Posts Tagged congress

Winners and Losers


One of the many quirks of our political system is that each year there are winners and losers among politicians whose names are not actually on the ballot.  This year is no exception.  Neither Governor Tom Wolf nor State Senator Scott Wagner was up for election this year, but results of the balloting sent their career paths in opposite directions.

Governor Wolf has had a tough first two years in office dealing with a Republican-controlled legislature. His efforts to dramatically expand government spending, and to implement the historic tax hikes needed to pay for that agenda resulted in the longest budget stalemate in state history.  Legislative Republicans won.

Tuesday voters rewarded the GOP with even larger legislative majorities. Democrats in the state senate are now on life support.  Two Democratic incumbents were defeated by challengers; a third Democrat seat went Republican after the incumbent gave up several months ago and resigned from the ballot.  Combined, the three seats give Republicans a 34-16 edge and something rarely if ever seen in state government: a veto proof majority.

Meanwhile, across the rotunda in the House of Representatives Republicans saw their already historically high majority expand by three seats as four incumbent Democrats and one incumbent Republican lost.  The Republican pick-ups came in southwestern Pennsylvania which has been trending toward the GOP for several election cycles.  In fact, the most endangered species in Penn’s Woods might well be the non-urban legislative Democrat, with only a handful of Democratic lawmakers representing districts outside of the state’s urban cores.

All of this matters because next year’s state budget battle is shaping up to be even tougher than the first.  Republicans caved into Governor Wolf’s spending demands this year, but failed to fully fund the budget.  That coupled with revenue sources that either never materialized or have failed to meet projections presages a major fiscal fight next year.

Not only have Republicans added to their numbers, but this year’s legislative elections moved both chambers further to the Right.  Moderate state senators like Cumberland County’s Pat Vance and Lancaster’s Lloyd Smucker have been replaced by far more conservative legislators.  The continued drift of the House GOP caucus from moderate southeastern dominance to conservative central and western Pennsylvania influence means tougher sailing for those wanting to raise either taxes or spending.

Governor Wolf also saw his agenda rejected in another race; that the battle for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat.  The Democratic nominee, Katie McGinty, was Governor Wolf’s first chief of staff and architect of the tax and spend plan that triggered the epic budget battle.  Incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey made hay of that effectively painting McGinty as out of touch with the financial needs of average Pennsylvanians. He won, she lost.

How then do the fortunes of one state senator rise on all of this? Senator Scott Wagner was an establishment pariah when he ran for an open seat in York County in 2014.  Shunned by his own party Wagner accomplished an historic first in Pennsylvania: He won a special election on a write-in defeating both party nominees.

The upstart senator has quickly gained clout and was tapped by his colleagues to lead the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.  The SRCC as it is known is tasked with recruiting, funding and electing Republicans to the state senate.  After playing a major role in helping to win several seats two years ago, Wagner effectively recruited candidates like Senator-elect John DiSanto of Dauphin County who upended Democratic incumbents last week.  Much of the credit for the senate’s now veto-proof majority goes to Wagner.

This is important because Scott Wagner has made no secret of his desire to run for governor in 2018 and is widely expected to announce his candidacy within weeks.  Having built a strong senate majority gives him a leg up both on the Republican nomination and on a grassroots organization for the battle against Tom Wolf who is expected to seek re-election.

Thus the 2016 election has set the stage for the beginning of the next big electoral battle in Pennsylvania. Political fortunes have risen and fallen. And the never ending cycle of campaigns has already begun anew offering no respite for weary voters.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

Advertisements

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Get a Grip: Congress must return to an orderly budget process


Millions of Americans, likely you are one of them, have sent a tax return off to the Internal Revenue Service over the past couple of weeks having been given little choice but to follow the Biblical admonition to “render under Caesar” a significant portion of your earnings.  Neither religious fervor, nor patriotic sentiment prompted the paying of our taxes – financial penalties and even a jail cell await those who fail to comply.

It is interesting then that while we the taxpayers ponied up, Congress – the body that established the income tax – failed to meet its own first fiscal deadline of this year.  This, of course, is nothing unusual as Congress has missed virtually every deadline in the budgetary process for well over a decade.  It should be noted that not a single member of Congress has paid a penalty – financially or electorally – for their inability to execute the most basic of legislative duties.

