About that TEA Party…

My “10 from 10″ post this morning regarding the 9/12 Rally back in 2009 got me to pondering where the movement has gone in the intervening years.

If you’ve been a reader around here for a long time, you may recall that I covered a significant number of TEA Party-related groups that sprung up in the local area over the next couple years. Not only did we have the TEA Parties themselves that went on in both 2009 and 2010, but also groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Wicomico Society of Patriots. They went on for a couple of years but essentially died off from a lack of interest. (On the other hand, we still have the Worcester County TEA Party and 9-12 Delaware Patriots.)

Having been involved to a limited extent with the Wicomico groups, I can tell you that some of the players who remain active have gone “establishment” to the extent they remain active in the local Republican Party. Three of those most heavily involved have served on the Central Committee – unfortunately, that’s the only election where some of the TEA Party leaders have found success. While many in the area take TEA Party values to heart, they seem to vote for the names they know.

This erosion of the brand is also reflected on a national level. I used to write quite a bit about the TEA Party Patriots and expressed hope that the TEA Party Express would bring some of its star power to the region. In the last few years, though, the national movement has suffered from infighting as well as a concerted media effort to impugn the brand. I don’t hear nearly as much from the group these days, as their function has by and large been superseded by SuperPACs that fight for specific candidates or causes.

If you consider the high point of the TEA Party as the 2010 election, where the political landscape dramatically shifted in a more conservative direction in the wake of two consecutive leftward shifts as well as the adoption of an unpopular Obamacare entitlement program, then the nadir came two years later with Barack Obama’s re-election. A conspiracy theorist could point out that the 2010 election results put the Obama campaign on high alert, meaning they pulled out all the stops to ensure re-election with a little help from a compliant media. But one could counter by noting the movement wasn’t strong enough to topple frontrunner Mitt Romney and they shot themselves in the foot by staying home on Election Day. (As it was, though, Romney did get more votes than John McCain did in 2008.)

So while you can credit TEA Party principles for winning the day in 2014, the actual movement itself seems to be receding to a low tide. Since TEA is an acronym for “taxed enough already” it’s been pointed out by the Left that taxes really aren’t that bad, at least in comparison to the rates in place for administrations from Hoover to Carter. (This is a neat little chart to see the differences.) Ronald Reagan dropped rates twice: from 70% to 50% in 1982 and eventually down to 28% with the Tax Reform Act of 1986. It had been over 50 years since the top rate was less than 50%.

But that only considers income tax. Certainly as a 100-year body of work our current rates are on the low side, but back then we didn’t have the maddening plethora of taxes and fees we do now. Some are consumption-based taxes like sales tax on goods purchased or per gallon of gasoline, while others are considered some sort of “sin” tax like additional levies on cigarettes or alcohol, a combination that Marylanders endure to a larger extent than several of their neighbors. Even speed cameras could be regarded as a sort of “sin” tax, since supposedly the only ones who pay it are the ones who are speeding well above the posted limit. (Try as they might to convince us that it’s about safety, we all know they need the Benjamins. Why else would they have to install cameras in more and more dubious “school zones”?) Nor does that consider property tax, which tends to be the preferred vehicle for raising money for the public schools. In most states where districts have taxing authority, it’s not uncommon to see a school district seek three to four additional property tax levies a decade as they strive to raise funds for buildings and operations. (Maryland is different because counties pay for their portion of school funding from their general funds, so there are no ballot issues to deal with property taxes.) To make a long story short, we still consider ourselves taxed enough already.

As far as a formal movement goes, though, for the most part we are back to where we were around 2008. There is a lot of frustration with the direction of both parties, but this time rather than a movement without a leader people are going the route of a looking for a leader for what they consider their movement – hence, political outsiders Ben Carson and Donald Trump have been ahead of the Republican field for most of this campaign. (As further proof, the other side is still believed to be behind Hillary Clinton.) Carson is cast as the Godly, principled man who would quietly and reverently lead our nation in need of healing, while Trump comes across as the brash general who would kick butt and take names, restoring America to its top of the heap status.

Conversely, those who are conservative but came up through the standard political channels have fallen out of favor this cycle. In any other cycle, we would look at governors like Rick Perry, Scott Walker, or Bobby Jindal as frontrunners – instead, all three are out of the race. In terms of political resumes, the front-runners on both sides have even less to go on than Barack Obama did, and that’s saying something.

So it’s hard to tell where the TEA Party trail runs cold. I think a number of them have coalesced behind Donald Trump despite the fact The Donald is not a movement conservative. One recent rumor is that a Trump/Cruz ticket is in the works, which would perhaps appease the true believers. Trump’s success has belied the predictions of TEA Party leaders that he will be a flash in the pan.

But it appears the days of rallies like 9/12 are behind us. Such a pity.

Another betrayal of the loyal base

By Cathy Keim

On Friday, October 23, 2015, the House is set to vote on H.R. 3762, a reconciliation bill that repeals parts of Obamacare and stops federal funding of Planned Parenthood for one year. This sounds pretty good since most of the base wants to stop Obamacare and Planned Parenthood. So, why is this a poison pill once again?

According to Lifenews:

H.R. 3762 is a special once-a-year measure called the “reconciliation bill.” Unlike almost every other kind of bill, the “reconciliation bill” cannot be filibustered in the U.S. Senate — so it can pass with only 51 votes, rather than 60 (of 100 senators). Republicans currently hold a narrow majority in the U.S. Senate, 54-46.

But before the bill can be considered by the Senate, it first must pass the House on October 23.

The bill contains two major sections:

* The bill would block, for one year, most federal payments to Planned Parenthood. At least 89% of federal funding of Planned Parenthood would be blocked by this bill.

