Keep your eye on …

Just an early heads up when it comes to the Republicn primary (which should be gearing up in a few months).

He’s undeclared (and it’s probably a 50-50 chance that he will even get into the race) and he’s unknown outside of people with their finger on domestic pulse … but keep your eyes on Governor Mitch Daniels.

He’s worked as party of the GOP national machine, was a political advisor to Ronald Reagan, director of the Office of Management and Budget to George Bush from 2001 to 2003 (where he was nicknamed ‘the Blade’ because he was effective at cutting spending), was part of the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, then was elected (and re-elected) as Governor of Indiana. From there, he managed to enact a raft of reforms in the state to position it reasonably well for the post-GFC domestic economy.

He cannot run for re-election (though he can sit out this term and run the next election).

He has the political legitimacy (in terms of policy) to actually hold his own. He doesn’t exactly have a presidential ‘look’, but his wide range of experience (primarily government and executive, not Congressional) does make him appealing.

If he runs, and the GOP primary voters get their brains into gear, he would be the best chance to run against Obama. The problem is his foreign policy experience (which will become a central plank to the Democrats with the bin Laden kill, as well as the Iraq war ‘ended’ and Afghanistan war starting to ‘wind down’ (US troops are going to start being withdrawn in the coming months)), but his big strength is policy to reform. His economics will be popular among the Republicans, bad among the Democrats, and perhaps appealing to independents who view the economy with negative eyes right now.

He’s one I’d keep my eyes on. The other is Jon Huntsman Jnr. (though I can’t plot out an electoral victory (in either the primary or the general) as easy as I can for Daniels) who is coming back to the US (after being Obama’s ambassador to China for the past 2 and some years, also a former governor (though of Utah)).

When the primary starts to warm up, and the candidate feild starts to get serious (other than the general no-hopers that they have now), I’ll probably start to feel the itch again …

… though I’m feeling it right now.

Thomas.

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Government shutdown

I explained what a ‘government shutdown’ was to my mother this afternoon. I nearly used the West Wing explanation word-for-word, especially the part about the postal workers. I think only when I went into the fall-out did she realise what a big deal it was.

A lot of people were keen to see a shutdown happen only because they thought that the governemnt (see: politicians and their aides) would be shut down. However, when you think of how far the government actually extends into our lives, having the government stop working would be complete chaos.

I, on the other hand, wanted to see a shutdown because I wanted to see what chaos looks like.

We won’t get one though because the Dems in the US Senate and the GOP ins the US House meet somewhere between 37 and 38 billion in spending cuts. All 1.5 hours before the shutdown would have come into effect.

Thomas.

First 30 days

The first month is up for the 112th Congress that the Republicans hold sway over. The Democrats were turfed out because they were seen as ineffective, out-of-touch, and a range of expletives that I’m not likely to share. When the Democrats took control of the House as a majority with the 110th Congress, they had a different first 30 days. I would like to share with you both sides’ track records, comparing their first months.

We’ll start with the Republicans:

  • Bills/acts passed:
    • Passed the ‘Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act’ (officially known as … HR 2: Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act). This would repeal new laws that allowed parents to keep children on their health plans until the age of 26, barred insurers from denying service due to preexisting conditions, expanded Medicaid funding, and extended coverage to some 30 million uninsured Americans by 2019.
      • Result: Not signed into law, will never be signed into law
    • Passed the ‘Stop The OverPrinting Act’. The bill eliminated the requirement of a hard copy of every bill and resolution introduced and made items available online instead. This was such a devisive issue that the vote ended up being 399 to 0.
      • Result: Not signed into law yet, probably will be. Who really cares?
    • Passed a measure to end public financing for presidential campaigns, which would suspend a 35-year-old program that diverted $3 of a taxpayers’ declaration to a general fund in the Treasury when filing taxes, without reducing the refund.
      • Result: Not signed into law, won’t become law while Democrats hold the Senate and the White House
  • Motions, etc., made on the floor:
    • Republicans read the entire Constitution on the House floor, including sections that didn’t make it into the final vote and sections about slavery.
    • Passed a resolution calling for spending cuts. This didn’t actually cut money from anything (thus why it is called a budgetless resolution), and simply said that funding needed to be reduce from “non-security” areas. Republicans brought to the floor a one-page resolution that threatened to cut thousands of government programs, while offering no numbers or specifics on what or how much would be cut.
  • Important votes lost:
  • Failed to reauthorise parts of ‘The Patriot Act’. Republicans were seven votes shy of passing the bill (with 26 Republicans voting ‘no’) which would have kept three measures used by law enforcement and intelligence officials in place.
  • Results:
    • 11 days, 62 hours, and 5 minutes of its first month in session (a pre-determined amount of time) inclusive of reading the Constitution
    • A potential $200 billion increase to the federal deficit (with health repeal)
    • A potential saving of $617 million over 10 years (due to the public finance measure)
    • Saving of a mountain of paper (due to the OverPrinting Act)
    • Reduced powers for law enforcement officials (due to the failed Patriot Act vote)
    • Forced presidential campaigns to rely on big corporate donors instead of public funds
    • Reminder about the 3/5ths value of slaves