By April 15th of each year Congress is required to establish the parameters of the federal budget.  This budget blueprint allows the various committees of the House and Senate to then debate and pass spending bills.  The impact of congressional failure to pass the budget blueprint by April 15th is that the committees will automatically assume a higher level of spending for the upcoming fiscal year.

That was precisely the goal of Democrats and Republican moderates. The budget blueprint did not happen because conservatives pushed for adoption of a more fiscally austere budget blueprint and could not come to agreement with their more moderate colleagues.  This failure is widely viewed as a serious setback for new House Speaker Paul Ryan who has made a return to the regular order of the budget process a top priority.

What will happen over the coming months is that the various committees will debate and pass spending bills the total of which will exceed both the nation’s ability to pay and congressional will to approve.  As has happened regularly over the past decade the September 31st deadline for passing a new federal budget will arrive without congressional consensus.

This is why we typically hear late summer rumblings over a pending budget crisis and threats of a government shut-down in October.  To prevent such a shut-down Congress will then pass a continuing resolution.  The continuing resolution – or CR in government parlance – will allow spending to continue for a set period of time at the previous year’s spending level.

All of this is bad news for fiscal conservatives in that the end result is that instead of an orderly passing of each component of the budget by category one gigantic spending bill – known as an omnibus – ends up being passed, usually sometime in December, that allows federal government spending to continue growing virtually unchecked.  To make matters worse usually unrelated, must pass items are tossed into the omnibus making it politically difficult for any member to vote against the package.

The ultimate impact of this is that the tax burden on the average American continues to grow. According to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, Tax Freedom Day – the day we stop working to pay federal taxes – will fall on April 24th.  That is 114 days into the year (excluding Leap Day).  But, wait – it’s worse: “If you include annual federal borrowing, which represents future taxes owed, Tax Freedom Day would occur 16 days later, on May 10.”

As if that isn’t bad enough, it doesn’t include your state, county, school district and local taxes which push your personal Tax Freedom Day into June.  Overall, according to the Tax Foundation, we Americans will pay $3.3 trillion in federal taxes, another $1.6 trillion in state and local taxes all adding up to about 31% of your income.

This growing tax burden is the reason why it is so important that Congress re-establish an orderly budget process.  The current method of governing by crisis only leads to bigger government.  Without an agreed to blueprint that establishes spending limits, hearings and debate that set clear priorities, and passage of a budget in a non-crisis atmosphere, it is next to impossible to get a grip on out-of-control government spending.  Congress’ failure to do so means we will continue working deeper and deeper into the year to pay the tab.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

It’s the Delegates, Stupid


As the lengthy presidential primary and caucus season moves into its end stages the electorate is beginning to realize that winning delegates is more important than winning states.  The value of delegates is rising in both the Democratic and Republican contests as Bernie Sanders’ victories fail to translate into delegates and the GOP race has become so fragmented a contested convention is now a very real possibility.

Not since 1976 have Americans witnessed a contested convention.  When the GOP met in Kansas City that year incumbent President Gerald R. Ford entered the convention just short of having a majority of delegates.  He ended up beating Ronald Reagan for the nomination before losing the General Election to Jimmy Carter.

In recent decades presidential nominating conventions have been little more than three or four day infomercials.  The primary and caucus system determined nominees well in advance of the conventions which then were heavily scripted to establish campaign themes and play to a television audience.  As a result voters have lost sight of the fact that primaries and caucuses do not pick the nominee – delegates do.

That is not to say voting in a primary or a caucus doesn’t matter.  It does as many delegates are bound – at least on the first ballot – to the outcome of a primary or caucus win.  Most, but not all, will be so encumbered.  But, should it take more than one ballot many of those delegates become unbound and are then free to vote for whomever they choose. There are also “super delegates” on the Democratic side: party officials who are not bound to any specific candidate, and uncommitted delegates on the Republican side who are similarly unfettered.

