July 26, 2011

John Boehner Is Doing An Outstanding Job... So Far

Via Mike's America, Speaker of the House John Boehner responds to President Obama's ridiculous speech on the debt limit:

Transcript at Mike's America.

Of all the plans to reduce the deficit, John Boehner's House plan is by far the best:

Grading the Plans
National Review The Corner
July 26, 2011
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin

Speaker Boehner has been quoted as saying that his proposed plan to raise the debt ceiling is "not perfect." Okay. How, then, does it stack up as a matter of policy? And what about the Reid alternative?

Timing. A timely increase in the debt limit is imperative. (A video is worth 10,000 words.) The Boehner plan is a way to meet the need to raise the debt limit. Moreover, the Boehner plan forces Congress to address entitlements sooner (six months) rather than later. Good on both fronts.

Size. I have never been a member of the "size matters" club. Instead, I think that markets are more interested in the quality of the policy addressing the debt problem. The projected debt explosion is fundamentally a spending explosion, so policies that address growth will be more convincing to markets than a "large" deal that is dominated by a futile attempt to tax away the problem.

Composition. By the standards of historic budget agreements, the Boehner plan is off the charts. See the chart below from the Congressional Research Service.

First, there is not a single dime in taxes. David Addington at the Heritage Foundation has argued that the Boehner plan "greases the way for tax hikes." This is truly unhinged. The Boehner plan envisions a "select committee" of six Republicans and six Democrats that would require a majority vote -- that is, seven votes -- to propose entitlement reforms for an up-or-down vote in Congress. The six Republicans (and any Democrats who are not renting their brain from an amoeba) can easily stop any notion of tax increases. And there is simply zero chance that the House would pass such an increase if it did emerge over the next six months.

Second, there are real cuts in FY2012 discretionary spending, caps on future spending, and an enforcement process for those caps. One might argue for more aggressive cuts up front and there will be concerns over the ability of future Congresses to slip the discretionary caps. But on the whole, this is as good a package of discretionary spending controls as can be written.

Third, the "select committee" process ties future debt-limit increases to entitlement reform. Since the heart of the debt problem is broken entitlements, this linkage is entirely appropriate. While less ideal than actual reforms themselves, the committee forces future action on the most pressing policy issue facing the United States.

Comparison to Reid Plan. The plans are quite similar. Indeed, the best way to think about the Reid plan is that it is simply the Boehner plan with fake cuts (largely war spending) added on. Put differently, executing the Reid plan is the same as executing the Boehner plan and then adding an unrestricted debt limit increase on at the end. Since so-called "clean" increases are a signal to markets that the U.S. cannot address its fundamental problems, this is extremely dangerous and undesirable.

The bottom line. The ideal debt-limit package would combine up-front discretionary cuts with medium-term discretionary controls and real policy changes to entitlement programs that address the spending explosion and display to international capital markets the ability of the United States to address the debt threat. The Boehner plan is not ideal, but certainly is a strong B+. The Reid plan, in contrast, is a gentleman's C at best. And, of course (see here), those who fail to turn in their homework get an F.

Posted by Tom at 8:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 28, 2011

Michele Bachmann: The New Conservative Woman the Liberals Love to Hate

The liberals would like us to believe that Rep Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) is crazy as a loon. This is in part because of her Tea Party associations, and partially because she has just announced that she's a candidate for president, and thus must be destroyed as quickly as possible. Oh, and she's an attractive female, which always makes one a target of liberal hate.


Let's take some of her statements that the liberals think are so crazy and we'll see if they really are. I don't have a whole lot of time here, so this list is not exhaustive, but it will give us a good feel for what's going on.

This guy thinks he's found the "10 craziest Michele Bachmann quotes," so let's run through them:

"Not all cultures are equal"

Uh.. they aren't. Unless you think that female genital mutilation ("female circumcision") is a perfectly acceptable cultural practice.

"And what a bizarre time we're in, when a judge will say to little children that that you can't say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it."

I agree: Any judge who would say that is off his or her rocker.

"I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. And I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's coincidence."

Hmmm. Ok, I'm not sure what's going on here. The charitable view is that she thinks that both Democrats neglected public health, but that doesn't make much sense.

"A woman (Terri Schiavo) was healthy. There was brain damage, there was no question. But from a health point of view, she was not terminally ill."

Apparently we are not allowed to debate what constitutes "terminally ill." It would seem to me that reasonable people could disagree on this one, but then we are dealing with the abortion "rights" crowd. Just to be sure Bachmann had it right I reviewed the post I wrote about the Terri Schiavo case at the time. Sure enough, Bachmann has it right.

"Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas."

Ok, yes if you breath enough CO2 you will die. But guess what? If you breath pure hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, argon... you will also die. Are those deadly poisonous gasses too? Not by most people's reckoning. But of course the real agenda here is to push the global warming agenda, and woe be it to anyone who dares to question that!

"Normalization (of gayness) is through desensitization. Very effective way to do this with a bunch of second graders, is to take pictures of "The Lion King," for instance, and a teacher might say "Do you know that the music for this movie was written by a gay man?" The message is: "I'm better at what I do because I'm gay!"

