Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘congress’

Four big lies about the debt ceiling

Posted by Richard on June 7, 2011

Tea Party Patriots, the wonderful umbrella organization of Tea Party groups across the country, is challenging head-on both Republicans and Democrats with regard to the so-called debt ceiling crisis:

At this very moment members of congress are trying to decide what pieces of America's future they will trade away as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling. We've had the chance to talk with many of them. And even most of those who claim to be on the side of fiscal responsibility are giddy with excitement that they can trade their vote on this debt ceiling "crisis" in exchange for a handful of magic beans offered by the liberals.

Our answer is simple.

It is not acceptable to use the future of America as a bargaining chip.
Do not raise the debt ceiling.
PERIOD.

They've identified four big lies that, in countless variations, we're going to be told over and over again in the coming weeks: 

Big Lie 1 "The current financial crisis was inherited."

Bush created all of these problems.  We are trying to solve them but it's much worse than we thought and it will take years for our solutions to have an impact."

Big Lie 2 "There's no way to cut enough spending. So we must raise the debt ceiling."

"There's no way to cut enough spending. So we must raise the debt ceiling. If we don't raise it America will not be able to pay back its creditors and the rest of the world will never trust us with money again. It will be a disaster!!!"

Big Lie 3 "We can haggle for some really great deals now that we have them over a barrel."

Members of the republican "leadership" will tell you this lie.

"Raising the debt ceiling is inevitable; and the democrats want it so badly they're willing to give us some really great deals in order to get it. We can take advantage of it and get some cool stuff in exchange for our votes. It'll be great!"

Big Lie 4 "You just don't understand all of the complicated details. Let us handle it. We're smart."

Their responses to the first three lies are excellent (I haven't see the fourth part yet). 

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 (I'll update with links to 3 and 4 when I have them, but I suspect they'll appear on the home page at some point). And please donate what you can to help them counter these lies. If you care about your future, your children's future, your grandchildren's future — this battle is very, very important.

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Making felons out of bloggers

Posted by Richard on June 3, 2011

Copyright law in this country is already pretty screwed up, and it's obvious that the entertainment industry has Washington wrapped around its little finger. But who would have thought that a bill like S.978 would be given serious consideration?

From time to time, I embed YouTube videos in my posts. As Mike Masnick noted, doing so if this poorly drafted bill passes could get me five years in the slammer:

If you embed a YouTube video that turns out to be infringing, and more than 10 people view it because of your link… you could be facing five years in jail. This is, of course, ridiculous, and suggests (yet again) politicians who are regulating a technology they simply do not understand.

This is so wrong in so many ways. First of all, as Masnick pointed out, the drafters seem to know little or nothing about such things as streaming, linking, and embedding, and they throw in an undefined phrase like "performing by electronic means" without a clue as to what the consequences are.

Secondly, what happened to fair use? When I embed a video on this blog, I don't charge people to watch or listen. How is what I'm doing any different from inviting some people over to my house and playing the same song or video? Or will that soon be a crime, too?

Thirdly, even if this is legitimately a copyright infringement, how in the world does it rise to the level of a felony with punishment comparable to burglary or bank robbery? Why isn't it simply a civil matter?

And furthermore, there's the issue of mens rea. It used to be a well-established (hundreds of years of common law precedent) principle of the law that, to be guilty of a criminal act, you have to have criminal intent. 

The critics of mens rea often pompously declare that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." Nonsense. With laws and regulations with the force of law now running into the millions of pages, how can anyone not be ignorant of the law (or at least a large portion of it)?

The "reasonable person" test should apply. If a video is posted on YouTube and hasn't been taken down at the request of the copyright holder, a reasonable person (like me) can reasonably presume that either it's not subject to copyright or the copyright holder has chosen to allow its dissemination.

S.978 deserves to die an ignominious death. Contact your senators and let them know what you think of this ridiculous bill. 

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Netanyahu’s address to Congress

Posted by Richard on May 25, 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress today, and he rocked the house. NewsBusters has the video and transcript. I strongly suggest you watch or read it. Here's a taste:

… A great convulsion is shaking the earth from the Khyber Pass to the Straits of Gibraltar. The tremors have shattered states and toppled governments. And we can all see that the ground is still shifting. Now this historic moment holds the promise of a new dawn of freedom and opportunity. Millions of young people are determined to change their future. We all look at them. They muster courage. They risk their lives. They demand dignity. They desire liberty.

