Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Price of Silence

According to this week's McLaughlin Group over 70,000 of our nation's men and women have been wounded in Iraq. While criticism for the President's handling of the war helped sweep Democrats into power last November, a growing amount of criticism is coming from Republicans. There's also an increase in the verbal intensity of the salvos.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN): I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH): We have serious concern about the policy of this administration, and that many of us feel you are not listening.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): There is no strategy. This is a ping pong game with American lives. We better be damn sure we know what we're doing before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder.
The question of what took so long for such public questioning to come to light needs to be asked. Based on how things have been run in the Senate and the House the last few years, Vice President Dick Cheney provided the most honest answer in a Newsweek interview.

Let's say I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican
To understand the significance of this statement, you have to understand the authoritarian manner (self-righteous, mean-spirited, amoral, manipulative, bullying) in which the House and the Senate have been run over the last few years. Under rule of Tom DeLay and Rick Santorum, loyalty to the Republican leadership was demanded on an absolute basis. Our former Representative Marge Roukema learned this when she was passed over for Chairwomen of the House Financial Services Committee, despite having the most seniority. Rep. Roukema was a moderate, or centrist, who did not go along with the Republican leadership when it went against the values or interests of our District. For that, among many other things, I hold her in the utmost respect.

Congress, as intended by the Founding Fathers, is meant to be a check against the Executive Branch. It is not meant to be an extension of the Oval Office, as has been the case with the submissiveness of those taking the "11th commandment" to heart. When a Representative takes the Oath of Office, it is to the Constitution, not their party. Regardless of what party the President is, Congress bears the responsibility of oversight. My hope is more Republicans will join those who have stepped up demanding the accountability that has been missing since the beginning. Party loyalty should never be placed above a Representative's Constitutional responsibility.

For the 70,000 wounded, and over 3,000 families who have lost loved ones, the price of silence from Capitol Hill the last few years is unacceptably high. The price for party disloyalty will always be far less than the price those who have volunteered to protect our nation will pay when things go horribly wrong and are allowed to continue down that path. It is up to us as a public to ensure our future leaders have the moral fortitude to stand up and say something.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2007

For those who have had or know of people who have had breast cancer, this may be a bill you want to contact your Representative about.

Here's what it does - "To require that health plans provide coverage for a minimum hospital stay for mastectomies, lumpectomies, and lymph node dissection for the treatment of breast cancer and coverage for secondary consultations."

The bill's gone into committee, however if you support not having women and men (yes, we too can get breast cancer) kicked to the curb because their insurance company places other things above patient care, you might want to get in touch with your Rep. to get this moved out of committee ASAP.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Partisanship Incarnate

Part of the problem with Rep. Scott Garrett is that he sees everything in Republican party against Democratic party terms. In response to the President's State of the Union Address, Rep. Scott Garrett had the following to say:

"He did not pander to the Democrats and independents as some thought he would," said New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett, a conservative Republican who told The Washington Times that his House colleagues expressed a similar assessment.
The blatant hypocrisy in his statement is the fact that in order to fend off Aronsohn painting him as "too conservative" for the district, Garrett's campaign ripped me off by claiming he was "An Independent Voice". This amused me then, but to see him magnanimously complimenting the President on not "pandering" to people like me or the vast majority of our district is particularly disingenuous.

If our District is to have a voice in Congress, Scott needs to get off his high partisan horse and get to work at crossing the aisle. The Republican majority, particularly the 109th Congress, did very little to actually help the majority of the people in our District. The majority of the tax breaks they passed, which are targeted at our District's income levels, are lost because of the AMT. Nothing was done about the rising cost of college tuition. On top of all of this, our annual return on the tax dollar went down every year he's been in office.

That was all while Scott was in the majority. Now that our "voice" in Congress is in the minority, his stands on issues, his highly partisan comments, and the rigidity of his partisan voting are going to cost us in a very real sense. The issues we face are not Republican or Democratic. Gas prices, health care shortfalls being picked up by the state (which raise property taxes), unfunded mandates for education (which raise property taxes), and the war in Iraq need solutions more than they need rhetoric. Personally, I don't care which party comes up with the way to actually fix the pinch most people feel, like most folks I just want it fixed.

