Posts Tagged united states

Budget Battle Ends With Electoral Dud


The final pieces of legislation ending Pennsylvania’s longest budget stalemate fell into place just days before the April primary election. And the story that dominated state news for over nine months had no apparent impact on voters who meted out no electoral punishment for the fiscal fray that had school districts on the cusp of closing, nonprofits cutting services, and politicians at each other’s throats.

This budget stand-off was different from those that took place during the Rendell era notably due to the lack of public pressure placed on Governor Wolf and the legislature.  There were no daily protests on the capitol steps. State employees did not go without pay.  When the battle commenced last summer Governor Wolf’s first salvo was an attack ad campaign. It fell flat. Outside the halls of state government and the few remaining news media that cover it, the budget battle went largely unnoticed.

Despite Governor Wolf’s threats of electoral retribution, lawmakers did not pay a political price for engaging in the budget battle.  The first clue that the fiscal free-for-all was not impacting the electorate came in February when there was no wave of candidates filing to oppose incumbent legislators.  Looking at the primary election results it would be difficult if not impossible to point to a single lawmaker who lost his or her seat because of the sustained budget stand-off.

In fact few lawmakers lost for any reason.  And those that did lose were a result of local political divisions rather than anything that happened in Harrisburg.  In Philadelphia, for example, Democrats engaged in their biannual exercise of primary fratricide.  The state’s longest serving House member – State Representative Mark Cohen – was defeated by a challenger who claimed he had been in office too long and was out of touch with his constituents.

Another rare defeat of a House incumbent took place in Lackawanna County where State Representative Frank Farina lost to former legislator Kevin Haggerty.  The two former colleagues found their districts merged in redistricting a couple of years ago and have been battling over the seat ever since.

While voters were busy returning incumbents to office some lawmakers even got a promotion.  State Representative Mike Regan ran for and won the Republican nomination to replace outgoing state Senator Pat Vance in Cumberland County.  In what was a hard fought and nasty campaign the budget crisis did not register as a key issue.

For Republicans looking to hold onto historic majorities in both the Senate and the House the future looks bright.  Senate Republicans could actually achieve a veto proof majority as the fall battles will be fought over swing seats currently occupied by Democrats.  On the House side, the primary yielded solid GOP nominees for open seats like Dawn Keefer in Cumberland County and Frank Ryan in Lebanon County.  Conversely, Democratic retirements in western Pennsylvania provide the opportunity for additional Republican pick-ups in an area already trending toward the GOP.

Further evidence of the impotence of the state budget battle on the electoral process can be found in the race for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.  Governor Wolf’s first chief of staff, Katie McGinty, was one of the prime architects of the budget proposal that triggered the lengthy stand-off.  She resigned last summer to run for the U.S. Senate and prevailed against three opponents in the primary.

Why did the epic budget battle fall so flat with voters?  Chalk it up to a lack of attention being focused on state government.  Or the fact the absence of a state budget had little impact on the daily lives of Pennsylvanians.  Timing was also a factor.  With the nation transfixed by the presidential race scant coverage has been afforded other matters.

And so we find ourselves back to where we began.  Another budget season is underway in Harrisburg.  Governor Wolf is pushing for more spending and higher taxes, Republicans are adamant in their refusal.  The fight will continue, apparently without consequence for anyone involved.

(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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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)

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R.I.P. PA Constitution 1968-2016


Governor Tom Wolf has been in office for just over a year, but already we know historians will put the words “budget crisis” in their lead paragraph.  But a far more ominous phrase may get top billing: “constitutional crisis.”

Like his authoritarian counterpart in Washington, D.C., Governor Wolf is willing, in fact may prefer, to shred the constitutional separation of powers and enact by executive fiat that which the legislative branch is unwilling to do.  The commonwealth has entered its ninth month without a completed state budget and that has spawned a growing debate over the limits of gubernatorial power.

Days before Christmas the legislature again passed a state budget.  This time Governor Wolf signed off on most of the spending plan but “blue lined” or line item vetoed about a third of the items thus extending the budget crisis.  Three months later, there is no resolution, but the administration is spending money anyway.  This, many lawmakers argue, is a clear violation of the state constitution.

