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Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Stimulus Package Passes

The first test of the new Administration’s clout on Capitol Hill ended earlier this evening with a party line vote on the much talked about stimulus bill.  All week long we have heard about bipartisanship and working together.  Despite the talk, there was no way to overcome the fundamental philosophical differences that exist between our two political parties.

Today the House voted 244-188 (with 11 Democrats joining 177 Republicans in opposing the bill) to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, H.R. 1, also known as the Stimulus Bill.  

Everyone agrees that there is a problem with our economy; however, the fundamental differences between the parties precluded a bipartisan solution to the problem.  In one 15-minute vote today, the House of Representatives spent the equivalent of all the revenue the U.S. Government collects in one single year.

That is an astonishing fact, but pales in comparison to some of the representations made in support of the legislation.  For instance, proponents of the bill state that the legislation will create or save 3 million jobs.  But at what cost?  With a price tag of $825 billion, that means American taxpayers are spending about $275,000 for each new job created.

I try hard to look at all sides of these complex debates and I have tried to analyze this matter as best I can without looking at the talking points and sound bites.  No matter what your political affiliation, today’s actions should cause you concern.

All this week and last, GOP efforts to include some of their amendments in the legislation were ignored.  GOP supporters called for more tax relief and despite the criticisms, everyone, including the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (known as CBO), acknowledged that tax cuts will impact the economy more quickly than big government spending.

Perhaps more to the point, analysis by President Obama’s senior economic advisors also demonstrated that tax cuts provide a bigger bang for the buck.  Earlier today, when the methods and economic models developed by the President’s top advisors were applied to a non-partisan estimate of the tax relief provided by an alternate measure to H.R. 1, it demonstrated that the Republican substitute could create 6.2 million jobs over the next two years, or twice as many jobs for half the cost to the American taxpayer.

Despite these facts – not sound bites – all efforts to include these concepts in the final product were ignored and dismissed.   If you are reading this, I am sure we do not agree on everything, but I hope and trust that we all can agree that some of the “stimulative” spending in this bill is not truly stimulative.

As a matter of fact, I would like to challenge someone to demonstrate how funding for climate change research, federal building repair, and AmeriCorps, is stimulative.  What about the $335 million appropriation for sexually transmitted disease education and prevention programs? How exactly does that stimulate the economy?

The bill also includes $650 million in coupons for Digital TV converter boxes and $137 billion, with a “b,” to create 32 new government programs. There’s $1 billion for the consistently deficit-ridden Amtrak; $2 billion for child-care subsidies; and $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, which is known for generating controversy, not jobs.

Spending obviously must be part of the formula, but spending on this level, with no real hope of job creation, is not stimulus.  As a matter of fact, each of the 152 earmarks in this bill should have been considered in the normal and regular legislative process of Congress, not in this large initiative, which was supposed to be a true economic stimulus package.

Tonight President Obama stated that he was disappointed that the legislation did not garner any bipartisan support and continued by saying that he hopes the final product that ultimately comes to his desk is a better product.  But back on Capitol Hill, where the new era of bipartisanship was summarily crushed this week, the stimulus bill was written based on the wish list of every living interest group in America. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it, “We won the election. We wrote the bill.”

The Democrats did win, but as I said back in November, it is easy to talk about governing – it is much harder to actually govern.  Good leaders, those that secure their place in history, don’t keep reminding you that they won.  They lead.  The leadership in Congress vowed to work in a bipartisan manner for what was best for the United States.  By any account, they have failed miserably to live up to the promises of reform they made to the American voter.

Tonight, I hope for the sake of all of us that President Obama gets his wish for a better product, but I fear that the majority’s arrogance will prevail – even over the objections of the President.  And if that happens, the Republicans should let the Democrats take all of the credit for today’s vote, and the ramifications. 

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Posted by on January 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Missing the Mark on Bipartisanship

According to Webster’s dictionary, the meaning of bipartisanship is “of, relating to, or involving members of two parties; specifically marked by or involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties.” 

The new Obama Presidency struggled with the concept of bipartisanship in Washington this week and to the new President’s credit, he stood by his words and promises and did his best to include the members of both political parties in the discussions of the day – specifically, how to craft the President’s $800 plus billion dollar economic stimulus plan. 

On the heels of the inauguration of our new president, Congress set about doing its business by crafting an $825 billion stimulus bill.  As you have heard before, watching legislation go through its process is like watching someone make sausage.  If you have ever watched someone make sausage, you know it is not a pretty site.  And this was no exception. 

While the GOP has been trying to define their role in the new environment, I believe many members of the party were relieved to hear President-Elect Obama earlier this month state that he welcomed Republican ideas on the stimulus.  More importantly, this week, he responded to GOP requests to be heard on the stimulus and said he thought some of their ideas had merit.

To stick with the analogy, this was probably the gathering of ingredients we need to actual begin making sausage.  Then the grinding began…

House Democrats unveiled their version of a $825 billion dollar stimulus, drafted without Republican input.  Speaker Pelosi stated that “Our Republican colleagues had some constructive suggestions which we will review,” and she continued after the meeting with the President by stating “I have a very good feeling coming out of this meeting that we’ll be able to reach more bipartisanship.”

