Archive for the ‘Speaker of the House’ category

Speaker Paul Ryan

October 31, 2015

Change always offers an opportunity for selecting a different path. Sometimes that path involves different goals or sometimes it is just a different approach to reaching the same goals. The election of Representative Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House begs the questions, which option will mark his time as Speaker?

Wouldn’t any meaningful reform of the tax code entail either raising taxes (a Republican no-no) or beg reducing government spending (read cutting entitlements) if marginal rates were lowered? An elimination of exemptions, deductions, and loop holes, without lowering tax rates, would necessarily increase tax revenues. Any revenue neutral tax code reform would, in addition to favoring some groups, still come with a deficit and in a spirit of change, would put pressure on Congress to lower spending, hence a reduction in entitlements.

If this were to play out under Speaker Ryan’s watch, it would represent the same goals (help the wealthy and decrease efforts on poverty or the needy). The Republican rhetoric, however, will sound nothing like that. This approach will be hailed as an attempt to eliminate tax code favoritism and improve the campaign over poverty reduction.

The GOP claim that current Government regulations undercut individuals’ efforts to climb out of poverty. According to conservatives, Government rules makes it too easy for an individual to accept government money and not join the work force. Hmmm.

As the GOP see it, Government subsidies and direct payments should instead flow to State Governments who are much closer to the situations in their States. The Federal Government should, Republicans say, provide “block grants” to States replacing direct payments to individuals. States could then decide eligibility rules “appropriate” for their specific situation (and could use any excess portion of the block grant as the State saw fit. Hmmm.

Republicans make no mention that this could have significant unintended consequences if their assumption “that people are just lazy and do not look for work if there is a government handout available”. For instance, why won’t these “lazy people” just migrate from State to State in search of more generous benefits? Why wouldn’t some States preferentially make it more difficult for groups or classes of residents thereby encouraging them to “self-migrate” to another State. And what would all the States do when the economy enters a recession or near depression?

To the GOP’s credit, this could be a plan.   There are no Democrat plans other than to spend more. The historic track record of spending more is not brilliant. Unemployment, single parent families continue to rise, and the US workforce seems to be becoming less able to take on higher tech, better paying jobs.

What a mess. America has Scrooge on one side and a foolish (good hearted) spender on the other. Hmmm.

There must be a middle ground. During Bill Clinton’s time, he supported an entitlement reform aimed at harnessing the “welfare queens”. Cutting back did increase the effort of many to find employment. Would it work again?

Maybe but maybe not.

Like so many social problems, the causes are complicated and demand more complex solutions. America’s unemployed include the unlucky (laid off for example), street people, mentally challenged, single family moms (who can’t afford child care), physically disabled, unskilled, along with those who just are lazy and willing to accept less in life. Globalization has outsourced a lot of low skill jobs and low entry wages make little incentive for many to join the work force. Hmmm.

The success of Paul Ryan will be tied to whether he really tries for change and if he connects these goals to comprehensive plans with step by step results testing. For example, select four States and test the approach. Does it work? Than if so, expand.
Hmmm.

Should I hold my breath.

Do Political Parties Make Sense?

October 13, 2015

Are political parties a necessary fact of life? People do like to band together and as a group, champion some position. In the US, the two major parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. One just as easily might see them as the blue party and the red party, or the chestnut party and the acorn party, or the triangle party and the pentagon party. There is nothing in the names or current performance of  “Democrat” and “Republican” that indicate what these parties stand for.

You might be quick to say, “why Democrats are for the average person and have been since Franklin Roosevelt championed the new deal”. Or if you are new to national politics, you might say, “what the Republicans are the party against taxes, Obamacare, and undocumented workers”. Hmmm.

