Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bergen Freeholders Debate

I found this video while bouncing around on campaign sites (h/t It doesn't have an embed option, but it's hosted on Google Video so you don't have to go to a political site if you don't want to. For those wanting to watch those running for Freeholder it's the full debate, and I'm glad I got to see it.

Dumbest Excuse of The Campaign

A week after Papa Joe Ferriero admitted he plays a hand in awarding no-bid contracts, BCDO Freeholder Chairman Tomas Padilla has been attributed the lamest excuse against open government I've ever read:

Padilla said that posting the agenda online presents "logistical issues," in that items posted before the meeting could be pulled or tabled during the meeting and may not be accurate within hours of posting.

The bulk of freeholder discussion happens at work sessions a few hours before the general meeting, Padilla said.

If the NFL can update on-line statistics every 30 seconds for every game, at the same time, surely the Bergen County Freeholders can update their agenda to reflect minor changes. "Hours" and "may not be accurate" don't belong anywhere near each other in this day and information age. It's as easy as: "Save As", selecting HTML format, and uploading the revised file. They don't even PDF the things.

In addition to having agendas devoid of content, there are no minutes on the Freeholder website of what they did. We have no way of checking their arguments for or against anything. The Freeholders posted the video of one working meeting, once, and they uploaded the meeting in Quicktime so you have to download the file instead of stream it. They certainly aren't going out of their way to let voters see what's going on. If Al Gore can coordinate a 24 hour on-line concert around the world, surely the Freeholders could set up a webcam and stream the meetings.

Another problem is the Freeholders only post their commemorative resolutions. What about the resolutions awarding no-bid contracts? What about the resolutions cutting or raising taxes? They claim in their literature they've cut taxes, but there is no proof, no recorded vote, nothing. All we as voters get to see are public notices, scattered throughout the Record. Why aren't the public notices published on the website?

There is absolutely no excuse for why any of this isn't done by the Freeholders, except to deliberately shield themselves from public scrutiny.

The Boss and Media Consolidation

I saw a post over at Blue Jersey about how the latest Bruce Springsteen album, Magic, isn't being played by Clear Channel owned radio stations. I'm one of the many people Clear Channel drove away from regular radio listening due to their poor programing. I tend to listen to streaming music stations on-line or CDs I buy, so I hadn't really noticed. However, when the Number 1 album in the country is not getting any radio play it is a little disturbing.

The folks over at Fox News say it's because Clear Channel has said that Springsteen is too old. The folks at Blue Jersey, and other spots, think it's a repeat of the Dixie Chicks getting blackballed by Clear Channel and other stations after they were critical of the President.

Either reason raises serious questions about media consolidation, and the impact it is and can have in our nation. With the company taking their 1,184 radio stations private, this power to dictate culture and news is now in even fewer hands.

Clear Channel deciding someone is too old to be played, and therefore not allowing them to be heard manipulates the press in a way the Forefathers never imagined. However, because they've done it before, the smart money would be to bet it's politics.

Unlike when the Dixie Chicks exercised their free speech, the nation knows we were lied into war. The actions of the administration and those who mindlessly follow their rhetoric have worn out their welcome. There is no backlash about what Bruce is saying because the vast majority of Americans now know it's the truth.

Now it seems, in an effort to stop a message contradicting the mindless rantings of their Rush "Phony Soldiers" Limbaugh poster child, Clear Channel has quietly banned Bruce. I'm one of the thousands who got up to see The Boss play the Today Show (hence the pics). As I said to a friend, he came out swinging (about a minute in):

As a bonus, The Boss also played one of my favorites with "My Hometown." It was especially moving, and unlikely to be a coincidence, because this was while the Jena 6 were making daily headlines. If you look in the bottom right corner at minute 2:46 you can see my head and eyes. I was singing along, I promise.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Garrett Backs Diwali

On the hypocrisy front, a month after Representative Scott Garrett stayed off a vote acknowledging the start of Ramadan, Garrett voted for a resolution supporting the festival of Diwali.

At the time of the Ramadan vote, Garrett said the following:
There were a number of members who, as we call it down here, 'stayed off' that vote and did not support it because I think that they looked at it as something that Congress really should not be doing, should not be picking one faith out and commending that faith.

Well, here's how the bill Garrett voted for describes Diwali:
Whereas Diwali, a festival of great significance to Indian Americans and the people of India, is celebrated annually by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains throughout the United States and the world.

I count four faiths here. Both of these resolutions should have passed, and both did. Garrett picking which observance to acknowledge and which one not to says more about him than the non-binding resolutions.

Lit Up Like a Firecracker

Well, Representative Scott Garrett's views on SCHIP didn't win him any friends among readers of the Record. Today, the paper published four letters critical of our Congressman.

The Record still hasn't published Garrett's latest Op-Ed on SCHIP, and before folks scream media bias you have to read their guidelines:
We do our best to identify factual errors and make appropriate changes. We don't make significant changes unless we believe they are absolutely warranted. When we do, we contact the author for approval.

The problem is, as I pointed out earlier, Garrett's latest op-ed is an exercise in misinformation. I even went so far as to submit my own Op-Ed as a response. I don't know if they liked it or not, but I think I broke another of the Record's rules:
We welcome assertive, even provocative commentary. But we like to keep the discourse civil. We don't permit personal attacks.

My op-ed pretty much slammed Garrett around, using facts to do it, but it was against him. Once all doubt is removed about whether or not the op-ed will be published, I'll put it up here. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Garrett Seeks to Increase Premiums on Flood Insurance

More often than not, when you see Representative Barney Frank next to our Representative Scott Garrett, the exchange goes something like this:
Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. I yield.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, that, I must say, totally disappoints me. For the third time the gentleman has tried to put words in my mouth. The words ``trust in me,'' the gentleman read that, and the gentleman's distortion, systematic distortion, has gone beyond what I can deal with in a brief intervention. But I will say this: I continually said we should address that in separate legislation. If the gentleman doesn't know the difference between passing legislation which sets guidelines and saying ``trust me,'' then the gentleman understands less in this place than I had hoped he did.
Well, the two of them have teamed up to introduce the HR 3959, to reform the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The Record did a good job of explaining problems with the NFIP program a while back. Here's how Garrett's office described the bill:
The Garrett-Frank bill, H.R. 3959, would require any new purchaser of a pre-FIRM primary residential home that costs over $600,000 to pay phased-in actuarial flood insurance prices using the same phased-in structure that non-residential and non-primary homes are subject to under legislation passed by the House earlier this month.
The bill calls for up to a 15% premium increase every year until the premiums reach actuary equality. The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (the Big “I”) has come out strongly in support of the bill:
“The Big ‘I’ strongly supports the NFIP gradually moving towards actuarially sound rates,” says John Prible, Big “I” assistant vice president for federal government affairs. “We recognize that the NFIP’s need for financial stability must be measured against fairness to the customers we serve, which is why we believe it is important that this legislation is aimed at homes valued at over $600,000 and includes a phase-in mechanism.”
The one question I do have is how residents in the Fifth will be impacted by this change? This may be the first time we've seen Garrett flat-out advocate increased fees for anything, usually he refers to rate increases as a new tax.

