Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Signing Off for Now

After taking the heart of the election season off, this is pretty much a forgone conclusion, but I figured I would make it official. Blog the Fifth, for now, is going on the shelf. I have a number of reasons, but I leave it feeling a sense of accomplishment.

The first goal of Blog the Fifth was to hold Representative Scott Garrett accountable, and I did. He and his staff went from making stuff up to sticking by his beliefs without spinning like crazy. In a sense, he's been rewarded, absolutely crushing all comers. I'm not saying I agree with the man, but he's earned my respect for not wavering and not resorting to the distortions so many of his fellow Republicans did in recent months.

Even though he may no longer be my Congressman after redistricting, there is something to be said of knowing exactly where your guy stands and that he usually gets about 60-65% of his constituents to support him.

The second goal was to shine light on the corruption in Bergen County. When I started this thing, Papa Joe and his cronies were running everything and making an open mockery of what good government should be. Papa Joe and his chosen officials are all but gone now, and that's something everyone in Bergen County should be happy about.

County Executive-elect Kathe Donovan is someone I met back in '96 when I was interning at the BCRO, and she was as genuine then as she is now. She was endorsed by Democrats and Republicans alike, and hopefully will lead a thoughtful course correction in the way Bergen County has done business for far too long.

This whole thing isn't to say that I'm going to stop writing.

I've already reserved a new address for a new blog: Mighty Moderate

I plan to start posting over there soon, but for now, thanks to everyone who encouraged this project, read, and commented. Until next time...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Garrett Loves Christie's Budget

The tax credit post is coming, but for those that missed it, here's Garrett's statement praising Governor Christie's budget:

(Washington, DC)– Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) released the following statement praising the bold and necessary moves proposed by Governor Chris Christie in his FY2011 budget proposal.

“It is not an easy task Governor Christie is being faced with but the FY2011 budget proposal is the first commonsense and fiscally responsible initiative a New Jersey executive has taken in years,” said Garrett about Christie’s budget.

In addition to the FY2011 budget, the governor has announced two other initiatives Congressman Garrett supports. First, has initiated a task force to find ways to privatize government jobs and cut government spending. Second, the Governor is proposing an Amendment to the New Jersey Constitution that will restrict property tax increases that are more than 2.5%.

“Years of reckless spending have caught up with New Jersey and we need to stand together and start thinking of new ways to run our state,” said Garrett. “The days of fixing wounds by raising taxes to unprecedented heights have left New Jersey with the highest taxes in the country, a budgetary deficit and a fleeing population. Governor Christie has said ‘enough’.

“The first step to this process is less government spending, which will lead to a more efficiently run government, a lower tax burden for everyone and better government service to the people of New Jersey.”

While I will be discussing other parts of the budget later, Tod Theise (Garrett's likely opponent) would do well to explain to the voters of Paramus that Garrett supports Christie's efforts to force an end to the Blue Laws.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Christie's Budget: Repeal Blue Laws?

I want to begin this post by praising Governor Chris Christie for putting his budget proposals on-line and seeming to welcome the public's eyes into what is sure to be a difficult process. This sort of transparency is needed more not less.

I'm going to use the resources to really look at what he's planning and do a number of posts, some positive and some negative.

This first one is more of a "And exactly how is this going to work?"

From Christie's budget proposal:
Sales Tax - Repeal of Bergen County Blue Laws 65,000
That's $65 million, actually.

The governor's staff seem to believe the people of Bergen County will simply repeal the Blue Laws that are repeatedly upheld by voters. Or is he going to force that down everyone's throats? Pinning $65 million of new revenue on something that, as far as I know, is completely out of his hands is a little dicey to say the least. He has to know that, because it wasn't highlighted in his budget address.

Christie's said many times he doesn't want to resort to one time gimmicks, but realistically speaking, relying on something completely out of your hands to raise $65 million is a gimmick. If/when it doesn't happen, the budget goes out of balance and we have to go back to borrowing.

To make matters worse, even if it was approved by voters, when would it go into effect and how much money would it raise from that point?

Questions that need to be answered.

My next post will be on the film and high tech tax credits. More to come...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Why Deficits Matter

The news today about Social Security should remind all of us why deficits matter. From the AP:

The retirement nest egg of an entire generation is stashed away in this small town along the Ohio River: $2.5 trillion in IOUs from the federal government, payable to the Social Security Administration.

