out of any input to the bill.)  Thus, the permanent cuts for corporations are paid for by the average tax payer.   But not to worry, according to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Dick Mulvaney, it is all a trick.  A “gimmick.”  As he said on Meet the Press, in order to meet the Senate rules, “certain proposals can only have certain economic impact.  One of the ways to game the system is to make things expire.”  Or as he went on to say, “a lot of this is a gimmick… to get through these rules in the Senate.”  This from the president’s point man on the cuts and in charge of explaining them to the public.  There is a whole lot more to this issue, but it deserves a separate piece as the issues are complex with wide impacts on each of our futures.  Keep an eye on this.

(Please note that there is no need to place a time limit on getting this legislation right. It is an arbitrary political goal to “deliver” a tax cut by Christmas.  Remember that as it crowds out the following issues, many of which do have — or have already reached — a drop dead date to accomplish.)

  • Government Shutdown.  Funding to operate the federal government expires on 8 December.  Here we go again.  Both Republicans and Democrats are using the imminent expiration of the spending authorization to promote their political agendas.  As in the past, it is unlikely that the Republicans can pass a spending bill without at least some Democrats voting for it as well (there is always a hard-core Republican group opposed to the amount of spending and the impact on the deficit — although they mysteriously voted for the increased deficit from the tax cuts).  There is a “summit” planned tomorrow involving the leaders of both parties from both houses and the president to try to come to accommodation on this and other issues.  Probably there will be a short-term extension to keep the government operating — a continuing resolution or CR.  CRs wreak havoc on all government agencies from defense to agriculture as they limit immediate spending and give no clear guidance for the future, thus severely inhibiting planning for the future.  Predictions are not optimistic as to a quick resolution because the Republican leadership remains laser focused on getting the tax cuts finished first.
  • Defense Spending.  As part of the overall objective of setting spending levels for 2018 many want to see defense spending increased from about $549 billion to about $600 billion.  In order to do that, Congress must rescind a bipartisan 2011 budget deal that set spending caps on all areas of government.  Democrats are insisting that any increases in defense spending must be matched by increases in non-defense spending or they will not vote to lift the 2011 caps.  Under Senate rules, 60 votes are required to change the bipartisan agreement providing the limits so Democrats have a say in how this is resolved.  Very little progress in resolving the issue is apparent and this impacts the funding for the government as a whole (see above).
  • Health Care. Politicians on both sides of the aisle want to see the market stabilized for health care.  Not surprisingly, there are differences on how to do it.  The Alexander-Murray health care bill is a bipartisan effort to bring some continuity and stabilization to health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The administration opposes this bill and the Senate version of the tax cut plan eliminates the penalty for not having insurance — thus creating the possibility of increased premiums for those with insurance and eventually driving a predicted 13 million from the roles.  (See my previous posts about the “three-legged stool” needed to keep the system stable.)  Democrats say the Alexander-Murray bill is off the table if the repeal of a key provision of the ACA is enacted.  Republicans are still making noise about “repeal and replace in 2018.”  Compromise seems unlikely and the public suffers.
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program.  The generally popular CHIP provides health coverage for about 9 million poor children and others.  The current legislation expired on 30 September and it is unknown when this usually bipartisan issue will be addressed.  To date, the states have picked up the slack to keep the program going in the short-term but many say that funds will run out at the end of the year.  This is also caught up in the “need” to address tax cuts before other legislation.
  • Immigration.  The president announced the expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) (the Dreamers) program last September and gave Congress until March to come up with a system for dealing with the children brought here illegally by their parents.  Many Democrats say that they will not vote for any spending bills unless this issue is addressed by the end of the year.  Some Republicans say that they will not address immigration unless “The Wall” is part of the bill.  There are also Republicans that agree that the Dreamers issue needs to be addressed and that may actually favor their remaining in the country.  But, again, they argue this cannot be part of any spending bill and can only be addressed after the tax cuts pass.
  • Intelligence Gathering.  On 31 December of this year Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will expire.  This section of the law, approved by Congress in 2008 as a part of the response to the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, is intended as a tool to track and thus foil foreign terrorists.  It is meant for use in conjunction with foreign citizens outside of the United States and has specific provisions to protect American citizens.  Unfortunately, critics of the provision claim that vast amounts of information is collected on U.S. citizens as they communicate with foreigners — any foreign national, not just those suspected of being terrorists.  Known as “incidental surveillance” it raises many questions of privacy and government intrusion into the lives of innocent, ordinary U.S. citizens.  The NSA considers this provision to be among their most important collection capabilities and fear that if they lose the ability to continue the surveillance that it will severely inhibit their counter-terrorism capability.  There is general bipartisan support to extend the statute, but with some restrictions to further try to protect Americans’ privacy.  Currently, there are no plans to address the expiring statute by the end of the year.
  • Disaster Relief.  The Administration asked Congress for $44 billion in disaster relief for help in mitigating the impact of the hurricanes and wildfires that affected many areas of the country this year.  To pay for it, they have asked for reductions in other expenditures, such as benefit programs.  By all accounts, 44 billion — a lot — is inadequate to meet the need.  Puerto Rico alone estimates that it will cost $99 billion to get the island back on its feet.  Congress has promised to provide the aid, but does not plan to address the issue with concrete action (money duly appropriated) until the tax cut plan is finished.
  • Iran Sanctions.  By declaring in October that Iran was not in compliance with the international deal to limit Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, the president activated a 60 day period which expires in December for Congress to act to impose new sanctions or not.  The general sense is that there is mostly bipartisan agreement not to extend new sanctions on Iran and thus to keep the deal in place.  However, at the end of the 60 day period the ball is back in the president’s court and it may be that inaction on the part of Congress will lead to action by the president and thus put the deal in jeopardy.

