Posts Tagged Gridlock

Nelson’s Retirement Pressures Dems

As soon as Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson announced that he would retire rather than run for a third term,  Republicans began to look ahead to 2012 with the real possibility that the GOP could gain control of the Senate..  Currently, Democrats hold a 53-47 edge that includes Independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders.

Nelson’s retirement brings the number of Senate retirees to nine.  Six Democrats, Two Republicans and One Independent will not seek re-election in 2012.

Below are all Senate Retirements to Date.

  1. Arizona – Republican - John Kyl – 3 terms
  2. Connecticut – Independent – Joe Lieberman – 4 terms
  3. Hawaii – Democrat – Daniel Alkala – 4 terms
  4. Nebraska – Democrat – Ben Nelson – 2 terms
  5. New Mexico – Democrat – Jeff Bingaman – 5 terms
  6. North Dakota – Democrat Kent Conrad – 5 terms
  7. Texas – Republican – Kay Bailey Hutchison – 3 terms
  8. Virginia – Democrat – Jim Webb – 1 term
  9. Wisconsin – Democrat – Herb Kohl – 3 terms

These retirements will present the 2013 with a shortage of experience.  In total, these retirees have served 30 terms in the Senate.  The Democrats currently hold a 53-47 majority but that majority includes Independents Lieberman and Sanders who caucus with Democrats.  One cannot help but wonder if the high number of retirements is based on the highly volatile atmosphere in Washington.

The dismal approval rating of Congress detracts from the good work performed by serious, long-term Senators.  The high number of retirements is a reflection on the sorry state of Washington. 

Nelson’s retirement is likely to cost the Democrats a much-needed seat as a list of challengers assembles for a run against an unamed Democrat.  Nebraska’s popular Republican  Governor, Dave Heineman, has been approached by Senate Minority Leade Mitch McConnell to run for office.  Heineman informed the Omaha World-Herald that he was not considering a run for the vacant seat.  Nelson’s retirement caught Nebraska’s Democrats by surprise.  Former Senator and Democrat Bob Kerrey has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Nelson, but Kerrey was cool to overtures.

As it stands now, three Republicans will square off in a primary battle.  Attorney General Jon Bruning, State Treasurer Don Stenberg and state senator Deb Fischer will vie for the Republican nomination. If Kerrey stays out of the race, Democrats Kim Robak, a former Lieutenant Governor and state senator Steve Lathrop will run for the nomination.  Republicans were geared up to battle with Nelson and promised a formidable campaign.  In Nebraska, President Obama is not viewed favorably and all Democrats willface uphill battles.

Nelson was an independent thinker and voter.  He is also the only elected Democrat holding a Congressional seat.   Senator Nelson voted for the needs of his constituents.  Thos eneeds were not always Democratic initiatives.  Upon hearing of Nelson’s retirment, President Obama described Nelson’s bipartisan approach as “a trait far too often overlooked in today’s politics.”

Nelosn was involved in three controversial acts.  The first took place in 2005 when the Senate was controlled by the Republicans. Nelson joined the “Gang of 14″ Senators who agreed not to oppose GW Bush’s nominations for justices unless there were extraordinary circumstances.  This group allowed Bush to fill positions on the federal bench.

Nelson most controversial vote came during the Obama health insurance debate. Initially,  Nelson would only agree to the legislation if Nebraska would be exempot from paying for the expanded Medicare coverage.  Republicans dubbed this concession, which Nelson later rescinded, the “Cornhusker Kickback.”  This incident was sure to be recalled during another run by Nelson.

Senator Nelson’s  third controvesial position surfaced in Agust of 2011.  The Senator voted against the debt ceiling increase.  He explained his vote saying, “it sets up a maze on convuluted procedures that willonly continue the chaos and political games Nebraskans are tired of seeing.”

In the 2012 elections, Democrats are defending 23 seats.  Republicans are defending 10 seats.  It is early to tell how some important races will conclude.  Senator Patty Murray of Washington is the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaogn Committee. In response to Nelson’s announcement, Murray said, “We remain confident that we will hold the majority next year because incumbents have built strong organizations in their states.”