I’ll leave it to you as to whether this is a successful first 30 days or not. But to give you a fuller picture, here’s what the Democrats achieved in 2007:

  • Bills/acts passed:
    • Passed a bill enacting recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which implemented the national security recommendations of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission.
      • Result: Signed into law by President Bush
    • Passed the ‘Fair Minimum Wage Act’, which increased the minimum wage (from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour) for the first time in a decade for 13 million American workers by ammending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
      • Result: Signed into law on May 25, 2007 by President Bush
    • Passed the ‘Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act’, which would expand research into stem cell therapies for diseases cures.
      • Result: President Bush vetoed the bill on June 19 and it was not enacted into law.
    • Passed the ‘Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act’, which would help reduce the cost of prescription drugs for seniors and people with disabilities (23 million plus of them). Medicare would be forced to leverage it’s bargaining power to buy prescription drugs at bulk prices and pass the savings on to citizens.
      • Result: Failed to pass through the Senate, 55-42
    • Passed the ‘College Student Relief Act‘, which would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 by cutting student loan interest rates in half.
      • Result: Died with the 110th Congress after being buried in the Senate and is awaiting reintroduction
    • Passed the ‘Energy Independence And Security Act’, would make America more energy independent, fight global warming through a reinvestment in renewable energy resources, and rolled back multi-billion dollar taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil companies.
      • Result: An ammended version passed the Senate, and was signed into law on June 21, 2007 by President Bush
  • Important votes lost:
    • None
  • Results:
    • A damn successful Congress

I think we know whereAmerica isheaded for the next two years with this Republican leadership.

Thisalso might go some ways to explaining my frustration with the Senate of the 111th Congress (they got more passed without 60 votes in the Senate and with a Republican president in the 110th) and Harry Reid.

Thomas.

If only …

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the press, I thank you for your time. I have called this conference in the shadows of what all Americans must realise is a tragic moment in our nation’s history. Yet, regrettably, it is not rare. Too often has violence touched the lives of the citizens of this great country, and, once more, we are left dealing with the emotional and physical toll of a national tragedy.

Before I move any further through this, I would like to send out my most sincere condolences and support to those families so grievously affected by the events in Tuscon, Arizona. The prayers, support, and thoughts not just of me and my family, but of all Americans who value everything this country stands for, are directed to you all. You do not suffer in this tragedy alone and all of those around you, from both sides of politics, from all walks of life, and from all parts of this country are ready to help you in any way that you can.

I offer my own initial support and help to you by ways of an apology. For too long now has the political climate and the  media’s rhetoric been at such a vitriolic state that the tenants which we Americans know our country to be founded on have been corroded away. A state exists now where only the most ugly, violent, and vehement of voices ring out the loudest. For my part in this, for my part in contributing to this overwhelming voice of hatred and disgust and attack, I have but three humble words:

I am sorry.

I am sorry that I have contributed to a society that fosters hatred between us fellow citizens. I am sorry that I have contributed to a community that feels it proper to take violent action against those that serve us. I am sorry that I have contributed to a message that has continued to slander those that disagree with me and aggrandised those that do agree with me. I apologise to those in my party and I apologise to those of the opposite side of the political spectrum. But most of all, I apologise to you, the American people, for failing in my duty to help make the United States of America everything that we all hope it to be.

My apologies here are not said for political gain. Nor are they said to draw attention away from the issue at hand. I offer them without reservation or condition to those that will accept them. The families affected by this tragedy, the citizens who now question what has happened to this great country, and the politicians who contemplate a new direction for Washington – you are the people this apology is meant for.

