Posts Tagged Lincoln Radio Journal

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

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

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Celebrating 20 Years of Lincoln Radio Journal!

Radio Program Schedule for the week of January 10 – January 16, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from
  • Lowman Henry looks back at 20 years of Lincoln Radio Journal
  • Eric Montarti and Frank Gamrat have an Allegheny Institute Report on falling gasoline prices
  • Dr. Paul Kengor from the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College has a Lincoln Radio Journal commentary on why the next president may come from the ranks of the nation’s governors

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation about a lawsuit filed by 25 states to block President Obama’s orders on amnesty for illegal aliens
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story behind a possible federal gas tax hike
  • Eric Boehm and Matt Kittle have a Watchdog Radio Report on a proposal to dock congressional pay for failing to pass a federal budget on time
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on why all factions of the GOP in congress must now work together

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

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Tinkering with the System

Days before the November election I was listening to a radio talk show and the topic of discussion was a prominent Democrat who suggested that congressional terms should be made longer.  Specifically, he suggested having U.S. Senators serve for eight years rather than six and electing members of the U.S. House of Representatives to four year terms instead of two.

The reasoning behind suggesting such a change was to limit the number of opportunities voters have to impact the system to ensure more stability in the federal government.  Prompting the discussion was voter propensity to deal President Barack Obama mid-term electoral set-backs compromising his ability to enact his policy agenda.

Interestingly, when someone dislikes the verdict of the voters or an elected official misbehaves the search goes on for a systemic weakness to blame.  Inevitably, the “solution” to such non-existent problems is to remove from those rascally voters the ability to express their will through the electoral process.

Such is the case in Pennsylvania where recent episodes of elected officials behaving badly have prompted calls for systemic change that, in the end would erode the power of voters and diminish the ability of “We the People” to impact the composition of our own government.  Specifically, structural “reforms” that would enhance the power of elites to the detriment of grassroots voters include reducing the size of the state legislature and enacting the merit selection of judges.

The recent forced retirement of state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffrey for excessive use of the send button on his computer has re-energized the merit selection movement.  Presumably, a merit selection committee would have asked McCaffrey if he liked to forward along pornographic e-mails, he would have admitted such, and thus been eliminated from consideration.  Likewise the last justice to be impeached, Rolf Larson, would have admitted his addictions to the merit selection committee and informed them of his plan to use staff to acquire prescription drugs illegally.

It is folly to believe a merit selection committee would be error free in its choices.  The only sure outcome of merit selection is that the selectors and those who select the selectors would gain incredible influence over one-third of state government with no voter oversight or recourse.  True, voters are often ill informed when it comes to judicial candidates, but the same can be said for many other offices as well.

Reducing the size of the General Assembly is another “reform” that would diminish the impact of voters while giving leaders greater control.  A smaller legislature would mean larger districts.  Candidates must spend more to be elected in larger districts, thus the role of campaign cash would grow while the ability of less well financed candidates to compete through grassroots campaigning would be lessened.  Do we really want to make money in politics more important?

At the national level, lengthening the terms of congressmen and senators would severely curtail the ability of voters to express their will.  The framers of the U.S Constitution intended for the House to be volatile, representing the momentary views of the people.  Senators were granted six-years terms to be the “cooling saucer” of those who could take a longer term view.  It was and is a good compromise that has served our nation well.

The old saying that our system of government is the worst there is – except for all the others remains true.  Constitutions are written and systems are established so the framework of government is timeless and not whipsawed by the winds of current events.  Any system is only as good as the men and women who serve within it.  The key to better government lies not in changing the system, but in being more vigilant on whom we select to represent us.

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


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

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Kyle Pomerleau Talks Tax Burden

Radio Program Schedule for the week of July 26, 2014 – August 1, 2014

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Kyle Pomerleau of the Tax Foundation about the tax burden of U.S. workers
  • Eric Montarti and Josh Eberlyexamine the impact of a recent court ruling on municipal employee residency requirement on the Allegheny Institute Report
  • Anna McCauslin of Americans for Prosperity-PA has a Lincoln Radio Journal commentary on how the state got into the current pension crisis

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Kyle Pomerleau of the Tax Foundation about the tax burden of U.S. workers
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story behind the growing controversy over “economic patriotism”
  • Eric Boehm and Chris Butler have a Watchdog Radio Report on a small peach farmer in Alabama being forced out of business by the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on how the current scandals could hasten the abolition of the IRS

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

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A Taxing Tale

President Obama’s claim that “If you like your health care plan you can keep your health care plan” was dubbed by pundits as the 2013 lie of the year. Fast forward to this year’s gubernatorial campaign and two lies are competing for top honors.  Take your choice between: Governor Tom Corbett has slashed spending on public education; and Marcellus Shale gas drillers, unlike other states, are not paying high enough taxes.