And there’s more!  But you get the idea.  Not much of anything will get done until the tax cuts are passed, which is not a sure thing in the Senate.  Even if it does get through the Senate this week, or soon after, they still need to reconcile the two versions of the bill — no easy task as they are significantly different in several important areas.  All deadlines discussed for the tax cuts are purely political and self-imposed, unlike many other items in need of Congressional attention.

It is sure to be a busy political December.  Enjoy!  And don’t let the tweeting distract you from the real action going on.

A Road Map For Success

Today President Obama signed a two-year budget deal passed by the House and Senate last week in a bipartisan deal to get the nation through and beyond the election of 2016.  Indeed, it is called the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.  It accomplishes several things.  Foremost among them is that it suspends the nation’s debt ceiling until March of 2017, taking that issue off the table until after the next president is sworn into office. Additionally, it provides relief from the Budget Control Act of 2013. That is the bill that set spending levels for domestic and defense programs that many thought were too severe.  It has become known as the “sequester bill”  putting arbitrary limits on spending.

This is a good deal — not perfect for either Republicans or Democrats — because we would have hit our debt limit tomorrow (3 November) with the distinct possibility of a major financial crisis as a result. It also provides for increases in defense and domestic spending above the sequester limits. Perhaps more importantly, it provides a two-year deal that will finally give some stability to military and other planning and allow for more long-term investments, rather than living weeks or months at a time on Continuing Resolutions (CR) that may or may not be held hostage for political reasons each time they come up for renewal.  The CRs provided the ever-present opportunity to threaten a default or a government shutdown should certain minority demands not be met.

There are of course other provisions in the 144 page bill addressing a number of issues, but perhaps the most important of the other provisions is a fix for Medicare to keep premiums from rising drastically and a provision to keep the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund solvent through 2022.

It also shows that members of both parties in the House and Senate can work together and actually accomplish meaningful results.  To me, this reinforces my belief that many of our nation’s problems can be solved with moderate Republicans and Democrats working together to compromise on important legislation rather than letting the extremes of either party hold the rest of the body hostage.

From a political standpoint, this may be the last gift from the former Speaker of the House John Boehner to the rest of us.  Given his imminent retirement, he was freed from having to negotiate with the Freedom Caucus — the group of 30 or 40 Tea Party conservatives in the House — and could get sufficient bipartisan support for it to pass.  The Senate recognized a solution when it stared them in the face and ignored objections by Senator Ted Cruz (R – Texas), another Tea Party favorite and Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).  Both are running for president as “outsiders” and condemn the leadership of both parties in Washington.  I suppose the bill gave them another meaningless grand standing opportunity to make it look like they are “standing up” to Washington when they knew full well that the bill would pass anyway.

