The Weiner Component #149 – The 2016 Presidential Election: The Democrats & the Election

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are the Democratic candidates for the presidency in 2016.  He is now a Democratic Socialist who has always caucused with the Democratic Party.  Hillary Clinton has always been a liberal Democrat.  Both would like to be President of the United States.

 

Bernie was born on September 8, 1941 in Brooklyn, New York.  He is 71 years old and the junior Senator from Vermont.  Bernie is also the longest serving independent member of Congress in the history of the Institution.  As of 2015 he officially became a member of the Democratic Party and now calls himself a Democratic Socialist. 

 

In 1964, as a student at the University of Chicago, he was a civil rights protestor.  After settling in Vermont he ran as an unsuccessful socialist candidate for governor and U.S. Senator in the 1970s.  He was elected as mayor of Burlington as an independent in 1981 and reelected three times.  He was then elected to the House of Representatives from Vermont’s at large congressional district where he served through 2007 when he was elected to the Senate.  He is still serving in the U.S. Senate.

 

Bernie Sanders rose to prominence in 2010 with his filibuster against Bush’s extension of his tax cuts.  He favors policies similar to those in the Social Democratic parties of Europe, particularly of the Nordic countries.  He is a leading progressive voice on issues such as campaign financial reform, corporate welfare, global warming, income inequality, parental rights, and free universal healthcare.  He has been critical of U.S. foreign policy and was an early and outspoken critic of the Iraqi War.  In addition he is outspoken on civil liberties and civil rights.  He has criticized the racial discrimination of the criminal justice system and advocated for privacy rights against mass surveillance policies as the patriot act.

 

I suspect that Bernie Sanders chose to run for the presidency of the United States in 2016 as an act of protest against the traditional political structure of the U.S.  As a long-time member of Congress he knows that there is little he could do with the current Republican dominated Congress.  After all, they make the laws and the President just carries them out. 

 

Inadvertently Sanders picked a time when a goodly percentage of the population was disgusted with the inaction of Congress over the last five years, since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, and later in 2014 when they also gained dominance in the Senate.  The Republican majorities in Congress have either not cared to or not been able to pass any laws needed by the nation.

 

In addition the overall population that was either fourteen years of age to just below eighteen years old in November of 2012 has now come of voting age and they want a candidate to represent them; most of these people believe that Bernie Sanders is that person.  They represent a goodly percentage of the over 350 million people who make up the population of the United States.

 

To Bernie the extent of his success has been euphoric; he apparently believes that a Giant Revolution is in the process of occurring and that he will not only be elected President of the United States but that the Democrats will sweep into Congress with giant majorities in both Houses of Congress.

 

Is this true?  That’s an interesting question.  It could happen in the Senate where 24 Republicans will be running to get reelected, some in swing states.  We could get a lot of politically disgusted people in those states voting for Democrats.  In the House of Representatives through gerrymandering in 2010 the Republicans were able to assign Districts along the line of the voters.  This will not change until 2020 when the next census occurs.  In 2012 over a million and a quarter more votes were cast for Democrats running in the House of Representatives but the Republicans still maintained the majority.  It will probably take at least two million addition Democratic votes for the Democrats to win control of the House of Representatives.

 

Donald Trump has attracted those disgusted with the government who, for whatever reason, could never get themselves to vote for Democratic candidates.  It would seem that most of Trump’s followers are not overly educated.  Many of them like his simplistic view of the world.

 

The election has its own special energy and no one can truly predict where it is going.

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The other major Democratic candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was born in 1947, which makes her currently 71.  She is the wife of the 42nd President, Bill Clinton, has served in the Senate from 2,000 to 2007, then unsuccessfully ran for the presidency against Barack Obama in 2008, was his Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, and is at present the leading Democratic Candidate in the 2016 Presidential Election. 

 

She came originally from the Chicago area and graduated from Wellesley College in 1969.  She achieved a doctorate from Yale Law School in 1973, married Bill Clinton in 1975 and moved to Arkansas, where her husband became governor.  While first lady of Arkansas she led a task force that reformed the state’s public school system. 

 

Her husband, President Bill Clinton appointed her to lead the Clinton health plan of 1993 which failed to reach a vote in Congress.  The Republican protagonists came out with a catchy slogan, “There has to be a better way.”  The “better way” was no health care bill.

 

She played a major role in advocating the creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the Foster Care Independence Act.  During most of her adult life Hillary Clinton has been involved in causes for the needy.

 

In 2,000 after the end of her husband’s term as President of the United States, she moving to New York and was elected as the first woman Senator from that state.  Clinton was reelected to the Senate in 2006.  She ran against Barack Obama in 2008 for the presidency.  Instead she became Obama’s Secretary of State for the first four years of his term.  Probably no other candidate in the history of the United States for the presidency has had as much experience as Hillary Clinton.  She has been involved in public service most of her adult life.

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If an individual has watched the debates in this 2016 Presidential Election year that person gets the impression that two separate and distinct elections are going on.  The magnitude of the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats tends to give the impression that we are dealing with two entirely different countries.

 

For the Republicans this country has been abused and taken advantage of by all the other nations on the planet.  We have been militarily inept, not capable of carrying out any military operation.  We have signed unfair treaties with countries like Iran.  Our trade agreements always favor the other nation or nations, taking needed jobs out of the United States.  The U.S. under its current leadership, as a nation, is totally inept.  Only by electing Republican leadership can the country properly function again.

 

Listening to them one get the impression that treaties need to be renegotiated and other countries need to be straightened out in their relations with the United States.  If the United States reneges on past agreements with other nations this could be a direct path to war.  Iran spent two years negotiating a compact with 5 Security Council nations plus Germany.  I can’t see the Republican U.S. President telling them that the terms are now unacceptable and that the treaty now has to be redone on a much harsher basis with the U.S.  To me that’s a recipe for war with Iran.

 

If Affordable Health Care (Obamacare) were to be suddenly cancelled, then no matter what is said a large number of people will suddenly lose their current health coverage.  They and others adversely affected will be extremely unhappy.   The Republicans have continually denounced this program since it came into existence in 2010.  It was initially a Republican plan put into existence by Mitt Romney as governor of Massachusetts.  It was voted into existence by the Democratic majority.  The Republicans have denounced it since its inception, calling it a job-killing bill.  They have never offered any real proof of its so-called negative aspects.  Mainly they seem to object to it because it came into existence under a Black President, Barack Obama. 

