Friday, March 30, 2007

The Budget Spin Cycle

Well, with passage yesterday of the House Budget, the spin season officially began. From now until every expenditure bill is passed, we'll have pleanty of spin to point to. Garrett and the entire Republican delegation from New Jersey voted against the budget. At issue is the lack of an extension of the Bush Tax cuts, so let's see what Representative Scott Garrett's website had to say about the budget (underlining his).
So what does this Democrat plan mean for taxpayers in North Jersey? According to the non-partisan taxpayer advocacy group, Americans for Tax Reform, the average New Jersey taxpayer will see their taxes skyrocket by an average of $3,780.

Sounds and looks scary. Obviously, Garrett touting a study by the New York Times that I'm really starting to think doesn't exist wasn't scary enough. So, in an effort to ratchet up the fear factor Garrett turned to Americans for Tax Reform. They're about as non-partisan as I am when the Mets play the Braves or my best friend is when the Yankees play the Red Sox. They started the scheme known as the K Street Project and were the middle man for Jack Abramoff's defrauding of Native American tribes. In my completely non-legal yet morally grounded opinion ATR's Executive Director Grover Norquist belongs in jail with his good friend Jack Abramoff. However, these are the folks Garrett looks to for information.

Here's what the AP says about the future of the tax cuts.

As a practical matter, the future of the Bush tax cuts will likely be decided after the 2008 presidential election, with their fate depending on the balance of power after the election and on the fiscal outlook at that time.

Basically, your taxes aren't going up next year or the year after (unless you're pinched by the ever expanding AMT). The question will be what is done before the tax cuts expire after 2010. In an effort to deal with it before then, unlike the last few years, a Republican budget plan was put forward that preserved the tax cut as is. Here's what Garrett's site had to say about that.

In contrast to the Democrat budget, Congressman Garrett supported a budget alternative that would have balanced the budget and stopped the raid on Social Security funds without raising taxes.

Sounds pretty good, especially if you consider Garrett had previously supported the Bush Budget which, as I've pointed out before, would have raided Social Security to balance the budget. Yet here, from the AP once again, is exactly how that proposal balanced the budget.

Republicans countered with an alternative plan cutting $279 billion from federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years — far greater cuts than Bush proposed in February.
So to save Social Security, the alternative budget attacked the elderly and the defenseless more than the original Bush Budget. The vote was actually a Garrett to 12 on this one, with the rest of our fair state's congressional delegation voting against the alternative. Garrett obviously didn't get the memo, but I'm glad to see the rest of our delegation accepts the fact that the budget shouldn't be balanced on the backs of our society's most vulnerable members.

Eventually, some version of the Bush Tax cuts will be enacted with some major revisions. In all likelihood, gone will be the provisions that trap more families with the AMT; gone will be the provisions that give foreign companies an advantage over domestic ones; and gone will be the myriad of loopholes that have those with incomes over $1 million (240,000 filers in 2004) paying a lower tax rate than those making $500,000 - $1 million (433,000 filers in 2004

I realize as a co-sponsor of the 2003 cut, Garrett either isn't allowed to acknowledge or can't see these issues as a problem. He'd have the tax cuts reenacted as they are, and continue indefinitely the errors he and others made with the original round. Fortunately, the majority of Republicans and Democrats largely acknowledge the benefits of the tax cut in certain areas and the problems with it in others. Rhetoric like Garrett's doesn't help fix the problems and further isolates him from the negotiating table when making the tax cut better comes up

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Good Votes, But We need a Source

So far, it's been a pretty good week for the Fifth. Representative Scott Garrett has voted pretty much the way I think most of the people in our District would have, with the exception of a vote against outlawing blades used to make cockfights more gruesome. Other than that, we've seen him vote for environmental protection, money for transit security (as a daily rider of NJ Transit, this is a big one for me), more money for disabled veterans, and probably most surprising, his vote for limiting the term of interim Federal prosecutor appointments.

As great as all this is, one thing about this week is more problematic than supporting the cockfighting blades. In both the Garrett Gazette and on the floor the other night, Garrett imparted this little bit of "wisdom."

