Posts Tagged Unemployment benefits

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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Reid To Push Payroll Tax Cut

The Sunday morning talk shows were aglitter with Republicans Michelle Bachman and Ron Paul vying for humiliated Herman Cain’s supporters to jump aboard their campaigns.  In what has become an almost comical  sideshow the Republicans stand firmly divided about their presidential candidate.  The possibility of Ron Paul running independently must sound like a musical dream to Democrats.  If the stakes were not so high, the Republican performers could easily outdo their Saturday Night Live impersonators.

But, the stakes are high, very high.  The tragedy is that the world’s greatest democracy is behaving like a third world government or, worse yet, Greece.  The extension of the payroll tax cuts is just one more example of how divisive politics in Washington have become.  First the Senate rejected the Democratic proposal to extend the payroll tax cut and pay for it on a tax for millionaires.  Last Thursday, the Republican proposal to pay for the extension by freezing federal employee salaries and reducing the work force by 10% failed miserably.

The payroll tax cut is due to expire on December 21, 2011.  On Thursday, the Republican proposal sank when 29 Republicans jumped ship.  Undoubtedly, Republicans are in a quandary.  They have painted themselves into a corner on this one and cannot reconcile how the payroll cut could not receive support without costing thousands of federal employees their jobs.

This tax cut impacts the taxpayer’s take-home pay.  If the extension is not granted, everyday household income will decline about $1,500 in 2012.  Republicans are quick to say the payroll tax cut has not been effective.  Democrats rightly point to the explosive holiday shopping season and economist’s predictions that 4th quarter GDP will rise 3 percent.

The Republicans took another hit on Friday when the U.S. Labor Department published its Non-Farm Payroll report for November.  120,000 new private sector jobs were created.  Additionally, hefty adjustments to September and October payroll reports helped to drive the unemployment rate down to 8.6 percent.  In November another 315,000 persons stopped looking for work.  Republicans suggest that these are discouraged workers.  Maybe, maybe not.  At this time of year, there exist ways for workers to work “under the table.”

In any case, the facts are clear.  The unemployment rate is down and GDP is growing.  All this despite coordinated attacks by Republicans against the will of the people and contrary to the best interests of the people they are sworn to represent.  In reality, the Republicans are more concerned with  denying President Obama a second term than they are to legislate responsibly.

The Republicans emit so many objections that they now seem to be disputing the very tax cuts that they have supported in the past.  How extending the payroll tax cut violates the Republican mandate, Grover Norquist’s pledge, is  confusing, even to the pledge signers.   Voting against extending the payroll tax cut is contrary to the Norquist pledge.

The behavior is so out-of-character that even John Boehner slipped and stated that the payroll tax extension had merit.  He may live to eat those words when the likes of Eric Cantor and his Tea Partiers oppose the extension. With every Democratic proposal, the Republicans appear unorganized, out-of-sync and flailing for more negative input.  Thankfully, many conservatives are making it clear that their Tea Party has run its course.

The public view of Congress is that this is the least effective Congress in the history of the nation.  The national approval rating is dwindling to new lows and resides uncomfortably below 10 percent. Undeterred by the reality that only one in ten Americans think the Congress is functional, the Tea Party continues their barrage of assaults on well-intentioned members of Congress.   No wonder Boehner is confused.  He has never been subjected to such a self-imploding body of government.

Republicans hate that the country is recovering at a slow pace without any help from Congress.  Imagine where we would be with a functional Congress!

Let’s not forget the recent 60 minute documentary that confirmed that members of Congress were permitted to use insider training to bolster their income.  The revelation that 40 members of Congress have become millionaires while serving the people shocked most voters but might help explain the disconnect.  Most likely, the effects of the recession and the unregulated subprime mortgage crisis, served these insiders well.  No wonder the Republicans want less regulation and no tax increases for millionaires. Those initiatives are too close to home.

Republicans are so far removed from constructive governing that they have lost their way.  Instead, they have turned against the very people who elected them.  Congress works in an environment that is totally removed from Main Street.  Fortunately, it is in the best interests of Wall Street and the too large financials to extend the tax cut.  Perhaps Majority Leader Reid’s new proposal, which will be paid for, will get enough support from the other side of the aisle.   Then, we will have to go through the uncomfortable tragedy that is the Republican controlled House of Representatives.

This has the makings for another perfect storm.  One in which Boehner knows the right course but can not sell it to his Republican allies.

Bigger fights are in the immediate future.  Not only is the payroll tax cut about to expire but so are long-term unemployment benefits for million of Americans.  The last time around, Congress held the gun to Obama’s head. Republicans were set to deny 7 million unemployed workers their  benefits.  The President was held hostage.  He grudgingly agreed to extend the Bush Tax Cuts that helped the wealthy Republicans reap big rewards with inappropriate tax cuts while the country was engaged in two Republican wars.  This was Republican George Bush’s formula that  jumped started deficit spending.

The fact is that Congress will be gridlocked until the President is supported by a majority in both chambers.  While we cannot wait until the next election, we cannot compromise.  If Republicans cannot respond favorably to the payroll tax cut, unemployment extension and the Bush Tax Cuts, the President should allow them to expire.  That would create a $4 trillion windfall to help reduce the deficit and to fund worthwhile job initiatives.

If we cannot succeed with bi-partisan efforts, we must vote these dissenters out of office.

Republicans are uniform that the Bush Tax cuts help high income earners create jobs.  Really?  It is impossible to see job creation linked to the Republican tax cuts. It sure is easy to see that the middle class is dwindling and that the poverty that does not exist in Congress is running rampant in the home districts of these self-helped millionaires.  With 44 million American families and 21 million American children living in poverty and with another 45 million middle class families trending toward poverty, how can Republicans look themselves in the mirror?

If things do not change, we may well revisit the 60′s protest era.  Who amongst us believes Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich will help the middle class or the impoverished?  It will not happen.  When considering all the political possibilities, nothing could be more treacherous and fill the streets with violent protest than Newt or Mitt presiding over a country with a Republican House and a Republican Senate.  It does not get any more dangerous than that.

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