The race for the Republican presidential nomination began with 17 candidates competing creating an environment which raised the potential for a contested convention.  Looking at the math it will be difficult for any candidate to secure a majority of committed delegates prior to the convention, but Donald Trump and Ted Cruz still remain mathematically viable.  Ohio Governor John Kasich has been mathematically eliminated, but is pinning his hopes on winning over delegates in a contested convention.

As if this were not confusing enough for the average voter, Pennsylvania Republicans will face a challenge when they step into the voting booth on April 26th.  The first step is simple enough: voters can cast their ballot for the presidential candidate of their choice.  The winner of the statewide presidential primary will then get 17 at-large delegates committed to him on the first ballot in Cleveland.  If the convention takes more than one ballot to arrive at a nominee, those 17 may then vote as they see fit.

Now for the complicated part: Three delegates will be elected from each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts.  The names of the delegate candidates will appear on the ballot, but the word “uncommitted” will appear under each.  This means the voters will not be able to tell by looking at the ballot for whom each delegate candidate is committed – or if they are committed at all.  Thus, to make your vote really matter you must go into the polls knowing not only which presidential candidate you will vote for, but you must also know which delegate candidates are supportive of your presidential candidate.

Some delegate candidates say they will vote for whichever presidential candidate wins their congressional district.  You therefore have no way of knowing whether or not that delegate candidate will support your choice for president until after all of the votes are counted.

Presidential campaigns will be working to elect their delegates, but this year’s primary requires voters themselves to do a bit of homework before going to the polls.  To effectively support a presidential candidate the voter must vote not only for that candidate, but also for three delegates pledged to him.  And they must know who those delegate candidates are before going into the polling place, otherwise their delegate votes are a shot in the dark.

Famed political consultant Jim Carville once put a sign on the wall of Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters that read: “It’s the economy, stupid.”  That was to keep the focus on the campaign’s central message to voters.  This year the presidential primary in Penn’s Woods will actually matter.  We can update the old Carville saying to: It’s the delegates, stupid.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Ending Corporate Welfare


Adoption of an annual budget is a core function of government.  Both the federal and state governments have failed to get the job done. At the national level there has been no budget for years, as congress passes “continuing resolutions” that keep the money flowing.  The budget impasse in Harrisburg is now in its third month, with Governor Tom Wolf rejecting the equivalent of a continuing resolution passed by legislative Republicans.

There are many reasons for this lack of agreement, but the bottom line is the age-old problem of too much demand for too few resources.  Eating up a large portion of both federal and state budgets is entitlement spending.  Taking away that which someone already receives is a near impossibility, yet neither budget crunch can be resolved until the spending side of the equation is addressed.

Republicans often point to social welfare as an area where spending can be cut, Democrats are adamantly opposed.  Corporate welfare is a different story. Here there is bi-partisan agreement.  Establishment Republicans love government hand-outs to big corporations. Despite lip service to the contrary, Democrats do too.

But, there is growing opposition among the GOP’s conservative base to continuing corporate welfare programs.  After all, how can you morally justify cutting social welfare when voting to give taxpayer dollars to wealthy corporations?  In order to address the systemic deficits present in both the federal and state budgets cuts in all such programs are needed.

At the federal level conservatives have been successful in closing down the Export-Import Bank.  This happened largely because the bank was up for reauthorization, meaning all congress had to do was nothing to put it out of business.  Congress is good at doing nothing, so the Export-Import Bank was allowed to expire.  But, supporters of the bank – which gives large, risky taxpayer-backed loans to big corporations – are working hard behind the scenes to resuscitate it, meaning the battle is far from over.

Here in Penn’s Woods the vehicle for corporate welfare is a little-known entity called the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP).  Like most government programs it started small, with $400 million in borrowing authority in 1986.  By 2010, the last year for which complete information is available, borrowing authority had ballooned to $4 billion.

Unlike the Export-Import bank which merely finances risky loans, RACP is a grant program.  Meaning state government borrows money and then gives it to select businesses.  That is correct: state government borrows money, gives it away, and then repays the loans plus interest with tax dollars.  Worse, small businesses need not apply.  The grant program is only available for projects exceeding $1 million.

There is a set of criteria for a business to obtain a RACP grant, but since the final list of recipients must be approved by the legislature the politically well-connected have an advantage. There is no escaping the fact the entire effort amounts to little more than government picking winners and losers.