These extraordinary scenes in Tunis and Cairo, evoke those of Berlin and Prague in 1989. Yet as we share their hopes, but we also must also remember that those hopes could be snuffed out as they were in Tehran in 1979. You remember what happened then. The brief democratic spring in Iran was cut short by a ferocious and unforgiving tyranny. This same tyranny smothered Lebanon’s democratic Cedar Revolution, and inflicted on that long-suffering country, the medieval rule of Hezbollah.

So today, the Middle East stands at a fateful crossroads. Like all of you, I pray that the peoples of the region choose the path less travelled, the path of liberty. No one knows what this path consists of better than you. This path is not paved by elections alone. It is paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.

Israel has always embraced this path, in the Middle East has long rejected it. In a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted, Israel stands out. It is different.

As the great English writer George Eliot predicted over a century ago, that once established, the Jewish state will “shine like a bright star of freedom amid the despotisms of the East.” Well, she was right. We have a free press, independent courts, an open economy, rambunctious parliamentary debates. You think you guys are tough on one another in Congress? Come spend a day in the Knesset. Be my guest.

Courageous Arab protesters, are now struggling to secure these very same rights for their peoples, for their societies. We’re proud that over one million Arab citizens of Israel have been enjoying these rights for decades. Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights. I want you to stop for a second and think about that. Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of one-percent are truly free, and they’re all citizens of Israel!

This startling fact reveals a basic truth: Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East. Israel is what is right about the Middle East.

Israel fully supports the desire of Arab peoples in our region to live freely. We long for the day when Israel will be one of many real democracies in the Middle East.

Read the whole thing. Better yet, watch the video. It's a really great speech. I wish the GOP had a leader who speaks with such clarity and forcefulness. 

UPDATE: I was anxious to post the above, and did so after seeing less than a third of the speech. Now that I've watched the whole thing, I'm even more impressed and even more strongly urge you to watch the whole thing (45 minutes) rather than simply reading the text (which omits the many ad libs and fails to convey the elegance with which it was delivered). It's an impressive lesson on how a great leader can effectively communicate important ideas simply, directly, and with grace, humor, and passion. Simply outstanding.

And did you notice, in the passage I quoted, the reference to "when governments permit protests in town squares"? That's the Sharansky Test for a free society!

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America’s message to GOP: don’t cave!

Posted by Richard on April 7, 2011

The President’s meeting with John Boehner and Harry Reid ended a short time ago with no agreement, but all three claimed they were getting closer to averting a government shutdown. That concerns me, because if past history is any indication, getting closer to an agreement means the Republicans are giving ground.

Before they indulge in their natural inclination to cave and compromise, I hope Boehner and the GOP leadership take a deep breath and consider some recent poll results. For instance, this Rasmussen poll released Tuesday (emphasis added):

In the ongoing budget-cutting debate in Washington, some congressional Democrats have accused their Republican opponents of being held captive by the Tea Party movement, but voters like the Tea Party more than Congress.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters say when it comes to the major issues facing the country, their views are closer to the average Tea Party member as opposed to the average member of Congress.  Just 22% say their views are closest to those of the average congressman. Even more (30%) aren’t sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

This shows little change from a survey in late March of last year.

Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters think the Tea Party movement is good for the country, consistent with findings since May 2010. Twenty-six percent (26%) disagree and say the grassroots, small government movement is bad for America. Sixteen percent (16%) say neither.

Or this one from last Friday (emphasis added):

A majority of voters are fine with a partial shutdown of the federal government if that’s what it takes to get deeper cuts in federal government spending.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 57% of Likely U.S. Voters think making deeper spending cuts in the federal budget for 2011 is more important than avoiding a partial government shutdown. Thirty-one percent (31%) disagree and say avoiding a shutdown is more important. Twelve percent (12%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Or this Fox News poll from today (emphasis added):

American voters would rather shut down the government than raise the debt limit, even though most believe a shutdown would have a dramatic effect on everyday Americans.

A Fox News poll released Wednesday asked voters to imagine being a lawmaker in Washington who had to decide whether to increase the debt ceiling. The poll found 62 percent would vote against raising it — even at the risk of shutting down the government.