That may be true, but Republicans want the Senate and the Presidency to add to their majority in the House.  They are armed and dangerous.  Tea Party activists are already taking their grass roots campaign to the people.  Polls suggest that political ideology will play a big part in the 2012 elections.  It is expected that more Americans than ever before will vote straight down party lines.  The Democrats’ ability to hold the Senate may well rest with President Obama.  If the President can somehow work around Congress and get his jobs bill approved, all Democrats may get a boost.

One cannot help but recall Senator Mitch McConnell’s pledge that his most important goals was to make President Obama a one-term President.  If the Republicans had used the same energy as has been expended working against Obama to concentrate on the People’s needs, the recovery from the Republican-caused recession would be on more stable ground.

Two important seats that Democrats could gain belong to Scott Brown of Massachussetts and  the seat held by Dean Heller in Nevada.  Heller was appointed to fill the seat held by John Ensign, who retired following an ethics inquiry.  House Democrat Shelley Berkley is popular in her home state and has an excellent chance to outduel Heller.

In Massachussetts, Elizabeth Warren has masterfully gained support for her run at Brown.  Warren is an Obama favorite and is in a state that will strongly support the President.  Warren is a credible candidate with outstanding experience in the bureacracy of Washington.  In rceent polls, Warren has edged past Brown who will take to the offense in January.

Republicans need to gain just four seats to have the majority in the Senate.  In order to hold the majority and have a workable balance of power, a Democratic Senate is the nation’s best bet.  If  We The People lose the Senate, we will only have ourselves to blame.  We Democrats need your votes and your hard work.  If We The People do not fight for ourselves, we leave ourselves subject to the whims of the Republicans.

If they have their way, Republicans will send We The People to engage Iran.  We The People will earn less.  The entitlements will diminish as the budget for defense continues to escalate.  The quality of education will suffer.  The environment will be at risk.  And, the country will once again be at the mercy of too big too fail institutions.

If that is what you want, you are We The Few, not We The People.  Let’s do our very best to get the President another term, increase our  majority in the Senate and take back the House.  How pleasant it would be to restore sanity to government.  Every Tea Party candidate and every signee of the Norquist Pledge must be run out of town.  That is the only course of action to make the insanity cease and desist.

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Government For The People Is Lost

At a time when Americans desperately needed government for the people and by the people, the 2011 Congress failed to deliver on any substantive legislation.  No tax reform, no jobs programs and no ethics.  Washington ended the year on legislation that typified the self-interests of the Republican Party.  Rather than government for We The People, Republicans worked feverishly to appease the lobbyists of We The Few.  The end of year disagreements even had Republicans fighting and sniping at each other to the media.  This is the chaos that Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell are using to undermine President Obama.

The problem for Boehner and McConnell is that in further hurting their party’s image, the Republicans boosted the President’s approval rating.

The Republican Party looks to be crumbling at the seams.  When Americans go to the polls, please remember the 2011 Congress.  If there was ever a stronger case for a Democratic controlled House, Senate and Presidency, the Republicans and Grover Norquist have provided We The People with a clear-cut choice.  Will it be Government for We The People or will it be government for We The Few.

We The People should realize that the Republican Party only has the interests of We The Few in mind.  We The People must get engaged and stay that way through the 2012 elections. Do not rest until Democrats control the House, the Senate and the Presidency.  

If the 2011 Congress were analyzed like a Dow Jones equity, the chart would show a steady but rapid decline.  In the eyes of the public, there were no spikes upwards.  Congress had to work hard to achieve a 10% approval rating.  According to a Gallup Poll, only 32% of Americans thought Congressmen were ethical and honest.

The only thing Republicans were able to agree upon was their desire to unseat the President.  They showed a willingness to throw We The People under the bus in their quest.   Republicans presented obstacle after obstacle to damage the economy and make We The People suffer more so that a Republican would replace Obama in 2012.  Yet, every time a Republican debate took place, the President’s stock increased.  The Republican candidates for Presidency were as dysfunctional as the party itself.