For a guy who represents a District where Independents outnumber Republicans and Democrats combined, he might not want to discount what we want to hear. But more than what we want to hear, it is about the results that we want to see that he should be most concerned about. Sitting on his hands with a continued indifference to the Independents and Democrats will be what undoes him, simply because an awful lot of Republicans in our District already think beyond partisanship. The majority of the Republicans in our District fall into a results oriented, fiscally conservative and socially liberal category. It's this philosophy that is part of the reason Rudy Guilliani's social views (pro-choice, pro-moderate gun control, pro-gay rights), while repugnant to Scott, have Rudy leading the polls in New Jersey for the Republican nomination for President even though he hasn't declared he's running.

Scott better watch it with his rhetoric, or someone in the '08 primary or general is going to nail him with it, make it stick, and send him back to his "farm." There are a lot of Republicans in our District who are unhappy with Garrett, and statements like the one above coupled with continued ineffectiveness, will not help him if he faces a sensible moderate or commonsense conservative in the Republican the primary. And if he doesn't, and the Democrats put up something other than a sock puppet, they might find themselves winning the seat.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Raging Against the (Bergen) Machine

I make no secret of the fact that I loathe machine politics on principle. Corruption and cronyism go hand in hand once someone is established as a party boss. Whether it be no-bid contracts given to preferred political donors (pay-to-play), or loyalists to the Boss being promoted over dedicated civil servants, machine politics is the antithesis of what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they created our fair Republic. It allows authoritarians to create their own little fiefdoms, often at the expense of the people's will and tax dollars .

Such is the case in our little corner of New Jersey known as Bergen County. The boss in question is Joe Ferriero. He rules with a nearly iron fist, replacing party committee delegates who do not see things his way. His backing is what propelled Paul Aronsohn to the Democratic nomination, and why Aronsohn was agreeable with skipping the primary and having the results of the Bergen County Democratic convention be binding. The success of Ferriero is amplified by the failing Bergen County Republican Organization, chaired by Guy Talarico. Now, comfortable with his hold on Bergen, it appears Ferriero's looking to spread his wings into Sussex County as well.

However, all of this strong arming is not without resistance. I first saw this bit of resistance on BlueJersey, and it was, supposedly, sent to media outlets. I think it's important to repost in it's entirety. The more people that know what's going on, the better for our system of government and the chances for change.

I am a Bergen County Democratic Committeewoman from Tenafly. I am writing this to let the public know about a change being brought about by the Bergen County Democratic Chairman, Joseph Ferriero. I also will explain what has been going on behind the scenes that has caused a State Senator to use the unprecedented step of having a rally months before the Primary for her re-election campaign.

As a Tenafly Democrat I don't easily forget that this was the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We don't take kindly to folks who would have our vote NOT count, whether it is for State Senator or Assembly, or even County Committee. We have a right to choose who represents us. In NJ, we don't vote for the Governor of NY, and likewise, we don't want folks from outside District 37 choosing the state senator to represent district 37. We picked a State Senator who won 75% of the popular vote in a general election. I think we did the people's bidding. We represented our Democrats well. Loretta Weinberg has made us all proud.

It wasn't easy to elect Senator Weinberg to the NJ state senate even though she is so popular. Consider what occurred in the past year and a half:

1. Someone actually forged signatures to deny County Committee men and women from Bergenfield the right to vote for Loretta Weinberg after they openly supported her.

2. Challengers at the Bergen County Democratic Organization tried to deny five of our Tenafly Committee men and women from voting for Loretta Weinberg after we openly supported her before the special election. It took a court case to get our votes counted.

