Posted tagged ‘Senate’

Doing The GOP A Favor

November 22, 2013

Yesterday, Senate Democrats changed the rules.  No longer will the minority party be able to filibuster Presidential appointments “just because”.  With a simple majority vote appointment candidates will come to the Senate floor for an up or down vote.   Sounds like commonsense.   Why is this a favor?

As with the government shut down maneuvers, the GOP (by blocking executive and judicial nominations) has been shooting itself while hurting the rest of the country.  There is no doubt that if another “Scalia” or “Alito” or “Thomas” came up for nomination in subsequent years, Democrats would do all in their power to prevent confirmation.  But in the end, elections have consequences.  This rule change will apply to Democrats also.

The GOP, of course, is not a homogeneous party any longer.  Republicans have lost their way in an attempt to retain power.   The inclusion of Tea Party, evangelicals, and strongly conservative factions has made the GOP a different party.

Tea Party and strongly conservative members have been willing to abandon commonsense and previous precedents with regards to how a loyal opposition behaves.  While this minority within a larger GOP minority may feel strongly about their causes and are frustrated, they have acted in a manner which is incompatible with good governance.  In other words, if Democrats acted similarly, nothing would get done in Congress.

Those awake within the GOP realize also that their right wing conservative causes are out of step with America.  Gays, women, the poor, and immigrants see no future in the GOP’s legislative actions.  Just as out of step are their tactics.  Shutting down government over a healthcare plan for which there are no alternatives being offered?  These are two totally disconnected issues not to mention the hollowness of the shut down when nothing was offered as an alternative.

The rule change has probably not changed the strongly conservatives’ thinking yet.  Some warn that they will become even more disruptive.  Who knows?

For the GOP, however, it offers a chance for the Party to reassess itself.  If the answer is that the GOP can only have a chance of winning the White House with an active group of extremists, then it is lights out for the GOP.  If, on the other hand, a fiscally conservative, social value libertarian, and pro-small business party could emerge there would be hope again for a productive two party system.

I hope this will be seen as a favor.

The Cheneys and Reverend Frank Schaefer

November 19, 2013

What does Washington, DC, Wyoming, and Spring City, PA have in common?  “Not much” would usually be a safe answer, but not when it involves out of date thinking.

The Cheney sisters, Liz and Mary, made the news this weekend over remarks Liz made.  Her remarks were carefully crafted to enhance her political chances of unseating Wyoming Republican Senator Mike Enzi.  When asked about her sister’s position on same sex marriage, Liz gave the pandering answer that she loved her sister but disagreed with her on the subject of gay marriage.  This is trying to have it both ways it would seem.

Mary fired back that Liz was on the wrong side of history.  Hmmm.

Reverend Frank Schaefer presided over the marriage of his son to another man.   Unfortunately for Reverend Schaefer, he is a United Methodist Church minister, and, you guest it, the Methodist church does not approve same sex marriages.  The net result has been a church trial and Schaefer being found guilty.  Reverend Schaefer now awaits the punishment phase.

The Methodist Church, like the Elks Club are private organizations.  As such they can set the rules as they see fit.  If you don’t like them, the door is open and one is encourage to go some place else.

A similar view can be made towards Liz Cheney.  There are no national laws authorizing same sex marriage.  To be sure, the barriers to gay marriage have been falling and one can reasonably predict that in one to two decades, same sex marriage (and more importantly, the benefits from such) will be available across the country.  Both of these situations are about being on the wrong side of history.

Reverend Schaefer could have foreseen the Methodist Church reaction (and probably did) and waited.  He made his decision based upon the concrete fact that the person he was marrying was his son.  Let history record what it will.

Liz Cheney made her decision based upon increasing her chances of winning an election.  History will also record this.