About one-in-four voters (26 percent) would raise the limit to allow the government to spend more.

Or this Tarrance Group poll from a couple of days ago (underlines in original):

Voters have turned the corner and have made clear their support for deep cuts to the budget. Nearly three quarters of voters (73%) say it is very important that the budget include “significant” spending cuts.  When it comes to $100 billion in cuts, only 23% say this percentage is too high, while a majority (63%) says $100 billion is too low (34%) or about right (29%). This is virtually unchanged from February, when 21% said $60 billion was too high, and a majority (67%) said the figure was too low (36%) or about right (31%).
Supporting $100 billion in cuts would result in a net positive political impact for members of Congress.  A majority (55%) are more likely to support their member of Congress if he or she supports these cuts, while only 24% are less likely.  This is also similar to February, when 52% were more likely to re-elect their member if he or she supports $61 billion in cuts.…

When presented with three arguments about raising the debt ceiling, less than a quarter of voters most agree with the argument that the debt ceiling needs to be raised in order to avoid things like a shutdown and Social Security checks not being mailed.  In fact, a plurality chooses to NOT raise the debt ceiling at all:

30%:  Some people say that Congress should only raise the debt ceiling if it can also guarantee real, significant spending cuts starting this year.  We will never balance the budget until we drastically cut the amount of money we spend.

22%:  Other people say that Congress must act to raise the debt ceiling regardless of whether it includes spending cuts, or else the United States government will shut down and will default on its obligations, such as not being able to make Social Security checks and salaries for police and teachers.

 42%:  Still other people say that we should NOT raise the debt ceiling even if spending cuts are made because the nation must eliminate the trillion dollar debt we face instead of adding to it.

The message to the GOP leadership is clear. The American people (at least those most likely to vote) have recognized the utter seriousness of this nation’s fiscal crisis and want bold action, even if it involves temporary pain. The Democrats are in complete denial, whistling past the graveyard. If the GOP wants to be taken seriously as the party willing to address our fiscal problems seriously, they must resist the urge to compromise, wheel, and deal. Stand firm for once, you bastards!

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It’s called the stupid party for a reason

Posted by Richard on March 31, 2011

The Republicans have been pushing for $61 billion in spending cuts for FY2011 (significantly less than the $100 billion they promised before the election), and the Democrats have been denouncing even that modest cut as "draconian" and "extreme."

You'd think this would be a challenge the GOP would be eager to take on. If you have even a modicum of communication skills and public relations savvy, how hard can it be to ridicule the absurd argument that cutting $61 billion — 1.6% — out of a budget of $3,700 billion is "draconian" and "extreme"? It barely puts a tiny dent in the $1,600 billion deficit. Do they really fear that the average American can't grasp that point?

Let's put the federal fiscal crisis into comparable (approximate) household numbers that people can relate to: Let's say your household income is about $42,000 ($3500/month). But you're spending about $74,000 ($6167/month). And you're putting the $32,000 difference on your credit cards (on which you already owe over $300,000). Would cutting your spending by less than $100 a month really be "draconian"? Does it even seriously address the terrible financial situation you're in?

To me, this seems like an argument that's a slam-dunk win, especially in the political climate that gave us the Tea Party movement and resulting electoral tsunami of last November. And yet, the Republican leadership seems terrified of taking a hard stand and drawing a line in the sand. According to the Washington Post, they're ready to cave — settling for $30 billion in cuts and giving up on defunding anything — and Dan Mitchell isn't pleased: 

Yesterday, I analyzed how the GOP should fight the budget battle, but I may have made a big mistake. I assumed the Republican leadership actually wanted to do the right thing. I thought they learned the right lessons from the disastrous Bush years, and that the GOP no longer would be handmaidens for big government. And I naively assumed that the Republican leadership would not betray the base and stab the Tea Party in the back.

I thought the GOP leadership would fight and get a decent deal rather than unilaterally surrender. If the Washington Post report is true and Republicans act like the French army, it will discourage the base and cause a rift with the Tea Party. So it’s dumb politics and dumb policy.

