Tags: Congress

John Wood Jr. Hit Rep. Maxine Waters Harder Than Any Challenger Ever


In her 24-year career in the House of Representatives, Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles County has never faced a challenger as tough as John Wood Jr., the young Republican profiled this week by National Review Online. Wood came within a

As Wood noted in that profile, the bar is pretty low. In her previous 12 elections, including her 1990 election and all subsequent reelections, Waters has averaged 81.39 percent of the vote. On Tuesday, Wood got 22,478 votes, totaling 29.6 percent and knocking Waters’s take down to 70.4 percent. He is the first challenger to come within a fraction of a point of taking Waters’s vote below 70 percent. He did so as a Republican in a state of such breathtaking political diversity that is increasingly running Democrat-vs.-Democrat general elections.

Tuesday’s vote drew 75,911 District 43 voters out to the polls. That’s not the lowest turnout in Waters history but it is on the low end (though it is difficult to draw conclusions because she has represented three different gerrymanderings over the years). The district has 348,074 registered voters, and 54,299 of those are Republicans.

There was no defeating Waters, but Wood ran the strongest challenge she has faced at least since ascending to Congress. Imagine what he could have done with more than $10,000.

Tags: Congressional Democrats , Congress , Los Angeles

A Well-Founded Loss of Confidence in American Government


Today from Gallup: “Americans’ confidence in all three branches of the U.S. government has fallen, reaching record lows for the Supreme Court (30 percent) and Congress (7 percent), and a six-year low for the presidency (29 percent). The presidency had the largest drop of the three branches this year, down seven percentage points from its previous rating of 36 percent.”

Considering the state of the economy and economic opportunity, health care, the Middle East ablaze, scandals, screw-ups and corruption at the IRS, NSA and VA with a crackdown on whistleblowers, chaos on our southern border with a deluge of unattended children, and gas prices hitting a six-year high despite a boom in domestic oil production… that lack of confidence appears spectacularly well-founded.

This is not a good environment to be a longtime government official — say, a former senator and Secretary of State asking Americans to see you as the right person to clean up the mess. As stated in today’s Jolt, “the problem for Hillary is that acknowledging the obvious would showcase her as the anti-populist candidate of 2016. She became immensely wealthy because of her political power, which smells a lot like cashing in on one’s elected office — toxic at a time when Americans feel like their elected officials don’t listen to them and don’t understand their struggles in this persistently lousy economy.”

Or as Kevin Williamson puts it:

Political power outlasts political office: Hillary Clinton is no longer secretary of state or a senator or in any of the other positions she has held as a form of tribute paid to her husband; but she very well may be a future president. She has been paid an enormous advance on a book that almost certainly will not justify that expenditure, and collects speech honoraria that are, if not quite up at her husband’s stratospheric levels, nonetheless substantial. What is she being paid for? It is hard to see how economic value, strictly understood, explains that… Political power is worth investing in, and worth renting when it is needed.

Considering the evidence, why should Americans have confidence in their government?

Governing is a lot harder than it looks from the outside.

Tags: Barack Obama , Supreme Court , Congress , Gallup

But Other Than All That, Obamacare Had a Good Weekend!


From the first Morning Jolt of an icy December week:

You Know the Latest News on Obamacare Is Bad. But You Don’t Know How It’s Bad.

The threat that Obamacare could end up shutting down volunteer firehouses, the site not working again, the administrators demanding bonuses and raises . . . rough end of the week for Obamacare. But things had to get better this weekend, right?


Behold, members of Congress and their staff, unable to purchase insurance through the exchanges. I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing at the hardships of other people.

Congress itself is now having so much trouble signing up for the Obamacare exchanges that late Friday the top administrator in the House of Representatives laid out a backup plan in case lawmakers and staff can’t get through the process by the time their enrollment ends Monday.

The red flags started reaching critical mass Thursday and Friday, when some staff and members of Congress told House administrators they were having trouble enrolling through the Washington health exchange, known as DC Health Link. The D.C. exchange is the official signup portal for Congress, where members must go to get health care through their job.

Then the state of California decided that they could do whatever they wanted with the personal information that insurance shoppers typed into the site:

Raising concerns about consumer privacy, California’s health exchange has given insurance agents the names and contact information for tens of thousands of people who went online to check out coverage but didn’t ask to be contacted.

The Covered California exchange said it started handing out this consumer information this week as part of a pilot program to help people enroll ahead of a Dec. 23 deadline to have health insurance in place by Jan. 1.