Pat Toomey – A Brave Man

November 6, 2013

In a procedural vote this week, the Senate advanced the ENDA bill which would ban workplace gender orientation discrimination.  The vote stalled at 59 for until one Republican broke ranks and voted yes.  At that point Toomey step up and added his vote (the 61st) and the filibuster was averted.  Was Toomey brave to run the risk of Tea Party and Evangelical wrath?

It did not take long to find out.  Hours later, Toomey announced that he would offer an amendment when ENDA was debated.  His amendment showed his real colors.

Toomey wants the legislation to include a religious exemption.  Hmmm.

What Toomey specifically means is that the Notre Dame football program which earns over $70 million per year competing in the rough and tumble college football league qualifies as a “religious organization”.  As such under Toomey’s amendment, Notre Dame, including its football program (which has not a trace of religion in it unless you hope Notre Dame beats the hell out of its opponent), could discriminate in hiring, promoting, and firing just because someone was homosexual or had chosen a different gender identity.

One simply has to wonder how politicians can parse this issue.  Why should it be ok to discriminate against anyone for any reason in today’s world?  (One certainly can argue about what constitutes discrimination and oppose legislation which is not clear.)

Toomey appears to be a competent person.  He carries, however, a lot of ideological baggage.  And these bags appear to be on the wrong side of history and out of step with the times.  Toomey voted to continue the government shut down, he voted against the Affordable Care Act, and now he is on record of being “for” and “against” ENDA.  It is this baggage that makes his voting record so confused.

Conservatives argue against ENDA along fairly predictable lines.  The notion that discrimination is in the eyes of the beholder and the only winners will be lawyers should not be dismissed as frivolous.  But the idea of a religious exclusion is laughable.  One could not pander any better.

Love Him or Leave Him

September 24, 2013

Senator Ted Cruz is just where he wants to be.  (Maybe if he knew what was good for himself, he would not want to be where he is.)  Never the less, Cruz’s supporters and fellow Senate Republicans are faced with the proposition, “love him or leave him”.  We may learn in the next few days which verdict is made.

Cruz has been very vocal, for a long time, that the debt limit should not be increased.  Others feel that way too.  Cruz’s view, however, is that the debt limit should not be increased unless there is some large tribute paid.

Previous Republican demands were any debt limit increases must be accompanied with equal or greater offsetting budget decreases.  On the surface this made sense.  The subsequent problem has been Congress (as well as Republicans) cannot agree on where to cut.  Rejection of any new tax revenue has made these decisions much more difficult.

Cruz now portrays himself as the defender of job creators.  In his anthem, “defund Obamacare”, he suggests this answer should be tied to both the continuing budget resolution and any increase in the debt limit.

As a notion of “one man, one vote”, one might accept Cruz’s right for this demand.  The notion, however, that “I” will not allow any other option by blocking a vote departs from the realm of democratic process.

Republicans in general, and specifically those Republicans who must run for re-election in 2014 have been reluctant to take Cruz on publicly.  Pundits claim these GOP members fear a Tea Party primary challenge.  As self interest goes, this is easy to believe.  To the GOP regret, however, they are beginning to realize they have made a deal with the devil.

Were the GOP leaders insist that all caucus members following “Party” policies, the Tea Party members would bolt.  Without the Tea Party members the current majority Republican Party would fail to have a majority.  Bingo, Democrats back in charge.

So what is a self respecting Republican to do?

The GOP seems comfortable with its immigration, no new taxes, and anti woman’s rights positions.

Without the Tea Party, the GOP majority prospects do not look promising.  A split with the Tea Party would likely ensure a decade or more of Democrat rule.  Staying with the Tea Party, might offer the GOP a few more years of shared rule, but without enormous changes in GOP policies, demographics coupled with the lack of Washington action will doom them anyways.

So who will be the big losers?

Without a strong loyal opposition, the American people will be the losers.  Democrat support for all sorts of social issues are usually unsupported with sound financial measures.  Healthcare, protecting the environment, regulating banks and commerce, affirmative action, and immigration are all worthy goals.  Without two constructive Parties, it is unreasonable to expect effective and efficient solutions will be found.