It also may be the first time he's aiming such an increase largely at the Bergen County part of the District, where inland home buyers here may end up subsidizing flood insurance for beachfront homes elsewhere. Flood insurance is mandatory in certain areas, and a look over the flood maps lets you realize how this proposal may further increase the costs of home ownership in our District.

This is a continuation of an amendment Garrett had hoped to introduce last month when Congress expanded NFIP to include wind damage. Here's how the Express-Times described Garrett's efforts:
However, it's likely an increase in premiums for homeowners with houses worth more than $600,000 would have constituted a poison pill, making the bill unpalatable for officials from states with high property values and lots of shoreline, e.g., New Jersey.
Admittedly, flood insurance is something I have a very cursory knowledge of, and so this will be one of those issues requiring follow-up on my part. In the meantime, we can't over look the fact he's working with Rep. Frank.

How Hard Is He Really Trying?

One has to wonder with all his statements about the FAA's plans to redesign our airspace, how hard Representative Scott Garrett is actually working to protect our quality of life. As pointed out by Herb Jackson of the Record, Garrett was the only one in the entire Congressional Delegation not to sign a letter demanding that efforts to elevate JFK's delay problems don't burden NJ residents.

I realize I had pointed out that Garrett was taking credit for an amendment he didn't actually introduce on the flight redesign plan, but this was an easy way to go on record as opposing increased noise. Why wouldn't Garrett sign the letter? Was it because he doesn't actually oppose the increased noise in Bergen County? Or was it because his reputation within the delegation is so bad he wasn't invited to join?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Quote of the Week

From State Senate Candidate Steve Oroho at Thursday's 24th District Debate:
"You've heard some very clear differences between my opponent and myself. It doesn't mean Ed's a bad guy. It doesn't mean I'm a bad guy. It just means we're different," Oroho said. "We should all be happy we live in a country where it's OK to be different."
It's so unusual to hear something like this in these days of hyper-partisanship. It reflects the kind of dialogue that can happen when both sides are being honest about their stances. That's not to say there weren't barbs going both ways, but the coverage of the event from the New Jersey Herald made it seem like a constructive debate.

They also covered the Assembly debate here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

SCHIP, Round 3

With the vote yesterday on the 3rd revision of SCHIP, Representative Scott Garrett was able to stand against the State Children's Health Insurance Program yet again. I'll be curious to see what kind of spin they put out this time around. Every "complaint" they had was dealt with, and yet after listening to the debate yesterday it seemed Republicans were entrenched in their spin rich opposition. Of course, Garrett wasn't invited to take the floor, so my guess is if he bothers saying anything at this point it will simply be regurgitation.

Just once in this debate, I'd like Garrett to come out and be honest with voters. This entire debate he's been hiding behind the arguments of others, and misstatements. Every lie has been exposed, so we'll see if Garrett continues repeating them or if he can man up and give us a reason we'll respect. I'm not saying agree with it, I'm saying respect it. Respect for a position requires the individual making the statement to be truthful, and the one giving the respect believing they're dealing with an honest broker. Garrett hasn't been an honest broker since the beginning.

I was re-reading Garrett's first speech, and it gives you an idea of either what an idiot Garrett may be(and I don't think he is) or just how blatantly dishonest he's been in this process:

Just what would that system look like? According to the Census Bureau, and I just got these numbers a little while ago, of the 300 million or so people in this country, 48.3 percent, or roughly 145 million people, live at or below the 300 percent of the Federal poverty level. So we're now considering a new entitlement program for nearly half of the entire population of this country. And if you add to that number the 44 million people who are currently enrolled in Medicare, what does that mean? That means, with this bill, almost two-thirds of the entire population of this country will be on a government-run, socialized health care system, two-thirds paid for by one-third.

In reading that, it's easy to realize Garrett was double counting people, unless he's saying everybody on Medicare is living at more than 300% of poverty. That's not the case, and Garrett knows that. He was also counting people on Medicaid and already in the S-CHIP program, as part of this new "entitlement." Simply by using the word entitlement instead of block grant, Garrett was being disingenuous.

If you remove all the emotion about the kids; remove all the partisan accusations; remove all the hyperbole; if you remove all of it you're left with a simple fact: Garrett lied to justify his position.

Like I said before, this particular vote isn't going to make or break Garrett. However, the fact he would lie to justify his opposition shouldn't be accepted by anyone.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mind numbing: $2.4 Trillion for Wars

The Congressional Budget Office has released a rather long report which concludes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may cost $2.4 trillion dollars over the next decade. This is the same CBO which so many misquoted in their fight against the new SCHIP bill, 1.4% of the war tab for comparative purposes, because it is a trusted source of information.

With such a mind numbing figure before us as a nation, so largely attributable to mismanagement and lack of oversight, President Dwight Eisenhower's "The Chance for Peace" speech comes to mind. While the figures may have changed, the point remains the same:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more
than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that come with this spring of 1953. This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace.

It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with honesty.It calls upon them to answer the questions that stirs the hearts of all sane men: is there no other way the world may live?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Are The Odds?

Imagine my surprise to our Representative Scott Garrett teaming with Representative Pete Hoekstra for an op-ed on No Child Left Behind.

Hoekstra was my Rep when I lived in Michigan and was the last Republican campaign I worked on, through the Ottawa County organization, oh so many years ago. Hoekstra represents a very conservative District, and as I explained back in February, he is as beloved in his District as Marge Roukema was in ours (he won in '06 by roughly 100,000 votes, compared to Garrett's 22,000). It's a small world.

Without having the time to discect their Op-Ed on NCLB, and compare it to the proposals out there to determine what's spin and what's not, the piece does provide a perfect contrast between a real conservative plan and Garrett's slash and burn philosophy.

As I pointed out earlier, Garrett has sought to prey upon people's feelings on NCLB (from disdain to hatred) to defund the Department of Education. Garrett's plan gives everyone a tax-credit to offset whatever taxes must be raised by their states to offset a loss of education dollars if their states opt out of NCLB. Garrett's plan ignores the role corporate taxes play in education funding, removes all consideration for disadvantaged districts, and would likely gut funding from poorer states without a means to offset the loss of funding. Garrett's plan has absolutely no benchmarks for states and schools to shoot for or to be held accountable to.

Hoekstra's A-Plus Act, on the other hand, allows states to opt out of NCLB in a traditional conservative proposal. It allows states to receive their education funds in block grants, securing more local control, while holding them accountable to reaching the standards set forth for the programs the block grant is related to. Hoekstra's bill also maintains requirements to fund disadvantaged districts and comply with civil rights laws. Hoekstra's bill is not without it's problems; gutting administrative cost to administer the programs funded (1% is a bit unreasonable) and apparently it starts grant levels at what states spent as opposed to what they needed.

