Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Televised bipartisan health care meeting a good step

Posted by sanityinjection on February 8, 2010

As much as I have criticized President Obama and his Administration in this space, I have tried hard to give them credit when they do something right. The White House plans to hold a televised discussion on health care reform with Congressional leaders from both parties. This is a step toward fulfilling President Obama’s previous promises that health care legislation would be discussed publicly and crafted in a bipartisan fashion.

Of course, make no mistake about it, the Administration is only doing this because its hand has been forced – by disagreements within the Democratic caucus and by the loss of a Senate supermajority with Senator Brown’s election. Until recently, the Administration was only too happy to ignore its promises and try to ram through a partisan bill. Now that they can’t, it’s a new ball game, and Democrats are rightly worried that voters will punish them if they fail to keep their promises. As the saying goes, better late than never.

It’s possible that nothing may come of this conference. President Obama remains resistant to starting over from scratch on health care, and it seems unlikely that Republican opposition can be mollified by adding a couple of their ideas to a bill that they detest. Still, an open and inclusive process is an improvement in itself. Most of the biggest legislative achievements over the past hundred years or so came about with bipartisan support. Working with members of both parties tends to exclude extremist ideas and focus on those that can attract more broad support.  It also creates a give and take process – you get one of your ideas in the bill, we get one of ours. This can be time consuming, but as we have seen, one party rule is not necessarily fast or efficient either.

It’s a sad comment on the state of affairs in Washington when the occasion of Democrats and Republicans – and the Administration – actually talking to each other seems like progress. But progress it is, and let’s hope to see more of it.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

White House gate-crashers: A waste of time

Posted by sanityinjection on December 10, 2009

I’ve been resisting writing about this because I’ve been hoping it would go away. But it hasn’t. I am of course referring to the #1 news story of the century, the successful attempt by Tareq and Michaele Salahi to crash a White House party to which they were not invited.

I am flabbergasted by the amount of attention this incident has received – not from the media, whose warped priorities I am familiar with, but from Congress. The latest nonsense? The Salahis have been subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Wait a minute, you ask. Isn’t this a serious security issue that needs to be addressed? In fact, no. What everyone seems to be failing to understand is that the President, First Lady, and their distinguished guests were at no time in any danger as a result of this incident. People are acting as if checking to see if someone was on the guest list was the only security measure in place for the event. In fact, the Salahis, like every other guest at the function, had to go through a series of security checks – identity verification, body scans etc. – to make sure that they were not a danger. The Salahis passed these checks precisely because they were not terrorists and not carrying weapons. They were exactly who they said they were, and they were there to attend the function just like all the other guests. Had they been “evil-doers”, they would have been caught by the measures in place.

When you remove the security element, what you are left with is a simple case of unwanted guests. This does not require a Congressional investigation! Sure, the Secret Service and the White House Social Office should overhaul their procedures to make sure that future uninvited guests are not allowed to annoy the Obamas. But again, that is not a security issue. It is, however, an opportunity for self-important, posturing blowhard legislators to kick up a fuss and try to attract attention to themselves.

The subpoenas are even more ridiculous because the Salahis are guaranteed to invoke their 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and will refuse to answer questions. So they will get to sit there on TV – and remember, getting on TV was their main goal to begin with – and waste Congress’ time and the taxpayers’ money.

It’s time to drop this nonsense. If Congress wants to hold hearings into a  scandal, how about investigating Climategate? Now there’s a deception that could actually have serious consequences.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

What does NY-23 mean for the GOP?

Posted by sanityinjection on November 2, 2009

All the buzz in political circles today is about something called “NY-23”. That’s the abbreviation for the 23rd Congressional District of New York State. The reason for the hubbub is that the official GOP candidate in the race, Dede Scozzafava, has dropped out after conservatives surged to support third-party Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman – who doesn’t even live in the district. Hoffman is now likely to beat the Democrat candidate and win the seat, but some on both sides of the aisle are suggesting that this heralds the radicalization of the GOP and the end of moderates in the party.

As usual, the case is being overstated. First of all, Scozzafava had been handpicked by the local GOP county chairs and voters probably resented the echo of 19th century backroom politics. Second, Scozzafava wasn’t just a moderate Republican who could appeal to Democrats and independents. She was in the mold of Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Lincoln Chafee – far to the left of most Republicans in her district on both social *and* economic issues. In other words, in the GOP, you can be soft on abortion, or you can be soft on government spending, but you can’t be soft on both. Otherwise, why on earth are you a Republican at all?

If Hoffman’s coup really signalled the end of moderate influence in the GOP, that would be cause for concern. But as usual, the media and the political talking heads are reading too much into one event simply because it’s the only game in town. It was a far bigger coup in 1964 when Barry Goldwater captured the Republican nomination for President, and we were told that the moderate wing of the GOP was finished then too.  And certainly a conservative movement did spring from that, culminating in Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. But let’s not forget that Gerald Ford defeated Reagan for the nomination in 1976, and George Bush Sr. fended off a right-wing challenge from Pat Robertson in 1988. Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008 were not the most conservative candidates either. So spare me the funeral dirges for the moderate wing of the GOP just yet.

