Well, the Republicans caved again. Afraid of what they thought would be dire consequences if they bumped against the debt ceiling, John Boehner violated the Hastert Rule and allowed the Senate deal on the Obama/Reid shutdown to be brought to the floor and passed. All the House Democrats who voted (198 of 200) favored the bill, while Republicans made up all 144 of those who voted no.
Among those voting no was our own Andy Harris, who put out a three-part Tweet explaining his reasoning.
I will be opposing the Senate fiscal plan because it continues the spending that led to $650 billion deficit this year 1/3
— Rep. Andy Harris, MD (@RepAndyHarrisMD) October 16, 2013
I will be opposing the Senate fiscal plan because it continues special treatment for Congress from Obamacare requirements 2/3
— Rep. Andy Harris, MD (@RepAndyHarrisMD) October 16, 2013
I will be opposing the Senate fiscal plan because it continues accounting gimmicks. 3/3
— Rep. Andy Harris, MD (@RepAndyHarrisMD) October 16, 2013
Fairly compelling reasons. Unfortunately, the 87 Republicans who voted in the affirmative were more than enough to pass the bill, once again hanging the TEA Party out to dry and probably assuring themselves primary opponents next year. But Mitch McConnell got his earmark.
But let’s not forget that we were placed in this situation back in 2009, when Congress began what seems like a never-ending series of continuing resolutions to keep the government going, racking up enough red ink that we would eventually run into our debt limit. (Didn’t we cave on that a couple times before?) Even in that year, at a time when Democrats held both houses of government and could pass anything they wanted, including Obamacare, Congress failed to do its Constitutionally-appointed job of holding the power of the purse.
Yet one has to wonder if this was the plan all along. Does anyone really have any idea what the government spends money on? Consider how many millions it took just to get the failing health exchange websites operational – it sure doesn’t seem like we got much bang for the buck, yet someone has pocketed a crapload of federal cash.
All along, the story with this regime is that its friends made out like bandits but future generations will be left holding the IOUs. Last night’s votes just enriched the bandits a little more.
I received an amusing pictorial e-mail today from the Democratic National Committee. I guess when you’re targeting low-information voters you need plenty of pictures.
But it shows just what’s at stake in 2014.
Never mind that the poll the Democrats cite (from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling) pits these Republicans against a “generic” Democrat – once an actual candidate is selected the numbers generally go down. It’s also a simple registered voter poll, and may not accurately reflect the electorate in the region. (No one’s ever oversampled Democrats to get a desired result before. </sarc>)
The PPP survey is sort of like the generic ballot polling an outfit like Rasmussen does, where they pit the broad base of Republicans vs. the broad base of Democrats. At this time the numbers are even, which suggests not much will change. (This is particularly surprising given the negative coverage House Republicans have endured throughout the Obama
temper tantrum shutdown slowdown.) Bear in mind as well the PPP survey was conducted in the first few days of the Obama/Reid shutdown, before many major developments in the story.
So it’s important to cede no ground to the Democrats. And history isn’t on their side – with the exception of 1998, where Democrats picked up 5 seats, the opposition party to the President has added seats in Congress in every second-term midterm election since 1952. The range was from 5 seats in 1986 (Reagan) to 49 seats in 1958 (Eisenhower) and 1974, the post-Watergate Ford election. 1966 was another watershed year, with incumbent Democrats under Lyndon Johnson losing 47 seats. So Barack Obama would have to buck a historical trend to gain seats, let alone recapture the majority.
Nor has it been considered that the Republicans might pick up some vulnerable Democrat seats as well. Certainly the opponents of Sixth District Congressman John Delaney aren’t taking this lying down. They’re either playing up the trustworthiness angle, like Dan Bongino does in this video:
(By the way, if you look closely you’ll see my cohort Jackie Wellfonder in the video in a couple spots.)
Or they’re hammering the incumbent for turning his back on veterans, like Marine David Vogt:
A conversation about the Affordable Care Act and the harmful effects it is having on the American people is one we need to have. But we can’t have that conversation while our leaders are engaged in a partisan, political playground feud. Each side is guilty, and neither side is leading. Leadership means getting in the conference room and hammering out a solution, not holding a press conference just to call the opposition a new name and to repeat the same talking points that have obviously gotten us nowhere.
Our leaders have forgotten who they are in Washington to represent. Last week, I watched in amazement and disgust as my opponent voted to block funding for veterans’ benefits because he decided politics and standing by his party’s leadership came before service to his constituents and the American people. This is inexcusable.
Washington is supposed to work for us, not against us. These days it often seems that our elected officials do more to work against the American people than they do to help us. We don’t have time for political bickering. We have more pressing issues than each side’s attempt to save face. We need leadership, but it doesn’t appear we are going to get it anytime soon.
Obviously we won’t get new leadership until after the 2014 elections. And while I wouldn’t mind replacing John Boehner as Speaker, I’m hoping we do so with a much more conservative bulldog with TEA Party roots, not the shrill uber-liberal shill Nancy Pelosi. She had her time and set the stage for Barack Obama ruining the country, so let’s send a message to the Democrats and seize the narrative.