State officials said they are only trying to help potential customers find insurance and sign up in time. But some insurance brokers and consumers who were contacted said they were astonished by the state’s move.

“I’m shocked and dumbfounded,” said Sam Smith, an Encino insurance broker and president of the California Assn. of Health Underwriters, an industry group.

Smith said he was under the impression from the exchange that these consumers had requested assistance. He received the names of two consumers this week but has not yet contacted them.

And they wonder why people don’t trust the government!

Then we learned the implementation in Maryland was even worse than anyone imagined:

Although state officials have provided the public scant detail about the troubled launch of Maryland’s version of Obamacare, emails and documents show that the project was beset behind the scenes for months by an array of technical issues, warring contractors and other problems.

Since Maryland’s online health exchange opened Oct. 1 for people to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act — and immediately crashed — the two main companies in charge of the website have taken their fight to court, a corporate project manager was replaced and a high-powered consulting firm was quietly brought in to restore order. Though state officials initially said the crash of the online exchange was an unexpected and fixable problem, emails and documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun through state open-records laws outline serious issues before and after the launch.

The revelations came just days before Rebecca Pearce, the head of the exchange, resigned. State officials announced that move Friday night and pulled Carolyn Quattrocki from the governor’s health reform office to serve as an interim replacement.

Just two weeks before the launch, Pearce visited the prime contractor’s Linthicum headquarters and found a room of empty seats. She fired off an email questioning the company’s commitment to resolve problems and reminding the contractors of what was at stake: “Tonight, I am begging. I don’t know how else to say it: we have got to make this a reality.”

Finally, remember all of those administration officials telling the public to use paper applications if the web site wasn’t working? Well, now they’re not so sure there’s time to process all of those:

Federal health officials, after encouraging alternate sign-up methods amid the fumbled rollout of their online insurance website, began quietly urging counselors around the country this week to stop using paper applications to enroll people in health insurance because of concerns those applications would not be processed in time.

Interviews with enrollment counselors, insurance brokers and a government official who works with navigators in Illinois reveal the latest change in direction by the Obama administration, which had been encouraging paper applications and other means because of all the problems with the federal website. Consumers must sign up for insurance under the federal health overhaul by Dec. 23 in order for coverage to start in January.

“We received guidance from the feds recommending that folks apply online as opposed to paper,” said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Insurance.

After a conference call earlier this week with federal health officials, Illinois health officials sent a memo Thursday to their roughly 1,600 navigators saying there is no way to complete marketplace enrollment through a paper application. The memo, which Claffey said was based on guidance from federal officials, said paper applications should be used only if other means aren’t available.

So . . . yeah, it was as bad a weekend for Washington-run health care as it was for the Washington Redskins.

Tags: Obamacare , Maryland , Congress

Our Governing Class Doesn’t Experience Government the Way We Do


In light of the TSA patting down a toddler in a wheelchair . . .

If more of our elected officials did their own taxes, pumped their own gas (no official office travel budgets or reimbursement), flew commercial and got to enjoy TSA pat-downs, waited on line at the post office to mail their own packages, had to wait on line at the DMV, and so on, would they have the same views and support the same policies?

When the president, most members of Congress, and most members of the cabinet debate a policy, most of the time they’re discussing something that is entirely theoretical to them. They’ll never have to deal directly with the federal policy they’re discussing, and the consequences of the policy will have no impact on the quality of their life whatsoever.

Most of them live a life completely different from ours. Many of them have chauffeurs or staffers to drive them around. Their travel expenses, including gas, are covered or are reimbursed by their office. They’re too busy to wait on line in places like the post office, the DMV, or other offices of government bureaucracy, so they have staffers do that where possible. At a high enough level, they have personal security, so the threat of violent crime is entirely theoretical to them. (How many politicians who support gun control travel with armed security guards?) They have their career path set ahead of them; they’re not attempting to launch a small business. If they did, they would just hire someone to deal with all of the paperwork and regulations.

They make a salary that is astronomical for the average American: $174,000 for most members of the House and Senate, $199,700 for cabinet members, $223,500 for the Speaker of the House, $230,700 for the vice president, $400,000 for the president. They receive generous pensions. Their careers after leaving office include many lucrative opportunities in academia, publishing, media, and lobbying.

For those at the highest level of our government, the process of passing laws is not too different from playing “The Sims” or some other game. They make the changes and observe how others react; they themselves are distanced and cushioned from the actual impact of the laws.

I was reminded of a closing passage in Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes:

The White House is the thickest and shiniest bubble of all.