Pollsters for the four remaining Democratic candidates for governor seem to have all discovered that education funding has surpassed unemployment and the melting polar ice caps as the main issue concerning likely voters in the upcoming primary.  Thus a happy convergence of the two lies has occurred.  The candidates can promise voters their cake – more education spending – and they can eat it too because they will tax the robber baron gas drillers to pay for it.

Setting aside the fact more state dollars are being spent on public education than at any time in the history of the commonwealth, let’s focus on whether or not companies drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale reserve are paying their fair share.  One candidate claims on his website that we are giving “. . . away our state’s valuable resources without generating revenue for critical investments like schools . . . ”  His television ads point out that gas drillers in Penn’s Woods do not pay a severance tax as do companies operating in every other state in the union.

That is a true, but misleading statement.  Pennsylvania does not levy a severance tax, which is a tax applied on gas as it leaves the well, but the commonwealth does charge gas companies – as it does all other businesses – both a Corporate Net Income Tax and a Capital Stock & Franchise Tax.  We are the only state in the nation that levies both of those taxes.  That alone would place Marcellus shale drillers on an equal footing with the 49 other states.

But, it doesn’t stop there.  Act 13 of 2012 imposed an impact fee on natural gas wells in Penn’s Woods.  It is called a fee because Republicans supporting the measure did not want to be accused of raising taxes.  A rose by any other name, however, is still a rose.  The dictionary defines the word tax as “a sum of money demanded by a government for its support, or for specific facilities or services.” Thus, the Marcellus Shale impact fee is, by definition, a tax.

The impact tax is levied based upon the price of natural gas traded on the market and on the age of the wells.  Thus the amount of revenue generated each year fluctuates depending on market performance and number of wells drilled.  According to the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Pittsburgh, the impact tax generated $204.2 million in revenue in 2011 and $202.5 million in revenue in 2012.  Less was generated in 2012 because the market price of the gas had decreased.

So, to put this into perspective, an industry that supposedly is not paying its fair share over the past two years paid every tax every other business in the state paid plus an additional $406.2 million.  What sort of outrage would there be if, for example, we asked farmers to pay an impact tax? They use natural resources – soil and water – to produce their product.  Or, perhaps to make it fair we should enact a “success tax” – in addition to Corporate Net and Capital Stock & Franchise taxes – on any business in Pennsylvania that expands rapidly and reaps higher profits?

The current political debate focused on adding another layer of tax on Marcellus Shale drillers implies, and in some cases outright states, that the gas companies are taking a natural resources and we are left with no benefit.  But the Allegheny Institute’s analysis of where dollars from the impact tax have gone shows that a wide range of state agencies, county and local governments have received revenue from the tax.  These funds have gone to repair and replace local bridges, improve water and sewer projects, clean up acid mine drainage, pay for green space initiatives and watershed projects. Money has been set aside in the Environmental Stewardship Fund to pay for any future problems which may arise, and into community and economic development.  Counties – all 67 of them – have shared in over $21 million in revenue.

As in most political campaigns truth is the first casualty.  Candidates can certainly propose higher taxes, but they should at least not mislead voters. Instead they should tell the whole story and not just those parts of it that fit their campaign narrative.

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

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

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In politics, as with many aspects of life, timing is everything.  The timing of the awarding of this year’s annual cost-of-living pay increase for state officials could not have been worse.  Announcement of the COLA followed by days of the enactment into law of what will in effect be one of the biggest gas tax hikes in state history.

Taking more from the taxpayers’ pockets and then pocketing more money for yourself is not a prescription for political success.  Few involved in state government today are responsible for the annual raises.  They were instituted back in the mid-1990s as a way for legislators to avoid periodic tough votes over pay hikes.  Ten years later lawmakers got greedy and voted themselves a raise over and above the COLA.  That now infamous middle-of-the-night vote led to a voter backlash that ended the career of numerous legislators and even a couple of state Supreme Court justices.

This year’s COLA is really nothing to write home about: just one quarter of one percent. That translates to $210.00 per year for your average legislator.  Many members, as well as Governor Tom Corbett, Lt. Governor Jim Cawley, cabinet members and the statewide constitutional officers reject the COLAs either turning them back into the state treasury or giving the money to charity.

Even those rejecting the cost-of-living raises benefit to some degree as their pensions are calculated off the higher pay number.  Very few lawmakers have declined to participate in the state pension system, so most benefit.  Many reformers argue both the COLA and pensions for lawmakers are unconstitutional.  The state constitution very clearly authorizes regular pay and travel costs for legislators.  It also prohibits elected officials from getting pay raises during their terms of office – which is exactly what COLAs accomplish.

So why do elected officials put up with the political damage COLAs cause when there is so little benefit?  Likely because repealing the COLA would open the gates to other reforms.  A growing number of lawmakers are pushing for a wider variety of reforms that would make state government more open and accountable.  Those trying to preserve the status quo fear that once the reform ball starts rolling, other perks may bite the dust as well.