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Somehow it seems that the Republicans have forgotten that the prior President was George W. Bush and that he got the country involved in a needless war in Iraq, wastefully spending trillions of dollars while reducing taxes mostly for the wealthy, and massively increasing the National Debt while making the U.S. a laughing stock to other industrial nations.   It was also toward the end of his administration that the economic Real Estate Bubble burst almost bringing about the greatest economic decline in the history of the nation.  It appears, to many Republicans that these events never did really happened.  It was also Bush’s actions that destabilized the Middle East and brought about the current situation there.  Basically a study of our current economic and military problems can be traced back to Republican Administrations which were then left for Democratic Administrations to deal with and, of course, were blamed on the Democrats by their Republican colleagues.

 

On the Democratic side we have a country with a broken or outdated infrastructure where state governors like Rick Snyder of Michigan can appoint inept city managers who then can arbitrarily switch a healthy water supply to a toxic one, poisoning a whole generation of children with lead infested water arbitrarily and even after that fact comes out, continue charging the residents of Flint for using the poisoned water and then when questioned about it by a Congressional committee blame the inexcusable problem upon the EPA.    

 

We have a country where roads are filled with pot holes, bridges, in many instances, were built 100 years ago; where ports cannot handle modern shipping, railroads are today inadequate for properly transporting goods, many airfields are out of date, many school buildings are so old they are unsafe.  Flint’s problem of unsafe water exists in many cities and buildings.  The list goes on and on.  In essence we are living in the 21st Century with an early 20th Century infrastructure.

 

According to Bernie Sanders we have, among many other problems, a broken legal system that incarcerates more people than a dictatorship like Communist China or Russia.  And the bulk of those jailed tend to be Hispanic or Black.  We have serious racial problems which are not really being dealt with.

 

As far as both Democratic candidates are concerned, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sander, this country needs a lot of internal repair and the major factor that has kept any of it from happening has been the Republicans in Congress and the state governments who apparently believe that this country can go on forever with little or no  maintenance.  Upgrading the infrastructure will probably take a decade or more and will cost trillions of dollars.   Both feel it’s time we got started, particularly since the country still has an unemployment problems left over from the Great Recession of 2008.

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It would seem that the Republicans have no understanding of the principles of economics.  Most, if not all, Republican members of the House of Representatives believe that all economics is Microeconomics.  That is, if one has raised a family and provided an adequate income then that person has a proper understanding of the discipline.  They have a total knowledge of all they need to know about financing the United States.  The nation takes in so much in taxes and that is its income.  If it spends more than that it has to borrow the money and pay it back at some time in the future.  That is all a person needs to know about finance it order to run the country.  It’s a rather naïve and limited view of National financing.

 

To them money is like gold, it has an intrinsic value.  Actually money today is just paper that is treated by most people as something of great value.  It has not been gold since 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal collected all the gold coins, melted them down into blocks that were then buried in underground depositories, like Fort Knox, and issued paper certificates in their stead known as Federal Reserve Notes.  Gold then was worth $18.00 an ounce, today an ounce of gold is worth slightly over twelve hundred dollars and the Federal Government has sold most of its gold bullion.

 

Money today is just a token that is used in the exchange of goods and services.  It has no intrinsic value.  The Central Government can print and issue as much as it wants.  There are, however, general rules and regulations that govern this process which is done by the Federal Reserve.  Both the 2008 oncoming depression and the banking collapse of the Housing Market were largely resolved by the Federal Reserve through its use of Creative Monetary Policy.  This became necessary because the Republican dominated House of Representatives refused to deal with the problem with Fiscal Policy.  In fact they exacerbated it by shrinking the size of the government and increasing the level of unemployment.

 

The Republican dominated Congress today cannot even accept the existence of the idea.  Their concept of increasing employment is to get rid of the EPA, lower taxes for the rich, and allow increased pollution.  The increased wealth that the rich gain through lower taxes, they say will allow for industrial expansion and the new wealth being spent on new productivity will tinkle down to the middle class and the poor.

 

This is the Republicans basic concept of job creation.  Lowering the costs of production by allowing for more pollution.  We can have industrial centers like China where the air is dangerous to breathe.  This they believe, according to what a number of the candidates have said in the Republican Candidates 2016 Presidential debates, that if they do away with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) restrictions on production, unemployment will automatically disappear and there will be more jobs for everyone. 

 

It’s a nice thought but it does not deal with reality.  During the Reagan years as taxes for the wealthy declined their additional wealth was put into old production, the stock markets and what was then considered other safe areas of the economy.  Very little, if any, trickled down to new production.

 

During Ronald Reagan’s Administration it was called “Supply Side Economics.”  Its chief advocate was David Stockman who became President Reagan’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1981 to 1985 when he resigned from that position.  Eventually even Stockman admitted that it didn’t work.

 

It should be noted that under Reagan the National Debt not only reached a trillion dollars for the first time in U.S. history, it also rose to over double that amount.

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The Republicans are also convinced that climate change is a hoax that the earth is too large to be affected in any way by anything man does.  It seems that they are never bothered by evidence of what is going on around them as they plod through life.  Donald Trump believes that the Chinese started the rumor of climate change. 

 

To the Republicans the melting of the Southern and Northern ice poles and the decreasing glacier areas would have happened even if man did not live on this planet, it is a normal, natural event.  And this is also true of the rising ocean water levels.  The tons of carbon that automobiles spew out into the atmosphere and other gases added by man to the air do not effect temperature change on the planet, which is naturally getting hotter.  

 

The real problem for the Republicans is that the people who fund their elections are the producers of all this garbage that pollutes, fouling the air and warming the planet.  It is to their advantage that pollution causing oil is used.  The Koch Brothers who deal heavily in oil have had a law passed in Kansas making green energy illegal.  The law is generally ignored but the brothers had enough political influence to get their state to pass it.  They are heavy contributors to the Republican Party.

 

The Republicans mainly have vested interests in maintaining their contributor base—the wealthy producers and political contributors in the country.  They have consequently adjusted their prospective to support the upper economic percentile of the population, making the interests of these people their interests and ignoring the needs of their economic base.  As a result they cannot accept any facts about global warming being true, since that reality would separate them from their major political contributors.

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If Donald Trump is not chosen as the Republican candidate for president he has threatened riots by his followers.  That would seem to mean that if he is short the 1,237 delegate votes but is still leading the other two potential presidential candidates he still expects to be nominated.  Trump has not mentioned being a possible third party candidate if the Republican Nominating Convention in July were to choose another candidate. 

 

In terms of public statements he seems to be moving toward total monomania at this point in the election process.  2016 may be an historic election year!