3. Even AFTER the court battle, challengers tried to deny nearly ALL the Tenafly and Teaneck County Committee men and women the right to vote at the special election for Valerie Huttle after we brazenly supported Valerie Huttle for Assembly against Michael Wildes. I watched personally at that election when the press was not allowed access - as nearly every African American member of the county committee as well as almost all my Tenafly county committee men and women were challenged to vote (The Black Caucus as well as Tenafly openly endorsed Loretta Weinberg). I know this because they challenged ME until I started to argue too much. It also explains why there are some Democrats who did NOT support Mr. Wildes last year. They still remember the undemocratic way that special election was carried out in Hackensack in his name to punish Valerie Huttle for her support of Senator Weinberg.

4. As retribution for trying to do the will of the voters, in the Primary election this past June, the Chairman personally threw ANY open supporter of Loretta Weinberg off of the County line - the Democratic ticket - EVEN if they were an incumbent. I know this because I was one of them. The primary was held only ONE week before Mr. Ferriero's re-election vote. He moved even County Committee Chairs to column 4 on the ballot and found his own loyal picks to place in column 2. Only a few of his plants got elected that way. Nearly all of us who supported Senator Weinberg retained our seats.

5. Only one week after the attempt was made to eliminate us from the County Committee by placing us in Column 4 of the ballot, Mr. Ferriero was re-elected. After all I had seen as a newly elected Democratic County Committeewoman, I had to stand up and nominate an opponent at Mr. Ferriero's re-election in June, even though I knew it was a protest vote. I wanted to send a message. That we are vigilant and we will do everything in our power to make sure our Party Chairman answers to the Democrats of Bergen County. Not the other way around. I stood and watched democracy here die, as Ferriero supporters shouted down Mr. Robert Gulack, the opponent, during his speech. Before the mayhem began, Mr. Ferriero's staff was so busy placing placards with his name on them all over the gym, that they forgot to place our nation's flag in the front of the room. How fitting, for when we went to pledge allegiance, the only thing we had in the front of the gym to pledge allegiance to was a smiling Joe Ferriero.

6. And now Chairman Ferriero and attorney Dennis Ourey, Esq., wish to change the bylaws of the Bergen County Democratic Organization so that the election to choose our district 37 State Senator - Loretta Weinberg - is done on a county-wide basis instead of just District wide. So his friends in other districts can choose our State Senate candidate for us. I pray this undemocratic tactic too will fail.

At the risk of airing our party's dirty laundry, I must let Democrats in Bergen County know that there are those of us fighting and fighting hard to make sure their voices are heard even though the Chairman is trying to take democracy AWAY from us. NJ doesn't vote for NY's governor, why should someone OUTSIDE my legislative district be allowed to vote for MY state senator?

What is at stake here? Everything we hold dear. The ONLY way to get the politics out of government and the money out of politics is to give control of the Bergen County Committee back to the people of Bergen County. It is the only way we can retain control of our own elected officials so that we can appoint our own professionals based on merit and service to the community - not party loyalty. It is nothing less than government BY THE PEOPLE that we are trying to preserve.

Democratic voters in each town are supposed to tell their Democratic County Committeemen and women what they want. The County Committee members then based on that, choose the Democratic candidates for their own towns and convene at the district level to choose Democratic candidates for their legislative district and at the county level to choose the Democratic candidates for the county and state.

That is how Democracy is supposed to work. I don't know what Mr. Ferriero has in mind but I don't think Democracy has anything to do with it. I promise I will fight tooth and nail to make sure those bylaws changes he initiated to strengthen his hold on power do not pass. And I will do everything in my power to spread the word far and wide to every county committee rep everywhere that you MUST vote NO to the proposed change in the bylaws. We saw what a disaster a unitary US presidency is. A powerful unitary Party Boss is no better.

Carol A. Hoernlein, P.E.
Bergen County Committee - Tenafly District 7

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Finally, something good to write

During the campaign, I always said you shouldn't get brownie points for doing what you're supposed to as a Representative. Whether that's showing up at ribbon cutting ceremonies, helping non-profits within your District get the support and publicity they need, or voting for universally supported legislation like honoring sports teams for winning their championships. However, after two weeks of voting against working families and Seniors in our District, misrepresenting his ethical stances compared to his votes, and patronizing the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. by not having the integrity to show up in person to any event in his honor; it would seem we're beyond what a Representative should be doing and to hoping that anything good will come from Scott Garrett's next two years in office.