So if you think the demonization of anyone who questions the global warming agenda is bad, what they are trying to do to anyone who dares to oppose the gay agenda is just as bad or worse. Teachers should not be promoting the gay agenda in the schools, which is exactly what is happening in Bachmann's example.

"If we took away the minimum wage - if conceivably it was gone - we could potentially wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level."

Overstated, but otherwise true. It's Econ 101 that the minimum wage contributes to unemployment.

"I just take the Bible for what it is, I guess, and recognize that I'm not a scientist, not trained to be a scientist. I'm not a deep thinker on all of this. I wish I was. I wish I was more knowledgeable, but I'm not a scientist."

So what exactly is objectionable about this statement? Most Christians take the Bible for what it is. Most people aren't deep thinkers, nor are they scientists. Most likely this is simple leftist anti-Christian bigotry, but it's hard to know, because what Bachmann says is so unremarkable.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design."

I have no idea how many Nobel Prize winning scientists believe in what goes by Intelligent Design and I'm not going to waste time researching it, because I strongly suspect that's not the issue here. No, this time it's an attack on anyone who would dare to question - gasp - Darwinian evolution!

In the liberal worldview, it is simply inconceivable that anyone could question, much less object to, the global warming - gay - atheist agendas.

Of the 10 Bachmann statements above, I agree with all but one in whole or in part. What else has she said that is so crazy? One statement that I found in her Wikipedia entry has her saying in March of 2010 that

"I said I had very serious concerns that Barack Obama had anti-American views. And now I look like Nostradamus"

That's about my view of Obama too.

I'm not at all settled on a Republican presidential candidate, but if this is the best the liberals can do to tear her down, it's a big yawner.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 31, 2011

Over the Entitlements Cliff We Go!

I've got a great idea for you! Run up $1000 a month on your credit card and don't worry about how you'll pay it off. Oh sure, you have a good job. Heck, you make $100,000 a year, the kids are going to a state college, but you need more. So run up that card and buy everything you need! Anyone who tells you this isn't such a swift idea is evil and wants you and your children to die.

This is where we are with "entitlements." We're running up the national credit card at a frightening rate. One party doesn't want to do anything, and says that anyone who advocates the slightest reform wants sick people to be thrown out of hospital windows and poor people to starve to death. The other party offers a few timid approaches. Maybe the rhetoric of the first party is affecting the behavior of the second.

If things go on as they are it's going to be Thelma and Louise time, folks!


Yup, Democrats are going nuts over their victory in the NY-26 congressional election, which was seen by many as a referendum on Rep Paul Ryan's plan to save Medicare.

Translation; the Democrats don't want to do anything about entitlements. We've got a $1.6 trillion deficit and they're perfectly fine with it.

So what is Ryan's plan that has caused so much fuss? Let's let him explain it himself:

and here

Ok, look, if you don't like Rep Paul Ryan's plan, fine. I am not wedded to his plan or any other. But come up with your own. Come up with one that dramatically cuts spending.

Because here's the bottom line; if we continue as we are now we as a nation are headint toward financial Armageddon. The big entitlements programs are unsustainable as currently structured, and we can neither tax our way out of the problem or just tweak them a little.

While the Democrats in Congress have absolutely no plan to deal with the coming entitlement disaster, Obama has a fake one. Kevin D. Williamson explains:

Our current unfunded entitlement liabilities run about $100 trillion.

President Obama proposes to "strengthen" Medicare through a price-fixing panel called the Independent Payments Advisory Board (IPAB).

CBO took a look at IPAB and estimated that it might save us $28 billion over the next ten years, i.e., next to nothing.

And then it took another look and lowered its estimate from next to nothing to nothing:

For 2015 and subsequent years, the IPAB is obligated to make changes to the Medicare program that will reduce spending if the rate of growth in spending per beneficiary is projected to exceed a target rate of growth linked to the consumer price index and per capita changes in nominal gross domestic product. CBO's projections of the rates of growth in spending per beneficiary in the March 2011 baseline are below the target rates of growth for fiscal years 2015 through 2021. As a result, CBO projects that, under current law, the IPAB mechanism will not affect Medicare spending during the 2011-2021 period.

You have to admire the president: To go out and give a morally preening speech like that, with IPAB front and center, on the assumption that nobody's reading the footnotes.

In another post on NRO, Williamson knocks down the Democrat shibboleth that raising taxes on the evil, filthy, stinking rich* will solve all our problems:

Repeat as necessary: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national defense is where the spending is. Raising taxes enough to cover that spending and stabilize the debt would mean an 88 percent increase in every federal tax -- not just for "the rich," but for everybody, according to IMF estimates. Raising taxes on the middle class to support Social Security and Medicare for the middle class is a shell game. You may as well just cut the benefits: essentially the same outcome, but more cleanly executed.

You are not going to balance the budget on tax hikes only on people you do not like. You are not going to balance the budget on pulling out of Afghanistan (wise as that might be) or on eliminating foreign aid (desirable as that is) or on shuffling Uncle Sam's real-estate portfolio (prudent though that may be). You are not going to balance the budget on eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse.

