Archive for July, 2006

Condi Rice’s Birth Pains (7/31/06)

July 31, 2006

AP photo by Mikhail Metzel from the 10/19/05 USA Today.

 

In her  “Special Briefing on Travel to the Middle East and Europe”  in Washington, DC on July 21 starting at !;34 p.m., found on the State Departments website,  Secretary Condoleezza Rice was asked by a reporter,

Madame Secretary, you’ve heard the voices saying you should have — the last several days saying you should go to the region and why you chose now to announce this trip and to go? And secondly, would the United States be willing to contribute troops, that is, boots on the ground to an international peacekeeping force on the Lebanese border?

Rice’s response, in full, contains he now infamous comments that have raised the ire of the arab media in the Middle East, as well as administration critics at home:

We are looking at what kind of international assistance force makes sense, but I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces are expected for that force.

As to the timing of this, John, after all I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do. We have now had a series of discussions with our — first at the G-8. I’ve been in constant contact with others, including with the Egyptians here a couple of days ago. We have been in contact with the Siniora Government. Of course I have been in constant contact with the Israeli Government and then I was just at the UN. I think we are beginning to see the outlines of a political framework that might allow the cessation of violence in a more sustainable way tied to 1559, tied to — what is there in the G-8 statement. The elements are becoming quite clear. But I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante. I think it would be a mistake.

What we’re seeing here, in a sense, is the growing — the birth pangs of a new Middle East
and whatever we do we have to be certain that we’re pushing forward to the new Middle East not going back to the old one. 

In a way, Condoleezza is right. We may indeed be witnessing the birth pangs of a New Middle East, but not the one she imagines. It is a Middle East in which the US, Israel and the “friendly” but moribund Arab regimes are becoming ever more discredited, leaving the populace at large ever more radicalised and disaffected.

In his dispatch from Beirut on the following Tuesday, July 24,  the Guardian’s Brian Whitaker
responded in “Rice lacks recipe for success in the Middle East: The US secretary of state believes in a New Middle East, but her narrow focus on security leaves little room for the aspirations of ordinary people :”   

TIn a way, Condoleezza is right. We may indeed be witnessing the birth pangs of a New Middle East, but not the one she imagines. It is a Middle East in which the US, Israel and the “friendly” but moribund Arab regimes are becoming ever more discredited, leaving the populace at large ever more radicalised and disaffected.

On July 27, The Guardian also published former Clinton senior advisor Sidney Blumenthal’s piece,  “The neocon resurgence: The delusional US mindset that made the Iraq war a disaster has resurfaced in Lebanon”

Indeed, Rice is ushering in “a new Middle East”, one in which the US is distrusted and even hated by traditional Arab allies, and its ability to restrain Israel while negotiating on behalf of its security is relinquished and diminished.

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive Magazine posted a kick-ass web commentary July 28, “Condoleezza Rice: Midwife from Hell” criticizing this description of the tragedy in Lebanon.

After being one of the most inept national security advisers in the nation’s history, Condoleezza Rice is now earning the same grade as secretary of state….The 400 Lebanese who have died, an overwhelming number of them civilian and many of them children, were not feeling any birthpangs. They were feeling deathpangs. Nor were families of the Israeli victims (about 50 so far, and most of them soldiers) cheering the new day, either….For five and a half years, Rice did nothing about the most serious problem in the Middle East, and now she’s done worse than nothing.

Rice believes in is the diplomacy of the F-16.

And that style of diplomacy is crashing and burning.

But for some reason, Mike Allen, in the July 30 Time, “It’s the Condi Rice Show: She has Bush’s ear, global clout and a high profile. Now she needs some results,” writes,

some Bush-family aides say Rice’s election as the first black and first woman President could be one of the clan’s greatest legacies. Although no national race appears to be in the offing for 2008… Rice’s staff recognizes that the speculation about her political future may be useful, and has overhauled the optics of the job to give her coverage greater pizazz. In Washington she appears with world leaders in front of a fireplace that could be in the Oval Office. Abroad, she is photographed stepping from a plane with an almost presidential wave, a shot that Colin Powell’s staff rarely facilitated

Wonder who he’s been reading, maybe the website Americans for Dr. Rice?

More later, the library is closing.

Advertisements

Stealthy Poison: Minimum Wage Raise Linked Estate Tax Cut, Backdoor CUT for Tipped Workers

July 30, 2006

The above photo is of an unidentified waiter  at Colors, a cooperative restaurant in New York, opened by  the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) (a non-union restaurant advocacy group co-founded in the spring of 2002 by Mamdouh Fekkak, a waiter who lost his job with the destruction of Windows on the World atop the World Trade Center.)  It accompanied an November 29, 2005 article, “Workers become owners at co-op restaurants”  by Jennifer Mascia for the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism news service. Rafael Duran, ROC-NY co-founder, received the 2005 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award.