The Governor, and his appointed State Treasurer Timothy Reese argue there is a competing requirement for the state to keep certain agencies operating – especially those involved with ensuring public safety.  But Treasurer Reese has gone far beyond that even authorizing a “loan” from the state treasury to House Democrats to pay their staff during the ongoing budget crisis.

The public safety argument is nothing more than a distraction from the main issue which is can a governor spend taxpayer dollars without explicit authorization from the General Assembly?   It is a clear violation of the state constitution and one which will explode into a full blown crisis, especially if the governor’s illicit spending extends outside the realm of public safety.

The budget, however, is not the only area in which Governor Wolf is willing to trample on legislative powers.  He is trying to shutter the Public Employees Retirement Commission (PERC), an obscure state agency that earned his ire when it disagreed with his view of the pension crisis.  The agency was created by an act of the General Assembly and signed into law by a previous governor.  Lawmakers have sued in court to block executive dissolution of PERC pointing out it would take legislative action to do so.

This week Governor Wolf again by-passed the General Assembly on the issue of the state’s minimum wage. The governor has called for an increase in the state minimum wage, but the legislature has refused to go along.  So, he signed an executive order unilaterally raising the minimum wage paid to state employees to $10.15 per hour.  The action applies only to state workers, but will be extended to those companies doing business with the state.  The minimum wage hike does not extend to private business.

However, the impact on small businesses will be significant.  Neal Lesher, legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Pennsylvania, points out that the governor’s executive order effectively prevents many small businesses from entering the bidding process for state contracts.  “Some small businesses simply cannot afford to pay inexperienced, entry level workers that much more per hour,” Lesher explained.  “This creates an unfair playing field that favors larger companies.”

Having fully bought into the Obama “pen and phone” style of governing there is no indication Governor Wolf plans to return to a constitutional model any time soon.  His “budget address” to the legislature last month was hostile and confrontational and had the effect of solidifying Republican opposition which at times had shown signs of wavering.

It is clear crisis government is now the new normal in Harrisburg.  With no resolution to the current budget impasse in sight, and the deadline for adopting a budget for the next fiscal year less than four months away, the governor is content to act as if the legislative branch of government does not exist.  But legislators will not sit idly by and be consigned to irrelevance.  If the governor continues on his current course the constitutional crisis will explode into the courts, and possibly even lead to impeachment proceedings.

(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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An Alternate Universe


News Item: “A cosmologist from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) believes he may just have found proof that an alternate and parallel universe does indeed exist.”  — Tech Times, November 5, 2015

The existence of an alternate or parallel universe has been the subject of scientific curiosity almost since the beginning of civilization.  But, the Caltech “proof” aside, recent statements by Left wing politicos does indeed prove that there is an alternate universe – because they are living in it.

Here in Penn’s Woods Philadelphia’s new progressive mayor, Jim Kenney made his first trip into the alternate universe within days of taking office.  City police officer Jesse Hartnett was shot point blank while sitting in his patrol car by one Edward Archer.  Archer was dressed in Muslim garb and said he shot the officer because “police bend laws that are contrary to the teachings of the Quran.”

Kenney immediately took to the podium to proclaim: “In no way shape or form does anyone in this room believe that Islam or the teaching of Islam has anything to do with what you’ve seen . . .”   Thus, Kenney continued the great tradition of the Left denying that radical Islam is at the heart of the terror assaults sweeping the globe.  Even when faced with an individual directly linking his actions to radical Islam, Kenney felt compelled to contradict the perpetrator’s own declaration of his motives.

In doing this Kenney takes his cue from President Barack Obama who refuses to even utter the words “Islamic extremism,” and as recently as his State of the Union message a couple of weeks ago continues to pretend the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly known as ISIS, does not pose a significant threat to our national security.  In fact, just days before the Paris terrorist attacks he emerged from the Left’s alternate universe to proclaim that ISIS had been “contained.” Since making that comment ISIS sympathizers have carried out numerous attacks including the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California.

