Tuesday, February 27, 2007

So, rematch in '08?

With Paul Aronsohn's announcement of his intention to announce his intention in late spring, I received a handful of e-mails and a text message asking if the rematch was in store. The answer to that at this point is I don't know. I'm still thinking about what my involvement would look like in '08 (candidate, staffer, party, etc.) to best serve the District. As those who read this blog realize, I'm rather unlikely to work for or vote for Rep. Scott Garrett. I'm equally unlikely to work for or vote for Paul.

Don't get me wrong, Paul's a nice guy. He was always polite to my volunteers that he met, and up until the whole sign stealing thing our campaigns were rather cordial, as I was with Garrett's as well. My reaction to the sign incident was boneheaded; as hard as we worked to raise the money and get the signs out, to have a significant portion of my "war chest" vanish didn't sit well. The boneheadedness was reinforced by the press coverage and subsequent police incident report on a different night that pointed to the BCDO and not Paul's staff directly. While I didn't win the award for dumbest press release, had Stuart Rothenberg known I was alive I might have been in contention.

My objection to Paul comes down to a principle, and for me it's a really big one. It's called Democracy. On both Blue Jersey and Retire Garrett there is a common refrain about the '08 primary.
There should be a vigorous Democratic primary that will encourage the candidates to hone their policy positions and become better candidates to face Garrett in 2008.

Regardless of which party you fall into, the ability to choose your representation is a basic cornerstone of Democracy. If you're running for office, you should be a big fan of the idea. The problem I have with Paul is just that, and it was from a 2005 article from PoliticsNJ.
Even if they are both hell-bent on running, there could be a way for Wolfe and Aronsohn to settle their contest without incurring the costs of a full-scale primary. Aronsohn said he'd be willing to abide by the verdict of the Bergen County Democratic convention, which will take place next February or March. But Wolfe indicated she probably wouldn't, saying she didn't want to leave the district's other three counties out of the process.

This shouldn't even be in a candidate's mind. Even if the reporter planted the idea, or offered it as a possible solution to the primary quandary, there should be a soul shaking voice that screams no at the thought of excluding people from voting. I had a chance to ask Paul about this at one point. Due to the fact I don't have the conversation recorded I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I can say his response didn't change my mind. While his direct involvement in the BCDO is a question mark, being willing to leave the decision for an entire Congressional District in the hands of a man who actively tries to boot those who don't work with him is highly suspect.

I won't ever work or vote for someone who would vote or act against the principle right so many have fought and died to achieve and protect. When Garrett voted against re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act I called it deplorable, and I feel the same way about Paul being willing to skip the Primary. For me, or anyone else for that matter, having to choose between the two is a terrible choice to have to make.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Where are the fiscal conservatives on Iraq?

A few weeks ago, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did an outstanding breakout of the cost of the Iraq War to date, at $400 billion and counting it's $1,333 for every citizen of the United States.

For that kind of money, you could run the Wisconsin state government - current annual budget around $27 billion - for around a decade and a half.

Or, if you're a budding Donald Trump, you could scoop up all of the taxable property in the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County - homes, offices and factories - and still have around $337 billion in change, according to estimated taxable values.
Now that the perspective is in place, let's talk about a major reason for both increased cost and continued instability. As reported by the AP, contractors in Iraq face death and injury the same as our soldiers, but many of the contractors are making at least $100,000 a year (an ad in last week's Economist was offering at least $150,000). With 120,000 civilian contractors in Iraq, the price tag is at least $12 billion a year. That $12 billion is before the contractor's company's mark-up on the labor, which if it is the 20% standard rate for stateside work, taxpayers are forking over at least $2.4 billion in fees.

While there are some jobs in Iraq that are highly specialised, many of the jobs are ones soldiers used to do or the Iraqi people could themselves. Of the 501 jobs in Iraq that KBR (one of the largest contractors, bringing in $12 billion themselves from Iraq in 2006) is trying to fill, many are for carpenters, cooks, plumbers, truck drivers and auto mechanics.