Negatives aside, Hoekstra's bill provides the funding, recognizes the need to provide for those in need, but leaves states in control of how to do it. Neither of the bills are supported by the National Education Association, and I doubt either will make it to the floor. While there is no shot of any part of Garrett's bill appearing in the NCLB legislation, my hope is that block grants will appear in some form in the new NCLB legislation somewhere.

I do prefer a block grant approach to funding for two reasons: They allow states to decide how to use their money to meet their needs, and; they limit earmarking because the nature of the grant does not allow members of Congress to deduct funds from a competitive grant pool.

Successful block grant programs like SCHIP and HUD's Community Development Block Grants do point to the successes of federal programs giving states control. If it can work for health care and housing, it's worth considering for education.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Let the Cannibalism Begin

It didn't take long for the people who power Conservatives with Attitude CWA-NJ to start attacking Republican support of the SCHIP program vetoed by the President. At issue is Bill Baroni's support of the program. Baroni, running for the State Senate in the 14th Legislative District is a moderate Republican with broad support. Here's what CWA-NJ had to say about him:
In yet another case of the Republican candidate knocking people over to show how much like Democrats they are, the Baroni campaign rushed to produce a letter and proof of delivery of same, that Baroni sent to George W. Bush pleading with him not to veto SCHIP, but instead SIGN the 35BILLION dollar liberal supported expansion of government and entitlement program that puts us that much closer to HillaryCare, i.e.-SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.


It takes more than an (R) next to your name to make you a Republican. RINO also starts with an R and until the Republican party actually starts acting like Republicans by doing the right thing and standing FOR something instead of standing WITH their opponents on to many issues, than an election win by an R doesn’t really mean a whole lot, does it?

Whatever happened to Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment, kids? Obviously, despite the facts, CWA-NJ has bought into the same lies Representative Scott Garrett bought into and perpetuated. This is going to play out on a national level, with the CWAs and Clubs for Growth assaulting those Republicans who supported SCHIP. The Republicans who supported SCHIP cut through the lies and fear mongering to stand with those served by the SCHIP program. Despite their ability to see the truth and vote for it, they will be painted with a different disingenuous brush by members of their own party.

Eric Sedler, one of the founders of Red Jersey, had the following to say in the comment section.
You continue to hurt and split the party, not realizing the Democrats are capitalizing big time on the split.

You’d rather primary challenge someone like Chris Smith or Bill Baroni, damage their resources, and leave them open to a Democratic machine with tons of money who could possibly defeat them.

That’s your game, taking out Republicans who don’t support your agenda. Yet, you fail to realize this only helps Democrats overtake the state even more.

Until there are more moderate Republicans like Sedler who are willing to stand up and fight, the Republicans will continue to slip to the right and further into irrelevance.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Garrett Has Thrown The Kitchen Sink

In his response to Alfred Doblin's column on Friday, Representative Scott Garrett released an Op-Ed today that continues his efforts to misinform voters about his position on SCHIP. Once again, let's go argument by argument:
No child, not one, will be kicked off of SCHIP or will be denied its health benefits because I voted with my colleagues to reject the program's massive and misguided expansion.

Well, the State of New Jersey has identified 11,000 children at risk of losing their coverage due to President Bush's plan for SCHIP, which Garrett voted to uphold.
First of all, my colleagues and I voted to extend the program through November 16th. And, if Congress fails again to negotiate a good faith reauthorization, I willvote again to extend the current program. In fact, I've even cosponsored a bill that extends SCHIP for 18 months

This is true. What is also true is that the current program required an emergency supplemental bill, which Garrett voted against, to deal with funding shortfalls.
Regrettably, up to now, the Democrat majority has done everything it can to get the reauthorization passed their way

Garrett is once again ignoring the broad coalition of bi-partisan support that helped not only craft this bill but called on him to change his position.
It's important to note that the Democrats' SCHIP proposal ends the program completely in five years.

Garrett's being disingenuous on this one. It's being reauthorized within the standard time frame, not eliminated. It was actually a six year re- authorization Garrett was calling for when arguing against the Voting Rights Act being renewed.
It is equally important to note that a number of independent studies conclude that their proposal would force people out of private insurance and into the government-run program.

As pointed out earlier, Garrett used to attribute this statement to the Congressional Budget Office. No such study exists, so in a sense it's good he stopped doing that. However, considering Garrett's track record of making up sources, or quoting dubious ones, I find it hard to believe he's referring to anything credible along these lines existing. If someone knows of one, send me the link.
The rejected SCHIP proposal was a massive expansion of federal healthcare entitlements.

Once again, this is a block grant program, where people can and are rejected.
In the end, it will actually saddle these very children with debt. Or, if the 61-cent tobacco tax is to cover the costs, will require that 22.4 million of them start smoking in the next ten years.

Wait, I thought he said it was ending in five years? Also, the CBO shows a funding surplus in 10 years.
The SCHIP bill contained "hospital pork" and other earmarks set to help specific Congressmen bring home the bacon to their districts.

This I actually have to look up. If by hospital pork he's referring to the Section 508 funding Garrett said our District desperately needed, well he's either for it or against it.
Still more would have been diverted from the children to make it easier for illegal aliens and some adults to access SCHIP benefits.

Ok, we've already dealt with this.
Worst of all,this legislation failed to address the real problems with access to healthcare and instead just turned to the same old addictive tax-and-spend mentality.

At this point Garrett goes into a long effort to distract people from the actual bill, proving Dolbin's point that he's putting ideology above the very real concerns regarding children covered by this program. Garrett points to the types of bills the Democrats haven't brought to the floor in an effort to invalidate the SCHIP reforms they have. In an effort to justify this stance, he puts out this comment:
The mentality is cover the children now, we'll figure out how to pay for it later. Regrettably, that's the same mentality that now saddles our children with mind-boggling debt related to Social Security,Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs. They all start with the best of intentions, but fail to see how far down the road those good intentions turn sour.

This is probably the most desperate of moves, which also neglects to mention several facts. Garrett voted for all of the Republican budgets that borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars from the Social Security Trust, putting the program at risk (FY 2004, FY 2005, FY 2006, FY 2007).

Garrett also defended, as part of his original opposition to SCHIP, the practice of paying more to private companies than traditional fee for service programs. The CBO highlighted how this very practice puts Medicare at risk.

With the anger over the vote to uphold the President's veto of SCHIP not subsiding, Garrett is pulling out all of the stops. Unfortunately, the arguments may have changed but their root dishonesty has not.

