Can we trust our administration on trade?

By Cathy Keim

The question is worth asking: Do you really want Congress to give this administration fast track on a secret trade deal?

I received a phone call earlier this week from Grover Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform, urging me to tell my congressman that I want him to vote for the trade promotion authority (TPA) because it will be good for America and bring jobs. I let them connect me to Congressman Harris’ office and then told the staffer that I was adamantly opposed to TPA.

I found it very interesting that Grover Norquist would be pushing this legislation. What does it have to do with tax reform? At his website he has an op-ed posted that paints a rosy picture of all the advantages of trade. While I agree that trade is important, I find myself wondering what is behind his support? He didn’t mention taxes at all.

Norquist has a record of pushing immigration reform, saying that people are an asset, not a liability.

I do not see people as a liability, but I can see that allowing millions of illegal immigrants into our work force would displace American workers.

Ask yourself why should a citizen support giving this president more authority to expedite an enormous piece of legislation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that is so secret that only people with security clearances are allowed to read it. It is kept under lock and key. The representatives can go in to read it, but they cannot take any notes out.

This sounds like something that we have to pass to find out what is in it! That has worked out well for us previously, hasn’t it?

Even more mind-boggling is that this is a “living” agreement. It can be changed in the future, but the changes would not come before Congress. You have to trust your president a lot to give away all Congressional oversight. Not only that, but the other countries in this enormous agreement could decide to admit another country to the agreement or to change the rules, but once again, Congress would have no opportunity to block any of these future changes once they pass TPA.

Congress would have a chance to review the deal, but their hands would be tied by not being able to amend it, they would have a very short time to discuss it, and it would only require 51 votes in the Senate to pass rather than the normal 60.

The lack of transparency and mistrust of our leaders is enough to make me skeptical of increased executive authority. But it gets better.

Senator Jeff Sessions, who chairs a senate immigration panel, issued an alert which begins:

Congress has the responsibility to ensure that any international trade agreement entered into by the United States must serve the national interest, not merely the interests of those crafting the proposal in secret. It must improve the quality of life, the earnings, and the per-capita wealth of everyday working Americans. The sustained long-term loss of middle class jobs and incomes should compel all lawmakers to apply added scrutiny to a “fast-track” procedure wherein Congress would yield its legislative powers and allow the White House to implement one of largest global financial agreements in our history—comprising at least 12 nations and nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP. The request for fast-track also comes at a time when the Administration has established a recurring pattern of sidestepping the law, the Congress, and the Constitution in order to repeal sovereign protections for U.S. workers in deference to favored financial and political allies.

Then he lists five problems with the current legislation, which subsequently did pass the Senate and is now before the House.

  1. Consolidation Of Power In The Executive Branch.
  2. Increased Trade Deficits.
  3. Ceding Sovereign Authority To International Powers.
  4. Currency Manipulation.
  5. Immigration Increases.

Please read his alert for all the details, but lets just look at the immigration issue since Michael touched on it Monday.

Immigration is bound to be a big topic in the upcoming presidential election. If TPA and TPP pass, some objectors have said that it would allow free movement of workers amongst the nations in the agreement just as workers are allowed to move around the EU. That would mean that the USA would not be able to refuse to let workers into our country.

Senator Sessions added in a later release that:

Fast-track includes negotiating objectives to remove barriers to services that could easily be used by the Administration to justify the expansion of foreign worker programs. There is also an entire chapter on “Temporary Entry” in TPP, which could be used to facilitate the admission of more temporary foreign workers into the United States. Even if immigration or temporary entry prohibitions were included in fast track, the negotiating objectives laid out by fast track are not binding on the Administration. If any future trade deal, TPP or otherwise, contains language that paves the way for more foreign workers, members will be powerless to strike the offending provision. Additionally, the “living agreement” provision allows for subsequent amendments to the trade agreement after its initial implementation, creating an altogether new avenue for changes to foreign worker programs. Finally, the President has refused to foreclose the possibility of using executive actions or side agreements to facilitate foreign worker expansions, as he did with South Korea as part of the recent South Korean trade deal. In short, fast-track creates broad new avenues for the White House to bring in more foreign workers – whether in the light of day, or behind closed doors no one can open – while giving up for six years the meaningful ability of Congress to do anything about it.

Immigration is bound to be a big topic in the upcoming presidential election. The lawsuit brought by 26 states against the executive overreach on immigration has slowed things down enough to buy some time to debate this issue during the presidential campaign season.

Immigration and Common Core need to be brought up at every chance so that we can see where the candidates really stand on these issues. We need to push hard to get the truth out of the candidates and to convince them that we will hold them accountable should we decide to put them in office.