A sideline of mine – besides the frequent discussions of Maryland politics I write – is discussing energy issues. I didn’t seek out that aspect of the universe to write on, but I find it fascinating and quite important at the same time.
Today was a monumental day in Congress for the wind industry – yes, wind blows every day but those who profit from collecting the energy created and converting it (albeit somewhat clumsily and inefficiently) to electricity had their day in Congress today. Their goal: maintaining their cherished production tax credit at a hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Yet a large group of conservative and pro-liberty organizations are urging Congress to dump this credit, with the Competitive Enterprise Institute a leading voice. They co-wrote a letter last month calling on Congress to dump the subsidy, and followed up with further guidance today from CEI’s Myron Ebell:
Congress should not renew the Wind Production Tax Credit for another year and thereby upset the planned phase-out that was passed just last year.
The wind energy lobbyists spend more time seeking handouts than in trying to make their product competitive. The tax credit amounts to the worst kind of cronyism, costing taxpayers billions, foisting mandates on states and driving up electricity rates for consumers and manufacturers.
Over the course of the last several years, efforts in both Maryland and Delaware to harness the wind have fizzled out, most notably the lockdown of the much-ballyhooed Bluewater Wind project. And while Maryland is attempting to jumpstart that market with a public subsidy effective this fiscal year, it’s questionable whether anyone will attempt to build the turbines, even with the set-aside put in place.
Unfortunately, while the wind blows for free, the places where it blows the best tend to be difficult locations for infrastructure. Moreover, as we all know, those hot, humid days during the summer when we could use the cooling breeze rarely have enough wind to blow a scrap of paper around, let alone turn a turbine. It’s one of many good points made by Dr. Robert J. Michaels, a professor of economics at Cal State – Fullerton and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.
Surely some will counter with the fact that fossil fuel industries have their own set of tax benefits and these subsidies for wind energy are simply a matter of leveling the playing field. But consider the number of jobs in these fossil fuel industries everywhere in the process – everything from working at the point of extraction to transport to conversion into electricity. In many cases, these jobs are among the most lucrative in their respective fields despite the fact the raw material is relatively cheap compared to the cost of wind energy.
It’s also worth pointing out that the “market” for wind energy is a relatively artificial one thanks to those states which have a carveout for a renewable energy portfolio, including Maryland. Generally, since neither the cost-effectiveness nor the necessary infrastructure is in place, the laws simply serve as another form of taxation of already-beleaguered utility companies because non-compliance carries a monetary cost. On the other hand, no one is saying that any proportion of our electricity has to come from coal or natural gas nor is it necessary because the market price dictates the direction utilities prefer to go.
With any luck, the production tax credits will become a thing of the past at the end of the year. Like zombies, they were resurrected from the dead at the end of last year thanks to a Congressional deal but maybe this year their time will run out.
Gasoline. It’s something all of us need, and if you’re reading this in Maryland last month you began paying roughly 3.5 cents more per gallon at each fillup thanks to the state expanding the sales tax to gasoline as part of a multi-year process for full adoption of our 6% sales tax to that product.
While that bad news applies to Maryland consumers, all of us may soon be seeing less bang for the buck if the EPA gets its way. They’re edging us closer and closer to widespread usage of E15 fuel, which may be a necessary method to comply with short-sighted federal law. The problem: a “blend wall” where the amount of ethanol mandated for use runs up to the limits created by actual consumption, which is down significantly from that which was predicted when the regulations were written several years ago when the economy was humming along.
Many longtime followers of my site know I use the American Petroleum Institute as a go-to resource when it comes to energy issues. Yes, they are an advocacy group but they advocate the tried-and-true solutions for our energy problems, advocating for the least-costly alternative of petroleum which, as a beneficial byproduct, is a great job creator to boot. So while the EPA believes it’s “flexible” on renewable fuel standards enacted as part of a 2005 law, API believes they’re quite inflexible. The only real change was in the category of cellulosic biofuels, which saw its mandate cut by more than half – quite handy when there’s only a negligible amount currently in production. (API has a handy guide to the pitfalls of the RFS here.)
Meanwhile ethanol apologists – like the group which lobbied for E15 in the first place – claim their product will create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil without making an impact on grocery prices, Yet their solution is more government mandates and subsidies. I find it quite telling that this group formed mere days after the election of Barack Obama, who was probably – and correctly – thought of as a person who would shower even more government largess onto the ethanol industry in his quest to wipe out the coal and oil industries.
Yet Congress can act, just as it did in making the mandates in the first place nearly a decade ago – a lifetime in the oil industry, given the boom in oil exploration and fracking over the last five years. So what would happen if the ethanol mandates were scrapped?
Obviously you would have a number of winners and losers. All those who invested in ethanol plants figuring that the government subsidies and mandates would have profit rolling their way – well, they would have the biggest “L” stamped on their forehead. Farmers may take a temporary hit as corn prices drop, but they would eventually stabilize; moreover, farmers who shunned soybeans or wheat for corn to be turned into fuel could go back to those other staple items.
