The Weiner Component #140C – Congress & the National Debt


National-Debt-GDP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The National or Public Debt is money that the United States has borrowed above what it collects in taxes and which, with taxes, it uses to operate the country.


The high current level of the National Debt was brought about by the three last Republican Presidents: Ronald Reagan and the two Bush presidents, father and son.  The majority of the balance came about by policies and wars by these three men.  Prior to Reagan assuming office the National Debt, which had existed since the inception of this nation, was under one trillion dollars.


Republican led economizing actions toward the Public or National Debt have been penny wise and dollar stupid; particularly since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011.  Since this period their economizing policies have actually exacerbated both the unemployment situation and lowered the overall economic health of the United States, actually keeping the GDP (Gross National Product) considerably lower than it could or should have been.    Their tactics of forcing their agenda through by refusing to enact necessary legislation unless their economizing bills were also passed have cost the government millions, if not billions.  This is particularly true with bills funding the Federal Government or raising the nation’s debt limit that they mostly caused to be as high as it is.  In fact we are just passed a point in time when the government once again needed to have the debt limit raised above the 18.1 trillion limit or cause financial crises by not allowing the Treasury to have enough funds to pay the continuing costs of running the Federal Government.


Fortunately this was one of the final acts of the retiring Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner.  He, with the majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and with President Obama worked out a compromise bill through a telephone conference.  They raised the National Debt so that it will not have to be adjusted for two years and also funded the military properly for the oncoming year.  This was done in both Houses of Congress with Democratic help.


The conservative Congress presumably wants to or was attempting to use this as a bargaining/blackmailing tool to force the President to cut discretionary spending, which already has been and will again be automatically cut by the sequester at the beginning of the New Year.


The National Debt, all 18.1 trillion of it, consists of two categories, Public and Private Debt.  The Federal Government owns through its assorted agencies probably, at least, 50% of its own debt.  It could be a lot higher than that.


Question: Can an entity owe itself money?  Can any individual or entity owe itself money and legally charge itself interest on these funds?  Apparently only the Federal Government can and does do this.


But is it real?  Since money has no intrinsic value the Federal Government could print any amount it wishes.  There is absolutely nothing behind the dollar but the word of the National Government.  There are, of course, reasons why it doesn’t but the Federal Reserve can and does occasionally increase the amount of money in circulation in the National Cash Flow.


Of course if any agency like Social Security, which has been showing a profit since 1983 when it was last adjusted and is currently owed about three trillion dollars, were to need any of its additional funds or some of the monies owed to it, that would create problems since the monies has been and are continuing to be spent, both the principle and the interest, and Social Security is given book credit for all these amounts.


This process is also true for a large number of government funds that run a surplus; the excess money is freely added to the general fund.  The major exception to this practice would be the Federal Reserve which will and has used debt funds to make adjustments in the National Cash Flow, adding money when there is a shortage during periods of deflation or recession and taking funds out of the National Cash Flow during periods of increasing inflation when there is too much money available in the flow.


The rest of the Public or National Debt is private, borrowed on a short or long term basis, from individuals, countries, and other entities.  The major foreign holder of American debt is China, (whether its individuals, companies, or the government itself is another question), holding about 3 trillion dollars’ worth of this loan paper.  Japan is next holding a little less.  The third, I believe, is India.  Companies and individuals hold this mortgage paper.  The FED has sales of it going on all the time, selling short to long term bonds.


In addition people buy EE bonds as gifts and as a form of savings.  These bonds function over a 5 year period and their cost is less than the face value of the bond which is the value after 5 years.  They make nice gift for youngsters in that they cost less than their face value and if they are held over 5 years pay additional interest.  I bonds tend to cost more and generally pay a higher rate of interest.  Here the interest is added on to the bond.  There are no state or local taxes on these bonds.


How real is the Public or National Debt if the Federal Government owns a large percentage of its own debt?  An interesting question and different economists have different conclusions or interpretations of this fact.


Alan Greenspan, a conservative economist, was appointed Federal Reserve Chairman by President Ronald Reagan in August 1987 and served until January of 2006.  He held that the Free Market was essential in making economic decisions.  Reagan and his advisors followed the same principle.  They deregulated the banking industry and allowed them to move freely forward.


Greenspan served for almost 20 years as Chairman, the second longest tenure of any chairman in the FED and was looked upon by many members of Congress almost as a seer who could foretell the economic future.  Unfortunately Greenspan, even with all the information provided by the Federal Reserve’s constant monitoring of the economy missed the major change that occurred during his term as Chairman.  That was the need for rapid monetary expansion by a rapidly growing economy.  Instead of the FED increasing the money supply in a sane fashion it was left to the unregulated banks to expand the amount of currency in circulation.  This was done slowly at first and then gathered speed like a free moving vehicle rushing downhill.  By 2007 the signs of eminent economic collapse were present.  But they were faced with denial by a generation of bankers who had known only rising real estate values.  The Real Estate Crash came in late 2008 when the entire real estate market disintegrated overnight.  So much for economic awareness by the experts!


First, what is the real National Debt?  Is it just the Private Debt or is it both, the Public and the Private Debt?  The American dollar today is still considered one of the most prized currencies in the world.  The FED has never had any trouble selling its bonds both domestically and to foreign investors.   Most other nations rank their currencies to the value of the dollar.  Some economic theories or beliefs seem to occasionally be in a process of change.  Finally the United States does not seem to be even near the point of going bankrupt.


We are moving into economic areas where it would seem new laws of economics seem to be about to be discovered.  Money, in terms of Macroeconomics, is related to the system of taxation but not dependent upon it.  Money, to the state, is a tool utilized to enhance productivity and the levels of national consumption and standards of living for the entire population.


The determining factor of how much money should be in circulation is or should be determined by the level of inflation or deflation that exists in the nation.  A high rate of inflation determines that not enough goods and services are being produced. People are bidding up the price of everything.  A rapid drop in prices indicates that too much goods and services are available and there is not enough cash in the general society to purchase them.  One of the main jobs of the Federal Reserve is to maintain a balance between these two forces. For this process the 12 Federal Reserve Banks are supposed to constantly monitor their areas of responsibility.


This was not done properly by the FED from the 1970s through 2008 and the Real Estate Collapse was brought about by the deregulated irresponsible banking industry that created excess trillions of dollars that were added to the National Cash Flow.  If the increased cash needed for the economic growth for this period had gradually been added to the national economy by the Federal Reserve there would never have been the 2008 Real Estate Disaster.  The FED, under Alan Greenspan, allowed the Free Market or unregulated Capitalism to bring about economic disaster.


Many economists believe that as long as the Public Debt does not exceed the Gross National Product (GDP), which is all the goods and services produced in the nation in one fiscal year, the country is safe.  The GDP is estimated to be 17,419 trillion dollars for 2015, the Debt Limit has to be raised beyond 18.1 trillion dollars.  The estimated growth in the GDP between 2014 and 2015 is estimated to be 651 billion dollars.


There have been times in the past, usually during major wars or economic emergencies like the Great Depression, when government spending has exceeded the value of the GDP.   These have lasted for short periods of time.  Once it regularly exceeds that level there is, according to some economists, a serious problem.


Also as we move toward the middle of the current century the retired population and those needing more continual medical treatment will increase significantly raising the costs of Social Security and Medicare.  Both of these programs will take a larger and larger percentage of discretionary spending continually bringing up the Federal Government’s costs.  Presumably the costs will increase far above the GDP.  At this point, according to some economists, the ever growing National Debt could cause continual economic harm to the country.


If we accept this premise as accurate there are certain known variables that have not been factored into this premise.  There may also be other unknown variables that could come up.


The first major factor to consider is time.  Most of these future projections are based upon the present; that is, given a future of a decade or two or more, if everything remains exactly the same except for what is being discussed, then the projection will happen.  Generally no one can accurately project all the changes that will come about ten or more years from now.  On that basis any prediction is flawed.


Think of your own lives.  What was your world like ten or more years ago?  Could you even imagine being where you are now?  Could you imagine the world as it is now?  I recently found myself standing in a supermarket checkout line looking at a display of chocolate bars.  They were on sale, 4 for five dollars.  For no reason I said aloud, “What happened to the 5 cent bars of chocolate?”  The person in front of me, who was being checked out, start to muse aloud about how, as a child, how much candy he could buy then for a quarter.  He was in his mid-fifties.  Values or prices have changed considerably since then.  Money has decreased in value.  That is one variable that no one really projected.


Social Security was last fixed or its premiums were raised in 1983 during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.  It has had since then and currently still has a surplus.  Presumably sometime well past the middle of this century it will begin using this surplus and toward the end of this century will have used it out and have to be readjusted, if this is not done earlier.  Medicare was separated from social security in the late 1980s.  From that time on it was funded by an additional payroll tax paid by, like social security, both by employees and employers.  Both or either of these funds can be again increased or fixed.


What many economists are projecting into the future is what will happen if the present becomes the future.  Essentially with no other changes in the future except the increase in the elderly population they are predicting what will happen.  They are not taking any other variabilities into consideration.  The probability of the projection coming true as stated is very low, probably well under 25%.


In the last few years the amount of money, as a percentage of taxes collected, has been significantly decreasing but so has the cost of running the Federal Government.  We could possibly in Barak Obama’s last year as president actually have a slight surplus decreasing the National or Public Debt.  This did occur during Clinton’s last year as President.


Will the Federal Government raise the National Debt further toward the end of this century?  We still haven’t defined what is the real National Debt or, for that matter, the reality of the National Debt as a factor in the operation of this nation in terms of Macroeconomics.  We are moving forward in time with assorted future projections by assorted economists, some of these forecasts contradicting other forecasts.


Has Congress even begun to study this problem?  Most of what I have heard from Republican Congressmen has been doom and gloom, the country is headed for bankruptcy unless we cut down Federal spending.  Yet the Republican headed Congress can spend well over 4 and 1/2 million dollars holding numerous standing committee hearings trying to tear down or blame Hillary Rodham Clinton for what happened in Benghazi, Libya while Clinton was Secretary of State.  And this same Republican Congress earlier wasted over a billion dollars shutting down the Federal Government by refusing to fund it.  Some of the potential Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidential Elections seem to want to massively expand the war against ISIS.  They seem to have a problem dealing with the real world!

English: The holders of the United States nati...

English: The holders of the United States national debt as of December 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Congress & the Problems of the United States: Are We Getting Our Money’s Worth?

English: Breakdown of political party represen...

English: Breakdown of political party representation in the United States House of Representatives during the 112th Congress. Blue: Democrat Red: Republican This SVG file was originally hand-written. It contains comments suggesting how to amend it to reflect future changes in Congress. Inkscape reads this file as corrupted, thus changes must be made with a text editor or other program and checked with a browser. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are 435 members of the House of Representatives.  Their combined salaries, taken together is $73,950,000 taxpayer dollars per year.  Of these 247 currently are Republicans.  They receive $41,990,000 taxpayer dollars in compensation for serving in the House of Representatives.  Of these 247 House members 40 belong to the Freedom Caucus.  They make up the ultra-conservative far right end of the party.  These people understand compromise as the other side coming to their position; to them anything else in largely unacceptable.


On the issue of passing a bill to continue to fund the government the Freedom Caucus, which is made up of Tea Partiers, plus a number of other Republicans had refused to act until funding Planned Parenthood was removed from the bill.  If Planned Parenthood were removed from the bill President Barak Obama stated he would veto the proposed new law.  This brought about the resignation of the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, at the end of September, effective October 31st.  A bill was brought through the Senate and later, the House, continuing the funding of the government through December.  In each case with heavy Democratic participation.  There were not enough Republicans supporting it in either House for the bill to pass without Democratic support.


As an aside, the evidence presumably proving Planned Parenthood was guilty of breaking the law in performing abortions and selling fetus tissue for research was highly edited video tapes that were the equivalent of a man entering a house, then in the next scene he or someone entered an apartment, greeted a woman, the camera would switch to an image of a bedroom, and finally the man would exit the house, presumably in the morning.  This was the level of the edited video evidence presented against Planned Parenthood, which the anti-abortion groups took as absolute proof.  In addition some of the video were made by paid actors, hired by an anti-abortion group, discussing the sale of fetus parts.   Planned Parenthood has been investigated numerous times by Congressional Standing Committees and others and has never been legally proven of doing anything illegal.


To get back to our primary subject, what we spend on Congress and what we are now getting in return.  If we include the Senate in the cost we are adding an additional $170,000 one hundred times, that’s 17 million dollars.  This does not include the fact that each congressperson in either House has a staff in Washington that can employ up to eighteen permanent members and have an office in their home state.  We are spending well in excess of ½ billion dollars annually upon our law-makers.  For this, especially since they take an oath to uphold the Constitution, we should be able to expect them to do their jobs.  Are they passing laws that help the country develop and prosper?  Are they doing things to lower unemployment?  Is the country moving forward to a better tomorrow?  Are they repaying the taxpayers for electing them to office or are they serving their large contributors who have funded their political campaigns or are many carrying out their own specific agendas?


My impression is that most, if not all, of the Republicans elected to Congress have no real understanding of what makes up economics; that they think of the Federal Government functioning on the same level as their households, that so much money comes in every month and once that’s gone the government has to borrow money to spend more, and that additional money has to eventually be paid back.  That is how Microeconomics (small economics) works but that is not how the Federal Government works.


The Federal Government, all national governments for that matter, operate under the principles of Macroeconomics (Big Economics).  There is today nothing behind the dollar but the word of the National Government; they own the printing presses.  Money has no intrinsic value today; the government can print any amount it wishes.  They do this by legislating the amount that can be printed and the Federal Reserve determines when, if, and how much to release to the banks.  Money to the Federal Government is a tool that is supposed to be used to enhance productivity within the country.  Its expenditure has nothing to do with its taxable income.  The true value or wealth of the country is the goods and services produced within a fiscal year determined in terms of dollars and cents.