Unfortunately there are too many conservatives who parrot the "waste, fraud, and abuse" mantra too. You know you're dealing with a no-nothing whenever you hear that coming out of their mouths.

And guess what, although I'll for it, cutting funding to NPR or Planned Parenthood won't affect sqat. Neither, for that matter, will drydocking a few aircraft carriers or cutting funding for the F-15.

Cutting entitlements is the only answer. We either do it now or our country goes over the cliff, and it's a Chinese 21st century. Is that what we want?

How Bad is the Deficit?

Yes George W Bush and the Republicans in Congress increased spending and the deficit to irresponsible levels. Conservatives, including me, criticized them bitterly over it.

No his "tax cuts" were not the problem. For the most part all the "tax cuts" did is reduce rates to their pre-Clinton levels. Remember, folks, when Democrats like Clinton hike taxes, it's to be permanent. When Republicans bring them down again, it must be reversed.

Once Again, the Federal Budget

Just because these numbers are charts are important, here they are once again:

2010 Federal budget (the last for which I can find charts and hard numbers)

Federal Budget FY 2010

Federal Receipts v Expenditures FY 2010

And here are the major spending programs in another format:

* Mandatory spending: $2.173 trillion (+14.9%) o $695 billion (+4.9%) - Social Security o $571 billion (+58.6%) - Other mandatory programs o $453 billion (+6.6%) - Medicare o $290 billion (+12.0%) - Medicaid o $164 billion (+18.0%) - Interest on National Debt

US receipt and expenditure estimates for fiscal year 2010.

* Discretionary spending: $1.378 trillion (+13.8%)
o $663.7 billion (+12.7%) - Department of Defense (including Overseas Contingency Operations)
o $78.7 billion (−1.7%) - Department of Health and Human Services
o $72.5 billion (+2.8%) - Department of Transportation
o $52.5 billion (+10.3%) - Department of Veterans Affairs
o $51.7 billion (+40.9%) - Department of State and Other International Programs
o $47.5 billion (+18.5%) - Department of Housing and Urban Development
o $46.7 billion (+12.8%) - Department of Education
o $42.7 billion (+1.2%) - Department of Homeland Security
o $26.3 billion (−0.4%) - Department of Energy
o $26.0 billion (+8.8%) - Department of Agriculture
o $23.9 billion (−6.3%) - Department of Justice
o $18.7 billion (+5.1%) - National Aeronautics and Space Administration
o $13.8 billion (+48.4%) - Department of Commerce
o $13.3 billion (+4.7%) - Department of Labor
o $13.3 billion (+4.7%) - Department of the Treasury
o $12.0 billion (+6.2%) - Department of the Interior
o $10.5 billion (+34.6%) - Environmental Protection Agency
The total deficit for fiscal year 2009 was $1.42 trillion, a $960 billion increase from the 2008 deficit.

The 2009 budget deficit would represent 12.3% of gross domestic product, the largest share since World War II.

What about Defense?

As I've shown many times in the past, the reason we're running such large deficits has little or nothing to do with spending on defense. I'm not going to repost all those charts and numbers again, but see this post for details.

And the Question Is...

...will we or will we not get a handle on entitlements spending? The Europeans are probably at the point of no return; they are going over the cliff. But we are still at the point where we can turn around and save ourselves.

Make no mistake about it, right now we are headed in a direction that will take us over the cliff. This is why I put an exclamation point and not a question mark in the title.

How we got here is the fault of both parties, but mostly the progressives or liberals, and they're mostly but not exclusively Democrats. Some but not all Republicans see the danger and want to change the system, but virtually no Democrats see or want to take any serious action to avert disaster.

How we fix our problem is open to debate. But all proposals must be serious, and those that just tweak around the edges are acceptable.

The fact is that we've promised too much to too many people. We've promised things we cannot deliver. It is good to want to feed the poor and take care of the sick and elderly, but surely we can do that with 3 or 4 trillion dollars without running a huge deficit. Because either we get control of our spending or we're going over that cliff.

* If you're a liberal rich person all is forgiven.

Posted by Tom at 7:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 6, 2011

Countdown to a Shutdown?

Here's the analogy; someone who is running up $1,600 a month on their credit cards and refuses to cut out pay-per-view TV, much less their cable/satellite/FIOS subscription, claiming that such services are vital to their health and well being.

That's about the attitude of the Democrats on the federal budget. The "cuts" the Republicans are proposing are miniscule, on the order of cutting out pay-per-view, yet even these are called "draconian" by the left. The Democrats have proposed a few "cuts," which are on the order of eliminating a single cell phone app. Paul Ramirez captures the absurdity of it all in this cartoon:


The idea that anyone is proposing cuts that add up to any hardship for anyone is absurd on it's face.

Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) explains the problem and what he and his fellow House Republicans intend on doing about it:

Read about his plan, the "A Roadmap to America's Future."

Unsurprisingly, Ryan is Chairman of the House Budget Committee. You can also read the entire GOP budget proposal, called "The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America's Promise House Budget Committee - Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Resolution."