 

*

Why a picture of a waiter?  Yesterday, I promised to find the bill number for Checking at GPO access, I learned  H.R. 5970, links cuts in the estate tax to an increase in minimum wage.  Near the end, starting on page 181, it adds Title  IV under the rubric of “other purposes.”  Section 401 is the change in minimum wage which I cited yesterday from the AP account, which provided no bill numbers.

SEC. 401. MINIMUM WAGE.

Section 6(a)(1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C.

206(a)(1)) is amended to read as follows:

“(1) except as otherwise provided in this section, not

less than–

“(A) $5.15 an hour beginning September 1, 1997;

“(B) $5.85 an hour, beginning on January 1, 2007;

“(C) $6.55 an hour, beginning June 1, 2008; and

Then the bill continues with Section 402, not mentioned by the AP, the  “Tipped Wage Fairness,” which amends Section 3(m) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Section 2 adds this  new provision especially helpful to the restaurant industry, which gets away factoring in tips from customers to justify paying  their wait staff $2.00 an hour.  The measure would cancel state-level laws that entitle waitresses, barbers, cab drivers and other workers to a minimum wage regardless of what they make in tips.

               “(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, any State or

political subdivision of a State which on or after the date of enactment of the Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act of 2006  excludes all of a tipped employee’s tips from being considered as wages in determining if such tipped employee has been paid the applicable minimum wage rate, may not establish or enforce the minimum wage rate provisions of such law, ordinance, regulation, or order in such State or political subdivision thereof with respect to tipped employees  unless such law, ordinance, regulation, or order is revised or amended

to permit such employee to be paid a wage by the employee’s employer in an amount not less than an amount equal to–

“(A) the cash wage paid such employee which is required under such law, ordinance, regulation, or order on the date of enactment of the Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act of    2006; and

“(B) an additional amount on account of tips received by such employee which amount is equal to the difference between the cash wage described in sub-paragraph (A) and the minimum  wage rate in effect under such law, ordinance, regulation, or order, or the minimum wage rate in effect under section 6(a), whichever is higher.”

Interesting tie- in to the Chamber of Commerce, who cites  the Employment Policies Institute , a front group created Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman who lobbies for the restaurant the restaurant industry.  Hm-m-m.

By the way, the Chamber of Commerce site had this verbiage on its page about the minimum wage, which I didn’t understand until I saw H.R. 5970:

The U.S. Chamber will continue to oppose an increase in the minimum wage. However, if such a proposal comes up, there may be companion legislation to help mitigate the adverse effect of a mandated wage increase on businesses, such as targeted reform of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Hm-m-m indeed!  Am still wondering what’s in that May article only available to members.

Chamber of Congress & the Minimum Wage (7/29/06)

July 29, 2006

The dapper dude in the photo is U.S. Chamber vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits, a highlighted speaker at the anti-liberal Federalist Society ‘s 2005 National Lawyers Convention. The next convention is in November–place as yet unannounced.

Johnson joined the Chamber in 1997 and he’s the go-to man on legislation and government programs regarding the minimum wage. According to a bio I found at the publications page of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations ,

Prior to joining the chamber, he was the Republican labor coordinator for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The House of Representatives closed shop for its recess today after after passing two measures I’ve been writing about for the past several days.

The first measure chained an increase in the minimum wage to a huge reduction in the estate tax. Looks to me like the Republicans are getting ready for the election and want to rebut the Democrats criticism that they are responsible for no increase in the minimum wage during the last 10 years. With the Senate opposition to the estate tax reductions at this level, I’ve got to wonder if they are making that issue a poison pill for the increase.

After all, many of their constituents–including Chambers of Commerce–have opposed increases in the minimum wage for years. The Chamber ran a feature, “U.S. Chamber Opposes Raising Minimum Wage” in its magazine as recently as May 2006, although, interestingly, this is one of the few articles on its website available only to members .

