The Weiner Component #65 – Dysfunctional Government

A dysfunctional family is one that is perennially in chaos.  Nothing ever gets done; no issue is ever solved; nothing is ever accomplished.  A dysfunctional government works or doesn’t work on the same basis.  Its lawmakers are incapable of accomplishing anything, at least anything that the nation really needs.

Is that the situation that exists in Washington, D.C.?  The answer to that question is obviously, yes.  But is the answer that simple?  Are both political parties equally responsible or is the true villain just one of the particular political parties?

Toward the end of the last year of the reign of George W. Bush as President of the United States the economy collapsed.  Because of the activities of the major banks the country was facing a catastrophe greater than that of 1929.  Bush and his Secretary of the Treasury, Paulson, did an emergency bank bailout of the big Financial Institutions whose greed and irresponsibility had caused the situation.

In 2008 Barak Obama was elected President on a platform of: “It’s Time for a Change.”  Through the use of both Fiscal and Monetary policy he was able to avert a major breakdown of the economy.  In addition he bailed out the auto industry.  The country had a recession with major unemployment but it never reached a real depression.  The Obama Administration also passed a universal Affordable Health Care Bill, which, had been initially suggested by the Horizon Institute, a Conservative Republican Think Tank and earlier put into operation in the State of Massachusetts by a Republican governor, Mitt Romney.

In the 2010 Midterm Election the Republicans under Tea Party leadership became the majority party in the House of Representatives.  Apparently there hadn’t been enough “change” during President Obama’s first two years in office!

The Republican caucus in both Houses of Congress had earlier decided the Obama would be a one term president.  Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate had announced this publically.  They would support nothing that President Obama proposed.  In fact, they would oppose everything he would favor.  Government functionality would cease.  From 2011 on the House of Representatives would not pass any bill that supported any program that Obama or the Democrats favored and that they would oppose any bill that had been passed during his first two years in office.

The House repealed Affordable Health Care (Obama Care) over forty times.  The repeals went nowhere because the Senate had a Democratic majority and the majority leader would not take up the bill which was already law.

In 2011 President Obama came out with a plan to put America back to work by both extending and modernizing the infrastructure of the United States.  This would probably have reduced unemployment to about 3 1/2 percent, increased the GDP significantly, and substantially increased the tax base of both the Federal Government and the states.  The Republican majority and the Speaker of the House of Representatives completely ignored these plans.  The House of Representatives from 2011 on has done absolutely nothing in any way to create jobs for the unemployed.  By their actions they have sought to reduce government employment and have actually added to the unemployment problem.

In 2012 the House of Representatives met in formal session 125 days, in 2013 it was 121 days, and in 2014 it will be for 120 days.  Some Republican legislator made a comment about what will they do in all that time.  The members of Congress receive 174 thousand dollars a year, plus an office and a fully paid staff.  The get an allowance for an office in their home districts.  I would love to work 120 days out of 365 for that pay and do as much as the House Republican legislators!

In 2013, late at night, the Republicans changed the rules in the House of Representatives so that only bills favored by the majority party could be brought up for a debate or vote on the floor of the House.  If a bill favored by the Democrats and a small number of Republicans came up, the Speaker of the House did not have to call for a vote on that bill, even if the majority favored it.  The only bills that needed to be brought up were those favored by the majority of the Republicans in the House.

In the Senate the Republican minority can filibuster both bills and Presidential appointments of judgeships and appointments of assorted department heads.  The position of the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms was only recently filled after being vacant for six to eight years.  The NRA wanted this job left vacant.  The post was filled after Harry Reed, the majority leader, threatened to change the rules and end filibustering most Presidential appointments.

In mid-November, over the issue of three judgeships, in which the Republicans refused to allow a vote to be taken because they did not want Obama to fill three vacancies in the second highest court in the U.S., the Senate by a simple majority changed the rules and disallowed filibustering in most presidential appointments.