The Weiner Component #145 – The 2016 1.145 Trillion Dollar Funding Bill & the Republican Party

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

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

In October of 2015, John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives resigned from the House, effective the end of November.  His problem was getting what he considered necessary legislation through the House of Representatives without a government shutdown.  His immediate problem was extending the debt limit, which was then over 18 trillion dollars.  Not extending it would shut down the Federal Government as it would stop all government expenditures beyond a certain point that had almost been reached.

 

The extreme right of the Republican Party wanted to defund Planned Parenthood in return for extending the Debt Limit.  President Barack Obama had stated that if this measure were tied to the bill he would veto it.  By resigning, effective a month later, Boehner removed the House of Representatives from formulating the necessary bill.  The Republican majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, proposed a short term bill extending the Debt Limit until early December which the Senate and later the House passed.  The President commented that he would not again sign a short term bill.  The final version of the bill was passed early in December raising the Debt Limit for a period of two years.

 

The next major initial problem of the House of Representatives was finding a new Speaker.  Kevin McCarthy, the House Whip, was in line for a short period of time but he didn’t have the votes.  Eventually Paul Ryan, after initially refusing, ended up being the individual who could muster enough votes to be made the new Speaker.  He accepted after setting special conditions.

 

The next important bill was one to fund the Federal Government.  It had to be passed by December 11, 2015 if the government were not to be shut down for not legally having funds to keep operating.

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Generally, every year Congress has to pass a Bill in order to fund the U.S. Government for the oncoming year or it cannot legally pay its bills.  This Bill has to originate in the House of Representatives which, according to the Constitution, initially begins all money bills.  All that is needed is a one sentence law stating that the Federal Government shall be funded for one or more years.  Since 2011, when the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, they have used that Bill as leverage or blackmail to obtain other things that they had wanted by adding endless amendments to the Bill, many at the very last moment.

 

For example on Thursday, 12/11/14, the House of Representatives passed, what was essentially but not really a 1,603 page bipartisan 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill that will allowed the Federal Government to continue to function until September 30, 2015, the end of the fiscal year.  The bill adhered to strict caps negotiated earlier between the White House and the deficit-conscious Republicans.  It is also salted through with GOP proposals which were actually Christmas giveaways to individuals and companies and have nothing to do with the spending budget.  The bill should have been passed months earlier but it was convenient for the GOP to keep it hanging as a potential form of blackmail against President Barack Obama until the last possible moment when it had to be passed or its absence would cause a government shutdown.

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When Ronald Reagan was Governor of California he had a line-item veto over all bills passed by the State Legislature.  He could veto any section or group of sections that he thought was or were inappropriate and sign the document for the rest of the bill to become law.  But as President of the United States he could either sign a bill, veto it, or do nothing for ten days and allow it to become law.  Reagan was not too happy with this limitation but he had to accept it.  It would require an amendment to the Constitution to change this practice.

 

Not only does every bill have to be passed by both the House and Senate but both versions have to be identical.  If a word or punctuation is different, then the two versions are not the same.  Actually what happens is that the bill goes to a Committee of Congressmen dealing with that particular subject, they discuss the bill, usually modify it, and then send it to the legislative house to which they belong with their recommendations.  If it is passed then that version goes to the other legislative body, where it follows the same procedure.  In practically all cases the two versions are at least slightly different.  At that point the bill goes to a Conference Committee made up of members of the two Houses, where a final version is then hammered out.  This goes back to both Houses of Congress and it then has to be voted upon and repassed by the two Houses.  If the bill passes it then goes to the President.  After he signs it the bill becomes law.  This process generally takes at least a number of days.

 

The 1.1 Trillion Dollar Spending Bill was passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday, December 11, 2014.  The Congress was slated to end its session on Friday, December 12th.  This meant that the bill had to be accepted exactly as it was if the government was not to shut down the following week when it ran out of money.  In fact a short a short extension was also passed in case a few more days were needed to pass the bill.

 

Keep in mind that according to the Constitution only the House of Representatives can initiate a money bill since initially they were the only group directly elected by the People, the Senate was originally elected by the State Legislatures. The Founders felt that taxes should be authorized by the direct Representatives of the People so that the People are, in a sense, taxing themselves.

 

Also note that there are no rules about what a bill is supposed to contain.  It can deal with one subject or any number of subjects.  This finance bill dealt with innumerable subjects, most of which had nothing to do with financing the government.

 

Because of the catastrophe caused by a government shutdown President Obama urged the Democratic controlled Senate to pass the bill even though it had numerous amendments that were harmful to individuals or groups within the country.

 

One of these amendments cancelled parts of the Dodd- Frank Act that had been passed in 2010 as a reform measure after the 2008 Bank-caused Real Estate Collapse, to avoid such occurrences in the future and to keep banks from exploiting their depositors and the taxpayers.  Presumably the lobbyists for Citibank wrote the measure and it was secretly inserted the night before the bill came up for a vote in the House of Representatives.  The insertion rolls back regulations that limit banks from using federal deposit insurance to cover high-risk financial investments.  There had been no notice given or debate on this Amendment.  Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House strongly opposed this insertion as did Senator Elizabeth Warren who called upon the Democratic majority in the Senate to oppose the entire bill if this Amendment was left in.

 

Another interesting Amendment was trading land with an Indian tribe.  A sacred mountain containing a burial ground was to be traded for another piece of land.  The sacred mountain was wanted by a company for a copper mine.

 

Another last minute Amendment dealt with campaign finance, it was extended for individuals. It went from contributions of $32,400 to $324,000.  Republicans got a 60 million dollar cut at the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) reducing their workforce to the level they had been at in 1989.

 

Not all Republicans in the House supported the bill. Many of the Tea Party members wanted to defund President Obama’s immigration executive order.  This issue was left out of the House bill.

 

In both the House and Senate the bill required the votes of both Democrats and Republicans to pass.  In the House 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats voted for the bill.  139 Democrats and 67 Republicans were against the spending bill.  In the Senate there were 31 Democrats, 24 Republicans, and 1 Independent who voted for the bill and 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans, and 1 Independent who were against it.  In both Houses of Congress it required the votes of both major political parties in order to pass.

 

Interestingly the far right and the far left both opposed this bill, both for different reasons.  On the far right, Ted Cruz wanted a section added that would limit or eradicate President Obama’s executive order dealing with illegal immigrants whose children had been born in the United States.  And on the far left, the Congressmen wanted to remove many of the giveaways that had nothing to do with the spending bill.