Let’s take a look at what the Democrat budget proposal would do to a family of four from Bergen County earning $70,000 per year. According to a study done by the New York Times, that family saw their tax bill slashed by 20% after the Republican congress passed tax relief measures between 2001 and 2003. To roll those tax cuts back now would take around $1,500 out of that family’s budget today.
The reason I used the quotes up top is because I can't find the article. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, I just can't find the article. I've searched the New York Times website using several keywords including "Democrats Budget", "Bush Tax Cut", "House Budget", "Bergen Family of Four" and "$70,000".

The search turned up a lot of recent stuff, including: The Garrett co-sponsored 2003 Bush Tax cuts are giving foreign businesses a competitive advantage over domestic ones; The Democrats balance the budget without providing AMT relief (same as Bush); The AMT now impacts 23.4 million of the nation's 90 million taxpayers with help from the Bush tax cuts; and a story about how long term health insurers are denying care for thousands of senior citizen policyholders. With all of this and much more, I couldn't find the study Garrett cited.

My hope is that this is not another example of Garrett misrepresenting the truth after having such a good start to the week. A link or where we could find the article in a hard copy would be helpful if somebody has one. With all sides firing up the spin machines over their budget proposals, I'll have enough to write about without needing another example. However, if in fact the article doesn't exist, that opens up a whole new can of worms.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Small Step Forward for Rep. Garrett

One of my most consistent criticisms of Representative Scott Garrett has been his complete lack of accountability. Whether it was as one of the earliest parts of my platform last year, to recently writing about yet another mysterious vote against the victims of Katrina, Garrett's evasiveness is one of his greatest failings as a Representative that I feel has earned constant criticism.

Today, in what can only be described as a step in the right direction, Rep. Garrett's website posted this week's tentative legislative calendar. While it doesn't list how he's leaning on voting on the different resolutions, it does give constituents the opportunity to go to THOMAS, look up the bills, and contact Garrett if they are so inclined. While this is a far cry from the ideals I have about communication between Representatives and constituents, it is a small step forward.

While he's made progress in this regard, Garrett chose to regurgitate his spin about the Bush Budget in this week's Garrett Gazette. As noted in an earlier post, The Bush Budget plan can only achieve balance by raiding the Social Security Trust and eliminating AMT relief. I haven't had a chance to read the Democrats' budget, which prompted Garrett's message; however it's been widely established that Bush's Budget is a raw deal for New Jersey. If Garrett would take a small step back, as with communication, maybe he could see what others already know and stop advocating a budget proposal that will hurt North Jersey's taxpayers, emergency responders, hospitals and seniors.

Don't Throw Rodney Under the Bus

Here's a lesson for those who may seek a nomination for a State or County office: don't throw a sitting member of Congress from your own party under the bus.

I had great hope for Steve Oroho, a Sussex County Freeholder talking about being a "true conservative" and doing things differently in his campaign for the State Senate in the 24th District. In looking at what Representative Scott Garrett is doing in Congress and how Guy Talarico has hurt the Republican Party in Bergen County, the 24th District having the last remaining Mountain Man as their primary voice in Trenton could be a bad thing. I've written before about the need to work with the other party, and Guy Gregg's philosophy is not one of cooperation. Oroho seems to have a good team and a blend of moderate to conservative candidates on his ticket, with a realistic view of representation.

However, at the first sign of "trouble", the dual endorsement of Gregg by both Congressmen serving the Legislative District he hopes to represent, Oroho decided to descend quickly into the labeling and trashing of Representative Rodney Freylinghuysen. While attempting to discredit Gregg, who is as conservative as Garrett, Oroho attacked Rep. Freylinghuysen on his abortion and gun voting record. It was the classic ridiculousness of the "Republican in Name Only" (RINO) attack that's been going on for the better part of a decade now. However, because Freylinghuysen is who he is, GOP leaders are demanding an apology.
Morris GOP Chairman John Sette and Morris County Freeholder Director Margaret Nordstrom said Oroho "went too far" in criticizing Frelinghuysen after he and Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.) both endorsed Gregg this week.

"He owes Rodney an apology," said Nordstrom. "He should know there's a grown-up way to act if someone doesn't endorse you."