Consumers would win in a number of ways. First of all, they’d get better quality gasoline that’s less expensive, which would both increase their mileage per gallon and amount of money remaining in their wallets. Secondly, the lowering of corn prices would benefit them at the grocery store, and not just in corn-based products because feed for poultry and livestock would be cheaper. And lastly, their small equipment would last longer because ethanol is poisonous to many small gasoline-powered motors.
And while the intention of these mandates was to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, new advances in exploration and extraction have placed the goal of North American energy self-sufficiency within reach. Nor is it necessarily in the form of gasoline, as companies with large automotive fleets are moving toward using natural gas as a motor fuel, building their own infrastructure along the way. (Yes, this can be done without a massive taxpayer subsidy or regulation.)
It just makes more sense to me to not grow our fuel, but our food. When you think of corn, you don’t think of a gas tank but instead think about that tasty ear cooked to perfection with some butter and pepper on it. Let’s get back to using corn for what the Good Lord meant it for, eating.
At the end of each summer, official Washington winds down and Congress beats it out of town for their annual August recess. (I think in the official parlance of Congress, I think this is known as a “District Work Period.”) This is the time when many members schedule town hall meetings, and I think Barack Obama is concerned about being outworked by the TEA Partiers who rightly oppose his big-government schemes.
That’s why I got this message in my mailbox the other day from Organizing
Against America For Action:
There is only so much I can do on my own.
The special interests know it, and they’re counting on you to be silent on gun violence and climate change. They hope you’re not paying attention to creating jobs or fixing our broken immigration system.
And they plan to make the loudest noise when your members of Congress come home for August recess.
I’m counting on you to be just as vocal — to make sure the agenda that Americans voted for last year is front and center.
Say you’ll do at least one thing as part of OFA’s Action August in your community, no matter where you live.
I know it’s easy to get frustrated by the pace of progress.
But it’s not a reason to sit back and do nothing — our system only works if you play your part.
If you don’t let your representatives know where you stand in August, we risk losing an important battle on your home turf.
So I’m asking you to speak up — commit to do at least one thing in your community during Action August:
Isn’t it nice to be on a first-name basis with the President?
So allow me to let my representative (and anyone else reading this) know just where I stand during “Action August”:
- Barack Obama has done plenty of harm on his own. It’s up to Congress to restore sanity; unfortunately only a small portion of those in Congress are willing to do so. So don’t give me this “only so much I can do on my own” crap.
- I’m not silent on gun violence and I certainly don’t support it. But allow all those who wish to be armed the opportunity to carry in a concealed manner and you’ll find there’s less gun violence. Taking away guns only benefits two groups: the government and the predator criminal class. (Actually, that may be one group.)
- Climate change: I wouldn’t mind warmer winters myself. But until we find an on-off switch for the sun, there’s really nothing we can do about the climate, except use it as an excuse for more overbearing, job-killing regulation.
- Here’s my question about “the agenda Americans voted for last year.” Do you think they’re having second thoughts about now? I do. Otherwise you wouldn’t need to contact me with your note.
But the most important line is this one:
…we risk losing an important battle on your home turf.
A loss in the Obama column is a win for America as far as I’m concerned. Richard Falknor has this figured out on Blue Ridge Forum, and it’s a call to action for the side of good:
For this month we will see how effective are Tea Partiers and the conservative base in bringing many GOP members to a much stronger mind when they return to their districts.
I’m not so much concerned about this First Congressional District – aside from those who grouse about Andy Harris’s votes on issues where Constitutional guarantees meet national security concerns, the district is pretty much set up to be reflective of his voting record. Once the man in the chicken suit failed in his task, we were pretty much assured of a decade or so of Andy Harris, because no liberal will beat him fair and square.
But there are seven other Congressional districts in Maryland (as well as the one comprising the entire state of Delaware, for my friends up that way) where the officeholders will only be under pressure for supporting the failed Obama agenda if people speak out against it. Don’t cede the field to those OAA/OFA special interest Astroturfers, make yourself heard!
It’s no surprise that Andy Harris is probably one of the more passionate guardians of the right to life for the unborn, so this would be something I’d expect from him.
The video shows him making a plea for passage of the The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which indeed passed the House yesterday by a 228-196 vote. The bill would make abortion past 20 weeks illegal, except in cases of rape or incest.
Now some may ask what the big deal is, and those who call themselves pro-choice (that is, pro-abortion) in particular will bleat about what a waste of time this is when there are so many other important items the House needs to consider. Indeed, there are a lot of items on the plate and it’s highly unlikely the Senate will take up this bill, let alone pass it. Moreover, I happen to believe the federal approach is wrong – unfortunately, the issue was federalized once the Supreme Court ruled incorrectly in Roe v. Wade.
But I look at this as a template for states to consider – needless to say, any such move would probably land the state in court as they defend themselves against Planned Parenthood and the remainder of the abortion lobby. Obviously the goal is that of overturning a bad precedent in the Supreme Court with a new decision that returns the power to decide to the states. If a state wishes to allow abortion right up to the moment of birth, that should be their decision – although I would encourage those unfortunate enough to live there to fight tooth and nail against such a declaration. On the other hand, banning all abortions would be somewhat too draconian, and the House seems to be looking for a middle ground of incrementalism.