In 2012 the closest the Republicans came to a compromise was the Sequester, which automatically dropped government spending across the board on all levels except Congressional salaries that automatically rose every year.  These, cut down military spending and innumerable entitlement programs for the poor: meals on wheels and infant nutrition to name only two.  In 2013 they shut down the government, refused to raise the debt ceiling, and cost the country about 24 billion dollars and around 250,000 jobs.  If they had had their way and gotten everything they wanted the country would currently be in a deep depression with unemployment up well over 25 percent.  Their version of running the government is not only to not spend money but also to massively reduce the size of the Federal Government.

Even though the public cast 1.4 million more votes for the House Democrats in 2012, by gerrymandering in the census year, 2010, the Republicans still got a majority in the House.  The country will need an overwhelming majority in 2014 to beat them.

 

English: President Barack Obama speaks to a jo...

There is a note of irony that helps explain this dysfunction.  Since the Republicans have determined to oppose everything that President Obama supports they have gone against some policies that initially were their own.  The reason for this, as we have seen, was to make Obama a one term president.  When they failed in 2012 they still adhered to these policies.

 

Affordable Health Care will help keep a number of people alive who would otherwise have died earlier because they could not afford to see a doctor until it was an emergency.  Many children will now get prenatal care.  The insurance companies, even with more restrictions on what they can do, will get a tremendous increase in business.  Yet the Republicans continue to denounce this law using mostly general platitudes.  They offer nothing except the argument that it’s no good, that it will harm the society and kill jobs.

We are probably the only industrial nation in the world today that doesn’t have universal medical care for its citizens.  Our original system of medical care is faulty, inefficient, and overly expensive.  The Republicans offer no alternative except that Obama Care is no good.  Really spiteful reasoning!

We can again ask ourselves: Why is Congress dysfunctional?  The answer is because of Congressional Republican acts or lack of any action since 2011 when they gained control of the House of Representatives.  The 2014 Midterm Election will determine what direction this country takes.  If the Republicans retain the majority in the House we can look forward to two more years of economic disaster.  The American People will have to choose in 2014.  Hopefully the majority will understand their choices.  Unfortunately we have to wait another year before there’s any hope of a functioning government.

 

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The Weiner Component #29 – The Sequester

Breakdown of political party representation in...

The sequester is a package of automatic spending cuts that is part of the Budget Control Act that was passed in August 2011.  The bill was passed because the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress could not reach a compromise in spending cuts and tax increases.  It was supposed to be so horrible that it would force both sides to come to some future compromise before 2013 when it was to go into effect.

The cuts were projected to total $1.2 trillion, beginning in 2013 and ending in 2021.  They are evenly divided over the nine-year period and are also evenly split between defense spending, with wars exempt, and discretionary domestic spending.  Here Social Security and Medicare are exempt.  The cuts for 2013 are to be a total of $109 billion.

 The Republicans argue that income taxes were raised earlier in the year 2013 increasing taxation on the rich who earned $400 thousand or more a year and that under no circumstances would they authorize any further taxation on incomes.  The Democratic position was/is that they want to close loopholes in the tax system where subsidies are given to companies whose earnings are in the billions of dollars, such as the oil companies who got their subsidies during World War II to encourage exploration that would help the war effort, and still continue to get similar subsidies today.

 The Republicans see any change in the tax system as a rise in taxes.  They want the Democrats to cut their discretionary programs and lower taxes for the upper few percent of the population.  The problem here is that there is no point on which to even begin to discuss compromise.  Thus we currently have the sequester.

 Most of the cuts that have already occurred are essentially invisible; those that are not like furloughing a percentage of the air traffic controllers have been adjusted.  The invisible programs that are still intact are part of the “meals on wheels” for senior citizens living on Social Security, school breakfast and lunch programs needed for the children of the lowest echelon of our society, cuts to programs like head start, food programs for the infants of the very poor, and the like.  These are in the areas of discretionary domestic spending and are desperately needed to give these people a chance to become part of the functioning society.

