Counting chickens?

As Yogi Berra most famously said, this is a case of deja vu all over again:

There is great news in my race to take the First Congresssional seat back from the tax-and-spend party of Pelosi.

Likely voters in the First District were polled the week before Thanksgiving.  Like all Americans, they were concerned about the economy and what the Democrats in Washington were doing.

If the election were held today, I would beat Frank Kratovil 52-39%.  Click on this link to read the original poll memo from the Tarrance Group, one of the leading national polling firms that also does the well-known “Battleground Poll”.

This is exciting.  With just 11 months to go until Election Day, we all have a lot of work to do if we want to take the country back from the crowd in Washington.

You can visit my new campaign web site at www.andyharris.com  Please let me know what you think.  You can also sign up at the website to volunteer for the campaign. Or you can contribute to the campaign at www.DrHarrisForCongress.com.

I’m looking forward to seeing you on the campaign trail throughout the First District!

Sincerely,

Andy Harris
Andy Harris for Congress

Most of you know I was a Harris supporter last time, and I take regular delight in telling folks who assured me Frank Kratovil would be a moderate (as opposed to having the liberal voting record I predicted) that “I told you so!” Even his final “no” vote on Pelosicare that supporters point to as evidence of an independent streak is somewhat suspect because he didn’t vote to recommit in the previous vote – a majority vote to recommit with instructions would have effectively killed the House bill.

However, Andy Harris having a 13 point lead at this early juncture means little – that and $5 will get you a latte at Starbucks. Admittedly it’s positive news for his campaign.

Two other factors in Andy’s favor will be not having to defeat an incumbent in the primary (so there will be a more-or-less united Republican Party this time around) and having an opponent with a voting record perhaps even farther left than his moderate GOP predecessor.

(In truth, Wayne Gilchrest would likely have voted the same way on cap-and-tax and Pelosicare as Frank Kratovil did. But Gilchrest would have likely been more of a fiscal conservative. To me, had 2008 been Gilchrest vs. Kratovil Frank would have likely found success running just a little to the right of Gilchrest. Instead, he picked up the Gilchrest mantle thanks to Wayne’s endorsement and could afford to run a little bit farther left, like calling for “universal health care.”)

Obviously Andy Harris runs a risk in revealing these polls too early, and I wonder if this was really meant for public consumption when the results were revealed a week or so ago. I suppose knowing Andy polls well against Frank Kratovil does work well for fundraising, and Harris is going to be at a disadvantage there because the special interests and labor unions are going to pour millions into keeping Frank employed across the bridge. (Hey, that’s what they did last time to get him there.)

Harris will have one last hurdle to navigate though. With his name on the Congressional ballot this year it’s certain he won’t be running to retain his seat in the Maryland Senate – but he’ll still have to vote there next year. Last year I detected a slight modification of his stridently conservative record when I went through voting records for the monoblogue Accountability Project, perhaps with an eye on this rematch.

But I caution Senator Harris that it’s not going to matter if he bends over backwards and moderates to appease certain voting interests. Any such effort is going to be ignored by the Kratovil team anyway as they troll through 11 previous years of Maryland Senate votes to pick out those which may play poorly to voters. Not many voters appreciate principle, and being on the short end of a 46-1 vote too many times became the subject of Kratovil team’s derision in one particular commercial. (It doesn’t matter to average voters that he was right to be in a small minority or even the lone voice of dissent in several cases because they’ll never get the full context of the bill in question from a 30 second ad. Truthfully it’s a miracle that the Democrats cite the particular vote and that’s only because they’re legally bound to.)

The trick for Harris this time around, though, will be on Election Day and the task at hand then will be to outperform his 2008 numbers on the Eastern Shore. He can do just as well in his stronghold west of Chesapeake Bay but in my opinion he needs to carry the four Lower Shore counties to win. Just flipping the numbers in Wicomico County (or any other Eastern Shore county save Caroline and Cecil) would have been enough for Harris in 2008. And given the fact that at least one third-party candidate will be on the ballot complicates Andy’s battle a little bit more.

All we need to do is remember Harris had a double-digit lead in polling as late as last July to see that the work is far from over. Frank Kratovil and his big-money backers didn’t get where they are by being stupid so there’s no doubt they’ll be slinging the mud as quickly as they can at Harris, if only to try and bury the questionable voting record Frank has accrued.

It should be an interesting 11 months.

Double-digit sobriety

November 29, 2009 · Posted in Liberty Features Syndicate · Comments Off on Double-digit sobriety 

Earlier this month it was announced the unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent, reaching double-digits for the first time in 26 years. Though the rate had been expected to top 10 percent for some time due to our anemic economic recovery – and despite billions of dollars in stimulus money – the stark reality of having an unemployment rate usually associated with the socialist regimes of Europe still smacked casual observers in the face.

Yet Congress used the same tired solutions to address the issue, further extending unemployment benefits while also extending and expanding a targeted tax break designed to maintain the housing industry. Unsurprisingly, the Realtor lobby was foursquare behind the extension.

