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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Hang on! Here we go again!

I’m sitting at my desk watching the floor and was surprised to see a stopgap spending bill (our first Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2012) go down in flames.

The bill would have funded the US government for a few weeks until a larger bill could be drafted. This bill would have funded the government only until November 18, 2011 at an annualized rate of $1.043 trillion, consistent with the level set in the Budget Control Act (which just passed a few months ago and was signed into law by President Obama). This level represents a $1.5% across-the-board cut from FY11 funding.
Personally, this vote should have been one of the easiest votes to take this budget cycle. It is temporary, it funds disaster relief, and it is a reduction in funding from the previous year. However, the legislation failed when Democrats pulled back their support in protest of cuts made to offset disaster aid in the package, and when Tea Party members complained about the overall level of funding in the bill.

The bill included $3.7 billion for disaster relief as part of the overall funding bill. Because Republicans and Democrats have publicly vowed to not add more deficit spending to these bills, House Republicans included $1.5 billion in cuts to a government loan program to help car companies build fuel-efficient vehicles to help pay for the relief funding.

Last week, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Norman Dicks, had backed the same bill but today, he reversed himself under pressure from his caucus, creating a more partisan battleground.

Another sacred cow (see my last post)! The measure failed by a vote of 195-230 and this is just to fund the government until November 18!

I know they will eventually pass something, but I have to believe that pushing the envelope to the last minute – particularly on bills that should pass – is the type of action that helps Congress maintain their 12% approval rating.  

At this rate, the ride to passing a full funding bill, and the implementation of the Super Committee’s recommendations on debt reduction, should be a rather bumpy and bruising one!  Hang on – its bound to get worse before it gets better.  

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Politics

 

What Did We Expect?

In its first nine months, the 112th Congress has seen lots of debate, tons of posturing, the drawing of lines in the sand. According to a recent Gallop poll, the American people have been watching and have a historically low opinion of what they have seen, giving Congress a 15% approval rating.

According to the polling data, a continually faltering economy, high unemployment, and what the public calls “partisan gridlock” are to blame for these historically low approval ratings. I can wrap my head around the economy, the continually abysmal jobs reports, and the uncertainty that exists within our financial markets as reasons for a disgruntled electorate.

But I must admit, as much as I hate the political bickering, I cannot help but ask myself, “what did we expect?” when we complain about the gridlock?

All summer I heard things like – “why can’t we just get along? The American people sent those officials to DC to work for us! They act like children!”

If you look at with a simplistic set of glasses, all of these statements are easily understood. But it’s not that simple. In 2010, the American electorate overwhelmingly elected a very liberal President. At the same time, districts all across America that supported President Obama, voted for ultra conservative members of Congress. Then we put these folks together in a room and said, go ahead, make nice and do good work for America. Well, I hate to say this, but President Obama’s view of what is good for America is probably different from a new Member of Congress, who was supported by the Tea Party movement, and his or her view of what is good for America.

I honestly believe that the President and the men and women elected to serve in Congress legitimately, sincerely, and passionately come to the table with good intentions. But the last nine months have demonstrated that on matters where the two principle political philosophies clash on their bedrock positions, intense debate will ignite passionate positions and little common ground exists to find compromise.

Even though the pre-summer debate on the Hill was ugly and sometimes nasty, it’s what we asked for. We elected a conservative majority in the House of Representatives, a liberal majority in the U.S. Senate, and a liberal President. What did we honestly expect?

Yet, despite these canyon-like differences in opinion and philosophy, Congress passed a compromise bill on funding the government and avoided a shut-down in March. Congress passed a compromise bill on the Debt Ceiling increase and avoided a default of U.S. debt.

As we head into the fall, we will likely witness an intense and spirited debate on further cuts and the jobs bill. At the end of the day, after what everyone out there will call “politics as usual,” there will most likely be a compromise bill that incorporates some of what each side wanted. It is important to note that numerous non-bedrock bills pass the House and the Senate every day with bipartisan support, but true and honest differences exist on those issues that define intense differences between the two parties.

The system works. It’s not pretty sometimes, but it works. It functions more smoothly when one party holds a majority over the House and the Senate. It functions even smoother when one party controls all branches of government. But the American electorate voted for a clash of ideologies in 2010 and in spite of those clashing philosophies, the system works.

For the last nine months, we have asked men and women with very different viewpoints to fix the major problems in America. But we have also tied their hands with comments like “you’d better not vote for a tax increase,” or “never compromise, stand firm, and just get the job done,” or “I will never support you again if you vote to increase the debt under any circumstance,” or “I know we have a deficit problem, but project x is just too important to cut.” Honestly, what did we expect?