If the members of Congress do not understand this concept then they are working against the welfare of the nation.  They are not doing what they were elected to do, run the country positively.  What has existed since the House of Representatives achieved a Republican majority in 2011 has essentially been inaction, or when legislation occurred it has been mainly to hamper economic recovery.


From the year 2008 on the major banks, first in the United States and then throughout most of the Industrial world, were suddenly on the point of collapse.  In the U.S. one trillion dollars of real estate value disappeared virtually overnight.  The major banking houses were suddenly facing ruin, were ready to go under.  They had speculated in real estate from the 1980s on to the point of insanity in late 2008.  Overnight there was massive unemployment; many people’s homes had larger mortgages than they were then worth.  The country was on the brink of a massive depression.  Banking in the U.S. could conceivably diminish to a trickle.


First in 2008, when this madness, brought about by the large banks, both commercial and investment banks occurred, George W. Bush and his Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson, made massive loans to the banking houses; then this was continued by President Barak Obama in 2009.  Some investment and commercial banks were allowed to go under, their loans and deposits taken over by other big banking houses; but most were saved with additional loans.  (If you’re interested in the specifics of what happened Ben Bernanke the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, has just published a book dealing with all of this.)


What have the Republicans achieved?  In 2011, through a process known as gerrymandering, favorably setting up voting districts in states they controlled politically, based upon the party registration of the voters, they were able to gain control of the House of Representatives, and they have kept it ever since.  In the Senate they gained control in 2014.  They could conceivably lose it in 2016 when 1/3d of the Senate will run for reelection.


The Republican prospective in dealing with the Real Estate Disaster has been to ignore it.  Mitt Romney, when he ran as the Republican Candidate in 2012, spoke about doing away with the banking reform bills passed after the 2008 Crash.  It seems that one of his goals was to bring America back to where it was before the 2008 Disaster.  Fortunately he didn’t get elected or we might be back to the Crash now with the major banking houses again destroying the economy.


Since they gained control of the House of Representatives in 2011 the Republicans in the House of Representatives and, for that matter, also in the Senate have strictly followed a policy of Microeconomics (small economics), attempting to run the country as they each run their own households.  The result of this from 2011 on has been to exacerbate the recession, costing additional hundreds of thousands of jobs lost throughout the United States in the federal and state governments and in the general population from monies not spent by these unemployed former government employees.  They have done everything possible to worsen the overall situation.  Luckily the President and the Federal Reserve, despite the Republican actions, have been able to generally put the country well in the direction of economic reform.  The cost of this has been a 53% increase in the National Debt spent by President Barak Obama during his first six years in office.  This included an economic stimulus package, both cutting taxes and extending unemployment benefits to avoid another Great Depression.  He has also increased defense spending and brought about the Parent Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).


The National Debt is now 18.4 trillion dollars.  If we go back to the Republican Presidency of Ronald Reagan we get a good idea of why it is so high now.  When Reagan became President in 1981 the National Debt was just under one trillion dollars.  His great fear was that the Soviet Union was militarily ahead of the United States.  He wanted to militarily catch up to them and possibly get ahead of them.  In eight years he added 1.86 trillion dollars, over 100% to the 998 billion debt level bringing it up to well over 2 trillion dollars.


In point of fact we actually were well ahead of the Soviet Union in our military preparedness.  The Soviet Union bankrupted itself trying to keep up with the United States.  The problem with the U.S. was that the leadership instinctively knew how well armed the Soviets were and that the contrary information that the government intelligence agencies could provide was supposedly inaccurate and ignored.


Under George H.W. Bush, through faulty or stupid use of diplomats, the President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, got the impression that he could invade Kuwait and the United States would ignore the incident.  After the invasion we had operation Desert Storm.  This war could have been avoided with proper use of diplomacy.  Bush Sr. added 1.554 trillion dollars to the National Debt, an addition 54% in just 4 years as president.


Interestingly, I would suspect in reprisal, Saddam Hussein attempted to have George H.W.  Bush assassinated.  The attempt failed.  But apparently his oldest son never forgot this fact.


The National Debt increased under Bill Clinton but during the last year of his second term he not only balanced the budget he also reduced the Debt slightly.


Shortly after George W. Bush became President he got the U.S. involved in two wars: one in Afghanistan as a result of the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City and another one in Iraq because, I would suspect, to get even with Saddam Hussein for attempting to kill his “daddy.”  The intelligence agencies in the U.S. felt, I understand, that the “weapons of mass destruction” theory or belief was pure fantasy.  Bush Jr. in eight years added 5.849 trillion to the National Debt increasing the National Debt 101% during his eight year period as president.  A good part of this money was spent fighting a pointless war which destabilized the Middle East and brought into existence such groups as ISIS and what seems hopeless confusion and endless civil war that we are stuck with today in the Middle East.


While Obama increased the Debt another 53%, 6.167 trillion dollars, during his first six years in office he did so to keep the country from falling into a deep depression, which had been gradually brought about by doing away with banking restriction laws that had been passed from 1933 on, during the years of the Reagan Presidency.  Reagan and his group apparently believed in a Free Market economy; with all economic decisions being made by the actions of the market.  He allowed the big banking houses, with no Government controls to create a maelstrom.


Despite all the Microeconomic moves of the Republican House of Representatives during the first six years of the Obama Presidency he has largely worked the nation toward economic recovery.  Had the Republicans understood basic economics the country could now be undergoing a period of full employment with a much higher tax base that might even be high enough to start reducing the National Debt.


Other questions loom up here: What exactly is the National Debt?  How does it affect the nation?


According to a member of the Freedom Caucus who was interviewed on MSNBC he would vote for Paul Ryan as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives when the current one, John Boehner, leaves at the end of October 2015 if he would acknowledge the seriousness of the National Debt, over 18 trillion dollars, and work to reduce it rather than allow the country to continue to move toward bankruptcy.


This seems to be a basic value of most Republicans.  They don’t acknowledge that their party was mainly responsible in raising the National Debt to where it is today.  They seem to blame it on the Democrats and want to reduce Federal Government nonessential spending, particularly spending on the poor and aged.


This attitude keeps the country on the edge of disaster seemingly going from legislative crisis to legislative crisis.  The Debt Limit bill that was passed with strong Democratic help after the Speaker, John Boehner resigned from the House of Representatives.  In it Congress had to raise the current Debt Limit or face default by legally running out of money with which to pay its bills.  The Treasury Department had stated that Congress must raise the debt limit beyond 18.1 trillion dollars or not be able to meet all its bills by November 3, 2015.  That crisis was resolved in both Houses of Congress with help from the Democrats.  Also in both Houses of Congress funding the Federal Government will come up again in December.  Will Planned Parenthood again create a crisis there?


Former Speaker Boehner was able to get such a bill raising the National Debt through Congress before his Speakership ended and only with Democratic help.  The same holds true with the Senate.  The bill was for two years.  President Obama had stated that he will veto any short term bills.


The National Debt consists of two parts, one public and one private.  The public part of the Debt is owned in various ways by the Federal Government and is held by the Federal Reserve and such entities as Social Security that currently holds probably over 3 trillion dollars’ worth of these securities, Medicare, the Federal Savings and Loan Corporation Resolution Fund, as well as a number of other government agencies.  These debts held by governmental accounts represent cumulative surpluses, including interest earnings of these accounts.  In 2012 there were at least two direct transfers of 89 billion dollars from the FED to the Treasury that constituted interest paid on the National Debt.


The Federal Government admits to owning 40% of its own debt.  The probability is that it is more like 50% or 60% of the money it owes.  For example, besides massive unemployment and the loss of value of the dollar in the 2008 Real Estate Crash there was an intense mortgage problem: since a very large percentage of the mortgages issued had been broken up into microscopic size and the pieces issued by innumerable Hedge Funds into countless securities, the question that arose was who owned all that mortgage paper?


At first the bank computers generated documents and most of the banks foreclosed upon homes they did not own.  After this was discovered the banks stopped the foreclosures.  Then the question arose: Who did own these properties?  The answer was no one.  Each property could have been divided into hundreds of pieces, each issued to a different Hedge Fund.  It should have taken twenty of more years to straighten out this mess.  The housing industry, both old and newly constructed homes, would have been in a state of practical nonexistence.  Many older homes whose mortgages were far above their actual value had been deserted by their former owners and stayed empty, and construction companies would have found it nearly impossible to fund their projects.


By the Federal Reserve stepping into this problem and dealing with it they were able to largely resolve it in a period of just a few years.  I would guess that the price of resolving this problem cost the Federal Government well over ½ trillion dollars.  What the FED bought was trillions of fractional pieces of mortgage paper that the banks had created over a thirty year period.  Sorting them out would have been unbelievably expensive and probably totally impracticable.


Using imaginative monetary policy Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, over a period of several years, solved this problem by pumping billions of dollars into the economy.  For a period of well over two years.  The Fed pumped 85 billion dollars into the economy monthly.  Forty billion bought back Government loans and Forty-five billion bought mortgage paper from all 50 states, literally trillions of mortgage pieces each month.   What happened to all this mortgage paper?  The probability is nothing.  It would have been prohibitive to sort all these microscopic pieces of mortgages.  An even then it would have required over 50% of the pieces for any action to be legally taken against the homeowner.  The banks had been in such a rush to continually refinance these properties that record keeping became farcical.


I would suspect that after two or three years most, if not all, of the deserted homes were sold for back unpaid taxes.  As for the people who stayed in their homes and couldn’t afford the continued payments, they probably waited for foreclosure that never came.  These people could no longer legally deduct their home interest from their income taxes but they still had quite a bit of extra income which they freely spent adding to the National Cash Flow, and encouraging more employment, within the United States.


The private section of the National Debt, the forty billion spent monthly, is money previously borrowed for short to long periods of time by the Federal Government from individuals, both in the United States and foreign countries, by foreign nations, and by numerous other entities.  By this action the Federal Government both allowed long term purchasers of this government paper to purchase long term paper at higher rates of interest and cash them out almost at will.  This process allowed the Federal Government to add all this money to the National Cash Flow continuously for this period.


The amount of money available to the public grew at an expediential rate.  Interestingly there was no inflationary increase with all these billions of dollars added to public spending.  Instead this Creative Monetary Policy of the Federal Reserve largely solved the bank mortgage disaster of 2008, made more cash available for economic growth, and moved the nation well into the direction of economic recovery by 2015 from the Real Estate Disaster.


It is also well to keep in mind that pretty much the same result could have been achieved, probably at a lower cost, by Congress passing fiscal policy as was requested by President Obama during the third year of his presidency, 2011.  This bill and others that could have been passed later would also have modernized much of our infrastructure and moved this country into the 21st Century.  But the Republicans in Congress have done nothing to really help the country or the bulk of its population.  If anything they have been penny wise and dollar stupid.


If the question were raised: Have we as a nation gotten our money’s worth from the ½ billion or so we spend to keep Congress functioning?  The answer is definitely negative.  In fact the situation seems to continually get worse.  With the retirement of the current Speaker of the House of Representatives will the new Speaker, Paul Ryan, be able to get positive legislation passed?  Being a very conservative Republican will he want to do this?


The question is currently up in the air.  The Republicans have 247 representatives out of 435.  But 40 of them belong to the Freedom Caucus.  The majority of them presumably support Ryan.  But they are far more conservative than the very conservative 207 other conservative Republicans.  In order to elect a new Speaker 218 affirmative votes were needed.  Ryan was willing to be Speaker if the Freedom Caucus  backed him as Speaker.  The majority of them have voted for him.  What will happen?


Meanwhile what about the bill funding the government that has to be passed before the middle of December?  The Treasury will not be able to legally pay the Governments bills unless the funding bill is passed by December of 2015.  It has been kicked down the road for three months.  If the Republicans insist that funding Planned Parenthood be removed from the bill President Obama will veto it.  Also if it is again a short term bill the President will also veto it. What will Ryan do?  What will he want to do?  It was Ryan who originally proposed using the leverage of necessary bills to force its agenda upon the President.

The Weiner Component #140A – Congress: How it Works & Doesn’t Work

English: First page of Constitution of the Uni...

According to the United States Constitution, Article I: the legislative, law making power, is given to a bicameral, law-making, Congress that consists of two Houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Only they have the power to make laws that have to be identical when passed by both Houses of Congress and then signed by the President.


Originally the House was directly elected by the people and the Senate, which was supposed to represent the states, was elected by the legislatures of each individual state.  In 1913 this was changed by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution which had the people of each state directly elect the Senators, making them directly responsible to all the people of their respective states.


In the Constitution all financial bills have to originate in the House of Representatives.  This was put in so that the direct representatives of the people who paid the taxes could feel responsible for all government expenditures.  Even though the 17th Amendment changed this the power still rests with the House as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives recently stated in an interview.


House members serve for a two year term and then have to be reelected for another two year term.  Senators are elected for a six year period and can then stand for reelection if they so desire.  All members in both Houses are currently paid $170,000 a year for their services.


Today the number of legislators in the House of Representatives is fixed at 435.  Every ten years an enumeration of the population is taken and the seats are reassigned to the election districts within the states based upon increases in and/or population changes which may then redefine the election districts both in number and size within the individual states.  This was last done in 2010 and those states that had Republican legislator majorities redrew their districts in terms of their political favor by blatantly gerrymandering.  In fact in the 2012 Election over a million and ¼ more Democrats voted nationally for House Representatives but the Republicans emerged with majority representation in the House of Representatives because of favoring their party in creating the allowable number of election districts within their states.  Currently there are 247 Republicans in the House and 188 Democrats.  Each of the smaller states, even if their entire population is below the count for representatives in the larger states ate entitled to at least one representative in the House.  There are also six non-voting members representing Washington, D.C and most of the territories belonging to the United States.


In the Senate there are 100 members representing the fifty states.  The number of senators can be increased if additional states are added to the union.  As stated the Senators today represent the people of the entire state they come from and are elected by the entire voting population of each individual state.


One of the basic concepts of our country is the concept of compromise.  Without this ability our founding fathers would never have been able to bring forth the Constitution.  A document that established a government between the 13 states that were both free and slave, large and small, based with beliefs and basic values that were literally miles apart.  The current Congress seems to have lost that ability.  In fact if the current congressmen had to write a constitution today they would be unable to do it and the country would end up at best as a group of small federations.