Between illegal immigration, the refugee resettlement programs which bring in 70,000 people a year from some of the most vocal enemies of our country, and work visas that are hard to track to actually know how many are here, we need to take a breather on immigration. I would welcome the candidate that would say we need time to assimilate those immigrants that are legally here, to build a fence to stop the madness on our southern border, and to screen any potential refugees to see if they are jihadists posing as refugees to gain access to America.

Let’s do our best to find that candidate and then to get him or her elected! In the meantime, call your congressman and tell them to vote NO on TPA.

Hogan’s first veto?

I don’t know our governor’s position on Senate Bill 190, dubbed by some as the “travel tax,” but no less than Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform is urging a veto. His organization has sent a letter (detailed at the previous link) to Governor Hogan asking him to reject this bill that was passed by both chambers during the session. As they explain:

This legislation would disparately impact the Maryland travel industry by apply the Maryland sales tax to online travel agents, brick and mortar travel agents, wedding planners, tour operators, and other service providers. With summer almost here, and tourism season gearing up, a new tax would hurt many small businesses in Maryland who rely on tourism for revenue.

Interestingly, the ATR letter quotes local Delegate Christopher Adams, who cites the hundreds of travel agents who would be affected by the bill. On the other hand, his Senator, Addie Eckardt, was the only GOP sponsor of the bill and lone GOP Senator to vote in its favor.

Perhaps the best explanation of the legalese of the bill comes from its Fiscal Note:

Online travel companies (OTCs) typically obtain access to hotel inventory (rooms) through contractual agreements with hotels. OTCs pay a discounted rate for these hotel rooms that they sell (as room rentals), and then retain certain fees that are part of the total price paid by customers. The purchaser of the room rental is typically charged the same rate as the person would be if the hotel room rental was purchased directly from the hotel. The issue that has arisen in recent years is the definition of taxable price that state and local sales and use taxes and hotel rental taxes are to be based on. OTCs have typically been paying and remitting these taxes based on the reduced rate that they pay for the hotel rooms; however, states and local jurisdictions have been arguing in court that these taxes should be collected on the total room rate paid, which is the base for which the taxes would have been imposed if a customer rented the hotel room directly from the hotel.

As I understand it and to create an example, let’s say a hotel room rents at $150 per night to the general public. An OTC comes to the hotel and says they will rent the remaining lot of rooms for $75 apiece – obviously the hotel profits by not having to deal with unsold inventory for the night while the OTC can provide a discount to the standard rack rate and still make money. Everybody wins – but the state.

The contention is that OTCs are paying room taxes based on the $75 rate, while the state believes they should be paying based on the $150 rate. That’s what this law would provide for, and while some jurisdictions in the state have come to agreements with the OTCs (and there is a court case on the subject pending) this law would force OTCs to pay taxes based on the higher rate, eating into their bottom line for dubious overall benefit. The Travelocity vs. Comptroller case cited by the Fiscal Note involves $6 million over eight years; even if Travelocity is accounting for just 10 percent of the overall market the amount in question is only a few million dollars out of a $40 billion budget.

If Hogan vetoes the bill, the margin in the House is close enough to make it very possible a veto would be sustained as it passed in the House of Delegates by an 84-56 margin – one vote short of 3/5. Delegate James Proctor could be the swing vote since he was absent from the original balloting.

Because Maryland law allows the governor to sign bills well after the legislative session has concluded, it’s quite likely that Hogan can wait as long as he needs to make the decision. While this bill is dubbed the “travel tax,” there is the complication of Marriott possibly moving from Maryland that Hogan may have to consider.

But the idea of electing Hogan was that of no new taxes, regardless of whether this is a “clarification” or not. Let the court case take its course, and veto the bill. It’s another vote that is likely to find its way to the monoblogue Accountability Project.

A tax cutter, by George

Like most members of hthe Republican Party, Ron George states the case that he stands for fiscal conservatism. The photo to the left is him beaming after signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a document put out as a vow between the candidate and the taxpayer, through Americans for Tax Reform.

But does Ron follow through in other areas of fiscal responsibility? Since Ron is a member of the General Assembly, the answer seems to be yes. He’s not voted for an O’Malley budget since 2007, when just 5 Republicans dared to vote against it.

Yet the reaction to the news on Ron’s Facebook page was very skeptical, so Ron elaborated:

I am serious about this. I know where the waste is. We have a shrinking tax base. We can create a more competitive tax rate, increase jobs, and grow the economy. I will cut taxes in a way that does this and I will show where the waste is by having independent audits of every department, agency, Medicaid disbursements, welfare disbursements, and health disbursements.