 

Cruz, in a procedural vote extended the Senatorial Session into the weekend.  He did not get his Amendment to the bill passed.  Harry Reed, the majority leader in the Senate, used the additional time to get a large number of Obama appointees approved beginning with the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who had been opposed by the NRA because he had suggested earlier that guns were a disease since they killed a large number of people.  By the end of the session, Tuesday, December 15th, the Senate had approved a total of 69 controversial presidential appointments.

 

The Senate passed the Spending Bill on Saturday and President Obama quietly signed it on Tuesday.  Congress adjourned around midnight of Tuesday, December 16th and the new Congress, which would have Republican majorities in both Houses, met in January of the next year, after the holidays.

 

It is interesting to note that all that is required for the government to keep functioning is a one sentence bill that states that the Federal Government shall be properly funded for the fiscal year.  The 1,603 page bill detailing all the expenditures over the fiscal year was ridiculous.  In this bill every item that was to be funded had to be mentioned in detail.  For example: Vice President, Joe Biden’s and other top officials in the government’s salaries were frozen.  There was no automatic raise for them that was put into law several years earlier but the members of Congress  got their cost of living raise, raising their pay to over $140,000 each.

 

What happened originally was that several years earlier Congress had voted itself a raise.  The press got hold of the news and published it.  People were indignant over Congress giving itself an increase in salary when everyone else was hurting financially.  There was a protest and the increase was rescinded.  Thereafter Congress quietly passed a law making pay increases for Congress and government officials automatic.  From then on there was no protest or even public knowledge that this was occurring.  In 2014 Congress has voted through its 1,603 page bill not to freeze its own salary but to do so to the Vice President and other high government officials in the Administration.  How petty could they get?

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In December of 2015 the Federal Government funding situation was far different from what it had been a year earlier.  For one thing there was a major Presidential Election coming up in a little less than a year.  A government shutdown at this point could have dire consequences for the Republicans in the election if they were blamed for it.  Also the people had had enough of the shenanigans that the Republican House of Representatives had pulled since 2011 when they took control of the House of Representatives.  The President and the Democrats in both Houses of Congress were not about to go along with what the Republicans had pulled the preceding year. And they would need Congressional Democratic votes to pass any spending bill in both Houses of Congress.

 

The 2015 omnibus bill, 2,200 pages long, incorporated legislation from twelve subcommittees and was the work of nearly a year.  There had been months of negotiations between the two major parties.  The bill passed in the House with 316 positive votes to 113 negative ones.  150 Republicans supported the measure and 95 opposed it.  50 members did not vote.  Among the Democrats, 166 voted for the legislation, 18 voted against it.

 

On both extremes there were Congressmen who thought the bill did not go far enough or that it went too far in the wrong direction.  Many conservatives felt it overspent, didn’t go far enough blocking abortions and Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S.  Liberals felt that the bill did nothing to address the debt crisis in Puerto Rico, did not positively enough effect environmental concerns, and that it lifted a 40 year ban on exporting domestic oil export.

 

The bill funds the United States Government through September of 2016, nine months.  The probability is that another bill will be easily passed at that time to fund the government at least until the end of 2016.  The country will be too close to the 2016 Presidential Election for any games to be tried at that time.

 

But if a Democrat wins the 2016 Presidential Election and the Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives, the December 2016 Government Financing Bill should prove very interesting.  Who the next President will be will not be known until the November 2016 Presidential Election is over.

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This omnibus bill will be noted for what it left out, rather than for what it included.  There is no mention of Planned Parenthood or of the Syrian refugee crisis; nor of numerous other things that were important to both political parties.  Speaker Ryan promised the Democrats that the House would deal with the Puerto Rico Debt Crisis in March; that brought a number of Democrats into line to support the bill.  Ryan also spread-out the decision making process so that many members of Congress felt that they owned parts of the bill.

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Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, was asked why the Democrats hadn’t pushed harder.  Her answer was, “I don’t think they would have passed it.”  The implications are that both the Democrats and the Republicans had each gone as far as they could in working out this compromise piece of legislation.  As a result of the negotiations neither side could claim victory or defeat.  Both had squeezed the other side as hard as they could.  President Obama praised the Republicans for doing what Congress has done so well in the past, compromising to the point of hammering out a bill both sides could live with.

 

The Democrats considered the permanent reauthorization of the 9/11 Health legislation a major win.  As a result of the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City a large number of the rescuers had breathed in toxic dust and, those who had not since died from resulting cancer and other maladies, still had expensive medical needs.  Reauthorizing this medical coverage would help a large number of people.  Lifting the 40 year ban on oil drilled in the U.S. being sold outside it continental borders was called by Ryan a big win.  Republicans also were able to block proposed bans on weapon purchases by people on federal terrorist lists and also federally funded research on gun violence.

 

Perhaps the most important thing that the bill did was to do away with the automatic Sequester cuts for 2015.  These cuts, which would have automatically gone into effect early in 2016, would have seriously hurt government efficiency for both defense and non-defense programs, across the board.  The military budget was actually increased above what it had been the prior year.  And this was also true for a number of other programs.  The White House was touting tax breaks for the wind and solar programs.  In all there were $680 billion in tax cuts for both businesses and individuals.  But sequestration is still there and will automatically come into being at the end of 2016 unless new legislation is passed then to stop or end it.

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Does this legislation denote a new feeling of friendliness between the two political parties?  I think not.  What it demonstrates is a wide division between both Democrats and Republicans.  It took nearly a year to come up with this 2,200 page detailed bill and make it acceptable to both political parties.  Neither party was strong enough to push any of this legislation through on its own; it required a joint effort to pass it.

 

If anything it denotes the great distance between our political parties.  Speaker Ryan has recently commented that the House will soon take up defunding Obamacare. That will mean that this bill will have been passed over 50 times without once being taken up in the Senate.  Considering that the House will officially only meet for 110 days in 2016 that is spending a lot of time upon a bill that will go nowhere.  Ryan stated that, outside of the increasing number of people signing up for the service, the bill is a failure.  Interestingly outside of his statement he offered no evidence other than his word.

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The December 11th deadline for this bill to pass was extended one week to Friday, December 18.  Directly after the bill was passed in the House of Representatives it was sent to the Senate where it was passed.  From there it was sent to the President, who signed it with positive remarks for the compromise legislation.  Obviously the Government shutdown was avoided.