For the past 6 years or so, Democrats have been given a free ride. They could plead on behalf of the average person, the undocumented resident, and those in need of entitlements. There was little chance that much if any of their agenda could be implemented given that Congress was controlled by their opponents. In short, Democrats could speak firmly about their ideas and know there would no proof at the next election that the most extreme Democrat ideas would have worked as advertised.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have amassed an unbelievable record of saying “no” to everything, predicting the worst of outcomes, and blocking Congressional action even to the point of shutting down the Government. And for what purpose? Each Republican prediction has been shown to be wrong and the dire circumstances Republican leaders assured Americans were around the corner, simply have not been found. Hmmm.

The Congressional farce currently underway featuring a dysfunctional Republican Party trying to elect a new Speaker of the House sums up the broken nature of the Republican Party. When Paul Ryan is considered “too liberal” by the most conservative House members, one needs to pay attention.  Ryan has championed a Federal Budget which strikes at entitlements, provides tax relief to the wealthy, and sets in motion a repeal of Obamacare. Does that sound “too liberal” to you?

The underlying causes for Congress’ poor performance can be attributed to two factors, (1) a slowing growth rate, and (2) a dysfunctional political system.

The famous American dream seems every day drifting further and further from the average person’s grasp.  What is lost on most Americans is that the American economy is still the best in the world and that a return to high growth last experienced following the second world war, is simply not going to be in the cards.  Get used to it.

The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision is often named as the culprit for Congressional dysfunction.  (it may be fairer to say, Citizens United accelerated the decline of Congress).  Following Citizens United, campaign spending limits became a thing of the past. Free speech was immediately redefined to be the commodity of the wealthy, the more money one spends, the more free speech one has. Laying this campaign financing need on top of a sophisticated and equally well healed lobbying activity, individual Congress members have lost their moral compass and their sense of true north. Without a compass, the current Republican foolishness can be quickly understood.

If political parties wished to remain relevant, they would be wise to address the dysfunctions on display daily in Congress. Congress members are tasked to raise money for their national parties and run the risk of obscure committee assignments if they do not produce enough donations.

Why it is not common sense that there should be a limit to individual campaign donations is a mystery to me. And the notion that corporations are people, and should therefore be held to same no limit campaign spending, is naive and dangerous.

Regrettably there is little or no incentive for the media to champion these fundamental changes. Special interests and unlimited campaign spending has been a financial boom to newspapers, TV stations, and political strategists and pundits. Who would want to bit that hand that feeds it?

America is a big country and it is full of many people who march to different drummers. Out there, in media land, there are competent and wise people who can see the depths of the current Congressional dysfunction. (Can you imagine the current Congress supporting intelligently a national emergency such as World War II?)  These hidden Americans need to spread the true story behind Congressional dysfunction.

Life is never all this or all that. Accordingly one can not expect campaign spending reforms to suddenly reverse the uncontrolled nature of today’s system. We cannot also expect to throttle the wasteful and ethically challenged free money from lobbyists. But in both cases we could set in motion meaningful corrective measures that could lead to our elected representatives thinking about their Congressional duties first and their personal wealth accumulation second.

Dreaming of America’s Next Third Party?

October 10, 2015

Congress is quite the scene these days. With Speaker Boehner’s offer to resign, the Republican faction simply needs to pick a replacement and get on with business. Following the Kevin McCarthy false start, Paul Ryan is home this weekend contemplating whether he should step forward. Alas, the wheels of progress seem hopelessly misaligned. Instead of meshing, these wheels are grinding. Hmmm.

The cause for Boehner’s resignation is the same cause for the GOP’s inability to pick a replacement Speaker. There are about 40 strongly conservative (Tea Party children) who caucus as Republicans but who are unwilling to follow Boehner’s leadership. This pack of 40 are quite comfortable with brinkmanship tactics such as shutting down the Government and defaulting on the Nation’s debt. While the rest of the GOP caucus members would not be confused with Democrats, these 40 stand alone in their conservative positions and their choice of tactics.

So, maybe we should think of them as a third party. Forty members is a reasonable start for a Congressional transition to a multi-party body. In today’s Congress, the 114th, the Republican caucus consists of 247 members. Democrats list 188 members. The total for the House is 247.

So where is the third party?