What always struck me as a basic concept of our form of government was best stated in a quote from Benjamin Franklin, which he wrote in all seriousness.  “In free governments the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns.  For the former therefore to return among the later was not to degrade but to promote them.”   Somehow this concept has become lost, particularly to many of the current Republicans in both Houses of Congress.


All of our members of Congress, according to Article VI of the Constitution take an oath, upon becoming a member of Congress, to uphold the Constitution.  Somehow, of late, I get the impression that many of our legislators have either forgotten or never understood this concept.  I also get the feeling that in the minds of many of our Republican legislators that the people’s function is merely to keep them in office so that they can force their will or agendas upon the nation.  And if these hard-core Republicans cannot get what they want then what exists is total gridlock, which is what seems to exist in the House of Representatives at the current time.


To the Tea Partiers among the Republicans in the House of Represenatives the country will function their way or not at all.  The fact that they and possibly their constituents constitute a minority of the population is immaterial.  Even though a Democratic Republic is supposed to be ruled by the will of the majority of the population they believe absolutely that they are right and everyone else is wrong or misinformed.  This is all very reminiscent of the old Communist Party where all the members had to follow the party line, or be expelled from the party.  In their hearts these people, the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, the 40 hard-liners know what is right for the American People and they will have their way or nothing will happen in Congress.


John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, has resigned both as Speaker and as a member of the House, effective October 31st.  His immediate replacement, Kevin McCarthy, the House Whip has withdrawn as a candidate for the Speakership.  He did not have the votes within his own party.  The one other possible replacement, Paul Ryan, has initially turned down the offer of assuming that role.  Presumably the price of taking it was to support numerous positions that he found unacceptable.  Boehner said he will stay in office until a replacement is found.  After a little over a week of negotiating and also being cajoled Paul Ryan accepted the Speakership.  He got the support of most of the Tea Party and the majority of the other Republican House Congressmen.


The Freedom Caucus, which seems to hold the balance of power among the Republican House members, were thrilled at presumably getting rid of Boehner.  If they did achieve this it was a pyrrhic victory.  They may have gotten him to resign but now Ryan is the new Speaker and in order to get him to accept the position most of the House Republicans have sworn allegiance to him.  This includes the majority of the Freedom Caucus but not the entire group.


There was also a move at the end September to “Ditch Mitch.”  Many far right Republican Senate members do not consider him aggressive enough to run the Republican Party in the Senate.  Louisiana Governor and Presidential Candidate Bobby Jindal has called upon Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to resign.  They want someone who will stand up to the President and take some risks.  McConnell has too much support from Republicans in the Senate to be in any danger in terms of being forced out of the Senate.


The frustration for these hard-liners seems to be that they, the Republicans, have the majority in both Houses of Congress but their particular group doesn’t have the votes to stop legislation if it is also supported in both Houses of Congress.  The fact that this situation exists in Congress would indicate the epitome of dysfunctionality.


The basic question, in terms of Congress, comes down to: What is the main purpose of the Government?  And the answer to that question, most simply stated is answered in the preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This is what the members of Congress have taken an oath to do.  Is this what they, particularly the Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate, are doing?


Currently the House of Representatives has a new Speaker as its presiding officer.  There are currently 247 Republicans in the House and 188 Democrats.  The majority party has easily elected a new speaker if all the Republicans vote for whoever is running for that position.  But on the far right of the conservative party is the Freedom Coalition.  These are the 40 ultra-conservative hardline Tea Partiers.  To them the rest of the Republican Party is not far enough to the right.  Presumably they will not support anyone who will go against their agenda.  They want to get rid of Affordable Health Care and defund Planned Parenthood.  I suspect many of them may also be racial bigots.    I imagine this feeling goes beyond this specific group to many other Republicans in Congress.  Has any of this changed with the election of Paul Ryan?


If 40 votes are subtracted from the 247 currently elected Republicans they do not have enough votes to pass legislation if the 40 and the 188 elected Democrats do not support their move.  Basically what this means is that the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader both have to get the support of the majority of Democrats in order to pass bills that a percentage of their party will not support.


John Boehner has faced this situation since becoming Speaker of the House in 2011 and Mitch McConnell will face this situation for the next fourteen months.  Will Paul Ryan have to face this same situation?  The Republicans may have the majority in both Houses but it will take a coalition of both political parties to run the country.  This has to be the ultimate irony and could well lead to the formation of a new national political party after the 2016 elections.


The nation is now at the point of crisis.  Legislative actions will have to be taken or the functioning of the government could be forced to cease.  The Debt Limit Crisis has been averted by negotiations between the President, the Senate Republican leadership and the former Speaker, John Boehner, raising the Debt limit for the next two years.


There is also funding the Federal Government.  This could stop the Federal Government if Congress does not pass a bill by December.  John Boehner was able to avoid a Federal Government shutdown by resigning as Speaker and quitting the House effective October 31.  But that pushed the deadline from September to December.  It will again be reached in December of 2015.


This major problems still must be dealt with this year but there are numerous others that will be coming up early in January of 2016 like the automatic cuts of about 5% across the board on federal and discretionary spending if Congress does not act to stop some or all of this spending.  That is sequestration, which stays in existence until 2023.


This does not count infrastructure problems like hundred or more year old bridges, some of which seem to be ready to collapse at some near future point or intercontinental train tracks which are having innumerable accidents particularly oil tankers that are jumping tracks and burning for days on end, causing massive evacuations from the deadly toxic smoke of towns and large sections of cities.  This country is filled with infrastructure that was built in the first half of the Twentieth Century or earlier which needs to be replaced and/or modernized to meet the needs of today’s population.


There are also an obscene number of people being shot every day by people who, for mental reasons, should never be allowed to purchase guns.  We can follow the advice of Presidential candidate Jeb Bush who after the shooting of innocent students at a college said, “Stuff happens.”  A week later, after another similar shooting, he kept his mouth shut.  I expected him to say, “Stuff still happens.”  Mentally disturbed people should not have easy access to weapons.  Somehow, even with the NRA, Congress needs to deal with this problem.  It is time we stopped leading the industrial nations of the world in gun homicides.


There are other problems, including everyday things, like fiscal policy, the War against ISIS, the other crises in the Middle East, China, and Russia that require participation by Congress.  None of this is being dealt with by Congress.  They seem to be getting paid $170,000 each for taking vacations and leaving the country to go its own way without their participation.  In fact the House of Representatives will meet for 111 days in 2016.  No work week for them exceeds three days.  Most of the fighting going on by the U.S. Military has never been authorized by the Congress.  The Constitution clearly makes them the arbiters of war and peace.  Congress has left these decisions completely in the hands of the President.  They have refused to take any action.


In essence Congress is dysfunctional.  Speaker, Paul Ryan, in his acceptance speech has defined Congress as broken.  He says he will start anew.  But Speaker Ryan is himself not far to the left of the Freedom Caucus.   Will there be positive changes or will the House fall back into non-functionality?  Will the House shut down the Government again?   The political future should be interesting.

The Weiner Component #139B – Paul Ryan as the New Speaker of the House of Representatives

With the retirement of John Boehner, brought about by the Tea Party or otherwise, Paul Ryan will be the new Speaker of the House of Representatives.  At his election on October 29, 2015 he received a majority of Republican votes to become Speaker.


The 44 year old Ryan has been in Congress since 1999.  He is from Wisconsin’s First District and became Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee in early January of 2015.  Prior to that he was Chairman of the House Budget Committee, from January 3, 2011 to January 3, 2015.


From what I understand he was not anxious to have this position since it has traditionally been a dead-ended one.  Historically no one has gone on from it to become President of the United States.  It would seem that since Ryan ran in 2012 as Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential candidate he has been looking toward eventually running for the presidency.


Next to the Speaker the Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee is the most powerful position in the House as that Committee both makes the committee choices and writes the agenda for all the meetings of the House of Representatives.


Ryan did not originally want the Speakership because up until this point it has been an almost impossible job.  The Republicans in the House of Representatives, all 247 of them, meet as a single caucus generally before the entire House meets to conduct actual business.  But in addition to this the Republicans also meet in three smaller specific caucuses.  On the ultra-right are 30 Tea Party members, the Freedom Caucus, who have generally voted on all issues exactly the same.  Then there is the far-right Republican Caucus and finally the extreme-right caucus.


Up until Wednesday, October 28, 2015 the Speaker of the House could never depend on the Freedom Caucus and some of the other members of the overall Republican Caucus to put through necessary legislation.  On some occasions he even had to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Minority Leader, in order to get necessary legislation passed.  This situation had existed since the 2011 Congressional session when he was first elected Speaker.


This behavior of dealing with Democrats to a large number of Republican members on the far right, like the Freedom Caucus, has been a betrayal of Republican principles.  In addition the former Speaker, John Boehner, once played a game of golf with President Barak Obama.  This was an unforgivable sin to the members of the Freedom Caucus.


In order to not shut down the Federal Government former Speaker Boehner in late September resigned, effective the end of October, and got a bill passed with Democratic help that funded the Government through December.  Apparently he felt he had to do this in order to not shut down the Federal Government by having the Republicans refuse to fund it over the issue of funding Planned Parenthood.


On Wednesday, October 28, 2015 former Speaker Boehner, after negotiating with the leaders of the Senate and the President, got another bill through the House raising the Debt Limit for the next two years.  Without this new bill the Federal Government would not have been able to spend money after November 3, 2015.


Ryan’s major upcoming task will be to pass legislation through the House of Representatives that would allow the Federal Government to pay its bills after the middle of December.  I would assume that this bill is one of the conditions of Paul Ryan accepting the Speakership.  However a large number of Republicans are dedicated to the idea of doing away with the subsidy to Planned Parenthood.  They might still insist on this in December.


President Obama has stated that if this is done he will veto the bill and there are not enough Republicans in either House to override his veto.  He has also stated that he will veto any future short term solution to this problem.  Even with promises from his caucus of all the Republicans this bill will apparently be the new Speaker’s big test.  If he needs Democratic help to get the bill passed Paul Ryan will continue his speakership on the same level as John Boehner suffered through.


With Boehner’s resignation and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Whip not being able to get the votes needed, Paul Ryan seemed to be the only member of the House of Representatives who might be able to secure a large enough majority of Republican support to get elected.  He apparently didn’t really want the job but was probably later convinced that no one else could get enough votes to be elected Speaker.  And with no Speaker the House of Representatives couldn’t meet.


In the end Ryan set conditions under which he would accept the position.  It would seem that the Freedom Caucus and others also had conditions.  All these were negotiated leading to, among other things, rule changes in running the House of Representatives.  One apparent rule was that nothing would be brought to the floor of the House that did not have a majority of Republican support.  Another was that Ryan would spend his weekends with his family instead of raising money for the Republican Party.  There was also a rule, propagated by the Freedom Caucus, allowing an individual lawmaker to force a vote ousting the speaker at any time.  Obviously there were other changes that we will learn about later on.


When he announced his candidacy for the Speaker’s job Ryan said he wanted endorsements from all three Republican Caucuses.  This should guarantee he will emerge as the unity candidate of the House Republicans.  He doesn’t want to risk being in the middle of the intraparty unrest under which former Speaker Boehner lived in since 2011.  The Tea Party, Freedom Caucus, fell short of a formal endorsement since that would have required 80% agreement.  The group was not able to achieve this level, but Ryan accepted their majority vote as a show of Republican unity.


What will happen?  That’s a good question.


It is important to remember that Paul Ryan, when he ran with Mitt Romney as his Vice Presidential candidate, was considered by many to be the most conservative Vice Presidential candidate to run for that office since the turn of the 20th Century.


Originally he was a follower of Ayn Rand, who in her few books, particularly in “Atlas Shrugged,” advocated extreme individualism with the masses being an unfeeling horde.  He grew up with these beliefs, to the point of making his staff read her books.  This persisted from his teen years, when he discovered her writing, until April 2012 when he was criticized by the Georgetown University faculty.  At that time, being a good Catholic he rejected her philosophy as being “atheistic.”  He called the reports of his advocating Rand’s perspective an “urban legend,” (Whatever that means.) and stated that he was strongly influenced by his Roman Catholic faith and by the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.


There are numerous other instances where Paul Ryan suddenly totally changed his position.  It seems that his attitudes were flexible, changing with the needs of the time.  It would appear that in August 2012, soon after Romney choose him as his VP, that the Tea Party wanted a nominee other than Romney.  It had gotten one of its ideological heroes in second place.


Ryan voted for the two Bush tax cuts in 2001 and in 2003.  He supported the 2003 bill that created the Medicare Part D, prescription drug benefit and the $700 billion bank bailout.  He was one of the 32 Republicans in the House to vote for the auto industry bailout.  In the past conservative commentators have criticized Ryan for deficit causing policies during the George W. Bush administration.


Paul Ryan existence became public knowledge over his financial plans or Ryan budgets.  His proposals outlined negative changes to entitlement spending that, among other things, would replace Medicare with a voucher program for those under the age of 55.  This 2008 bill never made it out of committee.  In 2009 he introduced a bill that in addition to his earlier one would impose a five year freeze on all discretionary spending.  It would also allow taxpayers, if they so choose, to opt out of the Federal Income Tax system and pay a flat 10% income tax on adjusted gross incomes up to $100,000 for couples and $50,000 for singles.  Any earnings above this amount would be taxed at 25%.  The bill was rejected in the Democratic controlled House by a vote of 293 to 137, with 18 Republicans in opposition.


In 2010 he released a modified version of his earlier bills.  He has released spending bills just about every year.  All of them cut entitlement spending and will supposedly balance the Federal Budget in about a decade.  In 2015 the same pattern is followed with even deeper entitlement cuts.  The overall evaluation is that his budget proposals would increase middle-class taxes while cutting taxes for the upper percentile of the population.  In terms of balancing the budget in ten years they are all wishful thinking.