In my hope for a change in the direction politics has been going the last few years, it's an unfortunate development. With State Senator Lorretta Weinberg and her slate running against Papa Joe's machine in the southeast corner of the District, I was hopeful there would be a solid ticket of folks running in the northwestern part of the District against the overly caustic conservative cannibalism that's been going on the last few years.

With retiring State Senator Robert Littell as his guide, who has a distinguished career and record of serving his constituents while practicing bi-partisanship, Oroho could have worked to change the nature of the Republicans' race to the right and change the focus to results instead of rhetoric. However, it doesn't seem that's the case. Obviously, this isn't over yet, but as of now at least it seems to be more politics as usual.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Gardasil Debate

When it comes to decisions about kids, I believe parents have the ultimate right to decide how things are going to go as long as they're not putting the kids in harm's way (beating them, pumping them full of cocaine, etc.). That's part of the reason the way Merck was lobbying to have Gardasil be mandatory for young girls to attend public school made me uneasy.

If God blessed me with a daughter, despite genetic predisposition to sons, I know I'd get the shot for her. As a vaccine it is 100% effective against certain strains of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer, and over 70% effective against other strains which may also lead to cancer. The vaccine seems to be a no brainer to me.

As uncomfortable with with the government mandate as I am, it's come to my attention how some folks don't quite understand what's at stake here. You'll see comments like this from fathers:
When you are talking about 8, 9, 10, 11-year-old girls who are not sexually active and most likely will not be sexually active until their maturity, there is no medical necessity for that.
or this:

Parents are going to know the difference between that child, who, as you described before, may be 11 years old and in many circumstances no way, shape or form is going to be sexually active; and parents know other children, 15, 16 years old have been, are starting to be sexually active, in which case this treatment, the shot or what have you, would be appropriate.
There are several issues with this logic. First, it shows a complete lack of understanding of what a vaccine is. With Gardasil, as with any vaccine, a woman has to have it before contact with the HPV virus. Vaccines are for inoculations, and this particular one takes shots spread over a few months to be effective. It's not like picking up antibiotics at the pharmacy and all of a sudden you're inoculated. If the daughter has become sexually active, and she comes in contact with a "dirty dog" who either hasn't been truthful or hasn't been tested, it's game over. Since guys don't usually show any signs of the cancerous strains, they won't know they've got it and the vaccine is the only way to be sure a woman won't contract those strains.

The second issue is that both of these quotes were said by our very own Representative Scott Garrett the other night on the House floor. Obviously, I would hope my Representative would understand what a vaccine is. In addition, it is hypocritical that Garrett votes against a bill protecting parents from being forced to administer overprescribed drugs like Ritalin, but then say they can't be forced to prevent their daughters from getting cancer. Also, I would have hoped after the Terri Shiavo disaster we would have seen the last of members of Congress dispensing medical advice on the floor.

I still don't support the mandate, but with potentially fatal ignorance being entered into the Congressional Record I'm starting to have second thoughts. If you've never read a testimonial of those going through cervical cancer you can go to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition and read lots of them. No matter what level it is, it sounds terrifying. Granted, not everyone gets it like this, but ignorance is no excuse for not preventing this now that we have a vaccine:
I was diagnosed in April 2006, and underwent a radical hysterectomy in May 2006,
removing my uterus, cervix, upper part of my vagina, and some lymph nodes and additional tissue. Unfortunately, the lymph nodes and the upper part of my vagina came back positive for cancer, and I underwent 5 doses of Cisplatin chemotherapy and 28-30 doses of external radiation and 3 internal doses. That finished in July of 2006, and I thought all was well. In January of 2007, my pap came back abnormal. Then the DR. took more biopsies, and those and my CAT scan showed that my cancer had returned. I am now scheduled in early March to undergo a procedure called Pelvic Exenteration - where the Dr.'s remove my bladder, vagina, and rectum, leaving me with a urostomy to replace my bladder, and a colostomy to replace my rectum.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Garrett as Usual

As I pretty much expected, Representative Scott Garrett still hasn't posted an explanation on his website and said nothing on the House floor about why he'd be voting against the Katrina Aid. It's another insult to those who lost everything, another insult to those from our District who have recognized the need for Americans to help Americans, and an insult to those who expect accountability from our Representatives.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Garrett votes against Katrina Victims Again