Also spending time in the alternate universe of the Left is Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.  One of the biggest planets in that alternate universe is the one on which dwells the fiction of public education spending cuts under former governor Tom Corbett.  Governor Wolf has made reversing those non-existent cuts his number one priority.  But when Republicans in the state legislature passed a budget giving him $400 million more in education spending, Wolf applied Common Core math to proclaim it was a $95 million funding cut.

Lest I be accused of lacking diversity, female politicians also populate the Left’s alternate universe.  Commenting on the selection of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to deliver the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union Address Democratic National Committee Chair-human Debbie Wasserman Schultz said: “It’s pretty clear that Nikki Haley is being chosen because the Republican Party has a diversity problem.”  Of course you demonstrate a lack of diversity by having a female of Indian background represent your party.

Days later, the white Democratic presidential candidates – which are, well, all of them, debated.  The GOP field has included an African-American, two candidates of Cuban descent, an Indian-American, a woman, and one guy who is good at getting people off beaches in a storm.

That brings us to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s alternate universe in which she claims that GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump has a “penchant for sexism.”  In making that statement Mrs. Clinton opened a black hole to that universe into which the outspoken billionaire poured the reality of former President Bill Clinton’s well-known dalliances with various women, one of which got him impeached.

And so, with all due respect to Caltech and the scientific community, the Left-wing of American politics has already pretty much proven the existence of an alternate and parallel universe.

(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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A New Shade of Blue


Residents of Penn’s Woods are about to experience history in the making: the start of a new state budget year with the previous year’s budget still unresolved.

Governor Tom Wolf guaranteed the anomaly by line item vetoing almost a third of the budget passed by the GOP-controlled legislature just before Christmas.

The official start of the budget process comes in early February when the governor delivers his budget address to a joint session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  For a variety of reasons the remaining unresolved budget issues from the current fiscal year are likely to remain that way well past the governor’s budget speech currently scheduled for February 9th.

Governor Wolf began the current impasse last winter by proposing a massive increase in state spending and demanding a package of tax hikes that exceeded the tax increases proposed by the governors of all 49 other states combined.  The governor asked this of a legislature not only in control of the opposite political party, but one that holds historically high majorities and one which has become significantly more conservative in recent years.

It is a common strategy for both sides to stake out their most extreme position at the beginning of negotiations.  That leaves room for compromise, which is what always happens during budget talks.  Governor Wolf asked for $3.4 billion in new spending, the GOP preferred spending cuts.  Ultimately, Republicans agreed to a $1 billion increase, including significant additional funding for the governor’s top spending priority: public education.  The governor, however, wants everything he asked for and he wants in now.  Thus began the budget impasse which persists to this day.

The governor has made it clear he is not interested in compromise.  After vetoing the on-time, no tax hike, balanced state budget passed by Republicans last June he immediately sanctioned television ads blasting GOP lawmakers.  In another departure from tradition Wolf vetoed the entire budget.  In the past governors have signed the budget then blue lined or line item vetoed the parts with which they disagreed.  Wolf, however, wanted to ratchet up the political pressure on Republicans so he trashed the entire thing.

Since then there have been numerous votes on alternative budgets, proposed tax hikes, and so-called cost drivers including pension reform and a plan to partially privatize state liquor stores.  GOP lawmakers have passed these bills only to have the governor wield his veto pen.

Governor Wolf and his allies in the liberal media have taken to castigating Republicans, especially House Republicans for being “extremists” because they will not support a broad-based tax hike.  Largely unreported by the media is the fact Democrats in the legislature have been equally obstinate in their support of the governor’s tax and spend agenda.  Vote after vote has fallen along party lines with only a handful of defections on either side of the aisle.

This (aside from the governor’s stubborn streak) gets to the core of the impasse: Democrats have been reduced to a largely urban party that allows no deviation from its Left-wing agenda.  Conservatives dominate in the Republican caucus, but there is a group of moderate, mostly southeastern Pennsylvania legislators, who often fracture party unity by siding with Democrats.

And look for Democrats to become more ideologically rigid after this year’s elections.  State Representative Nick Kotik of Allegheny County is one of only a very few so-called blue dog Democrats and he is retiring.  The term blue dog originated because the Left strangles their moderate brethren blue to force compliance.  This canine is about to become extinct in the Pennsylvania legislature.