With the Iraq Study Group finding unemployment ranging from 20-60%, it is no wonder employment in the militias is appealing. Even in an editorial from The Korea Times saying providing increased employment will not quell the violence, there is this little nugget of truth:

Many young Iraqis join militias because that is where the money is. They can earn more hanging around with a gun in their hands than by working in construction or trade. Supporters of the insurgency are happy to plant a roadside bomb in exchange for extra cash. Instead of focusing on a large jobs program, the US could do more to bring peace to Iraq by reducing the money from Iraqi government coffers and smuggling activities that funds the payrolls of the insurgents and militias.
I don't know what the average member of the Mahdi Army is making, but I doubt it's $100,000. Our soldiers and contractors are dying, in part, because we're being outbid for the economic loyalty of young Iraqis. While the aforementioned AP story highlights the resentment felt by soldiers working side by side with contractors making five times what they do, the resentment toward the contractors from the Iraqis is much higher and with a fatal cost.

If we are going to be borrowing and paying interest on money from places like China to invest in Iraqi reconstruction, we at the very least could be doing it wisely. The financial mismanagement in Iraq is going to haunt the unborn grandchildren of my unborn children. Real fiscal conservatives would have been hopping up and down about this waste years ago, however Congress had been silent before the Iraq debate. Now various forms of waste are being highlighted by members of Congress and the Government Accountability Office on a regular basis. The hiring of contractors is one area that can be remedied quickly. Taxpayers should not be funding corporate profits filling jobs the Iraqis can do themselves and at a lower cost.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Civil Unions now available in NJ

For those who didn't know, yesterday was the first day Civil Unions can be performed and are recognized in our fair state for same sex couples. For social fundamentalists, this goes too far. For others, as one lesbian friend of mine put it, "we're still talking about sitting at the back of the bus." One of my married friends is fond of saying "if they want to be as miserable as the rest of us, let them." For me, it's kind of a Ferris Bueller moment, it still doesn't change the fact I don't have a girlfriend.

While not necessarily in agreement as to what to call civil unions/marriage, it would seem the majority of Democrats and Independents, as well as a healthy number of moderate and true conservative Republicans in New Jersey support the idea of providing equal rights to same-sex couples under the law, as afforded to citizens by the 14th amendment. This leaves the social fundamentalist Republicans, such as Representative Scott Garrett, leading the way against granting any rights to same-sex couples. Back in August of 2004, Garrett went on Crossfire with James Carville and Robert Novack as the co-hosts. Carville and Garrett had the following exchange:

CARVILLE: Congressman, do you have the Kerry-Cheney position that we should not have this constitutional amendment on gay marriage or do you have the Bush-Falwell position that we should? Which one is your position, Kerry Cheney or the Bush-Falwell?
GARRETT: No, I have the Bush-American people on this.
CARVILLE: The Bush-Falwell. So you're with the Bush-Falwell
GARRETT: The Bush-American people.
CARVILLE: I got you. OK.
Garrett's stance ignores the 58% of NEW JERSEY voters opposed to such a move. Last year, the Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman was introduced, with Garrett as an original co-sponsor.

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.
The voters of Michigan passed a similarly worded ban amending their state constitution a few years ago, and after a recent court ruling by elected judges, public universities and state and local governments are now banned from providing health insurance to gay couples. This ruling is being appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which is also an elected body. Some have argued this might cause a backlash against those pushing for the amendment, because they advertised that this would not impact the health care benefits or life insurance policies offered to public employees (at least 375 people and their families).

That "legal incidents" part of Garrett's amendment is where equal protection is thrown out the window. No health or life insurance, hospital visitation rights or inheritance benefits just to name a few. On his website, Garrett echoes other social fundamentalists saying defending the Sanctity of Marriage is his number one family priority. In fact, marriage is so sacred in his eyes, Garrett cites tax-credits as a reason to get married, kind of like picking a Limited Liability Corporation over a sole-proprietorship.