A minuscule step in the right direction was taken when Scott threw our name down as a co-sponsor of HR 14, a bill that strips the pensions of those Members of Congress who are convicted for corruption. It is a Republican bill, introduced by a moderate, as an answer to a weak alternative the Democrats seem to be putting forward that misses a bunch of crimes. My hope is the Democrats will either co-opt this bill or withdraw the weaker version.

The House historically is not very good at cleaning things up themselves, but I think having a solidly moderate Republican introduce this may give it some legs. It will be harder for Scott to argue on this bill's behalf, because he hasn't worked with the Democrats on anything and spends our time on the floor criticizing more than offering constructive alternatives. However, he did put our District down as a co-sponsor of this particular bill and my hope is it goes through.

Taxpayers should not be paying pensions for those who violate the public trust, period.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why Garrett's not inclined to debate

**Update: Garrett voted against the relief, Frelinghuysen voted for it**

It's well documented that Rep. Scott Garrett has an aversion to debating his opponents during a campaign. In the New Jersey Herald today there's an article about how unaffordable college has become and the Democrat's step to cut interest rates on federal student loans. The gem, and insight into why his handlers discourage debating, is in his "prepared statement":

"This bill is typical of what the Democrats have done since taking over and what they will continue to do if left unchecked — try to score cheap political points without solving any problems," Garrett said in a prepared statement. "The fact of the matter is that tuition costs have risen nearly 300 (percent) in the last two decades, and that is the real cause of student debt and the real reason that too many qualified students cannot afford to attend college."

The natural, go for the jugular response in a debate is "You bring up skyrocketing costs, Scott. What exactly have you done to solve the problem, when the Republicans were in the majority?" The answer to the question is also provided by the Herald.

Garrett and Frelinghuysen both voted last year in favor of cutting about $12 billion in federal student-loan programs.

If the prepared statement is the best Scott can come up with in opposition to a very tangible savings for working families (estimated at an average of $2,370 per student), I'd hate to see what he'd say off the cuff. For someone who claims to want to keep focus on the family budget, he certainly failed with flying colors on this one. I guess he needs new glasses.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

If you hate the AMT, vote in 2007

One of the issues I heard the most about, and one I know Rep. Scott Garrett and I believe is desperately needed for our District is Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) relief. Scott's website sums up the problem for many in the District fairly well:

The Alternative Minimum Tax, or AMT, is a parallel tax universe that was initially established to keep high-income taxpayers from avoiding a significant portion of their tax liability. But, the arcane structure has spread into the middle class and applied to more than 4 million families in 2005. These are solidly middle-class families, such as couples that make more than $58,000 a year and itemize their deductions.
The Record also covered the problem recently, with Rep. Bill Pascrell discussing his plans:

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, who was recently named to the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said one of the areas where he would concentrate is on the alternative minimum tax, which in many cases deprives North Jersey families of tax breaks enjoyed by people in other parts of the country who do not pay such high property and state income taxes.
My tax adviser used to refer to the AMT as the SST (Seven States' Tax), because those doing the heavy lifting of this burden largely live in seven states. The reason this has not been fixed is because the majority of the nation doesn't have to deal with this, and therefore there isn't a majority within Congress or the Senate who are willing to tackle the problem.

Effectively, AMT relief for the seven states would likely lead to slightly higher taxes in other parts of the nation. Not a popular proposition among legislators, no matter how unjust the situation is. This injustice also accounts for why our return on tax dollars continues to decline year after year as more middle income families are ensnared. We send more money to Washington in terms of AMT and receive about the same level of funding year after year.