While this is a major milestone — even as one might argue that doing the nation’s most basic business should not be a “milestone” — there are obstacles ahead.  It is too early to sing kumbaya as we all hold hands around the campfire.

The new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has promised to use the Hastert Rule in bringing bills to the floor of the House.  The Hastert Rule is named for the now disgraced (he is on his way to jail) former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois).  Basically, it is a “majority of the majority” rule whereby a Speaker will not bring a bill for a vote if it is not guaranteed that the majority of the party will vote for it. Speaker Boehner often invoked this same rule.  What it does, is give groups such as the Freedom Caucus inordinate power within the House of Representatives to veto any legislation that they do not like, regardless of the ability otherwise to get a majority of the Representatives to vote for a given bill.

Speaker Ryan may be a new face and a respected leader.  I hope that he is able to get the House working again.  Unfortunately, he seems to have already tied his own hands by promising over the weekend that he would  continue to use the Hastert Rule, thus again inordinately empowering the minority of Tea Party Republicans in the House.

Another reason to keep from breaking out in song is that the deal is not done.  The bill that President Obama signed today is really only a framework for work yet to be done.  Because the legislature and White House could not reach a deal prior to the start of the new fiscal year, the nation’s business is currently conducted under a Continuing Resolution that keeps things going only until 11 December this year.  The CR is based on the sequester spending caps and there are some in the House and Senate that believe those caps should stay in place regardless of the just concluded compromise. As we all know from our civics classes, the budget is meaningless until the Congress passes Appropriations Bills (to say exactly how much money goes where) and Authorization Bills (allowing the government to actually spend the money).  Normally those are passed in 12 individual bills to fund each area of government (Defense, Education, Homeland Security, etc.).  Given the time remaining (and the propensity for Congress to take weeks off for holidays such as Thanksgiving), it is likely that there will be an omnibus bill (all of them rolled up together in one big bill) to cover the ability to spend money to the new budget guidelines.  This will give those that oppose the agreement more time to undermine it, especially by adding amendments to the bill that have little to do with the subject at hand but are used because they know that the overall bill needs to be passed and thus their individual proposals get little scrutiny.  There is also the possibility that some of those amendments may be “poison pills” added to scuttle the agreement totally.  One example would be to add a rider totally defunding Planned Parenthood.  That would open up a new debate that could cause the 11 December deadline to pass and result in shutting down the government after all.  There are some presidential candidates that think that would be a very fine idea.  Only time will tell on how skilled House and Senate leaders are in moving forward.

For all us political junkies, last week there was further cause for hope that maybe the House could act in a bipartisan way for the good of the country.  Many Tea Party members in the House (and Senate) want to eliminate the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank).  Most moderate Republicans and Democrats see the bank as important to American commerce and small businesses.  Without going too far into the arcane rules of the House of Representatives, moderate Republicans utilized a little used rule to set up a petition, signed by enough Republicans and Democrats to force a vote on a bill that was previously held from the House floor by Speaker Boehner and the rest of the leadership as a “bone” to the Freedom Caucus.  The measure to restore the Ex-Im Bank passed on a vote of 313 to 118, (within the Republican Party the vote was 127 for and 117 against), demonstrating again that the majority can work together to accomplish common goals when the full House is able to cooperate. After debate, the Senate is also expected to pass the bill.

I hope that these two accomplishments are more than a mere flash in the pan but are instead a positive sign of things to come.  It does demonstrate that there is a road map that can lead to success when compromise is not considered a dirty word and our leaders work together to move our nation forward.

Here We Go Again

In case you haven’t been following it, Congress is about to shut-down part of the government again. In this case, it is the Department of Homeland Security (home to the Coast Guard, TSA, Secret Service, FEMA, Border Service, and many other national security organizations) in a dispute over President Obama’s Executive Order last year concerning immigration.

As is the case with most of the recent self-created crisis cliff hangers, this one was known to be coming for months.  I hesitated for days to write about it because I thought that surely this was a tempest in a tea pot (or a tempest in a tea party, as one may prefer) and that it would be resolved. Indeed it may yet be resolved today or tomorrow, but as it stands now, as of midnight Friday, all funding for DHS will cease.

The Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) proposed what seems to me to be a reasonable compromise.  We will see if the Senate Democrats can say “yes” to getting “yes” but I think that they will after milking the situation for a day or two.  Since the issue is one of whether or not the president over-stepped his Constitutional authority, a Federal judge in Texas provided the “exit sign” to the stalemate, as Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) calls it, when he put a stay on the execution of the president’s order.  Since this is purported to be a Constitutional issue, it should rightly be resolved in the courts and that process is underway.  Let it play out as it should, and it seems that the Senate, or at least the majority of Republicans and Democrats, will let that path be the one to resolution — once they get past the pyrotechnics of politics and both sides making specious statements to the press.

(By the way, as a footnote — the judge in Texas did not rule the Executive Order unconstitutional as some have claimed.  I am not a legal scholar, but it appears from what I can discern that all he did was give Texas and 25 other states legal standing to pursue the case in court.  Since they have, he declared, legal standing the judge stayed the execution of the order until the case is resolved.  The Justice Department is appealing the stay order.  Apparently the judge provided legal standing to Texas based on an obscure interpretation of the cost basis for providing driver’s licenses, of all things.)

An unusual interpretation at best as I understand it, but the point remains that it is best resolved in the courts rather than through the withholding of funds for the DHS.

So what’s the problem?  Pursue the Senate compromise and be done with it.  The compromise is to separate the issue into two bills — one attempting to stop the president’s Executive Order and one to provide funding to DHS.  Bada bing bodda boom.  Done.  Both sides get what they want and our government continues to function.  While there are still some on both sides of the aisle unhappy with that arrangement, there appears to be sufficient bi-partisan support to get it done and move on.

Ah, but as always, there is a catch.  A pretty big catch.  That, as recently always seems to be the case, is in the House of Representatives — the People’s House.  Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) claims that the House already passed their bill and have no further obligation to take action.  The House bill ties funding the DHS to over-ruling of the Executive Order.  The Republican House members want that bill to go to the President so that he has to veto the bill and thus he can be blamed for blocking funding to the important DHS.  A political move that plays with our national security. There seems to be sufficient bi-partisan support in the House for the compromise that the Senate is proposing, but as we have seen time and again in the last few years, there is a strong tea party contingent that refuses to compromise and thus the bill can only pass with bi-partisan support. As in the past, Speaker Boehner is more than reluctant to anger that base by going ahead with a compromise.  We’ve seen this script before and it’s tiresome.

Some in the Congress are arguing that shutting down the DHS will not really compromise the security of the United States because 85% of the employees are considered essential and will continue to work anyway.  And although they will be working without pay, they’ll get it eventually — whenever eventually may be.  Of course, those workers can pay their mortgages, car payments, grocery bills, etc. “eventually” can’t they?

More to the point it ignores the function of the 15% that will be furloughed and the role that they play to make sure those in the field are able to do their jobs.  It also ignores that the DHS provides grants to states, cities, counties and other local governments to support some of their first responder capabilities. Those stop on Friday night which means that some jurisdictions will have to furlough local workers because they cannot pay them.  None of this of course takes into account the long-term implications of continued games whereby government workers see themselves as pawns in political point-making.  It impacts morale and more importantly, causes good workers to leave the public sector for more promising employment in the private sector.  It is also just plain wrong.

The ability of Congress to govern is broken, caught up in attempts to embarrass one party or another. We have all had enough.  I suppose this latest self-inflicted wound will resolve itself at the last minute, probably by providing temporary funding for four to six weeks while they work out another “compromise.” That will really turn into, again, kicking the can down the road so that we do this all over again in a few weeks.  Here we go again.  I just do not get it.


A Big Storm’s A’Comin’

Or so they say in Maine.  And they did have a big storm this week that hit much of the East Coast. But that is not what I mean.

Tomorrow is Election Day and by all accounts it is very likely that the Republican Party will strengthen their majority in the House of Representatives and win a majority in the Senate.  Although the final result may not be known until much later (Louisiana and Georgia are very tight Senate races with multiple candidates and in those states at least a 50% majority is required), 2015 will likely dawn with the Republicans in control of Congress.

My hope for the country is that it is calm and smooth sailing for the next two years.  No storms.  That would require the Republicans in charge to actually govern and for the Democrats to work with the party in control to help them pass meaningful legislation.