Publicly available are the news releases the Chamber sent out. June 18 2004  its railing against Senator Kerry featured comments by Johnson:

While the political appeal of this proposal is obvious, the fact remains businesses and workers will be losers under this proposal….The majority of economists agree that raising the minimum wage kills job creation. Placing this burden on small businesses will stifle our economic growth….Small businesses cannot simply wave a magic wand to create more revenue when lawmakers pass these types of bills. It is these businesses, the backbone of our economy, which will be hurt the most by this proposal. Some politicians may view initiatives such as these as a painless way to appeal to voters. But in reality, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Johnson pointed to a study by the Employment Policies Institute, “Job Loss in a Booming Economy, 2nd Edition” saying that it suggested the 1996 minimum wage increase of only 50 cents per hour destroyed approximately 645,000 entry-level jobs.
According to Sourcewatch.org,
The Employment Policies Institute is one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman, who lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries. EPI, registered as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, has has been widely quoted in news stories regarding minimum wage issues, and although a few of those stories have correctly described it as a “think tank financed by business,” most stories fail to provide any identification that would enable readers to identify the vested interests behind its pronouncements. Instead, it is usually described exactly the way it describes itself, as a “non-profit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding employment growth” that “focuses on issues that affect entry-level employment.” In reality, EPI’s mission is to keep the minimum wage low so Berman’s clients can continue to pay their workers as little as possible.
EPI also owns the internet domain names to MinimumWage.com (http://www.minimumwage.com) and LivingWage.com (http://www.livingwage.com), a website that attempts to portray the idea of a living wage for workers as some kind of insidious conspiracy. “Living wage activists want nothing less than a national living wage,” it warns (as though there is something wrong with paying employees enough that they can afford to eat and pay rent).
By the way, I’m presuming minimum-wage/estate tax bill is the still-unavailable-as-of 3:34 p.m.  H.R. 4. At that time, Associated Press tax writer Mary Dalrymple had posted her story on the bill which would:
  • increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour, phased in over three years.
  • lower estate taxes by exempting $5 million of an individual’s estate, and $10 million of a couple’s, from estate taxes by 2015.
  • tax estates worth up to $25 million at capital gains rates, currently 15 percent and scheduled to rise to 20 percent.
  • trim rates on the remainder of larger estates to 30 percent by 2015.

The other bill passed was the pension measure.  More to come.

UPDATE:  The minimum wage measure is H.R. 5970:  See:  “Stealthy Poison: Minimum Wage Raise Linked Estate Tax Cut, Backdoor CUT for Tipped Workers.”  The pension measure is HR. 4.  which Democrats complain the measure favors some industries and doesn’t do enough to prevent employers from eliminating defined-benefit plans, according to the AP’s Jim Abrams.

 

The House Rules Committee, Hastert and One Party Jihad (07/28/06)

July 28, 2006

Image reproduced courtesy of HAIL DUBYUS! copyright 2004.

This  cartoon, “Jabba the Hastert”  at Hail Dubyas on December 4, 2004 is  from “Gregorius alexandrinus, pictor mendacrium stultorumque” (Gregory of Alexandria–painter of liars and idiots.)  I found the cartoon after writing my entry, but Gregorious was was reacting to same front page story I read  on House Speaker Dennis Hastert  “majority of the  majority policy ” by Washington Post staff writer  Charles Babington  “Hastert Launches a Partisan Policy” which ran November 27, 2004.

In November of 2004, Hastert ditched the  intelligence legislation  which he, Bush and the majority of Congress supported, doing so in the name of his partisan “majority the majority” policy.  Congress would only pass bills which most House Repuliblicans backed. This policy probably resulted in the time spent debating four amendments to the  reauthorization of the expiring portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When he needed Democrats’ votes  to defeat the amendments and pass the bill in an election year,  rather than be embarrassed, Hastert blinked.

Shortly after 9:30 am yesterday, Bush signed the bill to great fanfare on the south lawn of the White House, surrounded by representatives of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute and the families of  Fannie Lou Hamer and Coretta Scott King, for whom the bill was named.   Civil rights leaders Dr. Dorothy Height, Julian Bond,  Bruce Gordon,  Reverend Joseph Lowery (co-founder of Southern Christian Leadership Conference) , Marc Morial,  Juanita Abernathy,  Jesse Jackson,  Al Sharpton, amd  Dr. Benjamin and Frances  Hooks also attended.

But by 4:54 that afternoon,  it was back to the usual power plays.  Time running out before the House recess, the Rules Committee reported  Doc Hastings (R-WA)  H.RES. 958 by voice vote which would scuttle clause 6(a) of rule XIII requiring a two-thirds vote to consider a rule on the same day it is reported from the committee..  The measures to be considered today:

  • the conference report on H.R. 2830, to amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, changing pension funding rules (The House had refused to accept Senator Frist’s amendment in the nature of a substitute);

  • the bill repealing the sunset provisions of the repeal of the estate tax and increasing the unified credit to exclude $5 million dollars; and

  • the rather vaguely worded description:  “A bill to provide economic security for all Americans, and for other purposes.

The committee had already issued Bishop (R-UT) a similar rule, H.RES.951,  at 11:12 , the previous night to permit consideration of the first two measures on July 27.  