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Another common sense reform squelched in Congress

Posted by sanityinjection on September 23, 2009

This time, it’s a bipartisan bill that would simply require that any non-emergency legislation should have its full text published online for anyone to read for three days before a vote is taken. The idea is to give both members of the public and just as importantly, members of Congress, the opportunity to actually read bills carefully before voting on them.

You might wonder why anyone would oppose such a common sense reform. The answer is that legislative leaders have a much easier time ramming things through if nobody has a chance to read them. Not only does this tactic reduce objections from the minority party, but also defections from within the party in power. In other words, Speaker Nancy Pelosi can ask a freshman Democrat to support a bill, and that freshman is much more likely to go along if they don’t know what’s in it than if they read it and find things that would be problematic for their district. But it’s not a partisan issue – the same rules would apply regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are in power.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR). I commend these Congressmen as well as the 98 legislators who have signed on as co-sponsors. That’s about 1 out of every five house members, not too shabby. But the bill is stuck in committee going nowhere, and a petition to force it out is unlikely to succeed. (Some of the co-sponsors probably signed on in order to look good knowing it probably wasn’t going anywhere.)

If someone can easily discover the bill number of this legislation, please let me know, as I’d like to encourage my Congressman to support it, and I’d encourage others to do so.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Quote of the Day

Posted by sanityinjection on August 17, 2009

“Among its other capabilities, it would let me cook a meal while under nuclear attack. Now, let me tell you something. If the United States of America is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack.” – President Barack Obama, referring to upgraded “Marine One” Presidential helicopters included in the House version of the defense budget but not requested by the Pentagon

This is one issue area where President Obama, his former opponent Senator McCain, and I are in complete agreement. It is long past time for legislators to stop inserting pork projects in the defense budget that the Pentagon does not want, whose sole purpose is to keep government jobs and dollars flowing to their district. Congress needs to wake up and realize that those dollars are coming from taxpayers’ pockets and cheating our soldiers and veterans out of the equipment and medical care they need and deserve. Any legislator who inserts something like this in the defense budget should be named and shamed. The President has threatened to veto the defense budget if it comes to him with this sort of nonsense in it. While that may or may not be an empty threat (there is too much in the budget bill that is badly needed), I applaud the sentiment. Now if President Obama would insist on the same fiscal restraint with regard to domestic policy, rather than letting his fellow Democrats spend trillions of dollars without oversight, I’d think much more highly of him.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Cash for Clunkers” a perfect example of what is wrong with the federal government.

Posted by sanityinjection on August 5, 2009

Imagine if you could find one federal government program that exemplified everything that’s wrong with the federal government. Would you cancel it, or would you increase the funding for it? Well, if you’re the Congress of the United States of America, the latter of course!

I am referring to the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program, whose official name is the “Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS)”. This program, signed into law by the President on June 24, offers $4500 discounts toward the purchase or lease of a new vehicle, in place of a traditional trade-in allowance if you are trading in an older vehicle with poor gas mileage for a more fuel-efficient one. The program was initially funded at $1 billion, but that money ran out much more quickly than expected, so the House has approved $2 billion in additional funding. Fortunately, the Senate, where apparently some sane individuals still exist, is balking at holding a quick vote – mainly because the DOT is refusing to release the sales data that shows the results of what the first billion was spent on!

Unfortunately, the additional funding is likely to pass eventually – because the President wants it and because it’s difficult for politicians to vote against giveaway programs that put money in the pockets of their constituents. (There are no income qualifications for the program – Bill Gates and I would both get the same $4500 if we had eligible vehicles to trade in and were buying new ones that cost less than $45,000. That’s one reason for the quick drawdown of the funds.)

Fundamentally, this program is a half-assed, rushed attempt to do too much at once. It’s supposed to boost the auto industry and consumer economy, help the environment by replacing gas guzzlers with fuel efficient cars, and help people hurt by the recession. As a result, it largely fails in all three categories. Furthermore, it’s essentially nothing more than redistribution of wealth  – the federal government takes our tax dollars and redistributes them to somebody else in $4500 chunks.

Even a person of average intelligence could conclude, after a bit of thought, that most people participating in the program probably were going to buy a new car anyway, even if they had to wait a few more months. So the program isn’t generating additional car sales for the industry – just moving some of them sooner than later. An even brighter person might recognize that Japanese firms like Honda and Toyota make more fuel-efficient cars, so the program will probably help them more than struggling US automakers – which is in fact what the limited data available seem to indicate. As for the environment, if your new car only has to get about 4 MPG more than the one you’re trading in to qualify, how much of an impact can that possibly have?