And that display of cowardice by House Republican leaders follows on the heels of the report that Senate Republicans are going to agree to support a debt limit increase if the Democrats merely allow a symbolic vote on a balanced budget amendment. No, Democrats don't have to support it — they just have to allow a vote, which the Republicans are guaranteed to lose. A repeat of a vote they've already had (and lost), a vote that they could force by parliamentary means in any case. In other words, they're giving up their biggest leverage in return for … nothing.

Stupid party seems like such a mild and inadequate term.

There are a few shiny gems amidst the steaming pile of cow-flop that is the GOP. Sen. Marco Rubio won't vote for a debt limit increase unless it comes with a whole bunch of serious conditions: 

"Raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure." So said then-Sen. Obama in 2006, when he voted against raising the debt ceiling by less than $800 billion to a new limit of $8.965 trillion. As America's debt now approaches its current $14.29 trillion limit, we are witnessing leadership failure of epic proportions.

I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Bravo. Read the whole thing

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Constitution? What constitution?

Posted by Richard on March 20, 2011

In October 2002, President Bush asked for and received a joint resolution of Congress, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq (Public Law No. 107-243), authorizing military action against Iraq. Libertarians like Rep. Ron Paul argued that it wasn't technically a declaration of war, which is what the Constitution calls for Congress to do (even though similarly-worded resolutions were considered sufficient to pass Constitutional muster going all the way back to the early days of the Republic). But he asked Congress before attacking, and Congress approved overwhelmingly (297-133 in the House, 77-33 in the Senate).

Today, our current Commander in Chief launched a massive attack on Libya. Without a joint resolution of Congress. Apparently, without even considering whether he needed permission from Congress. Apparently, President Obama believes that the permission of the United Nations is all he needs.

Leftist critics insist that the Iraq War violated international law. Set aside the validity of that claim for a moment. The President of the United States doesn't take an oath to uphold international law, he takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Obama went to war without so much as a gesture toward abiding by the Constitutional provision reserving the war-making power to Congress. 

Paging Cyndi Sheehan! Paging Code Pink! Paging International A.N.S.W.E.R! When can we expect to see massive anti-war demonstrations in the nation's capital and cities throughout the land? When can we expect a new tent city to be erected? When will we see the "Behead Obama" signs, the cries of "war criminal," and the calls for impeachment?

I'm not holding my breath. 

UPDATE: Bless her heart, my representative has voiced concern

DENVER – U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (CO-1) tonight issued the following statement regarding President Barack Obama's decision to begin military action in Libya without securing Congressional authority.

"I am concerned by President Obama's decision to commit U.S. forces in Libya without involving Congress. This action may require substantial U.S. resources. While there is no question that Gaddafi's regime is brutalizing the people of Libya, launching military action against another nation requires Congress be fully informed so we can exercise our Constitutional authority.

"I therefore call on Speaker Boehner to call an emergency session, returning Members to Washington, so the President may address a joint session of Congress and be given the opportunity to make the case for war."

DeGette seems to believe the Constitution merely calls for Congress to be "involved" or "informed" (I doubt that she believed that from 2002-2008). But at least she's saying, "Hey, what about Congress?"

UPDATE 2: Instapundit called it the blog comment of the day. I'd rank it much higher. It may be the single most perfect comment I've seen posted anywhere in a very long time. Go right now and read "What I like about Obama"!

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Joe Walsh wins

Posted by Richard on November 18, 2010

By the narrowest of margins, Joe Walsh has defeated Rep. Melissa Bean in Illinois' 8th District congressional race. Bean conceded today after the final vote tally showed that Walsh won by 291 votes out of more than 200,000 cast. In October, I posted about Walsh and donated to his campaign. Visit that post to watch what I described as "one of the most effective one-minute videos I've seen in a while." Here's his six-point campaign pledge:

  1. I will not serve more than 3 terms in the House (6 years), if so privileged.
  2. I will not receive any health plans or retirement benefits that only congressmen get and that aren’t available to all Americans.
  3. I will not vote for any legislation which increases the size of government or isn’t supported by the Constitution.
  4. I will never add an earmark to any bill.
  5. I will always speak my mind and tell my constituents the truth.
  6. I will always be accessible to my constituents and hold town halls on a regular basis, in good times or bad

I'm very pleased that Walsh eked out a well-deserved victory. I expect that he'll be one of the stars of the big freshman class in the next Congress. 