Before our State Court's decision I wondered openly about how this debate would look if we stripped the word married from the tax code. If every married couple, domestic partnership, civil union, etc. fell into an orientation neutral category, and the definition of marriage was left to individual churches to decide, would we even be having this argument? I still think this may be the best way to grant committed couples equal protection under the law. When/if I meet another woman I'd like to spend the rest of my life with, I would hope to get married. After the church service, I've got to believe we'd be secure enough in our relationship it wouldn't matter to us what the government referred to us as on our 1040.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lincoln Day Dinner Season

So the annual Lincoln Day meal fundraiser season is upon county and local Republican organizations across the nation. For those who don't know, these are the annual dinners to celebrate the Republican party and tip their hat to the party's first President, Abraham Lincoln. It also serves as a chance for candidates or their surrogates to state their case for the nomination. In 2000, Gov. George Bush was coming to the Ottawa County Republican Organization's Lincoln Day dinner in Michigan.

I was asked to write the radio ad which was part of the marketing package being supervised by one of my professors. We framed the ad as hearing Bush's thoughts on the New Hampshire primary, had it read by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (who is as beloved in my old Michigan district as Marge Roukema was for us here), and I walked into a sold out event. My ads had nothing to do with the sell-out. Even though he had lost New Hampshire, Bush was still the odds on favorite for the nomination and people came from all over the state to see him speak at Grand Valley State. Part of the reason they got him was Ottawa County's massive Republican machine. If Bush was going to compete in the primary in Michigan, he had to carry Ottawa with big numbers.

Yesterday, Anthony Carbonetti showed up in Sussex County for their Lincoln Day Brunch to stump for Rudy Giuliani. The event was attended by Representative Garrett and most of the elected officials of Sussex. This was a bit of a coup for the Sussex crew in GOP positioning, however it makes sense as the New Jersey Herald quoted toward the end of the article about the event.

Sussex County Freeholder Director Susan Zellman said she is supporting Giuliani, and said the largely Republican county, in an otherwise Democratic state, had the potential to have a strong influence in the upcoming election.

"We certainly, as a county, need to be thinking about the next election," Zellman said. "We've certainly shown, in the past, that we have the ability to tip the scales in our favor, and we should do that."
That "in the past" part is talking about Garrett beating Gerald Cardinale in the primary to succeed Roukema. With all the news reports of the imminent demise of the Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO), it should be interesting to see the caliber of speaker they get for their dinner. The organization still doesn't have someone listed on their website. It will be of more interest to see if Garrett actually shows up to the Bergen dinner.

I think the demise of the BCRO is greatly over reported, they're just going through a bad spot. Actually, with the Presidential primaries being moved up, it could be the shot in the arm the Republicans in Bergen need. Instead of using the county simply as an ATM, candidates may actually show up.

Jefferson-Jackson Day is the equivalent fundraising season for the Democratic Party. It should also be interesting to see who Papa Joe gets to come to Bergen.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Iraq Debate Highlights - Revised

I haven't watched every speech, however these are the ones I've seen that stuck in my mind. They are all Representatives who voted for the Iraq Resolution, quite frankly this is due to my own impression of the management of the war and their arguments were based on fact and not rhetoric.

Representative Tim Walz (D - MN)(video - text) - This was one of the people Al Franken was campaigning hard for last fall, and his directly addressing the Constitutional responsibility of oversight, and the lack of it over the last few years was great.

Mr. Speaker, no debate in this House is longer overdue. This debate has been going on for nearly 4 years in houses, in grocery stores, in workplaces, in houses of worship all across America. No greater responsibility rests with us, the people's representatives, than debating the decisions involved in waging a war. The decision to send our brave men and women into combat is not the end of our responsibility, it is the beginning. This body has a sacred duty to protect this Nation, our citizens, and especially those we send into combat in our name.
Representative Steven LaTourette (R-OH) (video - text)- I liked this one a lot, very matter of fact and strong without rhetoric.

If I thought that the presence of 21,500 additional American troops in Iraq would quell sectarian violence and stop the killing and aggression towards Americans in Iraq, I would support it. If I thought that the presence of 21,500 new American troops would cause the Maliki government to get their house in order and their country in order and make the Iraqis step up and do their duty to protect their country, I would support it.

Instead, we find ourselves with an Iraqi security force that has more time in training than the young people that we are sending from our country to defend theirs, yet they cannot get the job done. It is time to ratchet up diplomacy, make the Iraqis accountable for their own security, and kick off the training wheels that we have tethered them to.
Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) (video - text)- This was a bruiser

With the last vote for the war, regardless of what party you were in or how you voted, we assumed that the President and the Secretary of Defense would send our troops over there with the proper equipment. But with this escalation, Mr. Speaker, we know that the 21,500 troops that are going to go over there will not have the proper Humvee kits, the up-armor for their HUMVEES. They won't have the proper jamming devices or enough of them, and they won't have the number of trucks that they need.

You now know it. So if you vote against this resolution, you are voting to send our troops over there without the proper equipment, before it could be excused because we trusted the President, assumed, but now we know.
Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) (video - text) -I met Rep. Upton years ago when I lived in Michigan, and he really impressed me as a straight shooter. He lived up to my impressions this day.

Mr. Speaker, I am one that believes that the vote authorizing the war was based on evidence that was flat-out wrong. Let’s not continue to ignore the real situation and the mistakes of the past. It is time, it is time for the Iraqis, not the United States, to lead after 4 years. We need to send a message to our troops that, yes, we support them, and, for this administration, a signal for them to pursue a diplomatic surge involving the region.
Representative Steve Israel (D - NY) (video - text)- This was a great one.

Our troops are not afraid of democracy being waged on the floor of the House of
Representatives. And, in fact, on the chance that our enemies are listening to this debate, let me suggest that this debate doesn't give aid and comfort to our enemies. It tells our enemies what democracy is about. So for our enemies who may be listening: welcome to democracy. This is what it sounds like, this is what it looks like, and this is what we are willing to fight for.

What our service members deserve to hear is the truth. What they deserve is a
government that confronts reality rather than simply hoping for the best. So here is the truth, Mr. Speaker: somewhere between those who believe that we can stay the course in Iraq indefinitely and those who believe that we should leave Iraq tomorrow is the painful truth. The truth is that neither of those options will work.


I visited my VA hospital yesterday, and I saw men and women in wheelchairs and gurneys. It didn’t say Republican or Democrat on those wheelchairs and gurneys. When the time came, they went to fight for us. Our obligation is to stand by them, not with sound bites, not with policies that haven’t worked before, but with new ideas for a stronger country.

Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) (video - text) - He voted for the Resolution, however he did voice some of my observations that this resolution didn't do enough and limiting the debate and the ability to bring the amendments the Democrats and Republicans wanted was a disservice.

At this point, it seems clear to many that only Iraqi interests, not ours, can be advanced on the streets of Baghdad. U.S. and coalition forces were tasked as protectors of Iraq’s hard-won sovereignty, not referees in unchecked sectarian vendettas. From here, the surge looks much more like the status quo on steroids than a serious alternative policy to reach a realistic goal. Some way must be found to cut the Gordian knot that ties us to an Iraq strategy that says we can neither win nor leave.

Garrett's Floor Speech on Iraq

Mr. Speaker, the authors of this resolution say that we should provide our troops with all the resources they need, whether it be armor, bullets and Humvees. That is, all the resources they need, except two; and I would argue they are the two most critically important ones: manpower and the support of our national leaders.

This Democratic resolution can be summed up in three simple words, to ``stay the course.'' The irony here is inescapable. Just months ago the very same supporters of this resolution derided the Pentagon and the White House for proposing to stay the course, but today they bring exactly that same strategy to life in their resolution.

This resolution doesn't propose a new course of action. It doesn't have the courage of its author's rhetoric, convictions, to change the course of the war. It simply states that this Congress will not support the new approach proposed by our new commander and the Iraq Study Group.

General Petraeus, the chief architect of this new plan, was confirmed unanimously by the Senate, and yet many in that body and this body are adamantly opposed to this very strategy he now seeks to implement. So it begs the question: If the general is the right man for the job, then why is his plan now not appropriate?

They claim to support the troops but seek to undercut their new leader's strategy. How can we support the troops when we insist that their orders are faulty? We cannot praise the general out of one side of our mouth while mocking him out of the other.

We have heard it said that this resolution calls for a new direction in Iraq. But I defy those who say this, to say what that new direction is. It is certainly not apparent in this resolution. This resolution is only an empty opposition to the Commander in Chief's plan to deploy the Armed Forces as the generals on the field see fit.

This two-sentence resolution, sense of Congress, is not a new plan for victory. In fact, it is not even a new plan for bringing the troops home now, but to leave them in the field with under-manpower. It is little more than a gift to our enemies who have been patiently awaiting the American naysayers to erode the American confidence in our mission.

Our enemies do not lack morale, and we fuel their exuberance with this drive for success every time they hear us speculate on withdrawal. Our enemies are fighting us, against us and our servicemen and our allies, with the belief that each headline brings them closer to victory.

Our brave men and women in uniform are up to the task. But they need our support, not empty proposals that doubt their ability to secure the peace.

Millions of peaceful Iraqis are struggling to rebuild their Nation after the cruel reign of Saddam. They want an opportunity to build a better future for their children, and they ask for our help to secure that peace.

Will we now stand aside while al Qaeda and Iran support factions that would enslave them once again? You know, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who knew the repercussions of failing to support those nations that are struggling for liberty, when he said, and I quote: ``Enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people's freedom.''

FDR also declared that we are committed to full support of all those resolute people everywhere who are resisting aggression and are thereby keeping war away from our hemisphere. We cannot have peace in Iraq by handing over those who have worked to build a Nation based on freedom and justice and peace, turn it over to those violent brethren who seek only destruction of those principles. Make no mistake about it: If we stay the course, as this resolution would have us do, it will not be long before this war returns to our shores

  • [Begin Insert]

I would like to end with the words of two individuals. The paths they have traveled to now and the paths they desire to take in the future could not be any more different. But, they are equally strong in the passion they bring to their beliefs. And, their words should be instructive to us in this debate.

First are the words of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. He says: ``We have drunk blood in the past, and we find no blood sweeter than that of the Christians. Know that offense is the best form of defense, and be careful not to lay down your weapons before the war is over.'' While we quibble over words here on the floor of the House of Representatives, our enemies speak

[Page: H1698]  GPO's PDF
with frightening clarity of conviction. Can there be any doubt that this resolution solidifies the resolve of the jihadists he leads and inspires?

In stark contrast are the words of one of my constituents, Ron Griffin, who 45 months ago lost his son, Kyle, an Airborne Infantryman serving in Iraq. ``We never felt lost or alone for we were literally carried through our sorrow by the resolute, soothing and comforting hands of countless human beings whom I only hope can truly understand how they made life worth living. . . . What I see [now] is a people pummeled into acquiescence. The loss of these wondrous warriors is of itself a weight that is almost unbearable to struggle under, but when accompanied by the din of negativity it becomes to most people a burden.''

Can there be any doubt that this resolution does nothing more than add to the din of negativity of which Mr. Griffin speaks?

I have faith that we can stand strong. I oppose this empty resolution to stay the course. I stand up for an America that is just and free and a friend to those who seek liberty and peace.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Talk about tone deaf

So, I went onto Representative Garrett's page to see if he had posted his comments yet, but he hasn't. Instead, I found his press release about his intentions for the day. Either they didn't completely think the wording of this release through, or this is how utterly out of touch he is with the priorities of military families and the very nature of this conflict. You can read the entire release here.

Congressman Garrett will introduce two bills that will provide real support for our troops serving in combat zones and their families. The Armed Forces Tax Relief Act of 2007 and the Strengthening America’s Military Families Act of 2007 will help relieve the financial burden of deployment by exempting troops in active combat zones from federal payroll taxes and allowing spouses of troops serving in active combat zones to claim the same tax exemptions as their deployed spouses.

It is actually a good idea (along with a significant pay increase for the military), which could help families on the home front. However, using an analogy from one of the Republicans opposed to the resolution on Iraq, if Davey Crockett was sitting at the Alamo and he got an e-mail on his Blackberry saying "Guess what, you're getting a tax cut. Keep up the great work", I can't believe he'd be all that impressed.

Garrett has a history of being tone deaf to actual concerns, after all he was the primary sponsor of a bill to apply the child tax credit to stillborn and miscarried babies. A tax cut is nice, but it doesn't do anything to help the situation faced by our men and women over in Iraq. When the stuff is hitting the fan I doubt our men and women are really all that worried about filling out their 1040s. Body armor, armored Humvees, and working equipment rank higher on the list of things they could use. Yes, the tax cut is a good idea but "real support" it is not.

Garrett Iraq comments tomorrow

I took a late lunch so I could watch Representative Scott Garrett's speech. It wasn't bad, it wasn't great, and after watching so many of these most are really starting to sound the same. Garrett opposes the resolution, although he better expressed his opposition in last week's radio interview. He argued that this resolution simply says "stay the course", which has been a common Republican refrain during this whole thing.

He had the Speaker bust out the gavel twice because his time expired (once he got an extension and once he didn't), so I'm not sure if his whole statement will make it into the Congressional Record. If you want to see it, C-SPAN will have it on this site eventually. I'll also post the quotes from other speeches that I liked, hopefully by tomorrow as well, but maybe Saturday.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Garrett "should...be in significant trouble"

It comes as no surprise that Representative Scott Garrett is garnering special attention from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for the 2008 race (Presidential campaigns aren't the only ones that start a year early). This comes from The Hill:

In the state’s 5th district, Republican Rep. Scott Garrett should, by all traditional measures, be in significant trouble heading into 2008.

Garrett won last year with 55 percent of the vote, and a consultant familiar with the district said he has continued to be successful largely because of historically Republican Bergen County, part of which Garrett represents.

The problem, or problems, for Garrett lie in a county GOP that was once consolidated and strong, but in recent years has fallen into near-total disarray — the Rothenberg Report recently noted the party’s county headquarters was padlocked earlier this year because of failure to pay rent.

The phones at the county headquarters are apparently disconnected; repeated calls to the number listed on its website were met with an operator’s message.

That “collapse,” as the consultant put it, could lead to a primary challenge for Garrett, opening the door to an early-funded Democrat riding the strength of a county Democratic Party that has grown in influence.

With all the loathing for Garrett I heard from Republicans while I was campaigning, I'm sure the consultant quoted is already talking to someone interested in taking Garrett on in the primary.

God Bless C-SPAN

I've been able to spend the better part of this evening listening to and/or watching the Iraq debate, streaming on-line, while working on another project. Most of the debate has been civil, although it's been getting testier as the night goes on. I'll post some of the better speech segments from both sides when I can. In the meantime, you can check out the soundbites the Associated Press has plucked here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

MUST READ: David Broder on the Budget

If you really want a breakdown of exactly how people like Representative Scott Garrett are misrepresenting the truth about the President's budget proposal, read David Broder's column printed today in The Record. I've gone through it and looked at the tables referenced, and he's accurate in his reporting of what the proposal has in it. Here are some of the highlights:

It would be wonderful were deficits to disappear -- if only it were true. But on the final page of the document, in Table S-10 on Page 172, one learns the disturbing truth. In fiscal 2012, the president's target year, the gross federal debt will -- by his own estimate -- grow by $372 billion.

How can this be? Well, the Page 1 claim is achieved by ignoring or minimizing a bunch of real-world challenges. For example, the president proposes just a one-year patch for the growing problem of the alternative minimum tax, which is whacking more and more middle-class families who thought they were beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts. The one-year fix would cost the treasury $47.9 billion, but no revenue is lost in the next four years -- because Bush just ignores the problem.


As he noted, Table S-7 shows that the $61 billion surplus Bush claims for 2012 -- using all the gimmicks he can find -- is achieved only by counting on the $248 billion in anticipated Social Security surpluses that year to wipe out the $187 billion deficit rolled up by all the other activities of the federal government.

In other words, Bush is borrowing from Social Security to achieve his budget surplus -- and that money will have to be repaid out of future taxes, or beneficiaries will suffer.


In fiscal 2006, the past year, the total federal debt was $8.45 trillion. In 2012, by Bush's optimistic estimate, it will reach $11.49 trillion. That is $3 trillion of added debt in just six years.

More and more of that debt is held by foreign countries. Another table, buried back on Page 234 of a supplemental volume, shows that the foreign holdings of U.S. government securities have more than doubled in the past five years, going from just over $1 trillion to $2.1 trillion. Japan and China are our largest creditors, increasing their leverage over our economy. And Uncle Sam has become the world's biggest borrower.

That's another fact you won't find anywhere in this budget.

This is a far cry from the fiscal conservatism that is supposed to be at the heart of Republican values I grew up with. While the article does point to the fact that the budget is the most honest when in comes to entitlement programs, because of the false promise of a balanced budget by 2012 the President has lost any strength in his arguments.

The debt Washington is straddling future generations with is immoral, because as noted above, it increases the leverage on our economy of places like China. Defending such actions when the facts are on the table, and misrepresenting the intentions of those sounding the alarm is inexcusable.

36 hours, 15 minutes

Starting tomorrow, the House will be debating a non-binding resolution on Iraq, giving each member 5 minutes to speak their mind. I'll be curious to see how it turns out, simply because the House is more partisan than the Senate, yet doesn't have the parliamentary tricks to block the vote. I fear it's going to turn into a "We Support the Troops more than you do" kindergarten finger pointing exercise. Meanwhile, the resolution doesn't provide any teeth.

I've heard the Republicans have an alternative, calling for a non-partisan commission to oversee the "surge." The problem is, the last non-partisan commission to offer the President advice was largely ignored, so I'm not sure how effective a new one would be. While it seems there are a lot of ideas of how to resolve the crisis, because of how bitter and partisan the debate has become, combining the best ideas of each proposal and getting it through the House or the Senate seems impossible. The ultimate losers of the partisanship on the Hill are our soldiers in Iraq.

American voters knew, despite the promises, that this would happen and this unfortunate reality was reflected in polls leading up to and following the election. We all support our troops, and it would be nice if those in leadership could put down the partisan dangers for a second, stop trying to score cheap political points and get to work. My belief is our soldiers would trade 30 minutes of a discussion that generated some results, instead of 36 hours of partisan grandstanding over a non-binding resolution, any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I'll post Representative Garrett's five minutes, as well as any other ones that are poignant.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Budget Double Talk

Overall, yesterday's interview of Rep. Garrett on The Brian Lehrer Show was actually interesting. The one point to make, to his credit, is that he criticised the President's budget for not dealing with the AMT. He laid out the importance of such a reform for our area, and much of the Northeast. It seemed as though he was on a roll, but then he applauds the President for proposing a budget that can be balanced in five years. By the time of the interview, Garrett had to know the way the President's plan is drawn there won't be AMT relief. While he sounds sensible in the interview, he is once again engaging in double talk and being "disingenuous" (must have been his word of the day, because he kept saying it). If the only way, in a real sense, that the President's financial outlook can balance the budget is by ensnaring more middle income families in the AMT, we need Garrett serving as a roadblock and not simply a worn down speed bump talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Bergen Dems stood up to the Boss

I wrote in an earlier post about the war going on in the Bergen County Democratic Organization, pitting the will of the Chairman against that of the county committee members that didn't support his cronies. Regardless of which party you fall into, the ability of the people to choose their own representation is at the heart of our government. The good guys won, and the Democratic Party will be better for it.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Talking 'bout Money, Money, Money...Money

Representative Garrett's still on the defensive about his vote against a round of Hurricane Katrina aid. His website now is running an "In Case You Missed It" spot touting how the government is trying to recoup funds from fraud, waste and abuse related to the recovery efforts. When voting against the package, to his credit, he gave as his reason for voting against the aid a lack of controls against such fraud. Granted, it's unclear which pot the money that was abused came from, the package he voted against or the package he voted for, but we'll let him have his moment of prideful chest beating.

In the same vein though, let's apply the same "In Case You Missed It" attitude to the President's budget proposal. There are two very big problems for our area in the proposal. First are the myriad of cuts to police, fire departments and hospitals which will inevitably lead to increased property taxes as the state and towns are forced to pick up the tab. In addition, there would likely be an increase in health insurance premiums as hospitals diligently continue providing care for those whose funding is being taken away, passing the cost to those of us fortunate enough to have health insurance.

Second, is in order to project a budget surplus in 2012 while making permanent the "temporary" tax cuts enacted a few years back, the President needs to bring in a trillion (with a t) more dollars from the alternative minimum tax (AMT). While a temporary fix is in place preventing more NJ families from falling into the AMT trap this year, it expires after next year. It has been documented for years that the AMT entrapment is spreading, and this is a large part of how the President's plan balances the budget.

But now, due to inflation coupled with administration tax policies, the AMT is hitting millions of ordinary families, many earning well under $100,000 a year. Within five years, 37 percent of people earning between $50,000 and $75,000 and 73 percent of those with incomes between $75,000 and $100,000 will pay the AMT, compared with less than 3 percent three years ago. Nearly all families earning over $100,000 will pay it, according to a Brookings Institution study.
So, realistically speaking, as laid out the President is planning on a massive tax hike for families in our District. But, now to the "In Case You Missed It" part, here's what Garrett's had to say about the budget so far:
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, said the president's budget represents "a positive step" toward that goal, and warned against Democrats' raising taxes to afford more spending.
"Every family in America must set priorities and make difficult decisions when putting together a household budget, and the federal government should be no different," said Garrett, a member of the House Budget Committee. "I hope that my friends on the other side of the aisle will remember that ... every dollar that goes into the federal budget is a dollar that comes out of a family budget."
However, Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, saw things the opposite way. He praised Bush for adopting the "common sense, bipartisan goal" of balancing the federal budget within five years.
And this from Garrett's Website:

For instance, the budget request projects a drop in the Federal deficit over the next four years, leading to a $61 billion surplus in 2012. Also, the budget plan will balance the Federal budget within five years.

I saved that one for last, because it's important to note the projected $61 billion surplus is for the BUDGET in 2012 and not, as is inferred, wiping out the $8 trillion federal deficit we are currently saddled with. Now, it's going to take a while to get through all the source material, and truth be told I'll be relying on both conservative and liberal media to point me in the right directions, but this proposal is by all early accounts a very raw deal for New Jersey. Granted, the budget is months away from being complete, but I just can't believe in the early stages, with his support, Garrett is advocating higher property taxes and the extension of the AMT to more families in our area.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Deserved, but misplaced rage

Yesterday, the House voted to approve the massive appropriations bill HR 20, the Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2007. The was a merger of all the spending bill's the 109th didn't pass before they left to campaign or once they returned during the lame duck session. I'm not sure why the Republicans couldn't pass the spending bill, but they left it to the Democrats. This inaction is going to cost our District roughly $16 million in earmarked grants that had been included in the bills the Republicans didn't pass.

Rep. Scott Garrett released the following statement regarding the bill, probably because he knows he's going to need to be on record explaining why he voted against certain programs, included in this bill, come election time (I could write a half dozen radio ads right now).

Reform means nothing if it only applies to everybody else. For all the political grandstanding by the Democrats over the last few months, their actions today show that they have no plans to make good-governance, reform, or transparency priorities during their tenure in the majority. I voted against this bill today because I believe that allowing an elite few from one party to unilaterally decide how to spend $463 billion of hard-earned taxpayer dollars is a betrayal of the principles of accountability, transparency, and bipartisanship that the Democrats themselves called for just three short months ago.
Now, on the one hand I don't think it's right that they limited debate and amendments on a spending bill. Garrett's right, it's our money and Representatives should be able to debate certain things. On the other hand, this is the grave the Republicans who didn't get voted out of office last November dug for themselves when they failed at delivering the appropriations bills in December. This is one of the most basic of responsibilities for members of the House, and the Republicans didn't get it done.

Instead, the Republicans spent hours debating or speaking about resizing park borders, congratulating social service organizations for their service, renaming buildings, and increasing swimming pool safety. A good bit of time was spent on the India Nuclear deal. To varying degrees, these were important issues, but passing the appropriations bills should have taken precedent. Now, you have protest statements from the Republicans about how things were handled, when they are the ones to blame for being in the situation in the first place.

The good news is, this omnibus bill freezes almost all spending levels from the previous budget, so there isn't a huge increase in government spending. The bad news is the loss of funds to those projects here in our district and throughout the state. Several, like the West Milford Streetscape project, had the big check presentation with Garrett already. The money's not gone, but Congressmen will now have to deal with the agencies under which the money had been earmarked. It will be a fight to get it, and we'll see how Garrett does.