Garrett Begins SCHIP Self-Defense with SPIN

I won't be able to fully disect and discredit the latest misinformation effort coming out of Representative Scott Garrett's office until this evening. However, I found the first two lines too good to ignore:
There's been an extraordinary amount of misinformation about the recentdebate on the reauthorization of the State Children's Health InsuranceProgram (SCHIP). Between the rhetoric and the photo ops, the true facts have been obscured and the real issues of access to health care have been ignored.
I couldn't agree more. As I've pointed out time, and time, and time, and time again Garrett has been the one spinning. This little Op-Ed he's released is more of the same. More to come tonight.

Express-Times Slams Garrett on SCHIP

The Express-Times calls out our Representative Scott Garrett and the other holdouts on SCHIP:
Thankfully, the starting point for a compromise between Congress and the White House is somewhere above renewing SCHIP at the previous level. Democrats and SCHIP-supporting Republicans should hold firm for a healthy expansion. The holdouts, including U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, a Republican who represents Warren County, should stop parroting scare tactics and find a number -- the price for insuring kids in insurance-poor working families -- and vote for it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Does Garrett Want to End SCHIP?

When Representative Scott Garrett uses the phrase "paper over", it seems he's advocating defunding or eliminating a program. From Herb Jackson, this was part of his statement he released after voting to uphold the President's veto of the State Children's Health Insurance Program:

I am hopeful that when we do, we don’t simply tinker around the edges – papering over the barriers to access that so many children and families now face, but will take a good, hard look at fixing our healthcare system.

As I've pointed out before, Garrett has a desire to defund the Department of Education. This is what he says regarding No Child Left Behind:

While some in Washington are interested in slightly altering the federal mandates in the law, fiddling around the edges isn’t going to fix the problems our teachers, parents, and students have been experiencing these past five years. That approach will simply paper over some the current grievances without getting to the root of the problem.

Garrett's solution to NCLB's issues is introducing a bill that would defund the Department of Education, including cutting funding for school districts serving poor children. A use of a phrase, or seeing NCLB in the same light as SCHIP?

I've actually seen other examples of Garrett using this phrase, but I can't remember where I saw them. If I find them again, I'll post it. In the meantime, it's an interesting question to ask.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

We Now Know The Type of Man

With Bush's veto upheld by the House, and our Representative Scott Garrett joining the minority voting against the bill, we now know what kind of man he is. We're represented by an individual who used fabrications and lies to scare people into opposing a program instead of having a genuine policy discussion.

I had a friend raise a legitimate policy argument, regarding the poverty level, which could have been Garrett's argument (she sees eye to eye with him on a lot). I didn't agree with it, but it's a point she and I could talk about. As a nation we could have talked about it. Unfortunately, Garrett went another direction.

Garrett chose dishonesty. Garrett chose spin. Garrett chose the politics of fear.

We are not represented by an honest broker. We are represented by an individual who would rather scare people into opposition than engage in a real debate. Garrett has never engaged in an honest debate about this issue, and going forward I doubt he ever will.

In the short run, people believed Garrett's lies and will support his decision to vote against SCHIP based on those lies. In the months ahead, those lies will become more widely known. However, unlike the Iraq war where the lies were coming from the Administration to Congress and the people; Garrett perpetuated these lies hand in hand with the Administration. The facts were not classified; and still Garrett chose to lie.

People have respect for a politician that stands on principal, even if they don't agree with them. Garrett had no honest principal he was defending in this case. This vote is not going to be what ends Garrett's political career, it's the lies he told to support it.

Scott, It's Time to Be a Representative

I sent this way too late at night.

Rep. Garrett,

Today, you will be making your choice on S-CHIP.

You have often portrayed yourself, and been portrayed, as a straight shooter and a stand-up guy. Your quotes against the facts are out there, and enough people have seen through the smokescreen to continue to call for you to override this veto. Voting to override the veto will give you a chance to rebuild some of your reputation, at least in the sense that you will stand up for what your constituents want.

I suppose in the end, it's up to you and your conscience. However, I'd like to believe somewhere behind the recent spin there's that straight shooter everybody talked about. The one with the legacy of fighting for what his people wanted. All we have in life is our reputation, and you don't get many chances to earn it back. Voting to override this veto won't erase the last couple of months, but it will let people know that when presented with the facts you'll do the right thing.

People want this program, Scott.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Garrett vs. Train Safety

Well, our Representative Scott Garrett was one of 38 Representatives to vote against making the trains so many of us rely on safer. Almost needless to say at this point is that once again Garrett was the only Representative from New Jersey to vote against this bill. By voting against the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007, Garrett voted against a bill with the following purpose:
To amend title 49, United States Code, to prevent railroad fatalities, injuries, and hazardous materials releases, to authorize the Federal Railroad Safety Administration, and for other purposes.
It's kind of odd to think about the campaign last year, seeing Garrett down in the Hoboken Train Station shaking hands with people. What's he going to say to them next year? "Of course I was one of only 38 Representatives who voted to make your ride home less safe. Have a nice trip." I'm sure the 252,400 daily NJ Transit rail riders won't appreciate Garrett's lack of support.

I hope Garrett doesn't think those voters on the Bergen/Main, Pascack Valley, and the Hackettstown lines won't find out. After all, my understanding is that they're all leased to freight lines by NJ Transit and that fall under this bill.

I'm also fairly certain those that live along our dedicated freight lines won't appreciate Garrett's lack of support, especially for the provisions regarding hazardous waste accident preparedness and response.

If Garrett said anything about the Bill, I'll put it up.

My Direct Response On Red State

I don't know how long it will stay up there, but I've attempted to help out the Conservatives that Representative Scott Garrett and others have tried to confuse on the issue of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). This is the response I wrote to his posting:

First off, the two of three Republican State Senators serving within Rep. Garrett's District have called on Garrett to override the veto.

Second, if you have the time to check out the bill, you can see this whole argument is false.

Section 201 provides for more outreach;

Section 605 prohibits funding to illegal aliens;

Section 112 gets rid of childless adults;

Families making that much are already covered through the waiver program established in our state by the last Republican governor;

And finally, it's not an entitlement because people can get turned away. It's a block
grant program.

Yes, I realize I put an extra "the" in there.

Like I said, we'll see how long it lasts. Something I left out though, Garrett was in the Assembly when this went through. I'd be curious to see what if any action he took against this program that he is so against.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Garrett Didn't Even Read the SCHIP Bill

In his latest attempt to bolster his opposition to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, Representative Scott Garrett let voters in on a secret: he doesn't even read the bills he's voting against. Here's the crux of his argument:
Let’s not forget that SCHIP was created to help children whose parents don’t have the means to help them alone. A comprehensive SCHIP reauthorization now should focus on that mission and not divert our attention and resources to illegal immigrants, able-bodied adults, or families that are making annually $70,000 or more.
Let's take a quick look at Garrett's logic vs. what's in the Bill.

