The Weiner Component #141 – Fiscal, Monetary Policy & the Republican Party

English: James Earl "Jimmy" Carter

English: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: United States mean duration of unempl...

English: United States mean duration of unemployment 1948-2010. Data source: FRED, Federal Reserve Economic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis: Average (Mean) Duration of Unemployment [UEMPMEAN] ; U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics; accessed August 14, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: A map of the 12 districts of the Unit...

English: A map of the 12 districts of the United States Federal Reserve system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Historically and in the present, Fiscal and Monetary Policy are the two major tools that the Federal Government is supposed to use to continually fine-tune the American economy.   Fiscal Policy is used by the Congress passing specific economic enhancing laws signed by the President and Monetary Policy is used by the Federal Reserve continually adjusting the U.S. money supply to maintain a healthy economic national environment.

 

During the Presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1980) unemployment rose to 7%.  This was also the post Viet Nam War period.   From 1977 on the government engaged in an expansive fiscal policy; there was an expansion in Public Works strongly supported by the President.  It averaged $4.38 billion per quarter.

 

At that period I was teaching Social Science classes at a High School in Southern California.  The School District was asked by representatives of the Federal Government to make a wish list of what they would like for the District.  A list of ten items was prepared by District officials and, as an afterthought, someone suggested a second or girl’s gymnasium and it was added to the bottom of the list.  The government officials choose the girl’s or second gymnasium as the item that would create the most jobs.

 

I remember that the high school got a second gym which was gray, the color of the concrete.  The money that paid for the gym ran out at that point and it was a few years before the School District came up with the funds to have the building painted.

 

It seemed that all the tasks and labor involved in building the gymnasium, both directly and indirectly, would create the maximum employment possible for the expenditure of the funds required for the project.  I suspect that Troy High School in Southern California is one of the few secondary schools in the country that has two separate gymnasiums.

 

To understand how this expenditure works for the benefit of the overall economy we have to trace the money and see what happens to it.  Usually money spent is actually spent six to eight times; it is a volatile substance.  For example, in producing and packaging the concrete used in the building the manufacturer has to pay his employees.  They, in turn, have to pay rent or a mortgage or, for that matter, buy food.  The landlord, bank, or supermarket continues the same process, and on and on for six to eight times becomes part of the natural flow within the economy.  This occurs with everyone directly or indirectly involved in producing that building.

 

Every million dollars the government spends creates six to eight million dollars in the exchange of goods and services.  To use an analogy, a child throws a rock into a quiet lake.  There are a large number of ripples spreading out in all directions from where the stone hits the water.  They spread out and dissipate as the stone drops to the bottom of the lake, infinitesimally raising the level of the water.  Consequently the $4.38 billion that the government added quarterly to the economy of the United States was actually generating a little over 26.3 to 35 billion dollars in new productivity every three months.  This also gives us an idea of the volatility of new money added to the National Cash Flow.  Of course if the reverse were to occur for any reason, such as the 2008 Real Estate Crash, the 26.3 to 35 billion dollars would be removed from the National Cash Flow.

 

In 1977, when Jimmy Carter became President, the 95th Congress was elected.  In that Congress the Democrats had a majority in both Houses of Congress; in the House of Representatives they had 292 elected Democrats to 143 Republicans and in the Senate there were 61 Democrats to 30 Republican Senators, a super majority which made the Senate filibuster proof, as only 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster.  The Democrats could pass any legislation they felt was needed and they applied, among other things, fiscal policy to the post Viet Nam War period.  Unemployment during the Carter period was considered high, running from 6.9% to 5.8%, and ending in 1980 at 7%.

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From the beginning of President Lynden Johnson’s acceleration of the Viet Nam War inflation slowly began to increase in the country.  The country was both fighting a war and allowing the public to maintain their peacetime standard of living.  By 1980 it had reached two digits and would that year eventually rise to about 15%.  The economic situation that occurred was labeled, stagflation.  It consisted of both stagnation, high unemployment, and inflation, prices rapidly rising because of shortages brought about by having fought a major war, maintaining the military during the Cold War, and supplying all the needs of the American people at the same time.

 

Generally during a period of inflation there are not enough goods and services available to match the demand and prices rise until a new equilibrium is reached of the goods and services offered.  If anything there should be lower unemployment.  But in this case there was also stagnation; there were not enough jobs for everyone able to work and wanting employment.  This was stagflation, the concurrent existence of two economic opposites.

 

There was a way to break this economic condition by having the Federal Reserve raise interest rates far higher than they were, raising the rate of inflation until it exploded.  But this would throw a lot of small businesses and even some large companies into bankruptcy.  This action would bring about immediate adverse economic conditions for a large number of people; it would bring about a short term depression which would temporarily increase unemployment.

