Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

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The Tea Party: Fight the Future – Starring Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan

01.28.11

If you missed President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech on Tuesday, then you probably also didn’t get a chance to see the GOP and Tea Party’s rebuttals, presented by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin and Rep. Michele Bachman (R) of Minnesota.

Don’t worry: you can just rent it on DVD at your nearest Blockbuster (if those are still around in your neighborhood). Check out the cover:

Jokes, people. Jokes.

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Hump Day Catch-All: From Congressional Idealists to WikiLeaks Hackers to Westboro Protests

12.09.10

With so many items in the news of blog-worthiness, sometimes it helps to just offer a few tidbits of info for each.  Today is one of those days: I’ll be tackling tax cuts, DADT, Westboro Baptist Church and Elizabeth Edwards, and WikiLeaks.

Tax Cuts and DADT

For all the talk of bipartisanship and compromise, it seems that neither party is quite ready to give in on some topics to which they hold dear.  The Republicans in the Senate have blocked passage of a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” just missing out on the filibuster-proof 60 vote majority by only three yeas.  And across the hall in the other chamber of Congress, the House Democrats rejected the compromise tax plan unless certain changes were made — although, it’s unclear exactly what would have to be amended to get the necessary vote.

Dems: pass the compromise tax cut bill and swallow your pride — be grateful for the extended unemployment benefits and other stimulus that comprises much of the $900 billion in spending and reap the benefits of the expected economic recovery that comes with the tax cuts continuing.

Repubs: just side with equality for once and pass the DADT repeal — it’s going to happen eventually, anyway, and getting the tax cut for the rich should bolster support from your base even if they’re leery about letting gays serve open in the military.

All Things WikiLeaks

Wow. If you haven’t been following this story, it has huge implications and ramifications on privacy, government power, and freedom of the press.

It’s gotten to be like a total movie.  Assange has been arrested without bail and is currently incarcerated in England; meanwhile, hacker supporters of WikiLeaks have literally taken down – at least partially – the websites of Visa and MasterCard and PayPal for their actions — which was caving to government pressure to stop supporting donations to WikiLeaks.  I’m finding this whole thing fascinating and can’t wait to read up more on it.  Conspiracy theorists must be having a field day with this.

Wild to see how this man’s crusade against government secrecy will probably, in the short-term at least, end up causing even less transparency and possibly even more restrictions of freedoms in America.  Will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

Fiscal Austerity

Britain’s moved much more quickly on making the harsh decisions required to balance their budget that America keeps putting off: cutting spending.  People love the idea of cutting spending so long as it’s not the programs that they like or from which they reap benefits.

Students rioted in London today in response to the government’s decision to raise tuition fees threefold. I can’t say that I support their methods whatsoever — violence isn’t the answer — but, as a former student who is still paying off my thousands and thousands in loans, I can understand the frustration and anger.  Especially if I were against the policies that had been part of the reason why my country was in such fiscal disarray, I’d find it downright unacceptable to bear the brunt of the burden of paying it off.

It’s not like not going to college is much of an option these days. Taking a look at the current unemployment rates here in the States, the less-educated are the ones who are mainly out of work, not college graduates.  So by raising tuition, it’s basically saying that it costs that much more to be an active, productive member of society.  They have the right to be angry, even if their tuition rates are still relatively affordable compared to those here in America.  It’s not like the cost of living ever truly goes down.  And it’s not like wages really go up in concert with those costs.  Hence: rioting.

Westboro Baptist Church

The lovely folks down in Florida have decided to protest the late Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral with their traditional fare of “Thank God for Breast Cancer” and “God Hates Fags” posters and chants.  To understand this mentality is to be mentally ill.  There’s truly no other explanation for the kind of misguided hate that these people ooze consistently, aiming their extreme judgment on people in their time of deepest sorrow.  I pity them because they must be some of the most damaged souls out there, battling such horrific demons of their own that they need to project that darkness onto those they’ve never even met in most cases.