Economists generally argue that unemployment is a lagging indicator; in other words the employment rate doesn’t keep up with the overall economy. True, the unemployment rate stayed under 5 percent well after the recession began in late 2007 and not holding above that mark until May of 2008.

However, the severity and wide range of this downturn through both business and personal finances means the financial spigot will be turned off for some time. High unemployment may also portend the start of a vicious cycle leading to a deeper, “double-dip” recession.

Over the last few decades, our economy has come to depend on consumer spending for about two-thirds of its activity. Fueled by easy credit and a continual increase in home values – which led to a boom in lending based on home equity – Americans spent money on consumer goods and increased their standard of living beyond that of any country in history.

This wave of prosperity can be traced all the way back to just after World War II. Once returning servicemen were absorbed by the job market, American prosperity grew at an unprecedented rate. All the while we slowly forgot the lessons of thrift and saving the generation growing up during the Great Depression learned the hard way. Certainly there were bumps in the road, but the general trend in economics was such even the poorest Americans had a standard of living unthinkable a generation prior.

As credit became easier and debt no longer feared, Americans overextended themselves at an alarming rate. Therein lies the biggest difference between the recession of the early 1980’s and today’s economic woes: whereas families kept savings to fall back on during previous times, their profligate spending over the last two decades left them deeply in debt and owning a house worth less than their mortgage thanks to the collapse of the housing bubble, not to mention likely to be either unemployed or having their hours cut back. In short, Americans are being burned by the heated economic expansion they created.

While the government attempts to create stimulus through spending and creating debt, prudent Americans are doing what they can to build savings and cutting back on unnecessary items, with retail analysts predicting a gloomy Christmas shopping season. Unfortunately, the spending by Uncle Sam will hamper the efforts of American families to get back on their feet and may prolong the down cycle.

It’s time for government to follow the lead of the last President who inherited a financial crisis. Worthy of note is that the high unemployment rate under President Reagan declined quickly once the tax cuts he pushed through Congress took effect. With President Bush’s tax cuts from earlier this decade due to expire next year, raising taxes on anyone now would be deleterious to the recovery we need.

America needs to be put to work through the private sector, so let’s allow capitalism to do its job.

Michael Swartz is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

The latest in my series of op-eds for LFS, this cleared back on November 17th.

The conservative roadshow

November 28, 2009 · Posted in Op-ed columns · Comments Off on The conservative roadshow 

I can’t figure out what the Washington Post was afraid of – diversity of thought? But they wouldn’t publish this, so it’s up to you to decide whether it was my mistake for submitting this there or theirs for not running it. I kept it right on their self-imposed 800 word limit.

Last Thursday Sarah Palin began a tour to promote her book Going Rogue, selecting Grand Rapids, Michigan as the first venue. Her book tour winds through much of America’s heartland, traveling along the byways to such places as Noblesville, Indiana, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Springfield, Missouri – there’s even a stop at Fort Hood, Texas for good measure.

It’s reminiscent of several other bus tours and events occurring earlier this summer which mostly pertained to health care reform, energy policy, and an expanding government; tours that drew attendees who felt their voices were not being heard otherwise.

As examples, the group Our Country Deserves Better sponsored two separate bus tours dubbed the TEA Party Express. The original began in August and culminated at the 9-12 Taxpayer Rally in Washington, D.C. Its fall edition traveled mostly through the western and southern states and wrapped up in Orlando earlier this month. Both drew crowds ranging in size from hundreds to thousands at each of the whistle stops along the tour. Similar bus treks were arranged by the anti-Obamacare group Patients First – whose Hands Off My Health Care tour is ongoing – and the American Energy Alliance, whose tour enlisted opposition to the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation. While those stops drew smaller audiences ranging from dozens to hundreds, hopping on a decorated bus to tour the nation and spread a message proved to be a effective method of drawing attention to a cause, particularly in small- to medium-size cities where a bus stop could be seen as a major media event.

Most interesting about this populist phenomenon is, with the obvious exception of Sarah Palin’s star power, most of these bus tours featured speakers and performers who didn’t have a lot of name recognition but still carried a message which struck a chord with the target audience. In some cases, speakers featured came across their celebrity more or less accidentally, such as Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known to most as “Joe the Plumber”, or Kenneth Gladney, the victim (or provoker, depending on who you believe) of a beatdown by SEIU members at a St. Louis-area town hall meeting in August.

The September 12th rallies in Washington and scattered throughout the country may have been the best example of this populist grassroots movement because few who spoke at the rallies were politically connected. Most of the speakers worked for advocacy groups toiling in the trenches for limited government solutions to America’s problems and presented themselves as a contrast to the solutions placed before Congress. At those rallies the draw was the message, not the speaker, with the added value of participants having the opportunity to see they weren’t alone in their thinking.