So Andy Harris should be commended for making a stand, albeit in language that may be a little bit dry for the average person to understand. Moreover, it should be pointed out that his most likely opponent would probably rather see no restrictions whatsoever on the practice of slaughtering the unborn. Just food for thought.
We’re just about through the last weekend of the 2012 campaign, and hopefully by late Tuesday night we will have a good idea of where the country will be heading over the next four years (or perhaps four decades, should the incumbent win.) Of course that’s assuming we have no protracted recounts such as we endured 12 years ago – the prospect of two such occurrences in a lifetime boggles the mind.
Yet regardless of what happens Tuesday life will go on, and the sun will come up Wednesday. I’ll still have my work to do as will most of the rest of us who don’t toil for candidates.
I’ve always been about thinking two to three steps ahead where possible, which is why I’m writing this postmortem of sorts on the Sunday before the election. (It’s also why I wrote my book and eschewed the normal publishing process to get it to market prior to the campaign season hitting high gear. Did it cost me some sales? Perhaps, but readers can remedy that situation easily enough as I link to the sales sites from monoblogue.)
Just in the next three months there are a lot of political stories still to be written, from the local to the national. Here in my adopted hometown of Salisbury, the mayoral race will take center stage. No one has formally declared for the office yet, but it’s highly likely we’ll have at least two (and possibly three) candidates: incumbent Mayor Jim Ireton will go for a second term, realtor Adam Roop made it known almost a year ago he was seeking some unspecified office – his two choices are a City Council district seat or mayor – and recent transplant and blogger Joe Albero has made his own overtures. At least he’s invested in the shirts:
That will probably begin to play out in the next couple weeks.
After that we begin the holiday season, which may be politicized to a certain extent as well. My thought is that if Barack Obama wins, the early predictions of a modest year-over-year growth will hold true or end up slightly lower than imagined. I seem to recall last year started out like gangbusters on Black Friday but tailed off once those big sales came to an end. On the other hand, a Mitt Romney win may open up the purse strings and result in an increase twice of what was predicted. I think seeing him win with a GOP Congress will boost consumer confidence overnight as they figure the long national nightmare is over.
Once the holidays are over, it’s then time for both the 113th Congress to get started and, more importantly for local matters, the “90 days of terror” better known as the Maryland General Assembly session to begin. In the next few weeks I will finally wrap up my annual monoblogue Accountability Project for 2012 in order to hold our General Assembly members accountable for all the good and bad votes they made in the three 2012 sessions. With so much written about in 2012 on my part, I had to put that project on the back burner for most of the fall.
At the same time, state races for 2014 will begin to take shape. Unlike the last three gubernatorial elections we do not have the prospect of a candidate named Ehrlich in the race, which leaves the field wide open. While the three who have made overtures toward running on the GOP side have already made their presence known, only one (Blaine Young) has formally announced and the conventional wisdom (such that there is for Maryland GOP politics) labels him as the longest shot of the three most-rumored candidates, the other two being early 2010 candidate Larry Hogan and outgoing Harford County Executive David Craig.
But there are also down-ticket statewide races to consider as well, and there’s a decent chance that both Attorney General and Comptroller may become open seats as Doug Gansler and Peter Franchot, respectively, consider a race for Governor. (While there are three hopefuls so far for governor on the GOP side, there may be at least five on the Democratic side: Gansler, Franchot, current Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, and Delegate Heather Mizeur.)
The GOP bench is a little shorter for the downticket positions at this time, but I believe William Campbell is willing to reprise his 2010 Comptroller run and wouldn’t be surprised if Jim Shalleck doesn’t make sure he’s on the ballot this time for Attorney General. Another intriguing name for the AG position would be 2010 U.S. Senate candidate (and attorney) Jim Rutledge, who obviously has the advantage of having already run statewide. On the other side, I’m hearing that State Senator Brian Frosh (who generally serves as a dictatorial Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee) is one name in the mix for AG, but another intriguing one is former First District Congressman Frank Kratovil, who is now a judge in Queen Anne’s County.
So the beat will go on after this year’s election is over. It’s not surprising to me that I’ve had some great readership numbers over the last few weeks, but the last couple weeks in particular have blown me away. The trick, though, will be maintaining the audience through a period where fewer discuss politics and more concentrate on friends and family during the holiday season. I won’t be so presumptuous to believe that my humble little site should be uppermost on everyone’s mind, but I hope to roll into year number 8 of monoblogue in grand style.
If President Obama wants to run against a “do-nothing Congress” this cycle, perhaps he should be reminded of what one of his leading liberal supporters said in a Bloomberg interview:
There were efforts made to really move in the wrong direction, and we were able to block a lot of very damaging bills to our environment, to health care.