* The bill would repeal a number of major components of the Obamacare health law, including two of the major provisions that will lead to rationing of lifesaving care — the “Independent Payment Advisory Board” and the “excess benefits tax.”

My first concern is that the defunding of Planned Parenthood is being added onto this bill to placate the base that was angered by Speaker Boehner pushing through a clean CR instead of fighting for defunding Planned Parenthood then. As he has done too many times before, the Speaker gave the President what he wanted without a fight. Apparently no hill is worth fighting for including a hill of tiny babies’ broken bodies being sold for profit.

In a déjà vu moment, the base was promised that the defund movement would get their moment by using the reconciliation process instead of attaching it to the CR. This bait and switch tactic has been used frequently to get something past the base.

I could have even perhaps been pacified except that now the House attaches the defund provision to a bill that only partially repeals Obamacare. We have been promised for years that our leaders would repeal Obamacare: not parts of it, but the whole sorry mess. The strongest argument for standing strong for repealing the entire Obamacare fiasco is that if it is divided into parts and the worst parts are repealed, then the others may be left to fester. It is best to root out all of the beast at one time.

Senators Mike Lee (R. Utah), Ted Cruz (R. Texas), and Marco Rubio (R. Florida) issued a joint statement today:

On Friday the House of Representatives is set to vote on a reconciliation bill that repeals only parts of Obamacare. This simply isn’t good enough. Each of us campaigned on a promise to fully repeal Obamacare and a reconciliation bill is the best way to send such legislation to President Obama’s desk. If this bill cannot be amended so that it fully repeals Obamacare pursuant to Senate rules, we cannot support this bill. With millions of Americans now getting health premium increase notices in the mail, we owe our constituents nothing less.

Why am I bothering to even care about any of this when we all know that the President will veto the bill when it reaches his desk and we do not have the votes to override the veto?

The two reasons that stand out are to make the President, Congressmen, and Senators go on record with their position on both issues and to prepare for the real vote to repeal Obamacare once a new president is in office.

The original Obamacare Bill was foisted upon us by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid with the reconciliation process, so it is only fitting that Obamacare should be repealed using the same reconciliation process. All we need is a president that won’t veto the bill.

This current effort only repeals part of Obamacare. I join with Cruz, Lee, and Rubio in demanding that our representatives make good on their promise to repeal Obamacare in its entirety. This is an excellent time to make an issue of it since we are all getting our new quotes on insurance. Multiple exchanges are shuttering their doors because they are losing so much money. A lot of us are facing 40% increases this year on our premiums on top of increases last year and the year before. And don’t forget that the benefits are not as good as our previous coverage, even though we are paying more.

So, by all means, use this opportunity to force the Democrats to own Obamacare. Why is the House only trying to repeal part of it? This should be a trial run for the real effort under the new President. Please, please show us some leadership and some effort. Make the case to the American people that none of this has turned out as promised. Showcase the fiascos of increased premiums, decreased coverage, broken exchanges, lack of portability, and push a bill through. Then stand strong in front of the American people and explain how the Democrats are forcing this mess upon us once again. Finally promise that you will use the same process after a new President is elected to repeal it. Line up the candidates and have them promise to sign the bill as soon as it reaches their desk. Put them on record that they will repeal Obamacare the minute that you can get the bill to them.

The base would stand up and cheer. They would be motivated to turn out in droves. The base would feel like somebody was listening to them. Instead, we have the House pushing through a partial repeal and it looks increasingly likely that we will be getting Paul Ryan as the new Speaker. Did I mention that the base feels betrayed?

We were all delighted when Mark Meadows (R-NC) made the courageous motion to replace Speaker Boehner. There seemed to be real momentum to coalesce around Daniel Webster (R-FL) so that he could reprise his role as a leader as he had done in the Florida state government, but then the rug was pulled out from under our feet and Paul Ryan is now proclaimed as the man to save us. Andy Harris has thrown his support to Ryan. Please prove me wrong, but I am expecting this to turn out poorly.

One would hope that Andy would not support Ryan unless Ryan gave up his demand that the motion to Vacate the Chair be removed, but I could not verify that it had been as of tonight.

The base is watching.

2016 Dossier: Entitlements

September 20, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

While the category of entitlements is worth 13 points, the only people who would get all thirteen are the ones who would embark on an orderly sunsetting of all the familiar entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare. I don’t think any of the contenders would go that far, but we’ll see.

But it also helps to tell me about their vision of the role of government, for the perfect candidate would be most interested in limiting the size and scope of government to a Constitutionally appropriate level. Those who are most willing to divest power to the states and stay out of their affairs will do best. That last part is worth 14 points but also depends quite a bit on previous categories such as education and taxation, among others, as well as fiscal responsibility.

We will then be down to the catch-all category of intangibles and the coveted monoblogue endorsement.

Since he dropped out of the race, I’m off the hook for Rick Perry. That’s sad because he was tracking as a dark horse in my race. Nevertheless, I soldier on with 16 contenders now.

It’s pretty much given that GOP contenders would drop Obamacare like a bad habit, so the question is: what comes after?