It’s not just that we can’t see him. From the White House, he can’t see anything outside. Why didn’t [George H. W.] Bush get it?

Well, the White House was running like a top! Everyone who walked into his office had a wonderful job — and were excited by the swell things they were doing for the country and its people. Every microphone over which he peered had a thousand faces upturned to his, ready to cheer his every applause line. If he left Washington, every tarmac on which Air Force One touched down had a line of prosperous people in suits, to pump Bush’s hand and tell him things were, we were, he was . . . great!

Sometimes our elected officials do a poor job of showcasing their relief that they don’t have to interact with the federal government the way that we do.

Tags: Congress , President Obama

2012: An Across-the-Board Anti-Incumbent Year?


Reid Wilson looks at the numbers and suggests that 2012 might be a genuine anti-incumbent year, as opposed to previous “anti-incumbent” years that turned out to be bad for only one party’s incumbents.

For all the attention the “Republican Revolution” class of 1994 received, more new members came to Congress after the 1992 election. More than a quarter of the entire House — 110 members — were freshmen (compared with 85 in 1994).

This cycle’s mood mirrors 1992. Just 9 percent of the electorate approve of Congress, according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll. And 79 percent told ABC News/Washington Post pollsters they are dissatisfied with the way the country’s political system is working, only 2 percentage points off the 81 percent who said the same thing just before the 1992 elections.

And, as in 1992, redistricting is adding to the tumult as even seemingly safe members have to contend with thousands of new voters who want change. As in 1992, no incumbent next year is truly secure, whether in primary or general elections.

The only problem with this assessment that the ideological division in the 2012 presidential election is going to be pretty stark. Could Americans, dissatisfied by what they’re getting under divided government of a Democratic president and a Republican House, decide they want a Republican president and a Democratic House? That they want a conservative approach in the executive branch, and then lower on the ticket, they want a congressional candidate explicitly running against that approach? Not unthinkable, but a bit hard to imagine. Presidents have coattails, long and short, for a reason.

Tags: 2012 , Congress , President Obama

What Stops Us From Suspending Congress’ Pay? Er, the Constitution.


With the shutdown now less than 24 hours away, you’ll hear a lot of cries of “let’s suspend pay for Congress during this shutdown!”

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes:

If we careen over a cliff on Friday and the American government shuts down, hard-working federal workers will stop getting paychecks, but the members of Congress responsible for the shutdown are expected to be paid as usual.

That’s partly because Congressional pay is not subject to the regular appropriations process, and partly because of Constitutional concerns. The Senate passed a bill proposed by Barbara Boxer of California that would suspend Congressional paychecks in any government shutdown, but the Republican-controlled House has blocked it. House Republicans approved a similar pay suspension, but it was embedded in legislation that has zero chance of becoming law.

The upshot is that federal workers who do important work for the public — cleaning up toxic waste, enrolling sick people into lifesaving medical trials, answering medical hot lines, running national parks, processing passport applications — risk being sent home and going unpaid. But members of Congress would continue to receive $174,000 a year. As the humorist Andy Borowitz wrote in a Twitter message:  “That’s like eliminating the fire dept & sending checks to the arsonists.”

Note his passing allusion to “Constitutional concerns.” Satisfying as the idea may seem, suspending members’ pay would blatantly violate the most recent amendment, the 27th Amendment, which ensures that changes to lawmakers’ salaries cannot take effect until a new Congress convenes; the purpose of this is to prevent members from voting themselves a pay raise. (Of course, members can vote future Congresses a pay raise or reduction, knowing that most of them will be reelected.)

With characteristic hyperbole, Kristof declares:

Imagine how disastrous it would be if the Republicans shut down government for any length of time. Unpaid federal employees would cut back on shopping. Some would miss house payments. Family members might drop out of college. The I.R.S. might not be able to deliver some tax refunds. Small businesses would stop getting government loans. In sum, after the Democratic stimulus, we would have the Republican drag.

Really? Any length of time? Even if they reach a deal Saturday, with the government shut down a day or so, we’ll see all of those economic effects? Please. On Saturday morning you’ll see the Smithsonian closed and other inconvenient effects, but the good news is that because the shutdown takes effect midnight on a Friday, negotiators have at least 48 hours before there’s any real impact; most federal workers don’t work weekends normally.