In another 12 to Garrett vote, the New Jersey delegation stood up with our fellow Americans impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Once again, Representative Scott Garrett has voted against providing support to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Without a press statement, I don't want to put words in his mouth. I'll post more on this tomorrow after I have the chance to see what if anything he said on the floor before he voted against the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act of 2007.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

NJ's Rights Attacked (Again)

One of the fundamental beliefs I've held for the entire time I've been politically conscious is that while the Federal government sets minimum standards, it is a State's right to determine if those standards adequately protect it's population. Granted, there will always be issues where the interest of the nation leads to standards above what some States would like, the number of those issues is where the classic divide between Republicans and Democrats stands. However, up until the Bush Administration, it was almost unheard of that the Federal government would attempt to trump a State's right to enforce a more stringent safety standard than the Federal one. Now, for at least the third time in less than a year the Administration is attacking New Jersey's right to protect us.

First, it was an Administration supported bill aimed at eliminating New Jersey's right to label the food we buy at the supermarket as we saw fit (Rep. Garrett voted against this bill and it died in the Senate). Then, it was the EPA announcing an increase in the amount of pollutants like mercury and lead a company could dispose of in the environment before they reported how they did it. Now, it is the Department of Homeland Security continuing it's march toward an April 4th change in regulations that would weaken New Jersey's regulations on the chemical plants we have in our state that contribute to New Jersey being home to the "Two most dangerous miles in America."

At a hearing held by Senator Frank Lautenberg in Newark yesterday, a Deputy for DHS Lawrence Stanton had this to say:
"The federal government has a role to play as well as the states, and we believe as a matter of principle that these things can be worked out," Stanton said.

The Homeland Security Department plans to preempt a local or state rule only when the rule would "frustrate" Washington's ability to secure plants, he promised.
That's all well and good, and would make sense if it wasn't an established fact that our security regulations are the most stringent in the nation, so preempting only stands to make us less safe. With NJ's population density and seven plants within range of a million people, our tougher standards are intended to prevent another Bhopal disaster. In a worst case scenario at one of those seven plants, the loss of life from Bhopal(15,000) compared to what New Jersey would suffer is akin to comparing the loss of life from Hurricane Katrina (1,836) to the 2004 Tsunami (229,866). It would be Bhopal on steroids.

This dangerous change in DHS policy came before the Senate last year at the behest of the Administration, and they rejected the idea of endangering us by weakening our regulations. Still, the Administration announced the DHS regulations on their own, the Friday afternoon before Christmas (so no one would notice). And what noble cause, national security and public safety requirement dictates our State getting watered down Federal regulations: Corporate interests.

During the hearing yesterday, Stanton acknowledged that his understanding was that the chemical lobby would prefer to have the weaker Federal regulations trump our State's right to protect us. While corporate interests were not so explicitly rolled out with the DHS proposal initially, when the EPA rolled out the weaker reporting requirements they didn't mince words, citing the billions their proposal would save business. Seeing a jarring public health and safety conflict with relaxing the EPA standards, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) requested the Government Accountability Office to look into how this rules change transpired. Here is a bit of what they reported to the Senate a couple weeks ago:
Although we have not yet completed our evaluation, our preliminary observations indicate that EPA did not adhere to its own rulemaking guidelines in all respects when developing the proposal to change TRI reporting requirements. We have identified several significant differences between the guidelines and the process EPA followed. First, late in the process, senior EPA management directed the inclusion of a burden reduction option that raised the Form R reporting threshold, an option that the TRI workgroup charged with analyzing potential options, had dropped from consideration early in the process. Second, EPA developed this option on an expedited schedule that appears to have provided a limited amount of time for conducting various impact analyses. Third, the decision to expedite final agency review, when EPA’s internal and regional offices determine whether they concur with the final proposal, appears to have limited the amount of input they could provide to senior EPA management.
They rushed the process not to protect the public interest or safety, but because they had already received over 118,000 letters in opposition (out of about 120,000) to the plan. There is no way this ever would have gotten through the House, let alone the Senate. The same mode of operation is being used with regard to the DHS attack on our chemical safety laws. They couldn't get it through the Senate, and now the Administration has decided to go through the bureaucracy.