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It should be noted that on Wednesday, December 6th the    House of Representatives, under Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership, passed a bill for the 62d time defunding Obamacare and stripping Planned Parenthood of Federal Funding.  The bill was passed in the Senate last year through a special provision that avoided a filibuster in the Senate and was sent to the President for the first time.  On Friday, December 8, two days later, it was vetoed by the President, who stated that the Affordable Health Care Act had helped millions of Americans who couldn’t otherwise afford Health Care.  Republicans do not have the votes to override the veto.  Still they claimed victory, claiming that they had passed a repeal bill and that they are keeping a promise to voters in an election year.  They stated that they are capable of repealing the law if a Republican wins in the November election.  I wonder if that’s true if Donald Trump were to become the next president.

 

Of course they would still have to keep control of both Houses of Congress.  2016 promises to be a colorful year in Congress.  We may go beyond gridlock.  This should be particularly true with the House working a three day week and taking a four day weekend and all holidays.

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Weiner Component #140E – Assorted National Problems Not Dealt With by the Republican Congress

The western front of the United States Capitol...

Development, Relief and Education for Alien Mi...

Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...

In addition to what we have been dealing with for the last four blogs there are other serious problems that the Republican led Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, have ignored.  The first of these is guns, both pistols and assault weapons.  Another, which can seriously hurt Republicans in the 2016 Presidential Election, deals with immigration policies.  Still another immediate problem, which will be coming up at the latest in early December, is funding the Federal Government for the oncoming fiscal year.  And still another is a Declaration of War against ISIS and possibly a debate about what to do about Syria.  We’ve mentioned their compensation packages and days of work over the year but it might be worthwhile to reconsider these.  Also there is the fact that Congress has passed a law automatically giving themselves raises unless they pass another law stopping that particular raise from happening.

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President Obama and others have stated that gun violence is much worse in the U.S. than in other advanced countries.  Italy comes next with less than 20% of what occurs in the U.S.  Below that comes Canada, then Sweden, then Germany.  By the time we reach Germany the level is well under than 10% of the U.S. level.  The other industrial nations are far below that.

 

The problem with gun violence seems to be that Americans are much more likely to own guns than their peers around the world.  It seems that the more guns there are in the society then also the more homicides that occur in the society.  According to President Obama Americans kill each other with guns at a rate 297 times more than Japan, 49 times more than France, and 33 times more than Israel.

 

Following is a gun violence estimate for 2015 based upon actual shootings and prior years.

Total shootings                              47,071

Deaths                                           11,868

Children to age 11                              632

Teens 12-17 injured and killed       2,354

Mass shootings                                 303

Officer involved shootings              3,923

Home invasions                              2,029

Defensive shootings                       1,088

Accidental shootings                      1,694

The problem is an extensive one that Congress has totally ignored.  If nothing else it should be debated in Congress.  Presently it is largely invisible to the general public because the media tends to ignore the general information.  While the information is available one has to dig to find it out.  What is shocking about this is that these facts seem to make the terrorist threats minor in terms of the pointless loss of life that continually goes on.

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Another major problem that Congress should be dealing with is Immigration.  This is far more complex than just having foreigners illegally living and presumably working in the United States.  On and off Congress has ineptly been dealing with this problem for the last fifteen years.  Currently they are ignoring it and suing the administration for President Barak Obama’s executive order dealing with “dreamers,” children who were brought to the United States by their parent(s) and raised in this country

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The reason this issue is complicated is that we are not just dealing with aliens, foreigners who are illegally is this country, but also with their families, some of whom may be citizens.  Sending their parents or one of the adults back to their country of origin breaks up the family.  Among others, there is one adult Hispanic legislator whose father disappeared when he was a small child and he never saw him again.  There has to be something wrong with this.

 

First there are alien couples whose children were born in the United States and are therefore citizens of the U.S.  Do we ship the parents back to their country of origin but leave the children here?  There are children who were brought to this country and may have none or very little memory of their country of origin.  They have been educated in the U.S. and think of themselves as Americans.  Some have served in the military.  Do we send them to a country of which they have no knowledge?  There are also the Dreamers, (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors,) who were 16 or younger when they were brought into the U.S.  The estimate is that there are about 1.8 million of these, many are college graduates.  There are married couples of which one is a citizen and the other an alien.  Do we separate these couples by sending one of them back to their country or origin?   There should, at least, be a debate about this in both Houses of Congress but the subject has not been brought up..

 

An important point, which the Republican candidates in the 2016 Presidential Election seem to be ignoring is that according to the 2010 Census there were 50.5 million Hispanic or Latinos counted.  That is 16% of the overall population.  They had increased 13% since the 2000 Census.  For the 2016 Election the number will have increased at least another 7%, that’s about another 4 million potential voters.  In 2012 President Obama got the majority of those voters.  What will happen in 2016?

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Starting in the Twentieth Century a quota system was devised that set the quota or number allowed in the U/S. from each country.  Interestingly both my parents came to this country indirectly from the Russian Ukraine in the early 1920s shortly after World War I.  My father and his younger brother crossed Europe and emigrated from England.  My mother signed a one year contract to work as a maid in Canada.  This paid for her passage across the Atlantic Ocean.  At the end of the year she came to the United States as an immigrant from Canada.  There were very high quotas for Northern Europe and Canada.  For Eastern Europe one had to sign up and wait for their turn.  A college friend of mine’s parents came from Greece.  The wait there had been seven years.  Someone had signed up and then when their turn finally came they changed their minds.  A neighbor and his wife took their name and their place.  My friend had been their child.

 

Quotas had never been fair.  They were set based up attitudes or prejudices toward the countries involved.  Low, in so called undesirable countries and high in desirable ones.  These same principles have essentially carried over to today.  Mexico, Central and South America have low quotas.  Asian countries would also have fairly low quotas.  Northern European quotas are never reached.

 

And then there is the concept of refugees, people who are fleeing disastrous conditions at their original homes.  In Asia a number of these people became refugees because they sided with the United States, like in Viet Nam after the U.S. left there in 1975.  Others left intolerant or dangerous conditions behind to find safe conditions for themselves and their children.  One of the places to which they fled was the United States.  Were they all upright, honest citizens?  Mostly; but they also included a criminal element.  That’s how, for example, the mafia got a foothold within the U.S.  Does that mean that we stopped letting in people from Sicily and Italy?  No.  Does it mean that we should not allow people from Syria to immigrate to the United States because some terrorists might sneak in that way?  That’s an interesting question.  It should be honestly debated in Congress and not just have Congress pass a bill practically excluding all Syrians.  After all, these people are the victims of civil war and terror.