Now, at some time today (Thomas doesn’t have the bill back from the GPO yet, as I write this at 8:10 p.m.)  the House Rules Committee has reported out by a voice vote  H.Res. 966,  

Resolved,  That upon the adoption of this resolution it shall be in order without intervention of any point of order to consider in the House the bill (H.R. 5970) to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to increase the unified credit against the estate tax to an exclusion equivalent of $5,000,000, to repeal the sunset provision for the estate and generation-skipping taxes, and to extend expiring provisions, and for other purposes. The bill shall be considered as read. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill to final passage without intervening motion except: (1) one hour of debate equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Ways and Means; and (2) one motion to recommit.

Sec. 2. Upon the adoption of this resolution it shall be in order without intervention of any point of order to consider in the House the bill (H.R. 4) to provide economic security for all Americans, and for other purposes. The bill shall be considered as read. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill to final passage without intervening motion except: (1) one hour of debate equally divided among and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Ways and Means and the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce; and (2) one motion to recommit.

The text of H.R, 5970 is likewise not yet available.  Now we know the vaguely worded lanuguage about financial security for Americans is H.R. 4, also unavailable.    

Today,  MacArthur “genius award” fellow  Robert Greenstein, founding Executive Director of Austin’s  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released his analysis, “House leadeership invokes ‘martial law’ forcing members to vote on key bills without full knowledge of what they are voiting on: move reporesent erosion of the democratic process.”

The report is well worth reading.  In it he speculates  that H.R. 4  

 could combine a controversial health insurance proposal with an increase in the minimum wage (there also are reports that the estate tax, minimum wage, and expiring tax provisions may be combined into a single bill. 

What a difference time makes.  Remember Hastert’s speech January 6, 1999, after taking over his position from Newt Gingrich?   

Solutions to problems cannot be found in a pool of bitterness. They can be found in an environment in which we trust one another’s word; where we generate heat and passion, but where we recognize that each member is equally important to our overall mission of improving the life of the American people. In short, I believe all of us – regardless of party – can respect one another, even as we fiercely disagree on particular issues.

He told Democrats,

I will meet you halfway – maybe more so on occasion …These are not Democratic or Republican issues. They are American issues. We should be able to reach agreement quickly on the goals. Yes, we will argue about the means, but if we are in earnest about our responsibilities, we will find common ground and get the job done. In the process, we will build the people’s faith in the United States Congress

 The New York Times‘s Katharine Seelye’s article that date “Hastert Is Sworn In as 51st Speaker and Puts Forth a Conciliatory Tone” which ran on page A25 detailed the Democrats’s hopes for the new regime.  (The Times charges for this article, but Virginians with library cards can access the text from  E’Library at  Find it Virginia.  Check to see if your local library or college subscribes to eLibrary or another media database, if you live elsewhere.) Hastert had invited  Dick Gephardt (D-MO)  the Democratic leader to remain at the podium during his speach.  As he  the gavel to  Hastert, Gephardt said,

Let’s bury the hatchet.

Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) was even warmer.

I’m encouraged because I know Dennis Hastert.  the rancor and raw partisanship and nastiness to which the House sunk in December shocked members of both parties. And I think that many on both sides of the aisle want to start reaching out to deal with the issues that voters sent us here to talk about.

But  his handling of the intelligence bill was, according to Babington’s Washington Post story,  the   

latest step in a decade-long process of limiting Democrats’ influence and running the House virtually as a one-party institution. Republicans earlier barred House Democrats from helping to draft major bills such as the 2003 Medicare revision and this year’s intelligence package.

The steps continue.  Hastert doesn’t listen to Democrats.  Which Republican, priviledged by this one-party jihad, has the guts remind  Hastert of his inaugural comments and vote “no” on these special rules and return the House to its purpose as the representation of the people?

Entry for July 27, 2006

July 27, 2006

The photograph comes from the Texas Center for Policy Studies.

 Texas has a state sunset commission founded in 1977 as a “good government measure”   and in 2000, the Center’s Public Interest Sunset Working Group tried to get the commission to protect the public interest and reform the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission,  now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality . A report on its website details some of the “Citizen Disappointments,”   which I’ve summarized at the bottom of the page, along with links to the members of the  Working Group. 

At yesterday’s telephone press conference sponsored by OMB Watch, Former Texas State Senator O.H. “Ike” Harris, a Republican who sat on the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission said, 

Sunset is not workable and is beholden to nobody.

OMB Watch says the Texas commission is

impractical, wasteful of government resources, and co-opted by special interests

This appears to be born out by the groups supporting the proposed federal bill, as touted by its sponsor in a July 19, 2006 news release, “Tiahrt Testifies Before Committee on Government Reform.”

Several taxpayer watchdog groups, including Citizens Against Government Waste and the American Taxpayers Union have endorsed GEA.