Senator Cruz is clearly a self centered promoter.  Sooner or later, the GOP will figure out how to deal with him and others who think the same but are not so in your face.  The GOP’s recovery, however, will only have just begun when the GOP revisits its list of priorities.

Love him or leave him.  That’s the first step.

Shut It Down, Shut It Up

August 2, 2013

Senator Ted Cruz wants to “shut the government down” and Senator Rand Paul wants Governor Chris Christie to “shut up”.  What a classy group of new conservative Senators Congress can now boast.  Hmmm.

Most likely Cruz does not really want to shut the government down.  For reasons that aren’t quite clear, he says he really wants instead to shut down “Obamacare”, the Affordable Care Act.  Paul probably really didn’t think Governor Christie was hoarding Federal funds that could instead have gone to national security.  Instead both Cruz and Paul are saying controversial things they hope will identify them as future leaders of a Republican Party.

Christie and other more moderate Republicans are saying “not so fast”.  These Republicans are pointing out that Cruz and Paul have not thought through the consequences of their proposals.  And in the opinion of these moderates, the consequences will be bad for the GOP.  (What about the country?)

Pause…  Let’s catch our collective breath.

The national economy is slowly but steadily recovering.  Most everyone wishes it was recovering faster and unemployment was lower.  The national debt is shrinking but not very quickly and with a balanced budget not in sight.  Most everyone intuitively believes the US should balance its budget.  While there is argument over the roll of tax increases, no one foresees balancing the budget with taxes increases alone or with 100% budget cuts.  Most economists, however, worry that a sharp increase in taxes and a proportionate reduction in government spending will bring our economic expansion to a halt.  Hmmm.

So what should our politicians be telling us we should do?

A slow but steady recovery has the advantage of lessening the chances for creating dangerous “bubbles” like we saw in 2007 with the housing industry and the derivative trades.  Small to moderate tax increases (like income tax code reform) and small to moderate reductions in government spending (like the size of the sequester) every one to two years might actual make progress.  But balancing the budget?  Not in the cards.


Medicare, Medicaid, and Defense Spending.

These three Federal expenditures are huge and growing.  Progress made with small to moderate increases in taxes and/or reductions in spending will be eroded with sucking sound of increased Medicare, Medicaid, and Defense spending.

Obamacare is a red herring.  It has nothing to do with the deficit by itself.  Shutting down the Government has nothing to do with the deficit (the money is already spent, the bills are already owed).

Healthcare and what is defined as “our national interests” has everything to do with the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Defense spending.  Any politician who cries out to repeal, roll back, or defund Obamacare (ACA) is disingenuous unless he/she offers a detailed alternative which offers the same coverage and does it at a lower cost.

Our national interest is a harder question to answer.  Since George W Bush (read Dick Cheney) lead America off its course and into endless wars in the Middle East, we have seen a world community only too happy to see America act as the world’s policeman.  Where is our national interest?

By the same token, an isolationist US would most likely produce a world where regional conflicts were numerous and international trade was severely restricted.  One can imagine a very dysfunctional world.  Hmmm.

I am getting the feeling that small to moderate change is actually a very prudent approach.  Whether some politicians like it or not, the current (and likely future) demographics, call for the US to work hard and cleverly towards an “inclusive” society.  What we might have thought was an inclusive society in the past, may not fill the bill in the future.  Senators Cruz and Paul (and all the others shouting to be heard) ought think about where the US is really headed and what internal changes will be necessary to meet the needs of that population.

Once the country pragmatically focuses on the future, then these spokesmen can more clearly see whre our national interests really are and what policies best serve them.

It won’t be “Shut Down” or “Shut Up”.

Sense Of History

July 16, 2013

Senator Harry Reid says he is laying down the gauntlet.  Either the Republican minority allow an up or down vote on 6 Presidential executive branch appointees or he will ask his Democrat colleagues to change Senate rules.  This issue shows the Senate at its dysfunctional best.  Where are the grown ups?