I have no issue with the majority of chemical companies already doing business in our state. While some companies do resist increasing regulations further, the majority have been good partners in disaster planning with First Responders I've spoken with. I also fully understand and appreciate the contributions the chemical industry provides for our State and nation. That said, I also appreciate the fact that they are generating the billions they do with our tougher regulations in place. If other companies wish to tap into our talented and experienced pool of employees, they too can make a profit in NJ without subverting public safety via an overstep of Federal authority.

A large chemical disaster will have one certain outcome, citizen sickness and death. The question is, how many will die and how many will have died unnecessarily if the Administration succeeds? If they haven't already grown the moral fortitude to fight this plan, I hope our entire Congressional delegation will soon be loudly criticizing it, if not they should be held accountable next year.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

BCRO Strikes Back

I discussed in an earlier post the jockeying for influence that goes on during the run up to the Presidential election between county organizations within a party. Following the Sussex County Republicans getting Anthony Carbonetti, a key Rudy Giuliani aide, the Bergen County Republican Organization scored a victory of their own: Rudy Giuliani himself is speaking at the BCRO's Spring Fundraiser.

It will be interesting to see if this can help springboard the BCRO from the position of weakness they've been in for the last few elections. With three Freeholder seats up for election in a year that has seen a number of large property tax revaluations in large towns like Hackensack taking effect, as well as another increase in property taxes proposed by the Democrats in charge, if the BCRO's smart they should be able to pick up a seat or two, maybe even all three. If they could get all three, they'd still be in a minority on the seven person Board, but that is better than having no check against Joe Ferriero's ability to use county taxpayer dollars to reward campaign donors with no-bid contracts.

The Republicans message last election cycle was to tear down the County government, which turned out to be a disaster. Folks would rather pay too much for services than not have them, and if the Republicans have learned from their mistake they may stand a chance. We won't be able to tell what direction the party is going until they announce their Freeholder slate in the coming weeks. However, attracting the biggest star in the Republican universe at the moment is a very good thing for the organization.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Let the Sunshine In

At times, trying to keep up with Representative Scott Garrett is draining. Commonsense stuff and decisions of principle should be no-brainers for Representatives, but not Garrett. Good government practices and openness are things Garrett talks a lot about, but as is often the case when given a chance to back up his words with votes he falls flat on his face. Voters should have guessed something was up when he chose to talk about arranging tours in his weekly newsletter, instead of discussing anything of substance. Now, I've been told when he has time he's gracious enough to conduct the tours himself, but he could have used the newsletter space to discuss why he voted against the clean water bills last week or would vote against the majority of accountability measures that came up this week. The disconnect really brings up one of the fundamental issues I have with his tenure as our Representative: An almost complete lack of accountability.

Maybe I'm too big of an idealist, but this is the information age and the people paying the salary of a Congressman and his staff have a right to know what's going on and more than enough tools exist for him to provide the information. During moments of the campaign when I actually allowed myself to think I might win (these were few), I often thought about the accountability issue. I basically thought about how my Saturdays and Mondays and the allotted District work periods would be spent in the District. Townhall meetings, regional mayors meetings, regional chamber of commerce meetings, visiting every school in the District, etc. Those are the old school techniques with which I'm familiar and are standard (not sure if Garrett does them, but all the good Congresspeople I've known have).

There were also the little things I wanted to do to harness the Internet and bring young folks into the fold. These are things Representatives could and should be doing in this day and age, but painfully few are. After running into so many folks my age and younger who have given up on the process after only having the right to vote for a small number of years, I wanted to find ways to engage more people in the process instead of promoting the institutional indifference we seem to be stuck with. Our generation is getting closer to running the show with each election cycle, and the fewer people engaged in the process, the fewer good leadership choices we'll have down the road and the worse off our nation will be.

While the consistency of his voting makes it relatively easy to guess which way Garrett will vote on our behalf, usually there are no quotes in the Congressional Record, no statements on his website, and no interview with the press explaining why. Other than a parody of his recent votes against increasing protections for whistle blowers, against increasing accountability of the Executive Branch, and against increasing ease of access to information about our government, there is precious little to go on.