 

President Carter had the Federal Reserve Chairman, Paul Volker, begin this process but then after receiving innumerable complaints President Carter backed off.  The next President, Ronald Reagan, allowed Volker to carry out this policy.  It took about a year and a lot of human misery to break this economic cycle.

 

When this came about, early in the Reagan administration, the President got on national television holding a copy of the Sunday New York Times Business Section and said something to the effect of there were umpteen pages of jobs available according to the newspaper and that if there were no jobs where the people lived then they should go to where there were jobs.  This presentation exacerbated the problem because suddenly there were old jalopies crisscrossing the country, being driven by people looking for employment, following whatever rumor promised jobs somewhere else.  This so-called friendly advice or thoughtless act created the homeless problem in the United States.

 

This policy, by the Federal Reserve which was necessary that broke the inflation cycle which had been begun by President Lynden B. Johnson in the 1960s, created an instant depression but ended the stagflation.  Interest rates dropped to a low single digit where they remained until 2008, when they dropped even further almost approaching zero, where they remain today.

 

As a footnote it should be noted that the people who pay for this low interest are the people in the United States who deposit their money into the banks and receive an interest payment on most of their deposits of one tenth of one percent per year.  The amount of interest most people get on their bank holdings is so low it is not even taxable.

 

Fiscal Policy with other economic remedies ended this economic crisis.  The other equally important economic remedy was Monetary Policy.  This is controlled by the Federal Reserve.

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Monetary Policy is the process that the Federal Reserve uses to control the supply of money, its availability, and the cost of money or its rate of interest in the country.  Its objective is aimed at the growth and stability of the economy.

 

The Federal Reserve (FED) has twelve regional banking districts, each with a major regional bank and each with a possible auxiliary bank covering the entire United States, with the major one in Washington, D.C.  It is a private government banking system that controls all the public banks in the country.

 

The FED’s major function is to regulate the private or public banks and to help control economic growth and stability, as well as maintain low unemployment and maintain predictable exchange rates with other currencies.

 

The tools the FED uses are:

(1) Its Open Market operation, constantly buying and selling bonds to increase or decrease the amount of money available in the National Cash Flow.  Here it works from the Public or National Debt, increasing or decreasing it to fine-tune the economy.

2) Adjusting the Discount Rate, setting the interest rates in the private banks by the amount it charges them interest.  The private banks determine the interest they charge the public based upon the interest they pay the FED.  They have to make a reasonable profit above what they pay to the FED.  The higher the FED’s interest rate the more expensive the money is and the less is borrowed.  Conversely the lower the interest rate potentially the more will be borrowed and used for economic expansion.  And the more employment will occur.  Since the 2008 Real Estate Crash the interest rate has dropped to almost zero (one tenth of one percent), and expansion has very slowly occurred.  In fact we are still, seven years later, in the process of recovering from that crash.

(It should also be noted that since 2011, when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives there has been no Fiscal Policy.  In fact the House has forced through bills increasing the unemployment level and exacerbating the recession.  They have been very good at worsening economic conditions and then blaming the Democrats for it.

3) The third method is raising the Reserve Requirements that the banks are required to observe.  The public banks have to keep a certain percentage of their deposits for every loan they make.  But regulating the amount that the bank has to keep the Federal Reserve can significantly increase or decrease the amount of money that a bank can lend.

 

Among all the dollars deposited in the banks this would also include demand deposits (checking accounts).  Most people deposit their paychecks and reserve funds in banks which pay them a token interest for these funds.  People can at any time withdraw part or all of their money.  Meanwhile the banks lend out this money.  By law they must keep a small percentage, about five percent.  The banks can then lend out or invest ninety-five percent of the money deposited.  This expands the amount of money in circulation.  If the FED were to raise the Reserve Requirement to ten percent this would lower the amount that the banks can lend out by 50%.

The actual amounts that the banks have to keep in reserve are: up to 14.5million 0%, over 14.5 million to 103.6 million, 3%, over 103.6 million, 10%.  It should also be noted that after a bank lends out all its available funds it can deposit its loan papers with the FED and lend out the money all over again under the same conditions.  It should be noted that once the money lent out is redeposited into the banks 95% of it can again be loaned out.  Interestingly the FED is now considering raising the current reserve requirement.

