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 #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.

The Weiner Component #105 – The Midterm Election of 2014

A political cartoon of Andrew Johnson and Abra...

A political cartoon of Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln, 1865. The caption reads (Johnson to the former rail-splitter): Take it quietly Uncle Abe and I will draw it closer than ever!! (Lincoln to the former tailor): A few more stitches Andy and the good old Union will be mended! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: U.S. President Barack Obama meets wit...

Now that the Election is over we can examine the results.

Less people voted in this election than did in the 2012 Midterm Election. In fact only 37% of those who could vote voted; 63% stayed at home. The pattern seems to be large scale voting during presidential elections and highly limited voting on midterm ones. That gives Republicans the advantage during non-presidential elections and the Democrats have it in Presidential Election years. It makes for a crazy pattern with Congressional gridlock.

In 2015 the Republicans will have a majority in both Houses of Congress. More states will have Republican control of the legislature and governorship. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 36 of the 100 seats in the Senate were up for election. The Republicans won 246 seats, a gain of 13 from the previous House. In the Senate the Republicans added 7 seats, giving them the majority in that body.

Elections were held for governors in 36 of the 50 states. The Republicans won 24 and now control 36 state governorships. The election left the Democrats with the smallest number of state legislatures since the Great Depression in 1929.

The President has met with the new majority and minority leaders in both Houses: Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid for the Senate and John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi for the House. President Obama stated that they will be able to get necessary work done. He may be overly optimistic.

House Speaker John Boehner stated in a press interview that if the President plays with matches he can get burnt, implying that if Obama issues executive orders the Republicans will react negatively.

The cooperation should be interesting since the goals of both parties are miles apart.

The Democrats are concerned about income inequality and tax reform. They want to raise taxes on the upper ten percent and increase entitlement programs, like social security and Medicare. They want immigration reform, particularly for non-citizens whose children were born in this country and are United States citizens. They are also deeply concerned about global warming and want actions taken to slow it down. They are also against the Keystone XL Pipeline which would cross the U.S. from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico carrying oil-rich mud and other toxins, arguing that spills could easily occur poisoning local water- tables. They would also like to have background checks on all people purchasing weapons.

The Republicans, on the other hand, very much want the Keystone Pipeline installed. They want to limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency and allow for more petroleum production. They do not believe in global warming. The new chairman of the Senate committee that deals with that subject has stated that changes in climate are determined by God and that man has nothing to do with it. Pollution presumably occurs by itself. The Republican idea of tax reform is to lower taxes for the upper twenty percent and spend less on entitlement programs and more on the military. They would also like to limit weapon laws more than they already are.

If you put these two groups in a room and had them try to reach a compromise on any of the above issues, on what could they reach a compromise? For those Republicans on the far-right, many of them have stated that their definition of compromise is to have the other side accept their position. What we are looking forward to from January 2015 through December 2016 is far more gridlock that we have seem in the prior congressional session. Virtually nothing will be done in terms of new needed laws. The one exception might be a declaration of war against ISIS.

What many Republicans seem to want to do is hold investigatory sessions on all Democratic actions with which they disagree. With the Republicans now in charge of both Houses of Congress we could conceivably spend the two years of the next Congressional session in committee investigations instead of passing any laws.

Once President Obama begins taking executive action in immigration and some of these other areas where the Democrats want action the Republican agenda will be to impeach the President. In fact the threat is now in the air. It has already been made. But there is not enough time left in the current session to carry this out. If it does come about in the next session the Republicans do not have the 2/3 majority vote in the Senate to successfully bring it about.

There have been two cases of presidential impeachment in the history of the United States, both failed. There could have been a third but in the case of Richard Nixon, he resigned from his office one day before he could be impeached. The first such case concerned Andrew Johnson who became president upon the death of Abraham Lincoln. The second was William Jefferson Clinton.

Andrew Johnson had been a Democratic Congressman from Tennessee who refused to support the Southern cause during the Civil War. When Lincoln ran for a second term Johnson was chosen as his Vice Presidential candidate. They ran at that point under the guise of the Union Party. With Lincoln’s assassination Johnson became the 17th President of the United States. The Radical Republicans who controlled the Congress attempted to use him to get extreme legislation passed. President Johnson attempted to follow in Lincoln’s footsteps with a more moderate policy. In 1867 the Republicans passed the Tenure of Office Act over the President’s veto which required that he get the advice and consent or approval of the Senate before he could fire anyone on his cabinet. Johnson replaced his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, and the House of Representatives voted Articles of Impeachment accusing him of “High Crimes & Misdemeanors.” The case was presented to the Senate on March 2, 1868. The trial ended with acquittal. Seven Radical Republicans could not being themselves to vote guilty. One vote less than the needed 2/3 majority was cast.

William Jefferson Clinton (Bill Clinton) was a Democratic President who had a Republic Congress for the last six years of his presidency. He was impeached on February 12, 1999. Clinton was charged with one count of perjury and one charge of obstruction of justice. Guilt of “high crimes and misdemeanors” required a 2/3 vote by the Senate, 67 Senators had to find him guilty. Fifty Senators voted guilty on the obstruction of justice charge and forty-five voted so on the perjury charge. No Democrats voted guilty. President Clinton was acquitted; the 2/3 majority was not reached. In fact, not all Republican Senators agreed on the charge of guilty.

In both cases Republican Congresses had attempted to impeach a Democratic president that would not do their will. In both cases the Congress was attempting to take over primacy in the government of the United States. And in both cases the principle of checks and balances remained in force.

In the case of the Republican president, Richard Nixon, the situation was different. He was clearly guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors”. Nixon was fully engaged in the Watergate scandal and resigned from the presidency the day before the House of Representatives was to bring up a bill of impeachment. Had Nixon been impeached he would have been found guilty.

The two impeachment trials were political in nature. If Barak Obama were to be impeached it would be for the same reason and the results would be the same. The Republicans would have to have a 2/3 majority in the Senate for it to be otherwise. They do not nearly have that number and the vote for innocence or guilt would run along party lines with the Republicans voting one way and the Democrats the other. Everything here would be along party lines.

The next two years should be interesting. Hopefully something will get done. But that is doubtful. There is no way real compromise will be achieved. Some deals will probably be made but the Republican hostility or frustration level should reach the clouds. Of course the Republicans can always shut down the government again by not voting the necessary funds for it to operate.

The probability is very high that the Republicans will so alienate the American people that the Democrats will sweep into the Presidency and Congress in 2016.