If the block of 40 were to caucus by themselves, the Republican caucus would drop to 207, still larger than the Democrats’ 188 but no longer a majority of all Representatives. No majority, no leadership positions.

Several members of the group of 40 speak passionately that the feud with the main Republican group is more about process and transparency. They claim Speaker Boehner keeps all matters to a small group and simply expects these 40 to vote as directed. These spokesmen say that if only it were an open process and they could put forth whatever amendments they wished, they would be prepared to accept the outcome of the vote and life would be great.

Speculation, however, leads one to think this is a clever tactic to build a voting record for the other GOP Representatives (look Representative so and so voted against this or that). The idea would be that in future elections, with plenty of negative advertising, to purge the less conservative Representatives from the roles. Pretty clever way to hijack a more centrist GOP.

Getting from here to there may prove testing. The 40 claim the majority (the other 207) are only interested in making deals with special interests and are too quick to abandon “principles”. If the 40 were to gain more members or unintentionally spawn the creation of other “third parties, what would lobbyists do?

I can just imagine how the K-Street crowd might react if they woke up to five or six parties in Congress. How would they convince enough to vote for their clients? How much more money would it take?

Don’t think this could happen? Consider the Bernie Sanders movement. Big banks have certainly earned the imposition of new rules, betting the average person’s money on high risk transactions where if successful, banks won, if unsuccessful depositors lost. Hmmm.

How about a new “green” movement? With South Carolina having just experienced a Biblical proportion flooding, the possible connection to global warming is troublesome. With a few more of these calamities, even Southerners might take note.

Even more worrisome would be future parties centering on labor (read unions) or economic class. Or how about a “people’s party” reminiscent of Argentine’s Perone?  This may seem out of the question but when Social Security is slashed, Medicare is cut back and Medicaid is held hostage, a “peoples” outcry might not be so far fetched.

America’s two party system has worked well over the years. It is based upon the principle that a one vote plurality is sufficient to win (until the next vote). The gang of 40 must make up their mind whether to separate and part from the GOP caucus, or change their strategies and stick it out playing within the rules.  Openness and transparency are worthy goals but with the current backdoor deals financed by special interests, this goal is unrealistic even though worthy.

Wishing for a third party might not bring ones desired results but with a continuation of the group of 40, a third party is not so farfetched.

The Voice Of The American People

October 5, 2015

In an interview today, Representative Jason Cheffetz said he was running for Speaker of the House because the American people want a leader that will hear their voices and lead the Congress in that direction. Hmmm. I wonder what part of the “American people” Cheffetz was thinking of?

To be fair, Cheffetz made a very competent appearance and seemed far more prepared to be Speaker than either retiring John Boehner or the favored successor, Mike McCarthy. As Cheffetz said the Speaker’s job is just that, to speak for the majority and clearly put forth what the American people want. Hmmm.

I wonder who makes up “the American people” that Cheffetz speaks about. Which ones think the debt is important enough to shut down the Government instead of raising the limit and paying the bills for Government spending already spent? I wonder which Americans he has in mind who want to race into another Middle East conflict sending their sons and daughters? I wonder which Americans he is thinking about who would restrict women’s rights or turn their backs on immigration reform?

It is clearly true that Cheffetz could speak for “SOME” Americans. And it is also true that some Americans do favor shutting down the Government over the debt issue. And some Americans do think their religious preferences around women’s health issues should apply to everyone (religious freedom, I guess). And there is no doubt that some Americans would gladly send other peoples children to Iraq again or any place in the Middle East. So it is clear Cheffetz does speak for at least some Americans.

We should note, however, that the debt issue is a sad surrogate for a Congressional inability. Congress can neither reform entitlements or constrain other government spending, and is totally unwilling to raise the necessary taxes resulting from their unbalanced budget. The Debt is a red herring. The issue is a balanced budget.

Interestingly when the discussion moves to the budget, Cheffetz speaks for even a smaller segment of Americans. Some Americans do not see the value of Social Security, but many more do. Some Americans want to reign in Medicare and Medicaid, but many more recognize the social implications and might support some reform but in no way would they support wholesale gutting of these programs.