Since taking office in 2009, the President has faced many challenges.  Unfortunately, he underestimated the severity of the economic times. Perhaps, he was not sure how to react to the crisis that swept the country.  When he had a majority in both Houses of Congress, he used his political capital to pass Obamacare, a top component on his platform.

His vision for medical insurance for the nation was a strong campaign promise.  The timing for this initiative was bad.  Rather than focus on employment programs that might have boosted and economy and improved the nation’s infrastructure, Obama turned to his health program.

No President in the last sixty years inherited such a mess.  George W. Bush and his Republican cronies left the country with two unfunded wars, a rapidly increasing budget deficit and a financial and housing crisis created by the lack of regulation, a Republican mandate.  Bush’s response to the global crisis was to pour taxpayer money into the banking sector.  He extended the Bush tax cuts at exactly the time these cuts should have been allowed to expire.  However, the Bush Tax Cuts favored We The Few, another Republican mainstay.

Republicans framed the Bush Tax Cuts as the savior of the middle class.  According to the Bush – Cheney team, the cuts were a good thing.  The beneficiaries of these relaxed taxes would enable We The Few to become aggressive “job creators.”

The jobs never came as millionaires and billionaires pocketed the money Bush, Boehner and McConnell said would be invested in American jobs.

After stabilizing the banking sector, credit markets remained entwined in a web of failing mortgages, high unemployment, diminishing GDP and a housing crisis that the country had never-before experienced.  Sadly, the Republicans and Bush perpetuated the housing crisis by nationalizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest holders of bad debt mortgages in the nation.  This means that We The People are paying for the flawed lending practices that profited Wall Street. Adding the weight of these failing mortgages to the taxpayer’s damaged 401(k’s) and other retirement funds was simply too big a cargo.

Republican programs for We The Few destroyed middle America’s safety net, the equity in their homes.

Meanwhile, the very banks that perpetuated the housing crisis began to record huge profits.  Equally disturbing were the phenomenal size of bonuses these corporations paid to the very bankers who caused the recession.  In a dormant state of non-growth in GDP, financial institutions and local governments began to lay off millions of Americans.

Amazingly, not one of these corrupt bankers was imprisoned.  In fact, these bankers were living the high life as the middle class continued to pay the price for the lavish wages paid to unscrupulous people.  This was not capitalism.  This was malicious greed with volumes of moral hazard and amble doses of betrayal.

What began to evolve from this predicament was a caste system never-before experienced in the U.S.  The distance between We The People and We The Few has never been as wide as it is now.  Moreover, the widening trend continues.

To make sure this deep divide stayed that way, Grover Norquist pressed Republican politicians on all levels of government to abide by the Norquist pledge that there would be no tax increases in any new legislation.   Most of the Republicans that signed this pledge did not indicate their intent to do so prior to taking office.  This dilemma left constituencies questioning their choices.

In the 2010 elections, an activist group called the Tea Party ousted Democrats in the House giving Republicans a majority.  The Democrats retained a narrow majority in the Senate.  Without 60 votes, Democrats fell prey to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call for filibuster.  In fact, the Senate was neutered.

The effect of the Tea Party and the pledge by The Speaker of the House and the Minority Speaker in the Senate to limit President Obama to one term at all costs created strategic gridlock meant to damage the President’s credibility.  Republicans used their newfound power to show their disdain for the middle class, the unemployed and the needy in 2010.

With 7 million unemployed Americans needing an extension of the unemployment benefits, Republicans vowed to allow the benefits to expire beginning in 2010.  However, if the President would extend the Bush Tax Cuts for We The Few, Republicans would extend the unemployment benefits for We The People.  This was a bitter pill for the President, but he swallowed and saved the benefits for middle America.  The Bush Tax Cuts are set to expire at the end of 2012.

