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Tag Archives: United States Congress

That Jobs Plan Sounded Good…Then Reality Set In

Last week I listened to the president outline a new plan to help create jobs.  “Pass this bill right away!” the president implored.  Initially, I was right on board with what he was saying, and was impressed that instead of the non-stimulating shotgun approach of the first bill, President Obama was firing targeted rifle shots with each line.  Even better, he started off by saying the plan would be paid for.

Then, about 2/3 of the way through, things started going downhill.

First, the president pulled out some of the tried-and-true garbage talking points.  He spoke of removing tax breaks for oil companies (hey, that *could* bring in a whopping $2 billion a year!), of millionaires and billionaires that don’t need tax deductions, and of the rich paying their “fair share” (I’m STILL waiting for specificity on what exactly their “fair share” is).  he even pulled out Warren Buffet’s claim of paying less in taxes than his secretary (I suggest people read up on capital gains taxes vs marginal income taxes to understand why this is bogus).

Second, President Obama punts the responsibility for paying for the bill to the newly-formed supercommittee, who will already have to find a way to cut $1.5 trillion in spending before December.  Seems to me there is a difference between saying something is paid for and saying “well, THEY are going to figure out how to pay for it.”

Then, for the coup de grace, the bill is rolled out on Monday…and its designed to be paid for via tax increases.

Sigh.

Though I don’t support the idea of absolutely no tax increases, the move makes the president look downright indecisive.  Not only that, but he knows that under the current environment, the chances of passing his bill (which came under criticism from all sides shortly after the post-speech euphoria wore off) just went from possible to “snowball’s chance in hades.”  Granted, a bill may get passed, but it definitely won’t fly through paid for just with tax increases.

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Becoming President Can Make You Hypocritical

We’ve seen it many times. Candidate runs for President and says “I will do A, B, and certainly C.”  They then get into office…and suddenly, a few of those promises are conveniently forgotten.  With the recent actions in Libya, President Obama has joined the club.

First, a few quotes from then-Senator Obama about the US and military actions:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

Then-State Senator Obama on why the US shouldn’t go into Iraq, circa 2002:

“I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted U.N. inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity … But … Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors …”

Fast forward to 2011. Quaddafi is no threat to the US. They only produce 2 percent of the world’s oil. But not only are we participating in Operation Odyssey Dawn against Libya, we did so without Congressional advice and consent. A complete 180-degree turn on both counts, no?

Links:
“Q and A with Presidential Candidate Obama”

“From Iraq to Libya, Obama Becomes a Hypocrite”

Doom and gloom for Social Security, but folks aren’t serious about a fix

The latest report out regarding the fiscal health of Social Security is out:

New congressional projections show Social Security running deficits every year until its trust funds are eventually drained in about 2037.
This year alone, Social Security is projected to collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in retirement, disability and survivor benefits, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That figure swells to $130 billion when a new one-year cut in payroll taxes is included, though Congress has promised to repay any lost revenue from the tax cut.
Read more: Social Security fund will be drained by 2037

The problem is, agreement on a fix is a hard thing to pin down. Democrats want to fix the problem by simply eliminating the top end contribution cap. Currently, 6.2% of an earner’s income is deducted for Social Security until that person reaches $106,000 in income. Republicans (as well as members of the Debt Commission) recommend increasing the retirement age for future beneficiaries. Previous proposals from Conservatives involved privatization of a portion of Social Security. The concept had promise–an individual would have the choice (emphasize choice to put 3% of their Social Security contribution into a private account–but it never gained traction with the American population, due in no small part to the left painting a picture of a poor individual losing their entire Social Security account to a market crash or due to some unscrupulous bankers.
Even with the warning sounded of rough seas ahead for Social Security, I predict finding common ground between the two parties on the issue will be difficult. As it stands, the Social Security trust fund is nothing more than a myth, a figurative box of IOUs from the government to the tune of $2.5 trillion. And since the government is already borrowing money (to the record tune of $1.5 trillion projected in 2011), paying those back will be challenging.
President Obama stated in his State of the Union Address that he wanted “strengthen the program while protecting current retirees, future retirees and people with disabilities,” which seems to translate to “find some more money from somewhere but don’t touch benefits.” With ideas like that, it’s no wonder there are countless Americans who figure the return on investment made into Social Security from their paychecks will end up being a big fat zero.

What to expect from the State of the Union speech

Well, we’ve come to that time of the year again where we get to hear the pleasant present state of our Union. A quick history:

Seal of the President of the United States

Image via Wikipedia

  • The first SOTU address was by George Washington on January 8, 1791 in NYC.
  • Thomas Jefferson started mailing it in in 1801.  Literally.  He began th e practic e of writing the speech and having it read to Congress by a clerk.
  • Woodrow Wilson restarted the read-in-person tradition in 1913.

So, what can we expect this evening from President Obama?  Well, one would have to assume (and hope) that the most important topic of discussion will be jobs and the economy.  No doubt he will say that the previous stimulus was a success (though there is a lot of debate about that), and maybe even mention again that if not for that, the unemployment rate would be worse.  But I’m sure there will be some discussion of bipartisan efforts to get the economy really moving.