Tags: Congress

Poll: Public Would Blame Democrats More for a Shutdown


It’s not yet clear we’ll see a government shutdown, but the sense has been that Democrats think it would be a political winner for them and Republicans generally fear the public will turn against them. But that may not be the case: “Twenty-nine percent of likely voters would blame Democrats for a government shutdown, compared to 23 percent who would hold Republicans responsible, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill.The results are surprising because most people blamed the GOP for the last government shutdown, which occurred during President Clinton’s first term. A week before the 1995 shuttering, polls showed the public blamed Republicans by a two-to-one-margin.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Congress

The First $350 Billion Is Always the Hardest


Heritage offers what strikes me as a surprisingly painless hit-list for the first $343 billion in budget cuts. I like.

Tags: Congress , Debt , Deficits , Fiscal Armageddon

About the Pledge


I have to admit that I am scratching my bald noggin over the fact that a fair number of my fellow right-wingers are dismissing “The Pledge” as pusillanimous, lacking sufficient specificity, etc. I do not get it.

I don’t think you can get to the militant side of me when it comes to debt and spending, and my distrust for Republicans — especially congressional Republicans — is longstanding and well-documented. That being written, if a new Republican majority can, in fact, pare back spending to 2008 levels (even if it is only non-defense discretionary spending, a small part of the overall budget nightmare) and enact caps, that will be an enormous victory, a hugely significant step in the right direction. If the Class of 2010 can get that done, they will have accomplished something worthwhile — even if they do not achieve a single thing beyond that.

On Fannie and Freddie, especially, the Pledge has been criticized for a lack of clarity. I think it’s suffering more from a lack of good writing: I take “shrink their portfolio” and “end their government bailout” to mean forcing the GSEs to offload a bunch of assets as a prelude to breaking them up and fully privatizing them, withdrawing both the federal line of credit and the federal guarantee backing them. I don’t know what else those words could mean, and the Republicans I have talked to suggest that is what they have in mind.

I agree that they could have been more robust on the entitlements and that defense spending will have to be addressed. As a matter of politics, entitlement reform is going to be a long and complex fight, and difficult to summarize in a short campaign document. (And, yes, I know, call it cowardice or call it the political survival instinct, nobody is eager to grab that third rail at this moment.) As for defense spending, I think we spending hawks can, at the risk of waking the ghost of Murray Rothbard, count on the Left to make that an issue before the Republicans do. There’s a lot of room to cut at in the kingdom of Pentagonia; I suspect that the Republicans, if they are smart (I know! I know! Caveat!) will allow the Democrats to propose those and will agree to some of them as a compromise.

And the budget-process reforms look pretty smart to me.

Also: Repealing Obamacare, enacting national medical liability reform, opening up a nationwide insurance market to replace the fragmented, oligopolistic state-by-state market, better HSAs — what’s not to like?

Cutting and capping domestic spending: You guys do appreciate that this would be more than President Reagan managed on the spending front, right?

And getting that done would do a lot to repair the Republicans’ reputation on fiscal prudence, laying the groundwork for the bigger and more difficult fight over entitlements. And there is no point in passing a bold entitlement-reform bill in the next year, anyway — it would be vetoed by President Obama, and it is extremely unlikely that such a bill would command anything like a veto-proof majority.

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi gang got into trouble for doing too much too quickly: stimulus (and stimulus, and stimulus), health care, attempting cap and trade, etc. The Class of 2010 is not going to: 1. Reduce and cap non-defense discretionary spending; 2. repeal Obamacare; 3. enact free-market health-care reform; 4. fix Social Security; 5. fix Medicare; 6. fix Medicaid; 7. reform national-defense policy and, consequently, national-defense spending; 8. reform the tax code — all at once. If they manage to do 1-3 in a single Congress, conservatives should take up a collection to build a statue of John Boehner — on horseback.

– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, to be published in January.

Tags: Congress , Debt , Deficits , Despair , Republicans , The Pledge

How Not To Cut Military Spending


The report of Rep. Barney Frank’s Sustainable Defense Task Force, issued in June, is a strange document. Titled “Debt, Deficits, and Defense: A Way Forward,” its first word is “conservatives,” which suggests that Mr. Frank’s intended audience is not Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, the people who actually control our debt, deficits, and defense. It begins with a quotation from Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution, whom the reports’ authors are careful to identify as a McCain-Palin foreign-policy adviser: “Conservatives need to hearken back to our Eisenhower heritage,” Schake writes, “and develop a defense leadership that understands military power is fundamentally premised on the solvency of the American government and the vibrancy of the U.S. economy.” This is followed by a second quotation, from John Podesta of the Center for American Progress, which of course is of no interest.