My fear is that both Republicans and Democrats will take the “paybacks are hell” approach to governing.  The Republicans by passing legislation they know the President will veto (repeal of the Affordable Care Act, increased restrictions on immigration, and many other issues or worst of all, attempt to impeach him), while the Democrats in the Senate will use the same tactics currently used by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and use the arcane rules of the Senate to block every Republican initiative.  In my view either approach (or worse, both) is bad for the country. We cannot afford two more years of partisan bickering with little to nothing getting accomplished.

There are too many problems facing our country that could be solved through genuine bipartisan cooperation such as rebuilding our infrastructure (jobs, jobs, jobs!), refining the tax code in a meaningful way, removing the sequester (which in 2015 kicks back in and there is universal agreement that it will put a big hole in government operations, especially for the Armed Forces, without a meaningful assessment of where funds need to be spent), genuine immigration reform, determining a coherent Middle East policy (our troops are in combat and the Congress went home without debating whether to put them in harm’s way), approving the Keystone Pipeline and other issues worth the time and huge amounts of money spent on getting elected to Congress.  If they want the job so badly, then they should do it.

Reality being what it is these days in Washington DC, there will inevitably be some bills passed by the Republican Congress that they know in advance the President will veto.  This is so they can use the issues for the 2016 Presidential race.  And for some of those issues, the Democrats will be happy to say that the President vetoed them in order to clearly draw the line between the positions of the two parties.  But let’s hope that these showmanship evolutions are kept to a minimum and the Congress decides to do its job.  They should keep in mind that the Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, are at their lowest level of public approval in memory.  No one is happy with them, primarily because not much gets accomplished other than one or another “gotcha” activity.  Come the new Congress in January 2015, let’s just get on with it.

There will of course be wild cards.  One already making noise is Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who we will remember as the architect of the government shutdown last fall.  In the Washington Post today, Senator Cruz said the first order of business should be a series of hearings on President Obama, “looking at the abuse of power, the executive abuse, the regulatory abuse, the lawlessness that sadly has pervaded this administration.”  He further would not say that he will support Senator McConnell when/if he takes over as Senate Majority Leader.  Look for more Tea Party inspired insurrections in the House and Senate that will sorely test the leadership of Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell. If they do not get support from their more moderate party members, coupled with middle of the road Democrats, then we are in for a long two years.

Let’s hope the current election cycle is the storm before the calm, rather than the other way around.

Home On The Range

The recent dust-up on the Nevada plains concerning rancher Cliven Bundy got lots of national attention.  You may remember him as the rancher that for twenty years, four lost court cases and over a million dollars in unpaid rent decided to resist the Bureau of Land Management agents that came to collect his cattle as payment.  He and a host of supporters resisted the federal agents with guns and threatened to shoot it out if the officers tried to enforce the law. One of the sharpest tools in the shed supporting Bundy, former sheriff Richard Mack stated bravely that “We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front.  If they are going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers.”  Wisely, the federal agents did not think some cattle were worth people being shot and withdrew.  However, they have not changed their mind about holding him accountable and the story is not over.  In the process of resisting duly appointed law enforcement officers, Bundy became the darling of some of the “name” right-wing conservatives and libertarians who, mostly, gave him unconditional support in his “fight” against “big government.”  Famously, Bundy declared that he “doesn’t recognize the United States as even existing.”  A “patriot” indeed.

Most recently his racist remarks caused lots of conservative politicians and talk show hosts to retract their support for him.  My question would be why they gave him any support in the first place, even discounting his remarks that revealed his true view of minorities in the United States?

These would be the same people who say they support the United States of America, just not “big government.”  The role of the federal government, its size and functions are legitimate areas of debate. However, I cannot understand the anointing of this individual as a “patriot” protecting his rights.  He is an unabashed mooch.  As many of his supporters deride the “welfare state,” he has taken advantage of the American taxpayers to the tune of over a million dollars.  In four different cases the courts have ruled against him.  Supporters of “law and order” should be helping the federal agents to get rid of the moocher instead of announcing their willingness to stand up for, to stand up for, well I’m not exactly clear who or what it is that they say they are standing up for.  Some vague notion of states rights, traditional grazing lands, the right to bear arms and the right to be a bigot, I suppose.  So of course their first instinct is to lock and load and to use their “women” as human shields.  The only thing that I am sure about is that they are willing to use violence against duly constituted law enforcement officers.  Last time I looked, people who were willing to shoot law enforcement officers carrying out duly litigated court orders were considered terrorists or criminals.