So who are these watchdog groups?  I turned to the handy Sourcewatch.org to check them out.  I can’t link to the articles, because some type of incompatibility will blow up this page, but you can search on the names to find the listings.

According to Sourcewatch, Citizens Against Government Waste

has campaigned on behalf of the tobacco industry and in favour of Microsoft and against open source software.

Sourcewatch has a bibliography detailing how the group operates. The latest article is from April 2 , 2006 St. Petersburg Times is by Bill Adair, the papers Washington Bureau Chief;  ” For price, watchdog will be an advocate Citizens Against Government Waste made a name for itself by exposing government waste. But it has quietly made a lot of its money by lobbying.”

I’m guessing that Tiehrt actually meant to cite report by the  Natonal Taxpayers Union, formerly headed by Grover Norquist before being tapped by the Reagan White House to head Americans for Tax Reform, the group that laundered some of   Jack Abramoff’s money.  Sourcewatch doesn’t have an article; I’ll have to write one.  Instead see People for th American Way. 

*

Here’s what the Texax commission fail to do, according to the Working Group::

The Sunset Commission missed several golden opportunities, however, to achieve major reforms of TNRCC, an agency which has been roundly and deservedly criticized by many members of the public for its close relationships with the industries the agency is directed to regulate and its failure to be truly responsive to the public. …

The Commission failed to adopt several recommendations of its own staff that were supported strongly by citizens: for example, making the Public Interest Counsel independent of TNRCC through direct gubernatorial appointment of the Counsel (currently hired and fired by the TNRCC Commissioners) and authorizing OPIC to appeal TNRCC decisions to state courts. …

The Sunset Commission failed to adopt its own staff’s recommendation that persons be disqualified from being appointed to the Commission if they have received significant income from a regulated entity within two years before appointment.  In fact, no motion was even made on this recommendation, much less on the tougher citizen alternative that would have specified five instead of two years.   

 in hearings  where affected citizens are protesting a proposed permit to allow a polluter undertake some type of polluting operation… [the TNRCC technical and legal staff]…essentially supports the permit applicant…[having]already “signed off” on the draft permit, so they are obviously going to be defensive about anyone challenging the permit at that point.  This involvement by the agency staff is terribly unfair to those citizens protesting a permit. .. .

The Sunset Commission did not take action on suggestions by citizens that the mission of TNRCC be clearly defined only as protection of public health and the environment, not also promotion of economic development. … 

Basically all funding issues were punted….

Here are links to the members of the other members of the Working Group:s

 

 

Entry for July 26, 2006

July 26, 2006

This illustration by Steve Brodner accompanied  Rolling Stone Magazine‘s April 21, 2005 online posting of Osha Gray Davidson’s article, “Bush’s Most Radical Plan Yet.,”

Davidson’s article reported that Kevin Brady (R-TX) had been trying for nine years to introduce legislation establishing “sunset commissions” and reported that the the administration’s budget bill had included such a commission

spelled out in three short sentences, [which] would give the president the power to appoint an eight-member panel…which would systematically review federal programs every ten years and decide whether they should be eliminated. Any programs that are not “producing results,” in the eyes of the commission, would “automatically terminate unless the Congress took action to continue them.”

While the administration portrayed the commission as a benign effort to make sure that federal agencies are running properly, Davidson concluded 

the commission would enable the Bush administration to achieve what Ronald Reagan only dreamed of: the end of government regulation as we know it. With a simple vote of five commissioners — many of them likely to be lobbyists and executives from major corporations currently subject to federal oversight — the president could terminate any program or agency he dislikes. No more Environmental Protection Agency. No more Food and Drug Administration. No more Securities and Exchange Commission.

Henry Waxman told Davidson,

 The end result would be a field day for corporate lobbyists.

Now, Todd Tiahrt (R-KS)’s  H.R. 5766, the “Government Efficiency Act of 2006” is on a fast track.  Introduced on July 12, 2006 with 19 co-sponsors, the number now grown to 81. 

The House Committee on Government Reform, chaired by Tom Davis (R-VA),  received the bill that date, held a hearing July 19, then marked up the bill accepting Davis’s manager’s amendment  and ordered the bill reported the next day, by a vote of 15 to 12. The bill would require scheduled reviews of all federal agencies and programs and establish review commissions for that purpose. 

At the hearing, the committee also marked up and ordered reported  H.R. 3282 Kevin Brady’s  “The Abolishment of Obsolete Agencies and Federal Sunset Act of 2005” with 110 co-sponsors,  by a vote of 16-15.  Brady had first submitted his bill on July 14, 2005.  This bill goes a step further than Tiahrt’s provides for

the abolishment of agencies for which a public need does not exist.