It's time to start cashing them in.

For more than two decades, Social Security collected more money in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits — billions more each year.


For more than two decades, regardless of which political party was in power, Congress has been accused of raiding the Social Security trust funds to pay for other programs, masking the size of the budget deficit.
This is part of the reason I'm so frustrated with the Republican Party. Yes the Republicans. When the calendar flipped to January 2001, they supplanted the PAYGO Republicans of the '90's with the "Deficits Don't Matter" Republicans of the 2000's, many of whom are still there.

Repeatedly voting for deficit spending, the news on Social Security is a reminder that each one of the caucus who held office in the 2000's should be removed. Representatives like our own Scott Garrett voted to add $1.8 trillion to the on-budget deficit himself. That was in just four years, and doesn't include Iraq or Afghanistan.

Now out of power, the Republicans on the Hill have taken a "Born Again" deficit-hawk stance in the press that's about as flimsy as wet newspaper. Garrett and others still assail PAYGO budgeting, preferring to borrow instead of plugging tax loopholes. They also completely ignore, and even defend, the harmful financial consequences of programs like Medicare Advantage.

While it's nice that Garrett and the Republicans feel an election year is a good time not to pursue earmarks, most of these Representatives were the biggest pigs at the trough for the better part of a decade. One can't forget Garrett acquired earmarks for a program after the Army had ended the program and the recipient announced the end to their stockholders.

I'm sure the Republicans will grab this report and run with it in their fiscally irrational stance against health insurance reform. If they really cared about deficits, they'd look at the billions in deficit reduction as a good thing.

But what are facts but a nusance to the practitioners of partisan politics? Voters need to be reminded of this, constantly, heading into the fall.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Republicans' Publicity Stunt

Well, today Republicans launched their latest publicity stunt. Today's "We're Fiscal Conservatives, we promise" moment: Republicans placed a self-imposed ban on earmarks. From the AP:
The move is an election-year appeal to voters frustrated with Washington's free-spending ways. But it is a one-year pause, not a permanent ban.
I've written many times about how much I dislike earmarks, however this is nothing more than a publicity stunt. They ban them for a year, possibly get the House back, and then have folks like our Representative Scott Garrett go right back to sending money to programs people don't want.

This politically motivated "moratorium" has been brought about from the same Republicans that vote against PAYGO on a regular basis. This is the fundamental problem Republicans have had for the last decade, they govern by soundbite instead of sound policy.

While one can only hope voters recognize this as the stunt it is, the only meaningful way to ban earmarks is to legislatively eliminate them. If the Democrats had any gumption, they would get an up or down vote on a five to ten year moratorium and see what happens.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Love Transparency

The good folks at Sunlight Foundation have a nifty new tool for folks around the country to see what their Representative is spending on their behalf. This is a simple way to glance and compare Congress and their spending, as opposed to the House PDFs that literally will tell you every bottle of water they've bought (okay, maybe case). Both are useful in their own way, and this is so much better than what we had a couple of years ago.

For example, our Representative Scott Garrett ran his office last year for a touch over $1.2 million dollars, which is a touch on the low side compared to others I looked at (Frank, Rothman, Sires, etc.). Of course, Garrett did plow another $100,000 into franked mail pieces (the ones taxpayers pay for), but as it's not an election year he seems to have dialed it back by more than half over 2008.

We need more efforts like this in government. Really, it's our money they're spending, and the only way to prevent waste and abuse is going to be good accounting and ways to access the information.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are the Democrats Punting?

A comment over on Blue Jersey about the state of our Congressional District really raised an eyebrow and got me thinking. The comment was this:
I'll give you another example - I live in NJ-5, Scott Garrett is my congressman. It is looking more and more like the county parties aren't going to put ANYONE up - at a time where republican turnout will be higher and more motivated than the past 5+ years.
This is a sad statement on our politics in their current state. Gerrymandering has gotten to a point where folks like Garrett can serve until they are redistricted out or retire. His only threat real and perceived is in the primary, when the smallest fraction of the electorate makes all the decisions. Democrats won't run anyone because they don't want to spend the money. Politics is a business.

