Posts Tagged Political

Veepstakes: Trump & Clinton Weigh Options


Now that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have effectively secured their respective party’s presidential nominations, attention has turned to whom they might select as vice presidential running mates.  This is an important decision in that eight times in American history a president has died in office elevating the vice president to the presidency.  Another six times a vice president ran for and was elected president.

The U.S. Constitution proscribes few official duties to the vice president, with being president of the U.S. Senate – and thus able to cast tie-breaking votes – the most important.  The impact of vice presidents has varied greatly.  John Nance Gardner, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s vice presidents, famously said the office was “not worth a bucket of warm . . . ,” well he made his point.  Conversely, Vice President Dick Cheney was a political heavyweight in the administration of George W. Bush.  In short, the office is what the president and vice president make of it.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so there has to be something about which to speculate.  Over the next four weeks that speculation will focus on the selection of vice presidential running mates.  As their first major decision, who the nominees pick will say a lot about how they intend to run their prospective administrations.  The choice, of course, also depends on the immediate political situation.

For example, as one who has never held elective office Donald Trump might want to pick someone with government experience.  His statements to date tend to point in that direction.  As a result, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Ohio Governor John Kasich make the list.  However, Trump is possessed of an out-sized personality and might want to pick a bland running mate who will fade into the background, placing U.S. Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Sessions of Alabama on the list.

If Trump believes it necessary for his vice presidential pick to help him politically, he could follow the example of Ronald Reagan, who picked primary opponent George H.W. Bush to help him unify the party.  Senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would fit that bill.  With Democrats running a woman at the top of the ticket Mr. Trump could seek to add diversity by picking a prominent GOP woman.  That is why former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appears on many lists. Sarah Palin, who was tapped by John McCain as his running mate in 2008, also figures prominently in speculation.  Palin would also help solidify the party’s conservative base, as would former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has fewer options.  Republicans have decimated Democrats at the congressional and state levels over the past eight years yielding a shallow bench from which to select national candidates.  Here again, the first question Mrs. Clinton must answer is will her pick be a governing partner, or one who shores up her political standing.

The Democratic presidential primary proved to be more hotly contested and divisive than expected at the outset.  Senator Bernie Sanders tapped into a large vein of discontent within the party and Secretary Clinton’s first goal must be party unity.  Her recent meeting with ultra-liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren resulted in rampant speculation there could be an all-female Democratic ticket.

Or, Democrats may wish to try and cement their standing in the rapidly growing Hispanic community.  Julian Castro, the former Mayor of San Antonio and current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is a rising star within the party and would fit the bill.  She too could go the route of choosing a governing partner, perhaps tapping former rival Martin O’Mally, or Virginia Senator Mark Warner.

Warner would have the added benefit of bringing a strong base of support in a battleground state, which is another route either candidate could go in making their selection.  There was a time when the vice presidential candidate was expected to help win a key state, one of the reasons why John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson of Texas in 1960.  That has been less the case in recent years.

In fact, vice presidential candidates rarely make a significant impact on the outcome of a presidential election.  The single most important factor is that the pick does no harm.  The Thomas Eagleton disaster in 1972 and the disruption caused when George H.W. Bush selected Dan Quayle in 1988 come to mind.  As Trump and Clinton make their decisions, that factor must weigh heavily.

All these questions will be answered next month. Until then, the guessing game will continue.

(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.)

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Harrisburg, We Have a Spending Problem


Pennsylvania state government has a structural budget deficit of $1.2 billion dollars.  This somewhat mystical figure is agreed upon by just about everyone.  Given this rare point of agreement, why then is the ongoing budget impasse focused on spending increases rather than spending cuts?

When the working families of Penn’s Woods sit down to pay their monthly bills and income is less than expenses then the family cuts back on spending.  That is because ordinary people can’t just walk into the boss’s office and say “I don’t have enough money to pay my bills so you will pay me more next month.”  And certainly, faced with a deficit, working families – and even most businesses – don’t go out and spend more.

But, that is exactly what Governor Wolf is proposing.  He wants a $4.7 billion increase in state taxes.  If you accept that there is a $1.2 billion structural deficit, then he also wants to increase spending by $3.5 billion.  It is an unrealistic proposal and the reason why the state budget impasse has dragged on for five months.