"A comprehensive SCHIP reauthorization now should focus on that mission"
`(a) Outreach and Enrollment Grants; National Campaign-

`(1) IN GENERAL- From the amounts appropriated under subsection (g),
subject to paragraph

(2), the Secretary shall award grants to eligible entities during the period of fiscal years 2008 through 2012 to conduct outreach and enrollment efforts that are designed to increase the enrollment and participation of eligible children under this title and title XIX.

`(2) TEN PERCENT SET ASIDE FOR NATIONAL ENROLLMENT CAMPAIGN- An amount equal to 10 percent of such amounts shall be used by the Secretary for expenditures during such period to carry out a national enrollment campaign in accordance with subsection (h).
Yep, got that covered.

"not divert our attention and resources to illegal immigrants"


Nothing in this Act allows Federal payment for individuals who are not legal residents.

It doesn't get more straight forward than that. Moving on...

"able-bodied adults", from Section 112:

`(A) the Secretary shall not on or after the date of the enactment of the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007, approve or renew a waiver, experimental, pilot, or demonstration project that would allow funds made available under this title to be used to provide child health assistance or other health benefits coverage to a nonpregnant childless adult
I sense a pattern here.

Finally, "families that are making annually." As has been cited by myself and countless others, New Jersey already covers families to this level. Garrett is literally advocating eliminating health insurance to 11,000 New Jersey children.

Garrett's entire argument against this Bill is based on lies which he either has created himself or has been told and believes. I'm not sure which is worse.

He also seems to feel that is leading the pressure, when Republicans such as Senator Gerald Cardinale, Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance and Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk all signed a letter urging Garrett to override the veto (h/t Juan Melli). That represents the State leaders representing roughly 75-80% of our District's population that Garrett is ignoring.

What kind of Representative ignores the duly elected representatives of 75-80%, and bases his opposition to key legislation on lies?

Our Representative Scott Garrett does.

My 200th Post: What's a Guy to Do?

***UPDATED*** See below.

Considering I'm a one man band, I'm pretty pleased to put up my 200th post in less than a year. It's been fun, and I want to thank those of you who stop by.

If the folks over at PoliticsNJ are right, even though Republicans are starting to complain about Representative Scott Garrett, he isn't going anywhere. It seems I'll have him to write about for a while. However, having Garrett stay in office so I can perpetuate this blog is not a goal. I'd still write no matter who was in office, because as a District we have a right to know what our Representative is really doing down in Washington on our behalf.

The biggest issue with Garrett is that he's so ineffective. An example is how Garrett cites that 120,000 taxpayers in our Fifth District (19% of the population) will be subject to the AMT if it's not changed; yet as Herb Jackson recently pointed out in the Record, Garrett wasn't able to get AMT reform bills passed while Republicans were in the majority. How exactly can taxpayers in our District expect him to get anything done while he's in the minority?

Garrett's ineffectiveness extends to a number of critical issues, from health care reform to energy policy. Garrett effectively removes our District from a seat at the table; we will have no meaningful say in what happens, yet inevitably our District will foot a large part of the bill.

This all has to do with the fact that it's impossible for someone philosophically opposed to government governing to play a role in developing effective government. It's basically like asking me to manage the Atlanta Braves against the Mets, the Braves would likely lose every game.

Garrett makes no apologies for his belief the Departments of Education, Energy and Transportation should be eliminated, when some of our biggest current challenges as a NATION fall into these areas. Major reforms are needed, without a doubt, but simply throwing your hands in the air in the face of sagging test scores, an energy crisis, and collapsing bridges is the slacker's way out. Doctor's don't cut off your arm when you break your wrist, but that's Garrett's solution to everything.

A fiscal conservative Garrett is not; fiscal conservatives accept some role of government and look to make it efficient in order to reduce costs and taxes over the long term. A clear example of Garrett's lack of fiscal conservatism is his stance against PAYGO, which was implemented by Republicans in the 1990's to hold spending down and pay down the deficit. It was working before the tax-cut and spend Republicans supplanted the fiscal conservative Republicans.

Garrett also constantly votes to to defend taxpayer funded corporate profit margin guarantees for those serving government contracts, regardless of performance. This flies in the face of getting the most from the taxpayer dollar, and it's downright anti-competitive.

Those who go after Garrett for his views, which often make Pat Buchanan look like a flaming haired liberal, miss the point. As out of the mainstream as Garrett's views are, they make him so ineffective he can't get any of them implemented anyway. Garrett's about as useful to our District as ice cubes are to the Eskimos whose education funding he voted to cut.

Even though I never declared as a Republican, I worked for them for a number of years during college, and the national party has radically departed from the party I knew growing up. My belief in paying down the deficit and making sure that the government's involvement in an individual's life ended at their front doorstep has never changed. In the 1990's, that was Northeast Republican mantra.

Now, thanks to Garrett and those like him, the Republican party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Gov. Tom Kean, and Marge Roukema is seen by many of my fellow unaffiliateds as the fear-mongering, bigoted, anti-Constitution, corporate profit padding party that's mortgaged future generations to score some political points.

With PoliticsNJ reporting Garrett is unlikely to get a Republican primary challenger, I find it disappointing that Republicans in our District are okay with the image Garrett portrays for them. With Garrett going unopposed by a fellow Republican, it will largely be up to the Democrats to mount a challenge.

There are two candidates running for the nomination, each bringing something different to the table, but they both face the same challenges. While FEC reports aren't available just yet for Rabbi Dennis Shulman, Garrett has $332,116 in cash on hand compared to Camille Abate's $36,556. This is a daunting deficit for any campaign. What's more daunting is the vote deficit in the Western part of the District that any Democrat will have to overcome: 18,000 in an off year and 30,000 in a Presidential.

However, each of the Dems know the odds and they're going for it anyway and that should be respected. Whether or not their message will resonate with enough voters in the the Western part of the District to make a difference is another story.

This all leads me back to what's a guy to do.

As many of you know, I ran against Garrett as the Independent in '06. I've been thinking about what to do next year. There are those who have said I should go again as an Independent or jump in a primary. If I did the latter, which party to pick is the issue; which one would take me is another; and building the infrastructure for a successful campaign in a hurry would be a big challenge.

I'm not walking away from my political views any time soon; however deciding whether or not the Republicans or Democrats best represent my values is still an on-going process. It seems if I go Republican, I'd be what's known in Washington as a Main Streeter; if I went Democratic I'd be closer to a Blue Dog. In other words, I'm a right leaning centrist, who places policy above partisanship, with no place to call a home.

Last time, I wanted voters to have an option between politics as usual and what was being hoisted up by the parties. This time, it would be to hold Garrett accountable to our District. Whether that's best done within a party or as an Indie still needs to be decided, but I will decide in the coming months.

What's a guy to do?

***Update 1*** Based on an e-mail I received, I want to make it clear that I haven't decided whether or not I'm jumping on someone else's campaign or going to run myself. That last paragraph threw somebody for a loop.