This reality undermines the entire intent of a Representative being accountable to their constituents. Forget the fact that the Democrats can't get someone who believes enough in their values to step up. With the Democrats punting, there's no one to bring up relevant questions for voters to ponder at the ballot box. Why vote against small business tax cuts repeatedly? Why vote against balancing the budget repeatedly? Why vote against extending unemployment benefits repeatedly? Why vote to hasten Medicare's insolvency?

Granted, Garrett is by all accounts safe in this seat. In fact it hasn't really been close on election day in a very long time. That said, Democrats failure to supply voters with any kind of alternative abdicates their fundamental responsibility in our already flawed two party system.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Garrett vs. Lowering the Deficit

What is the one plan that successfully lowered the federal deficit?


What does our Representative Scott Garrett consistently vote against?


I've written about this before, especially lamenting what happened to the Republican Party.

As the Tea Party people start their convention, if they really are mad as hell about the size of deficits, they need look no further than Garrett and his fellow Republicans that served from 2002-Present (including Dick Armey). They were the ones to abandon PAYGO, allowing the deficit to grow, and they are the ones who keep voting against it.

While Garrett has previously said PAYGO only justifies increasing taxes, history tells another tale. When instituted by REPUBLICANS, it took a few years, but in the late 1990's we actually started running surpluses and paying down our debt. Garrett's brand of Republicans decided in 2002 this wasn't a good idea.

Here's how Alan Greenspan explained it:
However, the brief emergence of surpluses in the late 1990s eroded the will to adhere to these rules, which were aimed specifically at promoting deficit reduction rather than at the broader goal of setting out a commonly agreed-upon standard for determining whether the nation was living within its fiscal means. Many of the provisions that helped restrain budgetary decision making in the 1990s--in particular, the limits on discretionary spending and the PAYGO requirements--were violated ever more frequently; finally, in 2002, they were allowed to expire.

Reinstating a structure like the one provided by the Budget Enforcement Act would signal a renewed commitment to fiscal restraint and help restore discipline to the annual budgeting process. Such a step would be even more meaningful if it were coupled with the adoption of a set of provisions for dealing with unanticipated budgetary outcomes over time.
As I've noted before, it was Garrett's freshman year in Congress that he went along with the Republicans and their "Deficits Don't Matter" mentality.

Now, Garrett and the others are trying to tap into the populist outrage against government debt, while continuing to vote against the only thing that really works to reduce the deficit. It is the height of hypocritical political opportunism, and if these Tea Party people actually care about facts, they need to call out all 179 Republicans that voted against PAYGO.

Unfortunately, I doubt that will ever happen, because the Tea Party's "esteemed" leader was the one running the show when PAYGO was canned to begin with. I don't doubt these Tea Party people really are outraged, what I doubt is that their leadership's intentions are more than simply lining their own pockets, like Ralph Reed opposing Indian casinos.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Garrett Spins Again

Due to a number of reasons, I've been away from covering Representative Scott Garrett for longer than I ever would have imagined. However, after receiving an e-mail from a reader, I was snapped back to reality. Garrett has spinning again, big time.

At issue, is this week's Garrett Gazette, with it's title "Has Stimulus Failed New Jersey?" Here's the offending statement:
As President Obama prepares for his State of the Union address, unemployment remains at record highs for Americans. The White House claims their stimulus bill “has already created or saved up to 2 million jobs,” but the table below compares the White House's recent claims of state-by-state job creation with the actual change in state payroll employment through December 2009, using data announced on Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor. According to the data, 49 States have lost jobs since stimulus was enacted in February 2009. Only North Dakota and the District of Columbia have seen net job creation, and even those levels fall short of White House claims.
Garrett's playing semantics games again. The White House has never claimed that the stimulus eliminated job losses, only slowed them down. Here's what the White House actually reported:
Citing its own analysis plus a range of private sector summaries, the council estimated the annual growth rate last year would have been roughly 2 percentage points lower, and there would have been 1.5 million to 2 million fewer jobs.
So while Garrett would like you to believe the promise was job growth, all that was promised and delivered was that things would be better than without the stimulus. And that's what happened. Less unemployment and greater GDP.

Whether or not you agree with the stimulus, the least we should expect of Garrett and the Republicans is that they discuss the results honestly.


Just a quick note to readers: As I've started getting e-mails from a few of you asking what's going on, I'm healthy, just super busy. I have a number of side projects going on that have gotten in the way.