That, friends, is none other than Ben Cardin. If I were to guess, the bills Cardin is referring to as “moving in the wrong direction” encouraged vital energy exploration and transport and returned health care to more of a market approach. The only damage which would have been done was to liberal pride as they find out once again conservative ideas work, every time they’re tried.
And while the House has approved hundreds of bills to help out working American families, the Senate has killed off all but 54 bills and threatens to plunge America off a “fiscal cliff” by repealing the Bush tax cuts on hard-working business owners, not to mention other tax increases slated to occur as part of Obamacare beginning in 2013. (Don’t try to play the class envy card here, because I won’t accept it. If anything, the tax system should be flatter.)
So it may behoove Dan Bongino and his supporters to tell Maryland voters that if a “do-nothing Congress” is considered part of the problem, it’s their Senator who’s up for re-election that’s embracing the obstructionist approach. Frankly, I’m tired of the conservative side being blamed when it’s Democrats who seem to be bottling up the process in the Senate – it seems to feed the bad habit of President Obama ruling by fiat via Executive Order.
While I know Barack Obama doesn’t like the Constitution because of its “negative liberties” he still took an oath to uphold it, and the idea is for him to lead by convincing the legislative branch to enact policies he wants. Obama had two years with a mandate and a Congress in his favor; obviously the backlash against his (so-called) accomplishments from the people was significant. Aside from convincing people our argument was the correct one, that’s not the fault of conservatives – liberals had every opportunity to state their case and to vote as well. To paraphrase the words of Barack Obama, “we won.”
And now it’s up to our side to win some more. If Ben Cardin wants to take credit for an obstinate Senate which won’t allow bills to help Americans who simply want to make themselves a better life, be my guest. It goes to show what 46 years in politics will do to someone.
About 35,000 votes were cast, and as of tonight’s results there were just 82 votes separating the two front-runners. But this evening John LaFerla conceded the Democratic nomination in the First District Congressional race to Wendy Rosen. In a statement on his Facebook site LaFerla wrote:
Now that most of the absentee and provisional ballots have been counted, it is clear that the result of the Democratic Primary in the 1st Congressional District will not change and I will not be nominee of our party.
I would like to congratulate Wendy Rosen for winning the nomination of our party and I wholeheartedly endorse her candidacy and urge all my supporters to get behind her so we can defeat Andy Harris this November.
I want to thank everyone who supported our campaign to bring common sense to Congress. While we came up short, the issues we talked about remain vital to the future of our District and our Nation. While I won’t be in Congress, I hope to continue working with all of you in other ways to build a brighter future for everyone in our community.
So for the first time in recent memory no one from the Eastern Shore will be among the two major-party contenders for the Congressional seat, after a streak of Eastern Shore representatives for the First District – which for the decade between 2000 and 2010 was roughly a 50-50 voter split between Eastern and Western shores – came to an end with the election of Andy Harris. Both Wayne Gilchrest and Frank Kratovil lived on the Eastern Shore; while Harris owns a condominium on the Eastern Shore his principal residence is in Baltimore County, as is opponent Wendy Rosen’s.
Yet while the First District was perhaps made even more Republican, there is peril in Andy’s re-election bid. There’s no doubt that the public perception of Harris as stiff and uncaring will be made even more apparent as he faces a female opponent for the first time as a Congressional candidate. Certainly the Sun and other media outlets will do their best to soften Rosen’s image over the summer. (Harris defeated female Democratic opponents in both his State Senate re-election runs in 2002 and 2006, however.)
In an interview on Forbes.com Rosen describes herself as a “recovering Republican” who left the party for because she perceived it as unfriendly to small business:
Her frustration has grown to disenchantment with the Republican Party, which she says only supports big business and eventually led to her decision to run for Congress as a Democrat.
“I always thought the Republican Party supported small business and included small business in that definition (of being pro-business),” she says. “I think the Democratic Party is more receptive to creative ideas needed to revitalize our smallest businesses. The Republican Party represents the defense industry and the insurance industry. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.”
I have to chuckle on that one because she’s about 180 degrees out of phase, at least when it comes to the current occupant of the Oval Office and titular head of the Democrat Party. If there’s anyone who is selling government to the highest bidder who can afford the largest group of lobbyists it’s those in Rosen’s current political home.
And if you look at Rosen’s key issues, it’s clear she’s trying to portray herself as a friend to small business. But what I see from her is more micromanagement and government picking winners and losers. I’m not seeing the big ideas which will level the playing field and allow all companies a fair shake like a reduction in regulations and a more sound tax policy which would put more money in their pockets, allowing them to hire more workers and create more jobs. That’s how you “fill those vacant shops and give small business owners the tools and support necessary for them to succeed” – you get out of their way.
Wendy rails about how too many items come from other countries and aren’t American made, but has she considered why the products are made overseas? Well, there is a cost of labor advantage, but by the time you add shipping costs that is practically negated. Yet taxing business at the industrialized world’s highest rate (as of April 1 Japan lowered its corporate tax rate below that of the United States) and writing reams of regulations (a study for the Small Business Administration in 2010 pegged the annual regulatory cost at $1.75 trillion – yes, that’s trillion with a “tr”) isn’t going to create American jobs. Nor will it win many friends in the business world – that is, unless you have the lobbyists and clout to write the rules in such a way to stifle competition. She’s suspiciously silent on those aspects of the issue. And what about the energy industry and gasoline prices?
