Tuesday, August 28, 2007

bark vs. bite: blue dogs or just dogs?

An editorial in Monday's Wall Street Journal sounds an alarm about the so-called "Blue Dogs" and their purported fiscal conservatism. Baron Hill is a (proud) member of that group and I remember him repeatedly claiming that he was a fiscal conservative during the campaign. Hilarious!

The data are clear that Hill is fiscally conservative...for a Democrat. But that's like getting the highest grade of those who flunk an exam. (His Republican opponent, Mike Sodrel, was a fiscal moderate within the Republican party-- no great honor.) In the past, Hill received D’s from the National Taxpayers Union. Hill has averaged 13% from Citizens Against Government Waste and was consistently rated "hostile" to taxpayers.

The 'Blue Dog' Moment
So far, they're spending like other Democrats.

A high-stakes budget showdown is shaping up this fall between President Bush and Congressional Democrats. The debate will also be a moment of truth for the so-called "blue dog" Democrats: the 48 self-described fiscal conservatives in the House Democratic Caucus.

The bone of contention is the $22 billion in domestic spending that Democrats passed in their budget resolution above what Mr. Bush requested in his own budget. The Democratic spending plan would increase non-defense expenditures by 6.5% next year--more than double the inflation rate. The White House is threatening vetoes if Democrats pass spending bills above Mr. Bush's limit, which could possibly lead to a government shutdown. Republicans have already lined up the necessary House votes to sustain any spending veto.

The blue dog Web site boasts that its mission is to "refocus Congress on balancing the budget and ridding taxpayers of the burden of debt"....But Republicans can't do that on their own: they need the votes of these moderate Democrats.

Here's the rub: So far this year the blue dogs have been almost all bark when it comes to fiscal restraint and debt reduction. Thirty of the 48 have voted for every one of the non-defense spending bills their committee chairman have sent them. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is enforcing party discipline, and as a result 28 of the 48 blue dogs voted "no" on each of the 27 amendments that Republicans proposed to cut the costs of these bills. The 13 freshman Democrats who represent conservative districts--such as Heath Shuler (N.C.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Zack Space (Ohio), Nick Lampson (Texas)--have been a particular disappointment; back home these same blue dogs trumpet their "independent streak."

Voting records from recent years confirm that the blue dogs are less than consistent spending hawks. The National Taxpayers Union did some checking and found that the blue dogs had an average fiscal score of 24 out of 100, earning them a grade of D as a group. It also found that last year the blue dogs sponsored $145 of new spending for every dollar of budget reductions, for a net spending increase per member of more than $140 billion.

The blue dogs are consistent on one fiscal issue: stopping tax cuts. As a group they opposed the Bush tax cuts and the extension of those tax cuts, and a super-majority vote requirement to raise taxes--all in the name of easing the debt burden on future generations. But those concerns evaporated when all but nine in the blue dog coalition voted to expand the Schip health-care program to include many middle-class families, at a cost of $132.6 billion over the 2008-2017 period.

So in the weeks ahead we will see whether the blue dog Democrats work to reduce the $22 billion spending bonus their party leadership is seeking. They were elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and we are about to find out if they meant it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

one more reason Congress is so partisan…

In an essay entitled “Why is Congress so partisan?” in the Jeff-NA Tribune, former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN) wrestles with the question implied by the editor’s choice of title. Hamilton opens by recounting an anecdote and providing his thesis:

Early in my U.S. House career, I trekked over to the Senate to watch a debate between Hubert Humphrey and Barry Goldwater, two of the great ideological warriors of the era. I remember the heat they generated as the two men -- knowledgeable, passionate, and deeply committed to their vastly different points of view -- went at each other hammer and tongs. I remember just as keenly what happened afterward: They joked together as they left the floor, heading off to have a drink.

In the intensely partisan atmosphere that reigns today on Capitol Hill, it is much less common for two legislators to pursue their beliefs with such intensity of purpose, yet remain fast friends or work together when their interests coincide.

From there, he proceeds to analyze this increase in political animosity. (I always hesitate when I hear comparisons to the good ol’ days. But for a variety of reasons—including what Hamilton wrote and what I’m adding here—I think Hamilton is correct.) He starts with redistricting in general and gerrymandering in particular—and argues that it’s led to more extreme representation in Congress. From there, he talks about the role of interest groups, a more partisan public, the greater struggle in the last decade to become the majority party in Congress, the Congressional schedule, and the lack of “institutionalists” (people like Hamilton who put the institution of Congress on a higher pedestal than individual or partisan achievement).