Here are a few quick summaries of Ryan's plan:

Ryan's Budget: By the Numbers
National Review
April 5, 2011
By Andrew Stiles

Paul Ryan's 2012 budget, "The Path to Prosperity," is an impressive document aimed at fostering economic growth and sustainable government. Here are some of the numbers that jump out:

$6.2 trillion -- Amount of spending cuts proposed relative to President Obama's 2012 budget request.

$5.8 trillion -- Amount of spending cuts proposed relative to the current CBO baseline.

2008 -- Ryan's plan would bring non-security discretionary spending to below 2008 levels (pre-stimulus, pre-bailout, pre-Obama).

20 percent -- Target spending levels (as a percentage of GDP).

$4.4 trillion -- Total deficit reduction over 10 years called for under the plan, compared to $4 trillion under Bowles-Simpson and just $1.1 trillion under Obama's 2012 budget.

$4.7 trillion -- Total debt reduction relative to Obama's budget.

$178 billion -- Amount of saving achieved in the Defense Department budget, per the recommendations of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, $100 billion of which would be reinvested, the rest used to reduce the deficit.

$750 billion -- Total savings achieved through Medicaid reform, in the form of block grants to states, giving governors greater flexibility in their budgets.

2022 -- Year that proposed Medicare reforms would take effect.

25 percent -- The top tax rate proposed for both individuals and companies.

18-19 percent -- Target revenue levels (as a percentage of GDP), in keeping with historic average levels.

$800 billion -- Total amount of tax increases eliminated by repealing Obamacare.

1 million -- Private-sector jobs created over the next year.

4 percent -- Projected unemployment rate by 2015.

$1.5 trillion -- Projected growth in real GDP over the next decade.

$1.1 trillion -- Estimate increase in wages over 10 years, yielding an average increase in income of $1,000 per year for each American family.

10 percent -- Proposed reduction to the federal workforce over the next three years.

$120 trillion -- Total debt reduction by 2050 relative to Obama's budget.

On the other side, here's President Obama's ridiculous proposal:

Obama's Spending Spree: By the Numbers
National Review
February 14, 2011
By Andrew Stiles

Here is President Obama's budget for fiscal year 2012 (and outlook through 2021). And here is a look at some of the numbers that stand out:

$3.73 trillion -- total spending this year (25 percent of GDP, highest levels since World War Two).

$46 trillion -- total spending over the next decade.

$8.7 trillion -- total new spending over the same period.

$26.3 trillion -- Total new debt, including entitlement obligations, predicted by 2021.

$7.2 trillion -- Total deficit predicted by the end of the decade.

$1.1 trillion -- How much the White House estimates the proposal will reduce the deficit over the next ten years.

$4 trillion -- How much the president's deficit commission recommended reducing the deficit over the next ten years to avoid financial catastrophe.

$1.6 trillion -- The projected annual deficit for 2011 (11 percent of GDP), up from $1.3 trillion in 2010.

$2 trillion -- Amount the budget will raise taxes on business and upper-income families over the next ten years, which includes letting the Bush-era tax rates expire in 2012 (for incomes $250,000 and up).

$50 billion -- Amount the administration plans to spend this year on infrastructure and transportation "investments."

$30 billion -- Amount dedicated to a "National Infrastructure Bank to invest in projects of regional or national significance to the economy," including the much-touted high-speed rail initiative.

$77.4 billion -- Funding allocated for the Department of Education, a 22 percent increase from 2010 levels, and a 35 percent increase from 2008 levels.

$29.5 billion -- Total spending on the Department of Energy, a 22 percent increase from 2008 levels.

$9.9 billion -- Funding allocated for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a 30 percent increase from 2008 levels.

$150 billion -- Total amount the White House plans to spend next year on research and development programs.

8.2 percent -- Predicted unemployment rate in 2012.

Zero -- Political risk the president was willing to assume by proposing meaningful reform to entitlement programs. That said, Republicans haven't exactly been willing to stick their necks either, at least not yet.

Stop Blaming Bush

Back to the Title

Sorry if you were expecting a political analysis of whether the Republicans should press for a government shutdown or go for another continuing resolution. I'm somewhat agnostic on strategy. I'm just so appalled by the current situation I feel compelled to lay out again and again just how bad the budgetary situation has gotten.

Over the weekend I was out driving and turned into C-Span radio. I heard Senator Dick Durban (D-IL) talk about the budget talks. The interview had an air of unreality about it; here we are, headed over the cliff, and all we get is the usual demagoguery about how even the most minute cuts will result in untold suffering and misery.

I remember when the entire federal budget was $800 billion or so, and we complained over deficits that weren't over $200 billion. Now we face a deficit of $1.6 trillion out of a federal budget of $3.8 trillion. Yeah I know, there's been some price inflation since then, and GDP has gone up quite a bit too. But as Ryan indicated in his video above the situation is getting worse, not better.

We either get our budgetary situation under control or there will not be another American Century.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 5, 2011

John Boehner Takes the Reigns in the House

Rep. John Boehner was sworn in today as the Speaker of the House in the new 112th Congress. In an historic election last November, Republicans won 63 seats in the House, 6 in the Senate, and 6 governorships. In addition, Republicans won over 500 seats in state legislatures, flipping at least 14 chambers, and now have unified control of 25 state legislatures.