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An immediate problem that Congress has to immediately resolve prior to December 11th is funding the Federal Government for at least the oncoming year.  If a bill is not passed prior to that day the Treasury will run out of money with which to pay the government’s bills and interest rates will go berserk and the Federal Government will again shut down.

 

The issue prior to the former Speaker, John Boehner’s retirement, was the House of Representatives refusing to pass a funding bill unless funding for Planned Parenthood was removed from the bill.  If this were done the President said he would veto the bill.  While the Republicans currently have a majority in both Houses of Congress they do not have enough of a majority in either House to override a veto.  By resigning Boehner got the bill kicked up from the end of October to December 11th.  President Obama stated that he wanted a clean bill that would fund the government for the next two years or he would veto any future bill.  This time the Republicans in the House want to keep Syrian refugees from entering the United States because a few terrorists might also sneak in and they still want to defund Planned Parenthood.  The reality of keeping out Syrians is questionable because it currently takes Syrians from 18 months to two years of screening before they are legally admitted into the country.  The House would add a further step and have each Syrian also individually approved by the head of the FBI.

 

What will happen is any bodies guess.  Will the Federal Government be functioning after December 11th?  A government shutdown would probably hurt Republicans in the 2016 Election and cost the government additional millions if not billions of dollars.  Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives seems poised for a dramatic showdown on December 12.

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There is still the question of a new war powers authorization which President Obama has requested for the fight against the Islamic State terror organization, ISIS, which was made last February.  Congress has not bothered using its War Powers given to it by the Constitution.  As far as they seem to be concerned his executive actions in immigration for the Dreamers are unconstitutional but his actions in going after ISIS are currently legal.  They, Congress, don’t need to act.  Is this attitude valid or does Congress need to act?

 

We also have the question of Syria.  What should our actions there be?  Congress and the country need a debate to clarify that issue if it can be clarified.  Should we continue with just air force action against ISIS?  Should there be American troops on the ground as some of the Republican candidates have stated?  There are innumerable forces involved in the revolution there.  Are there any group or groups we can support?  Russia is now also involved with support for Syria, supporting President Assad, while supposedly bombing ISIS, but according to the U.S. actually bombing Assad’s enemies.  Is it a war we can win or will we be stuck there for decades if not longer?  Congress is ignoring this problem completely.

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With the upcoming election next year, plus the fact that the Republicans have a Democratic president who they don’t like and with whom they have problems cooperating, both Republican Houses of Congress have given themselves a light schedule for 2016.  In fact the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, has called the President “Untrustworthy.”  After the Thanksgiving Recess the House of Representatives plans on twelve more days of business this year.  In that time they will have to pass a bill funding the government.   Next year looks to be a very light legislating time.  The Senate plans to spend 143 days in session and the House of Representatives is planning only 111 days in Washington, D.C.

 

I would assume that there are numerous other problems that have not been mentioned that Congress will and/or should probably be dealing with.  Fiscal policy laws are still needed both to enhance employment within the country and modernize the infrastructure.  Emergencies may well come up in terms of the security and safety within the United States.  Sequestration, in those many areas that have not so far been removed from the sequester in 2015, will automatically come up in early 2016.  They will present additional hardships as funds in entitlement and other programs diminish.  Will Congress ignore these problems or make adjustments in some of them?

 

The country needs a Criminal Justice Reform Bill to lighten the load on the over-filled prisons in the United States.  Presumably both parties agree on this.  Will any action be taken?  Will there be time to take any action?  A Mental Health Bill is needed to deal with, at least, a part of the current surge in violence in the nation.

 

The Republicans will have to give the impression that they have a positive program if they are to maintain their majority in both houses of Congress.  They also have to support the policies of whoever is their final choice of a Presidential Candidate.  It could take some tricky maneuvering to achieve all this.

 

To also be fair, all the members of the House of Representatives and 1/3d of the Senate will be running for reelection next year.  Presumably they will need more time in order to campaign even though in the prior year the 114th Congress had shortened its term in Washington, D.C.

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In the oncoming election year early national party conventions will mean that the Congressmen will be taking the second half of July off without giving up their traditional August recess.  October through mid-November will be cleared for campaigning for the November 8th general election.  Will they have time to deal with any of these problems?

 

The Congressional behavior also reflects the tensions between President Obama and the GOP Congressional leaders.  There are, of course some necessary bills that will have to be passed like funding the government so it can pay its bills for the oncoming year; but outside of that Congress may plan to do almost nothing, strongly hoping for a continued majority in both Houses of Congress in 2017 plus a Republican president.

 

For close to seven years President Obama has bent backwards trying to get some cooperation from the Republicans in Congress.  In this he has largely failed.  Under Paul Ryan’s inspiration they have attempted to force him to support their agenda by tying bills necessary for the functioning of the nation with causes they wished to become part of the laws.  This has resulted in a government shutdown and a number of bills going to the brink, generally being passed on the last possible day.  This has lowered the credit rating of the United States and cost additional billions of dollars.

 

At this point, with a little over one year left to serve as President, I would imagine Barak Obama has had it.  He will play no more games with Congressional shenanigans.  The government has to be funded for the oncoming year well before December 11, 2015 or the dollar may again be downgraded and interest rates for loans may unnecessarily jump.  This bill was pushed up to December in October and the President said he will veto any more short term passages.  He wants a clean two year bill.  What will happen?

 

The Republicans, who prior to October wanted to defund Planned Parenthood in order to fund the government now have threatened to add a section to the bill requiring that every Middle East refugee be personally approved by a high official in the U.S. government before they can be accepted into the country.  President Obama has stated that the current screening system is adequate for all immigrants from the Middle East.  Currently it takes 18 months to two years for a Syrian to be allowed to settle in the U.S.  While he has not specifically stated it the probability is that he will veto the spending bill if it contains that measure.  And there is also the probability that he will veto this specific bill, which recently was passed by the House of Representatives that requires a guarantee from a high government official for each Syrian emigrating to the U.S., if it is passed by the Senate and comes up before him.  It seems that the President is no longer open to attempted blackmail in order to get necessary legislation passed.  The person who came up with this tactic is now Speaker of the House of Representatives.   It should be an interesting 13 months!

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As a footnote: In just about every occupation the employee is continually evaluated as to how well he or she performs on their job.  If they are continually below a certain level then they are terminated.  This seems to be true for all occupations except for those Republicans elected to Congress, particularly for those elected to the House of Representatives which has been essentially nonfunctional since 2011 when they achieved a majority in the House of Representatives.  This is the period during which we’ve had gridlock in Washington, D.C.  Here inefficiency or inability to function seems to be the quality needed to function and keep your job.

