Monday, March 31, 2008

And the Pork Goes On

This is disappointing: There won't be a one year moratorium on pork projects coming out of Washington.
The response to the Senate vote from rank-and-file lawmakers: They sent in so many last-minute earmark requests that a House Appropriations Committee web site seized up and the deadline for requesting pork had to be extended.

And then there are the explanations. This from Representative Nancy Boyda:
"Earmarks allow members of Congress to devote funds to projects that are important to their district — and representatives can better judge their districts' needs than some bureaucrat," Boyda wrote her constituents. "I want to make sure that Kansas taxpayers are getting their fair share of funds returning to Kansas projects — research at our universities, investment in our infrastructure and growth at our military bases."

I've heard this said by a number of Representatives and Senators, and if that's really the goal, then lower taxes so more of the money never leaves where it's supposed to be going in the first place. Unfortunately, too many on Capitol Hill have sipped this putrid Kool Aid.

It is also a fact that earmarks are completely open to fraud and waste, placing the power of the purse in the hands of a single person who may or may not have a clue. Our own Rep. Scott Garrett proved this fact with flying colors last funding cycle by requesting a $1.5 million earmark after the Army had ended the program Garrett was funding.

Did Garrett think he was doing right by the District? Probably. Did he know the Army had ended the program? Probably not. Should he have had an inkling? Absolutely.

If the project a lawmaker wants to fund can't stand up in an open granting process, it shouldn't be funded. Earmarks need to end, plain and simple. Anyone who says otherwise should be voted out of office.

Garrett Responds to Paulson

Representative Scott Garrett had this to say over on the Hill Blog:
I believe it’s imperative that the United States Congress closely examine the recent plan presented by Secretary Paulson. Increased federal regulations are not the answer to our nation’s current economic concerns. Like most Americans, I want market discipline—but the Congress cannot create that by needlessly empowering the Fed.

Despite the new ideas offered by the Department of Treasury I believe it’s critical that Congress focus first on the Fed’s recent actions to involve themselves in the Bear Stearns bailout. Without a thorough review of these measures, we will not be able to adequately review the Treasury plan.

I want to be assured that the Fed’s action will not leave our nation’s hardworking taxpayers on the hook. I look forward to the opportunity to question Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke about the actions leading up to Federal Reserve’s decision to intervene.

We should appreciate the fact that Garrett is one of the only Republicans calling this bailout a bailout. It should be interesting to see how this all plays out, but I'm a little skeptical. Like I said in a previous post, Garrett doesn't want regulation for anything.

Back in 2006, this is how he described the hedge fund industry, and those relying on derivatives.
I would call your attention to the improvements of the hedge fund industry risk management function, improvements that were recommended in that study in 1999.

Counterparties and financial institutions have taken affirmative steps over the past 6 years now to mitigate exposures to risk through innovative financial products and the allocation of greater resources toward a dedicated risk management role.

We should all be genuinely concerned, based on his own comments, that the motivation for Garrett's skepticism is rooted in the idea things are hunky dory in the financial system at the moment.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Garrett & The Credit Crunch

It was bad enough back in September to watch Representative Scott Garrett say that the problem in the sub-prime credit market was a small issue.

Then on Sunday, after a number of postmortems have concluded an emphasis on deregulated derivatives to obtain quarterly profits played a large part in this credit mess we're in, Garrett went on record saying deregulation had nothing to with it. We have to remember, Garrett's always had trouble understanding when economists like Alan Greenspan tell him things, so this is no different.

This Tuesday, Garrett went on record with the AP saying that anti-predatory regulations wouldn't have worked because "innovation in the lending market would have found a way around even an all-encompassing bill." That's right, our Representative believes keeping people from being skrewed over is too daunting a task, so why try.

Finally today, Garrett apparently responded to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's remarks yesterday regarding the need to increase regulation for those being loaned taxpayer dollars.

Here are Paulson's sentiments, as reported by the Washington Post:
"This latest episode has highlighted that the world has changed as has the role of other nonbank financial institutions and the interconnectedness among all financial institutions," Paulson said. "These changes require us all to think more broadly about the regulatory and supervisory framework that is consistent with the promotion and maintenance of financial stability," he added.


The secretary said commercial banks' access to the Fed's emergency lending "discount window" has traditionally been accompanied by regulatory oversight and supervision. "Certainly any regular access to the discount window should involve the same type of regulation and supervision," Paulson said.

Protecting taxpayers, there's a novel idea. Considering we've never heard a peep from Garrett about the billions lost due to fraud in Iraq or why he advocated for an earmark for a program after the Army had ended it; I doubt the idea of having accountability for the money lent to JPMorgan and others will cross his mind.

This was Garrett's thought, as posted on The Hill Blog:
It is critical that in our politicians haste to find a solution to our housing market woes that they do not act in a way that could hamper the free market and further dry up credit leading us to only exacerbate the situation.