  • Among other things, Jeb Bush‘s plan would shift the program to the states, with the federal government maintaining a hand in catastrophic coverage and tax credits for premiums.
  • Ben Carson is a strong supporter of health savings accounts, which have the benefit of allowing people to share their burden. His idea is to have the government fund each for $2,000 per year.
  • Chris Christie hasn’t put forth a replacement plan – but he expanded Medicaid in New Jersey under Obamacare.
  • Allowing people to buy health insurance across state lines through the Health Care Choices Act is the Ted Cruz plan.
  • “Let’s try the free market,” says Carly Fiorina, with states managing their own high-risk pools.
  • Jim Gilmore thinks there are good things about Obamacare, such as the ban on denial for pre-existing conditions and coverage by parents to age 26 but he thinks states can handle those. He would favor a proposal offered by Rep. Tom Price in 2013 that encouraged interstate sale of insurance, premium tax credits, and HSAs.
  • Lindsey Graham isn’t specific about “cost-effective, market-driven reforms” aside from favoring association plans.
  • I think the Mike Huckabee solution is to pass it on to the states.
  • As he has in other areas. Bobby Jindal has an exceptionally comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare.
  • John Kasich would adopt what he calls the “Ohio Model” nationwide.
  • Whatever George Pataki does to replace Obamacare, it would include the pre-existing condition regulations.
  • Rand Paul favors HSAs, allowing insurance to be sold across state lines, and a tax deduction for all health care expenses.
  • Tax credits and regulatory reform highlight the Marco Rubio plan.
  • Rick Santorum has backed HSAs, tax credits, and selling insurance across state lines but now advocates “federal support for everybody to be able to go out and get the plan they want.”
  • Through a spokesman, Donald Trump‘s campaign vowed to make insurance available across state lines and give individual tax relief.
  • Scott Walker plans to revert authority to the states and install sliding-scale tax credits based on age to go with the HSAs and selling policies across state lines.

On Medicaid:

On Medicare:

  • The left cried that Jeb Bush wished to “phase out” Medicare. Alas, he wants to protect it.
  • HSAs may be the panacea for Medicare, too. Why not? Ben Carson seems to have one solution.
  • Means-testing, increasing the eligibility age, and standardizing deductibles make up the Chris Christie plan.
  • Ted Cruz opposed the “doc fix” bill because he wanted reforms to give seniors “more power and control.”
  • The same “get our house in order” argument applies here for Carly Fiorina.
  • I found nothing to pin down Jim Gilmore‘s position.
  • Means-testing and raising the eligibility age are reform starting points for Lindsey Graham.
  • “I will kill anything that poses a threat” to Medicare (as well as Social Security), Mike Huckabee thunders.
  • Premium support and Medigap reform highlight Bobby Jindal‘s plan.
  • John Kasich argues entitlements have to be “innovated” to survive.
  • George Pataki would increase co-pays.
  • Rand Paul sponsored Medicare reform legislation in 2013 that would have voucherized Medicare, but he’s supposedly backing off that a little bit now.
  • The Marco Rubio vision for Medicare would involve a premium support system, based loosely on Medicare Advantage.
  • Rick Santorum would change it via increasing the eligibility age or changing the COLA structure.
  • Because it’s “not fair,” Donald Trump won’t cut Medicare (or Medicaid.)
  • In 2013 Scott Walker was in favor of cutting Medicare (and Social Security) but it would likely fall on younger workers.

Social Security proposals seemed to fall into three tiers. Most candidates, with the exceptions of Gilmore, Huckabee, Jindal, and Trump, would raise the retirement age. But few (Bush, Christie, Paul, Rubio, and Santorum) advocated for means testing and fewer still (Cruz, Jindal, and perhaps Kasich) had the guts to advocate for partial privatization. Ben Carson even went a bit farther with the idea to allow for wealthier seniors opting out (although it sounds like the money paid in would be forfeited.)

I wasn’t expecting high scores, so it’s no surprise my best candidate has just 7 points.

  • 7 points – Bobby Jindal
  • 6 1/2 points – Ted Cruz
  • 6 points – Ben Carson, John Kasich
  • 5 points – Rand Paul, Scott Walker
  • 4 1/2 points – Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio
  • 4 points – Rick Santorum
  • 3 points – Chris Christie, Jim Gilmore, George Pataki
  • 2 points – Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee
  • 1 point – Donald Trump

Next will be the last major category, role of government.

Is it any wonder people feel like they are barely treading water?

This week is the week many of us get our bad news. Yes, health insurance premiums are going up again.

While I haven’t been at my new job long enough to really compare rates and coverage, we were informed ours was increasing by an unspecified percentage – I think it’s in the 5 to 10 percent range if my memory of the old rates serves. Meanwhile, my fiance’s employer is seeing increases of between 10 and 13 percent, depending on plan.

Knowing that, I pulled out a calculator and did some quick number-crunching. Based on a 10 percent increase and her rates for a family plan, I deduced the annual deduction would increase by over $1,100.

Now stop and think for a minute. In these days of tight belts but comparatively low inflation otherwise, the average wage-earner gets an increase of 3% this year. Let’s say you are a median wage-earner in this region, which is just under $40,000 – I’ll make it 40 large for easy figuring. If you figure that 3 percent raise is $1,200, it means almost all of that raise was swallowed by your insurance increase. So much for that vaunted $2,500 annual premium decrease.

And so much for your family vacation, putting aside money for college, and those nice little extras. Add in the increasing deductibles and co-pays and it seems like you got no raise at all – in fact, you may wonder how you will make it through a month when everything seems to be increasing by 3% a month. (Granted, we are catching a break with gas prices edging back down – a $1 decrease per gallon is like a tax-free $400 to $600 annual raise.)

Now I don’t blame the insurance companies because they have to keep themselves in business at a time when there are more and more mandates placed on them. (For example, I’m sure a few pennies of that increase go to covering in-vitro fertilization for same-sex couples, which this month became yet another mandate under state law.)

So if you’re wondering why you can’t seem to get ahead, this little bit of basic math may be an explanation.

State’s rights? Hardly.

Simply put, it’s been a brutal week for those who believe in right in America.

First of all, those of us in Maryland who had been anywhere from pleased to excited that the state elected a Republican governor when it was thought impossible found out Larry Hogan was not superhuman, just flawed and prone to health ailments like the rest of us. We all hope that he can beat back cancer and finish out his term, but the nagging question will surely remain if he chooses to run for re-election in 2018.