From the passage of those two programs, Congress became irreparably broken.  Republicans viewed the President as soft.  They saw an opening and struck. Republicans realized that Obama was for We The People.  Republicans used the President’s commitment to We The People as his Achilles Heel.  Anytime they wanted legislation, Republicans would hold We The People  hostage.

The Republican willingness to hold We The Peope hostage has been the only consistent theme of this Congress.

Speaker of The House, John Boehner, welcomed a large freshman class in January 2011.  Boehner vowed great things in 2011.  What the seasoned Boehner did not understand was that the Tea Party did not like his politics or Bush or Obama. Under the guise of financial credibility, the Tea Party was poised to assault the middle class and prevent passage of any legislation about jobs.

We the People
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sam Gordon Photography

In April 2011, the Congress and the President locked horns over spending.  Republicans favored deep cuts to education, Medicare, Medicade and an overhaul of the Social Services benefit system.  Planned parenthood and the right to abortions also came into play.  This time, Republicans broadened their sights.  They used the leverage of a government shut-down to gain a $38 billion reduction in spending.

Voters watched these events unfold and became uncomfortable with the rhetoric and the dysfunction in Washington.

The bitter divide in Congress gained traction during the subsequent Debt Ceiling talks.  The President wanted a sweeping, balanced effort to dramatically trim the fat off the budget.  Republicans favored spending reductions without any tax increases.  This debate reached ugly in a heartbeat.  It was apparent that the far right-wing of the Republican caucus intimidated the less conservative Republicans.

The Tea Party had control of the party and Boehner was rendered useless. As 2011 winds down, Boehner will be remembered as the most ineffective leader of the most ineffective House in the history of the nation.  During the debt ceiling crisis, Boehner’s role as tightrope artist played out in full view of the public.

Political Cartoon From the Rapid City (SD) Journal:  Republican Greed
Creative Commons License photo credit: JoeInSouthernCA

During the crisis, Boehner met with President Obama and crafted a $4.2 trillion deficit reduction package.  The President and Boehner agreed to a package that the country needed to stave off a credit reduction.  However, when Boehner presented the plan to his caucus it was rejected.

In their deficit reduction package, there would be increased revenue generated by a small increase in taxes to millionaires and billionaires.  All the Republicans who signed the Norquist pledge were put on the spot to either pass legislation with some increased taxes that would benefit the country or honor their Norquist pledge.

Boehner failed to rally his caucus around this powerful deficit reduction initiative.  The country was poised to show the world that the USA stood ready to tackle its debt in a responsible manner.  When Boehner refused to accept calls from the President, it was clear that he had no control over House Republicans.

The net effect of this debt ceiling fight was that for the first time in the history of the Republic the USA lost its treasured AAA credit rating; an event Republicans considered minor. 

Congress pushed the American public to the limits when several high-profile Republicans indicated that they were willing to default on our national debt. The public’s ire over this irresponsible mindset began to surface.  Boehner became a tainted leader of a tainted majority.  Rumors of a change in leadership in the House started to circulate.  The Tea Party’s, Eric Cantor, was often mentioned as a replacement for Boehner.

Boehner’s embarrassing inability to get his caucus to accept his own spending plan, not only stunned Americans but triggered red flag warnings around the globe.  On paper, a 10-year $917 billion spending cut was passed. The parties agreed to another $1.2 trillion in cuts which would be decided by a Super Committee before the 1st of December.  In the event of an inability to agree on cuts, provisions were implemented to trim $1.2 trillion in spending cuts without further approval.  The majority of these fixed cuts were in defense.

Another effect of the failed debt ceiling package was that the country’s credit was lowered by Standard & Poor’s.

To the country, it was now perfectly clear that Washington was in chaos. A familiar pattern had evolved. All legislation was only dealt with in the final hours.  Every significant legislative initiative was flawed. Most were temporary band aids.  The citizenry was appalled by the continued cross-party assaults.

As Congress was coming apart at the seams, the President took to the road.  He took his We The People vision to communities across the country.  His message began to resonate.