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Using their Reserve Requirements, up to the end of 2008, the major banking houses in the United States had created trillions of dollars in real estate value by constantly mortgaging and remortgaging individual properties at higher and higher rates throughout the 50 states.  This collapsed virtually overnight towards the end of 2008.  President George W. Bush, at the very end of his presidency bailed out the major banking houses which were then facing bankruptcy.  This process was continued by the new president in 2009, Barak Obama.  While a few banking houses went under and were absorbed by other banking houses the Federal Government had no choice but to bail out most of the banks.  For one thing all the commercial banks had all their deposits insured up to ½ million dollars each by the Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation (FDIC).  The Federal Government would be liable for all this money if most of the banks failed.  In addition most of the business transactions in this country are paid for by either checks or credit cards that are all processed through the banks.  If the major banking houses like the Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and most other bands were to suddenly disappear the movement of money throughout the United States would practically cease and the country would face a depression that would make the Great Depression of 1929 look like a weekend disruption.

 

Interestingly the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates in their Third Debate, on November 10, 2015, mostly stated that if they were elected to the presidency one of the first things that they would do would be to get rid of the Dodd/Frank Bill that was passed to avert a possible repetition of the 2008 Crash and, if there were to be another economic crash they would not bail out the banks, that nothing is “too big to fail.”

 

What this 3d Republican Debate illustrated was that these people are blatant liars who will say anything to get elected or that they are totally ignorant of Macroeconomics or any other type of economics.  I don’t know which position is worse?  I was also shocked that the “media,” who seems very conscious of “fact checking” didn’t pick up on any of this.

 

If another Banking Crash were to occur and one of them were President of the United States at the time he/she would be forced by their own advisors to again bail out the banks.  For one thing it would probably cost the Federal Government and taxpayers directly more money to not bail them out and the following economic breakdown of the society would last for well over a decade, which is how long it took for the Great Depression to end.

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President Barak Obama’s major problem, after he assumed office in 2009 was dealing with the Real Estate Crash that he inherited from the Bush Administration.  For his first two years in office he had a Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress that cooperated with him.  The Republicans at this point at a meeting agreed to oppose everything he did and make him a one term president.

 

In 2006 Ben Bernanke was appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve by President George W. Bush.  Bernanke replaced Alan Greenspan.  Bernanke working with President Obama utilized creative Monetary Policy to essentially pull the country out of a major depression without being able, after 2011, to get any cooperation from the House of Representatives.  Up until 2015 there was no Fiscal Policy applied.  Toward the end of 2015 both Republican dominated Houses of Congress passed a bipartisan bill to extend Federal Funding on road construction and maintenance throughout the nation which had initially been passed into law before the Republicans took control of the House and was due to end.

 

Initially after 2011 Bernanke innumerably called for Congress to enact Fiscal Policy legislation.  Obama even presented a proposal for much needed infrastructure improvements which would also create a large number of jobs.  This proposal never even reached the floor of the House.  If anything the Republican House of Representatives cut Federal Government funding to a multitude of programs and decreased, on a number of levels, government jobs actually worsening unemployment under the guise of economizing.

 

The FED then came up with a creative twist to Monetary Policy.  One additional major problem that came with the Real Estate Crash was who owned the properties/homes that then had mortgages on them of greater value than the property was worth.  The mortgages had been divided up into fractional shares, distributed to innumerable hedge funds, and the banks had reorganized record keeping on a very sloppy basis.  It was, in many cases almost impossible to discover who owned 50.1% of many if not most of the properties.  This was a dilemma that would ordinarily take two or more decades to clear up.

 

The FED’s solution to this problem and the shortage of money in the National Cash Flow that was causing the massive unemployment was to add 85 billion to the economy every month for a period of over two years.  45 billion was used to buy mortgage paper (fractional pieced of mortgages) in all fifty states and forty billion was used to buy back debt paper (government bonds).  This added one trillion twenty billion dollars to the National Cash Flow a year.  It was gradually phased down and ended in 2015.

 

Currently it looks like interest rates for the public will remain at almost zero for at least the balance of 2015.  But unemployment has dropped nationally to around 5%.  Creative Monetary Policy had turned a possible great depression into a recession and brought the country well in the direction of economic recovery.  All this has been done under the administration of President Barak Obama largely with no cooperation from the Republicans in Congress.

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Issues are never simple cause and effect actions.  There are always multitudes of variable affected in addition to the major outcome desired.  Everything consists of hard choices.  These should be made by experts who are aware of all the possible outcomes.  Or, at the very least, it will be people who will listen to experts and act accordantly.

 

In November of 2016 a major election is coming up, the next Presidential Election.  Both major political parties will be presenting a host of candidates for the Presidency and Congress.  The entire House of Representatives will be up for election and also one third of the Senate. In addition there will be major elections in all 50 states.  The people will speak by voting or not voting.  If the Republicans maintain their majorities in both Houses of Congress and in the majority of the states then very little will be done in the next four years.  The public by their action or inaction will decide what the future will hold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

National-Debt-GDP

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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.

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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.

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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.