What we discover in this report is not a budgetary document, but a pacifists’ manifesto: significant policy changes masquerading as deficit-hawking and penny-pinching. Buried in the report’s vasty depths is an eight-paragraph disquisition on the “Logic of Restraint,” the ideological framework undergirding the report’s book-balancing exercise. In other words, the conclusions precede the premises.

In its opening shot, the report identifies 19 broad categories of potential savings, and its authors suggest that nearly $1 trillion can be sweated out of military spending over the coming decade. There are only four categories in which the savings add up to more than $100 billion, and examining those gives one a taste of the ideological particularism and wishful thinking at work here. The first of them is diminishing the U.S. nuclear arsenal for a savings of $113.5 billion. The second is reversing the growth in the Army and Marine Corps budgets that accompanied the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, saving $147 billion. The third is reducing the Navy’s fleet to 230 ships, saving $126.6 billion. And the final chunk comes in the nice round figure of $100 billion, to be realized by having Congress “require commensurate savings in command, support, and infrastructure,” which is to say — magic! Smaller line items do away with the Osprey helicopter program, two Air Force fighter wings, and 50,000 troops stationed in Europe and Asia.

The policy preferences expressed in this report, and the slightly cavalier approach to the subject, come as no surprise: The authors of the report include no leading minds from the armed forces or the Pentagon, but multiple representatives from the Project on Defense Alternatives, an envoy from Peace Action, and like-minded colleagues from the Center for American Progress, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the New America Foundation, etc. (There are two Cato Institute scholars on the panel as well, along with Prof. Prasannan Parthasarathi of Boston College, an expert on the British empire and the author of a highly regarded history of cotton textiles.)

The Pentagon’s budget is as bloated as any typical federal agency’s, and its operations as poorly administered. There is ample room for cuts in its budget. But there is not at present occasion for these cuts, which presuppose a major change in the military posture of the United States. As crucial as spending reform is — even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs calls the federal debt our top long-term national-security threat — we should not conduct a major rethinking of our national-defense policy under the cover of budget-balancing. That is a debate that deserves to be had on its own terms.

And it is a debate that deserves to be conducted honestly. Unhappily, the authors of this report engage in the usual Washington budgetary shenanigans, calculating that military spending is responsible for two-thirds of the growth in annual discretionary spending since 2001. The key is that word “discretionary,” which functions as a way to wall off Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid from budgetary scrutiny. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution suggests that all spending is discretionary; certainly, all spending should be treated that way. It is inevitable that if one sets aside the largest items on the federal budget — the so-called entitlements — then the relative size of military spending will be exaggerated. In truth, defense spending represents about 20 percent of the budget; in the 2010 budget, the Department of Health and Human Services will spend $200 billion more than the Department of Defense, its budget 28 percent larger. As a share of GDP, we spend about twice as much on entitlements as we do on national defense. To exclude those facts from discussion of national defense as a fiscal issue is to present a distorted picture of federal spending.

For instance, the authors of the report propose to eliminate 24,000 personnel from the U.S. Army. Why that number? Which 24,000? Why Army personnel, and not OSHA or IRS or Interior Department staff? Paying 24,000 Army personnel for a year costs about one day’s worth of Social Security spending, probably a bit less. Talking about military spending out of the broader budget context is nonsensical, particularly given that national defense is one of the few theaters in which the federal government unquestionably is executing a legitimate sovereign responsibility, the measure of which is largely non-economic. Modest Medicare reform easily could save more money than reducing our nuclear arsenal and our missile-defense programs; but if Medicare is not up for discussion, and if one has a disinclination against nuclear munitions and missile defense to begin with, then why bother asking the question? On the other hand, what is the economic value of a single successful deployment of an antimissile interceptor? There are some gentlemen in Tehran promising to force the question.

This shoddy report is an opportunity missed, and particularly frustrating for those of us on the right who advocate a less expansive, and less expensive, national-security apparatus — those of us who share (disquieting as it is to acknowledge the commonality) Mr. Frank’s belief that the presence of thousands of U.S. troops in such non-hotspots as Germany is an extravagance and an invitation to excess. Likewise, those who are serious about setting America’s public finances aright will have to include reductions in military spending in their calculations — and the Pentagon’s budget is ripe with savings opportunities. But we must develop a sensible national-defense doctrine before working out the details of its economical implementation, rather than taking the covert, backward approach of using budget-balancing to overturn our existing arrangements. There is hard work to be done here, and Mr. Frank’s panel has failed to do it. There are many arguments for returning Mr. Frank and his party to the minority, and their inability to treat this serious issue seriously adds to them.

– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review.

Tags: Congress , Spending

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