To Garrett's credit, he did vote for increasing the transparency of who donates funds to Presidential Libraries (a slick way around the ban on foreign and corporate campaign donations) and for better federal contracting accountability. Unfortunately, I can't even give him a pat on the back for saying the right thing along with doing the right thing (a rarity these days). I'm sure there will be spin forthcoming about protecting taxpayers with his two votes, but what about the other three? On such a fundamental issue as accountability, batting .400 for the week is unlikely to get you into the Hall of Fame and it makes one question whether you believe in a government "for the people, by the people" being accountable to the people.

If Garrett opened up I still wouldn't like the rigidity of his politics, the effect he's having on our District, or the fact he has a blatant disregard for the opinions of the majority of voters in our District. That said, if he opened up and the folks of our District still embraced him, I wouldn't feel like the only reason he's in office is his being a practitioner of the sins of omission and evasion.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Garrett vs. Education in a Nutshell

This is from Representative Scott Garrett's speech from his Constitutional Caucus last night:
Contrary to common modern misconceptions, there is no constitutional right guaranteeing each citizen an education.
While it's true that under House Ethics Rules you cannot rebroadcast floor speeches, there's nothing in the rules about quoting the Congressional Record or reprinting it. This may prove to be one of the most damaging quotes Garrett's ever given, and he should get pounded on it in 2008.

Technically, he's correct that it's not spelled out in the Constitution, and whether or not education is deemed by the people to be covered under the "general welfare" part of Article I, Section 8 is fair game for debate (I'd place a bet on where I think most people stand). However, kind of like Garrett's vote against the 9/11 Commission Recommendations, technicalities won't matter. That just sounds awful.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Garrett drops us to bottom 5.5%

Saw this when I was scanning Blue Jersey, according to the power ranking for our Fifth District is now 411 out of 435. I've used the phrase "minority of the minority" before when describing our District's position on the Hill, and this serves as reinforcement. When the Republicans were in the majority, Representative Scott Garrett was only able to get 1 of 41 bills he sponsored enacted. Due to his unabashed partisanship and sporting a voting record that's more conservative than 97% of the House, our District's position is likely to drop this year instead of climb.

The art of compromise is something that Garrett ran against from the very beginning, and is going to haunt our District the longer he is in office. Garrett is of the Tom Delay school of thought that compromise is a bad thing and that "Real Republicans" according to this mindset don't work with Democrats (sorry, 3% doesn't cut it). I've spoken before about how our former Representative Marge Roukema was targeted by these authoritarians and how Garrett was all too quick to answer their call for a challenger. This conservative cannibalism was also evidenced in primary challenges to Senator Arlen Specter and other good legislators who were targeted for no other reason than refusing to follow the hard right Republican leadership like lemmings at the expense of their constituents.

Closer to home, in New Jersey's 24th District, a battle for State Senate had been brewing between Garrett's friend and fellow "Mountain Man" Assemblyman Guy Gregg and New Jersey's longest serving legislator, retiring Senator Bob Littell. Voters in the 24th should think long and hard about Gregg's attacks that Littell wasn't a "Real Republican." As the State Senator's wife said to PoliticsNJ about her husband:

“He's a Republican,” Virginia Littell says proudly. “Sometimes you vote with the Democrats. Hello! You run in a Republican primary but when you go to the capital the people put you in the general election.”

"You get what you can get through the process of negotiations,” she said. “My husband is not a traitor; he's a trader, a horse trader."

In order to get things done for the District, you have to cut deals when you're in the majority and especially when you're in the minority. Gregg was using the same rhetorical attacks against Littell as Garrett used against Roukema (RINO, etc.). However, in this case, the game has changed. Littell has announced his retirement, and a fusion ticket has emerged in the 24th that seems to be principled, less divisive and more results oriented. Being effective leaders requires both principle and pragmatism. Garrett has plenty of principles he likes to talk about, but absolutely no pragmatism. Of all people, Richard Nixon probably has the best quote on this:
Idealism without pragmatism is impotent. Pragmatism without idealism is meaningless. The key to effective leadership is pragmatic idealism.
My hope for the 24th, as with our Congressional District, is that Republican primary voters will see that the race to irrelevance being run by Representative Garrett serves neither our District nor will it serve the people of the 24th with Gregg.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Garrett, a liberal?