It is worth noting that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has been highly critical of Ryan’s budget proposals, stating that they would shift income to the wealthy while increasing poverty and inequality.


Ryan in 2004 and 2005 got the Bush administration to propose privatization of Social Security.  He’s a supporter of private school vouchers.  In 2011 Ryan supported using the federal debt ceiling as leverage to reduce Federal spending.


Paul Ryan has described himself as being “as pro-life as a person gets.”  He has co-sponsored 18 bills in the Congress that restrict abortions.  He believes that all abortions should be illegal, including those resulting from rape or incest, and he only makes an exception in cases where the woman’s life is at risk.


Ryan has recommended that Medicaid be converted into block grants with the Federal Government’s share of the cost being cut by $800 billion over the next ten years.  Medicaid is administered by the individual states under a strong level of Federal control.  The problem with a blanket block grant is that there is no control over how the state will use the money.  Block grants in the past have often been used for other purposes than for what they were issued.


In his 1998 campaign for the House of Representatives Ryan expressed his willingness to allow states to criminally prosecute women who have abortions.  He would let each state decide on the extent of the penalties.


In 2009 he cosponsored the Sanctity of Life Act, which would provide that fertilized eggs ”shall have all the legal and Constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood” and would have given Congress, …the authority to protect the lives of all human beings residing in its respective jurisdictions.”


Ryan has voted against continued federal aid for Planned Parenthood and Title X family planning programs.  The partial funding of these programs were originally signed into law by the Republican President, Richard M. Nixon.  Ryan supported legislation that would impose criminal penalties for doctors who perform partial birth abortions.  He opposed the government paying for over the counter emergency contraceptive pills.  He also opposed same sex marriage and had supported a constitutional amendment that would ban it.


Paul Ryan has supported the rights of gun owners and opposed stricter gun control measures.  He voted against a bill for stronger background checks and is for purchases at gun shows.


Originally Ryan supported legislation that would have allowed some illegal immigrants to apply for temporary guest worker status.  This included a bill that would provide a pathway to permanent residence status.  More recently Ryan has adopted a firm anti-amnesty enforcement stance on illegal immigration.  He voted against the Dream Act which was a bill that would provide conditional permanent residency to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children if they mainly attend college or serve in the military.


Ryan does not believe in climate change; he accuses climatologists of using “statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.”  He has criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) classification of carbon dioxide as a pollutant.  Ryan also supports a ten year $40 billion tax break for the petroleum industry and has proposed cutting funding for renewable energy research and subsidies.


He has made recommendations to enact cuts to welfare, child care, Pell grants, and several other federal assistance programs like food stamps and housing aid.  His argument being that these program serve as an incentive for the poor not having to work.


In 2001 and 2004 he voted to end the embargo in Cuba.  Later Ryan reversed his position and since 2007 he has voted for maintaining the embargo.  He called Obama’s 2009 “reset” of relations with Russia as “appeasement.


He voted for sequestration in 2013, across the board cuts in almost all government programs, because President Obama and the Democrats would voluntarily refuse to cut discretionary (nonmilitary) programs.  This is a ten year program that automatically make significant cuts every year unless Congress passes specific legislation to stop some of it.


This is the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, the man who has replaced former Speaker John Boehner.  He was overwhelmingly elected to his new position.  He received 238 out of 247 Republican votes.   Nine Republicans, apparently from the Freedom Caucus, did not vote for him; they apparently felt he was not conservative enough.  Ryan needed 218 votes to be elected.  If he can maintain that majority he will not need Democratic help to get legislation through.


The question arises as to how he will lead.  He’s been a bit of a chameleon in the past, sometimes changing his position to adhere to the party line.   If he continues in this mode there will be another Federal Government Shutdown before the 2016 Presidential Election.  But if he acts more moderately will he retain the overall support of all his fellow Republicans in the House?  Which position will he adhere to?


In December he still has to fund the Federal Government.  At the beginning of January the remaining sequestration cuts automatically go into effect unless Congress passes a bill(s) and the President signs it/them.  The military aspect of the problem has been solved with the current bill that squeaked through Congress at the end of September that raised the Debt Limit for two years and also funded the military.


Paul Ryan, the 54th House Speaker, in his acceptance speech, stated that: “Let’s be frank.  The House is broken.  We are not solving problems.  We are adding to them.  And I am not interested in laying blame.  We are not settling scores.  We are wiping the slate clean.”


“If there were ever a time for us to step up, this would be that time.  The cynics will scoff and say it’s not possible.  But you better believe we are going to try.  We will not duck the tough issues.”


Will any other needed legislation come into being?  Since the midterm Election of 2014, when the Republicans gained a slight majority in the Senate (54 Republicans to 44 Democrats and 2 Independents) the Republican dominated Congress has accomplished almost nothing.

The new debt ceiling bill was passed by Boehner with heavy Democratic support, thus “cleaning the barn” in Boehner’s words.  If Ryan has to also use the Democrats he will alienate a lot of Republican House members.  It should be interesting and possibly depressing to find out what will happen!



The Weiner Component #139A – The Republicans & Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood volunteers help bring the f...

Planned Parenthood volunteers help bring the fight for health insurance reform to the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Margaret Sanger Deutsch: Margaret Sanger (* 1879)

Margaret Sanger Deutsch: Margaret Sanger (* 1879) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The big issue that was supposed to come up on Wednesday, September 30th 2015, in the House of Representatives was for the Republican majority to refuse to fund the Treasury of the United States if the Government Funding Bill did continue to fund Planned Parenthood.  President Obama categorically stated that he would veto any such bill that did not fund Planned Parenthood.  With Speaker Boehner’s oncoming retirement this did not happen.  A bill was passed in the Senate extending funding of the U.S. Government through December of 2015.  This bill was passed the next day in the House of Representatives.  President Oboma stated after signing the bill into law that in the future he would also veto any stopgap measures and that he wanted a reasonable spending bill going over at least two years.


The Republicans have given the impression that all this organization, Planned Parenthood, does is to perform abortions.  In fact watching on TV part of the Fourth Investigative Hearing by a Congressional Select Committee one got the impression that that is all many of the Republicans of the Standing Committee believe or understand and their major goal in life is to end the existence of this group.


The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is usually referred to as simply Planned Parenthood.  It is a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health and maternal and child health services mostly to women and children, and also to some males.  The organization is an affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Organization and its largest member.  PPFA has its roots in Brooklyn, New York, where Margaret Sanger, her sister, and a friend opened the first birth control clinic in 1916 in the United States.  These women founded the American Birth Control League in 1921.  It changed its name to Planned Parenthood in 1942 and has since grown to about 85 independent affiliates and 820 clinics in the U.S.  Planned Parenthood provides services to well over three million people in the country per year and also support services to over one million people outside of the United States.


Its motto is “Care no matter what.”  Its budget in the fiscal year of 2008- 2009 was $1.04 billion; now it would be higher.  Since 1970 Planned Parenthood has received federal funding.   President Richard M. Nixon signed into law the Family Planning and Population Research Act, Title X that provided family planning services, including contraception and family planning information.  This law had bipartisan support from both liberals and conservatives who saw it as both a means of people extending control over their lives and as a way to keep people off welfare.  President Nixon stated that “No American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”  The current members of the Republican Party in Congress do not agree with this.


Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of reproductive health services in the nation.  It medically focuses upon breast and cervical cancer screening, HIV screening and counseling, contraception, and abortion.  It performs about 3,000 abortions (3% of its services) annually among the over three million people it serves.  Throughout its history PPFA has experienced support, controversy, protests, and violent attacks.  It is basically a low-income women’s health facility.  Without it there would be nothing for the poor.


While the U.S. Government’s contribution to this organization is less than 50% of its yearly budget it is still a considerable amount.  Approximately two-thirds of its revenue is spent providing health services; non-medical services such as sex education and public policy work make up about 16%; management expenses; fundraising and international family planning programs are spent on the balance.


In 1992 the organization created a separate political action nonpartisan committee called the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.  Its purpose was to maintain reproductive health rights and support like-minded political candidates.  This adjunct is funded separately, mostly by contributions.  In the 2012 election cycle the committee gained prominence based upon its effectiveness of spending on candidates.


Between the years 1978 to 1992, when Faye Wattleton was president, Planned Parenthood grew to become the seventh largest charity in the nation, providing services to four million clients each year through its 170 affiliates whose activities were spread across the 50 states.  From 1996 to 2006 Gloria Feldt led PPFA.  She organized the political action committee and launched a far reaching electoral effort which serves as the nonpartisan advocacy arm of PPFA.  In February of 2006 Cecile Richards, the daughter of former Texas governor, Ann Richards (1991-1994), became president of the organization, a position she holds today.


It is interesting to note that currently they serve over five million clients a year, 26% of which are teenagers under the age of 19.  According to PPFA, 75% of their clients have income at or below 150% of the poverty level.  The services they provide include contraceptives (birth control); long-acting reversible contraception; emergency contraception, screening for breast, cervical and testicular cancers; comprehensive sexual education, menopause treatments, vasectomies, tubal ligations and abortions.  In the year 2009 they provided 4,009,549 contraceptive services, 3,955,926 sexually transmitted disease services, 1,810,811 cancer related services, 1,178,369 pregnancy/prenatal services, 332,278 abortion services, and 76,977 other services, for a total of 11,383,900 services.  Without Planned Parenthood the majority of these people would not have any medical services.


Planned Parenthood has been the center in the abortion debate in the United States for decades.  It has been the major target of the pro-life activists.  Some members of Congress, mainly Republicans, have attempted since the 1980s to defund the organization.  This almost led to a government shutdown in 2011.  Planned Parenthood has consistently maintained that federal funds received by them are not used to fund abortion services, but pro-life activists have argued that the federal funding frees up other resources that are, in turn, used to provide abortions.


In answer to the preceding argument the current president of the organization has stated that Planned Parenthood’s family planning services reduces the need for abortions.  An article by Megan Crepeau in the Chicago Tribune stated that, because of its birth control and family planning services Planned Parenthood could be “characterized as America’s largest abortion preventer.”


Intermittently, largely by the use of so-called undercover videos, pro-life advocates have tried to prove that PPFA does not follow state or federal laws.  A 2005 review by the Bush administration’s Department of Health and Human Services “yielded no evidence of clinics around the nation failing to comply with laws on reporting child abuse, child molestation, sexual abuse, rape or incest.”


In July and August of 2015 the anti-abortion organization, The Center for Medical Progress, released a number of highly edited videos that were secretly recorded by hired actors who discussed acquiring tissue samples from aborted fetuses with supposed Planned Parenthood officials.  The Center for Medical Progress founder, David Daleiden alleged the videos provide evidence of criminal conspiracy to make money off of aborted baby parts.  Planned Parenthood condemned these as false accusations, stating that all donations are made “with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards,” and “there is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood.”


These videos and allegations attracted widespread media coverage nationwide as well as calls for investigation by Republican members of Congress.    On September18, 2015 the House of Representatives passed legislation to defund Planned Parenthood.  On September 24, 2015 the Senate blocked a plan that would have denied federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  Several states, generally with Republican governors and legislatures, canceled contracts and funding for Planned Parenthood following the videos.  Interestingly the anti-abortion providers of the video have never testified under oath about the reliability of the videos.


All of this was shortly before the Debt limit was reached by the Treasury of the United States.  Congress would have to raise it or the Federal Government would legally run out of money to operate.  Congress threatened to pass such a bill only if Planned Parenthood’s funding were removed from it.  President Obama stated that he would veto any such bill.  Late in September the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, resigned both the Speakership and his seat in the House, effective October 31, 2015.  The Republican Majority Leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, passed a bill, with massive Democratic support, that extended the Debt Limit through December of 2015.  It was passed in the House the next day, again with massive Democratic support.  After signing the bill President Obama stated that in December he would also veto another short term spending bill.


Carley Fiorina the ex-CEO of Hewlett Packard and the failed Senate election of 2010, who seems to be emerging as a Republican candidate among an ever decreasing host of male candidates, seems to be basing her campaign upon an edited and re-edited TV tape that shows a live fetus being born and then cut up and presumably being sold by Planned Parenthood for experimentation.  She very dramatically described this tape during the second 2015 Presidential Debate.  When asked about this days later on a news broadcast she refused to back away from her statement.  When Carley became CEO of Hewlett Packard she asked the employees to take a wage cut so no one would have to be fired.  After achieving this she later cut 30,000 jobs, sending many of them overseas.  I suspect that her facts in this case are based upon the same level as her actions at Hewlett Packard.


Since the Republican Party achieved a majority in the House of Representatives in 2011 and in the Senate in 2014 they have been investigating Planned Parenthood looking for a reason to defund and or do away with that organization.  Currently PPFA is getting about 450 million dollars a year from the Federal Government.


In recent years there have been four Congressional Hearing and these have been held by different Congressional groups.  The number and hostility of these Hearings have increased recently after the release of so-called edited videos demonstrating the supposed callousness of the process presumably by Planned Parenthood personnel.  Other than for reasons of being verbally attacked Planned Parenthood people are not invited to these Hearings.   One example would be by the Judicial Committee, where four anti-abortion personnel testified about the evils of abortions.


Well into 2015 a number of highly edited videos have been released supposedly showing Planned Parenthood staff discussing the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses.  According to PPFA these highly edited tapes are false representation of the organization.  A hand-full of clinics, with the permission of the woman having the abortion, donate tissue for scientific research.  They charge no fee, but do recoup their costs in providing the tissue.  Donating the fetal tissue for research purposes is completely legal and scientifically valuable.


It appears that rational explanations and actual evidence have no effect upon anti-abortion activists and conservative members of Congress (Republicans).  They are vigorously continuing their attack.  Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for example, one of many Republican candidates for the 2016 presidency, called PPFA an “ongoing criminal enterprise.”  Considering that he called the Harvard Law School staff a bunch of communists we can easily equate the value of his statement.  It must be wonderful or meaningless to be able to make statement that have no relevance to the real world!


