Thursday, April 30, 2009

CFG, GOP and Specter

I've written enough times about the Club for Growth, and their links to Representative Scott Garrett, that people are aware how wrong I think they are. Now, in the game of finger pointing about why Senator Arlen Specter switched parties, they're finally taking some heat. There are lessons in this for Republicans and Democrats.

From Politico:
(Sen. Orrin) Hatch, the No. 2 man at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Toomey can’t win in a general election in Pennsylvania — and that by chasing out Specter, the Club for Growth and its backers may have cost the GOP another seat in the Senate.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with leadership; it had to do with Club for Growth,” the Utah Republican said of Specter’s switch. “I wish they’d spend their money going after Democrats, rather than Republicans. ... Let’s just be honest about it: In blue states, we’re not going to get conservative Republicans. It’s just that simple.


“I would remind Mr. Steele and some of our party leaders: Theirs is a job of winning elections, of increasing party strength, not of forming some sort of party purity police so this grand experiment to shrink the base to its purest form finds us confined to a phone booth,” (veteran GOP strategist John) Weaver said.
The Club for Growth only received 2903 donations from individuals last election cycle. Granted, they raised and spent $3.4 million, but it came from 2,900 people. That's less than seven people per Congressional District.

Yet the Republican Party tolerates their slash and burn tactics. They can't be a player in a general because their message doesn't resonate, so they go in the primary forcing good Representatives like Marge Roukema into early retirement, cost Lincoln Chaffee reelection by burning his warchest, and switches by long time public servants like Sen. Specter.

And what do they get?

They get to pad their paychecks by pointing to things like Garrett's recent vote against clean water as success, wringing their hands they don't have more people like him. They never seem to point to the fact he was only one of ten to vote that way. Such bluntness would probably be too demoralizing or a wake up call to help the CFG faithful realize they're pouring money into a an ideological black hole.

As the GOP continues it's march toward irrelevance, Democrats can't be too certain it can't happen to them as well. Voters saw it in Connecticut with the campaign against Lieberman. Targeted by MoveOn, Leiberman and his 90% Democratic voting record spoke at the Republican National Convention last summer.

Granted, MoveOn crushes the Club for Growth in terms of number of donors and raised ten times as much money last cycle, but it's still only about 11,000 donors. That's a whopping 26 people per Congressional District of 600,000.

The claims by special interests that the locally elected representatives of a District or state have lost touch with their constituents and therefore merit a primary challenge are just that; claims by a special interest they don't like the representative. Sure, there are Districts throughout the nation where the general is won on Primary Day, but the assault on moderates in moderate Districts is a recipe for disaster for either party.

It's what happened to the Republicans, and the Democrats need to guard against it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bye Bye Pontiac

I was rather sad to see the news that GM is going to be shutting Pontiac down. My first car was a 1976 Grand Le Mans (similar to one pictured above), and I've had many many Pontiac rental cars (I ask for them). Even though I drive a Chevy, I've always had a soft spot for Pontiac.

The ones who follow these sorts of things have often speculated it would be Pontiac or Saturn to go down, another brand I'm fond of.

As sorry as I am to see the brand go, my heart really goes out to the 21,000 folks who are going to lose their jobs. Unfotunately, many of these people are the victims of "this quarter's all that counts" mentality that's dominated the American auto-industry for decades now.

Farewell, old friend.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Garrett's Reading List

Politico has an interesting article about the Republican Party's new favorite book: The Forgotten Man. The book has been hailed and derided for it's approach to covering the New Deal from the perspective of the wealthy. It's subtitle is telling: A New History of the Great Depression

Our own Representative Scott Garrett and staff are prominently featured in the Politico article.
“It’s been suggested as required reading for all of us, I think,” said Erica Elliott, press secretary for Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) — who himself notes that his chief of staff “stole” his hardback copy, so he had to purchase a paperback.

Garrett said the book “is a good read” that details, among other things, “how FDR engaged in vitriolic demonizing of Wall Street and Big Business to advance his agenda.”

Also, he jokes, “it had good pictures when you get to the middle.”

Here's a little lesson from the book that Politico pointed out:

Of course Hoover and Roosevelt may have had no choice but to pursue the policies they did. They may indeed have spared the country something worse — an American version of Stalin’s communism or Mussolini’s fascism.

It should be interesting to see if the Republicans butcher the intent of the book, or simply ignore the parts they don't like, kind of like Scripture or Goldwater's The Conscience of the Conservative. Looking forward to reading this one.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Garrett on Durban II

It was hard to miss President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hijacking of a conference that was supposed to lead to an end of racism. Representative Scott Garrett released a very strong statement condemning both Ahmadinejad and the tone of Durban II:

“The Durban II Conference is not a peaceful platform for transcending racial and cultural intolerance; it’s a forum for hatred targeted at the United States, Israel and Europe. This is clearly illustrated in the comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who today labeled Israel as an oppressive entity.