***Update 2*** Blue Jersey is reporting that Dennis Shulman outraised Camille Abate in the 3rd Quarter.

Monday, October 15, 2007

SCHIP Spin of the Day

I've always felt that Representative Scott Garrett's press people must have among the hardest jobs in Washington. Constantly having to defend positions that fly in the face of the people you're supposed to be representing must grate on people. Here's the latest example, from the Ocean County Observer, regarding Garrett's intention to uphold the President's veto of the State Children's Health Insurance Program:
"The congressman has been hearing from people on both sides of the debate. He has weighed their arguments carefully and continues to believe that the Democrats' multi billion expansion of SCHIP is not in the best interest of the people of New Jersey," Garrett's spokeswoman, Mary MacLean, said in an e-mail Friday.

The New York Times recently pointed out that 11,000 New Jersey children will lose their health insurance if President Bush has his way. How is that in the best interest of New Jersey?

Did Garrett bother to weigh the cost of preventable illness coming into the classroom, workplace, and then other people's home? We're talking about 11,000 kids losing the basic coverage for flu shots and other vaccines. Are we as a state really better off with 11,000 fewer children being able to see a doctor? What about the lost work productivity of parents either worrying or missing work because of sick kids? Is that in the best interest of NJ?

And also, the supporters of SCHIP are not just the Democrats. This from the Livingston Daily sums it up very well:
SCHIP isn't a "Democratic" plan. It has strong bipartisan support. Very few programs can get Republicans such as Senators Pat Roberts, Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch to agree with Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi! SCHIP also has the support of the health insurance industry, the Catholic Church, business interests, the AARP and the American Medical Association.

Nearly 40% Senate Republicans and roughly 25% House Republicans voted for the Bill.

I've already pointed out how Garrett fabricated the majority of his initial arguments against SCHIP. Garrett has yet to give an honest reason why he's voting against the bill. Every time Garrett introduces a new rationale, it gets shot down and he changes reasons. The one constant is that Garrett says he sees SCHIP as a new entitlement.

Well, that either makes Garrett disingenuous or he's really ignorant. As a Representative, Garrett should know entitlements are guaranteed no matter what; and that's not the case with SCHIP. It's a block grant program with qualifying criteria, people can be denied. If Garrett doesn't know that, someone on his staff might want to mention it to him so he stops embarrassing himself.

I know the chance of Garrett switching his vote on SCHIP is about as good a chance as that of an ice cube having a long life in Hell. He's proven several times recently that he will vote against the people of NJ when it conflicts with his ideology. That's Garrett, and as long as voters put up with it is as long as it will happen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Help A Voter Out!

Recently, candidates in both the 24th and 39th Legislative Districts had debates. In this modern age, I had hoped to find a video or audio of the debates on-line. However, it does not appear to be in the works, and it would be a great service to voters if it was.

The debate in the 24th was moderated by Fred Snowflack of the Daily Record, and was covered in the Daily Record and New Jersey Herald. Yet no audio seems to be available. As required by the Clean Elections campaign, there will be a second one on Oct. 25 at the Sussex Bank Theater at Sussex County Community College. Maybe somebody could plug an MP3 recorder in the sound board and throw it up on the site. Even a transcript would be nice to have.

Unfortunately, here in my 39th District it seems we have all missed the chance. The candidates debated the other night, with the Record and the League of Women Voters as the sponsors. From the Record's account, it seemed like a feisty affair but only those in attendance really will know. The Record didn't mention another date, so the boat may have sailed without us.

The more information voters have to go over the better informed and comfortable with their choices they'll be. Help a voter out.

Garrett Against Housing...Again

Considering Representative Scott Garrett sees the housing market as being in good shape; voted against Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae helping first time homeowners in our District; against programs to get rural families off of Section 8 housing; and against reforming Section 8 in general; this vote was not a surprise. Garrett was the only Representative from New Jersey to vote against establishing the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

As with the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae vote, Garrett's vote is a vote against North Jersey. The way the formula of funding is constructed largely favors North Jersey. Here's a couple of the criteria:
`(A) The ratio of the population of the State, Indian tribes, insular area, or participating jurisdiction, to the aggregate population of all States, Indian tribes, insular areas, and participating jurisdictions
Advantage: North Jersey
`(C) The percentage of families in the jurisdiction of the State, of Indian tribes, or of the insular area or participating jurisdiction that pay more than 50 percent of their annual income for housing costs.
Advantage: North Jersey - 21% of those living in North Jersey spend more than 50%.
(E) The cost of constructing or carrying out rehabilitation of housing in the jurisdiction of the State, of Indian tribes, or of the insular area or participating jurisdiction.
Advantage: North Jersey
`(G) The percentage of housing stock in the jurisdiction of the State, of Indian tribes, or of the insular area or participating jurisdiction that is extremely old housing.
Advantage: North Jersey

`(H) For the jurisdiction of a State, of Indian tribes, or of an insular area or participating jurisdiction that has an extremely low percentage of affordable rental housing, the extent to which the State, Indian tribes, or the insular area or participating jurisdiction has in the preceding fiscal year increased the percentage of rental housing within its jurisdiction that is affordable housing.
Advantage: North Jersey

It's safe to say this program, if enacted, will benefit our communities. As the Record, Star Ledger, and Express Times reported today, NJ is facing a severe population exodus issue and affordable housing is part of it. We're likely going to lose a Congressional seat in 2012. Considering the rest of our Delegation seems to vote on a bi-partisan basis when the welfare of our State is at stake, and Garrett doesn't, if he's still in office in 2012 he should be the leading candidate to lose his District.


Monarch Housing Associates, who does consulting for NJ organizations like the one I used to work for in MI, noted the significance of the bill (and Garrett's vote), on their blog:
The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007. H. R. 2895 would establish a Trust Fund to construct, rehabilitate, and preserve 1.5 million units of housing over the next 10 years. At least 75% of the new resources must produce or preserve housing affordable to extremely low income people. This would be the first new housing production program since 1990 and the only one focused on housing for households with the lowest incomes.

It's About Time

Today, our Representative Scott Garrett joined the vast majority of the rest of the House in voting for a bill imposing fines and jail on war profiteers. The question of "what took you guys so long" is a fair question for anyone having taxes taken out of their paycheck or filing quarterly to ask. Reports of contract abuse have been coming out almost since the beginning of the Iraq war and Congress has, until today, turned a very blind eye to the problem.

The Republicans let this theft of taxpayer dollars go on for the better part of 4 years, and the Democrats have waited 10 months to vote on something to deal with this. I'm glad they passed it, and whoever the Republican holding up the Senate version is, they should be seriously leaned on to release the hold. If they won't let it go, or come forward and explain why not, someone should out them. No Senator or House member should defend contractors who are stealing from us.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Abate a Hit With Impeachment Group

Yesterday, Camille Abate, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to take on our Representative Scott Garrett, , spoke to New Jersey Impeach Groups. Here's how their blogger described the event:
She spoke passionately of her dedication to justice and improving the lot of all people. She's anti-war and pro-impeachment. In fact, Camille joined us when we visited Rep. Steve Rothman's office in Hackensack in September, when she argued forcefully for impeachment. It's great to finally have a candidate we can actually support and vote for. She answered many questions on many issues, and she stressed that her experience as a lawyer has prepared her for the dirty business of politics in Washington.