Boehner's speech was short and humble. There was no triumphalism here. He knows that conservatives at the grass roots level are watching closely to see if he and his fellow Republicans honor their Pledge to America. He's also aware that the election that put him in the speaker's seat was more anti-Democrat than pro-Republican, and that he's got a lot of work to to do gain the trust of the American people. If Republicans perform, we stand a good chance of defeating obama in 2012 and stopping his attempt to bring socialism to America. If not, our chances are small. So much is at stake.

I think that Boehner nailed it perfectly. He hit all the right notes and avoided saying all the wrong things. Following is the text of his speech, as prepared:

Madam Speaker, thank you for your kind words, and thank you for your service. I'd like to welcome our new colleagues and their families. My own family is here as well: my wife, Debbie, our daughters, Lindsay and Tricia; my brothers and sisters, brothers-and-sisters-in-law, and their children.

I am honored and humbled to represent a great, hard-working community in Congress. The people of Ohio's Eighth Congressional District continue to afford me the privilege to serve, for which I am deeply grateful.

We gather here today at a time of great challenges. Nearly one in ten of our neighbors are looking for work. Health care costs are still rising for families and small businesses. Our spending has caught up with us, and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy. Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress.

No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions.

In the Catholic faith, we enter into a season of service by having ashes marked on our foreheads. The ashes remind us that life in all its forms is fragile - our time on this Earth, fleeting. As the ashes are delivered, we hear those humbling words: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people's House. This is their Congress. It's about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.

Let's start with the rules package the House will consider today. If passed, it will change how this institution operates, with an emphasis on real transparency, greater accountability, and a renewed focus on the Constitution.

Our aim will be to give government back to the people. In seeking this goal, we will part with some of the rituals that have come to characterize this institution under majorities Republican and Democratic alike. We will dispense with the conventional wisdom that bigger bills are always better; that fast legislating is good legislating; that allowing additional amendments and open debate makes the legislative process "less efficient" than our forefathers intended.

These misconceptions have been the basis for the rituals of modern Washington. The American people have not been well served by them.

Today, mindful of the lessons of the past, we open a new chapter.

Legislators and the public will have three days to read bills before they come to a vote. Legislation will be more focused, properly scrutinized, and constitutionally sound. Committees, once bloated, will be smaller, with a renewed mission, including oversight. Old rules that have made it easy to increase spending will be replaced by new reforms that make it easier to cut spending. We will start by cutting Congress's own budget. Above all else, we will welcome the battle of ideas, encourage it, and engage in it - openly, honestly, and respectfully. As the chamber closest to the people, the House works best when it is allowed to work its will. I ask all members of this body to join me in recognizing this common truth.

To my colleagues in the majority, my message is this: we will honor our Pledge to America, built through a process of listening to the people, and we will stand firm on the Constitutional principles that built our party, and built a nation. We will do these things, however, in a manner that restores and respects the time-honored right of the minority to an honest debate and a fair, open process.

To my friends in the minority, I offer a commitment. Openness - once a tradition of this institution, but increasingly scarce in recent decades, will be the new standard. There were no open rules in the House in the last Congress. In this one, there will be many. With this restored openness, however, will come a restored responsibility. You will not have the right to willfully disrupt the proceedings of the People's House. But you will always have the right to a robust debate in open process that allows you to represent your constituents. . .to make your case, offer alternatives, and be heard. In time, this framework will, I believe, restore the House of Representatives as a place where the people's will is done. It will also, I hope, help rebuild trust among us and the people we serve, and in so doing, provide a guidepost for those who follow us in the service of our nation.

To our new members - Democratic and Republican - as you take the oath today, I know you will do so mindful of this shared goal, and the trust placed in you by your constituents. As Speaker, I view part of my job as helping each of you do your job well, regardless of party. My hope is that every new Member - and indeed, every Member - will be comfortable approaching me with matters of the House. We will not always get it right. We will not always agree on what is right. A great deal of scar tissue has built up on both sides of the aisle. We cannot ignore that, nor should we. My belief has always been, we can disagree without being disagreeable to each other. That's why it is critical this institution operate in a manner that permits a free exchange of ideas, and resolves our honest differences through a fair debate and a fair vote. We may have different - sometimes, very different - ideas for how to go about achieving the common good, but it is our shared goal. It is why we serve.

Let us now move forward humble in our demeanor, steady in our principles, and dedicated to proving worthy of the trust and confidence that has been placed in us. If we brace ourselves to do our duty, and to do what we say we are going to do, there is no telling what together we can accomplish for the good of this great and honorable nation. More than a country, America is an idea, and it is our job to pass on to our posterity the blessings bestowed to us.

I wish you all the very best. Welcome to the people's House. Welcome to the 112th Congress.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 22, 2010

Our Lame Duck Congress

For the first 140 or so years after ratification of the Constitution, the the new President and Congress took their offices March 4 after the elections in November. Without going into detail, although the date of March 4 was not explicitly spelled out, that's what the 12th Amendment of 1804, and custom, added up to.