The Weiner Component #140D – Congress: Fiscal Policy & the Infrastructure

Dwight D. Eisenhower, official portrait as Pre...

Dwight D. Eisenhower, official portrait as President. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the greatest problems facing the United States today is the fact that most of its infrastructure was built in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  By definition the infrastructure is the basic physical systems of the cities, states, and country.  Largely our local cities, states and nation have acted as though they will last forever with little or no maintenance, repair, or modernization.  If something breaks down it is generally fixed.  In essence this nation has taken a Band-Aid approach to maintaining our infrastructure and as a result yearly the country falls farther and farther behind as its infrastructure slowly rots or becomes obsolete.

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It should be noted that when an individual buys a new automobile he knows or will quickly learn that the vehicle will need constant maintenance over its lifetime or it will stop functioning.  The same can be said for the basic apparatuses of our cities, states, and country as a whole.  Their roads, bridges, water supply, school buildings, transit systems, sewerage disposal facilities, electric grid, ports, airports, dams, etc. also need occasional replacement as they become obsolete or continual maintenance over their lifetimes otherwise they will eventually grow out of date or stop functioning, or, for that matter, both of the above.  All of these are called the infrastructure that allows the community, cities, states, and nation to function.  When they partially or completely break down there is chaos.  How come most people are responsible when it comes to their individual possessions but irresponsible when it comes to their communities of nation?

 

Specific responsibility for these entities can be local government or privates industry or a combination of these.  It can also be state government.  In the final analysis the ultimate responsibility rests with the lawmaking body of the National Government, the Congress.  They are responsible for the overall functioning of the nation.  They alone have the resources available, financial and otherwise to modernize, repair, or rebuild parts and pieces of the infrastructure, to provide for the needs of the entire nation.

 

Cities and states follow a system of microeconomics.  They have an income, the fees and taxes they collect.  If they have to spend more than they collect then they can issue tax-free long term, bonds to finance the project, usually a 30 year low interest, tax-free bond.  They are limited as to how many of these they can issue by their projections of their incomes over the next three decades.  The Federal Government does not have this problem.  They utilize macroeconomics and can issue money as needed.  They are also limited as to how much they can issue, but their limitation goes far beyond what any state or city can do.

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Because the problem currently seems insurmountable it has been largely ignored on virtually every level of government and keeps getting worse with each passing year.  In the third Republican 2016 Presidential Debate in early November of 2015 several of the potential candidates commented on the infrastructure, stating that it was the responsibility of the states and local governments to solve these problems, that the Federal Government should not be involved.  This is passing the buck or dropping the rock.  The cost of solving this problem is in the trillions of dollars.  No city or state can afford to do more than light maintenance of this problem.  The statement itself by potential candidates like Ted Cruz denotes total ignorance of the problem or total cynicism toward it.  No city or state can sell trillions of dollars’ worth of tax-free 30 year bonds and hope to be able to pay them off and operate the government at the same time.

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The city of Pittsburgh is known as the city of bridges, both highway and railroad bridges.  Most of them are old, nearing the end of their useful lives.  There are over 4,000 bridges in the city.  Over 20% of them are structurally deficient.  This includes one located as part of the city’s main arteries.  This bridge was built in 1928 when cars and trucks were lighter.  It was designed to last 50 years.  It is now 86 years old.  Five million people use it daily.  The bridge connects the northern and southern sections of the city.  It should have been replaced years ago.  At one point structural damage was discovered on the bridge.  It was closed for two weeks while structural repairs were made on that section causing great hardship to the people of Pittsburgh.  An arch bridge in the city had a platform type structure built under it to catch falling concrete which would otherwise hit traffic underneath it.

 

In Minnesota in 2007 a bridge collapsed, that was over 50 years old, killing 13 people and injuring another 145.  The antiquated Skagit River Bridge in Washington State collapsed last year after a truck hit one of its trusses.

 

The overall cost of repairing and replacing the needed bridges in Pittsburgh has been estimated at being over two trillion dollars.  It has been estimated that about one of every nine bridges in the country, about 70,000 of them are considered structurally deficient.  Some have had a section collapse.  Essentially repair has been done on a band aid basis, just repairing the damaged section.

 

The majority of airports in the United States are out of date.  They need to be modernized.  The majority of seaports are in danger of becoming obsolete as the ocean going ships gradually increase in size and number.  A report from the American Society of Civil Engineers states that 32 percent of the main American roads are now in poor condition and in need of major repairs.

 

In 1956 Congress passed and President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed a bill establishing the Highway Trust Fund.  The law directed federal fuel tax to the fund to be used exclusively for highway construction and maintenance.  Over the years both Democratic and Republican presidents have increased the tax to 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel fuel.

 

In 2008 the fund required an additional $8 billion dollars from general revenue funds to cover shortages brought about by the recession of that year and higher gas prices.  It seems that from that year on there has been less driving and more efficient vehicles that used less gas for greater mileage.  Since 2008 Congress has authorized $65 billion from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury to keep the Trust Fund solvent.  These monies go to all the individual states in the form of block grants and are more or less matched by state spending.

 

The Highway Trust Fund is only authorized to spend money through November 20, 2015.  In August of 2015 the Senate passed a six year highway bill.  The Republican House of Representatives ignored the bill and went into recess.  During the summer a short term $8 billion spending bill was passed by the House extending infrastructure spending until November 20th. Early in November the House passed a six year highway bill which they only funded for three years by a bipartisan vote of 363 to 64.  It was the new Speaker, Paul Ryan’s, first major accomplishment.  The bill has to be reconciled in a Conference Committee with the Senate or voted on by that body as it stands and signed by the President before it becomes law.  One comment on the bill is that it is a six year bill that is only funded for three years.

 

The basic problem with this bill, as with most bills dealing with the infrastructure is that the funding is mostly inadequate; it helps more or less maintain the system but it is never adequate to bring about the fully needed repairs or replacement.  If we take Mississippi as our example then in 2012, a national report found that that state had an estimated $30 billion in highway and bridge needs but had at most $15.3 billion to meet these expenses.  This is true for every single state in the nation.

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Today public spending on infrastructure has fallen to its lowest level since 1947.  The U.S. which used to have the finest infrastructure in the world is now ranked 16th according to the World Economic Forum.  It is behind Iceland, Spain, Portugal and the United Arab Emirates.  Many large corporations like Caterpillar and GE have complained that it’s hurting their ability to compete abroad.  The conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce at a Senate hearing early in 2015 expressed strong business support for raising the gasoline tax.