The free speech battle will continue, I’m sure.  I’ve said before my thoughts on it.  If we can restrict when and how people can shout the word “FIRE!” then it doesn’t seem to me a stretch to disallow protests at anyone’s funeral.  Although, perhaps I’m being overly protective on this one.  Maybe it’s a necessary evil to protect all of our free speech and right to assembly.

Conclusion

Doing these bite-sized views of multiple stories in one blog is not nearly as time-saving as I imagined it would be.  I just end up riffing too long on each subject that it gets to be rather lengthy accidentally.  For those of you still reading this, thanks for sticking around.

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Who Won in the Political Battle over Tax Cuts; and the Nature of Compromise

12.07.10

After scoping out the vast spectrum of reactions to the tax cut package that just passed through government, I’m left wondering where I stand on things.  I am still relatively new to this whole politics business and I find myself going “yeah, but” to both sides of the arguments (on the factual stuff, not the value-based ideology that gets tossed around a lot these days).

From what I can see, these are the major elements of the legislation:

  • 13 months of unemployment extension
  • 1 year of lower payroll taxes
  • EITC expansion
  • College tax credits
  • Estate tax reinstated but only affects the.25 percent of estates – those inheritances that are worth over $5 million
  • Tax rebates for the middle and lower classes

All of it adds up to about $700 billion added to the deficit.  For those keeping score at home, that’s roughly the size of the Recovery Act (aka, the stimulus).

So, where do I stand on this?

Good question.  Clearly there was compromise on the side of the Democrats in that they were against extending the tax cuts for the rich (who still would feel some of the effects of those proposed tax cuts, regardless, since all of their income under $250,000 would’ve continued to be taxed at the lower rate) and yet the tax cuts across the board is what got passed. Also the estate tax being reinstated but at a lower rate than before and only for a small amount of inheritances. Mark a couple in the win column for the GOP.

But there was compromise on the other side, too.  13 months of unemployment extension is a big deal, especially considering that it was paid for by the deficit, which is precisely what the Republicans did not want.  Throw in the college tax credit and the rebates to the middle- and lower-classes, and those are some wins for Democrats.

For those truly worried about the debt, well, it seems like those are the ones without any real silver lining other than perhaps the Bush-era tax cuts were extended temporarily instead of permanently, so there’s still a chance that the deficit-funded cuts could expire in two years.

There will be Democrats angry about this.  There will be Republicans angry about this.  It seems like from what I’ve read, the Democrats feel the most shafted.  Part of me agrees with that group; but, then part of me wonders: what exactly is compromise? You give up something and the other party gives up something, so you each get something but not everything you want.  Does it have to be an even split to be a successful compromise? Do you still have to feel like you “won” for it to be a negotiation you can live with?  And when it comes down to things like tax cuts versus unemployment benefits, are these exactly apples to apples?  Meaning: can you really trade one for the other and have it even be something you can weigh as one being equal enough to the other for their trade-offs to feel fair?

You can also define compromise as everyone being equally as disappointed.  It’s the cynic’s view of everyone getting something: everyone didn’t get something.  Which is fine so long as you also note that you’re not the only one who didn’t get something rather than just focusing on the items that you wanted but didn’t receive.

Either way: what’s done is done.  Some see a long-term strategy at play that, when spelled out, does make sense. But, is it a planned method to the madness, or is it just an attempt to find a pattern in the chaos?  I guess we’ll find out in a couple years, won’t we?

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Obama and Republicans Compromise on Tax Cuts to Keep Everything at Status Quo

12.03.10

With Obama essentially conceding the tax cut extensions for everyone including the richest Americans, he’s given into the situation that the Republicans set up into where he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

If he pushed for the tax hikes against the rich, then he’s the socialist that they claim he is; but, if he extends the tax cuts and adds $700 billion to the national deficit, then he’s the spend-happy left-winger who has no regard for the massive debt that they claim he is.