Of course, left unsaid is what happens if the audits come back clean, But it’s also worth pointing out that Maryland spends about 10 percent more per capita than the national average, so just getting back to the mean would have eliminated the need for any of the O’Malley/Brown tax increases. This makes sense because our state is fairly close to being 1/50 of the population, so it would be a microcosm of the nation’s “average” state.

There is one other area I’d love a little direction on, though. Ron’s seventh promise is (intentionally?) vague, but it’s worth expanding on in my view:

I promise to work towards energy independence to ensure Maryland will keep energy sources in-state and not be dependent on unstable governments half-way around the world.

Does this mean finally getting around to taking advantage of the Marcellus Shale under the western part of the state? How about joining Virginia and other Atlantic coastal states in a call to restart oil exploration off the coast? I’d appreciate some specifics on that, too.

Maybe the energy industry needs its own pledge to sign.

Divided parties

Over the last few weeks the media has reveled in the divisions which became apparent in the Maryland Republican Party, first in the party chairman race which was only decided on the second ballot and later with an upheaval in House of Delegates leadership which I’m told succeeded by a two-vote margin – Nic Kipke actually only won a plurality of the 43 House members (but a slim majority of those present.)

But there is new leadership in both entities and folks seem satisfied with the final result, at least insofar as the Maryland GOP leadership is concerned because the runner-up in the race for Chair won the consolation prize of 1st Vice-Chair. Incidentally, for the first time in my memory, both Diana Waterman and Collins Bailey will be sworn in at an event outside the convention setting as they will jointly be sworn in May 13 in Annapolis. (Key question: will bloggers be invited to the “media appreciation lunch” afterward? I guess my invite was lost in the mail.)

So the GOP is more or less united and ready to do battle. But what of the Democrats? Well, they seem to have hit a little snag, which was mentioned in more detail at my Politics in Stereo counterpart on the left, Maryland Juice.

On Friday the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee hosts their annual Spring Ball, which, like a Lincoln or Reagan Day Dinner for local Republicans, serves as a key fundraiser and a chance for party faithful to hear from a number of local elected officials and a keynote speaker. But their event is threatened as a fundraiser because a number of prominent Democrats are boycotting the event. Why?

I’ll pass along the explanation from the Washington DC Metro Council of the AFL-CIO:

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and the Montgomery County Young Democrats are among those who have announced that they’re honoring a boycott of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee’s May 11 Spring Ball. The metro Washington-area labor movement is boycotting – and picketing – the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee’s Spring Ball because the Committee took a position in favor of the 2012 Question B referendum, which took away the police union’s right to bargain the effects of management decisions.

But I nearly spit up my drink when I read this line, from UFCW 1994 president Gino Renne:

Labor will not tolerate being treated as an ATM and foot soldiers for a party which is often indifferent – and sometimes openly hostile – to working families in Montgomery County.

As the Republicans often seem to ask the pro-liberty movement, where else are you guys going to go? Trust me, they will have this ironed out in plenty of time to give extorted union dues and “representation fees” to those Democrats in Montgomery County and elsewhere in the state. The point will be made at this event, but like any other “family business” they’ll come to an understanding and things will be quietly made whole at a later time when the heat is off.

I find it quite amusing, though, that members and candidates from the party which regularly chastises Republicans for signing an Americans for Tax Reform pledge to not raise taxes or kowtowing to the National Rifle Association on gun issues scurry like cockroaches once it’s learned they would have to cross a picket line to attend a party event. It would be interesting to see how many people brave the picket line (if one occurs; perhaps the threat was enough to make the point) and attend the Spring Ball. I’ve seen Big Labor when it feels slighted, so the question might be whether there will be more people inside the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel or picketing outside.

Controversy erupts in U.S. Senate race

There is a key update (and additional commentary) at the end of the story.

At the eleventh hour before early voting begins, we have a war of words between conservative activist Andrew Langer and U.S. Senate candidate Richard Douglas, and something I reported is helping to stir the pot.

Yesterday, Andrew wrote the following on his Facebook profile:

Seriously, to my friends who are Richard J. Douglas supporters… are you aware that your candidate:

– believes the individual mandate in Obamacare to be constitutional; (he believes that Congress shouldn’t have enacted it, but that they have the power to do so)

– has not signed the Americans for Tax Reform “no new taxes” pledge;

– does not support the Balanced Budget Amendment.

I think Rich is a nice guy. I like him just fine. But a former congressional staffer who believes in expansive legislative powers at the expense of individual rights, who doesn’t think Congress needs to be reigned in with new rules to control spending, who won’t put his signature on paper that he won’t raise your taxes?

That’s not “new blood.” Not by a long shot.


Prior to that he had gone on and cited my reporting of the Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner as evidence Douglas “says that Congress HAS power to implement the individual mandate.”

Well, Richard Douglas didn’t take that lying down.

A social media activist posted false information about my record. Our campaign has provided this individual with a point of contact (a real live person to talk to) and we look forward to hearing from him in a timely manner so he can retract his comments.

This individual did not check his facts. I signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge.

Moreover, more than any other candidate, I have been calling attention to taxation at both the federal and state level.

Political attacks and distortions of records are nothing new in campaigns. Outright falsehoods are another matter.

We will keep you posted.

And in my e-mail box this morning was an e-mail copy of an receipt, with the recipient number matching the number on the Pledge, dated last November 11.

On the surface, one can say what Langer did about Douglas and as a sound byte he would be correct. But there are reasons Douglas believes as he does, and in particular his defense of opposing a balanced budget amendment, or BBA, because it would remand the creation of the budget to whatever a judge says makes a lot of sense. Personally, I would still support a BBA but Douglas makes perhaps the best argument against the adoption of one I’ve heard. Besides, we shouldn’t need a BBA to have the gumption to spend no more than we take in. There truly is no such thing as a free lunch.

But one thing I’ve noticed about the Douglas campaign is the increased strain of populism, with a message more closely matching his main opponent Dan Bongino. And while Bongino has been closely cultivating the national profile he likely believes will assist him in knocking out an incumbent who’s politically long in the tooth – one example of that being his appearance on Sean Hannity’s show last night – Douglas is making his final push on a more local level with a series of radio appearances on the Shore yesterday and today. It’s likely he’s hammering incumbent Ben Cardin on his lack of support for the DeMint amendment to lower the federal gasoline tax and begin devolving the federal program to states, or Cardin’s reluctance to decry the “Annapolis tax-a-thon,” as Rich called it in a recent statement.

I’ve contacted Douglas for an update on this story today; since he was traveling and couldn’t follow the story he referred me to his press contact Jim Pettit. I contacted Pettit about 40 minutes before I put this post to bed and haven’t received a response; if events warrant I will update.

Douglas will also be a featured speaker at Monday night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting. Maybe Andrew Langer can come down here and get answers in person.

Update: I spoke to Pettit, who pondered whether Langer was working on behalf of Dan Bongino or on his own. But just now it was confirmed by Norquist’s chief of staff Chris Butler that ATR indeed has the pledge.

ATR’s Tweet at 4:42 p.m.:

Contrary to ATR’s first response to Andrew Langer, US Senate candidate Richard Douglas (R-MD) did sign the Pledge in Nov. 2011.

So now we can get back to our regularly scheduled debate on who best to oust Ben Cardin from our Senate seat via the issues and verifiable facts.

Update 2: Something I actually spoke with Pettit about, and an interesting thought topic: why now?

Let’s look at the timeline here. Richard Douglas started his campaign early last fall because one of his first campaign appearances was our Wicomico County Central Committee meeting on October 3, 2011. Apparently he signed this pledge sometime on or about November 11, with two witnesses from Montgomery County. Yet we went over four months without anyone noticing the ATR site had never added Douglas? Come to think of it, I couldn’t find anything on any Maryland candidate in my (admittedly cursory) search – one would think ATR would make a bigger deal of these.

Could this be a dirty trick? Perhaps, but I really don’t think so. There’s no question that Bongino and Douglas have ran their campaigns with contrasting styles, but I think the comparison is good. And say what you will about Andrew Langer, Rich Douglas has his overzealous supporters as well. Perhaps Rich could have verified this a little earlier, but when you get a fax receipt and don’t hear from the recipient that the fax didn’t arrive you generally assume there’s no issue.

An interesting direction

Truth be told, I have a reasonable sense of direction so I don’t own a GPS system aside from the one which comes with my smart phone. But I have had the pleasure of riding along with a number of people who are, shall we say, directionally challenged. For them, GPS is a necessary fuel- and time-saver, and it’s a key to this story.

It was last year that LightSquared, a new startup company which wanted to get into the broadband business, persuaded the FCC to give it the green light to conditionally develop a broadband network which would compete with AT&T and Verizon. But there was one big problem – the frequencies LightSquared wished to use were adjacent to those used by GPS systems, and LightSquared’s broadband would be far more powerful than the GPS signal. It’s a situation not unlike that of radio, where a weaker station signal can be drowned out by a more powerful one on an adjacent frequency. That’s why stations in the same market are set some distance apart on the dial; in the case of FM radio the spacing is generally 0.8 megahertz (i.e. 97.3, 98.1, 98.9, etc.)

Yet the LightSquared saga is also intriguing for its connection to President Obama and charges of crony capitalism.

Continue reading “An interesting direction”