Given travel difficulties of the 18th and 19th centuries, it took a lot of time to assemble a new government, and travel to and from one's home state to Washington DC. By the 20th century travel time had been reduced, and everyone could see that it would only get faster. As such, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution stipulated that the President and new Congress would take office in January. Relevant are sections one and two of the amendment:

Section 1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

Section 2. The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.

The issues, however, go beyond travel. The writer of this Wikipedia article on the 20th Amendment spells it out:

From the early 19th century onward, it also meant that the lame duck Congress and/or Presidential administration could, as in the case of the Congress, convene or fail to convene. In the case of the administration, to act or to fail to act, or to meet significant national crises in a timely manner. Each institution could do this on the theory that at best, a lame duck Congress or administration had neither the time nor the mandate to tackle problems. Where as the incoming administration or Congress would have both the time, and a fresh electoral mandate, to examine and address the problems that the nation faced. These problems very likely would have been at the center of the debate of the just completed election cycle.

Take it for what it's worth. But the issue of mandate is an interesting one, given how active our current lame-duck Congress has been:

Tax Cuts - Passed - Interestingly, both the extreme right and extreme left didn't like the deal Obama worked out with Republican leaders. I'd have held my nose and voted for it as the best of a series of bad choices.

Omnibus Budget - Failed - Fortunately, Republicans were able to stop the Democrats from digging us further into debt by forcing a continuing resolution instead of a full scale budget for next year. You don't have to look far to find the usual tales of woe in the liberal press about how government agencies will be starved of funds for "vital" upgrades. Sure. It was worth it to stop funding for ObamaCare and the usual pork programs.

Gays in the Military - Passed - The debate about gay marriage in the civilian world is about a lot of things, but marriage isn't one of them. Likewise, the issue is not whether gays can serve without disrupting military readiness. Progressives couldn't care less about the military or marriage. What they want is to force the acceptance of the gay lifestyle as equal to hetrosexuals. They want to forbid discussion of these issues, and shut down businesses and churches that refuse to play ball.

New START - Passed - Irrelevant at best, harmful at worst, the main purpose of this treaty is to make it look like Obama has achieved something. We're assured by the striped-pants set that the treaty is good for us, and you little people should just do as your told. They also assure us that the preamble to the treaty does not inhibit U.S. missile defense systems, but the Russians say otherwise.

DREAM Act - Failed - Otherwise known as the "let's create more Democrat voters bill," yet another attempt to pass what amounts to mass amnesty for illegal aliens was thwarted.

Food Safety Modernization Act - Pending - I haven't really followed this one, but it basically gives the FDA power to regulate "all foods sold, distributed, or imported within the US."

Net Neutrality - Pending - The issue is complicated, but the guiding principle of how government regulation should work isn't: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The Internet works just fine, and giving the FCC additional power is asking for trouble down the road. My general guideline to the FCC would be something like "make sure radio station signals don't overlap, and after that you're done." The FCC has no business telling broadband companies how to handle their traffic.

The Progressive Plan

Progresssives realize that their large majorities in the 111th Congress, coupled with the administration of Barack Obama, present the best chance of getting their agenda enacted into law that they'll ever probably see in their lifetimes. It's now or never.

Further, they realize that an law, once enacted, is hard to completely repeal. They know that once the cat is out of the bag on things such as universal health care, or gays in the military, its hard to stuff it back in. And once an illegal alien has been made a citizen, and thus a Democrat voter, you can't take that citizenship away.

Thus their method of ramming as much legislation through as possible while they're still in office.

The Republican Response

There's not much we can do now. Contrary to the dreams of some Tea Party and conservative extremists, we're never going to have anything but a spectrum of Republicans in Congress that run from moderate-liberal to hard right. We're paying the price for screwing up in the early part of this decade.

Once the new 112th Congress is seated we can get to work. We can't repeal ObamaCare, but we can starve it of funds, and refuse to pass any enabling legislation.

What Can Be Done?

It may well be time to revise the 20th Amendment. This Congress has been rejected by the American people, and they have no business passing anything but emergency legislation. If Republicans did this in the past then shame on them, and two wrongs don't make a right.

But given the herculean task of passing an amendment to the Constitution, the 112th Congress would do well to concentrate on practical matters of reducing government spending and rolling back ObamaCare. If they can simply prevent the progressives from doing any more damage I'll be happy. Let's set ourselves up for a bigger victory in 2012, and then we can really set about the true business of reform.

Update - Additional Research

The Heritage Foundation has a paper on treaty ratification during lame duck sessions of Congress that sheds some additional light on the matter:

While recognizing that such sessions were necessary under extraordinary circumstances, proponents of the (20th) Amendment argued that laws made by lame duck sessions were less democratically legitimate because those laws were promulgated by individuals different from those chosen by a popular election immediately preceding the session. In cases where there were changes in the control of Congress or the presidency, significant binding actions--such as the ratification of treaties--may violate the principle of the consent of the governed

There have only been 18 lame duck sessions since 1933, out of a possible 38. That is, there have been 38 elections since 1933, and Congress has only met after the election and before the new Congress was seated 18 times. Six of those took place from 1940 to 1954, mostly to pass emergency World War II and Cold War legislation. There were only four lame duck sessions from 1956 to 1994, but eight since then, including the current one.