But that paled in comparison to having a Supreme Court which can’t read plain language in the law but can elect to reshape the meaning of words to suit a politically correct fancy. Aside from Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, the SCOTUS blew it twice.

Here’s the problem with both instances: in each we had a varying number of states that chose to do their own thing. In the former instance, most of the states elected to go with the federal Obamacare exchange; in theory giving up the premium subsidy that was supposed to be a sweetener of the pot for Obamacare. Most of these had no desire to set up a state exchange, while a few saw the trainwreck that was Obamacare coming. (Just look at all the issues Maryland had in setting up its state exchange as a prime example.) It was a key flaw among many in the law but six Justices decided the intention was there and states without their own exchanges could still take advantage of the federal tax break. I guess it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

So now we’ll have Democrats crowing that it’s the law of the land and that we should deal with it. If this is so then I guess all those exemptions built into the law for various groups and businesses should be immediately eliminated, too. (I also wish they felt that way about illegal immigration.) I’m not naive enough to believe that has any chance at occurring, but it seems to me that states should be taking the lead. After all, the first state to have an Obamacare-style insurance mandate was Massachusetts and that was their right.  No one from the federal judiciary stopped them from trying it, but let Arizona try to enforce federal law on border security and immigration and all hell breaks loose.

And then we have the gay “marriage” decision. No court is going to tell me that marriage is anything other than between a man and a woman, period, end of sentence. Granted, some churches accept that particular ceremony and I suppose that’s their right, as far-fetched as that may appear to be. I’m not ashamed to meet my Maker and say that I believe marriage is only between a man and a woman – some may call me a bigot, but they can hang on to any delusion they want.

Yet we went through this in Maryland – the gay lobby tried and failed a couple times to get the same-sex marriage bill through the General Assembly before they conned a couple centrist RINOs into voting for the bill (note they had more than enough Democrats who could have voted for it, but there were some who wouldn’t touch it.) It passed by one or two votes, thousands upon thousands of concerned citizens managed to get it on the ballot via a referendum, and it squeaked by after a President changed his mind and it had the good fortune to be on the ballot in a high-turnout year. (If it was on the ballot this year I suspect the referendum would have gone the other way.) The point is, though, that Maryland made this decision. It was the wrong one, but now in all but one or two cases (Maryland being one, and I think Minnesota the other) the will of the people has been thwarted somewhere by a state or federal court. Either you had a case like California where voters ended the practice only to have it restored by an activist court or you have the SCOTUS decision today that eliminated the preference of the 14 states where same-sex “marriage” was not on the books.

And again I come back to the fact that states don’t seem to have any autonomy anymore when it comes to social issues. Over the last half-century states that had laws against abortion, gay marriage, and various other “blue laws” have had them taken away by societal mores and activist judges. The question is where this all stops. Are states now just lines on a map as Maryland counties seem to be as they are sucked deeper and deeper into the Annapolis-based morass?

The other sad event held over from last week was the Charleston church shooting, which was apparently caused by a Confederate flag. At least this is what you would be led to believe from the coverage. If South Carolina wants to remove it from their statehouse lawn it’s their business – however, if any state is tied in with the War Between the States it would be South Carolina since the battle began there. So being in the Confederacy is part of their history, just as the behind-the-scenes struggle to keep Maryland in the Union is part of ours. Both Maryland and Delaware were slave states.

Yet there’s something else about this whole scenario that I find interesting. The stated purpose of Dylann Roof in opening fire in that church was to begin a race war. In most cases where someone strikes out against oppression, though, it is generally from the side being oppressed – hence, you have groups which range from relatively peaceful like the NAACP  to more radical entities akin to the Black Panthers all working to advance the black race. Roof may have felt intimidated by his perception that whites were getting the short end of the stick, but in the wake of nonstop coverage of Ferguson and Baltimore it’s not a giant leap to come to that conclusion.

But rather than postulate about the typical role reversal and saying what if a black gunman entered a white church, perhaps you should ponder this: whites kill hundreds of blacks a day all over the nation and hardly a word is said. The biggest race war being perpetrated right now is blacks killing themselves, whether through homicide or abortion. Instead of going on a wild goose chase and blaming the flag of a failed insurrection of 150 years ago – during which the slaves that were freed were only those in states which had seceded, not the border states which stayed in the Union – each of us needs to look inward and ask ourselves if this is really the republic we intended to live in.

America has changed while most of us were sleeping. It’s time to wake up.

An assessment of the current situation

By Cathy Keim and Michael Swartz

Here is a question for our loyal readers: Now that it is mid-May, do you think that the GOP elites in Washington, D.C. have fulfilled their campaign pledges to stop President Obama’s fundamental change of our country?

Michael and I have voted no on that question and to make our point we have signed the Open Letter to Congress: Interim Assessment from the Citizens’ Mandate. (Our signatures are on page 5.)

I wrote about the original Citizens’ Mandate on monoblogue back in February. After working hard on the 2014 elections, many of us felt great relief when the GOP won by a landslide. That feeling was quickly replaced by a sense of betrayal with the passage of the CRomnibus budget and the retaining of John Boehner as Speaker of the House. The Citizens’ Mandate was a call to the GOP leadership to remember their campaign promises and to fulfill their obligations to their voters.

Instead, as the organizers of the mandate stated:

Contrary to the Republicans’ self-assessment of their first 100 days… more than 100 conservative leaders, in only 72 hours of signature collection, have given the Republican Congress a poor assessment on the members’ performance in their first 132 days in control of the legislative branch.

Among the actions by the GOP Cathy and I disagreed with, they:

  • Funded executive amnesty;
  • Continued Obamacare;
  • Jeopardized national security (by not addressing illegal immigration);
  • Ceded away treaty power on a nuke deal with Iran;
  • Continued excessive federal spending;
  • Undermined faith-based agenda;
  • Helped Obama (by confirming Loretta Lynch as Attorney General);
  • Continued federal education;
  • Punished conservative champions (through changing committee assignments), and;
  • Neglected congressional oversight.