The group donated $198 to Abate's war chest following the event.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Garrett Votes To Reign In Contractors

In a good move, Representative Scott Garrett voted today to close the immunity loophole contractors operating in Iraq had. As noted in several places, nobody really knew how to deal with contractors when they broke the law. They're immune from prosecution in Iraq, and nobody here seemed to want them. Garrett voted with the vast majority of Congress to close the loophole and make contractors subject to US law. This is a very good thing.

Limbaugh Argument Continues

Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" thing has now gone into the partisan bickering sphere. Representative Scott Garrett's backing of Limbaugh has been picked up in a number of spots, so my guess is that it's his real thought on the matter. Considering the outrage about the MoveOn ad, the hypocrisy of Republicans defending Limbaugh is disheartening. The folks over at Human Events see this as a great struggle of Democrats vs. Republicans, as if that's all that matters.

What happened to right vs. wrong? Are the Republicans like Garrett so partisan they can't see that?

Maybe, just maybe, the Republicans figured Rush would leave it alone. However, Limbaugh has backtracked and bobbed and weaved on this thing. He's afraid, because he knows this time he's said too much.

Keith Olbermann made a good point that if Limbaugh attempted to apologize for misspeaking it would be one thing, but he hasn't. Instead, Limbaugh metaphorically referred to a Purple Heart recipient who called Limbaugh out as akin to a suicide bomber. Do Garrett and the rest of the Republicans rushing to Limbaugh's defense back that comment, too?

Here's the video:

I'm not a partisan, so this is an issue of right or wrong for me. Limbaugh was wrong at first, but could have recovered. Now, he's making it worse on himself. We'll see how far he goes to try and defend himself, and how far down he'll pull those Republicans that are too blinded by partisanship to actually listen to what Rush is saying. It should be interesting to see when or if Garrett gets to a point he feels he needs to distance himself from Limbaugh.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Garrett Defends Limbaugh? Say It Ain't So, Scott

Over at CWA-NJ: Conservatives With Attitude, a post titled "Allegations Against Limbaugh are Ludicrous" is attributed to our very own Representative Scott Garrett. Here's the post in it's entirety:

Like me, Rush Limbaugh has always been outspoken about his appreciation for our service men and women. This recent allegation that Limbaugh was bashing a war veteran is ludicrous. It’s clear to anyone that read the transcript that Limbaugh was just stating that he is sick and tired of Democrats using soldiers with phony stories to attack the Iraq war and discredit the hard work our men and women in uniform are doing.
If Garrett really wrote this, he has just defended and participated in the sort of character assassination against our skeptical but loyal soldiers he condemned for using against Gen. Petreaus.

If Garrett really wrote this, Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray and Sgt. Omar Mora of the 82nd Airborne both are seen by Limbaugh and Garrett as being a "phony soldier". Each was listed as co-authors of "The War As We Saw It", an Op-Ed critical of the Iraq War published back in August. Each died serving our country in Iraq a month later. Garrett's attacking their patriotism and validity of their sacrifice?

If Garrett really wrote this, the hypocrisy of this is of epic proportions. Garrett calls the ad attacking Gen. Petreaus disgusting; The New York Times has a daily circulation of 1.1 million. Garrett defends Rush Limbaugh's comments made to his average daily audience of 12.7 million.

I did read the transcript, here it is again:

LIMBAUGH: There's a lot more than that that they don't understand. They can't even -- if -- the next guy that calls here, I'm gonna ask him: Why should we pull -- what is the imperative for pulling out? What's in it for the United States to pull out? They can't -- I don't think they have an answer for that other than, "Well, we just gotta bring the troops home."

CALLER 2: Yeah, and, you know what --

LIMBAUGH: "Save the -- keep the troops safe" or whatever. I -- it's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people.

CALLER 2: No, it's not, and what's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media.

LIMBAUGH: The phony soldiers.

CALLER 2: The phony soldiers. If you talk to a real soldier, they are proud to serve. They want to be over in Iraq. They understand their sacrifice, and they're willing to sacrifice for their country.

LIMBAUGH: They joined to be in Iraq.

I really hope Garrett didn't write that piece. To try and defend Limbaugh's comment as freedom of speech would have been one thing, but to join in on attacking skeptical soldiers is another. I'm as angry about this little clip supposedly written by Garrett as I was about the MoveOn thing and when I heard about the Rush Limbaugh thing.

Say it ain't so, Scott. Say it ain't so.

Garrett vs. Ramadan

Representative Scott Garrett joined 41 other Republican Representatives in voting "Present" on a non-binding resolution acknowledging the start of Ramadan. While I don't have a quote from Garrett, Presidential hopeful Rep. Tom Tancredo and Rep. Mike Pence, who also voted present, said this to the Hill:
“This resolution is an example of the degree to which political correctness has captured the political and media elite in this country,” Tancredo said. “I am not opposed to commending any religion for their faith. The problem is that any attempt to do so for Jews or Christians is immediately condemned as ‘breaching’ the non-existent line between church and state by the same elite.”

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said, “I voted ‘present’ because I read somewhere that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”

I'd be curious to know Garrett's rationale, whether he's of the "non-existent line" or "make no law" crowd. This little tidbit from the Record back in 2005 might answer that question:

Garrett’s faith is evident in his voting record. He supported a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage. He voted against striking “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. He voted to allow federally funded programs to use religious affiliation as a criterion in the hiring process.

In September, Garrett spoke at a meeting of the Center for Christian Statesmanship, a ministry aimed at lawmakers and their staffs.

On his Web site, the center’s founder, televangelist D. James Kennedy, asks, “Should we really be tolerant of all beliefs?”

I doubt voters of the District will ever get an answer from Garrett on this vote, but if we do I'll post it here in it's entirety.


Well, it's not a statement to the Record or anything, but Garrett did speak to about the vote:
Representative Scott Garrett of New Jersey says he too was "troubled" by the Ramadan resolution. "There were a number of members who, as we call it down here, 'stayed off' that vote and did not support it because I think that they looked at it as something that Congress really should not be doing, should not be picking one faith out and commending that faith."

Garrett says during his five years in Congress he does not remember the House ever approving a resolution commending Christians for celebrating Christmas or Easter.

Garrett Backs Veto of Sussex & Warren County Hospital Funding

An article in the New Jersey Herald on Monday pointed to the impending loss of Medicare Section 508 funding and it's impact on Sussex and Warren County hospitals. Here's how the Herald described the problem:
Hospitals have been receiving higher per-patient reimbursement rates over the last three years to help them recruit physicians and provide care to Medicare beneficiaries in an increasingly expensive labor market. The higher rates brought them in line with the "wage index" of New York City, but now some hospitals will revert to their original wage index of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, which means less revenue coming in, Czajkowski said.

