Wednesday, December 28, 2005

About the Budget, Part 2

During the Reagan Revolution, the goal was to cut the size of government and control the growth of spending. It was as perplexing then as it is now to understand how a reduction in the growth of a program could be deemed a “cut” in spending.

If $6 billion was spent on a specific re-occurring program in FY 2005 and it had seen 7% increases in the past, it has become expected to see an appropriation of $6.42 billion in FY 2006. If a reduction in growth were to take affect, the appropriation might be $6.3 billion dollars representing a 5% increase for the next fiscal year rather than the usual 7%. Either way the program received an increase - $300 million rather than $420 million.

What was frustrating to many conservatives at the time was that the liberal point of view reported the change as a “cut” in spending which afforded them the opportunity to decry the “mean spirited” changes as having a negative effect on the poor and disadvantage. In reality, the needy did see an increase in spending from one fiscal year to the next – it simply was not as large an increase as desired.

Senator Mike DeWine fell into the same pattern Wednesday as he was one of five Senators to vote against the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. His stated reasoning was “[t]his bill was, unfortunately, very detrimental to poor children with regard to health care.” He went on to cite cuts in funding for child support enforcement, foster care, and Medicaid health insurance for the poor.

In reality, the $30 billion reduction out of a projected $14.3 trillion (or $14,300 billion) in federal spending over the next five years amounts to less than one-half of one percent. And, it is only a one-half of one percent reduction in the current 5.4% rate of growth – not a cut from current spending levels.

If Senator DeWine was so concerned about the perception of “cuts” and the effects of the Deficit Reduction Act, why didn’t he speak out about the $3 billion in new special interest spending?

In the last two months, Senator DeWine has co-sponsored three new spending bills (one a long term entitlement program with unreported cost projections) with his colleagues (Kennedy, Durbin, and Schumer) without any hint or suggestion of a corresponding reduction in spending elsewhere. He has voted to increase the spending on two “bridges to nowhere” in Alaska before they were stricken from the Transportation Bill (but, the $500 million still goes to Alaska to spend on “other” transportation projects), and voted twice to keep “pork” buried in legislation rather than highlighting it in the Conference Reports.

It appears Senator DeWine, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, does not understand that Congress’s free spending binges are not without consequences. The short term budget deficits lead to long term debt which will burden our children and our children’s children.

It will be necessary and possible to explain to future generations that the War on Terrorism and Homeland Security required great financial resources. On the other hand, it will be quite difficult to explain to them that the debt burden they carry was created to build two “bridges to nowhere”, digital converter boxes for better TV reception, keep the price of milk constant, and the myriad of other items which fall under the category of wasteful spending. Congressional spending far, far removed from the Constitutional requirement of “common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.”

William G. Pierce

Addendum: Highlights of the Budget Bill

Saturday, December 24, 2005

About the Budget, Part 1

On Wednesday the US Senate passed, after Vice-President Cheney’s tie-breaking vote, a $39.7 billion dollar budget reduction bill which must be viewed as a very small, albeit a very necessary, down payment in fiscal responsibility. The actual bill included a $30 billion in reduced spending and near $10 billion dollar in new revenues. Had it been a single year’s reduction it would have been far more noteworthy, but the budget reductions are spread over a five year period.

As noted in an earlier piece:

As impressive as that number may seem, it is insignificant when compared to the overall national federal budget of $2.5 trillion or $2,500 billion dollars. Suddenly $6 billion out of $2,500 billion is not quite such an accomplishment.

In personal terms, which are always easier to wrap our minds around, the numbers become truly unimpressive. For a family with a $50,000 annual income, a budget reduction of $120 per year is an equivalent accomplishment. That is a less than $10 per month – not much more than a movie ticket for one patron.

Congress must begin to look at budgets and spending patterns much more seriously. Even with this herald achievement, the Senate included in this bill new special interest spending totaling more than $3 billion dollars. First responders will get $1 billion in grants for new equipment and training, $156 million for a national alert system, $43.5 million for a fully enhanced 911 emergency system, $75 million to help low-power television stations upgrade to digital TV standards, and $30 million to help New York City's DTV transition.

The bill extends for two years a $1 billion dollar subsidy to milk farmers should the price of milk drop below a certain level. And finally, the bill includes $1.5 billion for digital converter boxes to accommodate 20 million homes when the country’s broadcasters complete the transition from analog signals to digital transmission by February 17, 2009 the date approved by the Senate.

Article I - Section 8 of the United States Constitution charges the Congress with the responsibility to “… provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States…” and to “… make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution ….” Other than $156 million for a national alert system, Congress must explain how and why all the remaining expenditures fit the role and responsibility of a federal government that is $8 trillion in debt and engaged in a war on terrorism.

Non-military and non-homeland security spending has increased more that $303 billion during the 2001 to 2005 fiscal years and has been instrumental in the increase of the national debt from $6 trillion to $8 trillion in the last three years. Now add to that, the Medicare drug benefit which has been estimated at $724 billion dollars over the next 10 years and you begin to see that the Nation’s finances are woefully out of control.

Interest must be paid on all of this deficit spending and it currently stands as the third largest expenditure in our fiscal budget. At $26 billion a month and growing quickly, it soon will be the second largest budget item and it represents non-discretionary interest only payments. That means future generations will be burdened with similar interest payments while attempting to pay down the debt load our free-spending Congress has created with the concurrence of “we the people…” through our silence.