 Economic cuts that are not invisible like tours of the White House for people visiting Washington, D.C., where Congressmen generally give free tickets to their constituents, have elicited complaints by Congressmen and Fox News.  Also furloughing some air traffic controllers has slowed down air travel by about twenty percent.  It should be noted that the Senate has passed a bill that makes more money available to Air Traffic. The House passed a version of this bill the next day and when the President signs it Air Traffic will return to its normal pace and the problem will become invisible there.  However there seems to be a typographical error between the two versions, a missing comma, which might necessitate the calling of a conference committee and delay the passage of this bill.

 There has as yet been no problem with defense and military spending.  The cuts there are still invisible or not yet felt; but that will change at some future point.

 Obviously the gradual effect of all this will be to decrease Federal spending by decreasing government employment and lowering the amount of money available in the National Cash Flow.  This will shrink the GDP.  Gradually less and less will be spent on goods and services because there will be less jobs; and with the multiplier effect, new monies being spent several times before they becomes part of the National Cash Flow, the amount of the decrease will be three to six times the $109 billion which the government will cut back in 2013.  This will cause a rise in unemployment and a continuing decrease in the GDP, which may not be offset by new hiring in the private sector.  Sequestration brings about a self-inflicted wound on the U.S. economy, directly or indirectly hurting everyone in the country.

 Presumably the rat ionization for the sequester is based upon a study by two economists whose research determined that if the National Debt exceeded ninety percent of the GDP the country would be headed for economic disaster.  Even though most other economists recommended having the government spend its way out of the recession caused by the 2008 Real Estate Disaster, the Republicans, who were not fiscal conservatives under President George W. Bush and his father, have become so under President Barak Obama.  They have become extreme fiscal conservatives who want to lower taxes for the upper few percent and stringently cut discretionary spending while increasing the money spent on the military.

 Toward the end of April, 2013 a graduate student discovered a major flaw in the above economic study, which invalidated the ninety percent figure.  Will this make a difference to the Republican position?  Probably not!  The Republicans seem to believe that the general public really supports their positions and their policies; it just doesn’t understand them as yet.  That eventually the public will come around to their way of thinking and support them.  They don’t seem to realize that they lost the last election and expect to radically win in 2014 and in 2016. 

 The real issue it seems is not economic recovery and job creation; it seems to be to embarrass President Barak Obama and his Administration.  For the first four years of his presidency the Republican position, which was openly admitted by the minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, was to not cooperate with the President on anything, to embarrass him and make him a one-term president.  That failed with the 2012 election, but the Republicans seem to be carrying on in the same fashion.  Since Barak Obama is black, the question arises, is the issue that he is a Democrat or that he is black?  Or is it both?  It’s an interesting question.  Is a good percentage of the Republican Party racially motivated?  And would they rather see a continuing recession and depression with large scale unemployment and misery for a good part of the general public rather than allow the president to bring about recovery from the 2008 fiasco brought about by the major banks in the United States, from which the country is still suffering.   Sequestration seems to be an imposed punishment by Congress on the American people. 

There is an interesting note of irony in all of this.  While the Administration is being forced to impose $109 billion worth of cuts across the board on its expenditures, that were made by Congress, the Federal Reserve is adding one trillion twenty billion dollars to the National Cash Flow at the rate of $85 billion a month.  Part of it is for a secondary purchase of National Debt bonds and the rest is for the purchase of mortgage paper.  This money is being spent in an entirely different area from which Congress is trying to cut costs.  My impression from watching some of the House debates on TV is that many of our elected representatives have no idea about what is really going on, that they are functioning from internal feeling, which doesn’t relate to reality.  What we need is a committee comprising aspects from all parts of the government who can advise Congress.  The question then becomes: would they listen and act accordingly for the welfare of the entire nation?

 This committee essentially already exists.  It is the Federal Reserve Board, which monitors all aspects of the economy.  Adding members of both Houses of Congress and of the Administration could expand it.  But the members of Congress would have to listen and act upon the reports of the committee instead of having a preset agenda.  They would have to act for the country.  And the Sequester, which is nonsense, would have to be done away with.

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Weiner Component #23-Plodding Along: Are the Republicans Really Adults?