Let’s just look at the facts of the story:

QUICK RECAP:

Republicans are all for fiscal austerity when it’s for a $56.4 billion tab that affects the middle class but not when it’s a $700 billion bill for the top one-percent, wealthiest Americans.

I still don’t get how anyone can say that the GOP is the fiscally responsible party doing the bidding for the average American based on these positions they’ve taken.

Now, there will be negotiations in the final bills that are passed.  The one thing different about the tax cut extensions that will most likely end up passing would be that the GOP wants them to be permanent while the current plan would have them be temporary — probably two to three years long, at which point I’m sure we have this same argument to look forward to (unless it’s a Republican president at that point, which could be what the GOP is planning on so that they can then make them permanent at that time).  Dems are also looking to add in help for people paying back tuition and for small businesses who hire the unemployed.

These concessions by Obama haven’t gone over well with his fellow Democrats in Congress:

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he would oppose legislation that cuts taxes for upper-income taxpayers, even if it includes an extension of unemployment benefits and the accompanying tax cuts for the poor that the administration is seeking.

I get Harkin’s frustration, but he’s doing nobody any favors by digging his feet in to combat the Republicans digging theirs in.

So after all of this political theater, I predict:

  • Tax cuts extended for everyone

  • Unemployment benefits extended for another year

  • GOP continues to blame Democrats for being spend-happy liberals

  • Debt and deficit keeps ballooning out of control because no one in either party will take the political heat associated with the anger and negativity that will come from all sides when the drastic cuts and tax hikes that are necessary to balance the budget need to be made

Pretty much status quo.

Photo courtesy of snty-tact via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

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Lame Duck Congress Could Still Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy

11.18.10

With the Democratic majority ending in the House of Representatives – and becoming considerably smaller in the Senate – come January, we’re currently in what we call a “lame duck” session of Congress.

It remains to be seen what legislation they will pass, if any, but it looks like the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that forces gay service members to remain in the closet if they want to serve our country has a decent chance of passing.

Andrew Sullivan pins our hopes on Senate majority leader Harry Reid:

If Harry Reid allows a two-week debate on DADT, there may be 60 votes in the Senate for repeal, bypassing McCain’s bitter, and incoherent obstructionism. If I were you, I’d email Reid, not Obama, to lobby for repeal. It may be the last chance we get for years, now that the virulently anti-gay Tea Party has taken over the House.

Sullivan follows up with a recommendation: email Reid.

While I’ve been politically vocal for a couple years now — first on MySpace, then Facebook, and now this blog you’re reading here — I haven’t been all that politically active aside from voting in every major election since turning 18.  I have only once called a representative and now my second time was just now emailing Sen. Reid.  It took me barely a couple minutes.

I encourage you to do the same and join the majority of other Americans and 70% of active-duty and reserve troops to all agree that DADT needs to end. I have no idea how much good it will do, to be honest — but, it sure can’t hurt.  If we can take the time to forward on random jokes in email or post viral videos on Facebook, it seems like we all have the time to email the Senate majority leader to end a discriminatory policy like DADT.

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So, Government Can Create Jobs?

11.03.10
Official seal of the United States Department ...
Image via Wikipedia

According to Farheed Zakaria, the government can create jobs.

Not by directly setting up businesses or hiring people to work for the government, necessarily; rather, through investment in new technology.

CNN: Should they be government investments?

Zakaria: That’s what’s produced the semiconductor industry, it was government investment. That’s what created the internet. Al Gore may not have created the internet, but DARPA certainly did. That’s the Defense Department venture capital group. And GPS, the technology that’s now fueling the next internet revolution, the mobile revolution, that was also a U.S. Defense Department project. Those are now producing hundreds of billions of dollars for the private sector, all started by government funding.

Not all governmental spending is bad.  To make a blanket statement like that prevents you from adjusting to unique scenarios.  Life, and the global economy, don’t always adhere to one particular ideology.

And people inherently get this.  For all those screaming that they want government to stop spending, a strong percentage want them to do just that:

On spending priorities, 40 percent favored deficit-reduction, 35 percent “spending to create jobs,” and 19 percent cutting taxes.