While Congress is doing some things right, there’s a tremendous amount of untapped potential we are missing out on. It’s a reason that other vocal critics such as Richard and Susan Falknor of Blue Ridge Forum, Carroll County GOP Central Committee member Kathy Fuller, and former Delegate Michael Smigiel (who is running for Congress against the incumbent Andy Harris), and conservative commentator Dan Bongino have signed on. Bongino was quoted in the release, noting:

It’s way past time to reinvigorate our party and set forth a set of guiding principles. For too long we’ve been lost in partisan games while forgetting that, in the end, it’s the ideas that will take us to a better tomorrow.

Some may argue that Barack Obama received his electoral mandate in 2012, but it’s just as valid (if not moreso) to make the point that a course correction had become necessary and the results showed the message was sent emphatically in 2014.

Our call is for Congress to translate that message in legislation and oversight. Certainly there’s the prospect of veto after veto, but rather than get the reputation as a “do-nothing Congress” put the onus on the President to respond and – whatever you do – don’t cede any more power to the Executive Branch. We don’t want to have to sign an updated letter in the fall, so get busy.

Is the era of full employment over?

Simply put, March was not a good month for job creation around the country. Numbers were down markedly from previous months while, as the Americans for Limited Government advocacy group pointed out, the labor participation rate tied a 37-year low.

The news was even worse in the manufacturing sector, where it contracted by 1,000 jobs. While Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing blamed the strong dollar, calling it “a big loser for factory jobs in the United States,” it’s only a piece of the puzzle.

Paul would favor a more interventionist solution, adding:

There’s plenty that could be done to turn this around. The Treasury should crack down on currency manipulators, the Federal Reserve shouldn’t act prematurely, USTR should be assertive about enforcing our trade laws, and Congress must address currency and trade enforcement in the context of new trade legislation.

Based on Barack Obama’s promise to create a million manufacturing jobs in his second term, he needs to add 628,000 in the next 21 months – a Herculean task for any president, and almost impossible for this one. Let’s consider a few facts:

First of all, the continued low price of both oil and natural gas has tempered the energy boom to some extent. According to Energy Information Administration data, the number of oil and natural gas rigs in operation last week was 1,048. In terms of oil operations, the number is down 45% from last year and for gas it’s down almost 27%. While gasoline in the low $2 range is good for the overall economy, oil prices need to be between $60 and $80 a barrel for operators to break even, and the benchmark price has held lately in the high $40s.

As I noted, low energy prices are good for some aspects of job creation, but the energy boom is on a bit of a hiatus and that affects manufacturing with regard to that infrastructure. Throw in the unfair competition we’re receiving when it comes to OCTG pipe and it doesn’t appear this will be the cure to what ails us as far as job creation goes.

More important, though, is the financial aspect. Our corporate tax structure is among the most punitive in the developed world, which leads to capital flowing offshore despite the “economic patriotism” appeals of our government to demand it come back. Once you have the opportunity to take advantage of other countries’ willingness to charge 20% or even 15% tax, why should you willingly pay a 35% rate? Their slice of the pie may be less, but they get a lot more pies this way.

And then we have the aspect of regulations, particularly when it comes to the financial restrictions that Dodd-Frank places on the lending industry and the environmental mandates an overzealous EPA is putting on industry – look at coal as an example. If we went back to the conditions of 2006 the environment would likely not suffer serious harm and companies would have a much easier time with their accounting. I haven’t even touched on Obamacare, either.

Not all of this is Obama’s fault, but the majority of these problems can be laid at his feet. Alas, we have 21 months left in his term so many of these things will not change despite the presence of a Republican Congress which will be blamed for any setbacks.

So the question becomes one of just how many employers in general, not just in manufacturing, will be able to weather this storm. Even the recent news that both Walmart and McDonalds will be increasing their wages brought out the cynics and doubters. But it’s worth pointing out that both Walmart and McDonalds have stated they wouldn’t oppose a minimum wage hike. Such a move makes sense for them because their bottom lines can more easily manage a modest wage hike for their employees and they know their local competitors can’t. Both also have the flexibility to adopt more automation where they used to have a row of low-wage employees. As an example, most of the local Walmarts adopted a number of self-serve checkout lanes over the last year or so. If you hire a dozen fewer cashiers it’s easier to give the others another dollar an hour.

Change is a constant in the labor market, and we know this. But there are some circumstances under which businesses thrive and others where they struggle, and history has gone long enough to suggest the broad outlines we should follow. It’s unfortunate that some want to blaze a new trail when we know where the correct path is.

Splitting the difference

April 1, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

A couple weeks back I alerted you to an issue brought to the fore by Delegate Christopher Adams, a situation which would leave a large number of Medicare patients with long drives to a pharmacy as opposed to perhaps being able to use a more convenient hometown outlet.

While the deadline has come as of today, Adams has introduced and advanced a bill, HB1290, that would halve the distance prescribed by the state. Recall that:

According to a source in the know, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sets the criteria for considering a patient to be “covered” and it depends on their location, stating,”as long as pharmacies are within 10 miles in urban, 20 miles in suburban and 30 miles of patients in rural communities the standards for access to care are met.”

HB1290 would simply cut those distances in half, meaning no one in the state would have to travel more than 15 miles to a covered pharmacy.

Oddly enough, HB1290 is the second-to-last introduced House bill, with the final one (HB1291) also dealing with the subject and introduced by Democratic Delegate Eric Bromwell. His bill would ensure that “an enrollee may elect to receive pharmacy services at a site in the pharmacy provider network of any managed care organization.” Bromwell’s bill was introduced four days after the Adams bill, perhaps as an effort for House Democrats to secure some credit for solving the problem. (Bromwell is on the committee that will deal with both HB1290 and HB1291.)