There’s that word again!

As the week progressed, the majority was frustrated with the minority and the minority felt like they were only getting lip service, and not much more.  So where does the bipartisanship that everyone mentions come into play?  Is it the act of listening or is it something more? 

Without listening to the other side, two opposing views can never reach compromise. Obviously, hearing proposals with thoughtful attention and consideration are at the very core of listening.  But the word “bipartisan,” by its very definition, implies moving beyond the act of listening.  Bipartisanship includes action, like involving, cooperating, agreeing and compromise. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be what happened this week in Washington.  Our leaders stopped at the “listening” phase.

The House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey let Republicans offer amendments to the plan’s $358.1 billion that falls under the jurisdiction of this committee and then proceeded to explain why none of them were worthy of passage – and none of them did.  The committee approved its bill by on a strict party line vote of 35-22. Democrats warned that action is needed soon to help the struggling economy, while Republicans questioned both the size and content of the package.

Over at the Ways and Means Committee (the other committee with jurisdiction), members met to mark up the plan’s $275 billion tax portion of the economic stimulus bill.  After turning back Republican attempts to change it, the panel approved the tax section of the broad draft legislation on a party-line vote of 2413. Republicans unsuccessfully offered amendments that would have further reduced income taxes, eliminated taxes on unemployment benefits, “patched” the alternative minimum tax for 2009 and expanded tax incentives for home purchases.

The actions this week on the Hill hardly rise to the level of bipartisanship.  Listening is important, but without any commitment or willingness to move past listening, we cannot reach the goal of bipartisanship.

According to the Wall Street Journal, during the meeting with the President this week, one Republican Senator questioned the President over why Congress should accept a certain piece of the package.  According to the account, participants said the new president replied simply, “I won.”  Based on what I have learned about this President so far, I find it difficult to image that he actually said this, but making sausage is difficult work.  Nevertheless, the American people want the hope and promise of this new Administration to rise above comments like the alleged one reported by the Journal. 

2009 presents what I believe is a monumental, and perhaps a once in a lifetime, opportunity for a truly bipartisan discourse in government.  Republicans failed to engage to do so, which is why they were “unelected.”  However, less than one week into our new government, it pains me that our new leaders appear to be heading down the very same path yet again. 

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Has Change Really Come to America?

I drove into work this morning and was struck by the fact that most of the gates were removed, the security barricades were gone, and screening facilities from yesterday were removed. As I drove through what was a massive screening and holding location yesterday, it dawned on me that less than 18 hours ago, we all witnessed history with the Inauguration of Barack Obama.

There was excitement in the air, people of all races and backgrounds became friends on long lines and even longer metro rides. As I waited for the security guard to clear me to enter the Capitol, I stopped and thought what a fragile state our country is in.

Could the good feelings of yesterday be wiped away as easily as the barricades were removed, or will all of us that were on the grounds of the Capitol yesterday leave this place and return to their respective homes with this sense of history, cooperation, and collaboration for the good of the nation?

This morning I logged onto the White House website and saw the message that read “Change has Come to America.” I want and pray that change has landed on our doorsteps and I hope that change has truly come to America. But as I sat in the crowd of 1.8 million people yesterday, my excitement, hope and joy of the day was replaced by the harsh reality that we as a nation will never change until and unless we are willing to embrace change.

No one – neither Republicans, nor Democrats, conservatives nor liberals – are immune from a failure to embrace change. And no matter how often we say Change has Come to America, we can’t just will it to happen, we must all embrace it.

The “event” that triggered all of this concern for me was the introduction of the 43rd President of the United States yesterday. As George W. Bush was introduced, the crowd erupted in loud roar of boos and hisses – reminiscent of an angry mob at a sporting event. But here is the difference; this was not a sporting event. The fight was over, George W. Bush’s party lost the Presidency and we were there to honor the historic nature of the inauguration of America’s first African American President and the time honored tradition of our peaceful transfer of power. The protests and objections against the Bush Presidency are over. The message was heard. His party lost. OUR new President won.

I did not agree with everything the Bush Administration did, but I do know this – George Bush ran for election, won the election (twice) and held the office of President of the United States. If you don’t respect the man, one should at least respect the office. I did not vote for Barrack Obama, but I respect the office he has attained. I want him to be successful and I pray that he is able to accomplish half of what he sets out to do. And I know that President Obama wants us all to work together, because as he said yesterday, “together, we can do anything.” The first step in achieving that goal is to stop looking in the rear view mirror and start looking ahead.

There are too many challenges that stand before us. We cannot afford to point fingers or lay blame. That is not the tone of our new President and hopefully he will inspire those who decide to stand still or even move backwards to rethink their decision.

Today we stand at the threshold of a new day. We have added a new milestone in our collective history. And it will all be for not until we all embrace the hope that President Obama espouses. If we as a nation don’t take this opportunity to walk this journey with our new President, his vision of “Change has Come to America” will never truly be realized. And what a shame that lost opportunity would be for all of us.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2009 in Uncategorized