I understand that politicians often offer words without solutions. I promise you all that this is not one of those times. We must learn from this tragedy in a way that we have not learned from the horrific events that have come before it. It is an indictment on us all that from the first assassination of a United States politician, to the international terrorist attacks, to the most recent of domestic attacks, we have continued to accept a culture of violence to pervade this country.

We must learn that politics is not just about messages – that there are intended and unintended consequences to what we say. We have to accept that we, as public figures, play even a small part in every death in this country. Whether it be the message we send abroad or the message we send to Tuscon, we must be mindful of what we say. Did a single image with crosshairs cause this whole event? Of course not. But did it have even a passive role in fostering a culture of violence in our society? Yes, it did. Did an advertisement of a senatorial candidate shooting a congressional bill cause this event? No. But, likewise, did it have a role in fostering this culture of violence? Yes. Neither side – Democrat or Republican – is without blame.

We must learn that this country needs to reflect on itself. While we live to stay true to the fundamental tenants that make this country great – liberty, prosperity, and justice for all – we should not be above looking at new ways to further improve the lives of each and every American citizen. And with this may come some unfortunate truths. Yes, we have the right to freedom of speech. But what are our responsibilities in having this right? Yes, we have the right to bear arms. But has the accessibility of guns gone too far? Some of these messages will not sit well with pockets of America, but in the coming days I would implore you to sit and reflect on how this country might continue to be improved.

Because we do not live in a perfect country. To evoke our forefathers, as well as the sitting president, we are always striving to “form a more perfect union” as that great document so nobly and modestly states. Neither those that came before or, nor those that will come after us, will form the perfect union. But we can all continue to work and toil and persevere to “form a more perfect union” with our fellow citizens no matter what their political affiliation.

The final thing we must learn is that the course we are on cannot sustain us. The culture of violence in this country has been unchecked for too long and has entered into all our lives. There is something wrong when a person with a political grievance believes that taking a gun to their local congresswoman and the surrounding supporters is a justifiable course of action. It may turn out that this man is mentally unbalanced and deranged. But are we prepared to wait until the messages and the ideas and the culture brings a person who is not unbalanced and is not deranged to perform the same act before we take action ourselves?

A day ago, a 14-year-old boy was shot dead in New York. Ten minutes prior, a man in his 20’s was shot in the head and killed. Roughly three hours before that, a 25-year-old man was shot dead. Within four hours, three men with their lives ahead of them were shot and killed within an area the same size a Tuscon. This was missing from the news, along with the hundreds of other shooting death that will occur this week. This is the culture of violence that we – politicians, the media, and wider American culture – has allowed to fester without check. This cannot sustain us.

When will we move to take action? When the tragedy touches us directly? When we are the ones laying flowers? When we speak from the pews? When we have the same loss and suffering in our heart that those poor families in Tuscon have right now? We must learn that something needs to change in this country. And we must ask ourselves how we can enact that change.

Over the coming weeks, I will be actively working with my colleagues in the state and the country over to assess what we can do to help America at this time of need. We will look at the help we can provide the families who have been affected by these events, the support we can provide Tuscon and Arizona, and the legislation we can build to benefit all Americans.

I, along with my colleagues, will return to our jobs, return to our districts, and return to our public lives to show you that we must not give in to the fear and the terror that accompanies events like this. For if we do, then they have succeeded in doing more harm to this country than we should allow. I will return to my offices tomorrow. I will return to my state in the coming days. And I will return to serving the good people who I represent in the best possible way I can.

You will notice a change in my rhetoric from here on. I implore my colleagues, the commentators on the side, and the pundits on the airwaves to do the same. They must first realise that without a change at the start of the line, we cannot possibly hope to effect change down the line. Throwing hateful and caustic rhetoric over the wounds that this event has opened on this country is a far cry from the healing that we need to go through. To politicise this event would be as disgusting as the event itself. A national silence needs to come down on the vitriol and the violence that accompanies news reports and punditry. Only then can we assess the way to move forward.

As I said, we – the politicians – and you – the media – must be the first to act.

To finish up, I would like to promise the citizens of this country that an event like this will never happen again, but I cannot. This country is not yet at a place where unnecessary and brutal violence is disappeared.