Brady has submitted a third bill, H.R. 3277 , “Federal Agency Performance Review and Sunset Act” July 14, 2005.  The House Committee on Government Reform Subcommitee on Federal Workforce and Agency Organization held a  September 27, 2005 hearing on this bill and on H.R. 3276,  “Government Reorganization and Improvement of Performance Act” introduced July 14, 2005 by the Subcommittee’s Chairman, Jon Porter, (R-NV).  No action was taken after that time. 

Previous bills introduced by Brady to establish a sunset commission  include H.R. 2939, “Federal Sunset Act of 1998 ;” H.R. 2128,  “Abolishment of Obsolete Agencies and Federal Sunset Act of 1999;”  H.R.  2373  “Abolishment of Obsolete Agencies and Federal Sunset Act of 2001;” and H.R. H.R. 1227, “Abolishment of Obsolete Agencies and Federal Sunset Act of 2003.”  

On July 20, Brian M. Riedl and Michelle Muccio of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, posted their WebMemo #1170, “How to Improve the Government Waste Commission Proposals” supporting the measures.

Tiahrt’s bill, reported July 24, was discharged by the David Dreier (R-CA)’s House Rules Committee and Jim Nussle (R-IA)’s House Budget Committee, both of which had also received the bill July 12.  The bill has been placed on the Union Calendar and OMB Watch says the measure will be considered tomorrow.   That date,  Phil Gingrey (R-GA)  announced on the floor that the Committee on Rules might meet later in the week to grant a rule limiting the amendment process. 

Any Member wishing to offer an amendment should submit 55 copies of the amendment and one copy of a brief explanation of the amendment to the Rules Committee in room H–312 of the Capitol by 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 26, 2006.

OMB Watch’s analysis posted July 25, headlined, “Committee Mark-Up Makes a Bad Bill Worse” noted that Davis’s amendment 

 expanding the scope of the commission’s reviews to include rules and regulations…also requires the commission to review the constitutional basis of all programs and agencies. This amendment vastly increases the scope of the commission’s power and puts individual regulations, not just programs, on the chopping block.  

In the same analysis OMB Watch reported that 

The Brady bill…was voted out of committee on largely party line votes with Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) crossing the aisle to oppose the legislation…H.R. 5766 is scheduled for a vote on the floor this Thursday, July 27. While the Brady bill is not currently scheduled for a floor vote, there are rumors that the Brady bill could be combined with the Tiahrt bill before reaching the floor. 

OMB Watch summarized its presss conference of today in this news release.

The Committee met at 3:00 today.  A summary of amendments can be found at the Rule Committee’s website.  Tom Davis submitted another amendment that clarifies

 that the Federal Advisory Committee Act applies to any Federal Review Commissions …meaning that their meetings would have to be open to the public  [and]…that the Freedom of Information Act applies to information held by the commissions.  

His amendment would also require 

the commissions to develop rules and procedures to govern the conflicts of interest of the commissioners [and r]emoves a section of the legislation that would have required the President to submit a schedule under which all agencies in the entire federal government would be reviewed.  

Cliff  Stearns (R-FL) would extent the authority of commissions to include the review of the legislative branch.  Brian Baird (D-WA) would ‘s amendment requires that the final text of a joint resolution as described in the bill be made available on the internet for at least 72 hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays when the House is not in session) before it is able to be considered on the floor in such a manner that 

it is conveniently and anonymously accessible using existing technology at no cost and in a format that is searchable by text.

 Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), who has announced his retirement, submitted amendments:

  • to allow members to amend any joint resolution relating to a legislative proposal prepared by the Federal Review Commission on the House floor;
  • to require all appointments to a Federal Review Commission to be made by Congress;
  • to add  four voting Congressional Members to a Federal Review Commission;
  • to increase the time for committees to consider any joint resolution relating to a legislative proposal prepared by the Federal Review Commission from 30 legislative days to 45 legislative days;
  • to require the Federal Review Commission to hold at least two public hearings; and
  • to prohibit the President from establishing a Federal Review Commission without Congressional Action

Anthony Weiner (NY) submitted an amendment in the nature of a substitute to establish a  9/11-style commission with subpoena power to

examine government waste, including duplicative programs, outrageous spending, and unnecessary subsidies, including tax advantages to entities or industries engaged in profit making enterprises. 