I’m pleased Wendy seems to have found a way to succeed in her chosen field, although when she talks about walking the halls of Congress for over 10 years she begins to sound like the lobbyists she detests. But I think we have tried things her way for a number of years and those methods don’t work anymore. Back off the entrepreneurs of America, give them breathing room from excessive burdens, and watch them grow.
The locale was a familiar one, but there were still nearly 100 people in attendance this afternoon as Congressman Andy Harris took time to meet with his Lower Shore constituents. Originally slated as an hour-long event, Harris spoke for about 20 minutes on a couple topics and spent the last hour fielding questions.
Initially, Andy showed this chart, one which illustrates the upward climb of gasoline prices over the last few years. The “pain at the pump” we were feeling was a sign that America needed to change its energy policies.
Another point Andy made in his gasoline presentation was that 80 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas came from the crude oil, 10 percent from distribution and marketing, and 12 percent from taxes. Refining was being done at a 2 percent loss currently. Yet Martin O’Malley was advocating a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline, which would add perhaps 20 cents per gallon, phased in over three years. It compares to the state’s “Blue Ribbon Commission” recommendation of a straight 15 cent per gallon increase (also phased in over three years) along with the Simpson-Bowles federal recommendation of a 15 cent per gallon increase.
The next chart he showed illustrated where the federal gasoline taxes were now going.
Perhaps it would make more sense if I showed the slide Andy had beforehand, which was a full pie showing all the highway money went to roads. That’s how it was in 1980, but thirty years later only 47% goes to roads, while 17% goes to mass transit, and the rest is either in earmarks, beautification, or other flexible projects. Andy believed there should be no increase in the federal gasoline tax until we get back to the pre-1980 condition of spending it all on highways.
However, Andy also discussed the new highway bill, H.R. 7. It would replace a bill which had run its course three years ago; a bill which had been extended three times. Andy claimed that it would streamline the process of getting new highways completed and that potentially 100% of funds could go to highways, if the state opted to spend the funding that way. The gasoline tax wouldn’t be raised to cover the spending; instead a new fee would be applied to domestic oil and gas exploration. (The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, as this is known, is still pending in the House.)
If anything about the bill bothers me, it’s that we can’t cover all it wants to spend with the existing gasoline tax. Why should energy companies – an industry we’re desperately trying to keep in the country to pursue our own abundant natural resources – have to help pay for highways?
Meanwhile, Andy pointed out that the state of Maryland has also raided its Transportation Trust Fund a number of times since 2003, to the tune of nearly $1 billion. Almost $680 million has been taken since 2010.
In essence, that was the extent of Andy’s message. He then opened the floor to questions, and ended up taking about a dozen. One of the most interesting ones came in regard to the tax holiday which Andy voted against last week. It was the “wrong way to do business,” said Andy, who then asked “will we ever stop the payroll tax holiday?”
Instead, something Andy suggested was giving people a choice – take the 2% reduction now and retire a month or two later, or maintain retirement age and pay the 2 percent. That seems like a valid suggestion to me, but Andy “didn’t think Congress is ready to be honest with the people.”
Another tax question Andy took was regarding a House bill which mandated a 1% fee on financial transactions sponsored by several Democrats. Andy said that bill was “not going anywhere in this House.” He pointed out that whenever taxes were increased, each dollar of new revenue was spent, along with 30% more.
Yet Harris also noted that all that saves us from being Greece was the fact we have the world’s reserve currency. Because of the strength of our dollar, interest on $15 trillion in debt is only $221 billion. But if we paid the same interest rates Greece is forced to pay, we would spend more on debt interest than we do on Social Security.
Naturally as part of the fiscal questions, someone asked Andy about the bonuses he gave to his staff. Andy defended the bonuses, saying that he paid his staff less than the average amount and once it became clear they would return money to the Treasury, he helped to bring them closer to the average pay scale through the bonus. To him, though, it was a good incentive to work more efficiently.
A couple questioners mentioned the defense cuts proposed by President Obama, particularly in our nuclear arsenal. Andy believed in “peace through strength” because “I don’t really trust the Russians or Chinese” but also made it clear that “I wish there was world peace…but we have real enemies.” A large and bipartisan group in Congress believed the drastic proposed cuts by Obama were “unacceptable” so they likely won’t happen.
Several people took it upon themselves to ask Andy about his environmental stance, in particular cleaning up Chesapeake Bay.
They asked about the Bay Restoration Fund, which was supposed to be bankrolled by the 1-cent sales tax increase of 2008. But that funding was stripped away the next year to balance the budget. (Never mind that this sales tax increase netted the state around $600 million.)