While we wait for Congress to address this problem, we need to take certain matters into our own hands. This year the entire legislature is up for re-election, and lasting property tax relief is the only way to combat the AMT. Only 34% of voters showed up in 2003 (the last off year without a Governor's race). If people want real relief and real reform, people have to show up to vote and hold accountable those ultimately responsible to fix the problem.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Misrepresentation 102 - Devil is in the details

In nearly 7 months of campaigning I was told by exactly two people the minimum wage shouldn't be raised after being stuck for the last decade. Their arguments were the talking points distributed by the US Chamber of Commerce that it would be bad for business. Yet, as Inc. Magazine (one of my favorites) points out, Discovery Financial Services surveyed 1,000 small business owners and 70% said an increase would have minimal impact on labor costs. A separate survey in the article showed that small business growth was actually greater in states with higher minimum wages.

Sometimes politicians take a stance against a bill that is to his or her constituents completely unacceptable. Representative Scott Garrett took such an action when he took the floor to oppose the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. In his less than eloquent wording, he makes a bunch of unsubstantiated and factual misrepresentations grasping for a legitimate argument. Here's his minute on the floor on our behalf:

I rise to oppose this harmful legislation and to oppose the Democrats' plan to interfere with and interject themselves in individuals' personal decisions as to where they are going to work.

I also stand here, actually, in awe of the omniscient view the other side of the aisle has of themselves, this all-knowing, all-seeing view that they know better than families do as to where they are going to work and micromanage their lives. Regardless of whether it is a kid in Iowa after school working on a farm throwing hay or it is a woman in Chicago working at a high-tech plant on an assembly line or it is a man in New York going back as a second career trying to get a job in the finance industry, the other side of the aisle would tell us that each one of those individuals should be paid exactly the same, regardless of their age, regardless of the work, regardless of their experience, regardless of demographics, and regardless of the cost of living in those areas. I tell you, Mr. Speaker, it is unfair.

And, finally, Mr. Speaker, this body, which has been unable to get its finances and house in order for the last 40 years, is in no position to be telling the American public and the families of this country how they should be getting their finances in order.
There are three points that need to be stressed. First, I'm not sure who he's saying the bill is unfair to. As I mentioned above, small businesses who account for 80% of the job creation in this country are largely indifferent if not supportive. To those who work minimum wage jobs, one raise in ten years hardly seems unfair.

Second, his litany of oddly matched job comparisons was completely devoid of fact. Now I couldn't find what a part-time farmhand in Iowa makes, but an entry level assembly worker at the bottom end of the pay scale in Chicago makes roughly $11.40 an hour and an operations clerk in the finance world in NYC at the bottom end makes roughly $12.26 an hour. The bill increased the minimum wage in the US and our protectorate the Northern Mariana Islands* to $7.25 an hour in three stages over two years (longer for the Marianas). Nowhere in the bill does it call for the aforementioned wage earners to take a five dollar an hour pay cut, and somehow (call it a hunch) I doubt that will be a result.

Third, his castigation of the House was once again devoid of fact. Under the PAYGO rules of the 90's, the government actually ran surpluses for a short time and held average increases in government spending under 4%. PAYGO expired in 2002 before Garrett entered the House, and since then new spending averaged over 10% and we've had record deficits. Garrett, the "fiscal conservative" recently voted against the reinstatement of PAYGO.

This speech is an example of where rhetoric and fact collide, and rhetoric is beaten to pulp. This is what our Representative gave us, gross misrepresentation while grasping for straws. I applaud the rest of the Republicans in New Jersey's delegation for doing the right thing for the working poor and our overall economic strength. It's about time.

*For those that don't know, the Northern Mariana's are a US protectorate, and were a big time source of cash for Jack Ambramoff . Without a meaningful minimum wage, which Abramoff was paid to fend off, it enabled sweatshop operations where the owners could still slap a Made in the USA tag on the products. This arrangement was championed by Scott's former colleague and financial supporter, Tom Delay.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Garrett votes against 9/11 Commission


Representative Scott Garrett voted against the implementation of the commonsense recommendations offered by the 9/11 Commission. This from the man who said the following on his campaign site:

My top priority since being sworn in as your Representative in Congress has been the safety and security of our nation. To this end, I have been a leading advocate for strengthening and improving our security, particularly here in New Jersey.