Because these events proved successful in attracting notice in out-of-the-way places and via the alternative media outlets on the internet, those on the liberal side of the political spectrum have half-heartedly attempted to do the same thing. Yet that approach doesn’t seem to catch on nearly as well with activists on the left than it works as a populist call to middle America.

As the countdown begins to the 2010 elections, though, the question for tour sponsors is whether they can keep up their fever pitch through next November and raise the money required to fund their efforts. But it also is up to those who took the time to attend and support these tours – people who are fighting to limit the size and scope of government – to stay involved as well.

Many on the left and the media called supporters at conservative events or citizens who spoke out at town hall meetings during the summer “teabaggers” and dismissed them as Astroturf, not true grassroots. But now with the release of her book and subsequent tour, the elites and inside-the-Beltway crowd have returned to their favorite sport of Campaign 2008 – sniping against Sarah Palin.

Yet all the slings and arrows directed at Palin only further steel the resolve of those who support the TEA Party movement, and most protesters are staying the course even with the catcalls and lack of success on several fronts – the House passed both health care reform and Waxman-Markey despite the “angry mob’s” efforts to persuade representatives otherwise.

Palin-bashers and those who call the pro-freedom side teabaggers should beware, though – those who voted in favor of Pelosicare and cap-and-tax will provide a target for new tour efforts once attention turns back to politics after the holidays. With Congress struggling to pass a number of measures unpopular with the public and President Obama hoping to find the magic formula to bring back our moribund economy, the summer of 2010 may bring a repeat of the bus tours which marked 2009 as the summer of public discontent.

A four-day weekend – open thread

November 27, 2009 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Personal stuff · Comments Off on A four-day weekend – open thread 

Just so you know, I’m taking a couple days off from writing but there will be posts tomorrow and Sunday. Sunday brings the usual reprint of my latest released Liberty Features Syndicate article, but Saturday is a special treat – an op-ed the Washington Post was afraid to publish. (Hey, I wasn’t going to wait on an invitation from them; it would be as likely as me drawing an invite to an Obama state dinner!)

I’ve never tried an open thread and it’s likely my readership during a holiday weekend isn’t enough to support a good discussion. But what the heck, it gives me a chance to pop in and address comments about other stuff not politically related or germaine to the topic at hand. Meanwhile, I can relax knowing I don’t get back to the grind until Monday.

So have at it. I’ve had a pretty good week of discussion so don’t stop now!

Thanksgiving 2009

November 26, 2009 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off on Thanksgiving 2009 

Because of the ability for me to prewrite posts, I’m sitting here yesterday doing my Thanksgiving message for today. This way I get a day off to visit friends and share in their Thanksgiving.

Given the fact that I lost the job I moved here to take a year ago and haven’t found anything to satisfactorily replace that income, you would think I would have little to be thankful for. Admittedly, it’s been one heck of a time for me juggling my finances but I plod on as best I can.

However, I do feel blessed that I have this outlet for my talents, and it’s led me to opportunities I only dreamt of having a year ago. For the last ten months I’ve been getting paid for doing something I enjoy doing and hopefully that will be the start of a new direction in my life. Obviously it’s not much but better than nothing.

While I’m not going to be hokey enough to claim my readers as an extended family, I do appreciate that there are people who come by daily to read, comment, and debate. Fortunately I still have my First Amendment rights and the means to speak out using them.

Speaking of writing, I can do a little bit of foreshadowing and tell you next week will have some exciting items on my site as I celebrate its fourth anniversary. But this post isn’t really about my site; this is just a means of conveyance.

Moving here did take me away from my family, who now is scattered from Ohio to Florida. So perhaps the thing I’m most thankful for this year was meeting someone special in my life and having the chance to get to know her family. Obviously the Good Lord put us together for a reason and the timing turned out to be really good for both of us.

Life continues with its ups and downs, but having survived another year in this world is plenty to be thankful for. Our nation has a lot of people in harm’s way who are at a lot more risk than we are – dodging bullets and IEDs is much more dangerous than overdosing on tryptophan and falling asleep on the couch at halftime of the Lions game.

To all of you, political friend or political foe, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Since I’m away comment moderation will be somewhere between slow and just not happening.

Oh – I also enjoy the take on Thanksgiving from Mark Alexander of the Patriot Post.

Does Newt have the jobs solution?

November 25, 2009 · Posted in Business and industry, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Does Newt have the jobs solution? 

We’re coming into a slow news period, so it’s time for some thought provocation as we glide into the Thanksgiving holiday (not to mention Christmas and New Years’ Day right on its heels.) A lot of people are writing off the remainder of 2009 as a lost cause and looking forward to 2010.

Newt Gingrich didn’t have all that great of a year politically because he’s best known for backing one of the most liberal Republican Congressional hopefuls to come down the pike in some time. Yet he still has a few conservative thoughts from time to time and this six point plan for job creation seems like a pretty good expression of right-wing orthodoxy:

To get our economy back on track and to create jobs now, we must fundamentally shift power from politicians to small business, from lobbyists to entrepreneurs, and from bureaucrats to investors.