Several observations flow from this.

One, Lame duck sessions during World War II and the early days of the Cold War could be justified by military necessity. That rationale has mostly not existed since then.

Two, lame duck Congresses are somewhat of a bipartisan phenomenon. Two wrongs never make a right.

Three, this current lame duck Congress has been unusual in the number and type of bills it has passed. There has been nothing like it since the 1940s. The conclusion of the Heritage paper:

The Senate date of treaty ratification cross-checked with the dates of each lame duck session of Congress confirms the general assertion that no major treaty has ever been ratified by the Senate during a lame duck session of Congress. ...

The recent midterm elections created significant ramifications for passing New START during the lame duck session. The ratification of New START by a lame duck Senate would not only ignore the message sent by voters in November but also break a significant precedent, consistent with the principle of consent, maintained by Presidents and Congresses since the passage of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933.

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November 20, 2010

Book Review - Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight

Courage and Consequence by Karl Rove

On of the best things about this review will be reading the comments. While Karl Rove is not nearly as controversial as someone like Sarah Palin, he certainly does have his enemies. Those on the left say that his style of campaigning has helped lead to the alleged increasing divisiveness and negative campaigning of American politics, and those on the far right see him as part of the "establishment" that helped lose the GOP congress in 2008 and the White House in 2010.

Neither extreme has it right. Rove's tactics were no different than what Democrat strategists do, and it is simply false to say that his main technique was to smear opponents. On the right, the term "establishment" has just about come to mean "someone in office or who holds an official position that I don't like." For both sides, he's the enemy mostly because he helped get George W. Bush elected.

Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight is Karl Rove's account of his life and career in politics. Unlike most of my book reviews this one will be relatively short, mostly because I just don't have the time.

Because the concept of a "Rovian campaign" has been so misunderstood, following are some excerpts from chapter 6: What is a Rovian Campaign?

1. The campaign must be centered on big ideas that reflect the candidate's philosophy and view that are perceived by vote3rs as important and relevant.

2. The campaign needs to be persistent in pursuing this strong, persuasive theme in a way that resonates with what voters know. This requires a campaign to have a clear awareness of the electorate's attitudes, and its candidate's strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of its opponent.

3. The third hallmark of a Rovian campaign is that it is driven by historical data. Past races can help you understand what might happen in the next. Democrats dominated Texas in the late 1980s. To find voters who might be drawn to a Republican candidate, I studied election patterns to find countries with strong support for Reagan in 1980 or 1984 but whose voters also chose Democrats in local races or for governor or senator. In 2000, hoping to pull some state s away from the Democrats for George W/ Bush's presidential race, I looked at places in Tennessee and Arkansas that had voted for GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates in the 1990s while voting for Clinton-Gore in 1992 and 1996.

4. The fourth hallmark of a Rovian campaign is the use of sophisticated modeling to identify potential supporters and match them with issues that will persuade and turn them out. All kinds of publicly available information about voters can be used to predict which party or candidate someone will support, what issues will win them over, and the likelihood they will actually vote. That information can include, for example, their age, what kind of car they have... whether they have a gun... if or where they go to church.... There is no one piece of data that can predict the behavior of a voter: it's the relationship between all kinds of data points that can be revealing. So the modeling is complex and difficult to do, but it can make a huge impact by allowing a campaign to focus its energies on voters who are truly up for grabs and on those who need extra encouragement to turn out.

5. The fifth hallmark of a Rovian campaign is that it understands that there are right and wrong ways to criticize an opponent. Too many campaigns spend too much time going after their opponents in a scattershot way and on trivial issues. Bob Dole's 1996 campaign against Bill Clinton suffered from this problem. He attacked Clinton for, among other tings, cheating at golf. And the campaign of George H. W. Bush in 1992 also made the mistake of attacking Clinton's running mate, Al Gore, as an environmental extremist by calling him "Ozone Man."

6. The sixth hallmark of a Rovian campaign is that the campaign has a strategic plan, discipline, and a bias for action. It is structured to keep momentum. Second-guessing, or allowing warring factions to develop inside a campaign, is destructive. A Rovian campaign sets goals and repeatedly checks performance against those goals.

7. The seventh hallmark of a Rovian campaign is that it depends on the broadest possible use of volunteer-friendly technology. As one pair of journalists put it, "This may sound prosaic, but there is no way to overstate its relevance to Rove's success. His campaigns always had the most advanced gizmos." I have enormous respect for Net nerds, Applications Junkies, Tech Heads, and Data Dudes.

8. Finally a Rovian campaign is focused on collecting three vital resources:
a. Knowledge and information for the candidate
b. Volunteers to persuade and get out the vote
c. The money to make the other elements of the campaign possible.

Of these eight hallmarks, the first four are the most important, with the first being primas inter pares (first among equals). A campaign needs to be centered on a big theme that is in turn made up of big ideas that will capture the support and imagination of voters.

So as you can see a Rovian campaign is not about dishonest negative campaigning, underhanded dealings, and going all out to destroy your opponent, or any such nonsense.