Congress is nothing more than a reflection of us. We send a politically diverse group of people to Washington, set up unrealistic goals and objectives, demand “no-compromise” solutions, attack solutions and ideas on both sides, and demand that “sacred cows” be removed from consideration when trying to find solutions.

Do you agree with your neighbor all the time? If a cell tower is proposed for your neighborhood, does everyone agree with its placement? If you and ten of your friends sat around the table and discussed how to solve the budget deficit, would you all agree on one solution?

In a little over a year, we will go to the polls again. That is our next chance to change the way business is conducted in Washington. To the 85% who look at Congress unfavorably, I have only this to say: What did you expect?

In 2012, make a decision as to which philosophy you support and stick to it. In the meantime, stop whining and welcome to Democracy.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Politics

 

A Day that Changed Us Forever

As I sit here and think about it, I am shocked that it has been ten years since that horrible day that changed everything. And as I reflect further, it feels just like yesterday.

 

Just like our recent earthquake, I know we all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. That day started off quite normal. Up and out of the house early because I had a breakfast event to attend with my boss. It was a clear and beautiful fall morning in DC. As the morning went on, we all became aware of the new national security crisis our country was facing. A not very well known enemy, with what appeared to be minimal budget, was able to breach any security that existed at the time and transform commercial airliners into giant bombs. At the end of the day, thousands of innocent lives were gone, America’s false sense and expectation of security was shattered, and our economy was thrown into a free fall.

 

That night, when I finally got home, I attended a memorial service at church that was one of the most moving and emotional services that I have ever attended. I saw the same look of disorientation and disbelief on every face in that sanctuary.

 

On September 12, 2001, I drove into the Capitol through blocks of eerily deserted streets. I saw military airplanes, but no commercial flights in the normally busy 14th Street Bridge corridor since Reagan National was closed. There was a “new” security protocol in town and the open streets around the Capitol were being consumed for the new security perimeter that was being redefined as the day went on. I can’t help but think that the Capitol was one of the targets on the 11th, protected only by the brave men and women who stopped the fourth plane from reaching Washington. I went to work filled with a passion I have never felt before – a sense of patriotism and purpose. From that day on, I felt that my work took on a new importance and those who committed these horrific acts would never stop me or my colleagues from the public service we provided.

 

Over the last ten years later, I have questioned the road we have traveled as a nation. But some things are undeniable. I am grateful for those men and women who work so hard every day to keep us all safe and al-Qaeda, as it existed in 2001, is no longer.

 

I for one am glad that even in the face of some of the most difficult challenges our nation has addressed, the Congress, President Bush, and now President Obama, recognize the continued importance of funding these efforts. Immediately after 9-11, we hastily, and perhaps sloppily, launched a defensive anti-terror apparatus constructed from scratch.

 

However, in spite of some the setbacks and shortfalls associated with this strategy, it worked. These efforts kept us safe, even though they were some of the most controversial public policy decisions implemented in recent time.

 

I have always viewed 9-11 as our generation’s Pearl Harbor. However, our enemy is far more complicated and elusive. Our enemy has no home address. Our response required a different response and different resolve. As President Bush stated soon after the attacks,

     Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.

Since 9-11, our collective resolve has paid off. After 10 years, no major attacks. We have largely disarmed and defeated what once was Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. We have transformed the way we engage our enemy and we have developed the means to continue to pursue them at a decreasing cost.

 

Along the way, we have made many mistakes, particularly on the international front. Perhaps the next decade will refocus our energies on repairing these relationships as we move forward in peace, as a global community.

 

As I ponder and reflect upon 9-11, I will remember the events of that day, the accomplishments of the Bush and Obama administrations, the resolve of the American people, and the response from the rest of the world. As President Bush stated in September 2001,

 

       America will never forget the sounds of our national anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris and at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. We will not forget South Korean children gathering to pray outside our embassy in Seoul, or the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo. We will not forget moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America.

 

In light of the facts surrounding 9-11, the gravity of the destruction of life and property, the surprise attack, the nature of the enemy, and the relentless attempts to cause more harm to innocent people, I cannot help but conclude that we have been largely successful. But we have a great deal more to accomplish. We continue to rebuild, we show resolve, and we remain vigilant.

 

On this special anniversary, I reflect on the brave men and women who have fought on my behalf and paid the ultimate sacrifice to make this world a safer place for me and my children.

 

I hope we never forget these events, but move forward in a positive way. Most of all, I pray for all the lives that changed forever ten years ago and pray that we as a people – a collective global people – can one day live to the fullest potential that God intended for all of us, peacefully and with respect for one another.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in Life