UPDATE (11/19): In honor of Jed's clever comment (below), here's a classic 70s performance by Joe Walsh — the other Joe Walsh — of his signature song. Turn it up! 


[YouTube link]

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GOP senators approve earmark ban

Posted by Richard on November 17, 2010

Senate Republicans adopted Sen. Jim DeMint's two-year moratorium on earmarks Tuesday, challenged Democrats to do likewise, and called on the President to veto any bill containing earmarks. Two Democratic senators, Colorado's Mark Udall and Missouri's Claire McCaskill, have called on their caucus to follow suit. 

When the people lead, their leaders will follow. 

UPDATE: Just spotted this, via Instapundit (and read his post for a reader's idea about verbing "Murkowski"): 

Even as Senate Republicans approved a "moratorium" on congressional earmarks, a small but significant contingent of the caucus is openly vowing to flout the new rules.

Led by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the contingent is "going rogue" against the party's leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who Monday made a high-profile switch to back the earmark ban.

Murkowski, who appears to have warded off a tea party-backed challenger in a run-off campaign, is leading the charge.

Tuesday, she offered a novel defense of seeking earmarks for her state, saying that Alaska, a “young” state admitted into the Union in 1959, hasn’t been able to enjoy earmarks for as long as the other states.

The vile Murkowski's defiance of the ban got support from Sens. Inhofe and Cochran, conditional support from Sens. Alexander and Graham, and the backing of lame-duck Sen. Bob Bennett, who thankfully was defeated in his primary and will be returning to civilian life none too soon. 

BTW, the Daily Caller's contention that Murkowski appears to have won re-election is still strongly disputed by her Republican opponent, Joe Miller. Read his response to the 5 myths going around about the state of the election, and if you can, donate a few bucks to help him with the legal and other expenses related to the continuing vote count.

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McConnell backs earmark moratorium

Posted by Richard on November 15, 2010

Sen. Mitch McConnell has felt the heat and seen the light:

If the voters express themselves clearly and unequivocally on an issue, it’s not enough to persist in doing the opposite on the grounds that “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” That’s what elections are all about, after all. And if this election has shown us anything, it’s that Americans know the difference between talking about change, and actually delivering on it.

I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents.  And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.

Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.

That should put an end to the stealth pro-pork movement in the Senate GOP ranks. With McConnell backing the DeMint proposal, I expect many of the other squishy Republicans who haven't declared yet to fall in behind their leader. FreedomWorks hasn't updated their tracking tally on the issue yet. If your senator is in the Not on Record column, you may still want to call or email — politely! The vote is scheduled for Tuesday. 

UPDATE (11/16): Senate Republicans adopted a two-year moratorium on earmarks today , challenged Democrats to do likewise, and called on the President to veto any bill containing earmarks. Two Democratic senators, Colorado's Mark Udall and Missouri's Claire McCaskill, have called on their caucus to follow suit. 

When the people lead, their leaders will follow. 

 

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Support the earmark moratorium

Posted by Richard on November 13, 2010

*** UPDATE (11/15): Sen. McConnell has felt the heat and seen the light. ***

Next Tuesday, we'll find out how many Republican senators have learned the lesson of the last four years. That's when the GOP Conference votes on Sen. DeMint's earmark moratorium. House Republicans are solidly behind the pork moratorium. But in the Senate, minority leader Mitch McConnell seems to be quietly trying to line up opposition to DeMint's proposal. And he seems to have support from the usual suspects — Inhofe, Graham, Alexander, Shelby, and other members of the Republican wing of the Ruling Class.

On Wednesday in National Review's The Corner, Sen. Tom Coburn laid out the case against earmarks and demolished the specious arguments of the Ruling Class Republicans defending them. Here are some excerpts from his column (emphasis added): 

It’s true that earmarks themselves represent a tiny portion of the budget, but a small rudder can help steer a big ship, which is why I’ve long described earmarks as the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington. No one can deny that earmarks like the Cornhusker Kickback have been used to push through extremely costly and onerous bills. Plus, senators know that as the number of earmarks has exploded so has overall spending. In the past decade, the size of government has doubled while Congress approved more than 90,000 earmarks.

Earmarks were rare until recently. In 1987, President Reagan vetoed a spending bill because it contained 121 earmarks. Eliminating earmarks will not balance the budget overnight, but it is an important step toward getting spending under control. 