“The participants of this conference will likely ignore the ongoing persecution of people in places like Darfur, Liberia, and the Congo—even though their suffering is in part fueled by ethnic discrimination. In addition, the participants aren’t likely to oppose the oppression of women or religious minorities across the globe.

“As thousands of innocent people continue to be victims of ethnic discrimination, I find it shameful that the United Nations would waste an opportunity to hold a conference that could have raised awareness about ongoing atrocities. Instead of an open and frank discussion about promoting freedom and equality, this facade promotes intolerance.

“I applaud President Obama for choosing to boycott Durban II and I am pleased that Canada, Israel, Australia, Italy, and several other countries have made the same decision. I now urge my colleagues in the U.S. Congress to join me in going one step farther.

“A few weeks ago, I re-introduced a bill that would prohibit U.S. funds from going towards the Durban Review Conference. We currently finance 22 percent of the total U.N. budget, on which there are no usage restrictions. I believe that one of the best ways to achieve U.N. accountability is by making sure that we put our money where our mouth is and prohibit the use of U.S. funds to spread hatred. Hopefully, we can encourage the U.N. to see that this conference actually harms global efforts to advance freedom.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Tea Parties

Yesterday, in addition to being tax filing day, also became national "teabagging" day as thousands took to the streets to protest having to pay taxes. It's interesting that those leading the charge are many of the same people that looked the other way while the Bush Administration and his Republican Congress were saying deficits don't matter.

Our own Representative Scott Garrett got in on the action, mentioning the tea parties in an Op-Ed he got published in the Herald News.
Americans recognize that the government needs their tax dollars to function and provide essential programs for our country, and Americans have always been willing to pay their fair share.
As nice a statement as it is, the "fair share" thing depends who you're talking to.

The reason our District gets crushed by the AMT is because getting rid of it would force taxes and/or borrowing up for the rest of the nation. There was the thought of taxing 5,000 or so hedge fund managers like normal people, which actually would have been a huge step toward repealing the AMT, but Garrett and others rejected the approach. Is that fair?

And what's essential?

You're reading this, so you're benefiting from the investment of taxpayers in the 60's, 70's and 80's to build the technology and backbone of the Internet.

On top of that, chances are, you honed your reading skills thanks to the investment of those taxpayers working when you were a kid. And there's no doubt many of us survived childhood due to vaccines that were funded by taxpayers from the 1920s to present day.

If you're at your job, it's roads and transit that others paid for to get you there. Ever pay to pave your driveway? Imagine having to pave your own road to work.

And we all cheered when Captain Richard Phillips was rescued, but we can't forget that taxpayers footed a lot of bills to get the SEALS to where they needed to be to take those shots, starting in kindergarten.

Now, there's no doubt the government spends a lot of money it doesn't need to. Programs like Medicare Advantage, where taxpayers are paying more for services than they should be, are ripe throughout government. Any meaningful change in tax and spending policy has to start by sifting things like that out. However, we're coming out of eight years of tax cut and spend, which eliminated not only deficit hawks but true fiscal conservatives in government.

In addition to no-bid contracts, earmarks tend to be a top waste of money, or at the very least one of the biggest ways of preventing us from making sure we're getting the best bang for our buck. Unfortunately, there are only 35 Representatives who don't request earmarks.

If you're one of the teabaggers reading this, then hold your own Representative accountable. If they're earmarking, they're not helping reduce government spending. If they're talking about eliminating national programs, they're talking about raising your local taxes. If they're talking about giving you tax cuts, but won't cut programs we don't need like the F-22, they're talking about taxing your grandchildren.

Protests like yesterday don't mean anything when people re-elect their own elected officials 90% of the time. The whole mess is our own fault, and it hardly started with Obama. Sure, Republicans seized and nourished the rage, but that's the greatest con-job of all since they were the ones handing out no-bid contracts in Iraq and were in control of Congress and regulation agencies when things started falling apart in the financial sector.

The partisanship, the name calling, all of it needs to stop. We're in a hole we allowed ourselves to be put in, and now we're going to have to dig ourselves out. It is possible we will, but the anger expressed yesterday needs to be transformed from name calling into concrete ideas. And voters need to wake up and realize where we're at has been decades in the making, and it's likely going to take a decade to fix.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

NJ Transit Cuts

For those that hadn't seen it, it looks like the Governor is about to cut $62 million from the budget of NJ Transit. State officials are saying it's part of a larger group of cuts, but one has to hope this was a misquote.
"In that $4 billion, of 2,400 line items in the budget, 36 are reduced and NJ Transit is not immune from this," said Tom Vincz, Treasury Department spokesman. "We have asked all stakeholders to share the burden, and this is in line with the efficiencies we've asked of all agencies."
Out of 2,400, 36 are reduced? Even if it was 240 lines, it hardly seems like all stakeholders are taking a hit.