Yet the questioners pressed Andy on what he would do, one whining that he’s heard the same rhetoric for thirty years. Harris couched it in the terms of improving the economy, because the money wasn’t there to clean up the Bay. “We have to restore prosperity,” he said. Yet we’ve done a lot to help the environment, Andy continued, giving the example of removing 90% of the airborne mercury. Yet to get it to 99% removal, we would have to endure a 28% increase in our electric bills. The EPA didn’t do a good job in studying the benefits of what’s already been done, added Andy.
As for cleaning up Chesapeake Bay, Harris reminded those who questioned him that other states need to be involved as well. Yet a state like Pennsylvania has no real incentive because they’re not bordering the Chesapeake. We also need to partner with affected industries.
Just in my humble opinion, these environmentalists are representative of a group which won’t be satisfied until we’ve returned to the conditions found in pre-Colonial days. After all, if the Chesapeake Bay Foundation ever gives the Bay an A+ grade, what reason do they have to exist anymore? There’s no sense of balance given, nor credit for what’s been done thus far at great expense to our farmers and industry. Instead, the EPA is “confrontational” with the states.
There was one thing about which I didn’t care for when Andy said it. The question was raised that, okay, let’s say the economy is better. Then what will you do about the Bay? (These people were insistent.)
As part of that response, Andy said, “if you don’t want the federal government to have a say, then don’t take federal money.” That’s a little disingenuous because there are a number of areas where the federal government is supposed to perform tasks within states. I’d be very happy if Maryland didn’t take federal education money, for example, but would the federal government get off our back with various requirements? I doubt it.
And then there was the budget deficit. A questioner asked where the controls were, and Andy basically said there are none – “both parties are absolutely to blame…they can’t control themselves in Washington.”
“It’s too easy to come up with an excuse in Washington to spend money.” But Andy was fully supportive of the Ryan budget proposal last year, and likely would be again this year. “Stop attacking those who want to start the conversation,” he pleaded. If politicians don’t have ideas on how to address this, they should be thrown out of office, Harris added. After all, this was a group which approved a budget item of $1 million to Chinese factories to help them improve their energy efficiency. (That’s going to create jobs here.)
Speaking of being thrown out of office, one of the final questions dealt with term limits. Andy is a co-sponsor of a term limits bill already in the hopper, but promised to serve no more than 12 years himself. We should have a citizen legislature, Harris said, and he believed that most of us in the room would be just as qualified to be a Congressman as the ones who are there as long as we have some common sense.
Well, I have no plans to run for Congress – perhaps that’s evidence of the common sense he speaks of – but the hour and 20 minute session was quite informative. I doubt everyone went away happy, but the dialogue was quite compelling.
Media coverage was pretty good. Insofar as I know I was the lone blogger there, but WMDT-TV (Channel 47) was there as was a print reporter and photographer, presumably from the Daily Times.
Nope, sorry, I’m not going to bust out any “Killing in the Name” or “Guerrilla Radio.” Instead, I’m going to focus on dueling releases from the two leading candidates to take on Ben Cardin this fall. Instead of taking swipes at one another, they instead focus on a broken system and a Senator whose lack of leadership is a disgrace to our state.
Dan Bongino isn’t going to be known as the earmark king:
Dan Bongino has called for an end to “legalized bribery” through targeted earmarks.
“Insider dealings amongst elected officials, and local special interests are evolving into a system of legalized bribery. Access to Washington DC elected insiders through a network of lobbyists, and special interest groups is suffocating our economy and drowning out the voices of middle-class Americans. The dangerous and growing feedback loop between campaign finance, access to elected officials and the distribution of hard earned taxpayer dollars to connected insiders, is destroying the integrity of our Constitutional system of government. I pledge to restore leadership and integrity back to the system and, when elected, refuse to take part in any allocation of taxpayer funds without full disclosure to the citizens of Maryland.”
A February 21st investigative report by the Heritage Foundation’s Lachlan Markay provides compelling evidence showing a disturbing correlation between the allocation of earmarks and the timing of sensitive votes in vulnerable electoral districts. America’s growing frustration with government is largely due to the tacit pacts and elicit agreements which are all too common in status quo politics. If President Obama and the Congress are genuinely interested in reform they would stop talking about “change” and start initiating reforms that implement it.
We’ve already seen a push to implement this sort of reform in the House – last year a Republican Study Committee budget proposal wiped out earmarks, vowing that it “prohibits earmarks and eliminates pork-barrel spending.”
Yet when earmarks are discussed, the conversation is over a fairly small problem in comparison to the overall budget. Where the real game needs to be stopped is in the writing of regulations favorable to special interests, and Congress can do a lot more to rein those regulators in. That’s where the tax dollars are being wasted! While the study Bongino cites showed over $500 million spent on various earmarks – including two locally – it’s still much less than we’ve thrown away on just one failed ‘green’ project (Solyndra), not to mention the cost of regulations overall.
On the other hand, even a boilerplate announcement of new staff gives Rich Douglas a chance to take a swipe at the Democrat:
“Having these professionals on board will supercharge my campaign to unseat incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin,” said Douglas. “These battle-tested individuals have the experience and skills that are absolutely essential to end one-party rule in Maryland. Even more essential is that Republicans field a substantive candidate who can go round-for-round with the ultimate political insider and career politician Ben Cardin.”