In the end, he seems optimistic that things can and will change:

My hope, oddly enough, lies in the low standing Congress currently enjoys. For all its faults, it does respond to public pressure, and if enough Americans let their members know that they're unhappy with the intense partisanship they see, change will come.

Here, Hamilton is confusing/conflating the institution with the individuals who occupy that institution. The public is generally quite content with their own representatives but unhappy with Congress as a whole. Since we can only change our rep, nothing is likely to change.

In terms of his analysis, Hamilton underestimates one of the causes and in pointing to two symptoms, ignores the chief cause.

First, the tight balance of power in Washington is a huge issue. With so much is at stake, reps are more willing to sacrifice “principle” to maintain political power. Oddly, a strongly Democratic Congress will be more fiscally conservative than a lean Republican majority (especially in combination with a nominally-popular Republican president—as we have seen). Why? A Democratic Congress is ideologically bent toward more spending. But they will feel less threatened by the minority party, and thus, will not engage in vote-buying (with our money!) as often.

Second, the increasing size and scope of the Federal government again means much more is at stake. Predictably, the tendency will be to move from what Hamilton calls “institutionalists” and those who are “knowledgeable, passionate, and deeply committed to their points of view” to power-hungry and power-preserving reps—political animals who vacillate with perceived political whims and are driven more by polls than principle.

Again, the issue is not so much Democrat/Republican (partisan) as much as it is a pervasive lack of principle on both sides of the aisle.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

one of the best policy analysts the Democrats could find last week

On Saturday, the Democratic leadership used a waitress, Fawn Townsend, in its weekly radio address to voice policy points on the minimum wage and other forms of government activism.

The most amusing part of this is that, as a waitress, she probably doesn't earn the minimum wage-- either in the legal or financial sense. Restaurants are allowed to pay under the minimum and most if not all servers earn more than the minimum after tips.

While Fawn is a waitress, she apparently stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night, which qualifies her to be a public policy analyst-- or at least a politician, a spinmeister, or a political hack. Her analysis is par for the course from Democrats in particular but most politicians in general-- exaggerate the benefits and downplay or ignore the costs.

I loved her big conclusion:

"I'm grateful that our Democratic leaders in Congress...have accomplished more this year than Republicans accomplished in the past six years combined...

Objectively speaking, there's no way that's true. But even it were, why would Democrats want to brag about that?!

Hill brings home the pork by taking other people's bacon

Yesterday's C-J has an article on spending items sought by Baron Hill.

WASHINGTON -- For the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, Indiana's U.S. House members have gotten $147.7 million in individual requests and $26.7 million in joint requests inserted into 12 spending bills that have passed the House. (The bills must still be reconciled with Senate versions and signed by President Bush. The Senate has not completed as many spending bills as the House.) Rep. Baron Hill, a Democrat who represents Southern Indiana's 9th District, has $9.8 million, plus $2.15 million in joint requests.

Among Baron Hill's requests, he would like to take money from taxpayers around the country to pay for...

• $2.1 million to the Ohio River Greenway Development Commission for a riverfront roadway and other projects.
So, people in Northern Colorado would pay for a riverfront roadway in Southern Indiana.

• $1.25 million to Harrison County to connect Ind. 337 and Ind. 62.
Money would be taken from people in Richmond County, GA to pay for a local road in Harrison County, IN.

• $1 million to the Clark County Airport for a runway extension and $150,000 to the DuBois County Airport Authority for airport upgrades.
People who live near the Muskegon County Airport in Michigan would pay for improvements to airports in Clark and DuBois County.

• $500,000 to Charlestown for a water-treatment facility.
Paychecks for people in Brattlesboro, VT would reduced to pay for this.

• $375,000 to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour to expand the emergency department.
People in Snook, TX will help pay for this.

• $250,000 to Columbus for a senior-citizen employment center.
• $250,000 to Next Wave Systems of Pekin for secure wireless devices and sensors.
• $200,000 to the Bloomington Hospital Foundation for regional health-information organization.