Will Rogers

Cover of Will Rogers

William Penn Adair Rogers, Will Rogers (1879 – 1935) was an American cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, and, motion picture actor.  He saw Congress as a bunch of children bumbling their way through government and never quite knowing what they were doing.  Among other things he said they were like a bunch of children in a China Shop with hammers.  One hopped they didn’t do too much damage.

Looking at the current Congress one can see that his observations are just as valid today as they were in the 1920s before the Great Depression when we had another Republican Administration in Congress. 

John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, tends to waddle like a duck as he walks, going forward and sideways at the same time.  He always seems to be going in two directions at once; he ought to straighten up, take control of his party and get something done.   Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the House, seems to be a bit constipated; He looks like he should go somewhere and take some medication to loosen up and begin working in the interests of the country instead of just raising money for the Republican Party.  Mitch McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate, appears to be myopic.  He should get bifocals that allow his to clearly see the needs of this country and forget about trying to make President Obama a one term president (which he has failed to do) and tend to the actual needs of this country.  He needs to back off on his filibustering and let the will of majority prevail.

During its 2012 term the House of Representatives met 120 days out of 365.  The members must have been very busy with other things.  The House voted out, with just a Republican majority in each instance, Obama Care thirty-five times; that is, they spent no less than 35 of the 120 days voting out of existence a bill that never was even considered in the Senate and which would have been vetoed by the President if it ever reached his desk.

They sent this bill to the Senate thirty-five times.  They spent about one third of their time as legislators on a bill which 35 times went nowhere.  In addition they passed a resolution affirming that the statement,“In God We Trust.” that appears on all paper currency, is who we do trust.  Are these the actions of either rational people or adults?  The Republican House of Representatives passed no bill that created any jobs.  In fact, many of the bills that came out of The House exacerbated the unemployment problem in the United States.

Fortunately, despite the behavior of the Republicans in the last two plus years since they got a majority in the House and have used the filibuster more times than it was used during the entire 20th Century, the overall economy of the United States has slowly improved.  The stock market is higher than it was in 2008 and the Housing Market is coming back and new housing is being built throughout the nation.   The National Deficit as a percentage of GDP has been decreasing.   Corporate profits are higher than they have ever been before.  Things seem to be looking up even though unemployment is still very high. 

It seems conditions are getting better despite the actions of the Republican Party.  However the country is facing a new dilemma, the Sequester, which is in the process of automatically bringing about cuts on all levels of government spending, with the exception of the salaries of all the members of Congress.  This bill was passed to force both political parties to come to a spending compromise several months ago.  No compromise has been reached or seems to be in the process of being reached.  Consequently government spending will decrease in entitlement programs hurting a goodly percentage of the poor and middle class.  Also it will affect military spending, decreasing the ability of the armed forces to successfully function and cut back on spending for the military effecting countless civilian jobs in factories that supply the army.  All this is a stupid, spiteful thing to do by the Republicans.  It is hurting every level of the economy so that they can presumably have their way in reducing taxes for the upper echelon and decimating entitlement programs for the poor and needy.

In addition to this, another financial crisis will be coming up soon when the debt limit is reached on the National Debt and the amount has to be extended to keep the government going.  It will be interesting to see what happens then.

It should be noted that the Republicans tended to oppose virtually everything President Obama supported during his second two years in office.  This included bills that they had initiated or supported earlier.  In a manner of speaking they tried and failed to make Obama a one-term president and now they have boxed themselves into a corner.  If the Republicans support anything that President Obama supports then they are admitting this policy.  If they continue the way they have been going then they are espousing policies that are blatantly unpopular with the general public.  It’s an interesting “catch 22” that they have placed themselves into.  It could even lead to their demise as a political party.

With all this said it seems the Republicans have found ways to constantly hamper the functioning of the nation.  Going back to Will Rogers’ statement from the 1920s, only in young spiteful children do you find such irrational behavior.  And that is what they are, with the hammer in the china shop, which unfortunately is the nation.  Let us hope they don’t do too much damage.

 
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