In a release today, Adams noted that:

This bill originates from a very real problem on the Eastern Shore where pharmaceutical services are not readily available. And under the existing 30 mile rule, it would have made existing pharmaceutical services beyond the reach of many senior citizens. This is just another example of the unintended consequences of the State of Maryland’s early embracement of Obamacare. HB1290 is a reasoned response that will make pharmaceutical services more accessible to senior citizens on the Eastern Shore, as well as save hundreds of pharmacies from going out of business throughout Maryland.

Adams also quotes local pharmacy owner Jeff Sherr:

I am encouraged that small businesses like ours will continue to be able to serve our patients. This bill addresses not only issues with access to care, it is also a protection for businesses that serve our rural Eastern Shore communities and employ our local citizens.

The fact that Adams’s bill got a quick hearing (on tap for tomorrow) is an encouraging sign that the General Assembly may address this problem before it goes home in a couple weeks. While it’s hard for late introduction bills to make it through the process, it has been done before – the gas tax we were saddled with in 2013 was a similar late introduction.

When it comes to services in rural areas, it’s often up to small providers to handle the diminished volume of business that may come from a little community like Snow Hill, Crisfield, or Hurlock. While some may have a larger chain, for the most part they depend on family-owned outlets that may not have the lowest price but are far more convenient.

We’re always told family-owned small businesses are the backbone of the community, so if we can lend them a little support with a common-sense law it should be encouraged. Hopefully Adams will have the legislation to his credit once the session is over.

Hoping to win a GOP Cruz in 2016

March 25, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Ted Cruz 2016As most who do not inhabit the space under a rock now know, Texas Senator Ted Cruz formally announced his candidacy for President on Monday. While he Tweeted the news just after midnight, the formal announcement came in an address at Liberty University later that day.

Perhaps the best part about the announcement, though, is the absolute conniption fit those on the Left had at the news. First I heard from the so-called “factivists” at the Democratic National Committee:

President Ted Cruz.

If you’re like us, Michael, just reading that phrase probably sent shivers down your spine or produced a pretty serious roll of the eyes.

But as of this moment, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is officially running for president, and if we don’t do everything in our power to stop him, the possibility of President Ted Cruz could become a reality.

So here are three things everyone needs to know about wannabe President Ted Cruz:

  • He led the GOP’s government shutdown, costing the economy a staggering $24 billion, as part of a personal crusade to take away quality health care from millions of Americans and give control back to the insurance companies.
  • He has obstructed everything from raising the minimum wage to paycheck fairness to immigration reform.
  • He would give corporations and the richest Americans huge tax breaks, at the expense of working Americans.

Interesting how these “factivists” don’t know the real facts. And by the way, I don’t have too much of a problem with a President Ted Cruz. My eye roll is at your abject ignorance.

The government “shutdown” of 2013 (which was really a slowdown because essential employees still had to work) only “cost” $24 billion according to an estimate by Standard & Poor’s. Supposedly it was the amount taken out of the economy. But some believe that was a dubious estimate because it didn’t account for shifts in productivity. It was a gamble, where the payoff could have been a savings of $1.4 trillion over 10 years by the repeal of the ill-advised Affordable Care Act.

As for the second portion of that statement, the real question is whether we were in better shape when an insurance company “controlled” your health care or whether some far-off bureaucrat controls it. The real goal is patient control and I suspect Cruz would work us back in that direction more quickly, vowing in his address to Liberty University to make “health insurance personal and portable and affordable.” That’s just SO scary.

Secondly, it seems to me the people of Texas sent Cruz to the Senate for the very reason of obstructing the list of items these political “hacktivists” would like to foist upon us. Raising the minimum wage is a proven job-killer, the Obama administration needs to look in the mirror when complaining about “paycheck fairness” and immigration reform needs to begin with securing the borders.

And of course, whenever someone talks about simplifying the income tax system it’s always portrayed by Democrats as tax cuts for the rich. Why shouldn’t our tax form be only a page or two?

Of course, then the other liberal outlets delivered their usual amount of snark, calling his speech a revival of obsolete evangelism, reminiscent of televangelists, or sniffing that students were forced to attend. All that obscures the real point: Cruz laid out a very conservative agenda on a number of issues, and it will take a strong dose of common sense to undo the damage of the last six years.

I don’t think it’s coincidental that I have written this piece and found that my colleague Cathy Keim had her own thoughts. This quick take is tonight’s dose of Cruz, and tomorrow morning you’ll get to see what she has to say. It will be worth the wait, I promise.

The law of unintended consequences strikes again

One hopes this will be a cruel April Fools’ joke, but for many on the Eastern Shore it may only be a cruel reality.

Delegate Christopher Adams shared the bad news:

United Health Care has decided to dramatically narrow their network of pharmacies on the Eastern Shore effective April 1st. This new decision will cause residents to drive upwards of 30 miles to get a prescription filled and be the end of the local pharmacy.

It appears that this is another one of those “hidden” consequences of OBAMACARE and Gov. O’Malley’s decision to make Maryland first with implementing OBAMACARE.

Nevertheless, driving 30 miles to get a prescription filled by one of the State’s “favored” pharmacists is wholly unacceptable. I am meeting with United Health Care tomorrow in a first step to ultimately reverse or greatly modify this decision.