 

In addition to roads and bridges and the gas tax there is aviation.  Throughout the United States there is a shortage of airport runways and gates along outmoded air traffic control systems.  These have made U.S. air travel the most congested in the world.

 

Around the industrial world there are over 14,000 miles of high speed railroads operating around the world but none in the United States.  In Chicago it can take a freight train nearly as long to go across the city as it would take a high speed train to go from Chicago to Los Angeles.

 

In New Jersey there is an old railroad bridge, the Portal Bridge, going over the Hackensack River that was built in 1910.  It gets almost 500 trains a day and is one of the busiest bridges in the country.  The bridge was based upon a design from the 1840s and was obsolete shortly after it was completed over 100 year ago.  It is a swinging bridge that needs to be opened several times a week to allow river traffic to pass.  Its major problem is that it doesn’t always lock when it is swung back and rail traffic can back up infinitely in both directions while is being made usable again.  The bridge has to be replaced.  The project would cost just under a billion dollars.  A new bridge was designed two years ago in 2013.  Everyone agrees it has to be replaced but there is no consensus or political support from Congress to raise the necessary funds.  Its eventual failure could stop traffic in the Northeast.

 

As far as the seaports go we now have a new generation of large cargo ships that will be going through an expanded Panama Canal in another year or so.  On the East coast only two ports of the 14 major ports will be dredged deep enough to accommodate these ships.  Do we then limit all foreign traffic to these two ports?  And if we do then how rapidly can these ships be unloaded and reloaded?

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We have mostly looked at forms of transportation that are a major part of the infrastructure but far from all of it.  There is also maintaining drinking water quality throughout the nation, dams and dikes that are essentially obsolete, extension of power grids, modernizing public school laboratories and structures, plus a number of other factors that allow the society to function.

 

In the winter of 2014 – 2015 a section of the national power grid froze and ceased functioning.  A section of this country was one step away from losing electric power.  We have not been that lucky in the following year.  A section of the northwest, Washington State, lost power during a period of freeze.  Conditions could still get worse in the near future.  Do we have to wait for additional crises before any action is taken?

 

Actions will have to occur at some point.  Now is considered a good time since interest rates are low and estimates indicate that these projects would generally pay for themselves in the near future.  This will be increased employment, there will be more productivity, a greater GDP, and more collected in taxes on every level of government.

 

Some of it can be done by having local and state governments team up with the private sector.  There are currently such projects in 33 states.  These arrangements are called P3s (public-private partnerships).  They are popular abroad.  But their financial effect is limited according to the extent of the infrastructure needs.  Only Congressional action can bring about substantial improvement.

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The two major weapons that the Federal Government has to fight economic recession or a major depression are Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy.  Fiscal Policy is carried out by the Congress and Monetary Policy is done by the Federal Reserve.  Since 2011, when the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, there has been no real Fiscal Policy.  If anything, with one exception in late 2015, Congress has largely ignored this responsibility.  The Federal Reserve, under the leadership of its former Chairman, Ben Bernanke, with support from the President, had used creative Monetary Policy to move the country toward economic recovery from the late 2008 Real Estate Crash.  The country is still in the process of recovering.

In March 2012 the Treasury Department published, “A New Economic Analysis of Infrastructure Investment.”  This multipage document explained all the advantages of infrastructure investment, also detailing programs the President was trying to initiate.  From what I understand the issue was never even raised in the Republican dominated House of Representatives.

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In the 19th Century being a Congressman was a part time job.  The Congress met for only a few months and passed all the necessary laws for the year and then adjourned.  The President spent the entire year running the country but Congress only met for a few months.  The House of Representatives have again reached that point except that they have stretched it out over the entire year.

 

The current schedule calls for the House of Representatives to meet for 111 days over their fiscal year.  They work three days a week and take a four day weekend.  They have extended all their holiday breaks by half again as many days as they used to take.  And for this they are paid $170,000 per year.  All this at a time when the nation is seething in problems, many of which they have no time and probably no inclination to consider.

 

The new Speaker, Paul Ryan, has a bed in his office and lives there the short week he is in Washington and, from what I understand, spends his four day weekends home in Wisconsin with his wife and young children.  That was part of his agreement in becoming Speaker.  The rest was to pacify the conservative elements in his party.

 

What will happen in Congress is anybody’s guess.  I would suppose the country is stuck with these Republican majorities for another full year.  How much will this Congress achieve?  To me that’s an interesting and frightening question.  I don’t expect much.

 

What happens in the 2016 Presidential Election is up to the public voters, whose vote has not been suppressed in Republican dominated states.  We know in a recent Midterm Election the Democrats cast more votes for members of the House than the Republicans did but through earlier gerrymandering the Republicans were still able to maintain the majority in the House of Representatives.

 

What will the attitude of the current Congress be toward the infrastructure?  Ted Cruz and some of the other potential Republican Presidential candidates stated in their third debate that it should be the province of the states.  The states are investing less and less money into infrastructure as their other costs increase, especially their unfunded retirement costs.  Hopefully no additional major infrastructure disasters will occur during the winter of 2015 – 2016.

 

If we ask ourselves how Congress does get away with its current attitude or attitudes?  The answer is quite obvious.  This action and a number of other things Congress does is essentially invisible to the general public.  The media does not consider these items as newsworthy.  They are not really dealt with or dramatically brought before the public.  The concept of the infrastructure itself tends to be more abstract than concrete.  If something specific happens and there is a public hue and cry about it then something is quickly done to resolve the problem.  But as a small piece of information that can be dug up with some effort it is not that important.  While Congress should be concentrating on all these problems they ignore them until they are specifically brought to their attention.  Basically the thinking is that the country has done well and will continue to do so if left alone.

 

An example of this was sequestration, a law passed two years ago to cut government spending across the board.  An immediate result was enhanced waiting time at all the airports as the number of air controllers was immediately cut back.  The complaints were loud and vociferous.  Within a day or so

Seal of the United States Department of the Tr...

Seal of the United States Department of the Treasury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Congress had passed a law exempting the air traffic controllers from sequestration.  The military in late 2015 had reached a point where its efficiency was drastically effected by sequester cuts.  This problem was resolved when the debt limit was raised.  Refunding the military became part of that deal. Generally once members of the public are inconvenienced or the change will obviously effect the country change is quickly brought about.  But until that time nothing is done.  In a sense we are waiting for obvious crisis to occur before positive change is brought about on parts of the infrastructure.