Yes, that's right, his "top priority." I would love to know how many people voted for him instead of Paul or me because they believed he'd do a better job on Homeland Security. This was his first test, and his credibility just went down the toilet. Votes speak louder than words, they always have. His next opponent won't even have to spin this or attempt to confuse the issue as is so often the case in the modern campaign.

The average voter:
"Mr. Garrett, did you really vote against the implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations?"

Rep. Garrett:
"Yes, but..."

The average voter in our district either knows someone, or someone who knows someone, who was directly impacted on 9/11. The average voter will stop listening at yes.

Misrepresentation 101

One reason so many people don't trust politicians is the spin. For an example of such spin, let's take a look at the latest Garrett Gazette, from my Representative Scott Garrett.

Washington, Jan 8 -

Dear Friends:

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the strong earmark reform measures that I have been promoting throughout the last year. The measure takes a great step forward for restoring fiscal discipline to the ways of Washington.

Earmarks are Member-requested funding for local pet projects. Sometimes, the projects are well-worth Federal financial assistance. Sometimes, they are little more than political hand-outs. It has long been my contention that by making all earmarks open to public scrutiny, we could easily weed out the legitimate earmarks from the others, thus preserving taxpayer dollars for real Federal priorities.

Last year, I supported a measure passed by the House that would have required all appropriations bills to list earmarks and the Members requesting them. But, I also offered an amendment to that measure that would have applied those same accountability measures to tax bills and authorization bills, which are also traditionally laden with costly earmarks. In fact, one of the most infamous earmarks – the $315 million Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska – was actually tucked into a highway transportation authorization bill. That same authorization legislation included more than 6,000 earmarks. By contrast, the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste identified 9,963 earmarks in the appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2006, for a total of $29 billion.

The earmark reform legislation passed by the House last week included the expanded accountability that I have pushed and I am looking forward to seeing how this transparency will help to return the focus to the family budget.


Scott Garrett

Member of Congress

I put the whole thing up so as not to be accused of taking something out of context, because no where in this official e-mail to constituents does he mention he voted against the reform. Garrett gives an explanation at the very end of a press release regarding the vote, which was posted on the site before the Gazette:

"Regrettably," continued Garrett, "the Democrat leadership also chose to approve a change to budget rules that could have no purpose other than to justify tax increases. And, that I could not support. It is a shame that in taking the step forward with strong earmark reform, the Democrat leadership chose to take two steps back in fiscal discipline."


Now I felt, upon reading this that it was a step in the right direction for our overly secretive Rep. because at least he admitted he had voted against the reforms and said why. The problem comes when the Garrett Gazette is e-mailed to constituents, and not the full statement. It makes it seem like his "support" equals his vote for earmark reform, which is universally supported outside of special interest offices. However, the truth is he voted against the provision.

It's this sort of misrepresentation of the truth that makes people distrust politicians at all levels. I may disagree with his sound bite from the press release regarding PAYGO (a post for another day) but I thought for once he was taking a stand and letting us know why he voted the way he did. The incomplete picture in the Gazette points out that in fact no, there hasn't been a change of behavior. So I guess it's one step forward and two steps back for him.

George Washington Bridge saved

Whether it was the overall public outrage, or the New Jersey legislature feeling the payment was too low and calling for investigations, it appears at least for the time being the Geico deal is dead. There will be no eyeball licking lizard over the tolls, in the tolls, or popping up in your mailbox because you use the tolls. Basically, all of North Jersey revolted, and the economics didn't make sense.

On the face of the deal, number of people who use the bridge vs. cost, Geico was going to pay the same 3 cents per impression (person who would see the ads) as those advertising in the Super Bowl for a 30 second ad. However, there would be a barrage of placements defacing the actual entrance to the bridge, as well as their ability to mail directly to EZ-Pass users who cross the bridge.

If the Port Authority is so hungry for cash to pay for added security that they'd sell off a landmark for a pittance, maybe our Congressional delegation can get to work ensuring the Homeland Security dollars are assigned based on risk rather than that formula currently being used for grants. This is a very tangible example of what can happen when the bureaucrats decide who gets security funds instead of reality.