Filibusters are designed to protect strong minority views from being trampled by a simple majority vote.  This feature is a marvelous gift from our founding fathers and was meant to provide protection for minority opinions… on important matters.  The filibuster was not intended to block appointment of executive department heads just because the current Senate members do not like a certain department.  If they do not like the department’s duties, then change the law.

The GOP has been sliding down a slippery slope since 2008 when they determined that just saying no was a way to block President Obama proposed activities.   Not surprisingly, just saying “no” carries with it apparently unforeseen consequences.  To be effective, more and more nominees had to be blocked, even those clearly qualified and deserving.  Departments, some with no controversy, must be left leaderless.  Hmmm.

As a consequence, the Senate role of advise and consent becomes laughable and meaningless.  The GOP has consequently put Democrats in the position of either accepting a meaningless Senate or changing the rules which have historically protected both Democrats and Republicans when they were in the minority.

It seems like a no brainer decision to me.

The best outcome I could imagine (other than the GOP changing its ways) is that Senate Democrats would vote to change the rules, and having accomplished the requirement of a simple majority on executive appointments, Harry Reid would resign as Senate Majority leader.   If not, we can look forward to the next Supreme Court nominee waiting until hell freezes over hoping to get confirmation.



Sliding Into War?

May 28, 2013

The slippery slope is a well known phrase.  It involves taking a small act into an area previously free of involvement.  While looking relatively innocent, the small act is then followed up with more similar small acts, each justified incrementally, until “no involvement” becomes “total involvement”.  When total involvement goes wrong, there is no way to put things back the way they were.

Those who recommend taking the “small act” have an ethical responsibility to considered the possibility of where a slippery slope might lead and what the consequences could be.  These potential consequences must be weighed against the justification for initiating the first “small act” in the first place.

There are few people who would praise Saddam Hussein as an enlightened and benevolent leader.  Never the less, when the Bush Administration drew the line in the sand over proving Iraq had no WMD (even though UN inspectors continually said they had found none), was the small act that lead eventually to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.  The resulting civil war was not predicted and despite spending the better part of a trillion dollars on Iraq post Hussein, the country is on the verge of another civil war today.

The Iraq mess is not a result of what the US did.  That is, invading and occupying did not cause Shiites to kill Sunnis and vice versa.  Rather, the US invasion and occupation allowed conditions to arise where it was possible for Shiites to get “pay back time” by killing Sunnis.  Sunnis, without power, then felt the need (and right) to reclaim their former power and kill Shiites.

Currently Syria presents the US with another slippery slope opportunity.  The Syrian civil war has been going on for about two years.  Its costs have been estimated at 80,000 deaths and over 2 million displaced persons.  This is a tragic situation that most everyone would want to end.  But at what cost?

Senator John McCain, who championed the Iraq invasion and occupation, and wanted the US keep an Iraq presence even until today, made an unannounced secret visit to Syria over the weekend.  One might understand this act if the President was seeking war powers, and McCain was interested in fact finding to guide Senator deliberations.

Instead, Americans are very leery of more “troops on the ground”.  It seems that every day we are reading about the tragic legacies following US Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  Veteran claims for VA services takes over one year to be processed.  And Senator McCain is ready to put more US forces again into battle?

The ugly truth about Syria is that no one knows how the future will unfold whether the US intervenes or stands on the side lines.  Syria may collapse and Iran may gain greater influence.  It is also possible that Sunni groups aligned with al Qaeda may find space to operate and create instability well beyond Syria’s borders.  Few believe that a post Assad period will bring a flowering of democracy.

So… with no benefits obvious for US national interests, President Obama’s wisest course of action may be to encourage Europe (which lies much closer) to undertake the “meddling”.  In the interim, the US ought to keep its powder dry, remain prepared while looking for totally unanticipated developments.

Following the lead of Russia and China, the US would do well to stand back and save its resources this time around.