We have to keep in mind that Garrett doesn't believe anything other than abortion should be regulated, ever. How Garrett can claim to be a champion of the taxpayer out of one side of his mouth; and at the same time be against ensuring the taxpayer's dollar isn't being used to underwrite bad business practices out the other side of his mouth is mind numbing.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Camille Abate On Blue Jersey Radio

In case you missed it, the guys over on Blue Jersey Radio had Camille Abate on this weekend.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Garrett Hires Former Lobbyist

Well, this is interesting.

Representative Scott Garrett has lost long time Chief of Staff Michelle Presson, who was without a doubt a soundbite flamethrower. I had great respect for her ability to get Garrett's point of view (or maybe her own) across in about 10 words.

Replacing her, according to Herb Jackson, is Amy D. Smith. A veteran of Capitol Hill, Ms. Smith has also worked for Senator Bob Dole and Rep. Brian Billbray. As also noted by Jackson, Ms. Smith was a lobbyist. Apparently, it was for the firm Bartlett, Bendall, & Kadesh, LLC for a few years.

Among the firm's current roster of clients includes folks like Freddie Mac, NBC Universal, the Motion Picture Association of America, and a slew of banks and financial firms from Morgan Stanley to Washington Mutual. Kind of makes this quote from Jackson even more interesting if that was the firm:
Now she's moved to Garrett's team, where his committee assignments on financial services and budget fit her interests.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ethics: In A Heart Beat

With this week's passage of HR 895, creating an independent ethics panel to monitor the actions of House members down in Washington, reformers were given a bittersweet victory and partisans were given soundbite fodder.

Representative Scott Garrett voted against the bill and gave Herb Jackson of the Record this soundbite:
"I agree our current system is broken," Garrett said. "Unfortunately, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi failed to bring a bi-partisan solution to the table and chose to put forward a Commission that does not solve the current problems. Instead, it would allow anonymous partisan complaints to clog the system and lead to increased mud-slinging."
The reason this new Ethics panel became a necessity is because of the gentleman's agreement put in place about not bringing charges, for fear that they could lead to partisan attack. This effectively led to the old panel being shut down while Representatives Tom DeLay, Randall "Duke" Cunningham, Don Young and William Jefferson taking graft and corruption to a new level.

In an effort to have a bi-partisan jury of sorts, both the Speaker and Minority Leader must concur on the panel members. Unfortunately, Rep. John Boehner has a bit of a cynical view of the prospects for the committee, as relayed to The Washington Times.
"I can't imagine anyone in their right mind would want to serve on this outside panel because of the fighting that's going to occur, not by members but by partisan groups on both sides who are going to want to file frivolous complaints."
I'd do it in a heartbeat, and there are likely a ton of other good government minded individuals who would agree to serve their Country in this capacity if asked. I really hope Boehner won't sabotage this entire process because of cynicism.

It should be interesting to see how this pans out, but one has to hope we're going to head in the right direction in terms of ethics.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bureaucracy Bursting Immigration Reform

Well, Representative Scott Garrett has found an illegal immigration bill he likes enough to sign a discharge petition to force a floor vote without it going through the committee process. The reason process is important is because sometimes you get a bill with some REALLY bad provisions.

I took the time to read Rep. Shuler's HR 4088, and here are a few things I noticed right off the bat:

In a loophole big enough to float Noah's Ark through, individuals seeking to skirt the law could either use an established religious institution or create one, and bring in as many "missionaries" as they wanted without fear of prosecution. All they have to do is show their missionary has been part of the church for a year. As long as they aren't paid, there is no limitation on what the "missionaries" could do once here.

My guess is there would likely be lots of new churches, mosques and temples "helping" their neighbor with home construction, landscaping, car washes, and tons of other "fundraisers" to support their "mission"; which may provide them housing, food, clothing, etc. Indentured servitude, anyone? [Title I Subtitle E. Sec. 141 (b)(1)(C)(5)(2)(C) or page 37];

Foreign companies are able to win contracts to run the programs and Congress doesn't need to be notified until 60 days after they start working, and there's no guarantee they have to hire Americans to perform their tasks. [Title I Sec. 112(b)(1)];

Any employer who has an employee with a problem with their Social Security number will have to terminate employees 10 business days after the employer is notified of the issue if it is not resolved. I know people who have been trying for years to fix such problems, but there is no provision for continued employment if the process has begun but is unresolved. [Title II Subpart A Sec. 202(a)];

There were at least 7.6 million people working two jobs in January of this year, all of which would have to either go to a social security office or electronically submit their paystubs to the government to prove they really are having to work two jobs. Apparently, this has to be done before any of their payments into the system are credited. Get a different part time job, back to the Social Security office.

The passport backlog was blamed on a surge of roughly 8 million applicants. Somehow, I doubt Social Security will have much more success in dealing with a crush of people roughly the same size just when more baby boomers are set to retire. [Title II Subpart A Sec. 202(b)];

Another thing I noticed, while the bill appropriates $200 million to the Department of Homeland Security for new equipment, there is no appropriation to Social Security for the increased work load. It seems to be a bit of a blank check.