Gave a quick check of Herb Jackson's blog "Capital Games" before heading upstairs, and he has a note about National Journal's annual vote ranking. So, I decided to check it out. Turns out, according to the votes they looked at, Representative Scott Garrett's more liberal than 42.8 percent of the House. Considering the praise he received before his appearance at CPAC, that may raise an eyebrow among his base. However, there are a couple ways to set their mind at ease.

With rankings like the Journal's, it's important to note that the outcome depends on the votes selected. If you analyze every recorded vote, as done by Poole and Lewis, Garrett ranked more conservative than 97% of the 109th House.

Also, in a selective survey it leaves out what Garrett would like to become law. For that a more accurate rating may be the analysis done by, that lists him as a Radical Republican based on a statistical analysis of Bill co-sponsorship (for quality control, I checked Ted Kennedy, who is listed as a Radical Democrat).

So for those who may doubt Garrett's street cred as one of the most conservative members of Congress, never fear, the numbers back up the claim.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Garrett's grudge against drinking water

Update: This bill's passage has major implications for North Jersey. Both The Record and The Herald News carried stories about Representative Bill Pascrell Jr.'s legislation, which was approved among the New Jersey House Delegation, 12 to Garrett.

I've been working on another project this evening and decided to take a break to see what went on in the House today. One bill, and Garrett's vote on it, stood out. He was the only NJ House member to vote against The Water Quality Investment Act of 2007. Basically, it provides grant money to states and towns to help clean up their water by avoiding sewer overrun into streams and such. This was a big problem where I lived in Michigan, where we'd have significant rain and the sewage treatment facilities would overrun and dump raw sewage in the rivers and lakes where people swam and would catch fish for dinner. Fun stuff, huh?

Anyway, Garrett voted against providing money to help fix problems like these, that usual have enormous costs that communities can't afford to fix on their own. At first I was surprised, however, I should have seen this coming, as Garrett has a long running feud with working sanitation and clean water for people to drink and get food from.

Rep. Garrett was one of 14 representatives to vote against "The Goals and Ideas of World Water Day." Here's what was resolved:

(1) supports the goals and ideals of World Water Day;
(2) recognizes the importance of conserving and managing water resources for sustainable development, including environmental integrity and the eradication of
poverty and hunger, and human health and overall quality of life in the United States and across the globe; and
(3) encourages the people of the United States to observe World Water Day with appropriate recognition, ceremonies, activities, and programs to demonstrate the importance of water and water conservation to human kind.

And Garrett voted no.

The other big one was Garrett's vote against the "Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005." It's a bit longer, but lays out the issues and consequences that a lack of clean drinking water has around the world. Basically, it resolves that we should focus our foreign aid on ensuring the availability of working sewers and clean drinking water to prevent, among other things, regional wars and children dying every 15 seconds from preventable disease. Garrett had a few more friends on this one, he was one of 34 to vote against it.

I don't know what Garrett has against providing clean water and working sanitation. Personally, I find his stance on these immoral and somewhat appalling.

Monday, March 5, 2007

A Hat Tip to Rep. Garrett

After watching his CPAC presentation(Afternoon session, 22 minutes in), I was ready to rail against Representative Scott Garrett again. In five minutes he managed to show his loathing for New Jersey's Congressional Delegation, show his ignorance of the importance of the Interstate highway system on commerce, and announced his dead before drafted legislation to gut funding for the Department of Education's Title I (poor children) and No Child Left Behind programs. Gathering facts and figures, I listened to the speech again, wanting to add something about how he's relegated one of the Districts that contributes the most in taxes (ours) to the minority of the minority and his actions are costing us influence in any real discussion of the issues. Armed with a full bottle of Diet Coke and my usual over-sized jar of peanuts, I listened to the speech one more time to see if I had missed anything, and thought to myself: Damn this guy is good.