On Tuesday, September 29, 2015 Cecile Richards, the current President of PPFA, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for over four hours, defending her group’s work.  This was the fourth Hearing by a Congressional Committee and its goal using the tapes and other so-called evidence was supposed to wipe out Planned Parenthood.  The Hearing was at times highly dramatic with the Republican members generally being highly abusive to the woman who had taken an initial oath to tell only the truth.

The irony here is that this investigative body is supposed to be dedicated to upholding congressional standards.  The Republicans all attacked Cecile Richards and the Democrats both defended her and verbally attacked the Republicans.  Interestingly a pair of new surveys indicated that Republican criticism had served to increase support for Planned Parenthood.  Its ranking afterwards in surveys made it more popular than the GOP.


The Hearing’s chairman, Republican Jason Chaffetz went after Planned Parenthood for what he contended were reductions in cancer screenings and breast examinations.  He alleged that it spent heavily on six-figure executive salaries, travel expenses, extensive parties with celebrities and political activities.  He accused Richards of earning $500,000 a year.


The committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah E. Cummings (D-Maryland) verbally attacked David Daleiden, the founder of the Center for Medical Progress, who had issued the anti PPAF videos.  Cummings called the videos a campaign of “deceit.”

Daleiden was not invited to testify before the committee.  He has not testified under oath before any Congressional Committee.  Chaffetz stated that he had attempted to subpoena the full unedited videos, but litigation in California had prevented their release.  Richards called the videos offensive and untrue.


During the Hearing, which was an attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood, the issue of how much Cecile Richards earns was loudly brought up.  She was accused of earning well over a half million dollars a years.  Richards stated that she earned $520,000 a year under a recent three year contract.  One could almost hear a note of jealousy in the voice of some of the legislators who only earn $170,000 per year as their base compensation package.


Responding to this late, when her turn came to ask question or make statements Representative Carol Mahoney (D-N.Y.) stated, “In my entire time I’ve been in Congress I’ve never seen a witness beaten up and questioned about their salary” –and especially a woman, “I find it totally inappropriate and discriminatory.”


Perhaps the highpoint of the Hearing came toward the end when Chaffetz put up a chart which presumably showed Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings going down over time while the number of abortions radically increased.  Richards stated that she had not seen the chart before.  Chaffetz stated that the chart came from PPFA.  Richards said she would deny the numbers because she’d never seen them.  Then one of her staff leaned over to whisper in her ear.  She interrupted Chaffetz, “Excuse me, my lawyer is informing me that the source of this is actually Americans United for Life, which is an antiabortion group.  So, I would check your source.”  Chaffetz then stated, “Then we will get to the bottom of the truth of that.”  His so-called moment of triumph had passed.


If one looked carefully at the chart, then upon one side in small print the source was given, Americans United for Life.  This committee not only presented highly edited video tapes without proving their validity it was also willing to use false data in an attempt to prove its point.  As a group representing the Congress of the United States in a search for truth they left a very bad taste in everyone’s mouth.


It would seem as Cecile Richards later said that 40 odd years after Roe v Wade the issue of women’s reproductive rights is still central to US electoral politics.  And it would also seem that this is one of the most important items that the 2016 Presidential Election is about.

The Weiner Component #138 – The Current System of American Taxation: Loopholes & Special Privileges

Distribution of U.S. federal taxes for 2000 as...

English: Tim Walz, candidate for United States...

English: Tim Walz, candidate for United States Congress, at a Memorial Day picnic in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Grover Norquist at a political confer...

English: Grover Norquist at a political conference in Orlando, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this year of 2015 the American System of Taxation is set in such a fashion to totally favor of the wealthy and the large corporations, at the expense of everyone else.  Probably not since shortly before the French Revolution in the late 19th Century has a system of taxation been so unfair as to place most of its burden upon the middle and lower classes.  If the general public became aware of the total extent of this there would be an outcry throughout most of the society.


In prerevolutionary France the nobility and church paid no taxes and wealthy members of the middle class paid a bonus one year to the government and never again had to pay taxes for themselves or their businesses.  Poorer class of society bore the burden of paying taxes.  In the United States we have lobbyists representing the wealthy and their businesses and they tend to control much of the legislation passed.


The very wealthy have somehow created the illusion that taxing the rich limits economic growth, particularly among members of the Republicans Party which they largely finance.  Their slogan is that the rich create jobs.  Of course there has never been any evidence of this.  Invariably, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, has stated publically that the very rich create jobs.  He has strongly implied that taxing them would limit economic growth.


Practically all federal, state and municipal taxes are regressive.  The income taxes for a married couple filing jointly is graduated up to $457,600, but regressive for any amount above that figure.  Above that amount it becomes $127,962.50 no matter how high the earnings go, to one million, to one billion or beyond.  The maximum graduated level is slightly lower for a single filing his or her taxes.


All other taxes with the exception of federal and state income taxes up to a certain level, are regressive.  Most are usage taxes.  Here the argument for them is that they are fair because everyone pays the same amount.  The fallacy here is that if all these taxes are taken as a percentage of income then the more the individual earns the lower is the tax as a percentage of his income.  Consequently the poor and middle class, the overall majority of the population, pay a larger percentage of their incomes in these so-called fair taxes where everyone pays the same amount regardless of their actual incomes.


The United States tax code is 71,000 pages.  This document was not written all at once; it came into existence on a piecemeal basis over a large number of years.  Many bits and pieces were passed for the benefit of specific individuals and companies or special interests mostly with aid by lobbyists.  A goodly number of these taxes were sentences or even clauses added to other bills at the last minute and had no relationship to the bill in which they originally existed.


And since for the last six or so years every Republican has signed a pledge to Grover Norquist not to raise taxes.  This has made all these subsidies and loopholes sacrosanct; doing away with any of them would be raising taxes.  It could also cut political contributions to their political party.


It is important to remember that a Congressional Bill does not have to deal with just one subject.  It can deal with any number of topics.  But that bill has to be passed as one whole unit or not passed.  In addition any number of amendments on virtually any subject can be added to it.  Unlike some of the states which have a line item veto, that is any sentence or group of sentences can be individually vetoed by the governor before he signs the bill, a federal bill can only be signed and totally approved by the President or vetoed and totally rejected.


Perhaps it time to reform this practice.  Ronald Reagan, as President, had a line item veto when he was Governor of California but not as President of the United States.  He complained vociferously about this fact.  Numerous other presidents have made similar comments.  Whatever it would take to change the current practice would be a long step in the direction of reform.


Too many times a bill has to be passed and unrelated changes have been added to it.  In order to keep the government functioning the President has to sign the bill.  A line item veto would certainly make his job both easier and saner.


The tax code allows numerous deductions that are taken from the yearly income.  Some of these have definitions that have been expanded phenomenally.  For example in 1913 the home mortgage interest deduction was added.  It was added to encourage home ownership.  (Interestingly countries like Australia and Canada do not have a similar law but do have the same large amount of home ownership as the United States.)  The law was to make home ownership more affordable.


In more modern times Congress declared in a new bill that boats can be homes if they have a kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping quarters.  The luxury boating industry had been able to buy its way into home mortgages.  Three percent of the boating industry qualifies as homes and interest paid on their purchase loans is deductible.


For example someone like Microsoft CEO, Paul Allen, has a $200 million yacht that comes equipped with an indoor pool, basketball court and its own submarine.  It also has a kitchen, bathrooms, and sleeping quarters.  He is able to deduct the interest paid on his ocean going home from his yearly income taxes.


One Congressman, Tim Walz (D-Minnesota) stated that the law was passed to make home ownership more affordable for the middle class.  He wrote a bill: Ending Taxpayer Subsidies for Yacht’s Act, hoping to end the practice by the wealthy.  The chairman of the committee that handled the bill in committee is a Republican and did not even allow the bill to come up for examination.  The bill died in committee; it never even came up for a vote there.  Would it have passed if it came up on the floor of the House?  This is a tax loophole that benefits a few people at the very top, according to Walz.


The House of Representatives is composed of 19 standing committees and the Senate of 17.  The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate is responsible for assigning bills to the proper standing committee.


The House Rules Committee manages the flow of bills to the full House by scheduling their flow.  They can also ignore a bill if they think it appropriate.  In the Senate the majority floor leader controls the bills.  He can also ignore a bill.

The Standing Committees generally have jurisdiction over a specific set of issues such as Agriculture, Appropriations, Foreign Affairs, and Commerce.  Each has one or several functions.  They hold hearings, can amend, and report a bill under their jurisdiction.  The chairman can also remove a bill from consideration and the committee votes on whether or not to forward a bill to their entire house or remove it from consideration.

The House originates all revenue bills and the Senate has the power of “advice and consent” over the President’s appointments and treaties.  Whatever is not directly stated in the Constitution is controlled by the Ways & Means Committee, which has more representation by the majority party.  The Ethics Committee has equal representation by both parties.


Obviously the committee system is necessary because there are too many bills proposed for them to go directly to one of the Houses of Congress.  Obviously the Committee, or Subcommittee for that matter, which is made up of a small number of Congressmen and women, can more easily do everything necessary, marking up the bill and even possibly changing it.  It can kill the final version or recommend it for passage by the full body of the House or Senate.


In addition, as we’ve seen, the chairperson of the committee, who comes from the majority party of his/her particular House has almost dictatorial power in running  the committee he/she chairs.  This person does this by almost completely controlling the agenda of the committee.  They can and have ignored one or some of the bills the committee is supposed to deal with.  In this way a bill can be killed without ever having a hearing.  And this can be done to a bill that will probably pass.  It can even be done to a bill that has been passed in the other House.  Once this is done it is almost impossible to bring such a bill before the House or Senate.  And this is what has happened to every bill that has attempted to do away with any subsidy or tax loophole.


In all fairness it should also be stated that the same power exists in both Houses of Congress.  Both the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate have done so with and without good reason.


From 2011 on, when they took control of the House of Representatives, the Republican majority had passed a bill to do away with Affordable Health Care (Obamacare) at least 50 times.  Harry Reed, the then majority leader of the Senate never once even brought it to the floor of the Senate.  The same thing happened to a large number of bill passed by the then Democratic Senate.


Interestingly after the Republicans won control of the Senate in 2014 by a slight margin both they and the House, which has no Constitutional ability to do so, attempted to stop the President from negotiating with Iran.  The negotiations were being done by the leaders of the United Nations, which also included the U.S.  It was not an American treaty.  It did, however, include the U.S. as one of the six nations negotiating with Iran.  Both Republican Houses of Congress wanted to pass laws controlling this two year process.  Apparently the members of the House hadn’t read the Constitution or didn’t care what it said; and young Senator Tom Cotton attempted with 46 other Senate signatures to openly negotiate with Iran.


Can reform be brought about in the Committee System?  One possibility would be to change the rules on Committees requiring that all bills be examined that receiver a 40% approval rate by all the members of the committee.  This could be done once a week and would require a bit more work by the committee.  It would be following the example of the Supreme Court.  It takes four affirmative votes out of nine for them to accept a case.  Would Congress be willing be willing to bring about such a rule change?


Barak Obama, during his campaign for the presidency in 2008 promised, among other things, to end numerous loopholes and subsidies but he couldn’t get any of those bills through Congress.  He wanted to eliminate “special tax breaks for oil and gas companies, including special expensing rules, foreign tax credit benefits, and manufacturing deductions for the rich oil and gas firms.


The American Petroleum Institute stated, I imagine proudly, that none of President Obama’s proposed bills, which would be presented by a member of Congress in one or both Houses of Congress, were enacted into law; in fact, they were dead upon arrival in either House.  Is lobbying sometimes open bribery?


When a bill is presented in either House of Congress it is given a number and sent by the Ways & Means Committee to a specific Standing Committee to be examined.  Each member of Congress is generally on at least two committees.  In the case of the House of Representatives most committees are also broken into subcommittees.  The Chair of each committee sets the agenda for each meeting.  From 2011, when the Republicans gained the majority in the House of Representatives, the chairman became a Republican and, from what I understand, no tax reform bill made it to a committee for examination and recommendation.  This also occurred in the Senate from 2014 on when the Republicans received a slight majority there.


From 2009 to 2010 both the House and Senate were very busy fighting off a giant depression and Republicans were busy fighting off Affordable Health Care (Obamacare) which they failed to keep from passing.  There would have been little or any time for the Democratic Congress to do anything else.  And if such a bill came up in the Senate it could have been easily filibustered.  In the House of Representatives extended debate and amendments to the bill, which would add endlessly, to the extended debate, would have easily killed any bill.


If we ask why any loophole of subsidy bill would present a problem?  The answer is that a very large percentage of Congressmen or women are dependent upon these very companies for large political contributions.  Are they then dependent upon bribes?  The answer is legally no, but technically yes.


In order for an individual to run for either House of Congress he/she needs large amounts of money for staff, adds, mailings, television commercials, etc.  This money is supplied for Republicans and many Democrats by political contributions.  For example Ted Cruz’s current presidential campaign is currently being financed mostly by four very rich individuals.  I suspect that if he got elected he would do nothing to make any of these individuals unhappy about anything.  The same attitude would be true for any House or Senate member.


The contributors, individuals and companies, which make large contributions to political campaigns have purchased almost instant access to the people they have financially funded.  In addition many government officials also have use of company jets and free expensive vacations.  Is it bribery or an exchange among friends?  The legislators are supposed to represent their constituents who elect them.  But who is primary?  Is it the constituents or the large contributors?


Whether the legislator truly believes he is acting for the good of his state or understands that he is paying a debt by supporting his major contributor’s interests is really beside the point.  The interests of the large contributors are primary in the minds of the legislators.  To go against their interests would be an act of financial suicide.  It would cut off large portions of their funding and they could easily loose them the support of their party as well as that of the large contributor.


Why then have the Republicans, as a group, refuted the concept of climate change.  Presumably for them the planet is getting less inhabitable not because of man’s increasing pollution but probably because God is ticked off with people.