The governor, however, has won on this front: Republican counter-proposals have focused not on spending cuts, but on increasing spending by less.  Given everyone has bought into the structural deficit number the goal should be to reduce spending to bring actual income and expenditures into balance.  That is what happens in the real world.

Government, however, does not live in the real world.  At no point has a budget been put forward that would even slow the growth of state government let alone cut spending.  The battle has been all about how much bigger state government will become, not about living within our means.

Driving this irrational approach to budgeting is spending on K-12 public education.  The biggest lie since “if you like your health insurance you can keep your health insurance” is that Governor Tom Corbett took a meat axe to education spending.  A cabal of Democratic politicians, labor unions and their media apologists perpetrated that lie during last year’s gubernatorial campaign even though actual spend numbers prove state tax dollars spent on public education increased to record levels under the former governor.

Governor Wolf has never shifted out of campaign mode, and in an effort to repay the unions who financially backed his campaign has made historic increases in education spending a key demand.  Education is a motherhood and apple pie issue.  After all, who doesn’t want our children to have the best education possible?  We all do.  The rub is little of the increases in spending actually benefit children, going instead to pay for bloated administrative bureaucracies and skyrocketing pension expenses.

To their credit, legislative Republicans are insisting on structural reforms to the state’s pension system before agreeing to any spending increase.  But, they have accepted without as much as a whimper the governor’s premise that spending must go up.  Wolf is already crowing that he has gotten Republicans to agree to a “historic” (meaning massively large) increase in state spending on education.

Yet even today, as the budget that should have been done before Independence Day fireworks remains unresolved as we shop for Thanksgiving dinner, not one single party to the budget debate has put on the table any serious menu of potential spending cuts.  Even the GOP’s on-time, no tax hike budget which the governor vetoed included significant spending hikes.  No effort was made to cut spending to match projected income.

There is an old saying in sports that you can’t win by simply playing defense.  That is what has happened as the budget game goes into triple overtime.  At no point has there been an offense designed to cut spending, just defense over spending increases.  So the taxpayers of Pennsylvania have already lost the game, the only hope now is that the final score is not too lopsided.

(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.)

 

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Public Opinion Court: Unions Yes, Special Union Privileges No


A recent Public Opinion Court focus group session empaneled by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. on Worker Freedom and Economic Progress found a generally favorable opinion of labor unions, but a lack of support for the special privileges that unions currently enjoy within the Pennsylvania political and policy structures.

The Public Opinion Court is a research vehicle developed by the Lincoln Institute to allow for more in-depth probing of an issue area than can be accomplished by a public opinion poll.  Members of the focus group are not told in advance what issue they will be discussing.  Thus they come into the session with common knowledge of the issue.  The process begins by having the focus group take an entry survey.  Following the entry survey an advocate addresses each side of the issue.  The advocates speak separately, with focus group members given time to ask questions.  After each advocate speaks, the group engages in a roundtable discussion on the issue.  The focus group then concludes with an exit survey designed to measure how opinions may have changed as the group went from common knowledge of the issue to being more informed.

For this Public Opinion Court session the issue advocates were Rick Smith, host ofThe Rick Smith Show, a labor union-backed public affairs radio program.  David Taylor, President of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association advocated for the pro-growth position.  Each speaker was given 20 minutes to make a presentation, followed by 10 minutes of Q & A with the focus group participants.

The Public Opinion Court focus group session was held on Monday, September 19, 2015 at the Reckner research facility in Chalfont, Bucks County.  The focus group participants were recruited from the five county Philadelphia metropolitan area. The focus group was balanced by age, gender, race, political party affiliation and, to the degree possible urban/suburban.  The goal was to make the group as closely representative of the state at-large, although it more accurately reflects the composition of the electorate in southeastern Pennsylvania.

A major theme that emerged from the group discussion was the lack of information voters in southeastern Pennsylvania receive about state government.  While all of the participants were able to correctly identify Mitch McConnell as the leader of the U.S. Senate and John Boehner as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, none could identify Joseph Scarnati as the President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate or Mike Turzai as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  The group agreed that media coverage of state issues in southeastern Pennsylvania is inadequate.

The group was more familiar with bigger picture labor power issues, such as Right to Work, but significantly less familiar with state-related union power issues like dues deduction and carve-outs for activities such as stalking, harassment and threats to use a weapon of mass destruction.  They were also largely unaware of the influence labor unions wield over politics and public policy in Pennsylvania.