But the American resolve that has taken us through wars, through acts of terrorism, and the hardest of times is stronger now than ever before. The resolve to learn from this tragic event should fill every American’s mind. The resolve to form a more perfect union should inspire every American to good and true and proper action. And the resolve to treat your fellow citizen with the respect and love and kindness that you yourself deserve – no matter what their race, their age, their religion, their political beliefs – should fill each and every American’s heart. Because that’s the way forward for us all.

The way towards progress.

The way towards a more perfect union.

And the way towards the America we all dream about.

I would once again like to reiterate my condolences for those affected by this tragedy. I pay my respects to those victims and wish a healthy and speedy recovery for those that have survived.

– Delivered by: Any United States politician

Thomas.

Hypocrites galore

You know, in politics, it’s easy to get sickened by the hypocrisy that goes around. On both sides, I will admit, it gets beyond compare. I expect to see a lot more from the US, now with the GOP in charge of the House and the Democrats holding onto a slimmer majority in the Senate.

The first example is already creeping out of the shadows. Oh, forget that the Republicans are going back on a bunch of their election ‘promises’, this one is a procedural one. It’s what was termed the ‘demon pass’ by the GOP when the Democrats were in power, but now seems to be a perfectly reasonable and acceptable procedural process.

In the US, obviously the government has to pass a budget. When they haven’t passed a budget, there is designated time limits for the spending authority of the government. Every time the limit comes up, the chambers have to vote to reauthorise the government to keep spending. It comes up all the time, and the last time the authority to continue funding unemployment benefits came up for a vote it got filibustered by some Republicans in the Senate so that unemployed people missed out on their benefits.

Well, when the government hasn’t passed a budget, the House Budget Commitee chairman gets to set the uppermost spending level. In theory, they could say that the government can only spend $1 for the authorised period. They could, conversely, say the government could spend the total of the US budget if they wanted. Obviously the chairman is a reasonable, down-to-Earth person and might lift levels by inflation, or leave them at the previous spending levels.

The chairman of the 11th Congress (the previous one) didn’t get much facetime because, well, it was never going to be an issue for the Democrats. Even if they hadn’t passed a budget, the ‘higher ups’ could pass a note down to the chairman and orders would be followed. That’s what happens when one party controls all the chambers. It would only be a problem if the Democrats hadn’t passed a budget and had control of the Senate and the White House but not the House where the chairman comes from …

Which is exactly what has happened with the 112th Congress which sat for the first time this week.

Paul Ryan is the new Republican who is taking over the chairmanship. The new rules, as laid down by the House and will be adopted by the new session of Congress, will allow Ryan to set the level as if the budget had been passed. The ramifications of this are quite large, but that’s not what this post is about.

What is the problem is that the Republicans were crying like babies, wailing when the Democrats floated the idea that they would pass health care reform through this process, or there abouts. It would come to be called Slaughter Solution, not because of any other reason than the person who proposed it was House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter. The Republicans went crazy that everything they hated in the health bill would get through without them trying to obstruct it all they could.

Ignore the fact that the process is used on every bill or issue or law that comes up that isn’t high-profile.

Now what is happening? The GOP is actually going to use this chairman loophole to set funding levels. Like I said, the issues are huge. But they are more than happy to do it and set their own party-promised levels rather than, I don’t know, negotiating in full faith with the rest of the government.

There’s no outrage from the rank-and-file that they are using the process they were up in arms about earlier. And it’s this hypocrisy that makes me sick.

Thomas.

A valued guest post – A framework for changing the US political paradigm

Herein follows an excellent guest post from St. Ives. It has been some time since we had guest posts, which become more and more valuable as I slack in my efforts. It is very well thought out, as are any discussions that I have had with St. Ives when it comes to political processes.

A framework for changing the US political paradigm

With news of President Obama, like numerous other presidents of both sides, needing to make recess appointments to fill vacant government roles, it may be time to look at the process of confirmation and its place in the future of American politics. I would argue that many non-confirmable people are working in this Whitehouse and have worked in various past administrations as senior advisors. If the President wants advise from people he or she will get it and the new tsars in the Whitehouse staff create unclear lines of authority for various federal departments; almost making some cabinet members media figures, while the real work is done behind the scenes.