Democrats are somewhat shocked to be seeing the majority GOP melting down and showing clearly that as a party they are currently unfit to govern.

Americans’ voice needs to rise up and say, “ENOUGH”. America is a pluralistic country and there are many voices within its boarders. The next Speaker needs to recognize this fact, drop the partisan shenanigans, and conduct votes where all voices are heard.

Who that could be I have not a clue.

Saying What You Mean

October 1, 2015

There is a familiar expression which goes, “Say what you mean, mean what you say”. Recent Washington events can put some dimensions around this saying. The events were the Pope’s visit, Representative Mike McCarthy’s comments on Benghazi, and the GOP’s perspective on the Russian entry into Syria.

1. The Pope’s visit was a smashing success for Washington, New York, and Philadelphia. The Pope’s use of symbolism to emphasize the importance of humility, tending to the poor, and acceptance of all people was moving. In carefully crafted language the Pope verbally communicated what he tried to symbolize, and, also carefully alluded to catholic dogma which most Americans find less acceptable.

Namely, the Pope gave no room for a greater role for women in the Catholic Church, nor did the Pope offer hope for a more sensible approach to family planning, and the Pope omitted any direct reference for an equal place in life for the GLBT community. The Pope said this by not saying anything to the contrary.

But wait, we now have heard that the Pope met privately with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for contempt for denying marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. In an eerily similar move to transferring a priest accused of child abuse or paying hush money to victims on the basis of them dropping criminal charges, the church once again tried to have it both ways.  The Pope kept speaking about the sanctity of all persons while his conservative handlers orchestrated a private meeting endorsing Davis’ actions.

Clearly child abuse is a human problem and not restricted to the celebrant church officials. Being opposed to birth control or abortion are matters of conscience and these beliefs can be widely held. The Catholic Church stepped out of bounds when it supported the suppression of information on criminal activity (presumably to not tarnish the church’s reputation) and now when it supports illegal actions (Davis refusal to issue licenses) to advance the church’s faith based beliefs.

Meeting openly with Kim Davis is one issue, not meeting with women’s groups or members of GLBT groups sends an equally clear message about the still broken planks in the church’s efforts to represent itself as a modern church.

2. Representative Mike McCarthy has declared his intentions to seek the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Speakers job goes to someone who is a GOP leader and well informed on GOP strategy.  In comments to Fox News, McCarthy committed an unforced error by speaking the truth. When asked to name some accomplishments of the GOP controlled House, McCarthy cited the Benghazi select committee. McCarthy attributed the drop in Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers as a direct consequent of the GOP lead investigation and proof of its accomplishment.

For anyone with a heart beat, the investigation’s purpose has been clear for a long time. For McCarthy to utter this confirmation is amazing (for telling the truth) and completely a political mistake for admitting what was patently obvious. It should be no wonder why public opinion polls of Congress register so low.

3. In the murky Syrian situation, so many Republican politicians and GOP Presidential hopefuls are weighing in on “President Obama’s failed policies”. Each one of these critics decry the President’s policies of limited involvement but also cling to the notion that troops on the ground are not necessary. “The US is not acting, Russia is”, they spout. “Our allies will begin to forsake the US and turn to Russia”, the political rhetoric goes. Hmmm.

There is no question that Syria has become a humanitarian tragedy. But if Iraq has taught anything, it is that American idealism is sorely misplaced as the foundation of a Middle East strategy. There is no Russian idealism and doing what is necessary to keep Assad in power is all that is necessary.  (Like with Afghanistan when Russia invaded and was eventually defeated, Syria is equally a bed Russia will not like to sleep in.)

If the GOP really is interested in ending the Syrian turmoil and defeating ISIS, there must be honesty about what it would take. Nothing less than another Iraq type invasion and occupation with most likely a subsequent redefinition of regional boundaries would be necessary. All of this would need to be supported by a US draft and imposition of war taxes. (I wonder whether Mike McCarthy would admit that too?)