Here is our proposal to do just that:

  1. Cut the Payroll Tax by 50% for Two Years. Every single working American pays the payroll tax. In this economy, many people may not get a pay raise, but this would give every working American a take home pay raise, immediately. This would also free up cash for every employer, immediately.
  2. Incentives for Small Business Investment. Allow small businesses to expense 100% of new equipment purchases each year to help them invest in new, more productive technologies.
  3. Abolish Taxes on Capital Gains. If we want to compete with China and have most productive factories in the world, the best jobs, and the highest take home pay, we should match China’s capital gains rate of zero. This would dramatically increase investment in America.
  4. Reduce the Corporate Tax Rate. When you combine state and federal taxes, America has the highest corporate tax structure in the world. We believe that by matching the Irish corporate tax rate of 12.5%, America would be the most desirable economy in the world to open a factory, create a new job, and develop a new product.
  5. Abolish the Death Tax. If we want to be pro-work, pro-savings, and pro-family, we should not punish, but instead reward people who have worked, saved and created wealth all their life.
  6. Reduce Spending and Reform Government in order to Balance the Budget. While Newt Gingrich was speaker federal spending rose by an average of 2.9% a year, the lowest increase since Calvin Coolidge in the 1920’s. We can apply the same principles that worked from 1995 to 1998 and create a balanced budget with a smaller government with lower spending, lower interest rates, and less debt.

My impressions on these point by point:

  1. Why only two years? The only reason I’d take two years is to allow time to a shift to a consumption-based taxation system, where payroll taxes would be cut 100 percent. I do understand the intent but don’t see a reason to have an arbitrary time limit because, like we saw with “cash for clunkers,” we’d have an artificial spike in economic activity in months 18-24 of the tax break and a crash after it expires. As a compromise measure, though, this would be acceptable step to me.
  2. Since I don’t own a small business where I have to expense equipment I can’t say just how good of an idea this is. Context (such as how businesses are taxed now) would be helpful.
  3. This to me is the biggest winner of the bunch! Why should saving and investment be penalized? I know the class envy crowd will call this a tax cut for the rich but I’m certainly not rich and eliminating the capital gains tax would put a little additional money in my pocket too. At a time where private-sector investment would give the economy a wonderful shot in the arm (and perhaps reverse the trend toward higher unemployment) the government has no such thing as a fair share.
  4. As a non-expert in the field of business taxation, what Newt proposes sounds good as an interim step. But if a consumption tax works why tax business income? In truth, there is no such thing as a tax business pays – it gets passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices. Lowering prices and, in turn, making American products more competitive in a global marketplace are important secondary benefits in either case.
  5. When Benjamin Franklin said that the certainties in life are death and taxes, I don’t think he was thinking about this combo meal. One can exist without the other, and there’s no use punishing a grieving family with enough assets to qualify for the death tax – indeed, it is long past time to eliminate the death tax.
  6. What I find most interesting about this statement is that during the time period Gingrich cites we had a Republican Congress (with Gingrich as Speaker) making the budget for a Democrat (President Clinton). In terms of fiscal conservatism this worked out well because Congress makes the budget and wasn’t going to allow new entitlements under a Democrat’s watch. Granted, there were items we shouldn’t have compromised on but this lesson is important because once the GOP got into full power (2001-06) they seemed to forget about fiscal restraint because President Bush was a big-government “conservative.” This set the GOP back light-years with conservatives – it’s a division which still exists and hampers Republican efforts to take back government.

One criticism I’ve had about Newt Gingrich since his days as Speaker is that he’s gotten a little too enamored with government as a solution, particularly at the federal level. Among the levels of government (federal, state, and local) the federal government is the most likely to use a sledgehammer to exterminate an ant, dictating one-size-fits-all solutions to its inferiors while taking a large cut of the money it at once confiscates and returns to John Q. Public.

In the private sector, one of the best things you can say to a bargain hunter is, “I can get it for you wholesale.” There’s a quest to cut out the middleman, and to me Fedzilla is the greatest example of a middleman who adds little to no value to the product. (Of course, what’s really sad is when money is filtered through both the federal and state levels, leaving crumbs to the local government.) While Newt is justifiably proud of his efforts to achieve a balanced budget, increasing the federal budget 2.9% a year was still way too excessive.

It’s all grist for the mill I suppose, since the chances of any of Newt’s action items actually being adopted by a President and Congress hellbent on fattening the public sector to a more obscene level than the plumpest Thanksgiving turkey matches the chances of the turkey’s survival past the holidays.

A Libertarian governor for Maryland?

Well, they have a candidate now at least:

On November 21, 2009 the Central Committee of the Libertarian Party of Maryland selected Susan Gaztañaga as their candidate for Governor and Doug McNeil as their candidate for Lieutenant Governor.

In a speech on November 21st, Susan Gaztañaga stated, “A Gaztañaga administration will be a transparent administration in which citizens will know exactly where their tax dollars are going. The double burden of excessive taxation and intrusive regulation is keeping the neediest citizens of Maryland from starting businesses, creating jobs, and building a thriving economy.” She continued by saying, “If the State government sticks to its basic responsibility of providing a safe, secure environment in which people can conduct their business, maintaining our infrastructure of roads, bridges and tunnels, and providing an emergency response system, I am confident that Marylanders will be able to feed, clothe, house, educate and care for themselves and their loved ones.”

If you have sharp eyes, you’ll notice I added her name to my left column of candidates earlier today.

When it comes down to it, though, a good Republican candidate should be saying the same thing. And while I have all the respect in the world for the Libertarian Party, I worry that their candidates take votes away from conservative Republicans who agree with them on about 70 to 80 percent of their platform. Then again, if the GOP ends up with a candidate that caters too much to Democrats and runs as a “centrist” the conservatives may have no choice but to express their disgust by voting third-party.

To me, most of the difference between conservative and libertarian comes in items Gaztanaga wasn’t cited on during her speech and that’s in social issues like abortion, drug legalization, and gay marriage. Social conservatives tend to believe in legislating morality, which is okay to a point but risks being just as onerous on freedom as the worst socialist tyranny.

The hardest part in convincing Maryland voters to vote for Libertarians  – or Republicans, for that matter – will come in convincing them to vote against what the mainstream media and Democrats have sold to them as being in their best self-interest. For their part, Democrats continually walk a tightrope between wealth redistribution and a tax rate (or progressivity) punishing enough to drive producers out of the state. It’s why liberals’ aims are larger, as in on a national scope, because the tax-and-spend progressive agenda only enacted at the state level leaves producers with alternatives like moving to states more friendly to their interests. Make the stakes such that you need to leave the country entirely and some may resign themselves to submit.

It would do well for the GOP, though, to pay some mind about some of those items the Maryland Libertarians are proposing. Unfortunately, I have no idea if the Green Party is contemplating running a candidate for governor to siphon votes from Martin O’Malley because he’s in lockstep with their overall agenda. In any case, having more choice is usually not a bad thing so I’ll stand by that assessment for the time being.

RNC proposal: it’s all about the principle

At the next RNC annual meeting in January there could be a resolution introduced to address the Scozzafava problem, defined as throwing party support behind a candidate better suited to be a Democrat philosophically.

According to the Washington Post, James Bopp, Jr. of Indiana is introducing this draft resolution, the “Proposed RNC Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates”, and expects candidates to be agreeable to at least 8 of the 10 – the “80 percent” rule espoused by Ronald Reagan. Here are the ten issues in question:

  1. We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;
  2. We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;
  3. We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
  4. We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;
  5. We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
  6. We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
  7. We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;
  8. We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
  9. We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing, denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
  10. We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.

Well, I guess I can get money from the RNC because I support at least the minimum eight (actually to one extent or another I can go 10 for 10.) To me, this is a no-brainer.

But the supporting members who signed the resolution hail mostly from flyover country, which leads me to believe that if the elitists, who elected to financially support a candidate like Dede Scozzafava in the mistaken belief that creating a “big tent” means expanding the tent to cover any and all political beliefs as long as the candidate carries an “R” after their name, have the majority of the 168 votes they’ll somehow make sure this never sees the light of day. This resolution is for those of us who believe the size of the philosophical tent is limited and it’s our job to draw the voters there, winning them over by convincing them that maximizing freedom – as opposed to having the nanny state allow them crumbs at the whim of their dictates – is to their benefit. Come on, we’re only talking about how Reagan won, that’s all. The guy carried 49 states!

Last January’s RNC meeting was interesting because of the Chair race, so this year it’s all about the issues. But in the end, that’s truly what elections come down to in most cases so establishing a baseline for support (sort of a Contract With America but one based on overall principles and not actual legislation) seems to me a solid game plan to build a groundswell of support for GOP candidates. Try as the partisan media of the alphabet networks might, the poor economy can easily be tied to the party in power, and that’s not the GOP.

Perhaps the inside-the-Beltway crowd doesn’t like the idea of a litmus test, but we tried it your way the last several years and the results were found wanting. Why have a party if it’s not about principles?

WCRC meeting – November 2009

This month’s WCRC meeting featured a speaker well known to most of those attending, State Senator Richard Colburn.

But first we had to take care of the usual business, and for the most part it went as normal (our secretary was again missing, and he had the copy of the minutes.) One item on the treasurer’s report piqued interest, and that was paying for two years of internet service for the club website. A member wondered how many hits per month the site was getting, which was a question we couldn’t answer.

Another announcement was reminding the club about the upcoming Christmas Party and the fact 2010 dues could be paid there.

Club president Marc Kilmer then introduced our speaker, Senator Colburn, as a “stalwart defender of the Lower Shore and taxpayers.”

Richard related that come January 13, 2010, the Maryland General Assembly will begin its 427th session and it would be his 24th. Stating “I personally believe we’re still in a recession,” Colburn made the easy prediction that “balancing the budget will dominate the 2010 session.” Because Governor O’Malley had leaned so heavily on stimulus money – using $2.5 billion to balance the FY09 and FY10 budgets – it’s masked the fact that lost jobs equal lost revenue to the state.

Colburn also revealed that the pain of making cuts to county budget isn’t shared equally. For example, the very rural Somerset County derives 49% of its budget from state aid while Montgomery County in suburban Washington only needs to depend on the state for 14% of their budget. Richard opined that O’Malley’s cuts weren’t fair and across the board as advertised. Nor could education continue to be spared while other human services endure cuts. The state needed to “exercise restraint” in making the FY11 budget.

One remedy Colburn discussed was making the state more business-friendly. After talking about the poor marks the state received from business publications, Colburn thought that once we got through the recession neighboring states would “eat us for dinner” in terms of job creation. Having the 2007 Special Session was a “terrible idea” in Colburn’s eyes because it raised taxes on the eve of a recession.

A national issue meriting Colburn’s attention during his speech was health care, which needs to include a tort reform element to address America’s new motto: “sue thy neighbor.” Instead of health care though, voters “want to see Washington focus on the recession (and) increase jobs in the private sector.” But overall, “(Nancy) Pelosi is one of the best things Republicans have going” as is the “double O” team of Obama and O’Malley.

Looking ahead to next year’s election, Richard believed that the “wind would be behind us” but tempered his optimism somewhat by noting Maryland is the third most Democrat state in the nation based on registration – the 27 point bulge in Democrat voter registration trailed only Massachusetts (34% gap) and Hawaii (29%), even leading New York and California. However, the GOP cause in Maryland could be helped greatly once Bob Ehrlich got into a race, either for governor or U.S. Senate. He “has no reason…not to run,” said Richard. For his own part, Colburn has his own fundraiser coming up in January here in Salisbury.

Senator Colburn then took questions from the audience. I asked him about the impact of slots on the budget and was told not to count on any help from them in FY11, since Ocean Downs was the only approved licensee so far and they won’t be operational until next summer at the earliest. Had slots been put in place when originally proposed during the Ehrlich administration, we would have already been reaping the benefits and not been well behind the curve of other nearby states moving beyond slot machines and into other types of gambling.

A question on just how much the budget would need to be trimmed drew a guess from Senator Colburn of between $2 billion and $4 billion. One area which could be contentious is cutting teacher pensions by shifting the burden to the counties to handle the expense.

Would Ehrlich-Hogan would be a good ticket? asked another. It would be, given the good name recognition Larry Hogan has. It was unfortunate, opined Colburn, that the Ehrlich-Steele pairing didn’t remain for the 2006 election because that combination may have won.

Once Colburn finished his remarks, Mark Biehl gave the Lower Shore Young Republicans report. With their next meeting coming up on December 9th – marking a move to second Wednesday meetings – the big items on their agenda were preparing for a canned food drive around next Easter and hosting the state convention next June 19th.

I gave a fairly brief Central Committee report in the absence of both our Chair and Vice Chair, and rehashed the events of the state convention in getting a new state party leader and two new seats for our county’s Central Committee. I also pointed out that we were beginning to emphasize the process of getting good candidates for all county offices in 2010 and attempted to determine interest in a number of possible Lincoln Day dinner speakers.

In other business, Bob Miller asked about whether the club would donate to the Bless Our Children holiday campaign, which will be taken under advisement by the club’s executive committee. Mark McIver gave a brief update about the Andy Harris for Congress campaign, excitedly revealing that Harris lead Kratovil in early polling (albeit polling commissioned by Harris) by a 52-39 margin – but warned, “we were up before…we won’t be resting on our laurels.” Next Wednesday Harris is holding a fundraiser in Cambridge featuring Congressman (and 9-12 speaker) Tom Price of Georgia.

One final announcement by club president Kilmer was about an AFP event in Worcester County tomorrow night featuring both District 38B Delegates, who are Democrats. It was an opportunity to ask tough questions for those attending.

With that, we concluded a brisk (barely over an hour) meeting, with the next one scheduled for January 25, 2010.

Rutledge joins chorus questioning stimulus numbers

Here’s an easy one, but you need to start someplace. It may anger the voters in Maryland’s 18th Congressional District but that’s the price paid for speaking out. Oh wait, Maryland has only 8 Congressional districts? Well then, carry on Jim:

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jim Rutledge today called for a comprehensive independent audit of the trillion-dollar ‘stimulus’ program created and passed earlier this year by Congressional Democrats and demanded heightened accountability for taxpayer dollars spent to date on the government-run program.

Rutledge pointed to a report on the so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act released this week by the Obama administration that claims the program has “created or saved” 640,329 jobs nationwide as a result of $159 billion in government spending – a cost of $248,309 per job.