Can the current system be adjusted so that Congress can go back to the original purpose of the Founding Fathers, to serve the people of the United States?  Interesting question!  Not too long ago the Supreme Court in the Citizen’s United Case expanded the meaning of a part of the First Amendment to make the spending of money part of the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  This has led to almost unlimited spending in political elections because money is now an expression of free speech.  To limit contributions in a political election is now to limit the expression of free speech.


The political system, by the way it is set up, practically puts every politician susceptible to some level of corruption.  Can this system be changed?  Another interesting question.  Can tax reform come about?  Not by the current organization of Congress.

English: This is a chart created to demonstrat...

The Weiner Component #137B – Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, & the Current State of the Republican Party in the 2016 Presidential Election

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is important to keep in mind that the current Republican Presidential Debates and the Democratic one that will occur beginning Tuesday, October 13, 2015 are only for choosing the major party candidates for the oncoming 58th Quadrennial U.S. Presidential Election of November 8, 2016, about 13 months from now.  The last reform movement for choosing Presidential Candidates put the responsibility largely upon the people of the country by holding elections by political party in all 50 states.  These are done at different times prior to the Presidential Election.


Interestingly in the one held in Vermont in October of 2015 the three leading Republican candidates, each with 12% of the vote, were Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Bernie Sanders, who is an Independent Senator from that state who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.  All the other Republican candidates got single digit results.  Sanders will also be running in the Democratic Primary.


Mainly what has occurred up to this point in the Primary election is that in campaigning for the 2016 Presidential Campaign two figures have arisen, one in each major party, that according to some political commentators, are two sides of one coin representing voter protest.  On the Republican side it’s Donald Trump and on the Democratic side it’s Bernie Sanders.  Both have appealed to large numbers of the populace that are essentially disgusted with their political parties and the general verbiage thrown at them for their votes.


Candidates, particularly Presidential Candidates, make all sorts of promises and then fail to deliver what they presumably stand for.  Of course what is promised is what the candidates would like to do.  What actually happens after the election is that in order to bring their promises to fruition the candidate needs the full cooperation of the two Houses of Congress and even sometimes the cooperation of the Supreme Court.  This generally does not occur.


To the leaders of the Republican Party Donald Trump, currently aged 69, is the emergence of the Frankenstein Monster, set loose from the forces of chaos, over whom they have no control.  Since he is “really rich”, a billionaire, and financing his own campaign, they have no leverage over him.  To many of the Republican leaders he is a former Democrat and not a true Republican who does not hue strictly to the party line.


Trump states what he believes or says what he believes his audience wants to hear.  Always telling them how brilliant he is, what a great deal-maker he is, and verbally attacking other Republicans running for the presidency.  Jed Bush, who was a second runner to him, has been a constant target.  Since she started coming up at the polls, 61 year old Carly Fiorina, has gotten some negative comments from Trump about her looks and of how she ruined Hewlett Packard of which she was CEO for a while.  During the second debate he reversed his opinion about her looks.


Trump implies that he has never made a bad deal in his life.  He has gone through bankruptcy four times.  With my limited exposure to the business world I know of one specific deal where Trump lost probably millions for his investors and possibly for himself.


His slogan, which he wears written on the front of his hat, states that he will “Make America Great Again.”   He is implying, of course, that America is currently second rate.


Trump is, to quote him, “not politically correct;” that is, he will say almost anything.  His statements are general, criticizing everything that the current administration does or is doing, without any specifics on how he would perform as president except that it will be better and make America great again.


What I found enlightening when I looked up Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidential Campaign on the internet was that Donald Trump was not on the list.  It seems that many Republicans are still not taking him seriously as a potential candidate.  It’s an interesting phenomena, he’s leading in the Republican poles but is still considered undesirable by the party.


On the Democratic side there is Bernie Sanders, a 74 year old Democratic Socialist, who has run as an Independent from Vermont, first in the House of Representatives from 1991 – 2007 and then in the Senate from 2007 on.


Bernie Sanders has caucused with the Democrats, been a voice of protest against the seemingly incapability of reform both when he was in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate.   In 2015 he decided to make his protest against the inequities of our political system public by running for the presidency in 2016.


Senator Sanders has raised several million dollars by taking only small contributions and refusing larger ones.  He represents the common man against the influence of the upper percent of the population and the large corporations.  In essence he is the voice of the common American protesting vociferously against the highly inequitable distribution of income in the United States.  He is the voice of every lost cause that is generally opposed by the plutocrats and the lobbyists.


Surprisingly, especially to Sanders himself and a goodly percentage of the Democratic Party, the number of people who have come out to hear him and support him has been phenomenal and continues to grow.  He is currently a serious candidate for the Presidency of the United States.


Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the two dynamic candidates.  Both are symbols of how the American people feel about the inaction of the Federal Government to really solve any of the major problems facing the country.  They represent the two major political parties within the country.  The people are tired of Congressional inaction, a government shutdown, of nothing happening.  They are fed-up with seven years of warfare between Congress and the President.  They want a functioning Government that is positively leading this nation.


The reality of the situation is something else.  Trump talks about what he will do as president.  Listening to bits and pieces of his speeches over TV one get the impression that he thinks he can run the country the same way he runs his company as its CEO.  No even Louis 14th of France, the most absolute of the absolute kings could do what Donald Trump says he will do as president.  One gets the impression that he’s never read the Constitution of the U.S. which gives the power to make laws to Congress and makes the President the Chief Administrator of the country.  Either he is totally impressed with himself or he is totally ignorant of our form of government or both.  Even if he were to be elected President and had a totally Republican Congress he would not be able to do even a small percentage of what he claims he’s going to do to “Make America Great Again.”  There is no way Congress, even a Congress with a majority of Republicans in both Houses would support him.


Bernie Sanders has stated the legitimate inequalities that exist within the United States.  He would like to see greater fairness for all American citizens but he too would face large scale frustration from Congress.  If he were to be elected as the Democratic President in 2016 the probability is that the House of Representatives would remain with a Republican majority and he would not be able to get any of his desired legislation through.  Even if he were to get a Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress the Republicans in the Senate would filibuster every law he would support.  If by some miracle both Houses of Congress became Democratic, and there was a supper-majority of 60 Democratic senators they would only support a very small percentage of his program.  It would take a multitude of years or longer for the United States to become a Democratic Socialistic Nation.


Bernie Sanders is registered as an Independent but styles himself as a Democratic Socialist.  In fact he is the longest serving Independent in Congressional history.  He caucuses with the Democratic Party but favors the social democratic policies of European countries, particularly the Nordic ones: free college education for everyone qualified to go, free medical care for everyone paid for by taxes, basically true equality for all citizens.


Bernie Sanders is a leading progressive voice on such issues as income inequality, universal healthcare, parental leave, climate change, and campaign finance reform.  He is also known for supporting civil rights and civil liberties.


Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, as stated earlier, are two sides of the same coin; and that coin is protest against an essentially non-functioning central government, which seems more non-functioning all the time.  They seem to symbolize the feelings and frustrations of a large percentage of the voters.


A little under seven years ago, when Barak Obama was elected to the presidency of the United States, Mitch McConnell, the then minority leader of the Republicans in the Senate, stated publically that the goal of the Republican Party was to make Barak Obama a one term President.  For his first term, 2009 through 2012, the Republicans opposed everything he supported, and this included bills that the Republicans had originated.


When Barak Obama first took office in 2009 he inherited the Real Estate Crash that had begun during Bush’s last year as President.  It was a major depression that could have gone deeper than the Great Depression of 1929.  Obama, with no legislative help from the Republicans in Congress, was able to turn that into a recession and largely but not completely slowly work the nation out of that major problem.


There still, up to today, has been no fiscal policy applied to the problem.  In fact, most acts by the legislature, particularly after 2011 when the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, has actually exacerbated the problem, increasing unemployment.


Using his executive powers and those of the Federal Reserve President Obama has kept the nation from major economic disaster.  Today, in 2015, unemployment nationally is below 5% and moving toward additional recovery.  But the poverty rate in the nation has increased and is much too high and inequality of incomes is at its highest point in decades.


What have the Republicans done, since they have managed to gain control of the House of Representatives in 2011 and the Senate in 2014, to help resolve the economic dilemma?  The answer is essentially nothing.  At one point they shut the Federal Government down and were threatening to do it again over the issue of getting rid of Planned Parenthood.  To avoid that potential disaster John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, resigned effective October 31, 2015.  On Thursday, October 7 the Republican in the House were supposed to choose Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Whip as the new Speaker.  At high noon on Thursday McCarthy withdrew his name from consideration as the new Speaker.


He did not have the votes for that position.  The 40 Tea Party candidates on the far, far right of the Republican Party would not support him.  As of Sunday, October 11th there is no one to replace Speaker Boehner, who has stated that he will stay on beyond October 31 until a new Speaker is chosen.  That may not be until the end of 2016.  The Republicans in the House of Representatives have reached a stage beyond gridlock!


On Sunday, October 11, 2015 the House Republican majority has reached a point where they will presumably have no Speaker at the end of this month.  Technically they will not be able to even meet as a body.  What is their reaction to this?  It has been suggested by one or more of them that they take a two week break.  It would seem that they are totally separate from the people who elected them and owe nothing to their constituents.  The behavior is unbelievable.


The House of Representatives which meets for an average of 200 days a year has voted over fifty times to do away with Affordable Health Care (Obamacare) which was based upon a Republican plan developed and applied in the state of Massachusetts by its then Republican Governor, Mitt Romney.


Seemingly the plan was, if all else failed, to shut down the United States Government by refusing to fund it if funding Planned Parenthood remained in the finance bill.  Current Speaker Boehner killed this motion by his resignation as Speaker of the House and a bill was put through the Senate by the Republican Majority Leader funding the Government through December of this year which was passed in both Houses of Congress with Democratic votes.


At this point the Republicans in the House, who have a majority, cannot bring its 40 Tea Party extremists to go along with the rest of them in appointing a Speaker or in getting almost any legislation passed.  They are beyond gridlock and this term does not end until the end of 2016.


To a large percentage of nationally registered Democrats, Independents, and even Republicans the central government is not functioning because very little or no legislation is being passed dealing with everyday problems or anything else for that matter.  At this point the Congress is seemingly non-functional.


Interestingly to the Tea Party and many other Republicans the Federal Government is not working because the Congressional Democrats and the President refuse to go along with the Republicans and their solutions to the national problems.  Their version of compromise is to have the other side give in to them completely.


Trump has the support of a percentage of these people and Sanders has the support of a like number of registered Democrats and Independents.

Both of these groups are miles apart and could not even begin to consider the beginnings of a compromise.  What we have is a totally frustrated and angry electorate whose frustrations are based upon their powerlessness.  What will happen?


The Presidential Election of 2016 is more than a year away.  It will be held on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.  Who will be the candidates?  Trump seemingly would like to be president.  Sanders, who is amazed at how far he’s come so far, would probably be even more amazed if he were the candidate.


What is happening now is that the potential candidates are jockeying for position.  There are currently around fourteen Republican potential candidates, who each want to be chosen as the Presidential Candidate and about five people running for the Democratic position.  Trump, who is not acceptable to many Republicans, is currently leading the group on the right and Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing the same for the Democratic groups on the left.  In November of 2016 the voters of the United States will decide in each of the 50 states who the next President of the United States will be.  The probability is that the Democratic candidate will win since they are the majority party, the Senate will in all likelihood return to a Democratic majority, and the House will probably retain its Republican majority.  What will happen over the next four years?  Probably, very little no matter who gets elected.


What does that mean to the general electorate?  I do not want to consider that problem but the probability is nothing or very little.  What could happen in the Election of 2020?  The possibility there is the emergence of one or more third parties.  This is what happened in 1860 with the initial emergence of the Republican Party over the issue of slavery.  Here Lincoln was elected with 40% of the popular vote after the Democratic Party had split into two political parties, one northern and one southern.








The Weiner Component #137A – John Boehner’s Resignation & the House Republican Party

Planned Parenthood volunteers help bring the f...

Planned Parenthood volunteers help bring the fight for health insurance reform to the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day after a visit to Congress by the Pope, wherein he spoke to a joint session of the legislature, and, among other things, shook hands with the Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, John Boehner handed in his resignation as Speaker of the House and as a member of Congress, effective October 31, 2015.  He is currently 65 years old, a good time to retire.


Boehner had originally been the Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives and became Speaker of the House in 2011 when the Republicans achieved a majority in the House of Representatives.  Over the past five years he has been categorized as one of the worst Speakers in the history of the United States, having no real control over his own party and having to get the support of Democrats in the House in order to pass a good deal of the legislation he espoused.  He is also known for legislation he ignored and never brought up.


What has happened over the last decade or so is that The Tea Party has come into existence as a far right arm of the Republican Party.  Many of them have been elected to Congress over the years.  They and the Evangelicals have gotten together and formed the extreme right end of the Republican Party.  Seemingly they control a good percentage of the Republican election funds which they will withhold from any candidate that does not follow the party line, their line of no compromise.  Consequently they have a lot of power in the House of Representatives which they have continually exercised.


Speaker Boehner stated, when he was interviewed on television, after he had handed in his resignation, that these far right Republicans know that a large number of their goals are totally unrealistic, that they cannot be achieved, but they insist on them just the same.


There is an interesting note of irony here.  The original Tea Partiers who operated during the late colonial period of our history were the merchants who ran the General Stores in the colonies of Boston, New York, and several other cities at the time.  Among other items they sold tea, which was the national drink.  The British East India Company brought the tea over and sold it to the colonial merchants.  It was fairly expensive and heavily taxed by the British government.  The colonial merchants did not appreciate the high price of the tea nor the tax so they bought much cheaper smuggled tea.


Shortly before the Revolutionary War the British East India Company was at the point of bankruptcy.  Since many members of Parliament owned shares in this company they passed a law lowering both the cost of the tea and the taxes on it.  The official price of this tea, including the taxes placed upon it, was now cheaper than the price of the smuggled tea.  The men who dumped the crates of tea into the harbors of Boston and New York were the merchants who all had a large stock of smuggled tea in their warehouses.  They rubbed red ocher over their bodies and performed the action after dark.