In short, I would change the US political process and scrap the system of Senate confirmation. In short, as Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) stated at a recent confirmation hearing for Justice Sotomayor “Elections have consequences.” Basically, presidents of all political persuasions are entitled to have whoever they want in their cabinet, as heads of military commands, as ambassadors (essentially representing them as the head of state) and dare I say it, on the bench. By abolishing all the time wasted on Senate confirmation for these positions, more time could be spent negotiating legislation.

Few could argue that harm could come from the loss of confirmation for the 6th assistant head of each government department, some would reasonably argue to loss of confirmation for members of the judiciary, rightly citing Harriet Miers. I would counter by suggesting that many a good judge has been passed over for the bench due to partisanship in the confirmation process and the difficulties with getting good people confirmed from both sides of judicial philosophy. Most other democracies manage to appoint judges through cabinet recommendation or other forms of executive action without the controversy that takes place in the US. With time this would hopefully settle down the heat that goes with filling Supreme Court and lower court vacancies. It would also clear the backlog of empty robs waiting to be filled. If necessary the constitution could be changed to make this come into effect ten years time to avoid partisan objections over the current incumbent being given too much power over the bench.

While big changes, why not amend the order of succession to replace the Senate Pro Tempore with the Senate Majority Leader?  The Majority Leader is a more national figure and probably more capable and reliable in a crisis than the SPT. I also note the call for a ban on lame duck session is out there again. Despite the productive work done during this session, it’s not a bad idea in reality. But I would instead bring forward the swearing in of the new congress to December 1, giving a month (give or take) for the votes to be counted and give incentive for the courts not to entertain spurious election lawsuits or at least allow for interim certification of results to take place. This would allow for an emergency session if needed in November and allow the new congress to start work early. I would also allow the new congress to pass a resolution bringing across all unfinished business of the previous congress for consideration.

Not there yete, but on the way …

Assuming the next few days of lame duck Congress go as expected, I imagine the Democrats (at least the base) will be reasonably pleased. More pleased than they will have been for previous year and a half. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has been repealled, Obama negotiated a tax deal which leaves the door open for a complete repeal of the wealthy’s tax cuts in two years, and the START Treaty (between Russia and the US on nuclear warhead numbers (for the most part)) looks set to pass.

The only thing that hasn’t pass is the DREAM Act which would have allowed illegal immigrants for the previous five years (who arrived as minors), who also students who graduated United States high schools, conditional permanent residency so long as they complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning. If this had got through, it would have been a monumental achievement.

But ignoring that, the Democrats will have a pretty good wrapsheet going into 2012. Not the greatest (and there will probably be some bitter taste of the pats two years) but still decent:

  • ‘Universal’ health care
  • DADT repeal
  • START Treaty
  • Tax cut compromise (ie. two years of tax cuts)
  • 9/11 First Responders Bill
  • The auto-bailout (which is actually delivering a return for Congress’ ‘investment’)
  • An ‘economic stimulus’ (which the effects have been seen: The US economy isn’t even worse …)
  • Wall Street ‘reform’
  • Student loan reform

I would say this is a pretty finite list as the GOP is about to take control of the House and the Democrat’s numbers in the Senate are about to drop. So nothing Democratic is going to get written up and passed through both chambers.

The things that will hurt include any argument they mount in 2012 (at least in the general election), based on the last two years, is:

  • No major immigration reform (ie. DREAM Act)
  • No major climate change reform (ie. the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate change act)
  • Guantanamo Bay is still open

It’s actually rather easy to sell deficits if you have the right PR campaign. The GOP will trot out the big numbers. A simple rebuke is to buy a full half and hour of primetime television and just go through every single program that has been funded for the unemployed, for healthcare and seniors, and for defense. Then point out that the Republicans can’t actually name any programs they would cut or end to balance the budget.

I would imagine the strategists are starting to map out some messages already. It will be dependant on the Republicans doing a pretty bad job over the next year and a half, being in charge of the House and having more sway in the Senate.

And it’s not so hard to imagine them doing a pretty horrible job …

Edit: START was ratified in the final day of Congress. Another act that was passed (which I had written off, as it was being blocked by one man (Tom Coburn)) was the 9/11 First Responders Bill, which provides for medical costs and treatment for those responders to the terrorist attacks and who have subsequentially become sick from the attack. Over 1,000 people have died who would have been covered by the bill. It’s tragic that it took 9 years for this to come about, but I suppose it’s better later than never.

Thomas.