According to a source in the know, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sets the criteria for considering a patient to be “covered” and it depends on their location, stating,”as long as pharmacies are within 10 miles in urban, 20 miles in suburban and 30 miles of patients in rural communities the standards for access to care are met.” So if you are in a town like Crisfield, where the nearest “chain” drugstore is the Rite Aid in Princess Anne or Pocomoke City – each about 20 miles away – you are “covered” but it’s not nearly as convenient as a local independent pharmacy. On the Lower Shore stores of the big three chains (CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens) are only found in Berlin, Cambridge, Delmar, Ocean City, Pocomoke City, Princess Anne, and Salisbury. It leaves large coverage gaps in rural areas which may have a pharmacy no longer used for the Medicare programs.

Obviously United Healthcare can choose whoever they want to be in their networks. But the problem with the health care system we are slowly, surely, and not necessarily willingly adopting is that cost is the primary consideration, not patient care. It’s been true ever since we’ve had a third party paying for our medical expenses, but it wasn’t so long ago that we had many more options for our care. Those days are now over as some former providers have left the state, leaving us with fewer from which to choose.

What Adams points out is that Martin O’Malley’s decision to jump right ahead with a fairly restrictive state exchange is now making life more difficult for the people it was supposed to help. Obviously there’s a lot of recovery needed on a national scale just to get back to a system which most were satisfied with, even though some chose not to participate by not purchasing health insurance and some could not afford it. Now while everyone is supposed to have health insurance (or pay a tax penalty) we find that care is even more expensive and difficult to obtain.

Chris isn’t going to get a lot of answers, I’m afraid, because it appears the die has been cast. And as a state legislator his impact on the national argument is small. But even if some of the independent pharmacies in under-served areas are added back in, it would be a step in the right direction. There may be a chain drugstore on every corner in Salisbury, but some of the smaller towns still cling to their local drugstore because it’s a sufficient size to cover the small market of a little village.

Thirty miles is a long way to go to get a prescription. That may be necessary for a need late at night or on a weekend, but for most refills and common items it shouldn’t be a requirement.

Back to normalcy

It’s not quite as momentous as the 1920 election, where Warren G. Harding made my title part of his post-World War sloganeering, but today the holidays are now behind us, we return to the five-day workweek, and the political world awakens from its slumber later this week as Congress returns to session. (Maryland politicians will wait another week, as the second Wednesday in January falls at its latest possible date, the 14th.) Soon we will begin to see if the solutions that were promised to the voters will be the agenda for the new sessions.

But there are other aspects of “normalcy” we are beginning to see as well, as the power brokers jockey for position in the Republican Party. Case in point: the hue and cry put up by supporters of the next-highest primary vote-getter in the process of selecting a replacement for Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped by Governor-elect Hogan to be his Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. It was up to the Frederick County Republican Central Committee to select three people for a final interview process out of the sixteen applicants, and the three they selected were Barrie Ciliberti, a former delegate from Montgomery County who finished fifth in the primary (the top three advanced); Paul Stull, a former delegate who lost to Schulz in the 2010 Republican primary, closing a 16-year run in the House, and Chris Glass, Sr.

Wendi Peters, who finished fourth in the primary, did not get the nod to move on. Her sin? Not being on a slate with Senator-elect Michael Hough, Delegate Kathy Afzali, Delegate-elect David Vogt, and Ciliberti. Instead, she was a supporter of losing Senator David Brinkley – yet she had the backing of Schulz for the seat. A Central Committee chaired by JoeyLynn Hough made the selections.

I’ve been around this block a time or two. As a member of a Central Committee, our focus in selecting replacements was on whether the new person would be relatively conservative and also electable for the next term. Admittedly, we’ve had at least one swing and miss in this regard but the County Council chose not to select our committee’s top vote-getter for a 2011 vacancy. In the instance of picking a Delegate – which we had to help Somerset County do when Page Elmore passed away in 2010 – it occurred at a time when we didn’t want to influence a primary campaign in progress, so we agreed to select his wife Carolyn to finish the term.

In Frederick County’s case, an argument could be made for the former Delegates but personally I would have preferred someone younger than their late seventies, which is the case for both Ciliberti and Stull. But ignoring the voters who picked Peters as the highest vote-getter that didn’t advance – as well as the choice of the Delegate who is leaving the seat to replace her – seems to me a slap in the face to those voters over petty politics and a disservice to the Republicans they purport to represent. It’s a battle which reminds me of the entirety of the District 36 fiasco back in 2013 when Senator E.J. Pipkin resigned.

On a national level, this is reflected in the grassroots movement to dump John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Take as an example an e-mail I received from the Wicomico Patriots:

Now it is time to engage again as Congress returns on Tuesday to swear in the members and to vote for Speaker of the House. Please call or write an email to Andy Harris encouraging him to vote for a new speaker. It only takes 29 congressmen to block Boehner’s re-election as speaker. Once he is blocked, the opportunity is there for a new person to step up.

I am aware that it is potentially politically dangerous for Andy Harris to vote against Boehner. If Boehner were to win anyway, then he can retaliate by removing people from their prestigious positions. Andy Harris is on the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful committees. However, we did not vote for Andy Harris so that he could protect his political power in DC. We voted for Andy Harris to stop the Obama agenda. Boehner has been completely ineffectual in stopping Obama.

So, Andy Harris, will you listen to the people who got you elected and take the difficult step of voting against Boehner or will you continue to follow him?

Your CRomnibus vote was very discouraging to your conservative base. Do we really think that you and Boehner will suddenly get the courage to block the funding of Homeland Security in February? Do you think that blocking funding for that is easier than refusing the whole 1000 page monstrosity called cromnibus?

No, the excuses keep coming as the can is kicked down the road over and over again. Now is the time for you to stand up and fight for us.

Please do contact Andy Harris at: (202) 225-5311. (Emphasis mine.)

And here’s my own message to the Congressman:

For too long we have heard excuse after excuse from your leadership, accompanied by the promise to fight at the next critical juncture. If the Republicans want to be the opposition party they were elected by We the People to be, then they need to show some opposition on Obamacare, on securing the border and addressing executive actions further encouraging the torrent of illegal immigration, and on spending beyond our means. Collectively, you will be painted as a “do-nothing Congress” by the President, Democrats, and media (but I repeat myself) anyway so just pass those common-sense measures and dare Obama to veto them.