So I ask again — forget the talk show hosts who will jump on any issue if it gets their name out there and they make money off of it (I’m talking to you Sean Hannity) — why would elected officials, sworn to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land support a welfare king and scofflaw willing to kill federal agents?  To maintain credibility in my eyes, the supporters of a smaller federal government at least need to have some logic to their arguments.  And it wouldn’t hurt to vet their “heroes” a little more closely.

What Just Happened?

It turns out it is impossible for me to resist writing about the recent shenanigans in the House of Representatives.  I did not intend to write more about it as it seems self-evident to me as to what occurred, but here I am writing none-the-less.  I’ll try to be brief in addressing two main points.

I think what we just experienced is primarily a battle for the future of the Republican Party.  I feel strongly that we need a vibrant two-party system as part of the checks and balances inherent in our way of government.  For this citizen, I hope that the mainstream Republicans in the Senate and the House prevail over the Tea Party zealots that prefer ideological purity over actually running the country.  To this observer, it seems a lot like fundamentalists trying to take over our nation.  Thankfully the cooler heads in the Senate prevailed, which actually is not unusual in the history of our legislative process and a reflection of the way it was intended to be done.  The House tends to be more impetuous and the Senate tends to be the more deliberate body willing to look at long-term impacts rather than the fad of the moment.  Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule on both ends of the equation, but generally the system works.  It worked this time, but it took way too long.  Time will tell what this all means for the future, but I hope that the fundamentalists in the House have figured out that Senator Ted Cruz is not the Speaker of the House.  In my view, Ted Cruz really is only out for himself and has merely hitched a ride with the Tea Party in order to gain attention for self-promotion.  The majority of Republicans in the House and Senate need to stand up to Cruz and his kind and appeal to the large majority of us that take a middle of the road approach.

I’m no fan of his, but kudos to Senator Mitch McConnell who is fighting his own re-election challenge from the far right.  He was missing in action for far too long, but got it done in the end.  Hopefully the experience for both he and Senator Harry Reid will lead to some productive efforts to straighten out the problems that we face in a bi-partisan manner.

My second thought has to do with opposition to Obamacare which, ostensibly, was the reason for the shutdown.  For now I will ignore the view that simply because it was championed by President Obama that there was visceral opposition to it regardless of its possible merits.  Instead I have several thoughtful colleagues that worry that our country cannot afford it.  This is a more reasoned argument and one that needs to be further explored.  As I have said in earlier posts, I do not believe that Obamacare will be trouble-free — no undertaking of such magnitude can be counted upon to be trouble-free.  However, the fixes should be well thought out and not attempts at outright sabotage to ensure its failure.  But I digress.  While I do not accept that the Affordable Care Act will be the ruin of our country, either socially or economically, let me concede for arguments sake that it may put a burden on our national finances.  I still do not get the logic behind the reasoning that what may (may) be a burden over the long haul — several years into the future — needs to be “fixed” by destroying the nation’s economy now.  That is what many Tea Party supporters and Congressmen tried to do with the run-up to the current Continuing Resolution (CR).  Some still say it would have been worth it and given the chance, they would do it again.  I do not get it.  While I am no Nobel Prize winning economist, I do understand what the Nobel Prize winning economists are saying, along with financial experts of every stripe and leading CEOs of major corporations.  All indications were that a failure to extend the debt ceiling would over time have a catastrophic impact on our economy and destroy any chance for a continued recovery.  Even those staunchly opposed to Obamacare were appalled that the Tea Party Republicans would be willing to cripple our nation economically in order to stop it.  I will never understand it.  Never.  Such an approach runs counter to everything that I understand as a patriotic American.  If every one of us acted this way to oppose laws that we disagree with (and there is probably some significant law that most Americans oppose and it is unlikely that it is the same one) then we would be a nation without laws and anarchy would prevail.

I just do not understand how people who say they love their country actually hate it so much that they are willing to risk destroying it to get what they want.

Now What?

“Mr. Boehner, tear down this wall!”