Included in the focus group were two individuals who currently are members of a labor union and two participants who are retired, but were labor union members during their careers.  Of the two currently enrolled as a union member, one is a member by choice and the other a member as a condition of employment.

In both the entry and exit survey the participants held a generally positive view of labor unions.  Entering the session two had a very favorable impression of unions, seven a somewhat favorable view. Four offered a somewhat unfavorable opinion; nobody viewed unions very unfavorably.  There was only slight movement in the exit survey, so no major shift in opinion occurred as a result of the group discussion.  Entering the session, six participants agreed with the statement that labor unions were needed at one time to ensure workplace safety standards and fair wages, but are not generally needed in today’s society.  Seven disagreed with that statement.  In the exit survey one person switched from agreeing to disagreeing with the statement.

Although viewing labor unions favorably, there was strong support for a Right to Work law.  When asked if they favor or oppose enactment of what is commonly known as a Right to Work law, whereby a worker cannot be compelled to join or pay fees to a labor union as a condition of employment, in the entry survey four strongly favored such a law, eight somewhat favored a Right to Work law.  One person somewhat opposed such a law.  Nobody changed their opinion on the exit survey.  This result is significant given there were two active and two former union members in the focus group indicating opposition to a Right to Work law by union leaders does not trickle down through union membership.

Significant time was devoted to a discussion of exemptions in state law that allow stalking, harassment and threats to use weapons of mass destruction during a labor dispute.  The group was in disbelief that such carve-outs in state law even existed.  There was a lack of knowledge that labor union leaders have been blocking legislation in Harrisburg that would eliminate those carve-outs.  The group unanimously – in both the entry and the exit survey – indicated the carve-outs should be eliminated.

The group also unanimously agreed that there is never a circumstance in which acts of violence are justified to force a company to use union labor on a project.  The group was split, with six having heard of and seven not knowing about the recent case in Philadelphia involving the indictment and conviction of numerous Iron Worker union officials for crimes including violence, threats and vandalism.

Currently governments at all levels – state, county, school district and municipal – at taxpayer expense deduct labor union dues from members’ paychecks and forward the money to unions.  There is legislation being considered in Harrisburg that would end the practice and require labor unions to collect their dues money through private, rather than government means.  Nine members of the focus group oppose such forced deduction of labor union dues, four favor it.  Views did not change in the exit survey.

When a group of employees are voting on whether or not to form a labor union they currently do so by secret ballot.  Labor union leaders would like to change to law to make the voting process public.  Such a move raises concerns that the lack of anonymity would put pressure on employees to vote in favor of unionization.  The Public Opinion Court focus group unanimously agreed in both the entry and exit survey that such decisions should be made by secret ballot.

Raising the minimum wage, however, resulted in a split decision.  Nine entered the session favoring an increase in the state’s minimum wage, four opposed.   But, when asked if raising the minimum wage would result in fewer jobs and/or less hours being available for minimum wage workers, support for raising the minimum wage dropped to four participants with nine indicating opposition.

During the group discussion phase of the Public Opinion Court session several issues arose that were not included in the entry/exit survey process.  Several times the group returned to the state budget impasse.  While there was general knowledge about the stalemate, the group was largely unaware of such significant developments as the partial veto over-ride attempt, the second budget offer made by legislative Republicans or a then-pending vote for a stopgap budget.  The group also lacked comprehensive knowledge of the size and scope of Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed tax hikes.

The state’s public employee pension crisis also arose during group discussion.  There was general awareness of the problem and its significance to taxpayers.  The group was in unanimous agreement that those already retired and those currently employed should remain in the current defined benefits pension system and that the state should honor its pension obligations.   However, the group also unanimously agreed that the current system is unsustainable and that the state must move to a 401k-style defined contribution system.  Most were unaware of the passage of legislation last June to do just that and the fact Governor Wolf vetoed that legislation due to opposition by labor union leaders.

On each occasion when the group discussed government dysfunction, the participants fell back on one prescription for change: term limits.  Term limits were not mentioned in either the entry or exit survey, nor were they brought up by either speaker or the panel moderator.  Despite that, the group repeatedly and unanimously and with enthusiasm felt that career politicians were at the heart of the state (and national) government’s woes.  For example, when discussing the state’s pension crisis and the cost of legislative pensions to taxpayers, the group offered term limits as a solution which would make legislative pensions obsolete.