We should also hear something about debt reduction.  This will be a tricky area for the President and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t address it at all.  The response to the report from his Debt Commission was predictable–Republicans were upset about talk of tax increases and cuts to defense, while Democrats were opposed to spending cuts and eliminating tax deductions, not to mention making changes to Social Security (even though those changes would kick in around the time today’s 4 year olds will draw retirement).  If he steps up and emphasizes that people will need to buck up and take the pain, I’ll definitely give him props.  Especially since the bulk of the criticism would come from his own party, still mad at him for caving to Republicans on the extension of the Bush tax rates and on cutting payroll taxes.

With the recent shootings in Arizona, President Obama will definitely spend some time addressing the tone of rhetoric in the political sphere.  He will probably avoid pointing fingers at one party or another, but the topic can’t be ignored.  The aide to Gabby Giffords who helped save her life is supposed to be there so expect that to be one of the bipartisan applause moments.

Speaking of bipartisan, many members of Congress, in an effort to show unity, are crossing the aisles to mix with members of the opposing party.  Some are simply sitting with members of their own state’s delegation, while others are reaching out to colleagues they have known for years.  It will be an interesting visual, especially during those times during the speech when the President tends to make a comment that one party (or the other) stands and applauds.

So, lets get the popcorn ready.

Politicians: Let’s wait to avoid the political fallout

United States Capitol in daylight

Image via Wikipedia

One would think that politicians in Congress would think it normal to work all the time.  But it seems that there is usually a good excuse to be used every election year:  wait until after the election to avoid fallout.

What?  Are you serious?

I along with many other people believe in a saying that goes:  “what’s a politician’s primary job?  To get reelected!”  Now, maybe it’s that I don’t understand the game, or wouldn’t want to be a player in the game, or just think the game is stupid.  But to me, if I’m in congress to get things done and represent the people, then I should be constantly working on the important legislation of the day, and letting the chips fall where they may.  But let’s look at how the waiting game has been played by looking at the current lame-duck session.

In the last few weeks, there have been votes on bills to extend current tax rates, dont’ ask don’t tell, and the extention of unemployment benefits.  While some politicians (namely Dems) said before the election that they “didn’t have the votes needed to pass (insert legislation here)” before the election, other politicians went on record condemning the action.

Quite frankly, the entire “we have to pass it now or the unemployed will lose their benefits and everyone will get a tax increase” drama was unnecessary.  Regardless of what we heard in the media, are we to believe that there was seriously a concerted effort to hammer out those issues before the election?  I think not.  Both sides sensed blood in the water, and for the side in danger, they didn’t want to put themselves in a worse position.  Don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize the free access to the Congressional spa, do we?

Debt reduction–when cutting spending isn’t really cutting spending

Upon further review of the Debt Commission report that got shot down last week, I found something interesting that most of us don’t even realize.

Budgets in Washington tend to factor in an automatic annual increase in spending.  In other words, every year the amount spent on a given program goes up regardless of necessity–and trust me, we all know that an organization will find a way to spend the money in order to avoid a budget cut.  Anyway, when the debt commission spoke of spending “cuts,” there was outrage from both sides (depending on the program to get the cut).  But it turns out there were smoke and mirrors involved.  The commission did not recommend actual cuts.  What they did recommend was a reduction of the annual budget increases.  In other words, they said “instead of programs x, y, and z getting automatic annual increases of 3%, lets just allow them to increase 2%.”

What??

Translation:  they couldn’t find actual spending cuts to be made!  No reductions in spending.  No freezes in spending.  Just a slowdown in growth.  Just wow.

I wish I could operate my home budget the way these folks run Washington!

QuickHit: Charlie Rangel on trial–it could be ugly

Congressional Rep Charles Rangel from NY will be on trial this week on ethics charges.  Rangel has been in Congress for many years, representing his Harlem district.  He has already threatened to walk out due to the fact that he ran out of money to pay his legal team.  Look for this one to be popcorn worthy.

More here: Rangel Ethics Trial Begins

Quack! Quack! The Lame Ducks are here! What to watch for.

No, I’m not talking about all those Canadian Geese that are blocking traffic and crapping all over your lawn.  I’m referring to the “Lame Duck” session of congress.  For the uninitiated, the term refers to the congressional session between the elections and the beginning of the new congressional term, when many of the members of congress are simply biding their time before they are shown the door and replaced.  It’s a time where lots of shenanigans can occur; if you’ve been voted out and you only have a few weeks to “live,” you can vote on some things with no concern as to how it will affect you.

In this case, congressional democrats originally had lots of plans for the session.  Unfortunately, November 2 hit like a category 5 hurricane and messed up their plans.  But no worries, there will be fireworks.  Here is a sample of what to watch for:

  • The biggest issue to be resolved will be the extension (or not) of the Bush Tax Cuts.  Republicans want all of them made permanent.  Democrats want to draw the line at people making $200k/$250k individual/family.  There is talk of a 2 year extension of all cuts, but Obama and Pelosi are holding firm that they want no compromise.  Another compromise by Senator Chuck Shumer (D-NY) popped up over the weekend.  We will see if anyone pays attention.
  • The estate tax, aka the “death tax,” if not addressed, will go from 0% back to its original level of 55%.
  • Funding of the government is currently done via a temporary spending bill.  Congress will have to put in place a new spending bill for the year.  Should be a simple thing, right?  No.  Dems are refusing to accept a Repub proposal to hold spending at 2008 levels to reduce spending.

Other things that may come up include “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (which needs to go), the DREAM Act (a little too soon and too controversial right now), and the Alternative Minimum Tax, which could hit a lot more people if nothing is done.