I've written before about my frustration with parking and the elimination of half of my night time trains. Now, it looks like they may have to cut more service. Although NJ Transit said they're going to try and avoid it, having their funding reduced 17% may make it impossible to avoid.

The State is not being smart about this. It costs the state less in terms of road repair, emergency services, and lost productivity (sitting in traffic) to have people use mass transit. Now is not the time to make it harder to use mass transit, and that's exactly what the Governor's proposal seems to do.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Our Military Industrial Nightmare

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has done the unthinkable: he's had the gall to recommend cutting military programs that aren't needed and shifting money to ones that are. The horror.

Here's how Gates sums up his view:
"When programs are out of control, when they're six years late, when they're twice the cost that they were originally forecast, something has to be done. Something has to give," Gates said.
That makes sense, to normal people, but the same article provides a clear example of how messed up Washington thought is:

"There are certain policy decisions Congress has a say so in, and we are going to have a say," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who wants to buy up to 60 more of the F-22 fighter jets, said Tuesday.
That's 60 planes the Pentagon doesn't want, at $150 million a piece. Now, our Representative Scott Garrett and both Senators Menendez and Lautenberg have been guilty of getting money for programs the Pentagon doesn't want, but never to the tune of $9 billion dollars.

The problem is Congress as a whole ignores the Pentagon all the time. We need body armor, Congress gets us a new plane. What's going to make this fight even more bizarre than normal is the fact Gates's proposal isn't even cutting the budget. He's telling Congress we're changing what we're buying to what we need.

The early criticism just reinforces that Congress has been sucked into buying what they're told by lobbyists we need as opposed to the Pentagon. It's tragic that Congress will borrow whatever it takes to make their campaign donors happy.

It wasn't even 50 years ago that Eisenhower coined the phrase Military Industrial Complex. For those that forgot his prophetic warning, here it is:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Garrett Talks Budget on CNBC

This was interesting to watch:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Republican Budget Bonanza

Well, with the Budget Spin wars going in full steam, I figured I'd print off the President's Budget, the CBO's estimate on the President's Budget, and the Republican Alternative introduced by Representative Scott Garrett and his Republican colleagues yesterday. It's interesting to sit and have all the documents on the desk at the same time.

Both proposals are disappoinging in that neither even pretends to attempt to balance the budget. As I wrote in an earlier post, both parties are addicted to deficit spending, it's just a matter of what they're borrowing for.

While Obama's budget has been scrutinized a lot, we knew where he was coming from because he's been talking about it since 2007. Even though there's no shot of the Republican Budget passing, it's interesting to now see where their conversation starts:
The budget gives priority to the Federal Government’s most important obligations, national defense, veterans’ benefits, and homeland security activities. All other appropriated spending is level-funded for fiscal years 2010-14, and then increased at a moderate rate through 2019.
So the party of Eisenhower and his warning against the military industrial complex has completely embraced a defense only spending mentality. It's unfortunate that Republicans see our military spending as a jobs programs. Money to get more teachers? Doctors? Green Collar? Nope.

It's also interesting to see their views on return on investment. In their argument in support of more drilling and against the cap and trade proposal (which, thankfully, is going nowhere fast), they cite "studies" that for every $1 billion invested in big oil, 5,400 jobs are created. That's spending $185,000 to create one job.

The SBA, whose budget is frozen by the Republican "vision", creates a job for every $50,000 lent, at a cost of around $200. Either way you look at it, Republicans are embracing a jobs figure that costs between 370% to 92,600% more to create a job.

That's not ensuring our tax dollars are being spent wisely, but it's consistent with other schemes like Medicare Advantage or hiring Blackwater to handle security, where taxpayers pay more for service than if the government did it itself. That's not fiscal responsibility, it's fiscal fleecing, and Republicans want to return to being trusted stewards?

Adding insult to injury is their tax proposal, which throws everyone into an AMT like structure by eliminating deductions, credits, etc. It also makes permanent things like the competitive advantage they gave foreign companies and taxing firefighters at a higher rate than hedge fund managers.

No one can argue that Obama's budget is fiscally responsible, doubling the national debt in ten years, although still less than Reagan in terms of percent. Unfortunately, the Republican alternative still adds roughly 50% to the debt over ten years, while continuing many of the policies and objectives that got us in this mess in the first place.

At some point, somebody is going to have to put our fiscal house in order, maybe before our grandchildren die.