Conclusion

Efforts in Harrisburg to curtail special treatment for labor unions have failed repeatedly due largely to an alliance between Democrats and suburban Philadelphia Republican legislators who unite in opposition to such reforms as enactment of Right to Work legislation; ending union dues deduction and eliminating carve-out that allow for harassment, stalking and threats to use weapons of mass destruction during labor disputes.

That handful of suburban Republican senators and representatives who have stymied reform efforts claim they are representing the views of their constituents and must vote with organized labor in order to win re-election.   Results of this Public Opinion Court focus group session indicate that argument is not valid.  While labor unions are generally viewed favorably, on issue after issue the focus group supported reform measures, with even some current and former union members in agreement.  The political equation in Harrisburg has changed with the coming to power of enhanced Republican majorities in the current legislative session reducing the influence of union-backed GOP members.  However, Governor Tom Wolf – whose campaign was heavily financed by organized labor – now wields a veto pen over labor policy reforms.

Demographics

The Public Opinion Court focus group session on labor power issues was balanced by gender, seven males and six females.  There was at least one participant in each age group, with the largest participant group being between 50-65 years of age.  Income skewed high, as expected in the Philadelphia suburban region, but did include those in the middle income categories.  The group included seven Democrats, five Republicans and one Independent.  The focus group included four members with graduate degrees, six with a four-year degree, one with a post-secondary certificate, one with a high school degree, and one with secondary education.   Ten of the participants lived in a suburban area, two in an urban area and one in a rural area.

(The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit educational foundation based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that focuses on pro-growth economic issues.)

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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.

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Trump Card


It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a summer romance turns into a permanent relationship.  That may be the case with Donald Trump whose summer surge has propelled him to the front of the herd seeking the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.

Conventional wisdom (which is often wrong) for weeks has put Trump in the same category as Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich and others who four years ago took turns rocketing to the top of the polls only to fall and be replaced by the next candidate who caught the voters’ fancy.  But that race also featured the formidable campaign operation of Mitt Romney who played an electoral version of wack-a-mole to pick off anyone who gained traction against him.  This year no one – yet – appears capable of taking down Trump.

At first Donald Trump appeared to be just another passing fad.  He is a commanding presence and used his celebrity to launch his campaign feeding the narrative that this was just another PR ploy.  But there is an old adage among public speakers that to get people to hear your message you must first get their attention.  Nobody is better than Trump at getting attention, and now he is delivering his message.

The Republican Party establishment, mainstream news media and even the conservative punditry all initially wrote Trump off as a side show.  As Trump whipped off a series of decidedly not politically correct broadsides against illegal aliens, John McCain, and Meghan Kelly, the tongues wagged that he had gone too far and was set to implode.

The implosion never happened.  Instead, Trump has risen in the polls the most recent of which show him suddenly competitive in the General Election against the once-invincible candidate who is imploding, Hillary Clinton.  Trump, it seems, can – and does – say whatever he wants and voters flock to him.  He has almost literally pushed the other 16 candidates off the stage.  On a recent night both Trump and Jeb Bush hosted town hall meetings in New Hampshire.  Trump spoke before a raucous crowd of over 2,000; Bush talked with a couple hundred people many of whom appeared to be borderline comatose.

Trump has succeeded in becoming the dominant figure in the 2016 Presidential race because he has refused to play by the rules.  And that is a good thing because the rulebook has been written by the Left and by design puts Republicans in general and conservatives in particular on the defensive.  Trump refuses to be defensive – he is always on the attack.

Accuse Trump of flip-flopping on issues?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  Accuse Trump of insulting women?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  Accuse Trump of insulting illegal aliens?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  The political class says he is a passing fad? No problem, the rules don’t apply.

It has become crystal clear Americans of all political stripes feel the nation is off track and someone has to, as Trump would put it “make America great again.”  That is the nature of Bernie Sanders’ appeal to the Left, and Trump’s appeal to GOP voters. The difference is Sanders’ policy solutions won’t play with a broader swath of the electorate.  But with Trump voters see an ultra-successful businessman who has gotten things done and they believe he can make good on his promise to lead the nation back to greatness.

So Trump has again succeeded where all others have failed.  He has the attention of the voters, and is putting forth solid – if controversial – policy solutions.  But winning a presidential nomination requires an extensive organization that collects a majority of the delegates who will assemble in Cleveland the summer next.  That is Trump’s challenge: converting popularity into delegates.  He also must overcome the fact that while he leads the race, more voters have a negative opinion of him than those who have a positive one, making it difficult to build upon his base of support.

Trump, of course, is accustomed to building things.  His current project is a mammoth hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. midway between the Capitol and the White House.  If he can capitalize on his current front-runner status, Donald Trump may acquire some additional real estate a few blocks down the street.

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

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

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A New ‘Team of Rivals’


Once again this week the field of contenders for the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination continued to grow. There is great diversity in what is shaping up to be a historically large field of would-be presidents.  Diverse not just by gender, race and ethnicity, but collectively the candidates bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the contest.

A few years back the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin penned a book entitled Team of Rivals which went into great detail as to how President Abraham Lincoln brought those who competed against him during the nomination process into his cabinet.  President Lincoln was both secure enough in his own abilities, and wise enough to recognize his erstwhile opponents had talents the country sorely needed.

If Republicans reclaim the White House, the large field of contenders will give the new president a deep pool of qualified individuals from which to pick his, or her, cabinet.   Just for fun, let’s take a look at the Republican presidential contenders and see how they might fit into a new administration:

The big four cabinet posts are State, Defense, Treasury and Justice.  U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has emerged as one of the leading voices on foreign affairs making him well qualified to become the next Secretary of State.  Both the current Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton had competed for their party’s presidential nomination and served in the U.S. Senate prior to becoming the nation’s top diplomat, so Rubio would be following a well-worn path.

For Secretary of Defense U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham would be a perfect fit.  He, along with Senator John McCain, for a decade now have traveled extensively to the mid-east and other areas of global conflict.  He would be well positioned to begin restoring the confidence in America’s resolve which has been lost over the past six years.  And George Pataki, the former New York governor who led his state in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, would be an excellent fit for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Nobody on the campaign trail speaks as well or argues as effectively as the U.S. Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz.  His passionate defense of conservative principles and strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution would make him an ideal candidate to become the next Attorney General of the United States.  And, who better to be Secretary of the Treasury than the man who has made an $8 billion personal fortune – The Donald, Donald Trump?

As we continue to build the ideal GOP presidential cabinet let’s put the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum in as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.   Santorum cares passionately for families and could walk in the innovative footsteps of another conservative icon, Jack Kemp, who proved that housing policy could be compassionate and realistic at the same time.  Along those lines, Dr. Ben Carson – a highly respected neurosurgeon, would be an ideal fit as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

For Secretary of the Interior, former Texas Governor Rick Perry would be ideal. Western states need an Interior secretary who will fight for their interests. Perry is steeped in the issues, a passionate and effective advocate for his causes, and as a westerner would be widely acceptable in that role.  Alternately, he would fit well as Secretary of Energy.

Conservatives would applaud the appointment of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as Secretary of Labor.  Walker has successfully battled the labor unions in Wisconsin and intrinsically understands how the nation’s current labor policy environment is hindering the economic recovery.  Pair him with Carly Fiorina as Commerce Secretary and they could put the nation’s economy back on the right track.

His support for Common Core standards aside, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was an innovator and strong supporter of school choice making him a good pick for Secretary of Education.  Ohio Governor John Kasich would be effective as White House Chief of Staff.  And, to really make liberal heads spin, let’s put Senator Rand Paul on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Finally let’s appoint New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as Secretary of Transportation.  Who better to rebuild our nation’s roads and bridges . . . OK, well, maybe not.

Those are my presidential cabinet picks.  Of course, one of these folks would have to end up as president, and another likely vice president, but the bottom line is the GOP has a wealth of talent which could be called into service if the party prevails in November of 2016.

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

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

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From Perception to Reality


There is an old saying in political circles that “perception is reality.”  Like many old saws there is a lot of truth behind that saying.  Perception is driven by messaging.  It is not necessarily the best policy that prevails, but the policy that benefits from the most effective messaging.  And effective messaging depends on sound arguments, superior strategy and a capable messenger.

Democrats and the GOP have arrived at a split decision when it comes to effective messaging in political campaigns.  Republicans have decimated Democrats at the legislative level.  In congress the GOP holds solid majorities in both chambers.  In the state legislature Republican majorities are at or near historic levels.  The executive branch is a different story. President Obama’s oratorical skills have laid waste to hapless GOP nominees.  Former Governor Tom Corbett was never able to effectively explain his policies to voters, paving the way for a Democratic victory.

Elections behind us, the task now turns to governing.  This is where the outcome of the messaging battle becomes more one-sided.  Congressional Republican leaders have been totally ineffective.  They have squandered their numeric majority by being strategically out-maneuvered, and are losing the perception war.

Despite the fact President Obama’s executive orders relative to illegal immigrants were ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, and polls showing public opposition to his actions, the Republican congressional majority was unsuccessful in defunding the agencies tasked with implementing that policy.  Why?  They allowed Democrats to spin the defunding as a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.  In fact only a couple of small agencies within the DHS would have been affected.  Thus the debate changed from illegal immigration to national security. Congressional Republicans were backed into a corner, caved in, and gave the President a victory.

Now unfolding is a fight over the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as U.S. Attorney General.  Republicans have legitimate concerns relative to her interpretation of the constitution.  But, they have allowed Democrats to portray their opposition as sexist, or racist by opposing the confirmation of an African-American woman.  It was entirely predictable Democrats would play the race and “war on women” cards, but the GOP was unprepared to counter that message.  In the end, a woman who believes the President can effectively re-write the U.S. Constitution will likely be confirmed as Attorney General.

Here in Penn’s Woods the GOP has historically been equally inept at countering executive messaging.  Former Governor Ed Rendell was a master at backing legislative Republicans into a corner, picking off a couple of stragglers at the back of the herd, and winning enough votes for his budgets and policies.

Now, however, there is a new cast of characters in Harrisburg.  Governor Tom Wolf has opted to follow the Obama model and tack far to the Left in his first budget proposal.  New leadership is at the helm of both the House and Senate GOP and they represent caucuses far more conservative than those in office during the Rendell years.

Democrats have already begun spinning their message.  Rick Bloomingdale, president of the state AFL-CIO penned an op-ed calling Governor Wolf’s new budget progressive, conjuring up images of John Fitzgerald Kennedy daring us to be great.  This despite the fact working families will pay significantly higher taxes under Wolf’s budget proposals which amount to nothing either new or progressive, but are little more than a continuation of Rendell-era tax and spend policies.

The ball is now in the GOP’s court.  Republican legislative leaders must shed the yoke of the Corbett Administration’s failure to communicate and become effective advocates for a more responsible approach to governing.  Republicans have proposals that are time-tested, proven governing policies.  The challenge now is to effectively communicate that message and to stand strong against a governor – and mainstream news media – determined to spin false perception into reality.

(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.

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Educating to Opportunity


Democrats, legislatively decimated but flush with executive power, have decided to make increased spending on public education the centerpiece of their domestic agenda for 2015.  The issue feeds a key political base – the entrenched education establishment, primarily public sector labor unions – and has a mom and apple pie appeal to voters, especially independent voters.

President Barack Obama recently unveiled a plan to provide every American who wants one a “free” two-year community college degree.  Free, in this instance, comes with a $60 billion price tag for taxpayers.  At the state level, incoming Governor Tom Wolf has pledged to restore non-existent public education spending cuts to sate the financial appetites of the state teachers’ union which backed him in the last election.

The problem is this policy push is focusing on the wrong aspect of public education.  Rather than debating spending increases, we should be asking: what are we getting for the money we already spend?

The answer: not enough.

Despite the fact spending on K-12 public education has increased at more than double the rate of inflation for decades, test scores uniformly reveal no corresponding improvement in student performance.  Here in Penn’s Woods, a failure to address what everybody but the labor unions understand is a public pension crisis has resulted in any new revenue being sucked up to fulfill pension obligations leaving virtually no new money available to actually benefit students.

Taxpayers, still struggling to shake off the effects of the Great Recession, are understandably demanding more accountability for the substantial chunk of their income already forcibly taken from them so they can continue to own their own homes.  There is reluctance, if not an inability, for many working families and senior citizen households to pay more, especially when outcomes are not improving.

Worse, public education today has become so disconnected from the real world it is failing to educate students for the openings that await them in the job market.  This “skills gap” is striking.  According to a 2014 report by Byron Pitts on the CBS program 60 Minutes, more than three million jobs in this nation are unfilled because employers cannot find employees with the needed skills.  Over 500,000 of those jobs are family sustaining, well-paid manufacturing jobs with benefits.  The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found one in three manufacturers in its region faced a labor shortage because of what it termed a “mismatch of skills.”

Who is to blame for this “mismatch of skills” and public education’s collective failure to educate to opportunity?  The short answer is everyone.  That is because the focus has been almost exclusively on funding rather than on the core reason why we have public education in the first place, which is to equip students to successfully earn a living.

Among those who are focused on the problem is Dr. Vince Bertram. A former teacher, principal and school superintendent he today heads a nonprofit organization called Project Lead the Way.  During a recent interview on American Radio Journal Dr. Bertram advocated for a renewed emphasis in our public schools on the so-called STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  These are the skills students lack coming out of both high school – and all too often the nation’s colleges and universities – with the core skills needed to be hired and trained for today’s more highly technical jobs.

Unfortunately, both President Obama and Governor-elect Wolf remain mired in the politics of the past.  Simply advocating more spending will not solve the problem.  Instead of fighting to feed entrenched political interests effective leadership would engage all the stake-holders in the education process, from taxpayers to labor unions to educators, in reinventing public education to meet the needs of both students and employers.

Nothing less than the future health of our nation’s economy and the well-being of the next generation of Americans are at stake.

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

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

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A Common Thread


With 24-hour cable news and an ever-present stream of information over the Internet it is sometimes difficult to discern trends or common threads due to the overwhelming amount of information that bombards us. But sometimes seemingly unrelated events or actions actually come together, much like a jigsaw puzzle, to form a bigger picture.

So what then do the “cattle battle” in Nevada, IRS persecution of conservative groups, NSA collection of so-called “meta-data,” and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act all have in common? They are all examples of growing, pervasive, out-of-control government over-reach. And there is sub-text: in each case the over-reach has been perpetrated by non-elected bureaucrats all operating under the purview of the executive branch.

The case of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy threatens to become the most explosive of these issues. The root of the problem extends back generations as the federal government has taken control of over 84% of the land mass of the state of Nevada. Similar land grabs have occurred in most other non-Pacific western states. As bureaucracies tend to do, the Bureau of Land Management has steadily expanded its control and placed more and more rules and regulations on federal lands.

Bundy claims the land grab is unconstitutional and that the territory belongs to the state. His refusal to pay grazing fees to the federal government stem from this state’s rights issue. He claims he will pay the back fees to the state of Nevada. The Bureau of Land Management nearly triggered armed confrontation by attempting to forcibly take Mr. Bundy’s cattle. This resulted in armed militia types rushing to defend Mr. Bundy. Wisely, the feds stood down.

This occurred against a backdrop of cooler heads, many state officials, meeting in nearby Utah to discuss ways to address the issue of federal land control. Clearly this is a problem that extends well beyond Mr. Bundy. While officials attempt to deal with the issue, a militia 50,000 strong in Oklahoma is vowing to take up arms, if necessary, to assist Mr. Bundy. Rational voices from media mogul Glenn Beck to Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe have spoken up against violent action. But it is clear that the age old issue of property rights remains a raw nerve for many mid-western Americans.

While the Bureau of Land Management oppresses ranchers, the watchdog group Judicial Watch this past week obtained e-mails showing the Internal Revenue Service’s jihad against conservative groups was more widespread than initially reported. Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told the media “These new e-mails show that the day before she broke the news of the IRS scandal, Lois Lerner (then head of the IRS) was talking to a top Obama Justice Department official about whether the DOJ could prosecute the very same organizations the IRS had already improperly targeted.” In other words, Lerner was set to move from persecution to prosecution.

Less explosive, but more wide-ranging is the continued implementation of the flawed and deeply unpopular Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. While the president touted contested numbers purporting to have reached enrollment goals, his Secretary of Health was being dispatched back to the private sector transparently for the disastrous roll-out of the program.

Perhaps no example of government over-reach has been more glaring than Obamacare. From the passage of the act along strictly partisan lines, to the Obama Administration’s continual rewriting of the rules, granting of exemptions, and extending of deadlines, the program has been mismanaged by bureaucrats who apparently weren’t able to understand what was in the law even after congress passed the law.

Finally, the issue of the National Security Administration (NSA) snooping into the private lives of Americans continues to gain traction as whistle-blower Edward Snowden joined Russian President Vladimir Putin on a talk show to discuss how oppressive U.S. intelligence agencies have become. You know it’s bad when a former KGB agent claims the moral high ground. Again, as with the other agencies, the NSA operates with little effective oversight from elected officials.

Out-of-control federal bureaucracies are nothing new, and in fact have vexed both congress and presidents since the founding of the Republic. But the pendulum has now swung way too far. The president, who views himself as more of a dictator than a chief executive, fosters this swing to bureaucratic control. Democrats in congress follow their leader like sheep, and congressional Republican leaders are inept and ineffective.

As America enters a crucial two-year period where control of both the congress and the White House are up for grabs, reigning in the size and scope of the federal government is an issue that should be at the top of most voters’ list of concerns.

 

(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.

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IRS’ Next Target: Health Insurance


By Jennifer Stefano

The mainstream media is rightly shocked and outraged to find the IRS has admitted to harassing and targeting the political opposition of President Obama just because they had “tea party” or “patriot” in their name, or an even graver sin, put on the IRS applications that they were a group dedicated to liberty, the Constitution or, as one report said, “seeking to make America a better place to live.”

I truly appreciate the mainstream media’s coverage and outrage – it is well placed but not quite well timed. Those of us who got our start in the Tea Party have only been saying it for about 4 years.

I’ve been out in the mainstream media quite a bit this past week talking about how I shut down my little Tea Party group because I was fearful the IRS was going to come after me the way they were going after so many groups.

That’s right, for a time, I shut down my political voice because I was fearful and quite frankly, I was intimidated by what the IRS would do to me because I was opposing President Obama’s policies.

As much as I like to think I am one tough cookie – the fact is when all this was unfolding I was a pregnant stay at home mom – living on one income and I was extremely worried the IRS could come after me and my family and ruin our lives.   It wouldn’t be the first time in American history the IRS has done that.

Rather than risk that exposure – I shut down my group and I’m just glad bigger organizations dedicated to liberty – like Americans for Prosperity – were there when I wanted to have a platform to exercise my political voice.

But you know – it’s not THIS IRS abuse that keeps me up at night with worry. It’s something else to do with the IRS – far more dangerous and far more insidious and in just one more year, the IRS is going to have more power and more ability to gather personal information on Americans and use it to punitively punish us more than they ever had had before.

Even without this recent scandal, it’s pretty safe to say most Americans fear the IRS because they are unelected and unaccountable – yet the have the ability, at any time, to swoop in and take our hard-earned money – in the form of taxes – as they see fit. If we pay late, they fine us. If we fail to pay, it gets much worse than a fine. If we pay too little, we owe them big time on April 15th. If we pay too much during the year, they return our money to us in the form of a refund and act like they are bestowing a gift upon us rather than admitting they screwed up and took too much of our money. Our money. Our families. It’s all very personal.

And while we sit here and shudder at what has happened, it’s important to know that the IRS – the organization that just spent four years targeting the political opposition of the sitting President has been empowered by the President, through the healthcare law, to police every, single American’s healthcare choices.

Do you want to know how bad this is going to get?   Starting in 2014, all Americans are being forced to pay for health insurance. But under Obamacare – the IRS and not you will determine whether the insurance you have chosen “qualifies.” You’ll be forced now to send that information via your tax return. And if the government doesn’t like it? The IRS can hit you with a tax penalty.

That’s right, the IRS can raise money for itself simply by deciding that you don’t have “qualifying” health insurance.   Now, supporters of Obamacare will argue that there are rules and laws to mandate the IRS don’t arbitrarily do that. Right….just like there are rules and laws mandating that the IRS can’t go after people because they have “patriot” or “tea party” in their name or happen to oppose the sitting President’s policies. Didn’t seem to stop the IRS from doing just that for the last four years, did it?
And here’s what’s worse: under Obamacare, the IRS was already given a billion dollars and hired 700 agents just to police our healthcare.   It is estimated the IRS will need another 13 billion dollars and 15,000 new agents just to police Americans’ healthcare over the next decade and keep up with their tax collection duties.

There are so many reasons to repeal the President’s healthcare law – but the recent admission by the IRS that they intentionally targeted the President’s political opposition has to jump to number one. After all, do you want the people who can’t be trusted with our tax laws to be involved in your health care?

I’m Jennifer Stefano. You can find out more at Americans for Prosperity.org/Pennsylvania or

follow me on Twitter at @stefanospeaks!

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