A new study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University finds the program is itself a loser.  The study found: “The RACP is an inefficient and market-distorting program that mostly transfers economic activities from counties receiving less in RACP grants to counties receiving more of the grants.”  Another concern: the study found “RACP is likely to decrease economic growth in the long run since the market is ultimately skewed away from efficient investment and toward politically favored industries.”

The program is not even popular in the business community.  A recentKeystone Business Climate Survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute found 52% want the program eliminated entirely; another 40% think the amount spent on it should be reduced.  Over the years, the survey has consistently found business owners/CEOs would rather have across-the-board business tax cuts than such targeted grant programs.

Clearly programs like the Export-Import Bank and the RACP are nothing more than government welfare for politically connected companies.  The end result, at best, is government directing rather than expanding economic activity.  As budget-makers look for ways to bring government spending under control, reducing welfare – both corporate and social – must be part of the equation.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Is Congress Obsolete?


It is still early in the race for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, but the rise of “outsider” candidates such as Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson to the top of the polls has revealed what can only be described as outrage over the ineptitude of the party’s establishment leadership.  For the past seven years the GOP has stumbled and bungled failing to effectively check the near-despotic power of President Obama or even present a coherent alternative to his policies.

Given the fact the president is governing by fiat the question arises: Is congress obsolete?  Sure, the U.S. Constitution requires three branches of government.  But, with most of that document shredded by the president and the courts as congress stands idly by, you have to wonder whether or not the legislative branch matters anymore.

November last Republicans swept into control of the United States Senate.  From sea to shining sea voters rejected Democratic candidates delivering a mandate to congress for change.  Since the onset of GOP control last January nothing has changed.  There has been no discernable difference between a Senate led by Harry Reid and that run by Mitch McConnell.

Voters are furious that the message they delivered has not been heeded.

And the impotence of the Republican congress continues apace.  President Obama has negotiated a multi-national nuclear deal with Iran that is opposed by a solid majority of both voters and members of congress.  Yet it will go into effect.  Why? Because the president out maneuvered congressional leadership by calling the deal an executive agreement rather than a treaty.

A pact between nations is by definition a treaty.  Treaties require a two-thirds vote in the affirmation by the U.S. Senate for ratification.  But executive agreements go into effect unless they are specifically rejected by congress.  Congress will reject the Iran accord, but one-third of the Senate can sustain a presidential veto and it appears the president has those votes.  Thus the will of a substantial majority of congress – and of the American people will be thwarted.

It is not just the president who shows congress no respect.  The Supreme Court of the United States, in two rulings on the Affordable Care Act essentially ruled that what congress passed isn’t what it meant thus allowing Obamacare to remain in effect.  Clearly the court – or at least Chief Justice John Roberts – views congress as a useless appendage.

Congress has been marginalized in even its most basic tasks.  Most years a federal budget is not passed resulting in periodic “fiscal cliffs” as members dither up to and sometimes past budget deadlines before enacting so-called “continuing resolutions,” to allow spending to continue at past levels. The next act in the budget drama will play out in the coming weeks as the October 1st deadline for a new spending plan looms.

The GOP’s ineffective congressional leadership is already cuing up its next capitulation.  A series of recent videos has exposed the gruesome and horrific excesses of Planned Parenthood’s abortion mills.  Despite the fact the U.S. Constitution requires all federal spending to originate in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the GOP, look for congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood to fail.

President Obama, unable to build either public or congressional support for his radical policies, has made good on his pledge to use his pen to by-pass the legislature.  When congress blocked a job-crushing cap-and-trade bill, the president simply put his agenda into place by having the Environmental Protection Agency issue massive numbers of new regulations.  Congress can’t reach consensus on immigration reform, so the president orders border patrol to stand down as illegal aliens swarm into the country. So-called “sanctuary cities” refuse to enforce federal law; congress stands idly by taking no action to force compliance.