In its place is another shade of blue: that being the governor’s face.  He is determined to hold his breath until he gets his way.  He has called Republicans stupid, extreme and their most recent budget “garbage.”  By remaining in campaign mode rather than maturing into governing the governor’s strategy ensures not only that the current budget impasse will continue, but that Pennsylvanians are in for three more years of fiscal chaos.

(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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Rules for Conservatives


If the Left had a religion (which of course they don’t), their Bible would be a book by tactical guru Saul Alinsky entitled Rules for Radicals.  The original “community organizer,” Alinsky’s seminal work has been the “how to” guide for the extreme Left for several generations.

Using Alinsky’s rules, liberals (now re-branded progressives) have generally out-maneuvered conservatives on the ideological battlefield.  After an extended period of time conservatives have somewhat caught onto the Left’s tactics, but still it would be helpful for the Right to have its own set of rules.  This is difficult because unlike the Left, which moves in politically correct lockstep, conservatives actually think for themselves making unity more difficult.  But, herewith I am willing to offer some suggested Rules for Conservatives:

Rule # 7:  Talk about why we can win, not why we can’t.  As the current presidential campaign has unfolded conservatives have fallen into the mainstream media trap of talking about why their candidates cannot win. Trump can’t win because he has a big mouth.  Rubio can’t win because he isn’t sufficiently conservative.  Cruz can’t win because he is too conservative.  Rather than focus on why each potential candidate can’t win, talk about why he or she can win.

Rule # 6: Obey the ‘Buckley Rule’.  William F. Buckley, one of the founding fathers of modern day conservatism back in 1964 observed that we should support “the rightward most viable candidate.”  Conservatives love to stand on principle, and while we should never abandon our core beliefs, we must also take elect-ability into account when deciding which candidate to support.

Rule # 5: Don’t fight over minor policy differences. Especially in crowded primary fights candidates and their supporters tend to fixate on even the tiniest differences in policy positions.  This causes voters’ eyes to glaze over and worse obstructs their view of the big picture.  Yes, at some point those minor differences will become important.  But not until you actually win the election and are in a position of power.

Rule # 4: Accept partial victories.  We all have a policy end game.  But the political process generally unfolds in small steps not in big, bold moves. The Left understands this and is willing to accept a small victory then come back and fight for more.  Conservatives demand all or nothing, and all too often end up with nothing.  Remember, change is a marathon, not a sprint.

Rule # 3: Don’t hold grudges.  The old saying “friends are temporary, but enemies are forever” often applies to conservatives.  Your competitor in this election cycle or on one policy fight just might be your ally in the next.  Be willing to forgive because there aren’t enough of us to be divided by past grievances.

Rule # 2: Be a happy warrior.  Even when almost felled by a would-be assassin’s bullet Ronald Reagan joked with doctors on his way into the operating room.  We are not the dour old Left that sits around worried about the world vaporizing because of climate change.  We live in the greatest nation known to man with freedoms granted to us by our Creator.  This is a cause for celebration and joy. Act accordingly.

Rule # 1: Never give up.  Yes, some of our candidates will lose and the Left will win more than their share of policy battles.  But there is always another election and there will inevitably be a new policy battle.  Ronald Reagan lost a string of early primaries in 1980 and was given up for politically dead.  But he pushed through the defeats, eventually winning enough delegates to claim the nomination and ultimately the presidency.  Ronald Reagan never gave up, and neither should we.

I’m sure you could probably add a few more rules of you own to this list, but as a new and pivotal year in American history is about to unfold we need to keep our goals in mind, focus on what is most important, and fight hard for freedom.  After all, this gift called America is now in our possession and it is our duty to preserve, protect and defend what Abraham Lincoln called “the last best hope” of man on Earth.

(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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Is a Liberal Arts Education Obsolete?


Beset by rising costs, massive debt, excessive political correctness and questions over its relevance, the tradition of a four-year liberal arts education is under assault.

As well it should.

The concept of a liberal arts education extends back to the ancient Greeks and is governed by the theory that students should be exposed to a wide range of disciplines with the emphasis on building critical thinking skills that will have broad application.