Entry for July 25, 2006

July 25, 2006

Douglas A. Brook, shown above, directs the Center for Defense Management Reform for the Graduate School of Business & Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School.  He is one of the authors of a report published June 22, 2006, Legislating Civil Service Reform: The Homeland Security Act of 2002, which looks at the secret drafting by the administration of the law, which included controversial changes to the civil service system, which are still being addressed in litigation.  According to the report, the law resulted from

a rare alignment of policy environment, policy opportunity, politics, and rhetorical argument. The result was enactment of legislation that it is reasonable to argue would not otherwise have been possible…Urgent legislation provided a policy opportunity: the HSA was the perfect legislative vehicle for an approach to personnel management that was already on the minds of administration policy makers. With the President’s Management Agenda already developed, the HSA represented a fortuitous meeting of preparation and opportunity for the White House…[–]”management flexibility” was conceptually so easy that it did not even require much discussion.

The report concludes that the administration prevailed because of the

framing of the debate and the rhetorical arguments that each side employed. Simply stated, the supporters of reform presented their arguments in terms of national security, and their opponents argued in terms of collective bargaining rights. In some sense this framing was, perhaps unwittingly, facilitated by the administration’s decision to draft its proposal using only very general language. A debate framed as “national security vs. union special interests” is quite different from one that might have been framed as “management flexibility vs.  “workers rights.” … In the post-911 policy environment, “national security” was a political trump card, even damaging the campaign of an undisputable patriot like Max Cleland.

Senator Joe Lieberman, who at that time was Chairman of  Government Affairs Committee and a Democrat presidential candidate, introduced S. 2452  to establish a Department of National Homeland Security and the National Office for Combating Terrorism.  In response, Bush decided to act in secret and without consultation.  He

instructed his chief of staff, Andrew Card, to come up with proposals for a homeland security department. Card organized a White House staff group to develop a homeland security agency proposal in secret, without explicit consultation with or advance notice to congressional leaders, cabinet secretaries, or agency heads.

The staff group that met secretly in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) was a working group of five White House staff, which would become known as the
“G-5.” They were Richard Falkenrath; Mark Everson, then comptroller of the Office of Federal Financial Management and later Deputy Director for Management of OMB; Joel Kaplan; Bruce Lawlor; and Brad Berenson, Associate Counsel to the President. The G-5 group answered to an oversight group of administration principals: Chief of Staff Card; Josh Bolten, then Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy; Mitch Daniels, Director of OMB; White House counsel Alberto Gonzales; and Nick Calio, head of White House Legislative Liaison. This group was tasked with developing the concept for reorganizing the federal government to deal with homeland security.

Members of the group worked in secret. Joel Kaplan explains,

It was secret in the beginning because we wanted freedom of deliberation and real thought. It was a terrific process. Later, it was secret because there was a sense that we were sort of brought along kicking and screaming, and this was sort of going to happen anyway. But the truth is this was exceptionally hard to get done. Especially because of the Congressional jurisdictional problems and the fact that this has to be done as one fell swoop or else it’ll never get done. It’ll get nickel-and-dimed to death.

While the authors lack sufficient evidence to draw conclusions about politicl considerations, they analyze the effects.

On the one hand, there are administration officials who claim they were just doing what they believed was right and that politics was not a consideration. On the other hand, there is a putative Democratic presidential candidate pushing an alternative bill in the Senate and politically powerful public employee unions with a history of supporting Democrats…. Regardless of intentions, the effects of politics on this issue are quite clear. Key Democrats who stayed with their union constituencies were defeated at the polls. The 2002 congressional elections had a decisive effect on the legislation—and vice versa. 

Entry for July 24, 2006

July 24, 2006

Today, Arlen Spector (R-PA), Senate Judiciary Committee committee chairman launched a direct attack on the president’s  signing statements, saying he would have a bill ready by the end of the week allowing Congress to sue Bush in federal court.

We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will…authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president’s acts declared unconstitutional.

The  American Bar Association task force also concluded today that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duty to either sign a bill, veto it, or take no action.

According to AP writer Laurie Kellman’s July 24 story, “Specter prepping bill to sue Bush,”

Bush has challenged about 750 statutes passed by Congress, according to numbers compiled by Specter’s committee. The ABA estimated Bush has issued signing statements on more than 800 statutes, more than all other presidents combined.

 

Entry for July 23, 2006

July 24, 2006

The drawing of Thoreau is from the Pierre P. Proudhon memorial computer, flag.blackened.net  at Berkeley, dedicated to the memory of the French anarchist.

On this day in 1846 in protest over slavery and the country’s involvement in the Mexican War, Henry David Thoreau refused to pay his $1 poll tax and was jailed by by his friend the Concord, Massachusetts town constable–an experience that moves him to write “On Civil Disobedience,” written as a lecture for the Concord, Massachusetts, lyceum in January 1848.

I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe–“That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

These days, it seems that  those who currently accept the motto, only want the least governing when it comes to them; they are content to pass all sorts of laws to curtail civil liberties.  What they forget is that he also said,

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it…. Under a government which imprsons any injustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

Over the years the essay has inspired Tolstoy, Gandhi and the Industrial Workers of the World, as well as for contemporary activists in the civil rights, anti-war and radical environmentalist movements.