So let’s recap all the ways in which this program typifies bad government:

1.  Rushing through ill-conceived symbolic legislation to throw money at a problem instead of really solving it.

2. Trying to achieve multiple, sometimes conflicting goals at the same time.

3. Blatant redistribution of income whose goal is political gain for its proponents.

4. Lack of sufficient restrictions on program to ensure that it actually meets the goals.

5. Refusal to share critical data on administration of program to avoid analysis of flaws.

6. Program torpedoed by basic failure to understand the workings of a free market economy (DOT Secretary LaHood insists the fact that the program ran out of money so fast is proof that it’s a great success.) 

7. Political pressure applied to continue program that has demonstrably failed.

All of these factors are extremely common in much of the dumb legislation that Congress passes. The only thing unusual about this particular program is that it so obviously displays every single one of them at once. This being the case, you would think that Congress would be happy to let it die, but in fact they want to throw twice as much money down the rathole.

This underscores a more general point about state and federal legislatures. Most of the damage that is done is not caused by legislators who are criminals or intend to do harm, but by massive amounts of stupidity coupled with cowardice and corruption. I salute those legislators – and the simple fact is that most of them are Republicans – who have the courage to vote against this demagoguery.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Quote of the Week

Posted by sanityinjection on July 29, 2009

“I think we need more adult supervision in Congress.” – Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), “Blue Dog” Democrat

Cooper’s quote is an open shot at the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives, which he feels has done more to harm the goals of the Obama Administration than to help them.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Redistricting reform is long overdue

Posted by sanityinjection on July 24, 2009

Continuing my series on Democrats with common sense and good ideas, meet Congressman John Tanner (D-Tennessee). For the third time, Rep. Tanner has filed legislation to change the way Congressional districts are drawn, taking the power away from partisan state legislatures and giving it to independent bipartisan commissions.

Every ten years after the national census is held, Congressional districts must be redrawn to reflect population shifts. (This also happens for state legislative districts.) However, through a process called “gerrymandering” (after Vice President and Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry), state legislatures design the districts so as to protect the party in power, often creating bizarrely shaped districts grouping communities that have little in common. Often race has been an issue, with legislatures being sued by those who claim that the gerrymandered districts are designed to benefit or harm voters of one race or another, causing courts to throw out some states’ redistricting plans.

More broadly, what gerrymandering does is protect incumbents by ensuring that their districts contain as many supporters from their party or demographic group as possible. This makes it harder for newcomers to challenge a sitting Congressman, on top of the advantages incumbents usually enjoy in fundraising and media coverage. Tanner also argues that, by creating “safe” Republican or Democrat districts, gerrymandering benefits candidates who appeal to partisan extremes rather than to the center – contributing to the sense of increased partisan antipathy in the House of Representatives (The Senate has always been less partisan and this is one reason why.)

Rep. Tanner’s proposal would require the legislatures to nominate independent commissions with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. The commissions would then redraw the maps, but would be prohibited from taking politics into account in doing so. Unfortunately, Tanner’s bill probably stands a zero chance of passage because so many of the people who will vote on it depend on their gerrymandered districts for re-election. That’s too bad, because it’s a common sense reform and one that is long overdue.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Congress to Obama: Don’t close Guantanamo without a plan

Posted by sanityinjection on May 20, 2009

Today is a proud day for the United States Senate. In a rare step, the Senate voted overwhelmingly (90-6!) to delete from a war funding bill $80 million to fund the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The House had earlier taken a similar step.

The move represents a consensus among Democrats and Republicans, and among those who oppose closure of Gitmo as well as those who support its closure – but not without a plan in place for what will happen to the 240 remaining detainees and where they will go. This represents as strong a statement as you will ever hear from the legislature. And what they are saying is that they do not trust the Obama Adminstration to work out the details without any Congressional oversight. The size of the vote is a slap in the face to the Administration. In Washington, losing a vote is one thing; getting destroyed by a united front of Republicans and Democrats is an embarrassment. I’m not certain, but I think it’s also the first time Obama has been denied funding for any of his major initiatives.

Even liberal members must have been getting flak from their constituents about the possibility of terror detainees being set free on US soil. Whatever their motivations, I congratulate Congressmen and Senators of both parties who stepped up and put the good of the country ahead of politics. That is a rare event in Washington and deserves to be celebrated.

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“Cap-and-trade” legislation: What the bill would really do

Posted by sanityinjection on April 10, 2009

The Wall Street Journal looks at the details of the proposed “cap-and-trade” legislation to limit carbon emissions and finds that the bill covers a lot more than many of us thought:

As usual with this Congress, the bill’s premise – a system that allows companies to trade carbon credits – is only the springboard for a smorgasbord of wide-ranging regulations on all sorts of products. And since Congress has already demonstrated with the stimulus bill that it doesn’t read legislation before approving it, why shouldn’t Democrat leaders feel they can stuff the bill with every nutty enviro-leftist idea they’ve come up with in the last 30 years? Remember, no one cares about the actual science anymore.

You can dish out a lot of punishment to the working stiffs of middle America. But let me tell you, if they pass a law that requires emissions upgrades that triple the price of John Q. Public’s John Deere riding lawnmower, there is going to be hell to pay. A man can only endure so much.

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