These were the patriots that the modern Tea Partiers have named themselves after.  I sometimes get the feeling that the nomenclature is as apt today as it was in the late 18th Century.


John Boehner, as Speaker, has operated between their whims and sanity.  He is not a Tea Partier.  He has been forced at times to get Democratic support for some of his bills so he could get them passed.  His job as Speaker has been a very difficult and frustrating one.  How do you lead a group that is essentially marching backwards, sometimes in several different directions at the same time and has no real understanding of government?  They have shut down the government at the cost of many millions of dollars.  They have passed a bill doing away with Affordable Health Care over fifty times that never even once reached the Senate.  Where they have been successful they have passed legislation that has massively increased unemployment during a time of recession, one example would be the sequester law, which is supposed to be an economizing measure, but that is basically choking this nation.


The Republicans were threatening to shut the government down again.  The first shut-down was about getting rid of Affordable Health Care; this time it was over the issue of continuing the funding of Planned Parenthood, accusing them of being a national facility for committing abortions.  Even though no federal funds can be used for abortions by any group the Republicans are pushing the fact that since this organization performs abortions it should not be funded.  Planned Parenthood is a women’s and to some extent male medical facility.  Many people who cannot afford medical care receive that there free or for a payment of what they can afford.  Abortions are about 3% of what they do for the poorer women of the United States.  Cancelling this organization by defunding it would strike a heavy blow against the poor and needy of the country.


The Republicans present Planned Parenthood as an abortion clinic, period.  It is over this issue that the far right of the Republican Party and the Evangelicals in Congress want to shut down the Federal Government.


In fact Carley Fiorina has made an exaggerated and fabricated image of an abortion the cornerstone of her 2016 presidential campaign.  She has sent out robocalls using this message as an appeal and request for funds.  She describes a living born fetus kicking its legs as Planned Parenthood sells its brain for medical research.  The woman, who gave birth to this fetus which was still-born denounced Fiorina for misusing her dead child as an example of a Planned Parenthood action.  Planned Parenthood had nothing to do with the false image that Fiorina supposedly based her statement upon.  It was a blatant fabrication, a lie, and she used the child without getting permission from the mother who has protested over this act.


Interestingly the Republicans keep looking to find Planned Parenthood guilty of breaking the law.  There have been four Congressional investigations by a Standing Committee in Congress.  None of them have found any evidence of illegal activity.  As a result of all this Congressional bashing more of the general public have come to support Planned Parenthood.


With the October 31 resignation of John Boehner this issue of closing down the government of the United States has gone away, at least until December of 2015.  A short term funding bill has gone through the Senate, espoused by the Republican Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and supported by the Democrats and enough Republicans to end a filibuster by Senator Ted Cruz.  Obviously there can be no filibuster in the House of Representatives and the bill was later brought up there by an unpressured Speaker and passed by the Democrats with a small number of Republicans voting for it.  The issue will not come up again until December when the new Speaker of the House of Representatives will have to again deal with this issue of funding the government.  Will the issue of Planned Parenthood come up again?  Will the Republicans find another excuse to close down the government?  After all the Tea Party tends to find the entire National Government repressive.  They seem to want to hurt it.


By resigning as Speaker John Boehner, in a manner of speaking, has held up his middle finger to the far right in his party.  He will be in power for a short period of time.  The Tea Partiers can no longer pressure him to do anything.  There will be no immediate government shutdown.  Ted Cruz, who is very brave leading other people to take risks will be ineffective here.  The far right Republicans do not have a majority within their own party in the House.  They cannot elect one of their own as the new Speaker.  And the election for a new Speaker will not take place until November 1, the day after John Boehner is no longer Speaker of the House.


The way it looks at present is that the next Speaker will be Kevin McCarthy, the current majority leader.  He was first elected to the House in 2008, became majority leader in 2014 when Eric Cantor lost the election to a far right member of the Tea Party.  Politically McCarthy comes from an overwhelming Republican District in Bakersfield, California.  While not a Tea Party member he has signed a pledge sponsored by Americans for Prosperity promising not to vote against any climate change legislation that would raise taxes on affected companies. McCarthy is pro-life.  He has voted against Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care.  During his eight years in the House there are no real bills he has originated.  Where does he stand in relation to the Tea Party?  If he’s elected we’ll find out in November of this year.


A strange thing about Kevin McCarthy is that he occasionally has a problem in a public speech expressing a coherent sentence.  He also mispronounces words adding letters to them and his sentences sometimes become a flow of words that are meaningless to everyone, possibly except for himself.  In addition from what he’s said he feels that the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, always looks at him contemptibly.  Many members of the far right feel he is too liberal to be their Speaker.


Recently [n a moment of exultation Kevin McCarthy, while being interviewed on Fox News, without being asked, proudly stated that Hillary Clinton’s popularity numbers had been very high but after testifying four times before a Standing Committee on Benghazi her popularity dropped considerably.  He implied strongly and happily that these appearances lowered her popularity significantly.  There is also a fifth Benghazi hearing coming up since the prior four have not been able to place any blame on her.  He confirmed what the Democrats had been saying since they started that these hearings are politically motivated.  Of course McCarthy tried to step back from what he said a day or two afterward.


In one sense this is very sad because these four hearings are estimated to have cost the American taxpayers about four million dollars.  This is a strange way for a political party that prides itself upon reducing government spending to spend four million dollars to achieve a so-called political point.  If he is elected Speaker of the House of Representatives it should be interesting if not strange.  His tenure may be very short.


John Boehner is currently a free agent.  No one can bring any pressure upon him.  He has stated that there will be no government shut down.  If he wished to do so he could deal with the problem of immigration that this country has been facing and ignoring for a number of years.  There are other legislative items that need to be dealt with.   He would have the Democratic votes and probably enough Republican votes to pass almost any bill.  If he does this what the Senate will do is an open question, but McConnell might very well go along with him.  McConnell has stated that the Republican majority will show the country that it can govern.


For the first time since his election as Speaker of the House of     Representatives John Boehner is a free agent.  No one can now bring pressure or make demands on him.  He has about a month left to serve in this position and then he is retired from the House.  At the age of 65 he can go back to Ohio and actually retire if he so desires since he currently is estimated as having a net worth of about five million dollars and a generous retirement program from Congress, having served in the House since 1991, 24 years.


Instead, if he so desires, he can serve one or another large corporation as a lobbyist and earn additional millions of dollars.  Eric Cantor, when he lost the 2014 election to a more reactionary Tea Partier and was no longer Majority Leader of the Republican’s in the House, took a highly lucrative position earning over a million dollars a year.  Boehner can do the same thing.  The problem here is that once he takes the job he has to follow orders and he is lobbying for the interests of a large corporation.  This is not necessarily a good thing; it somehow resembles selling your soul for money.


On the other hand John Boehner can offer his services to a low dollar entity like the Catholic Bishops or to a people oriented enterprise like the movement to end violence against women.  There are many such organizations that would love to have his help as a Washington lobbyist.  He could get a great deal of fulfillment working for one or even several of these.


Besides keeping the government functioning how does Boehner’s retirement affect the House of Representatives?  First off many House Tea Partiers consider it a victory for themselves because he was never one of them.  He has occasionally played golf with President Obama, who they consider the enemy.  But the new Speaker will not be a Tea Partier; they don’t have enough votes for that.  Will they be able to control the new Speaker?  Will they be able to shut the government down in December of this year?  Presumably the Congressional Tea Partiers in the Senate would also like to get rid of Mitch McConnell, force him to resign from the Senate.  Among some conservatives there is a “Ditch Mitch” campaign.   Will they be able to do any of this?  If they were somehow to succeed in carrying out their nefarious agenda what will happen?  Those are interesting questions.


In my estimation if they were to succeed in any of this, particularly in a Presidential Election year they would probably discredit themselves, particularly the House of Representatives, before the voting public and could conceivably, even with gerrymandered voting districts and some suppressions of the vote, end up with a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.  John Boehner may have started a roller-coaster going with ever-increasing speed downhill for the Tea Party.  We will see where it ends.

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

Official portrait of United States House Speaker (R-Ohio). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Weiner Component #136 – Part 3: The Sequester

Following is perhaps one of the most important reasons for the Election of 2016.  Its results will strongly affect the future of the United States in terms of whether the country moves toward economic fulfillment for most of the population, stays where it is now, or goes further in the direction of continuing to exist mainly operated by the rich, be run by the rich, and mainly exist for their benefit.


On August 1, 2011, the House of Representatives passed the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was then approved by the Senate, and signed reluctantly by President Obama.  The Act provided that if the Joint Select Committee did not produce bipartisan legislation that made across the board spending cuts then automatic spending cuts would take effect on January 2, 2013.  Its commencement was by law delayed until March 1, 2013.  On that date, with no bipartisan deal having been reached, the initial sequestration cuts would take effect at midnight.  While President Obama signed the bill putting the cuts into effect he referred to them as being “deeply destructive.”


On March 6, 2013, the House of Representatives passed a bill to extend the continuing resolution and to enable defense and the veteran’s programs to adjust to the cuts brought on by sequestration.  Other bills were passed adjusting many of the visible cuts like those made to airport traffic control.  Suddenly most of the airports had long waits for planes taking off and landing as the number of air traffic controllers was cut by the sequester.  This and other visible cuts were adjusted; but many of the invisible ones like a decreases in school breakfasts and lunch programs for the children of the poor or, for that matter, meals on wheels for poor senior citizens, were also cut but they tended to be invisible so there was no large scale objection to these.


The cuts were divided evenly in dollar amounts between the defense and non-defense categories.  Some major programs like Social Security, Medicate, federal pensions, compensation for legislators, and veteran’s benefits were exempt.  Medicare benefits were reduced by 2% a year.  Instead of cutting some Federal pay rates a system of furloughs was set up which resulted in involuntary unpaid time off for government employees was utilized.


The sequester is supposed to lower total Federal spending by $1.1 trillion over an eight year period, from 2013 to 2021.  In 2013 it was supposed to lower non-defense discretionary spending by 7.8% or $294 billion and slightly lower in succeeding years; and it was supposed to lower defense spending by 10% or $454 billion, with slightly lower cuts in succeeding years.


In point of actual face since the application of the bill was delayed from the beginning of January of 13 to March 1, 2013 the actual savings for that year was 85 billion dollars instead of 110 billion dollars.  After two years the cuts have been devastating to both the defense and non-defense sections of the government.


This was the non-compromise compromise that the Republican legislators in both the House and Senate insisted upon to force the Democrats and their President to compromise upon lowering government spending.  Was it a good idea?


Generally, with the exception of 2013, the sequester goes into effect at the end of the year and if the required cuts have not been made in all the programs then those not made by legislation during the year automatically go into effect on January 1 of the new year unless a special bill is passed limiting one or another sequester areas of defense or non-defense spending.  Keep in mind that this process is supposed to continue until 2021 and that only the third installment will have passed by the end of 2015.  There will be an additional six years to go.


The sequester will, if no significant changes are made, lower all Federal Government spending by a total of 1-1 trillion dollars from 2013 to 2021.  It decreased non-defense spending by a range of 7.8% in 2013 and will lower it to 5.5% by 2021.  This is a total of 450 billion dollars for the first year.  Defense spending was also lowered 10% in 2014 and will drop to 8.5% by 2021.


It is also important to realize that the sequestration has significantly cut federal and non-federal employment in the many hundreds of thousands.  In late 2008, Republican President George W. Bush’s last year in the office, the total economy tanked after thirty plus years of constant and sometimes irrational growth.  Bush and his Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, during the last months of that year spent many billions of dollars bailing out the major banking houses in the country, keeping them from going bankrupt.  The pattern of governments stopping potential bank failures and saving banks became an international operation in many industrial nations.


In the United States the oncoming economic failure became obvious in 2007 when the loans to homeowners became frenzied with mortgage lending 125% of the then value of the property.  The bankers were in complete denial that ever-rising values could ever stop happening.  Most of them had spent their entire prior work life during a period of ever-increasing real estate growth.


With the 2008 Real Estate Crash there was suddenly massive economic collapse with value dropping like bombs from airplanes during wartime.  The value of the dollar dropped to about ten cents overnight.  A good percentage of homeowners, particularly those who had continually refinanced their homes suddenly found themselves owing more on the properties than they were worth.  As a last minute move before the crash some banks were frantically continuing the process.  It had become by 2008 frenzied madness.


The new President, Barak Obama, inherited this problem when he assumed office in 2009.  He spent his first two years in office with a Democratic Congress, successfully working on this problem and getting Affordable Health Care passed.  He continued the bailout of the banks and saved both the financial institutions and the American auto industry with massive loans.  By the 2010 Midterm Election a goodly percentage of the people who had voted for him and change did not vote.  Probably they felt he had not brought any or enough of the change he had promised in the 2008 Election.  Consequently the Republicans achieved a majority in the House of Representatives and thereafter would pass nothing favored by President Barak Obama.  This continued through his first term in office and largely through his second term.  In 2014 Midterm Election the Republicans all achieved a slight majority in the Senate.


Consequently during most of Obama’s presidency Congress has refused to even consider fiscal policy, spending money to create jobs and modernize the infrastructure.  The Federal Reserve has utilized monetary policy, lowering the interest rates paid by the banks to consumers to almost nothing, one tenth of one percent, for most of the money deposited into the banks.  Despite all this in August of 2015 unemployment dropped to 5.1% of the work force looking for jobs, the lowest point since the Real Estate Crash of 2008.


During Reagan’s presidency, in addition to massive military spending, the banks were deregulated.  In 1932, during the midst of the Great Depression, bank reform bills or regulation to avoid another massive depression, which mostly the banks had caused in 1929, were passed.  They had been added to over the years.  All this disappeared during the Reagan Era when the “Free Market” became dominant.  That was during the 1980s.  By 2008 the big banks had again undone the economy.  All this was strongly continued by the two Bush presidencies.