Final Thoughts

I don't generally read these types of books, generally preferring more academic and analytical books on the issues of our day, especially when they're coupled with a lot of history. At least this isn't a 'kiss and tell' book, whereby the author has a major ax to grind. I find those impossible to deal with, because one of the basic rules of life is that you never get the full story or truth until you've heard both sides.

But this book was given to me by a friend, and given that I do somewhat admire Karl Rove, I decided to read it.

The book does provide a good history of the Bush years, and Rove relates in some detail most of the major episodes. His writing is clear and concise, although there were a few times I found myself skipping ahead. Even at 500 pages it's not a long read.

Although as mentioned Rove does not spend a lot of time settling scores, he does defend himself where necessary. Some on the left have seen him as the devil himself, accusing him of all sorts of dirty dealings during campaigns. As such Rove does go through some of the accusations, giving his side of the story.

All in all a good book, and a necessary read for anyone wanting perspective on the presidency of George W. Bush.

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November 6, 2010

John Boehner Promises to do the Right Thing

Yes I know, promises are one thing, deeds another. And liberals are consoling themselves with the notion that Republicans will not hold true to their promises. Nevertheless, it is good to see Republican House Leader John Boehner (OH-8) say the right things.

In an interview with Fox News "Special Report," on November 4, 2010 (h/t Mike's America)

Excerpts below the fold

BAIER: First, let's start with the news of the day. The president is signaling he will be willing to make the middle class tax cuts permanent, but perhaps only extend temporarily the tax cuts for top earners for one or two years.

Would you accept a temporary extension on the top tax cuts?

BOEHNER: Bret, in our Pledge to America, we made clear that we believe that all the current tax rates should be extended for all Americans and permanently. And the American people spoke on election night. They elected Republicans in droves. And what we're going to fight for is -- is for all the current rates to be extended. We don't want to increase taxes on any Americans.

BAIER: So there's no compromise here?

BOEHNER: We do not want to raise taxes on any American.

BAIER: Do you see elements -- when you do take control -- that you can compromise with the president on?

BOEHNER: Bret, I am not going to compromise on my principles nor am I going to compromise the will of the American people. To the extent that the president wants to work with us on reducing the size, scope and the intrusion of the federal government, we're willing to work with him.

The American people spoke pretty loudly the other night. They want us to stop the spending. And it's going to be our principal goal.

The second goal is that they want jobs in America. And you can't have jobs in America when -- when you have all this uncertainty coming out of Washington. And when you extend tax rates for a year, you leave all the uncertainty hanging out there. People are going to invest. Like me, when I ran my small business, they want some certainty about what the future is going to look like so they can calculate a return on investments. You can't do that by these temporary extensions and other gimmicks.

BAIER: But the guys in line to be chairmen (of the House Appropriations Committee), they're big fans of earmarks.

BOEHNER: There's going to be an earmark moratorium, it's pretty clear.

BAIER: Why not an outright ban?

BOEHNER: Only because some things that people call earmarks here wouldn't -- wouldn't classify as an earmark to the American people. I've made it pretty clear, this process is going to stop. As you're well aware, I've been here 20 years. I've never asked for an earmark. And I'm never going to ask for one. I told my constituents in 1990 when they elected me that if they thought my job was to come to Washington and rob the public treasury on their behalf, they were voting for the wrong guy.

BAIER: Health care -- the president says he's willing to tweak the health care law. You say you're committed to repealing it. There's a big distance between tweaking and repealing.

BOEHNER: Oh, that's a very big difference.

BAIER: You're still committed to repealing it?

BOEHNER: This health care bill will ruin the best health care system in the world and it will bankrupt our country.....We are going to repeal Obama Care and replace it with common sense reforms that will bring down the costs of health insurance.

Boehner knows that conservative activists will be watching him closely and will hold his feet to the fire if he wavers. This marks a big difference from 1994, 2000, or 2002 for that matter.

The hard part will be the tactics. Boehner and his colleagues cannot have anything like the government shutdown of 1995 that Gingrich and company precipitated. This backfired terribly on Republicans and we paid the price. The good news is that I think Boehner and Cantor have better political instincts and are less arrogant than Gingrich and Armey.

But in any event we are off to a good start and we will try and stall and overturn as much of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda as possible.

Posted by Tom at 10:45 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 4, 2010

John Boehner Strikes the Right Tone

Washington DC (Nov 3)

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) made the following remarks today at a press conference with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS):

Excerpt below the fold.

"As you heard me say last night, we are humbled by the trust that the American people have placed in us and we recognize this is a time for us to roll up our sleeves and go to work on the people's priorities:creating jobs, cutting spending and reforming the way Congress does its business. It's not just what the American people are demanding - it's what they are expecting from us.

"And the real question now is this: are we going to listen to the American people? Republicans have made a pledge to America, and our pledge is to listen to the American people and to focus on their priorities, and that's exactly what we're going to do.

"Last night, the President was kind enough to call me. We discussed working together on the American people's priorities: creating jobs and cutting spending. We hope that he will continue to be willing to work with us on those priorities.

"But as I said last night, the new majority here in Congress will be the voice of the American people, and I think we clearly expressed that last night. We're going to continue to renew our efforts for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government here in Washington, DC."

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