–with apologies to Ronald Reagan

As we continue to endure the shutdown of the federal government — or as the Republicans prefer to call it, the “slim-down” — it is just too easy to be outraged.  Unfortunately, that does not help and does not get us anywhere.  Even more dangerously, we are approaching the point where the good faith and financial reliability of the United States will be in jeopardy.

I am confused, however, by the tactics of the Republican members of the House.  Either that, or those tactics are so blatantly obvious that even I can understand them.  There does not seem to be any over-all strategy in what they are doing.

I constantly shake my head each day as I remember that all of this fuss is over a Continuing Resolution.  It is not about solving the economic problems that we as a nation face.  It is over a six-week Continuing Resolution (CR).  It seems pretty clear to me that passing that CR and then beginning negotiations on the larger problems and issues we face is the way to go.  The Senate and the President have both already said that they would agree to discuss “anything” that the House Republicans put on the table, but not without opening up the government and giving us some breathing room on the debt ceiling.  The inside the Beltway crowd that tracks such things repeatedly states that there are enough moderate Republicans in the House that will join all of the Democrats in the House to pass such a CR giving enough time to move on to solving bigger problems.  Speaker Boehner refuses to allow that to happen.  He also states that when (if?) negotiations begin there can be no “red lines” inhibiting the discussions, and in the next breath says there can be no discussion about raising anything that even smells like a tax.  What?  Say that again.  I believe he said there are no red lines except for those he wants to have.  That’s what I thought I heard him say.  (See this whole thing is getting me so that I’m talking to myself now.)

More confusing is the current Republican tactic in the House that passes individual pieces of a CR to open up selected pieces of the government.  Primarily those where they are taking heat from their constituents because of the media attention.  Things like the national parks, the National Health Institute, Head Start, etc., all areas where there has been bad publicity concerning the shutdown.  On top of that, they passed a bill that essentially pays federal workers to stay home indefinitely.  How does that help the nation save money?  We are paying more for what some people think we shouldn’t pay for in the first place, but getting nothing for it.  Makes no sense to me.  I’m glad for the workers that will get their back pay — although that doesn’t help them pay their bills right now — but it doesn’t help all of those workers that do not work for the government but support it.  These range all the way from contractors (by definition no contract, no job, no pay) to food truck operators that have government workers as their primary patrons, and hundreds of thousands of others that are not part of the government and not getting paid and will not get back pay.

Now they are trying to turn the tables on Senate Democrats by saying that they’ve helped these people by passing their piecemeal CR for some areas, but that the Senate refuses to take them up.  Hey!  It’s easy!  Just pass one CR for the entire government and all those other piecemeal bills are totally unnecessary.   The only reason to do it in bits and pieces is to try to claim that the far right-wing Republicans are not the ones holding things up — it’s the Democrats after all!  How silly.  It also shows that they hold the citizens of our nation in such low regard that we would not see right through this callous political ploy.

Now we have to worry about the debt ceiling.  I think it fair to say that no one knows exactly what will happen when we hit that mark.  The United States has never done it.  However, I believe it would be reckless to find out.  A child has never put their hand on a hot stove before either so they may want to try to find out what “hot” means.  A responsible parent, of course, would never allow it.  Where are the responsible Republicans in the House?  There are many in the Senate.  I know there are many in the House as well.  Why not speak up and keep us from finding out what happens about a week from now?  I suppose to some it is kind of exciting to see what will happen, or to think that you have the power and the means to destroy our nation’s economy.  If that is what they are thinking then we used to have a name for people who were trying to destroy our country and surely it was not “patriot.”

I have heard many people saying that this is just business as usual, we’ve been here before, and in the end it will work out.  I hope that they are right, but I’m not so sure.  This has a different feel to me.  Unlike similar developments in the past, I am unaware of any back room or back channel negotiations taking place.  Those that have brokered such deals in the recent past, primarily Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell, are noticeably absent in this go around.  There is no clear path out of this situation unless Speaker Boehner allows a vote on the clean CR in exchange for some defined negotiations over budget issues (not Obamacare).  Right now he does not seem inclined to take yes for an answer as the President has already promised to do that.  I know that Speaker Boehner does not want to go over the fiscal cliff and that he wants to re-open the government, but I don’t know that he knows how to get out of this situation.  And that is scary.