And so issue after issue, year after year congress has proven to be irrelevant.  Yet Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate prop up incompetent leadership while the voters who sent them to Washington look on with increasing dismay. Voters now understand the presidency is what really matters.  Having seen epic failure from congress – and by extension the GOP establishment – they are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Outsiders like Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina may be untested, but voters now appear willing to go for untested rather than those who have been tested and repeatedly failed.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  

His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Leo Knepper of CAP


Radio Program Schedule for the Week of January 28, 2012 – February 3, 2012

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Robert C. Enlow of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice about National School Choice Week
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story behind why incumbent congressmen are running against each other
  • Adam Tragone has an Off the Cuff talk with Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi about the race for the Republican Presidential nomination
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Ret.) has an American Radio Journal commentary on the controversy over the desecration of Taliban corpses

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Leo Knepper from the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania for an election overview
  • Eric Montarti and Frank Gamrat have an Allegheny Institute Report on the financial condition of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
  • Eric Boehm joins Lincoln Radio Journal with state news headlines from the Pennsylvania Independent

For more information and to stream our radio programs live, visit:

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Practical Conservatism: Toomey Bridges the Partisan Divide


By Lowman S. Henry

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has been in office for less than a year, but in that short period of time he has emerged as something rare in present day Washington, D.C. – a principled officeholder who is willing to work with the other side of the aisle to arrive at solutions to the serious problems which confront our nation.

This is not easy to do, which is why so few members of congress are even trying. Two successive wave elections have sent to the national legislature groups of representatives who are polar opposites both in terms of party affiliation and ideology. This has gridlocked congress both rhetorically and legislatively.

The danger for any senator or congressman is that the slightest movement away from ideological orthodoxy results in immediate condemnation from their party’s base, seemingly making compromise impossible. But, for those willing to peel back the outer layers of the policy onion there are often obscure and archane details that provide opportunity for agreement and progress.

And so it was that Senator Toomey became the only member of the so-called “super committee” on deficit reduction to actually put on the table a new proposal that remained true to principle, but offered significant movement toward compromise. Unfortunately, no statesman emerged on the other side to reciprocate Toomey’s gesture, although apparently the freshman senator’s plan did cause other members to pause to consider.

The genius of Toomey’s plan was that it would have actually cut tax rates for a majority of taxpayers, while generating additional revenue through the closing of certain loopholes. As a former president of the Club for Growth, Toomey had a “Nixon goes to China” moment in that he is one of the few members of congress who could propose generating more tax revenue without getting totally ground up by conservatives, while giving Democrats some of the additional tax dollars they crave.

In the end, it wasn’t enough for the Democrats on the “super committee,” and even Toomey could go no further. But, given that Toomey was the only member of the committee to actually appear to be reasonable, thoughtful, and creative, it allowed him to emerge intact from what was otherwise a “super committee” train wreck.

In recent weeks Senator Toomey has further solidified his status as a bridge over the great partisan divide by teaming with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to introduce legislation aimed at banning congressional earmarks. The practice of earmarks – allowing members to insert pork barrel spending projects into legislation – has fueled the federal deficit. Ending earmarks is a vital first step toward fiscal restraint by congress, but is often seen as a conservative Republican issue. By joining forces with McCaskill, Toomey has transformed it into a good government issue.

There is no more highly partisan member of the United States Senate than Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer is an unashamed liberal who is the driving force behind his party’s electoral machine. But, last week Schumer and Toomey introduced a bipartisan plan to remove barriers standing in the way of private firms seeking to go public. Such a material change in corporate structure has resulted in job growth at 90% of the private firms that have gone public.

In announcing the plan Senator Schumer said: “During difficult economic times, it is critical that we give growing innovators the breathing room they need to access public markets. This is a common sense set of reforms that can bridge the partisan divide and have a real impact on job creation.” An argument can be made that if you can bridge the partisan divide between Chuck Schumer and Pat Toomey you have built a very solid structure. The bill stands an excellent chance of becoming law, and will ultimately have a profound positive effect on job creation.

It has often been said that “the devil is in the details.” But what Pat Toomey has demonstrated in recent weeks is that the solution may also be in the details. Both his proposal to the “super committee” and his bill to allow companies easier access to the capital markets show that the way forward is to address the smaller, more technical issues upon which consensus can be built. Eventually, after taking care of enough of the smaller issues, a path will emerge to resolving the larger ones.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment