2016 dossier: Immigration

Before Donald Trump supposedly made this an issue, I decided that immigration was one of my highest-priority issues in selecting a presidential candidate.

In the last few decades our nation has wrestled with the question of what to do with the hordes who sneak across our southern border or simply decide when the time is up on their legally-acquired visa that they’re not going anywhere. Perhaps Ronald Reagan’s biggest mistake was signing the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, for while he believed that, “Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people: American citizenship,” the inverse has occurred. Our borders are a sieve and millions who believe a second amnesty is around the corner have swarmed to our land, doubling down by having “anchor babies” who are considered citizens via a faulty interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

So let’s talk about that aspect. Oddly enough, a story (from NBC News, of all places) discussed how several of the candidates felt about ending birthright citizenship. Mostl are in favor of ending the practice:

  • Ben Carson: Reportedly told a Phoenix rally that birthright citizenship “doesn’t make sense to me.”
  • Chris Christie: it “needs to be re-examined.”
  • Ted Cruz: “as a policy matter (it) doesn’t make sense,” he said last week on “Face The Nation.”
  • Lindsey Graham: “I think it’s a mistake.”
  • Mike Huckabee: once against it, but recently told radio host Hugh Hewitt he was now open to it.
  • Bobby Jindal: “We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.”
  • Rand Paul: proposed a Constitutional amendment to end the practice.
  • Rick Santorum: “(an) enticement (that) should be ended.”
  • Donald Trump: “biggest magnet for illegal immigrants.”

Those who would leave it as is:

  • Jeb Bush: “I don’t support revoking it.”
  • Carly Fiorina: we should put our energy into border security.
  • Jim Gilmore: Quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “every person born in this country has the right to citizenship.”
  • John Kasich: Once a supporter of revoking birthright citizenship, now says, “we’re gonna welcome you to a path of legalization.”
  • George Pataki: “I don’t support amending the Constitution to kick out kids who were born here.”
  • Rick Perry: If the border is secured, it “becomes inconsequential,” as quoted in the Dallas News two weeks ago.
  • Marco Rubio: won’t repeal the Fourteenth Amendment, but is open to not allowing the practice.
  • Scott Walker: Apparently has moved out of the “end birthright citizenship” camp.

As regards the actual process of dealing with illegal immigrants, the naysayers would tell you we can’t deport all 20 million of them. Maybe not, but we could at least get rid of the criminals and turn up the heat on employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens. I see nothing wrong with E-Verify as a starting point, as long as it can be done quickly. We also need visa reform to keep better tabs on those who are our guests. And while it goes without saying we need to secure our border with Mexico, the question is how best to do it. One big problem is that a significant part of the border is a river and I don’t think sharks will live in fresh water. (Yes, I am joking.) But we should build a sturdy fence, whether Mexico pays for it or not. We were promised as much a decade ago.

But the biggest sticking point is amnesty. We are in this situation because amnesty once was granted so the precedent is there. Anyone who has shown up illegally over the last 30 years now feels entitled to all the benefits because, if we did it once, we can do it again. If we do the 20 million who are here will become 50 million, all expecting the next amnesty and “path to citizenship.” To me, the path to citizenship begins by going back to their country of origin but, because of birthright citizenship, those anchor babies became their golden tickets which allow them to stay. To me that’s wrong and unfair to those doing it the right way.

Imigration is an issue that, frankly, may make the person who has to be the bad guy plunge in the opinion polls. And it’s certain that the Beltway Republicans will whine and complain about losing the Latino vote, but it’s not necessarily true that a hard line on immigration will significantly hurt us with less than 10 percent of the electorate. (Yes, that is all we are talking about.)

So how do the candidates do? Some speak to the issue directly on their campaign websites while others remain less direct.

In his first effort at comprehensive policy creation, Donald Trump has hit the sweet spot. While there may be a few places I think are unworkable, it is a great template to follow in both proposal and attention to detail. It’s no wonder his popularity is increasing; obviously this category is a gigantic step up for him.

Total points for Trump – 10.5 of 11.

It’s not quite to the standard that Trump set, but Rick Santorum has a good, basic outline of his immigration policy ready for inspection and it correctly hits most of my highlights.

Total score for Santorum – 9.0 of 11.

Border security is paramount for Rand Paul, who has his own plan that’s mindful of civil liberties. One thing I like about it is the idea of not having a national identity card. The only drawback may be that it’s sort of a go-slow approach because we’re not securing the border that quickly. On the whole, though, it’s worth a look.

Total score for Paul – 7.7 of 11.

Bobby Jindal doesn’t have his immigration policy spelled out as those above him do, aside from the typical “secure the borders” rhetoric and a desire for people to follow the law. But as a first-generation American, he makes a brilliant point about assimilating that others aren’t making. Even he Americanized his name as Bobby is the nickname he adopted as a child. It sure beats Piyush.

Total score for Jindal – 7.5 of 11.

For a guy who was the governor of a border state, I thought Rick Perry was a little evasive in this interview. Of course, if I assume Perry goes with his record as governor he does better than the guy who signed a Texas version of the DREAM Act. So he’s going to score better than average but not really at the top of the heap.

Total score for Perry – 7.5 of 11.

Ted Cruz has a relatively simple view on immigration: “legal good, illegal bad.” I applaud his insistence on following the rule of law, but am scratching my head as to why he wanted to quintuple the number of H-1B visas at a time when companies are flouting the existing rules and favoring foreign workers over Americans.

Total score for Cruz – 7.4 of 11.

Assuming that something he wrote last November is still valid, Ben Carson has a somewhat unique approach to the illegal immigration issue: a guest worker program. And while he stresses those who wish to be guest workers should apply from their country of origin, my fear is that the Chamber of Commerce types who want ultra-cheap labor will get the return home portion of the idea scrapped. After all, what employer will really want to hold a job for someone for months while they go through that process?

Total score for Carson – 5.1 of 11.

Being for stopping illegal immigration is one thing. But Mike Huckabee has a somewhat vague, fuzzy plan to do so after securing the border. And as someone who at times seems to pander to the crowd, I’m not as trusting in Huckabee as I would others in the field.

Total points for Huckabee – 5.0 of 11.

Jim Gilmore starts out so well, with a nice, relatively comprehensive summary of his policy. I totally support deporting the criminal illegal aliens among us, but the problem is – and perhaps I am misunderstanding it – he would allow illegals here to continue working in place. I think they need to return home and get in line. Otherwise, there are some decent points as Gilmore’s campaign finally begins to flesh things out.

Total score for Gilmore – 4.5 of 11.

Securing the border is key to Scott Walker, who has turned heads by bringing up a border fence with Canada, too. Supposedly he is moving toward more of a hardline stance on immigration, but he has been all over the map even during the campaign and the fact he doesn’t discuss it as an issue on his campaign site is evidence he wants to play both sides against the middle. I’m not convinced.

Total points for Walker – 3.5 of 11.

Now that I’ve seen some of Carly Fiorina‘s “Answers,” I get that she wants to secure the borders first. But it’s also a copout to blame both parties for a lack of political will over the last 25 years. What I want to know is how you will overcome that inertia.

Total points for Fiorina – 3.0 of 11.

It’s described as a “moderate” approach to immigration, but while Chris Christie says he’s no longer for amnesty, he’s also not supportive of an enhanced border fence. He would rather work to dry up sources of employment, which is fine for those coming to work but not those who wish to have anchor babies or conduct criminal activity.

Total score for Christie – 2.5 of 11.

The bottom five are all for giving illegals some sort of legal status. Way to encourage another 50 million of them, guys.

“Don’t send me a(n immigration reform) bill without a pathway to citizenship or I will veto it,” said Lindsey Graham. Well, they don’t call him “Grahamnesty” for nothing, and if it weren’t for at least getting it on birthright citizenship nothing is what he would get for this category.

Total score for Graham – 2.0 of 11.

Marco Rubio will tell you he’s for several aspects of combatting illegal immigration: the border security, E-verify, and so forth. But he’s another who is hard to pin down because he doesn’t highlight immigration on his site, so I have to base my thoughts on him on his coming out against the Trump plan, supporting a large increase in H-1B visas as well as legal status for illegals after a decade, and most of all being part of the Gang of Eight.

Total score for Rubio – 1.5 of 11.

Jeb Bush visited the border, whined about how much the Trump plan is big government, then said we need to give illegals “a vigorous path to earned legal status where people…work and not receive federal government benefits.” Do you honestly think such a program will last five years before the work requirement is waived? Please.

Total score for Bush – 0.0 of 11.

John Kasich stops short of granting them citizenship, but is squarely in the camp of legalizing the illegals, which he would “prefer.” I prefer someone interested in the rule of law, not emotion.

Total score for Kasich – 0.0 of 11.

George Pataki would grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. I don’t care what he says about securing the border because by allowing law-breakers a path to citizenship if they have no criminal record and do 200 hours of community service he has forfeited any respectability on this issue. Do you honestly think bureaucrats will check all these criminal records and verify the community service? It’s called a rubber stamp, and patently unfair to thosr who did it right.

Total score for Pataki – 0.0 of 11.

The next topic is one I’ve had in previous elections, but in a different form. Instead of just looking at the Long War against radical Islam, I’m expanding it to look at foreign policy in general, for 12 points.

2016 dossier: Taxation

Coming in next in importance to me as the sixth of my ten pet issues in taxation. This may be the simplest to explain of all the issues because I don’t think there is a candidate among the 17 Republicans who wants to increase them.

However, if you ask me – and since I write this blog and you have read this far I’m going to presume you want my opinion – my preference is for a consumption-based tax like the FairTax. It creates a scenario where we have the most control over how much we pay while encouraging saving and allowing us to take home much more of our paycheck. My second choice, if I had to maintain an income-based tax scheme, would be a flat tax with a low rate and limited deductions. Sure, the tax preparer lobby would scream but they deserve to. It should not take me the better part of a weekend to compile the paperwork and prepare two tax returns, but as it stands now I have to.

As for corporate taxes, I would be amenable to a low rate of perhaps 10 percent. Right now our rate is more than triple that.

So let’s take a look at where candidates stand and how many of 10 points they gather. Alas, none get ten because there’s none talking about the very important step of repealing the Sixteenth Amendment.

If I am reading Rand Paul‘s “Fair and Flat Tax Plan” correctly, it has a relatively low rate for everyone but more importantly eliminates the FICA tax. Practically all working Americans would get a quick raise.

It takes the income-based tax about as far as it can go, but also has a better chance of being accepted by the public.

Total score for Paul – 9.0 of 10.

While he hasn’t really addressed what he would do as President, I’m giving Bobby Jindal high marks for two reasons. One is that, over nearly two terms as governor of Louisiana, he’s been highly resistant to increasing taxes as well as taking a meat ax to the state’s budget. Could he become the second coming of Calvin Coolidge at a federal level?

On the one hand, he was a backer of Rick Perry’s 2012 flat tax plan, but on the other hand he attempted (alas, unsuccessfully) to bring a version of the FairTax to Louisiana. That basically leaves a swing between 9 points and seven so I took the middle course.

Total score for Jindal – 8.0 of 10.

He’s been on record as supporting the FairTax, so Mike Huckabee is at the top of the heap. The only problem is that we don’t know the needed rate. We also don’t know what we will see with corporate tax rates, which may be because they are eliminated with the FairTax.

Unfortunately, Huckabee was criticized for his taxation record in office so I’m reticent to give him a really high score.

Total score for Huckabee – 7.5 of 10.

Combine the support of a Forbesian flat tax with the record of cutting taxes John Kasich has put together and he has a relatively strong case for improving taxation. In Ohio, he proposed an idea to eliminate income taxes for business owners, but make up the revenue through a higher corporate tax, additional sin taxes, and a sales tax increase. Although Art Laffer liked Kasich’s idea, I see it as a sort of Frankenstein hybrid of both income and sales taxes when we need to eliminate one in favor of the other.

Total score for Kasich – 6.0 of 10.

Ben Carson is looking for a tax system which is “fairer, simpler, and more equitable” with a call for “wholesale tax reform.” His idea is loosely based on Biblical tithing, which is generally considered a 10 percent tax; however, he conceded that the rate may have to start higher and work down over time to stay revenue-neutral. He’s also alluded to reducing the corporate tax rate, although it may not drop to 10% either.

The idea of eliminating the progressive tax has merit, though. It just may prove politically difficult to weather all the harpies who think their tax breaks are too important to eliminate – that should be a circus worth watching. The next step for Carson is learning that revenue-neutral is not necessarily what we need because government is not God.

Total score for Carson – 5.5 of 10.

“I will abolish the IRS,” says Ted Cruz. At one point, he was going to do it with the FairTax but more recently he’s lowered his sights to a flat tax with a few popular deductions, such as charitable contributions and the mortgage interest deduction. We don’t know just what rate Cruz is proposing for individuals, but he is on record that a 15% corporate tax rate would be acceptable.

I’m a little disappointed that he backed away from the FairTax for political expedience, for true leadership would bring people around to the merits of the issue.

Total score for Cruz – 5.5 of 10.

More or less, the one platform plank that Jim Gilmore has shared so far is the Growth Code, a plan to reduce individual taxes to three brackets of 10 to 25 percent while eliminating taxes on capital gains and other investment income. He would also reduce corporate taxes to 15%. It’s a good start, but I would like to see an end to progressive taxes altogether.

Total score for Gilmore – 5.0 of 10.

Much like others in this portion of this summary, Marco Rubio has a simpler two-bracket system he first unveiled last year with Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Since then the brackets have been firmed at 15 and 25 percent, with a 25% corporate tax. The rates fall between Gilmore’s and Perry’s, so Rubio’s score will, too.

Total score for Rubio – 4.9 of 10.

Rick Perry hasn’t revised his 2012 tax plan yet. It was a plan that gave people the option to pay a 20% flat tax on a specific year’s return or stay with the old system, which would eventually be phased out. He would also reduce corporate taxes to 20% as well.

Although the plan was endorsed by Bobby Jindal at the time, Bobby moved on in the correct direction. Until I find out otherwise, I have to assume this is the Perry plan and it’s just average.

Total score for Perry – 4.8 of 10.

I’ve been waiting for Rick Santorum to reveal his economic plan for weeks. Supposedly it will be reflective of the one from his 2012 campaign, which is fairly similar to those other hopefuls in the 4-to-5 point range. While rates may change, though, I don’t think the complexity goes away. So we work back to square one.

Total score for Santorum – 4.6 of 10.

On his website, Chris Christie keeps it simple, calling for “creating a flatter, fairer, and simpler individual income tax system and keep returns simpler by reducing deductions and giveaways.” He also advocates for a 25% corporate tax rate, which is an improvement to about average among industrialized nations.

Listen, anything to help can be considered a victory but those from this point down the candidates either just tinker around the edges or even make things worse.

Total score for Christie – 4.5 of 10.

He cut taxes in Wisconsin, but Scott Walker only wants to turn the clock back to the 1980s, expressing an interest in reviving the tax reforms Ronald Reagan put in place. This is all well and good, but to be honest we aren’t all that far off where Reagan was in comparison to where we were when he took over for Jimmy Carter. So it’s not all that impressive to me in a crowded field.

Total score for Walker – 4.2 of 10.

In his announcement speech, Jeb Bush alluded to creating “a vastly simpler system” with fewer rates. But some complain that Bush was no longer willing to participate in a “grand bargain” to reduce the deficit by taking a small tax increase for supposed cuts. (If only his dad had ignored that siren song, Hillary Rodham would be an activist lawyer for some far left-wing group and Bill Clinton would be another in a long line of Democratic presidential losers free to cat around at will.)

At any rate, his vagueness on the subject bothers me so he doesn’t score all that well.

Total score for Bush – 4.0 of 10.

Lindsey Graham is all over the map. He’s been for a flat tax, which would qualify for the “simpler” scheme he seeks if not the “fairer” that leftist critics who love the current super-progressive system don’t want. Lindsey also advocates for lower corporate tax rates.

But he falls victim to the same mentality plaguing Jeb Bush, thinking Democrats would actually cut spending if he raised taxes – even, as he clains, it would only be certain deductions. That’s just the start of hard-working Americans being rolled anew.

Total score for Graham – 3.5 of 10.

I’m looking forward to how Donald Trump puts H&R Block out of business. Until then, I can’t give him a good score.

Total score for Trump – 2.0 of 10.

George Pataki favors scrapping the tax code, but who among this group doesn’t? Described as a governor who started out as a serious fiscal conservative, he devolved into just another big spender by the end. What worries me, though, is that he’s considering raising corporate tax rates to pay for infrastructure. That’s a guaranteed job killer.

Total score for Pataki – 1.0 of 10.

Carly Fiorina wants a “transparent and fair” tax code and released a lot of returns to make her point. But that’s it. This makes it hard to take her seriously.

Total score for Fiorina – 0.5 of 10.

Next on the docket, for eleven valuable points, is immigration. That may provide some sharp differences.

What could possibly go wrong?

By Cathy Keim

Last month I wrote about Governor Hogan expanding the You’ve Earned It! subsidized mortgage program for young adults with college loans. Politicians can never resist giving away other people’s money especially if it makes them seem caring and gets votes.

For a quick review, college student loan debt is now at 1.2 trillion dollars and growing. The average debt for a four-year degree is $29,000, but it can skyrocket to $100,000 or more for a graduate degree. This debt is having huge impacts on young people that are starting their careers severely burdened with loan repayments. These young voters are prime targets for politicians. Wouldn’t you vote for somebody that promised to get rid of your debt?

Unfortunately, the politicians are aiming at the wrong target to cure the problem.

A study released in July by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was only the latest piece of evidence of what conservatives have long knew: Increasing public support for college tuition, especially in the form of federal tuition subsidies, has inflated its total cost.

Every time the politicians make student loan money easier to obtain, the colleges just raise the tuition costs. Colleges and universities have increased their administrative personnel by 60% between 1990 and 2003. The university presidents and top administrators make CEO-type salaries in the 7-digit category. And let us not forget the building programs. Many schools have swimming pools with floating rivers for relaxation. The students certainly should be stressed just thinking about how they are going to repay all the loans they took out to attend the institution.

In 2006 the cap on loans for graduate school was raised and the borrowing levels skyrocketed. Many of these students will avail themselves of the debt forgiveness programs to handle the loans. For example, Georgetown University created a clever loophole: if a law grad works for the government or a non-profit for ten years with a salary under $75,000 per year, then they can qualify for a loan forgiveness program. Who wouldn’t borrow money, not only for tuition but also to live on, if they know it will be forgiven?

President Barack Obama came out with free community college. Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders are topping that with four years of college for free.

Hillary Clinton has offered up a package that many voters with college loans will find attractive.

In a more blatant payoff, Clinton proposes not only offering new subsidies for those who are going off to college, but also new subsidies for those who already left. But “refinancing” student loans and offering more generous income-based repayment plans will do absolutely nothing to improve education attainment or economic competitiveness. It is simply a transfer from the federal fisc to Americans with above-average educations and incomes. Income-based repayment is not a bad idea per se, but Clinton’s plan includes forgiveness after 20 years, which is a huge payoff for those with the biggest loan balances.

Would you be more likely or less likely to borrow money if you knew that in twenty years the loan would be forgiven, no questions asked? For those of us that live in the real world, the answer is absolutely: not only will people borrow money, they will borrow more money. If you were guaranteed that you would not have to pay it all back, then why would you scrimp and do without when you can live in luxury?

Hillary’s plan is almost entirely silent on controlling total costs, and, by increasing the supply of low-cost loans, the level of funding from state governments, and increasing other subsidies, proposes to lower out-of-pocket costs in the way that we’ve already seen will backfire.

Every time Washington proposes to fix something, it usually gets worse. They are already micromanaging the public school system from DC with mandate after mandate. The more they get involved in the university system, the more of a quagmire it will become. The college marketplace needs to be subject to local and free market forces. Then it will be able to react to the demands of the students and parents, not to the mandates of the feds.

The increases in tuition are not going to hire and pay more professors. Professors’ pay has not increased; in fact, more college instructors are poorly paid adjunct professors that teach by the course for far lower salaries than tenured professors. Just like with our public schools, much of the money gets eaten up by administration costs to ensure that the mandates are met.

While these plans will not contain college costs, they will achieve their goal of bringing out self-interested voters for the presidential election.

Sleeping on the job?

Over the last few months Richard Douglas has quietly been exploring a run for the U.S Senate. In an e-mail he sent out to supporters, though, he took aim at those he may be working with as well as Barack Obama.

In two paragraphs he expertly dissected the problem:

The President wished to avoid congressional review altogether. But the Corker-Cardin concession of the Senate’s treaty prerogatives was seen in the White House as a palatable alternative. Why? Because Corker-Cardin puts the success or failure of congressional action into the hands of Chris Van Hollen, Ben Cardin, and other reliable Obama yes-men in the House and Senate. By passing Corker-Cardin instead of demanding Senate treaty review, the Republican-led Congress marginalized itself.

How could any of this happen? Because the Republican-led Congress – the Senate in particular – allowed it to happen by not using its powers, during the seven months it had the chance, to defend its equities and change the President’s behavior. Beginning in January, the Republican-led Congress should have brought action on the President’s legislative priorities to a screeching halt until he wised up. Instead, Congress enacted those priorities.

Running against Congress seems to be the norm today for both parties, as the current leaders seem to be the gang who can’t shoot straight. Unfortunately, we have one side who is afraid of a government shutdown they would be blamed for and the other side takes advantage of their fears. So you have the group of spineless jellyfish who pass for majority leadership in Congress.

Douglas doesn’t have the bluster of Donald Trump, but he has foreign policy expertise in spades based on years of working in that area. It’s no wonder John Bolton is willing to put his name and reputation on the line for Douglas.

At this time, foreign policy is not the key issue on the table for 2016. But it lies at the heart of a number of peripheral issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and accusations of currency manipulation by China, the continuing saga of illegal immigration at our southern border, and the Keystone XL pipeline, to name a few. We may not be in an overt war in Iraq, Ukraine, or Syria, but there is pressure to stand by our allies, including Israel, instead of making overtures to old enemies Iran or Cuba.

The tone of his entire e-mail makes it clear that he’s expecting Chris Van Hollen to be the Democratic Senate opponent, which is probably the conventional wisdom. Van Hollen has been a reliable party man and helped to raise a lot of money, but can you name any singular House achievements of his? With this message, Richard makes clear he can be a leading voice on the Senate’s traditional role in guiding foreign policy – and not a moment too soon.

Out on his ear?

In relatively breaking news, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina has filed a motion to vacate the House chair. Translation from wonkspeak: he wants to remove John Boehner as Speaker of the House. However, Meadows has couched his request in such a way that it has to go through committee, which essentially is a death sentence for the resolution. As he told the Washington Post:

What I’m hopeful for is this provided perhaps the impetus to have a discussion, a family discussion, where we can start talking about how we can make sure that every voice, every vote matters, and really about representing the American people. Ultimately what I want to is to make sure everyone is treated fairly.

So really this is not an effort to get rid of Boehner but to put him on notice? That won’t go too far. The time to get rid of John Boehner was in January, but there was no organization behind that effort. Short of him resigning as Speaker, we are stuck with him through 2016. Even if a majority of Republicans supported the effort, the Democrats probably won’t bite because John Boehner is probably the best Republican Speaker they can get, and there are a fair number of Republicans who will suck up to leadership.

America really needs a do-over in 2016. If there were ever a time for the “throw the bums out” mentality, it would be right now. Tough-talking complete outsider Donald Trump is light-years in front in GOP polling, and while it’s likely that lead will dissipate when people begin to pay attention it should be noted that early in the 2012 campaign, during the fall of 2011, those miffed at Washington were backing the outsider businessman in the person of Herman Cain. Like Trump talks tough on immigration, Cain made a lot of hay around his 9-9-9 tax program. Ugly rumors of an extramarital affair did Cain in, but we will need to wait to see what, if anything given his celebrity, can be dug up on the Donald.

I sense a mood of resignation from rank-and-file Republican regulars, though. In the back of our minds we figured this was how it would be despite getting the Senate back after an eight-year hiatus. There is always an excuse with this bunch, and even though people are weary of Barack Obama the press is not actively driving down his polling numbers as they did for George W. Bush – so there is the illusion that he is still popular. But well-liked presidents don’t lose over 80 Congressional seats during their tenure. (Bush lost 36 in 2006, but had gained 17 in the two preceding elections.)

I think the impression was that we would make Obama’s veto pen his most-used writing instrument, but once again we are being let down by a spineless leadership who quakes at the thought of being blamed for anything. News flash: you will be anyway so you may as well be guilty of what you are accused of.

No, we won’t see a Speaker of the House fall, but we will get more evidence the natives are restless.

And then there were sixteen…

I know I’m a day late to the party, but I think most people with political sense already had Ohio governor John Kasich priced into the presidential market, so to speak. So what does he bring to the table and does his late announcement make sense?

If you look at the GOP race, it is chock full of governors. Let’s make a list, shall we?

  • Jeb Bush had two terms as Florida’s governor which mostly overlapped his brother’s tenure in the White House.
  • Chris Christie is in his second term as governor of New Jersey.
  • Mike Huckabee served two-plus terms as Arkansas governor, becoming governor when Jim Guy Tucker resigned in 1996 and winning election in 1998 and 2002.
  • Bobby Jindal is finishing his second term as Louisiana’s governor.
  • George Pataki was governor of New York for three terms, with 9/11 being the biggest milestone.
  • Rick Perry became Texas governor when George W. Bush resigned to become President, and won full terms in 2002, 2006, and 2010.
  • Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin in 2010, survived a 2012 recall attempt, and won re-election in 2014.

Aside from the failed recall, Kasich comes in on roughly the same career trajectory as Scott Walker – both are Midwest governors who tangled with Big Labor, although Kasich’s reforms were not as successful.

So what does he have that others don’t? Kasich was a Congressman for nearly two decades, which eliminates everyone else in the field except Jindal, who had a much shorter run. But in reality, he’s coming in on the centrist side of the GOP spectrum, which is already somewhat crowded with Christie, Pataki, and to some extent Jeb Bush. Among non-governors, it’s territory that is familiar to Carly Fiorina and Lindsey Graham. Certainly there are many trying to woo that segment of the Republican party.

But while centrists may be the ones donating money, the question is always whether they will show up to vote. Primaries, more often than not, are contests where the more conservative candidates win because their backers are more passionate. Ask Senator Castle from Delaware about that sometime. The establishment knows this, which is why in a state like Ohio the GOP does its level best to clear the field beforehand. (In 2010, despite there being a Democratic incumbent, John Kasich was the only Republican in the primary.)

Ohio has had eight presidents, and with the exception of William Henry Harrison, all of them were Republicans. (The elder Harrison was a Whig.) It’s a must-win state for the GOP, which is one reason why the Republicans are having their convention next year in Cleveland.

So don’t sleep on Kasich. I doubt he will be my first choice, but over the next few weeks I’ll see how he looks on my issues.

Utopian school bill passes House and heads to Senate

By Cathy Keim

On July 8, 2015, the House passed HR 5, the Student Success Act, which is the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This behemoth of a bill weighing in at 800 pages will guarantee that every child that graduates from high school is ready to attend college or start in the workforce without remediation. Yes, you read that correctly.

The hubris of our Washington elite putting into law that every child that graduates from high school will need no remediation is amazing. Just that one statement alone assures me that the 800 pages are filled with bureaucratic overreach.

What kind of measures must be in place to assure that grandiose statement? This is the same government that cannot get patients seen at the VA hospitals in a timely fashion, yet they are proclaiming that every child that graduates from high school in these United States will be stamped proficient to advance to the next step of their lives by the Department of Education.

I can think of only one way that they might even pretend that this could be true and that would be by dumbing down the system so that more children could meet the criteria, but even that is not going to convince me that the government can achieve their goal.

Just try to think of anything in real life that can be achieved 100% of the time. You can’t come up with much, can you? (Remember that NCLB declared that there would be 100% proficiency in reading and math in the entire US school system by 2014.) You can check out American Principles in Action’s 24 points for plenty of details on why this is a terrible bill.

HR 5 was brought up in February 2015, but was pulled because the Republican leadership could not get the votes to pass it. They have used the time tested ruse of bringing it back in the summer when parents are not paying attention to school issues.

It narrowly passed, 218 to 213, with every Democrat voting no, and 27 courageous Republicans joining them. This is similar to the TPA battle where a few Republicans joined the Democrats in opposing another awful bill.

Of course, their reasons for opposing were completely different, just like the TPA fight. Once again it gives me pause when I find myself on the same side as the Democrats.

One of the reasons given for conservatives voting for HR 5 was that the Senate version, SB 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act, (ECAA) is even worse. The reasoning goes that by voting for HR 5 it preempts the Senate version, so that even if the Senate passes their bill, it will be forced into conference rather than the Senate bill coming directly to the House.

From past experience we all know that what comes out of the conference back room will very likely be worse than what went in.

Andy Harris voted yes on HR 5. I called his office to inquire what his reasons were for voting yes, but I have not received an answer yet.

I called Senators Cardin and Mikulski’s offices to inquire if they had any statements out about this bill. Senator Cardin’s office said that he supports the bill in general, but is concerned about the Title I funding following the child since it might allow money to go to schools that don’t need it rather than to the schools originally intended.

(Editor’s note: one selling point given for the SSA is that it would allow certain parents who have children in failing schools a choice in where to send their children for their education, although the choices are limited to just public and public charter schools. This is the meaning between the lines of Cardin’s remarks.)

Senator Mikulski’s office said she did not have a statement out yet, but that she is against No Child Left Behind. Since ECAA is a reauthorization for NCLB, which actually expands it, we will just have to see how she decides to vote.

Generally speaking the Democrats seem to be against this bill due to the Title I funding shift potential and also because they fear it could lead to universal vouchers.

The Republican leadership crows that HR 5 is returning education issues back to state control. If so, why do they need 800 pages to do this?

The Senate should take this bill up in the coming weeks, so please call your senators and explain to them why they should vote no. Their offices need to be bombarded with parents telling them to not expand on No Child Left Behind.

However, the best reason is the one given by former Delegate Michael Smigiel, who is running for Congress in the First Congressional District. When I asked him whether he would support HR 5 he replied, “I would do away with the Federal involvement in education as it is not authorized by the Constitution. The individual States should determine educational standards for their own States. I led the fight against Common Core and argue and voted against No Child Left Behind.”

While that is the correct reason for opposing ECAA, our current leadership is not impressed by the concept. Until we can elect sufficient Constitutionalists to represent us, we will have to rely on a massive phone campaign to get the attention of the DC crowd.

Exploring a race again

Every so often the name of Richard Douglas pops up on my site or in my e-mail box. Of late it’s been because of his defense of the Bladensburg Peace Cross, but he was a much more frequent subject in those days when he ran a spirited race for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2012. While Dan Bongino eventually won, I was impressed as well with Douglas and would have happily backed him had he prevailed.

The latest item to come to my attention, though, is a clear indication that Douglas considers the 2012 effort as unfinished business, and he is again using the star power of Ambassador John Bolton to fund a Senate exploratory committee at a reception July 16 in Washington, D.C.

Would-be backers should be cautioned, though, that exploring without committing has occurred before with Douglas. In late 2013 Republicans were delighted to see his interest in running for Attorney General only to back away in January of 2014. It may have been a missed opportunity for the Maryland GOP, but honestly the Senate seat would likely be a better fit for Douglas anyway based on his background.

If you believe that knowledge of foreign policy is the starting point in creating a good Senator, then Douglas would be a good choice and the backing of Bolton emphasizes that point. While both he and previously announced candidate Chrys Kefalas share a legal background, Kefalas has worked mainly on domestic and social issues.

I would have to assume that the question of whether Douglas makes his campaign formal will depend greatly on how much he raises with Bolton. Certainly there are some donors out there who backed him before but Richard basically financed his own effort last time, and that’s not going to cut it for an open seat where the leading Democratic contender had over a million dollars on hand back in March. Douglas has the advantage of experience in running statewide – and that’s a modest plus – but a guy like Chris Van Hollen will simply run a Congressional front porch campaign and just carpetbomb the media markets with 30-second ads running against the Confederate flag and those racist, homophobe hayseed hicks who will scream “Second Amendment!” until it is pulled from their cold, dead hands in front of their tax-shirking church.

In short, the exploration needs to be smiling and dialing. Of course, if all hell breaks out around the world because of events those like Douglas and Bolton have warned us about we have a fighting chance. I figure we will know all we need to know by summer’s end.

Not too late for change

It was 2009, and Americans were still captivated by a shiny and new (or articulate, bright, and clean, if you prefer) President. Yet deep in the nether lands of liberalism there were people already thinking about how to maximize the political gains they could make. In November of that year I wrote about a scheme dubbed the “10-0 project” where Maryland Democrats would gerrymander their way to having all eight Congressional seats by pairing up the few Republican strongholds in the state with large Democratic enclaves, such as wrapping the First District into Baltimore City. The person who developed that plan bragged how it split the McCain voters out so that no district had more than 40 percent McCain support.

While the redistricting plan developed after the 2010 census wasn’t quite that extreme, there were still some of the shenanigans of rerouting the Sixth District toward Washington, D.C. to pave the way for that district to turn Democrat (canceling out the GOP strongholds west of Frederick) and dissecting other heavily GOP areas in Carroll and Anne Arundel counties into multiple districts. They also made the First District a nearly impenetrable Republican fortress, an R+13 district in a state which is nominally D+26.

But while we are past the halfway mark to the 2020 census, there are still those out there who believe the state’s Congressional lines were drawn for partisan advantage rather than true representation. Last week a number of plaintiffs – one from each Congressional district – utilizing the assistance of Judicial Watch filed a federal lawsuit alleging the current setup “harms all Maryland voters, regardless of their party preferences or how they would vote in a particular election, by giving State legislators the power to make choices regarding the State’s congressional delegation that only the voters should make.”

As relief, the suit seeks to have the current districts tossed out and a new district plan drawn which better conforms to the Polsby-Popper compactness test. As it stands currently, Maryland has the worst score of any state, but the plaintiffs allege (through a map they created) that significant improvements can be made. (Unfortunately their map is somewhat confusing because the district numbers assigned on it are quite different than the ones in use now. As an aside, if this map were adopted we would likely be placed in the equivalent of the Fifth Congressional District while both Andy Harris and GOP challenger Michael Smigiel would land in what’s basically our Second Congressional District shifted more to the north and east.) Regardless, the plan appears to keep more counties and areas together rather than the Rorschach test we have now.

While Judicial Watch has stepped in, though, it’s obvious that the battle will be an uphill one. As the suit notes, this is not the first time there has been an objection to the Congressional redistricting plan, and the current scheme was maintained through a misleading referendum in 2012. Thus, the chances for success aren’t very good.

But this should come with a parallel effort to change the system once and for all by putting it into the hands of an independent commission comprised of citizens from each district or even each county. As an example of this, Wicomico County had a commission to redraw County Council districts and its end product had few complaints regarding compactness or gerrymandering. (The most unusually-shaped district here is the one mandated to be majority-minority.) Let them come up with the maps away from the General Assembly and have our legislature give them a simple up-or-down vote. The same goes for state legislative districts, which also should become exclusively single-member districts – no more jungle elections where the top two or three get in.

In our case, unless it sees significant growth, the Eastern Shore will likely always have to share its Congressman with someone else. But that someone else should be close and accessible neighbors – surely the folks in Carroll County are nice people but they really don’t belong in our Congressional district. If we have to take some of Harford and Baltimore counties to make up the population that’s understandable.

Maybe in the next Census I’ll draw a real map that shows the way it should be done. But if Judicial Watch somehow gets its way I can always move that timetable a little closer.

Fast track bill bounces back to Senate

By Cathy Keim

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is alive and well due to political shenanigans to keep it going. When the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill was voted down by Democrats hoping to block TPA, the game was supposed to end. However, Speaker Boehner is determined to work with Majority Leader McConnell in the Senate to present fast track to the president.

Part of what makes this so confusing is that the Republican-controlled House and Senate are working overtime to present the Democratic president the gift that he has been longing for: more authority to pursue multiple trade bills with Congress only able to vote the deal up or down. Why would the Republicans be feverishly pursuing this goal?

The obvious answer is that free trade is so important that any way of achieving it is worth making any sacrifice. That may be what they are telling you, but it just isn’t true. There are plenty of ways that this deal could lock the US into untenable trade agreements. Currency manipulation, immigration, patent and copyright issues are just a few of the areas that could turn against American workers.

Even when you look at the Maryland delegation’s votes, you will see strange bedfellows. First, take our two senators who split on the issue. I cannot find a statement by Senator Mikulski about her vote, but she voted no. Since she is not running for office again, she does not have to worry about offending the president.

Senator Cardin voted yes after he introduced an AIPAC backed amendment. AIPAC states:

On April 22, the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to include an amendment targeting harmful anti-Israel trade and commercial practices in the “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority bill. The amendment, authored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH), addresses efforts by foreign governments to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. It also directs that one of the principal American objectives in upcoming trade negotiations will be to discourage trading partners from taking actions that would limit U.S.-Israel commerce.

I can understand why Senator Cardin would want to defend Israel when the current administration has shown real hostility towards them, but one has to ask if this is shortsighted on the Senator’s part. Giving the same administration fast track authority when the president has shown little interest in adhering to any restraints put upon him, may in the long run turn out worse for Israel. Perhaps Senator Cardin would do better to vote no and stop the whole fast track process.

Only one other representative from Maryland voted yes on TPA and that was Congressman John Delaney of the 6th Congressional District. He stated in a press release that:

Right now, two things are happening: 1) Congress is considering a bipartisan agreement that instructs the President on trade negotiations and begins the deliberation process for a new accord and 2) China is working on their own regional trade agreement. I support giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority because it will give the President the tools he needs to negotiate the best trade deal for America and our workers. For the first time, the bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority package includes groundbreaking environmental and labor standards and provides unprecedented human rights protections. The Trade Promotion Authority Package gives President Obama new ways to enforce these standards to make sure we’re not having a race to the bottom that drags American workers down. So it’s either going to be our country setting the terms for trade or it’s going to be China. I want our country, our government and this President setting the terms of international trade, not China.

Congressman Harris of the 1st Congressional District voted no. His Facebook page states:

Thousands of citizens in Maryland’s First District contacted my office regarding bills on trade that were recently considered in the House. Today, I voted against the Trade Promotional Authority (TPA) bill for a second time. Representing your views are of the utmost importance to me and it is truly an honor to serve the people in the First District.

He did not listen to his constituents about CRomnibus or voting out Boehner as Speaker of the House, but this time he heard us loud and clear and responded as we asked. I wonder if that is because former Delegate Mike Smigiel has announced that he is opposing Andy in the primary next April?

Representatives Donna Edwards (4th District) and Chris Van Hollen Jr. (8th District) are both running for the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski. Edwards is running to the left and Van Hollen is obliged to move left too. Van Hollen explains his reasons in a letter to Rep. Levin.

He lists multiple concerns such as currency manipulation, increased investor lawsuits, workers’ rights, environmental issues and more as his reasons for voting no.

Representatives Ruppersberger, Sarbanes, Edwards, and Cummings all signed a letter to President Obama explaining why they were voting no on TPA.

For some time, members of Congress have urged your administration to engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the numerous issues being negotiated.

(snip)

Beyond traditional tariff issues, these include policies related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, competition, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, e-commerce, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.

(snip)

Congress, not the Executive Branch, must determine when an agreement meets the objectives Congress sets in the exercise of its Article I-8 exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade.

Representative Steny Hoyer is the Minority Whip. He voted against TPA because:

Trade Promotion Authority legislation lays the foundation for how we approach trade policy as part of our overall economic strategy, and we cannot look at trade simply on its own. We must consider all the elements that affect American workers and jobs.

(snip)

Our workers deserve policies that boost our competitiveness and place us at an advantage in global markets, making it easier for them to get ahead.

He then lists a whole smorgasbord of expensive programs that he wants for the workers.

The reasons for the votes cast vary from constituent demands, to fear of China, to wanting more spending, to defending Israel and to pursuing a Senate seat. Some of the reasons I can agree with while others, like wanting the Export-Import Bank renewed, are not acceptable. However, on this important vote I am happy to have the Democrats join with as many Republicans as will stand against TPA.

Keep on calling and prodding your senators to vote against TPA. The cloture vote is expected today, with the final vote coming tomorrow. If the bill survives cloture, it will likely pass, so the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

If at first you don’t succeed in Maryland, try somewhere else

June 14, 2015 · Posted in Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

There have been occasions in the recent past where I wrote about state efforts to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, or PCUCPA for short. Needless to say, the concept is one that’s dead on arrival in a Democratic-controlled General Assembly here in Maryland, and that’s been PCUCPA’s fate in its various incarnations over the last several years.

But its fate is far different in states where the unborn are valued as people having a right to life as guaranteed in our Declaration of Independence. As Casey Mattox notes at RedState, there are fourteen states which have their own version of the law, although the enforcement of three have been halted for various (and likely dubious) legal reasons. Better still, a PCUCPA passed the House last month (with opposition mainly provided by liberal Democrats) and awaits action in the Senate.

Obviously the road to passage will become a lot more difficult in the Senate; my suspicion is that the PCUCPA will be filibustered to death because all but one or two of the 45 Democrats there will vote against cloture. It may not even get to 55 votes given the tendency of a couple Republicans to be squishy on pro-life issues. And even if the five Democrats necessary to gain cloture see the light and vote that way – assuming all 55 Republicans get on board, of course – the hurdle would get a lot taller once Barack Obama vetoes the bill, as he certainly would.

However, the bill is also useful in the sense that it may encourage other states without the law – but where most of the Congressional delegation voted for PCUCPA – to try and enact their own versions of it. To me, this is where the battle is properly fought. I may not like the fact that Maryland is a far-left loony bin of a state, but if those people who live there wish to foul their own nest with immoral laws it’s just going to make me have to work a little harder to change hearts and minds. As a citizen therein, I have just as much claim to moral superiority as any of them do. While it may seem counter-intuitive, I don’t believe in Constitutional amendments banning abortion or establishing marriage as between one man and one woman at this time – however, I reserve the right to change my mind on this in the future. Once upon a time I was against term limits, too.

Yet even if you don’t believe life begins at conception, the action of taking the life of a fetus barely a week away from viability (the earliest known premature baby to survive gestated in less than 22 weeks) and proven through research to be capable of feeling pain should be obvious. At this point in the process it should be obvious to the woman carrying the child that she is pregnant.

On the other hand, I have no doubt that those who are militantly pro-abortion are all for abortion up to and including the trip through the birth canal. (In extreme cases, the right doesn’t even stop at birth.) This is the “choice” some would have us believe is a viable option.

The other reason PCUCPA won’t get through Congress is the reason Mattox touched upon – the Left is very afraid that taking a case against PCUCPA would result in the Supreme Court revisiting Roe v. Wade and vacating their previously ill-considered decision – no more ersatz “right to privacy” and restoration of the states’ rights to choose their own path. As slowly as the wheels of justice turn, it may be a case heard under the next administration so it will be interesting to see if any SCOTUS changes play out during the 2016 campaign.

Can we trust our leaders on trade agreements?

By Cathy Keim

It all comes down to trust.

I do not want to minimize the complexity of negotiating trade agreements, particularly ones that involve multiple nations spanning the globe. However, in its eagerness to complete this trade agreement, our government is currently ignoring its citizens across the political spectrum. Perhaps this is just the way it is going to be from now on.

The Constitutional limits have been frayed to the point that nobody expects anybody to have any restraint anymore. This President has overstepped the boundaries frequently and the legislative branch has not peeped. Oh, they may growl occasionally for the rubes back home, but once they are safely back in DC, they roll over and play dead.

The trade agreements that are currently on the table are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). All of these could be placed on fast track under the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) if the House approves it as the Senate already has done.

Fast track would mean that no amendments could be added to the agreements. They would be voted up or down by a simple majority.

Trade agreements are difficult because they have so many partners all jockeying for the best deal. For this reason, the President has been given TPA routinely since the 70s. So what is different this time? Why are so many people concerned about fast tracking these agreements?

For many of us, the answer is that trust has been broken. We see the President overreaching his authority repeatedly, so why would we want to give him more authority?

What is so difficult to understand about this? And yet, our senators just gave him fast track and the leaders in the House are pushing to follow right behind.

The House Republicans could block TPA in a heartbeat, but they are so mesmerized by “free trade” that they cannot pull their eyes away and consider the big picture.

The Democrats loathe these bills because their party is owned by the unions, but they are disciplined and will follow their leader to the end. Harry Reid did not vote for TPA, but he knew it had the votes to pass in the Senate. Nancy Pelosi is walking a much tougher line. She must supply enough Democrat votes to get this over the finish line, but she is reluctant to vote for it herself or to push one more Democrat to vote for it than she has to. They are counting the votes to see how many safe Democrats must fall on their sword to make this happen for the President.

After much thought, it seems that the final points to consider are:

  1. The vote for TPA is essentially a vote for TPP. No trade agreement has ever been stopped once it came under fast track.
  2. Congress should not vote on bills it has not read. This bill is over 800 pages. Senators Cruz and Paul signed into the locked room to read this bill, but nobody has said how long they took to read it. Personally, if they were not in there for several hours, I cannot agree with the comment that they “read” the bill. A question for your congressman is: have you read the bill, and if so, how long did it take you?
  3. This President has overstepped his authority on so many issues that he should not be rewarded with additional authority.
  4. Congress should quit cowering and take responsibility for their Constitutional duties, rather than voting away responsibility to the executive branch.
  5. The trade agreements can still be worked on without fast tracking them.
  6. TPA or fast tracking can be considered again after the next President is in office if the new executive renews trust.

The lack of transparency of this administration, the outright lies, and the total disregard for their Constitutional limits demands that Congress respond with strength and firmness. So far, we have seen neither.

I cannot tell you which evils are going to be unleashed upon the American workers if TPA is passed, but only that they will be many. This will play out exactly like Obamacare: slowly but surely – and always to our detriment – one horror after another will be exposed.

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