… This is not a struggle between the executive branch and Congress but between the American people and Washington. … An earmark ban would tell the American people that Congress gets it. After all, it’s their money, not ours.

An earmark moratorium would not result in Congress giving up one iota of its spending power. In any event, Republicans should be fighting over how to cut government spending, not how to divide it up.

Our founders anticipated earmark-style power grabs from Congress and spoke against such excess for the ages. …

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, spoke directly against federally-funded local projects. “[I]t will be the source of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get the most who are the meanest.” Jefferson understood that earmarks and coercion would go hand in hand.

If any policy mandate can be derived from the election it is to spend less money. Eliminating earmarks is the first step on that path. The House GOP has accepted that mandate. The Senate GOP now has to decide whether to ignore not only the American people but their colleagues in the House. …

In recent years the conventional wisdom that earmarks create jobs has been turned on its head. The Obama administration’s stimulus bill itself, which is arguably a collection of earmarks approved by Congress, proves this point. Neither Obama’s stimulus nor Republican stimulus — GOP earmarks — is very effective at creating jobs.

Harvard University conducted an extensive study this year of how earmarks impact states. The researchers expected to find that earmarks drive economic growth but found the opposite.

“It was an enormous surprise, at least to us, to learn that the average firm in the chairman’s state did not benefit at all from the unanticipated increase in spending,” said Joshua Coval, one of the study’s authors. The study found that as earmarks increase capital investment and expenditures by private businesses decrease, by 15 percent specifically. In other words, federal pork crowds out private investment and slows job growth. Earmarks are an odd GOP infatuation with failed Keynesian economics that hurts local economies.

FreedomWorks' Now We Must Govern project is tracking where GOP senators and senators-elect stand on this issue. A link on that page takes you to their "Call Congress: Ban Earmarks!" action page. If one of your senators has not yet taken a stand on earmarks (most haven't; not even those secretly working against the DeMint proposal), please take a minute to call their office or send an email and politely demand that they honor the wishes of the American people and renounce pork. 

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Joe Walsh: This year’s different

Posted by Richard on October 9, 2010

I've been a fan of Joe Walsh the musician for many years. Now I've become a fan of Joe Walsh the congressional candidate. He's running against incumbent Melissa Bean in Illinois' 8th District, and he's got one of the most effective one-minute videos I've seen in a while. I hope he's putting this message in ads, and not just on YouTube.


[YouTube link]

The race is a dead heat (41-41), according to the most recent polling. Polling firm We Ask America has moved the contest from the "probable Democrat" category to "too close to call." 

Check out Joe Walsh's political philosophy and his six-point pledge:

  1. I will not serve more than 3 terms in the House (6 years), if so privileged.
  2. I will not receive any health plans or retirement benefits that only congressmen get and that aren’t available to all Americans.
  3. I will not vote for any legislation which increases the size of government or isn’t supported by the Constitution.
  4. I will never add an earmark to any bill.
  5. I will always speak my mind and tell my constituents the truth.
  6. I will always be accessible to my constituents and hold town halls on a regular basis, in good times or bad

If you're in that part of Illinois (northwest of Chicago), lend this man a hand. Wherever you are, consider making a donation to his campaign. I did.

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Stop calling them tax cuts

Posted by Richard on September 17, 2010

I saw a Nancy Pelosi soundbite tonight in which she claimed that Republicans were blocking a "tax cut for the middle class" unless Congress also enacts a "tax cut for the wealthiest Americans." I believe it was Orwell who said that if you let your opponent control the language and define the terms, you'll lose the debate. We're not arguing about cutting anyone's taxes.

The phrase "Bush tax cuts" gets over 10 million hits on Google. I use it myself all the time. But it has distorted the debate, and it's time to reclaim the language. What's on the table is whether tax rates go up or not — not whether they go down.

The Tax Foundation has a nice explanation of why the Bush tax cuts (there I go again) are expiring:

During the legislative fight over tax cuts in 2001, Senate Republicans could not predict with certainty that they would reach the 60-vote threshold of support that would have enabled them to make the tax cuts permanent. As a result, when Congress passed the first of many tax cuts during the last decade in May 2001, it passed it as a reconciliation bill which needs only 51 votes. That was the so-called Bush tax cut, formally known as the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA, pronounced egg-tray).