In short, we want a Speaker of the House with the backbone to stand up to Barack Obama so we demand you withhold your vote from John Boehner. It’s worth pointing out that a 2016 Congressional run from a conservative member of the Maryland General Assembly is possible and doable – just as you did against a sitting Wayne Gilchrest when you were first nominated in 2008. Certainly there would be a monetary disadvantage for the challenger, but in my opinion no one should be immune from a serious primary challenge – particularly if he or she isn’t listening to the wishes of the district being represented. A poll cited by Jim Geraghty of National Review Online shows 60% of Republicans would “probably” or “definitely” replace Boehner as Speaker. Even as an Ohio native, count me as a “definite.”

These are two stories to keep your eye on in the coming days. Why do I get a sinking feeling they won’t end well for the good guys?

The required renovation of Andy Harris

For the four years he has been in office, Andy Harris has generally enjoyed the support of his conservative Eastern Shore constituents. He’s not had a serious primary challenge since he was elected and garnered over 70% of the vote in 2014 against Democrat Bill Tilghman, whose centrist posture was well right of mainstream Democrats but far out of step with the district.

But since that resounding November victory, Andy’s actions in Congress during the lame duck session have earned him further enmity from the strong libertarian wing of the party and alienated conservatives as well.

By inserting a provision into the so-called CRomnibus bill preventing the District of Columbia from enacting its Proposition 71 marijuana legalization, Harris again became the target of District residents and leaders who demanded a tourism boycott of Andy’s Eastern Shore district earlier this summer. Accusations of being in the pocket of Big Pharma followed, but Harris defended the role of Congress spelled out in the Constitution [Article 1, Section 8] as overseer of the District’s affairs.

Yet while the libertarians of the Shore make up a small slice of the constituency – a Libertarian candidate ran in the First District for three successive elections from 2008-12, but never received even 5% of the vote – the conservatives are upset about Andy’s vote in favor of CRomnibus. That segment of the electorate is Andy’s bread and butter.

In the TEA Party community, there are whispers about who could challenge Andy from the right, as several feel he is on the same glide path that Wayne Gilchrest took during his long Congressional career. His 2008 primary defeat (by Harris) came after a bitter campaign where Andy stuck the “liberal” tag successfully on the longtime pol as well as fellow Maryland Senate opponent E. J. Pipkin.

Ironically, a politician long allied with Pipkin could be a prospect to make that challenge. Michael Smigiel, a delegate who was defeated in the 2014 District 36 GOP primary, is popular among the TEA Party community for his strong Second Amendment stance. But it would be difficult for anyone to raise the money Andy has at his disposal and Harris has bolstered his profile among local elected officials and the state Republican party by being generous with his campaign funds through A Great Maryland PAC.

It’s also worth mentioning for context that CRomnibus is probably roughly the same deal which would have been made if the budget were completed in regular order, given the partisan divide between the House and Senate.

Instead, while most functions of the government will continue through next September, the Department of Homeland Security budget has a February expiration date. This sets up a showdown between Congress and Barack Obama regarding the latter’s executive actions to give de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens; however, some hardliners already feel the damage is done.

In response to a lengthy Facebook post by Harris explaining his CRomnibus stance, though, local activists summed up the frustration TEA party activists felt, noting:

  • “(Harris) does a nice job of listing those riders and amendments that might seem to gain the approbation of the conservative and Republican audiences, while omitting anything that might serve as a balance – what effectively was the PRICE paid for what was had, the PRICE of ‘compromise.’”
  • “It is rather sad that Andy thinks that he can list a few paltry gains and that will make us overlook the whole thousand page monstrosity. The obvious question is that if he got in a few tidbits that he wanted, then who else got in their tidbits and what are those?  I would imagine that they will far outweigh any small gains that he is bragging about.”

These activists agree one way Harris could help to restore his image would be to take the lead in the conservative grassroots push to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Bear in mind that this could come at some cost as Andy serves on the Appropriations Committee and a Boehner victory over any challenger for whom Andy shows support could bring repercussions such as the stripping of his position there, but on balance I believe a potential sacrifice such as that is worth the opportunity to have a stronger conservative leader as Speaker. It’s a sentiment shared by commentators at American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, and RedState.

On November 4, people hungry for real change went to the polls to reject the Democratic Senate and place Republicans firmly in control of Congress. The events leading to the CRonmibus, though, shook the confidence that Washington would depart from its business-as-usual benefits to the ruling class by allowing the outgoing defeated members one last hurrah. While all of this blame cannot be laid at the feet of John Boehner, there is a mood in this country that a strong counterbalance is needed to the increasing use of Executive Branch power by Barack Obama, particularly on immigration and Obamacare. The fear of many conservatives, particularly those in the First District, is that John Boehner doesn’t have the spine to rein in the executive.

Just like in 2008, when Andy Harris first ran for Congress, the potential is there in 2016 for state elected officials to “run from cover” as their Delegate or Senate seats aren’t on the ballot. During the similar 2012 election, 7 members of the Maryland General Assembly ran for Congress – one for the Senate and six for various Congressional seats. While none were successful overall, two won their party primary and ran through November.

No member of Congress is universally loved, and being a representative at any level of government means you won’t please everyone. But there’s a growing number who want Andy Harris to be a conservative leader and not just talk a good game.

« Previous PageNext Page »

  • I haven't. Have you?
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Link to Maryland Democratic Party

    In the interest of being fair and balanced, I provide this service to readers. But before you click on the picture below, just remember their message:

  • Part of the Politics in Stereo network.