And more than half of the jobs claimed were in education, the government sector, despite the Obama administration’s earlier promises that 90 percent of the positions would be in the private job market, where this year alone millions of Americans have lost their paychecks and livelihoods.

“This Democrat-passed boondoggle not only blows a billion-dollar hole in the federal budget deficit through 2019 – further burdening our children and grandchildren with piles of government debt – but simply has not generated the number or type of jobs many Americans are desperately searching for right now,” Rutledge said. “It’s reckless and irresponsible and proves that the federal government has absolutely no business in the job creation business.”

For the state of Maryland, the depth of reckless spending appears to be even greater. According to the government Web site Recovery.gov, which tracks the program’s spending, the $3.1 billion of taxpayer funding doled out to date in the name of Marylanders has resulted in 6,748 jobs at a cost of $470,989 each. Well over half the jobs cited were in state government programs and agencies.

“Ms. Mikulski and her Democratic colleagues in the Senate should cease operation of this program and immediately initiate a comprehensive audit of every taxpayer dollar spent to date,” Rutledge said. “This program is an abuse of the public trust and should not stand.” (Emphasis in original.)

The so-called stimulus program has been a boondoggle thus far. In truth, much of the money has gone simply to prop up state budgets (just ask Governor O’Malley about that) so maybe that goes under “job saved”? But were those jobs worth saving?

Imagine this pretzel logic if you will. The federal government borrows billions of dollars – either taking them out of the private-sector economy or creating them out of whole cloth – in order to create jobs that would likely have been more efficiently made had the dollars remained in the private sector. So the net result is that pencil-pushers who produce little more than mountains of paperwork remain employed while those who actually use the capital to make things and invest in the American Dream watch the dollars get sucked out of their wallet while knowing those remaining will be worth less once the inevitable inflation hits. Inflation is great for a debtor but lousy for a creditor.

I’ve noted time and again that what the federal government calls “stimulus” does a poor job of promoting long-term growth. The direct payments made during the Bush administration simply went to savings or paid off individual debts (great for banking interests) while this Obama stimulus has made unemployment shoot right through the promised 8 percent ceiling.

So Rutledge is absolutely correct in calling for a premature end to the stimulus and accounting of that which was already spent. Keep hammering on that point, Jim.

AFP meeting wrapup

Since the Maryland GOP made mention of various local chapters of Americans for Prosperity in their convention reports last week, this may perk up their ears when they find out what’s going on locally.

On Thursday the Wicomico AFP chapter met with about 40 people in attendance. They had a jam-packed speaker schedule which featured three men: Bob Behlke, Vice-President of Consumer Affairs for Choptank Electric Cooperative, John Cannon, president of Wicomico County Council, and John Palmer, the president of local government watchdog VOICE.

First, though, AFP co-leader Julie Brewington briefly went over the Senate’s health care bill, which was going to be a substitute amendment for a bill which had already passed the House (H.R. 3590). The 2,074 page amendment mentions the word “tax” 183 times and is only “deficit neutral” because it uses 10 years of taxation (starting immediately) to pay for six years of expenditures (beginning in 2014). One heckuva shell game you have going there, Senator Reid.

Turning to our scheduled speakers, Behlke began by praising the group, saying he’d “never seen this kind of interest” but wondered aloud where it was several years ago. Much of Bob’s discussion centered on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, better known as “cap and trade.” He pointed out that the 930 local electric cooperatives fought this bill, but could only get a few things in despite having a former Congressman, Glenn English, as their lobbyist in Washington.

One thing Behlke warned the group about was trying to be obstinate in opposition because if you lose, you forefit political capital – “that’s the real world” of Washington. Moreover, Nancy Pelosi “knows she has 40 votes to dole out” given the large Democrat majority in Congress. The goal of Choptank and other rural electric cooperatives: “we want a bill that’s fair” as well as affordable and achievable.

Bob also noted (and had handouts available for) the impact a carbon dioxide tax of $20 per metric ton would have on the region, as electric bills would increase 12 percent. Going to a $50 per ton tax would raise rates about 20 percent because co-ops would be forced to pass their increased costs on.

But the two biggest hurdles to stopping the bill are “ignorance and apathy” according to Behlke.

One thing I pointed out during a brief question-and-answer session is that Maryland already has a similar program in place called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. So far it hasn’t impacted utility bills to a great extent, but coupled with onerous regulations the impact will surely be felt in the future.

John Cannon then spoke to us about the county’s budget situation. In his introduction, Joe Collins, co-chair of the local AFP, asked, “does a good captain head into a storm or evade it…we don’t have to head into Rick Pollitt’s ‘perfect storm’.”

John didn’t relay a whole lot of new information to those who hadn’t attended the county’s budget meeting a week prior, although he revealed that the County Council was inclined to ask for more cuts and less reliance on reserve funds to make up the shortfall, which was $7.2 million ($4 million in revenue shortfall and $3.2 million in state cuts.) One positive was that the latest $360 million in budget cuts from the state did not affect county revenues.