• $100,000 to Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana-Southeast Region for an early-college and middle-college program.
• $75,000 to Indiana University's nursing school for human-simulation technology and equipment.
• $75,000 to Indiana University Southeast's nursing school for the same purpose.
People in Tombstone, Arizona will pay to help educate the citizens of Indiana.

• $56,000 to the New Albany Police Department for an automated fingerprint-identification system and $11,000 to the Sellersburg Police Department for security cameras and door locks.
People in Detroit will help pay for better security in New Albany and Sellersburg.

And so on...

Government is involved in far too much. Beyond that, why is the Federal government involved in so much? Instead of sending money to Washington-- so they can take a cut and send it back to us with strings attached-- why don't we deal with state issues with state resources and local issues with local resources?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hill on the Hill blames Hill but not Republicans

On "Hill on the Hill", Sam Wamsley provides a useful description of Planned Parenthood's use of Title X funds for "sex education". That said, I'm not sure about the "radical agenda" of Baron Hill or Wamsley's "conclusion". What Hill did is well within the Congressional norm for both Republicans and Democrats...

Baron Hill has unleashed a monster set upon destroying the innocence of our children. Because of Hill's actions Planned Parenthood can continue to maneuver in their attempt to remove and destroy faith, morality, Hoosier family values, marriage, and innocence. Ironically, these are the very same values Hill swore to Hoosiers he would uphold. In his campaign TV ads and literature Hill promised he was a man of small town values, ready to defend mom and pop; when in reality he is the very opposite. Please let Baron Hill know that we will not stand for him selling our values down the river and that it won't be tolerated.

Wamsley's passionate conclusion is matched only by the strange omission of blame for the Republicans who voted for the same funding when they controlled the House from 1994-2006. Likewise, Mike Sodrel voted for Planned Parenthood funding in both 2005 and 2006. The good news: since Wamsley is so offended by this policy, it looks like I can look forward to his support in 2008.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Hill "ensures choice" by limiting choice

In his email today applauding the House's recent efforts on energy legislation, Rep. Hill talked about reducing our foreign dependence on oil-- through subsidies to alternative energy sources and "CAFE" restrictions on MPG (although having a lower standard for pick-up trucks).

As I wrote a few days ago, it's odd to see Rep. Hill voting for corporate subsidies. One might add that he is in favor of subsidies to the rich (who are much more likely to buy the subsidized cars).

But in the email, he concludes that a higher CAFE/MPG restriction "ensures consumer choice". Not really...unless he talking about being forced to choose more expensive and more dangerous automobiles. It's a bad idea. But at the least, you hoped he'd own up to its costs rather than trying to spin a cost as a benefit.

I wish Rep. Hill were more "pro-choice" like this on abortion!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Planned Parenthood thanks Baron Hill for his support

Planned Parenthood thanks Baron Hill for his political support in taking taxpayer monies and giving it to them. (I wonder if they ever thanked Mike Sodrel when he voted for Title X funding to PP in 2005 and 2006.)

Hat tip to Hill on the Hill

Hill on the Hill: corporate subsidies?!

Two bills on energy were passed by the House on Saturday. Under HR 2776, the House voted to eliminate $16 billion in tax breaks for oil companies over the next 10 years. Under HR 3221, the House doled out various subsidies for alternative energy-- to both consumers and producers. The bills will go to "conference committee" to be merged with Senate versions of similar legislation.

(As an aside, one of the bills also mandates that 15% of energy production would come from renewable sources. Rep. Tom Udall [D-NM], a co-sponsor of the legislation, claimed that using higher-cost energy sources will lower energy prices for consumers. OK, Tom, please step outside and throw your crack pipe as far away as possible.)

It's interesting that the elimination of a tax break would be sold as a tax increase rather than the reduction of a subsidy. I'm not sure whether this speaks to the Democrats' passion for tax increases or their desire to be seen as increasing taxes on oil companies. In any case, I'm in favor of it. Of course, I'd prefer the elimination of all corporate subsidies-- not just those to oil companies.

Of local interest, Baron Hill voted for both measures. Interestingly, his voting now is as inconsistent as his campaigning was in 2006. He came out vehemently against subsidies to oil companies but just as vehemently for subsidies to alternative energy companies. How about we quit taking money from taxpayers to give any company?