If you remember my earlier posts concerning Syria, I provided an outline of how planners put together an operation.   Of foremost importance was understanding the mission, and that includes what things should look like when the mission is accomplished.  How do you know that it is over?  I also discussed branches and sequels if the plan does not go as expected — either through unanticipated success, or unanticipated obstacles.  If the hard-core Republican position is the end of Obamacare, then they have already failed in their mission.  They are not going to get it out of this scenario.  If their alternate plan is to cut government spending then they have already succeeded through the budget negotiations in 2010 and 2011 and the current sequester.  If they see the end state as something else, then it is not clear to me what that would be.  Or at least one that they could realistically achieve.  That is what makes this scary.  At this point I don’t think they know what they want, other than some grand statements about less government spending and smaller government.  Okay — if that is their desired end state then what is the plan to get there from here?  I have not heard an articulate explanation of what they will do.  I have only heard what they will not do.  At some point they must have a coherent plan.

I suppose the only way out now is for the Democrats and the President to provide some face-saving concession to Speaker Boehner to give him a life-line to get out of this mess.  What that is, or should be, is not clear in my mind.  It should not be anything having to do with Obamacare — we’ve been down that road too many times already.  It will probably have to do with entitlements and ways to cut spending in those areas, although the President has already offered some of those as the basis to start negotiations and been rejected.

Okay Tea Party Republicans, you’ve had your fun and shown that you cannot be ignored even by your own party.  Now what?  More importantly, Mr. Boehner, tear down this wall of intransigence!

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

John Boehner is allowing a small radical wing of his party to attempt to destroy the fabric of American democracy.  Sooner or later most Americans will realize the true nature of what is going on in the current fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Whatever one’s view of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare may be, supporters of American democracy should be very concerned.  This is not business as usual, especially as the debt ceiling limit gets closer and closer.  Earlier Washington stalemates that resulted in government shutdowns in the 1980s and 90s concerned budget issues, where money should or should not be spent and which programs took priority.  This is about none of that.  This time around it is a radical minority of one party trying to undo the fabric of our democracy.  They do not like Obamacare and obviously have very strong opinions as to why.  In my view, most of those arguments are incorrect or mere assertions without a basis in fact,  but okay, I’ll respect your opinion.  Unfortunately, after over forty attempts to undo the legislation (without, I will add, any alternatives to provide healthcare to Americans in the greatest country in the world), they have decided that they will bypass the legislative system that we have and create their own.  Simply put, if they get their way on this issue, there will be more issues that take some portion of the American way of life hostage until they get their way.  Remember that they are taking our economy hostage for a six week continuing resolution.  It isn’t even about an actual spending bill.  Who is naive enough to think that if Congress delays Obamacare for a year that we won’t be right back where we are now in 2014?  It will never end.  It is time for the showdown and a restoration of the American way of democracy.

There is nothing that the Tea Party Congressmen are demanding concerning Obamacare that should be negotiated.  Period.  If they want to go to conference with the Senate to resolve budget issues and to negotiate a spending bill for this fiscal year, by all means, it should be done.  But that’s not what they want.  They continue to try to eliminate or cripple the health care act.  An act, again, that has withstood every conceivable challenge in our way of government.  They failed.  So now we have to put up with their antics outside of the normally accepted legislative process.

John Boehner is now Speaker of the House in name only.  He has seriously undermined the authority of that position by caving to the hard liners.  Every account coming out of Washington from both sides of the aisle is that a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government for another six weeks would pass in about five minutes with sufficient Democrats AND Republicans voting for it .  Done and done.  Speaker Boehner won’t do it because he fears losing his Speakership.  In truth, it is doubtful that he would be voted out, but apparently, he’s unwilling to take the risk and is afraid to do the right thing.

This is also, in my opinion, a naked attempt by the Senate and House Tea Party members to severely hobble the President.  If President Obama gives in to the demands to delay or defund the health care act, he is done as president.  Indeed future presidents of both parties would be weakened if this undemocratic tactic being foisted on our country succeeds.  It would become a weapon for any dissatisfied minority to use that will hobble the ability of our country to operate.

We should be afraid, very afraid for the future of our country if this naked attempt by a minority to grab power from the majority succeeds.