It is far beyond the time for the American public to demand change in how our government operates. At a time when our Nation is hampered by special interest groups and their long time bond with career politicians, “we the people …” must reclaim Abraham Lincoln’s vision that this government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” will have a re-birth.

The citizens must speak out and reclaim their vision of America; which is far, far different than the special interest groups and the politicians who partner with them. We must start by telling Congress that the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 is only a down payment towards true fiscal responsibility, tough decisions lie ahead, and we expect our political leaders to follow through with the management role we have entrusted to them.

William G. Pierce

12/28 Update: Added link in the eighth paragraph.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

On the Filibuster

They called it the “nuclear option”; I call it a “mistake.”

The filibuster, a procedure used to delay or block legislative action, is neither a process defined in the Constitution or in Robert’s Rules of Order. It is, however, covered by the Standing Rules of the Senate which govern the day to day operations of the legislative body. Historically, the filibuster was used only to delay or block legislation, but in recent years it has evolved into a tactic to impeded nominations the President has made to a Cabinet level position or the judiciary, at the Supreme Court or appellate court level. Cloture is the term used to close a filibuster and bring the issue to a vote, and it takes 60 of the 100 Senators to activate the end of debate.

Recently, the issue has gained national attention as numerous nominations by President Bush to the federal courts were being stalled by Senate filibustering. In an attempt to remove the roadblock, the Republican leadership announced that they were ready to invoke the “nuclear option” which would change the Senate rules to allow a simple majority (50 of the 100 Senators) to shut down a filibuster. Mistake: – in our society the word “nuclear” seldom carries a good connotation. Even in “nuclear radiation” for a cancer treatment it is thought of as a destructive procedure wherein the cancerous cells will be destroyed. By referring to the rule change as a “nuclear option” the Republican Leadership afforded the critics to “spin” the change into one which would directly attack the Constitution and the pillars of the Senate’s heritage.

In May of this year, a group of Senators dubbed the “Gang of 14” (of which Senator Mike DeWine was one) arrived at a compromise to avoid a filibuster showdown on several judicial nominations and the exercise of the “nuclear option”. The compromise ended the filibuster on three nominees so confirmation was apparent, continued the filibuster on two other nominees thereby rejecting them without a Senate vote, and promised to use the filibuster tactics only in “extraordinary circumstances” – of course, the term extraordinary circumstances was not defined.

By any degree of “common sense” and in reality, the filibuster to delay the President’s nominations is the direct attack on the Constitution, wherein it states in Article II – Section 2 “[The President] … by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, … , Judges of the supreme Court, ….” By filibustering, and thereby not giving the President an “up or down” vote, the Senate is being derelict in one of its perfunctory duties outlined in the Constitution. It was one thing to filibuster a piece of legislation which has no Constitutional guarantee to passage or rejection, it is quite another issue to use the process to avoid a time honored Constitutional requirement of “advice and consent” whereby the nominee is either confirmed or rejected. In addition, filibustering leaves the judicial position unfilled and burdens the rest of the court system which in turn impacts the serving of justice to “we the people ….”

The interesting aspect to all of this is that a precedent to change the Standing Rules of the Senate has been established before, but it has been termed the “Constitutional Option” rather than the “nuclear option” because the changes have the support of the Constitution. Article I – Section 5 states “Each House may determine the Rules of Proceedings ….” By each “House” it is meant the House of Representatives and the Senate for each and every session of Congress. In 1977, '79, '80 and '87, Senator Robert Byrd, the Senate Majority Leader, four times invoked rule changes similar in nature to the proposed changes this year BUT he did them under the guise of a “Constitutional Option” which did not afford the opposition the “spin” that the Constitution was being violated.

Senator Bryd’s history of rule changes are a contrasting view to what he said at the press conference announcing the “Gang of 14” compromise. Byrd, the chamber's most senior lawmaker, applauded the group of 14 and said:
"We have lifted ourselves above politics, and we have signed this document in the interests of the United States Senate, in the interest of freedom of speech, freedom of debate and freedom to dissent in the United States Senate."
Time will tell how enduring the comprise will be, but I beg to differ with Senator Byrd. The compromise did not lift the Senate above politics, considering his use of rule changes in the past, it smacks of just that – politics as usual. He can report that it is the interest of “freedom to dissent in the United States Senate”, but it is at the expense of the Senates responsibilities of advice and consent laid out by the United States Constitution. It is a disappointment to me that seven Senators supported this political power struggle and that the Republican leadership in the Senate accepted it.

William G. Pierce

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Around the Blogosphere

Steven J. Kelso of A Face Made for Radio... wrote about the Pierce for Senate campaign recently. Here is a taste:
Mr. Pierce is a pro-life Republican who also strongly supports the entire Bill of Rights -- including the Second Amendment.
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Should conservatives sit back and let DeWine lose to a Democrat? It appears that Phil Burress, president of Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, would be more than happy to see DeWine lose. I don't blame him; I have many of the same impulses.
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My first and strongest impulse is to vote for Pierce in the primaries and even write his name in if DeWine prevails
Thanks, Steven!