During the Summer, Republicans opposed labor rights for a relatively small group of air service providers.  Opposition to labor rights was part of the Tea Party mantra.  In this argument, Congress caused a partial shutdown of Federal Aviation Services.

Newly elected Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, a Tea Party member was busy denying state employees their rights to collective bargaining. Walker is now facing a recall. In Wisconsin, Republicans can expect a big backlash from Walker’s actions.

Republicans refused to give the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) additional funds to assist communities suffering from flooding and damage from hurricanes.  When FEMA announced the agency had enough funding to get to the beginning of the new fiscal year, last-minute temporary funding was approved while politicians agreed to settle their differences in upcoming months.

Again, the pattern of last-minute negotiations and temporary band aids reared its ugly head. Americans were uncomfortable with this method of government. 

When the Congressional super-committee was unable to find common ground on a deficit reduction plan, the dysfunction in Congress caused unified disdain.  Again, there was a flurry of last-minute negotiations but this time there were no results.  Therefore, the already agreed-upon cuts including significant cuts to military spending were imposed.  This dysfunction spurred the Occupy Wall Street movement which spanned across the country.

Public opinion swooned further when 60 minutes released a report that members of Congress were reaping big profits by using insider-trading to fill their pockets.

To cap off the year, Republicans in Congress put tax increases for 160 million Americans on the table.  Republicans were also agreeable to terminating unemployment benefits to millions of other Americans.  This time Republicans in the Senate fought with Republicans in the House.

Smug Eric Cantor stood behind Boehner at every press opportunity.  His devilish grin angered struggling Americans who had expected the Senate’s extensions to be temporarily extended.  Boehner found himself squeezed by Cantor and his allies and the Senate Republicans and by the American public who helplessly watched this dysfunctional group play their hands.

John McCain, Mitch McConnell had no defense for the House Republicans.  Even Donald Trump disavowed the GOP.

As the congressional approval rating fell below 10 percent, the President’s approval rating climbed to 50%.  Rather than listen to Republican rhetoric, Americans supported their President.  Obama’s commitment to take his message to We The People was working.

The President has come across as a solid man with a vision that would balance the playing field between We The People and We The Few. This President has a balanced approach to government. Looking at the Republican candidates for the Presidency, Americans should be nervous.  If Republicans have the House, the Senate and the Presidency, We The People have no cause for hope.  We can expect another war, failed tax policies, damage to the environment, unregulated practices in the financial industry and continued high unemployment.

To restore dignity to We The People, a Democratically controlled House, Senate and Presidency are necessary.  When Americans go to the polls, they must remember the Payroll Tax Cut and Unemployment Insurance extensions.  Voters who remember the insanity caused by Boehner and Cantor and McConnell should act to eliminate the Tea Party, Norquist supporters in favor of a functional body that serves We The People.  Think about this.

A functional government for We The People is what We The Few fears more than anything else.

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Obama Draws Line In Sand

On Tuesday, President Obama delivered his most powerful speech since taking office. The central theme was  that America succeeds when everyone “gets a fair share and pays their fair share.”  President Obama eloquently presented a passionate statement about the 2012 race for the White House and the malaise that Republicans have caused in the nation’s most ineffective Congress in history.

Barack Hussein Obama Vector Portrait
Creative Commons License photo credit: Vectorportal
The President described the rights of the middle class and the impoverished as the defining issue of his campaign to serve a second term.  The tone of the speech was forceful and served to differentiate the political philosophies of the Republican, Tea Party and Democratic principles.

The President drew upon the policy statements that have surfaced in the Republican debates. Obama vowed to continue with the regulatory initiatives that have cracked down on predatory lenders, Wall Street and other consumer credit markets.  Obama’s new truth in lending policies now calls for transparency and full disclosure, two principles that were compromised in the housing boom. The President was on the attack against programs that have helped create more financial disparity in American Society.