This change will result in a loss of $15 million of funding for our State's rural hospitals, including those in Sussex and Warren County. The loss of funding is likely to result in layoffs and increased costs to cover lost revenue. Here's how Representative Scott Garrett explained the issue:
"Northwestern New Jersey is a unique situation in that its hospitals are in rural areas, but at the same time compete with the most expensive labor market in the country. So long as preserving top quality healthcare services for Northwestern New Jersey is important, maintaining Section 508 funding is important, " Garrett said. "Without it, the residents of Warren and Sussex counties could be many miles away from specialized healthcare and psychiatric services.

The problem is, Garrett has voted against renewing the very Section 508 funding he's talking about, and the President just vetoed it today along with the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The extension is Title V, Section 508 of the bill. I know I don't usually criticise Garrett on large bills, because there's simply too much to them, however with the SCHIP bill it is appropriate.

It's appropriate because Garrett's only arguments against the main intention of the SCHIP bill are based on lies. It's appropriate because of the number of the people served by the SCHIP program in our District. It's appropriate because almost all of the NJ hospitals losing Section 508 funding are in the Fifth District. It's also appropriate because Garrett has reverted to his old self of saying one thing and voting another way.

Garrett has yet to come up with an honest reason to cut health insurance for 130,000 New Jersey children; and pretends to be worried about the quality of care in Western New Jersey when he knows he has the best health care coverage and access to the best doctors in the Nation.

Votes speak louder than words, and Garrett has a very big vote coming up. It's one of those rare second chances in life where he is being given yet another chance to choose between his constituents very real world needs and Presitdent Bush's very flimsy ideology. I really doubt Garrett will change his mind, but the idea of taking health care from kids and senior citizens won't sit well with voters.

New Site for Bergen Voters

I'm not sure when it launched, but there's a new site on the block: Inside Bergen. Here's how they describe themselves:
New Jersey has politicsnj. But we all know Bergen County has a political dynamic unlike the rest of the state. We need a detailed site of our own.

Inside Bergen is staffed by Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, former elected officials and staffers. In short, on this site you will read perspectives from all over the spectrum.

Should be fun. Welcome (and thanks for the link).

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Blackwater Hearing Observations

I was able to listen to most of the Blackwater USA hearing before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee while doing desk work. It was unfortunate that some of the members on each side decided to use this hearing for partisan purposes. Had they just stuck to the numbers and the facts it would have been a lot better.

Here's what I got from the hearing:
  • Blackwater hasn't lost anyone it's been protecting;
  • Bizarrely, water bottles seem to be thrown as a deterrent to slow down on-coming vehicles before shots are fired;
  • Blackwater employees don't seem to be under any jurisdiction for their actions;
  • Blackwater bills taxpayers at a 10.4% profit for their services;
  • The average Blackwater employee makes more than General Petraeus;
  • 23% of the contractors Blackwater has in Iraq are foreign mercenaries;
  • And, probably the most important, the State Department refused to say the services provided by Blackwater could not be done by the government.

Probably my favorite line of questioning was that of Representative Paul Hodes (D-NH). For readers thinking that name is familiar, that's because he was appearing opposite our Representative Scott Garrett when Garrett said the housing market was strong.

Hodes seems to be a dollars and cents guy and he stuck to the numbers. Removing all of the accusations of cronyism and partisanship, Hodes boiled down the issue to what this hearing should have been about; whether or not private contracting gets good results for, and is a good expenditure of the taxpayer dollar.

With Blackwater billing a 10.4% profit, and having been paid $832 million to date as part of their most recent contract, that's $86.5 million tax dollars from their contracts that could have gone to anything else.

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a longtime critic of the practice of privatizing the military, announced legislation today to phase out the practice. Since the State Department would not say they couldn't do their job without privatization, it should be interesting to see how this debate plays out.

My hope is the Democrats stick to the numbers on this, and skip the partisanship. In addition to the issues of accountability and results, plain and simple, we're paying more as taxpayers than we need to be.

Also, if Representative Henry Waxman's staff reads this, I'd love to know why New Jersey, as a donor State, does not have one Representative on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Eliminating inefficient practices within government to save taxpayers money is a vested interest to our State.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Blackwater's Day in The Sun

When modern historians talk about the last Republican Congress being one of the worst of all time, one of the hallmark shortcomings of those on the Hill had been their aversion to performing their Constitutional required duty of oversight. Like Papa Joe's BCDO, the Republicans in DC over the last few years had an affinity for no-bid contracts.

Erik Prince will be testifying before Congress on Tuesday. His company, Blackwater USA, is one of the largest recipients of no-bid contracts in Iraq. Over the last few weeks, a number of accusations have come out that have ranged from less than flattering to down right awful. In advance of the appearance, Rep. Henry Waxman's Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a damning memo of the company's performance.

This hearing and the spin around it will likely devolve into partisan bickering due to an ill-advised section on Mr. Prince's family. Had the memo simply focused on Blackwater's performance, the cost of Blackwater's contracts and their breach of contract issues should have inspired bi-partisan rage. Had the Republicans not abdicated their Constitutional duty of oversight, someone would have realized taxpayers have been getting a very raw deal.

From the Oversight and Government Reform Committee report:
One fundamental question that the recent controversy over Blackwater has raised is whether the government's heavy reliance on private military contractors is a wise use of taxpayer funds. According to contract documents obtained by the Committee, Blackwater bills the United States government $1,222 per day for one individual Protective Security Specialist. On an annual basis, this amounts to $445,891 per contractor.

These costs are significantly higher than the costs that would be incurred by the military. The security services provided by Blackwater would typically be performed by an Army Sergeant, whose salary, housing, and subsistence pay range from approximately $140 to $190 per day, depending on rank and years of service. On an annual basis, the salary, housing, and subsistence pay of an Army Sergeant ranges from $51,100 to $69,350 per year. The amount the government pays Blackwater for these same services is approximately six to nine times greater.
First off, this points to the fact we need to pay service people a lot more. Period.

Second, it makes it a little difficult for Republicans to claim the fiscal responsibility mantle when the contracts to one company are costing taxpayers 643% more than what it should. Republicans didn't hold one hearing about it. Then you have the fact Blackwater billed a profit markup on their profit margins and you have the taxpayer really being taken for a ride.

This is reminiscent of the toilet seats costing thousands of dollars and hammers costing hundreds in the 1980's. The fact these contracts are adding to the cost of the war cannot be ignored, as we are having to borrow ever more money from foreign sources to pay for this debacle.

The fact this practice went unchallenged by the Republicans, including our own Representative Scott Garrett, really has to make one wonder how any of them could ever refer to themselves as a fiscal conservative without being disingenuous.