Reconciliation was devised in 1974 as a way to for the Senate to deal more effectively with budget bills, but it soon became a technique to limit amendments and debate. In 1985, the Senate added the so-called Byrd rule to reconciliation. Named after Senator Robert Byrd, the rule forbids a bill passed under reconciliation from, among other things, altering federal revenue for more than 10 years. Any senator may object that a provision violates that stricture, and if the presiding officer agrees, a vote of 60 senators is required to overturn the ruling.

Overall, 62 senators supported H.R. 1836 as amended by the Senate, thereby sending it to conference. In the end, 58 senators voted in favor of the conference report.  Nevertheless, because the bill was passed under reconciliation, revenues further than 10 years in the future could not be changed. And so, on December 31, 2010, all of EGTRRA will expire and revert to 2001 law.

The 2003 tax cuts mostly accelerated the original tax cuts, but also put in place new tax cuts for dividends and capital gains. The 2003 tax cut, known as the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) was also passed under reconciliation.

So, in a nutshell, here's what happened: In 2001 (and again in 2003), Congress voted to cut tax rates through 2010 and to raise them again in 2011. Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Party members, most economists, and the majority of likely voters are calling on Congress to rescind the 2011 tax increase and leave tax rates as they are today. That's not a tax cut. That's simply maintaining the status quo.

Believe me, I'm all for really cutting taxes. What the President keeps bragging about doesn't count — those aren't tax rate cuts, they're targeted tax credits with two purposes: behavior modification and rewarding his allies.

But for right now, the subject being debated is whether to allow the largest tax increase in history to take effect on January 1, at a time when unemployment is at near-historic levels and most businesses large and small are already afraid to invest in the future and hire new employees. The subject being debated is whether to administer a potent poison to an economy that's already extremely ill. 

So let's quit talking about "extending the Bush tax cuts" and use more accurate language: we want to stop the tax increases. 

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Stupid leader of stupid party fumbles tax issue

Posted by Richard on September 14, 2010

On ABC's "Face the Nation" this past Sunday, House minority leader John Boehner (SR-OH) totally screwed up on the issue of the impending tax increases, which was shaping up as a big winner for the Republicans. This kind of unforced error is why some of us call his party the Stupid Party, and it reminded me of why I wanted the Republicans to choose Pence over Boehner as minority leader back in 2006.

Here's what Boehner should have said:

"The President doesn't need any Republican votes for his plan to increase taxes on the job creators and small businesses of America. The Democrats have a commanding majority in the House, and there is no filibuster or other procedural mechanism by which we Republicans can prevent the Democrats from passing whatever bill they want.

"The President wants Republicans to abandon their opposition to a tax increase in order to pressure the more responsible members of his own party. Growing numbers of them are disturbed by his class-warfare rhetoric and rightly fear that a tax increase in the midst of a deep recession, while appealing to his far-left base, would do serious harm to this country. Neither I nor any other Republican will help him with his ill-considered, dangerous plan."

That wasn't so hard, was it? If a humble blogger out in flyover country can come up with that answer, why can't the big-shot politico who's supposed to be providing leadership for the party that purports to be for lower taxes, limited government, and fiscal responsibility? 

I'm not a big fan of Sen. Mitch McConnell, but he gets a big shout-out from me this time for attempting to counter the harm done by the bone-headed Boehner: 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said on the Senate floor today that he is introducing legislation "that ensures that no one in this country will pay higher income taxes next year than they are right now."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for McConnell said today that every Senate Republican has pledged to oppose any attempt to extend the Bush tax cuts that doesn't include an extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy. McConnell himself has given similar remarks. "That's the kind of debate that unifies my caucus, from Olympia Snowe to Jim DeMint," McConnell said, the Washington Post reports, referring to one of the most moderate and one of the most conservative Senate Republicans.

On the Senate floor today, McConnell said, "Only in Washington could someone propose a tax hike as an antidote to a recession."

If the anti-Democrat tsunami that many are predicting actually takes place (which probably depends on idiot Republicans like Boehner not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory — not a safe bet by any means) and the GOP takes control of the House, I sure hope there's a clean sweep of the leadership. Mike Pence for Speaker of the House!