The President repeated his belief that most millionaires and billionaires were receptive to paying their fair share of taxes.  In a recent poll, 67 percent of Americans favor higher taxes on the wealthy.  President Obama continues to press the Republicans and especially the Tea Party on tax increases for the wealthy.  The Republicans have been slow to extend two important pieces of legislation.  Without extensions,  the long-term unemployment benefits and the current  payroll tax cut will soon expire. These bills have helped encourage jobs and have helped millions of unemployed workers survive.

Last time around, the Republicans used the fate of the unemployed to leverage a major concession from the White House.  7 million people would have had their benefits halted if the President did not agree to extend the Bush Tax Cuts.  Republicans hold these tax cuts as the means to increase jobs.  However, the tax cuts have now been in play for nearly ten years.  During that time, there is little evidence that the “job creators”or the benefactors of the Bush cuts have risen to meet the unemployment challenge.

Traditional Republicans and Tea Party Republicans advocate for the extension of Bush’s cuts.  In reality, the Bush Tax Cuts have served the wealthy well.  At the same time, the middle class struggles to stay above water.  One of the President’s major  concerns is the shape of our society.  With more than 40 million families and 21 million children living in poverty, American society has taken on the appearance of a caste system.

In seeking remedies to pay for their failed policies and two wars, the poor and the middle class are being asked to cut back on education, health and social services. The Republicans have not offered one jobs plan.  Republicans  are content to oppose every plan from the Democratic side. When the country most needs these programs, Republicans ask the middle class to sacrifice so that the wealthy can be more prosperous.

The gap from the real-time reality on Main Street and the prosperity on Wall Street is characterized by Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s response to the President’s speech. After agreeing to participate in a debate hosted by Donald Trump, Gingrich was asked by CNBC his opinion of Obama’s speech.  His response was that President Obama “is the finest food stamp president in American history.”  You really have to wonder on what planet Gingrich lives.

President Obama does not complain about where 8 years of GW Bush’s Republican policies took America.  Rather than admit their policies failed, they are attempting to destroy the messenger.  By ignoring the economic and employment crisis that Republicans initiated and enabled, the GOP Presidential candidates try to distance themselves.  The rest of us will be paying for the Republican’s  lavish spending for years to come.  Where were Republican politicians then? How nice it must be to have a short memory and be able to overlook the moral hazards of GW Bush.  Republicans launched two wars, one against a country that did not have weapons of mass destruction, and offered the public the Bush Tax cuts.  At that time, Republicans were not questioning how the wars and the tax cuts would be funded.

Adding insult to injury, the Republican defense of unregulated financial institutions caused the recession and tore through 401k’s and money market saving that impacted the middle class more than any other income level.  On Tuesday, the President passionately confirmed his commitment to further his new regulation policies.  Yet, by Wednesday morning, Republicans vowed that they would oppose every proposed leader for the leadership of Obama’s new consumer protection bureau would.

The President’s vision highlights the need for a stronger educational system. The US needs scientists and educated entrepreneurs. The opportunity to succeed ceases when the country’s educational facilities are understaffed and when academic excellence is compromised by funding cuts.

The President offers a solution the gridlock that has constipated Washington. To get out from under, voters must re-elect the president and try to overturn the majority in the House and add seats to their narrow majority in the Senate.  This is the formula that will unchain the middle class and the poor.  This is the formula that will clarify the country’s priorities.

President Obama called upon his base to get out the vote. The consequences of a lack of support will dramatically change the landscape of the country.  The 41 million middle class families that are trending toward poverty will have a hard landing.

The Republicans can paint the scene time and time again, but the end result is always the same. Most Republican congressional members have put their Grover Noquist pledge ahead of the best interests of their constituents.   Republicans will follow a path that is filled with self-interest.  If Republicans take the White House and gain control of the Senate and the House, the poor and the middle class will receive less help and drastic cuts to education and social programs.

The President has a vision for the future.  The President is committed to higher education.  The President is committed to an aggressive jobs bill.  He believes in the common good.  Reverse all these statements and you have the Republican candidate for President.

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