And that is as it should be.  First, the law enabling COLAs should be repealed.  State Senator Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin) and State Representative Eli Evankovich (R-Westmoreland) have each introduced legislation in their respective chambers to end COLAs.  This is not to say that lawmakers never deserve a raise. But if raises are to be given they should be awarded in a constitutional manner with a roll call vote in the full light of day.

Giving credence to the status quo crowd’s concern, the legislature should not stop there. With numerous former legislative leaders of both parties sitting in jailhouses around the state, the General Assembly’s job approval rating is in the tank.  The time has come to reform the institution in a manner that will restore the public trust and confidence.

An easy, but significant, step to take would be enactment of a law proposed last week by State Representative Fred Keller (R-Union) that would require the phrase “prepared or compiled using taxpayer resources” on any piece of literature, web site or electronic communication paid for by taxpayer dollars.  This would include constituent newsletters which provide a political benefit to legislators as well as an informational benefit to constituents. It is important for voters to know if they are paying for such publications.

Voters also need to be wary of reform proposals that sound good, but would actually concentrate more power in fewer hands.  An example of this is a bill that would reduce the size of the state legislature.  Fewer lawmakers to support sounds like a good idea, but bigger districts would take power from the hands of grassroots voters and vest it in the special interests that would fund more expensive campaigns in bigger districts.  The problem isn’t the size of the General Assembly, it is the cost.

Another major step toward restoring public confidence in state government would be expansion and toughening of the state’s Open Records law.  Pennsylvania has come a long way in this regard, but implementation of the current law has revealed several significant shortcomings that must be fixed to make it more effective.  State Senator Domenic Pileggi (R-Delaware) has proposed such legislation which would give residents of Penn’s Woods greater access to their commonwealth’s government.

Unfortunately, these reform proposals – both the modest and the ambitious – remain bogged down in the legislative process.  The time has come for the logjam to be broken.

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

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

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Mr. Obama: You’re No Abe Lincoln

One President of the United States was invited to speak at the national cemetery at Gettysburg as an afterthought.  He was not the featured speaker, and his words lasted but a few minutes.  His Gettysburg Address has become the most famous oration in American history.  Seven score and ten years later another U.S. President received an invitation to speak at that hallowed ground.  His remarks were to have been the focal point of the event.  He declined, marking yet another misstep in a disintegrating presidency.

Barack Obama has always fancied himself as walking in Abraham Lincoln’s footsteps.  He announced his presidential candidacy in Springfield, Illinois the electoral hometown of the 16th president.  Mr. Obama was even sworn in with his hand resting on President Lincoln’sBible.  It would have been a natural act for him to have attended the ceremonies Tuesday marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.   It was a missed opportunity for a White House usually more adept at imagery than actual governing.

There is rarely a time for a president to look more presidential than speaking during occasions marking significant events in American history.  Ronald Reagan’s stirring remarks standing on the cliff at Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1984 commemorating the D-Day invasion of Normandy was one of the highlights of his presidency.  At the very spot where allied troops landed Reagan said “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc.  These are the men who took the cliffs.  These are the champions who helped free a continent.  These are the heroes who helped end a war.”  His words simultaneously moved a nation to tears while honoring the “last full measure of devotion” another generation had given.

Lincoln at Gettysburg and Reagan at Pointe du Hoc are examples of presidents who grasped not the politics of the moment, but the intrinsic emotional and historic nature of the times in which they found themselves.  Their remarks struck a chord residing deep within the American psyche which defines the exceptional nature of our national existence.  At our core we value our freedom and we honor those who fight for and preserve it.

Barack Obama’s presidency is imploding precisely because he does not grasp this essential element of the nation he is attempting to govern.  While there will always be that segment of our society that prefers government dependency, there remains a majority of Americans who would like nothing more than a good job with the opportunity for upward mobility for themselves and for their family.  The Obama agenda offers the exact opposite as he has presided over the greatest non-war time expansion of the federal government in U.S. history.

That agenda has failed, and the failure was entirely predictable.  The Affordable Health Care Act, Obamacare, has collapsed not because of a poorly built web site, but because it is structurally, fatally flawed.  Concern and confusion over the law has contributed greatly to a sluggish economy that has not recovered in a meaningful way from the Great Recession.  The economy is not recovering because virtually every policy propagated by this administration has been designed to empower government, not the individual.  This runs counter to both the laws of economics and the innate entrepreneurship of the American people.

Against a backdrop of failure and scandal the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address gave Barack Obama the opportunity to remind us that from our darkest hours have emerged some of our greatest victories.  The battles at Gettysburg and at Pointe du Hoc were horrific with the future of freedom for millions very much in doubt.  Both were turning points that resulted in “a new birth of freedom.”

America today is again in need of a turning point.  Our current president missed the opportunity to set us off on that path.  Therefore, let us revisit the words of a President who embraced his rendezvous with destiny by reminding us that: “It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is for us to be dedicated here to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

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

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

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