It's not a defense of his positions, it's a political observation showing appreciation for his skill at rallying the base. I had the same thought after he beat Aronsohn in their radio debate. Here Garrett is, standing in front of an audience of the only people who didn't trip over each other to go see Rudy speak (the moderator asked those leaving to keep the noise down), and he had them cheering at points. Anchoring a group railing against earmarks, in a matter of fact manner he attacked the President and the big government conservatives who cost the Republicans the Congress. In front of his audience, it didn't matter how unproductive his legislation would be or how high our District's property taxes would go if they were passed. In front of that crowd, he was the valiant hero.

This isn't an endorsement of what he does or how he thinks, I'd prefer someone who takes pragmatic steps toward lowering taxes by making government more efficient, as opposed to floating "going nowhere" resolutions. The Bergen County Republicans' shellacking last November proves that voters would rather pay more for services due to corruption and inefficiency than have no services at all. I'd hedge a bet that if you showed his speech to the majority of voters in our District, and they have a true conservative alternative, Garrett might actually lose an election. However, I'm a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due. Garrett's a rising star to his base and when given the opportunity to talk just to them, he shines.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Defending the Defenseless

With it's recent ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court took a major step forward in defending the defenseless. By striking down a number of eligibility restrictions that served as barriers for the developmentally disabled and their families to receive care, our fair state will take a major step forward to providing for those most in need of help. The question now becomes one of money, priorities and morals.

Ranging from high to extremely low functioning folks, I got to see first hand the ranging demands on both caregivers and families while serving at a non-profit housing provider in Michigan. I also learned the harsh reality it is somewhat easy to raise donations for children with developmental disabilities; however funds for adults are harder to come by. Government funding is often the only way to provide services to those in need.

In his effort to curb entitlement (mandatory) spending, particularly Medicaid, developmentally disabled adults and even children are squarely in the cross hairs of President Bush and his fellow "compassionate conservatives" like our own Representative Scott Garrett. Medicaid is a lifeline to roughly 9.9 million people with disabilities and their families, which accounts for 16.5% of Medicaid recipients. The most recent budget proposed by the President and supported by Garrett would cut $28 billion from Medicaid over the next ten years. Here's some of the ways they plan to do it, courtesy of The Arc:

Optional Formulary and Pharmacy Changes: Would adjust pharmacy reimbursement policies and would permit states to operate “closed formularies” that permit states to deny coverage for drugs, even when medically necessary. Under current law, states can restrict access to certain drugs as long as individuals can get
exceptions through prior authorization.

New Limits on IDEA-Related Services: Would phase out Medicaid reimbursement for some services, including some transportation and certain administrative costs related to Medicaid services (e.g. physical, speech, and occupational therapies) provided to special education students;

New Restrictions on Rehabilitation Services: Would define allowable services that can be reimbursed as rehabilitation services (to restrict reimbursement to medical services only). In particular, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) wants to narrow the option to finance medical services only. This approach – which will be incorporated in new regulations later this year – may jeopardize such “habilitative” services as social skills training, employment-related rehabilitation, and some transportation services.

One of the primary goals of any provider of services to the special needs community is to make the lives of those they serve as independent as possible. This varies depending on the individual and their needs, but the cuts outlined above increase the barriers to achieving independence. Transportation, job skills and social skills are integral components of many treatment programs for higher functioning special needs individuals. Eliminating access to certain medications, such as anti-psychotic drugs, can mean the difference between a semi-independent life and being relegated to full-time institutionalization.

It is immoral that Bush and Garrett, among others, see cutting programming to the developmentally disabled as sound fiscal policy. However, if forced to engage the amoral individual, it is also important to point out this is bad fiscal policy. Every family shouldering the burden of these cuts becomes less productive in the workplace, if not having to completely be taken out of the workforce to care for their child or adult child.

Individuals who could live independently or semi-independently with the appropriate training and medical supervision, very well could become wards of the state when their parents die. With the nation's highest autism rate and over 19,000 developmentally disabled adults living with parents over 60 in New Jersey, this should be of very real concern for those watching property taxes. I could go on, but you probably get the point.

We must not continue to balance the budget on the backs of the defenseless simply because they don't have lobbyists. The Constitution empowers Congress to levy taxes to "provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States." While traditional Republicans and Democrats can argue until they're blue in the face over how far that goes, they must unite to stop the conservatives without conscience who are attacking the lifelines of those who can't fight back.