Cannon did say that he was “appalled” with the goings-on at the federal level and believed that, in the future, the state’s “maintenance of effort” for education needs to be more easily waived to help counties in keeping their budgets balanced.

Local political gadfly and Delaware resident Joe Albero then asked once again about the prospect of a new main library in Salisbury. It was a request that, when originally presented to Cannon’s fellow County Councilman Joe Holloway inspired Holloway to ask the library board, “did you lose your mind?” Given the warnings we’ve had about the present financial crisis Holloway added that County Executive Rick Pollitt has been “asleep at the wheel.”

One “silver lining” which Cannon conceded was that the county is in a “stage of cleansing” its finances, but Cannon also warned that there’s pressure to repeal the revenue cap from without as well because the state regularly criticizes Wicomico County for having a “self-imposed” revenue cap in place. As we all know, Martin O’Malley would be lost with a statewide revenue cap but maybe Marylanders would have a little more money to spend on their own needs and wants.

Finally, John Palmer made a brief presentation which reinforced several of Cannon’s points and again went over a couple of charter amendments VOICE is considering asking to be placed on a referendum next year – one to reduce the County Council from seven members to five, the other to have large capital projects be approved by referendum. Palmer told the assembled group “the power lies in you” to get this done as petitions would require 10,558 signatures – or the County Council would need a 5-2 supermajority to place that on the ballot.

One good piece of news John Cannon could give Palmer is that an effort is being made to put the county’s budget online, since getting a copy is prohibitively expensive. (I think Wicomico County could do without that slight bit of revenue.)

The lengthy meeting was AFP’s last for 2009. Hopefully the e-mail problems which have plagued the local chapter and may have dampened attendance slightly will be fixed as AFP Wicomico begins its first full year.

Which side is the AARP on?

November 22, 2009 · Posted in Liberty Features Syndicate · Comments Off on Which side is the AARP on? 

For decades, the AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons; now they simply go by the acronym) has advocated for the interest of senior citizens. In the process they’ve become known both as a fearsome lobbying group for older Americans and as a marketing brand whose imprimatur is highly sought after by other businesses who wish to cater to the early-era Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation. Many of those businesses sell insurance and insurance-related products, so it’s obvious they have a stake in the pending fate of the health care reform some dub “Obamacare”.

And in this health care debate AARP is using the force of their lobbying (and, by extension, their supposed voter base) to enrich themselves as a marketing brand. A large percentage of AARP revenues come from their insurance brokering business, where insurers remit “royalty fees” to AARP as the cost for using their moniker. In fact, the income from licensing the AARP name to just one company – UnitedHealth Group – is now larger than its income from membership dues. UnitedHealth chipped in nearly $400 million to AARP’s coffers last year. By way of comparison, total AARP income from all sources was $1.1 billion.

This key portion of AARP’s revenue comes in large part from the sale of so-called “Medigap” policies, which are designed for those instances where Medicare doesn’t completely cover costs. These policies compete with Medicare Advantage, which leans more on private providers and is a target of cuts in health care reform bills circulating through Congress. Obviously slashing Medicare Advantage could positively impact AARP’s bottom line.

But there are other, less well known benefits to AARP in some of the health care legislation before Congress.

As one example, in H.R. 3200 Medicare Advantage would be required to spend 85 cents of every premium dollar on claims. But Medigap policies such as the ones AARP sells would be required to spend just 65 cents of each dollar for claims. While AARP affiliates offer both, the organization does a larger share of business from Medigap and would stand to make more profit through offering it – their Medicare Advantage insurance offerings could well “wither on the vine.” More importantly, AARP’s support of Obamacare could garner them an exception from the “windfall profits” tax insurers would pay under the legislation. When there’s $3.4 billion over the last decade at stake, being waived from paying a fair share means quite a chunk of change.

Meanwhile, backing Obamacare has driven thousands of former AARP participants to cancel their membership, although the group argues those dissatisfied are a tiny fraction of their overall base and pales in comparison to the number of those who are new or renewed over the timeframe.

The point these former members make, though, is a sound one. They contend that supporting Obamacare is detrimental to seniors in the long run. Much of that argument hinges on seniors’ legitimate fear of rationed care being instituted under the government’s not-so-watchful eye, and they chastise AARP for putting profits ahead of principle in this case. Certainly former AARP CEO William Novelli profited from his tenure, making over $1 million in total compensation last year.

Those who run and profit from the reputation of AARP may regret casting their lot with the Democrats on this issue. While the group bills itself as nonpartisan, they may find themselves on the losing end of both members and lobbying interests should Republicans use the organization’s support of Obamacare to cement the senior vote in the next few election cycles.

Michael Swartz is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

Another in my continuing series of LFS op-eds, this originally cleared November 6th.

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