I'm surprised Garrett would want to fight for a bill that has an open ended funding commitment and would explode the size of several bureaucracies within Washington. He's not usually the type to be so hot and bothered to pick a fight on a bill that spends money we don't have and grows the size of government exponentially.

It's not that the bill doesn't have some very common sense approaches to dealing with illegal immigration that should be considered. It's just sometimes the process is there for a reason, and the reasons listed above are just a few examples of what's wrong with this bill.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Profiting from Eminent Domain

The Record ran a must read story today for anyone interested in how pay-to-play works, or at least the questions raised by it continuing. At issue is the relationship between a large donor to the BCDO and his work for the Freeholders as a no-bid real estate agent/consultant. From the article:

Robert Pimienta, a registered Republican from Franklin Lakes, gets a cut every time the Democratic-controlled county government signs a lease or buys property.


A week after county freeholders added that provision to his contract, Pimienta received $91,000 in connection with a Teterboro site the county condemned via eminent domain for a new juvenile detention center.


Pimienta, 48, said in an interview last week that there is no connection between his county contract and the $90,000 he and his PAC have bestowed on Democratic candidates and groups in Bergen County since 1999.

If that's dried out, we would have the best fertilized county parks in the nation.

There's no doubt Mr. Pimienta is a big time player and donor. In addition to the BCDO, he's aparantly given $61,400 to federal candidates. Previous to 2000, when Republicans ruled Bergen County, it was mostly Republicans like Bob Dole and Steve Lonegan. After 2000, it's the Democrats ranging from Hillary Clinton to Paul Aronsohn.

It's bad enough that we have no-bid contracts on non-emergency tasks, depriving county taxpayers the confidence they are getting the most value for their dollar. Now, we have an individual receiving a near reimbursement in fees for eminent domain seizure as political contributions made to the BCDO.

With the BCDO unwilling to reform itself, my hope is that the BCRO will resolve it's recent spat of ineptitude and bring the hammer down on pay-to-play. This sort of activity, with the budget crisis we face, is absolutely unacceptable.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Congrats to Garrett

Representative Scott Garrett was one of the biggest movers up the Power Rankings in Congress for this year. He went from 411, which I wrote about a few times, up to 217. Garrett ranks 51st within the Republican Party in the House. Here's how Knowlegis describes the issues factoring into Garrett's rank:
Too few terms or years in office in Congress to have significant clout;
Successfully passed one or more bills out of committee;
Successfully amended one or more bills on the floor of the House or Senate;
Allowed to offer one or more unsuccessful amendments on the House floor.

As noted here, the bill Garrett passed out of committee is the one which will raise the insurance premiums on homes worth more than $600,000 located within flood zones.

His successful amendments range from prohibiting travel of more than 50 government employees to conferences; to getting an extension for the exemption for smaller publicly traded companies from having to conform with SOX; to increasing funding for the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Garrett's unsuccessful amendments include eliminating funding for the Alaskan Native Education Equity Program; to reducing funding for Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research; to an amendment preventing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from issuing conforming loans to most first time home buyers.

I know I've kicked around Garrett for being ranked so lowly in the last poll, so it's only fair to congratulate him on moving up in the world. As a District, we have to hold him accountable to use this new found influence to get stuff like AMT reform done.

Granted, Garrett's still a long way from the top of the Republicans, let alone the House in General. However, it was a huge jump. Now it's a matter of what he can do with it this year.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Don't Like the Audit? Fire the Auditors

It's been well documented on this blog and throughout the news world the sheer amount of our taxpayer dollars that have been wasted through fraud and abuse in Iraq. If you add up all of the waste, fraud and abuse in all of the audits done it's in the billions of dollars. Now, the Bush Administration seems to have found a solution: end auditing.

According to the Associated Press, it seems the Administration is going to virtually end the auditing of USAID programs in Iraq. This from their story:

The U.S. plans to reduce the number of auditors and investigators at its development agency in Baghdad, The Associated Press has learned.

A spokesman for Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican who opposes the plan, said Friday the nine investigators and auditors would be permitted to finish their tours — but would not be replaced.


The USAID inspector general's office has had people on the ground in Iraq since August 2004, Dinkler said, and conducted 38 performance audits, as well as 105 financial audits that questioned $64 million in costs. Investigations have come up with $4.6 million in savings, she said.


USAID's mission in Iraq has included helping the country with elections, government services, financial management, infrastructure projects, health care and education, according to the agency's Web site.

I really hope Representative Scott Garrett, and the whole New Jersey delegation for that matter, can find a way to join Senator Norm Coleman in vocal opposition of this proposal. Either the inspectors are reinstated or the funds going to Iraq should be frozen.

Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, no one who pays taxes should be happy about this Enron-esque move. It's bad enough our national treasure has been vanishing in the sands of Iraq when people are paying attention, the idea of unchecked graft is obscene.