Basically the Republican position has been “No new taxes,” even though Reagan and the first Bush president both oversaw some tax increases.  With the second Bush presidency it was two wars and a large tax decrease, particularly for the wealthy.  If more money is needed for any reason the Republicans would reduce non-military spending, particularly discretionary spending, to make up the difference.  Discretionary spending is programs which aid the elderly, the poor, and the middle class.  In essence their programs have been welfare for the rich at the expense of everyone else.


The Democratic position has been that the country can increase spending by having newer and fairer taxes.  This is the means of paying for new programs and increased costs.  They will not go along with paying increasing or new costs by decreasing the money spent on the lower levels of society.


From these two positions there is no way to achieve a compromise.  Thus we have sequestration, which is in essence squishing the bulk of the population and the functioning of the government. It is an interesting act of spite perpetrated by the Republicans upon the Democrats and the rest of the country.  There is no possibility of compromise.


If the sequester were not in existence unemployment would currently be down to 2 ½ % or lower and there would be a labor shortage.  This would automatically raise the minimum wage and everyone’s standard of living would rise with the rise of wages as employers would be competing for workers.  The FED would have raised interest rates to hold down inflation and the GDP would be far higher than it is now.  The amount taken in in taxes, on all levels of state and federal governments, would have increased substantially and the Federal Government might even be slightly paying down the National Debt.  But instead the Republicans have to be “penny wise and dollar stupid,” holding down economic growth in the nation both as spite and as an economizing measure.


For the end of January 2015 President Obama had asked for an end of sequestration and an overall 7% increase in all areas of spending.  This was an opening position on the 2015 budget debate with a Republican Congress.  He got none of these.  The end of 2015 is coming up.  Both the time for the final cuts to the 2015 sequester and the 2016 Presidential Election will soon be with us.


The military is currently in worst shape than it has been since the end of World War II; when the war ended and the government overnight cancelled all war contracts and began quickly releasing a large percentage of its army back into civilian life.  This continued until the Federal Government realized there was a Cold War going on with the Soviet Union; then it reversed itself.  Currently, according to the armed services top officers another round of sequestration will have dire consequences, which will include the ability to win a ground war.  The size of the navy and air force is shrinking as these services cannot afford to replace outdated ships and air planes.  And this does not include all the other cuts that sequestration is causing.  The military is at present in a worst position of preparedness than it has been since the end of W.W.II.


On a non-military basis poor children are going to school hungry and staying hungry all day while trying to learn.  Senior citizens are doing without food and dying because of program cuts.  They often have to choose between rent, medicine, and food.  They can’t afford all of them.  Food is the first expense to go.  The country will lose a generation of scientists as research funding, which already has been cut 50% continues to decrease.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a report at the end of 2013 entitled, “Voices from the field,” that cites the effects of sequestration upon the F.B.I.  It states that, among other things, new intelligence investigations were not opened; criminal cases were being closed; informants couldn’t be paid; and there was not enough funding for agents to put gas in their cars.  And early Head Start programs were eliminated to balance budgets.


All these and many other programs tend to be invisible to the general public.  Also the effects of these and other unnecessary cuts bring about a significant loss of employment in the overall economy and, as we’ve seen, a noticeable drop in the GDP.   Sequestration is hurting the nation.  As it continues the damage increases.  Further cuts will have to be made at the end of 2015.


What amazes me is that virtually all the Congressional Republican legislators have taken an oath/pledge in writing to Grover Norquist, a libertarian-leaning Republican lobbyist and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, who has no direct connection with the Government, that they will never raise any taxes.  These same Republicans have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  It would seem that the first oath here comes before the one to the Constitution.  It would also seem that a number of Republicans would like to get rid of the sequestration but they are bound by their pledge or oath to Grover Norquist.


President Obama has stated that the government can raise the tax revenue to pay for doing away with sequestration by “fixing a tax code that is riddled with loopholes for special interests.  Some of these loopholes were passed during World War II, over a half century ago, to encourage the amount of gasoline produced during the war.  They are still on the books and Norquist sees them being done away with as an increase in taxes.  The current situation and inability of the two parties goes beyond sanity.


My solution to this problem would be to have both political parties appoint a bipartisan committee and lock them in a room without access to a bathroom which they cannot leave until a solution is reached.  And if others in Congress refuse to accept the compromise then automatically appoint them to a new committee and lock them in the same room until they reach a compromise.  This process would be continued until everyone is in agreement on a compromise.  If possible Grover Norquist should be added to all the different committees.


The members of Congress are each being paid 170 thousand dollars a year and take an oath to serve the country.  Each has a budget of over a million dollars for their staffs.  It’s time they did a competent job as legislators.  The taxpayers are spending a lot of money on them and their staffs.  The Republicans seem more interested in a welfare state for the rich than in a country that functions for the benefit of all its members.  Sequestration should never have happened; it’s the type of thing children would do: spite for the sake of spite.  The oncoming 2016 Presidential Election is an opportunity for the voters in America, despite the various suppression of voting in many Republican controlled states, to get rid of a number of legislators that are serving causes other than the welfare of the United States.

The Weiner Component: Part 2 – Taxes & the Republican Party

English: Federal income tax amounts in the Uni...

English: Federal income tax amounts in the United States, based on average pretax household income (2003). The primary source of the information is the Congressional Budget Office’s publication titled, “Historical Effective Tax Rates.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Plot of top bracket from U.S. Federal...

English: Plot of top bracket from U.S. Federal Marginal Income Tax Rates for 1913 to 2009. Data are from (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one will argue that the Federal Tax System (the income tax) is fair and doesn’t need reform.  The problem is that both the Republicans and the Democrats come at it from totally different perspectives and cannot even begin to come to any sort of agreement about what should be done.


The Republicans are supposed to be the party of balanced budgets.  They have systematically held to two major positions: a balanced budget and not increasing the tax rate for the rich or for large corporations; in fact for a large number of years every incoming Republican to the House or Senate has sworn an oath/pledge in writing to Grover Norquist, a lobbyist with no direct connection to the Federal Government that he or she will not raise taxes.  They have also verbally and dramatically supported raising the rate of expenditure for the military with cuts to entitlement programs.


Yet the last three Republican Presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan and the two Bush’s, father and son, through military preparedness and wars have raised the National Deficit from one trillion dollars to over thirteen trillion dollars and, in addition, the last Republican President, George W. Bush, left the country at the end of his term in office at the very edge of a major depression.  Avoiding this potential Great Depression caused the next President, Barak Obama, in 2009 to have to spend a far greater amount than was taken in in taxes over most of his two terms to avoid economic calamity and to continue the two wars that Bush propagated, bringing the current deficit up to over seventeen trillion dollars.  Finally, toward the end of 2015, the administration may be able to reduce slightly the deficit.


The Republican majorities in Congress are still “Penny wise and dollar stupid,” refusing to spend money on fiscal policy which would both help leave the remnants of the 2008 recession behind us, improve the needed outdated early 20th Century infrastructure of the United States and significantly lower the current rate of unemployment.  They have since 2011, when they gained control of the House of Representatives, refused to pass any spending bills that would upgrade any of the needed infrastructure of the United States, like hundred year old bridges.


Their aim seems to be to lower taxes for the upper few percent of the earners, who they call the “job creators,” and increasing the taxes for the middle and lower classes.  In this process, regretfully, they have been fairly successful.  The middle class has been since 1980 decreasing in percentage of the population and the lower class has been growing, to a point where homelessness can be seen today in almost any major city in the U.S.  In fact poverty is at a higher rate today than it’s been in years and is continuing to increase.


Since the Republicans cannot get the Democrats in Congress to openly go along with tax cuts for the wealthy and paying for this with large cuts in entitlement programs they have in 2013 passed the sequester law, which automatically makes cuts across the board in government spending.  Most of these automatic cuts seem to be invisible but when one become openly harmful to the economy a law can quickly be passed funding it.  Such was the case with the air controllers at the airports throughout the U.S.   Such was not the case in terms of the U.S. military; they are currently in the worst state of preparedness they have been in decades.  It’s as though the Republicans in Congress are saying one thing, getting the nation ready for war with Iran when they completely take over the government after the next election and at the same time, assuming that they will not have to pay for the war or anything else.  Their actions and intent verge on idiocy and irresponsibility or on a total inability to deal with the real world.


One of their major actions during the last thirty-five years has been to systematically reduce taxes for the very wealthy and gradually increase it or make up for the increasing deficit by increasing the tax base for the middle and lower classes.  Some of this has been done by indexing income taxes; that is, with natural inflation incomes rise while purchasing power stays the same or decreases.  This throws many members of the middle class into higher tax categories because their incomes increase but their standard of living actually decreases.


Many or most Republicans legislators probably are not even aware that this is happening because it has been going on for over three decades.  Most, if not all of them, have come into office in Congress well after this process has been begun and have just continued it.  If we look at the pattern of taxation over the last fifty years this is one aspect that we can easily see.


The major responsibility for all these changes rests with the Republicans, their major contributors and the lobbies working for these people.  And the Supreme Court, in recent years, has expedited this process by defining contributions to political parties as just another form of “free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”


First off, taxes are either progressive: everyone pays according to their ability to pay, or they are regressive: everyone pays equally, which means the rich pay a smaller percentage of their incomes on these taxes than the middle or lower classes.  In essence the lower one’s income the higher a percentage of his income would be paid on these taxes.  Examples of this kind of tax would be a sales tax or an excise tax.  Everyone pays these equally.


An example of a progressive tax would be the Federal or State income taxes.  They are progressive up to a point, that is up to a little over 400,000 dollars.  Up to this amount the percentage of the tax is gradually increased as incomes becomes larger.  After the maximum, a little over 400,000 dollars is reached the income tax becomes regressive in that the percentage paid becomes fixed no matter how great the income is over this amount.


An individual earning ten or twenty million a year or more would continue paying the same percentage as someone who has only earned 400,000 dollars a year.  In point of fact the higher his income the lower the percentage that individual pays in taxes.


Virtually all other taxes, which are touted as being fair because everyone pays the same amount, are regressive.  The wealthier one is, the lower that tax is in terms of a percentage of his income.


If we look at the 2014 Income tax schedule there are four categories for taxpayers: (1) Single, (2) Married Filing Jointly, (3) Married Filing  Separately, & (4) Head of Household.


Using Schedule Y-1: Married Filing Jointly as our example one sees the sequence of taxes for 1914.  For earning up to $18.150 there is no income tax.  For a couple earning between $18,150 and $73,800 the tax is $10,162 + 15% over $18,150.  For earning of $73,800 to $148,850 the tax is $10,162 + 25% of the amount over $73,800. If a family earns between $148,850 and $226,850 the tax is $28,925 + 28% over $148,850.  For between $226,850 and $405,100 the tax is $50,765 +33% over $226,850.  If they earn between $405,100 and $457,600 the tax is $$109,587.50 + 39%.  At $457,600 up they pay $127,962.50 + 39.6% no matter how much they earn.

The amounts are slightly less for a single person and roughly half for a married taxpayer filing separately.


In essence everyone pays increasing amounts for each category until they reach their total income after legal deductions.  This would be true for those earning over $457,600, except that after that amount they would pay $127,962.50 + 39.5% of their income.  If they earn a million it would be that amount and would remain the same with earnings of a billion or more.


Note that anyone earning any amount over $457,600 pays that same percentage whether his income is one million or over a billion dollars.  While this may seem like a lot of money still in comparison to the percentage of their incomes which most taxpayers have to pay who are under the $450,000 benefit it can be a very much smaller percentage of their yearly incomes.  In the case of someone like the Koch Brothers, who are estimated to have at least a $100 billion each, it can be well under ten percent of their yearly incomes.


Mitt Romney, in 2012 when he was running for the presidency, released one year’s tax percentage.  It was 11 or 12%.  No one earning less than $400,000 a year pays that small a percentage of their income


If we look at the taxes in 1980, the last year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the percentage in income paid in income taxes were graduated up to an income of one million dollars.  The more one earned the higher the percentage he paid in income taxes.  At $100,000 the tax was 27.3%.  At $200,000 it was 33.1%.  At $500,000 it was 40%.  Up to $1,000,000 it was 44.6%.  And over $1,000,000 it was 47.9% of the yearly income.  The income tax became regressive on earnings well over the million dollar mark.  But it was still a fairer income tax than that of 2014.


From 1932 to 1935 the percentage of income taxes for those earning one million or more was 63%.  It rose to 94% from 1944 – 1945 and then gradually declined to 92% by 1952 – 1953.  By 2013 for those earning $450,000+ the rate of taxation became 39.6%.


In 1981 Ronald Reagan became President of the United States.  From that point on the maximum percentage seemed to flow toward 39.6% for those earning $457,600 or more.  This amount was fixed, under the guise of tax reform, during the Obama Administration.  The Republicans who then held a majority in the House and were able to freely filibuster in the Senate absolutely refused to go over that amount.  It was that or nothing.


With the oncoming 2016 election this issue hangs in the air again.  A Republican majority currently exists in both Houses of Congress.  If a Republican president is elected then the tax reform will be enacted for the upper few percent of earners in the country.  The rich will keep more of their incomes and the middle and lower classes will get far less than they currently have.  It will truly be Government of the Rich, for the Rich, and by the Rich.  All entitlement programs for the poor and general public will diminish considerably.


In fact in one of his speeches Jed Bush has promised to lower taxes for the upper few percentage of the earning population.  His justification is that this will increase employment in the U.S. because these are the people who create jobs.  Historically this has never happened.  But Bush Jr. presumes he knows best.


If, on the other hand, the Democrats were to win both Congress and the Presidency then we could see genuine reform of our income tax system.  But the probability is that 2016 will give the country another Democratic President and the House of Representatives will maintain, through gerrymandering, a Republican majority.  The Democrats will still not have a super-majority in the Senate, so it will again be open to filibustering.  There will still be no way for real tax reform.  However we can hope for miracles.

Distribution of U.S. federal taxes for 2000 as...

Distribution of U.S. federal taxes for 2000 as a percentage of income among the family income quintiles. Source: Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis Working Paper #85, “U.S. Treasury Distributional Methodology” by Julie-Anne Cronin (September 1999)- also available here (Photo credit: Wikipedia)