Formerly a senior lawyer in the U.S. Senate and Iraq war veteran, Douglas knows the fundamentals of complex Senate legislative procedures to help reverse the ineffectiveness of the U.S. Senate.
“I will make Maryland a leader in the Senate, not a blind follower of party orthodoxy, special interests and business-as-usual in Washington,” said Douglas.
By the way, the new staff are campaign manager Rachel Audi and press secretary Jim Pettit. And bear in mind that one of Douglas’s goals was to make Ben Cardin spend his money, so he needs a supercharged campaign.
But it’s great that Rich also reinforces the message: Ben Cardin was first elected to public office in 1966, right after this observer celebrated his second birthday. I have a brother who’s 3 1/2 years younger than I am, so the sad reality is that Cardin has been sucking off the public teat for the entire time he’s been alive, winning election after election based more on the name recognition originally created by his uncle – who retired so that Ben could win his House of Delegates seat – and not necessarily achievement. 46 years in politics? That’s 2/3 of your lifespan – time to retire, bud. (Of course, Democrats have an opportunity to do that before the rest of us.)
Now if I can be assured that the “party orthodoxy” Rich won’t blindly follow is the path of moderation and not that of being a DeMint-style conservative, Douglas may be on to something here.
Today is a bad day for those fighting the American decline, on two fronts. One is the prospect of gay marriage passing in the Maryland House of Delegates – if it gets past that hurdle, the Senate is likely to quickly follow suit.
But more germane to this post is the fact the House passed a payroll tax cut extension by a 293-132 vote, with Andy Harris voting in the minority. Why would he vote against a tax cut? Because there was no compromise by the other side:
I support the tax cut element of the proposal. However, the other parts of the bill increased spending in 2012 by $45 billion, while taking 10 years to pay it back. That’s the kind of bad fiscal policy which got us into the mess we’re in – Washington has to stop spending money we don’t have.
While I certainly support Andy in this stance – even though I know the Democrats will use this against him in the 2012 campaign – it also leads me to ask why couldn’t House leadership just have a “clean” bill? The payroll tax cut is one section out of 20. We have that little bit of power, why not use it?
On the other hand, Rep. Allen West of Florida has a more eloquent statement:
Americans are exhausted, out of work and many have simply lost hope in the political system. They have been struggling now with nearly five consecutive years of record job stagnation, increased foreclosure rates and an economy that continues to struggle.
All of these reasons are why I cannot in good faith vote for this payroll tax cut deal. It is not that I don’t believe Americans should have relief in their paychecks or be afforded a safety net of unemployment insurance, it is because, unlike some on Capitol Hill, I am looking beyond this election cycle.
I am looking at the ramifications of adding billions of American taxpayer’s dollars to a trillion dollar deficit with no answers as to how or when we will pay for this bill.
I am looking beyond immediate gratification and instead looking at an American political system willing to cave to political pressure to give Americans a temporary Band-Aid that in the long run only makes things worse for their future.
The facts are simple. This supposed payroll tax decrease is really a backdoor tax increase on homeowners and first time homebuyers. The deal is being paid for by added fees on FHA-backed loans. Homeowners with FHA-backed mortgages represent more than one-third of mortgages in the United States. Those Middle Class Americans will be footing the bill for this political gimmick.
Homebuyers with a $200,000 standard 30- year loan will have to pay an extra $10,000 over the course of their loan. It would take roughly 250 paychecks with $40 extra from the payroll tax holiday to pay for the added increase to the life of an FHA-backed mortgage loan. That represents ten years of consecutive employment.
In addition, some may argue the payroll tax deal will not affect Social Security. This could not be further from the truth. The federal government’s general operating account will be used to compensate for the lost revenue in the Social Security Trust Fund, which will increase the deficit and add to the nation’s debt.
My position on the Payroll Tax Extension has not changed. In December of 2011, I supported a responsible one- year extension that was fully paid for, and would have put money back in the pockets of American workers while protecting homeowners, Social Security, and not adding to the deficit and our ever-increasing national debt.
This current deal is not good policy – but it is political posturing.
The payroll tax cut deal is a result of politicians telling Americans what they want to hear, while seriously harming them and our nation in the long run. Americans sent a new wave of leaders to Capitol Hill in 2010 to stand up for conservative principles and turn this country around. I will continue to be a voice for those Americans. (Emphasis in original.)
And people wonder why West is a TEA Party favorite and mentioned as a dream pick for Vice-President? He seems to be one of the few who calls out Barack Obama for what he is. (Maybe it’s because the Left can’t use the race card on him, aside from calling him an “Uncle Tom”, “Oreo”, or any other similar derogatory name.)
But I believe he and Andy Harris made the right choice today. All we are doing is “giving” (read: taking less from) people on the one hand but punishing them with the other. Unfortunately, until Washington has more bold leadership like Harris and West, it’s not going to matter how much or little we’re taxed because the spending will far outpace whatever is taken in.
It’s not about money, it’s about control. Learn that lesson well.