 

 

Entry for July 22, 2006

July 22, 2006

The cartoon is of Ben Cohen, founder of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, who has  has founded Prioirities, Inc., to work on ways to redirect the military budget to social spending.   

Last night I watched Cohen on the Tavis Smiley Show.  Since seloling the ice cream biz, he has founded Prioirities, Inc., to work on ways to redirect the military budget to social spending.    In thecourse of his work, he has come up with a brilliant way of describing the federal budget using oreos.  First he looks at military spending, as it compares to other sectors.

 On this chart, each cookie equals ten billion dollars. What I’ve got here is a stack of forty-four cookies, four hundred forty billion dollars, and that is what we currently spend on the Pentagon not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Compared to that, I want to show you what we spend on some of these other areas.

The federal government spends four Oreos, forty billion dollars, on K to 12 education. They spend one Oreo on world hunger. They spend five Oreos, fifty billion dollars, on children’s health care. A quarter of an Oreo on energy independence and renewables….Three-quarters of an Oreo on job training and, of course, zero on deficit reduction.

Then he shows how to rearrange the budget, using the advice of former military officials.

All we’re saying at the Priorities campaign is that let’s take one Oreo off the top and put it on K to 12 education and, over twelve years, that’s enough money to rebuild all of the schools in the United States. Take another Oreo off and put it on world hunger. Take another one and split it in half – you’ve done that before, haven’t you?…

Put that half on world hunger, so that’s an Oreo and a half, fifteen billion dollars a year. For that amount of money, you could provide food self-sufficiency for all of the six million kids around the world that are dying of starvation every year. Take another Oreo off and put it on children’s health care and that’s enough to provide health care for every kid in the United States who doesn’t have it.

Take another Oreo off and put it on energy independence and that’s enough to reduce our need for oil by fifty percent over the next ten years. Take one more Oreo off and put it on job training and that’s enough to provide job training for another half a million people that get laid off. Take that other half we had and put it on deficit reduction and at least that’s a start in bringing the deficit down.

As Tavis said,

when you see something like this, it kind of reminds me of my grandmother….Big Momma used to say to me that “that idea is too much like right”. It’s too much like right.

Cohen also looks at the military spending rates of our adversaries:

[T]he Pentagon bureaucracy. They’re deathly afraid of being called weak on defense and, of course, you’ve got all that money that’s coming in from the defense contractors. But the reality is, even after you take off those six Oreos, compared to what the other potential adversaries are spending, you know, we got more than enough.

Here’s what Russia spends: seven Oreos. Here’s what China spends: six Oreos. Here’s what the remainder of the Axis of Evil spends, Iran and North Korea: one Oreo. So as you can see, it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s going on because of the bureaucracy of the Pentagon and, you know, the issue of politicians being afraid that, you know, people are going to lose their job if you stop making some of these weapons.

Cohen also has a demonstration with BBs

Sometimes people want an example of, you know, what kind of weapons we’d be eliminating for that sixty billion. What I’ve got here is a demonstration that involves dropping some BBs into this container. You know, we currently spend twenty billion dollars a year on maintaining our nuclear arsenal and I want to show you what we get for that twenty billion.

 Here’s one BB. That represents the equivalent of fifteen bombs the size of what blew up Hiroshima. Now here’s six BBs and that would be enough nuclear weapons to blow up all of Russia. Now what I’m going to do is pour in the amount of BBs that represents our total nuclear arsenal.

That was ten thousand BBs, the equivalent of a hundred fifty thousand Hiroshima-size nuclear bombs. I mean, we just don’t need that many. Our military advisors say that we could cut our nuclear force down to a reasonable deterrent force and save ten billion dollars a year.

According to Cohen,

Tom Vilsack, who is the current governor of Iowa, is planning on running for president. He has endorsed the Common Sense Budget Act. He’s endorsed exactly the transfer we’re talking about…. I talked to John Edwards and, you know, he couldn’t get on board with the whole thing, but he said he would do some of it. Then in terms of the 2006 elections, there’s a targeted swing race in Iowa that Bruce Braley is running in and he has endorsed the Common Sense Budget Act. And in Vermont, there’s actually another swing race for the House of Representatives and Peter Welch has endorsed the Common Sense Budget Act.

You can view an animation of the oreos demonstration here.    If you register, you’ll get email alerts on budget actions you can take from Cohen’s True Majority Action. There’s also an interactive oreo budget which you can use to send your recommendations on federal spending to  your congressperson.   He’s also founded Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities   and Faithful America. The Progressive Review has in-depth budget statistics here.