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The Pelosi recession

Posted by Richard on August 6, 2010

Every political pundit in the country will admit that presidents get too much credit when the economy is good and too much blame when it's bad. And then they'll promptly forget that. Everyone does it, myself included. For what seems like forever, pundits and politicians on the left and right have been blaming Bush and Obama, respectively, for the current economic mess. Certainly, both deserve blame, but neither deserves as much as he gets.

Bush was never much into fiscal discipline to begin with. And in his final three years — with his popularity sagging, his focus on turning things around in Iraq, and his own party in Congress abandoning whatever commitment to their professed principles they had, shoveling out pork by the ton, and wracked by scandals — he seemed to give up on the domestic front. His efforts to do something about Fanny and Freddie, for instance, were half-hearted at best. Eventually, to his shame, he bought into the neo-Keynesian clamor for stimulus and bailouts. 

Obama, in my opinion, deserves a larger share of blame because he isn't just going along with destructive economic policies, he's the author and chief advocate of them. In the Senate, he was one of those pushing Bush into the destructive decisions made in final two years, and in fact complaining that Bush wasn't spending, stimulating, and bailing enough.

But let's not forget that all spending bills must originate in the House and that Congress is the source of all legislation of any kind. A president can propose and can veto, but that's about it (to his further shame, Bush was unwilling to veto irresponsible spending bills, even when he was still popular and had majorities in Congress). 

So I suggest a little less blaming of Bush or Obama and a little more examination of the historical record. When did things really start falling apart and deficits start ballooning? Why, in 2007 (FY2008). After the Democrats regained control of the House.

Democrats will shout (they always shout) that Bush inherited a balanced budget and turned it into huge deficits. Yes, initially. In the wake of the 2000 dotcom collapse and 9/11 (you do remember 9/11, don't you?). But then, Bush did one great thing domestically: he vigorously fought for lower taxes. And in 2001 and 2003, the Republican Congress cut tax rates significantly. These were across-the-board rate cuts, not the kind of picayune targeted tax credits, picking winners and losers, that we get from the Democrats.

Critics have tried to rewrite history, but the 4 years after the first tax cuts took effect in mid-2002 were a period of remarkable economic growth, rapidly declining deficits, and historically low unemployment. I outlined the facts in July 2006 in a fine fisking, if I do say so myself, of a New York Times editorial. Read the whole thing, but here are some key facts: 

  • Annual GDP growth was 4%, well above the average since WWII.
  • Unemployment declined to 4.6%, well below the average for the preceding four decades.
  • Tax receipts were up by double digits each year, once again proving Arthur Laffer correct — tax rate cuts don't reduce revenue, they stimulate so much growth that revenue increases. (Some of us would argue that that's the dark cloud in the silver lining of tax cuts. 😉 )
  • The deficit declined from 4.5% of GDP ($450 billion) in FY2004 to 1.2% ($160 billion) in FY2007, and was on a glide path that would have balanced the budget by October 2008 (FY2009) had Congress not changed course.

The last time things were going nearly as well was in the years after the Republicans took over the House in 1994, before the "Gingrich revolution" fizzled and (like during the second Bush term) the Republicans lost their way. 

Bush bears responsibility for doing some good things and some bad things, and Obama bears responsibility for doing some bad things and some worse things. But the major responsibility for the fiscal and economic state of the nation always resides in Congress, and particularly in the House.

Things go to hell when the Republicans abandon their core principles and when the Democrats have the power to act on theirs.

If you have to hang a single individual's name on it, this is properly called the Pelosi recession. 

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The latest racist code word is “ethics”

Posted by Richard on August 3, 2010

Apparently, the Tea Parties aren't the only racist organizations in America. Apparently, the Democratic leadership in Congress is racist, too, because they're finally, belatedly, taking seriously long-standing evidence of corruption by members who happen to be black. I guess when Tom DeLay, Mark Foley, and Randy Cunningham were run out of town in disgrace, it was reverse racism.

So what have we learned about racism in the past few months? If you quote the Founding Fathers, you're a racist. If you support lower taxes and less spending, you're a racist. If you oppose the government takeover of health care, auto companies, and the financial sector, you're a racist. And now it turns out that if you expect ethical behavior from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, you're a racist. 

Hey, it's not tax evasion, graft, and corruption — it's just the free-lance pursuit of reparations! 🙂

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