Will be interesting to see what happens now with the divided Congress.  I, for one, am very curious.  I just hope that the American electorate won’t tolerate pure oppositionism as the sole GOP political theory for the next two years.  Americans deserve better than that.

I think the major issue is that people are out of work.  Decrease the unemployment rate, and the worries about the national spending will go down.  Not that we can ignore a $12+ billion dollar deficit; quite the opposite.  But, something needs to be done in the short term to get our consumer-based economy moving again.  Plus, we can reform the entitlements while at the same time investing in job growth.  We could, in theory, cut spending and also spend at the same time.

Because, like I said: not all spending is bad.

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3 Reasons Why the Tea Party Might Not Be a Game-Changing Movement

10.22.10

The Tea Party movement has been sweeping the nation for most of the past 18 months since President Obama took office. 

Much of the lead-up to the November 2nd election is not about if the Republicans will gain seats in Congress, but how many — and if they’ll actually win back both houses.  Much of that is owed to the Tea Partiers, who have won a number of GOP primaries.

Now, I’m not denying that there is a vocal segment of Americans who are fed up with… well, everything right now.  The economy, the unemployment, the spending, the taxes… the health care bill, the bailouts, TARP, Pelosi, Reid, Obama.

But is it nearly as big of a movement as our 24-hour news cycle would have us believe?

Here are a few reasons why I’m not so sure:

  1. The Tea Party haven’t (really) won anything yet. Sure, they’ve beaten out some incumbent Republicans in primaries.  But that’s about it.

  2. The Tea Partiers are more of a threat to the GOP than the Democrats. Tea Party candidates have knocked off some solid, traditional GOPers, most notably Rep. Mike Castle who lost the Delaware primary to Christine O’Donnell, who has a slim shot at defeating Chris Coons (D), while Castle (speculation) may have had a much better shot.  In that case, the Tea Party could end up being a liability to the GOP to re-take the Senate.

  3. No Tea Partiers are running for office as Democrats. It’s pretty clear that the country sways back and forth between Democrats and Republicans in waves.  Republicans dominated the 80s and the 00s while Bill Clinton handled the 90s.  In 2008, Americans voted heavily in favor of the Democrats, giving them majorities in both houses and the presidency.Now, I get that many of the issues on which the Tea Partiers are campaigning aren’t traditional Democratic Party stances: lower taxes and cutting entitlements. 

    But if the movement truly were all-encompassing the country, if it were truly capturing the sentiments of a strong majority of voters, it seems like it would’ve drifted into the Democratic Party even a little bit. It’s not like conservative-leaning Democrats don’t exist — I could see Sen. Ben Nelson running in accordance with some of the same ideas as other Tea Partiers.  There have been a number of Democrats who have voted in line with the Republicans on the major bills of the past nearly-two-years — why didn’t any Tea Party candidates emerge to challenge those seats?  Why are they only Republicans?

While much has been said about whether or not the Tea Party will defeat the Democrats in the general election in less than two weeks, it seems like not enough has been said about what this means for the Republican Party.  The Tea Party has gained a ton of traction due to the anti-incumbent mentality going around (natural when the economy is in the dumps — easy to blame those who are in charge even if they may not be the ones who are to blame); but that’s mainly hurt Republicans so far, not Democrats.

What the Tea Party represents are just Republicans in new clothes.  They’ve taken the anti-establishment, anti-elite tropes and run wild with them, riling up the base en route.  But they’re not new, as in converted from being Democrats.  And I think that’s why this is being misinterpreted.  Unless the Tea Party is convincing the moderates with their ideas to vote Republican this year — which I’m sure they have to some extent — they’re not going to be a game-changer at the polls.

Then again, it’s all speculation right now.  We’ll see in 11 days when the people vote.  I just wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not as revelatory as some think it will be.

Image courtesy of Fibonacci Blue’s Flickr Photostream.