That paradigm has worked for generations.  But higher education today has perverted the quest for knowledge into factories of indoctrination and profit while failing to equip graduates for practical employment and even life in the real world.  As a result, the time has come to question whether we are receiving an acceptable return for our massive and ever-increasing investment in the education industry.

Intellectual elites will cringe at the use of the word “industry.”  A few years back I was amazed at how disconnected from reality some educators have become when one professor wrote a letter to my local newspaper arguing that higher education cannot be viewed through the prism of economics, but rather knowledge was valuable just for the sake of knowledge.

Certainly there are those in society who can afford to study and earn a degree purely for personal enrichment.  The reality is a four-year or graduate degree is but a tool to finding family-sustaining employment.  For most individuals, in fact for our economy as a whole, higher education is a useless ornament unless it leads to practical application; in other words a good job.

On this front our colleges and universities are failing us.  On the cost side of the ledger our institutions of higher learning compete for students by adding costly amenities that have turned many campuses into four star resorts.  Students pay for this in the form of higher tuition, and fees which today rival tuition in cost.  As a result students incur massive loan debt that makes it difficult, sometimes impossible, to establish a family and purchase a home.

After investing four – or today more likely five – years of their lives in a costly education increasing numbers of graduates are having difficulty finding work in their field.  That is because higher education is stuck in an early 20th century model that simply does not adequately prepare students for today’s employment opportunities.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, succinctly pointed out that we have more need today for welders than for philosophers.  There is, of course, limited demand for philosophers.  In the meantime, industry cannot find enough qualified applicants to fill high paying manufacturing jobs.  According to a national study five percent of skilled production and production support jobs currently are unfilled “simply because they can’t find people with the right skills.  Translated into raw numbers, this means that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled.

And here is the kicker: A survey of manufacturers finds respondents reporting “that the national education curriculum is not producing workers with the basic skills they need – a trend that is not likely to improve in the near term.”  As a result, despite stubbornly high unemployment and underemployment, manufacturers will continue to export jobs to other countries simply because our system of higher education is failing to equip students for the jobs available in the 21st century economy.

Worse, the spectacle of student protests in recent weeks has undermined the foundational argument that a liberal arts education teaches students to think.  It has become abundantly clear that our colleges and universities place the inculcation of Left-wing political correctness above critical thinking skills.  So much so that students are demanding so-called “safe zones” so they don’t even have to hear words with which they disagree.

As taxpayers watch increasing amounts of state budgets going to higher education, and students incur massive debts only to graduate without the skills employers need, the time has come to question whether it is worth the investment.  Basically, a liberal arts education today has become an eight-track player in the digital age.  If our nation is to continue to be competitive in today’s global economy the time has come to rethink and redesign how we educate and prepare our young adults for productive employment.

(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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The Charlie Dent Effect


Establishment Republicans are in a panic over the enduring popularity of Donald Trump.  If Trump ends up being the GOP nominee party regulars can blame one of their own: Congressman Charlie Dent.

Congressman Dent (PA-15) has emerged as a spokesman for one of the most endangered species on Earth: moderate members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  His votes consistently defy the view of the party’s base and his rhetoric is what is driving the current national grassroots revolution against the party establishment.

Dent hails from the Lehigh Valley-based district once represented by Pat Toomey.  Toomey became a conservative darling and used the district as a base to successfully launch a campaign for United State Senator.  The region is known for being politically schizophrenic and is one of the true “swing” areas of the commonwealth in statewide and national elections.

The apostasies of Dent are many.  He is staunchly pro-abortion in a party that views defense of life as a litmus test issue.  On fiscal issues he ranks in the bottom quarter of the entire Republican conference with a 2014 Club for Growth scorecard rating of just 37%.  On the more broad-based American Conservative Union (ACU) scorecard, he scored just 54%, again making him one of the more liberal members of the conference.

Briefly put, Charlie Dent is the personification of what Republican voters across the nation are rebelling against in the presidential race.  Having elected a House majority in 2010 and a Senate majority in 2014 voters are fed up with the tepid course charted by legislative Republicans.  They see congressional Republican leadership as ineffective at communicating a coherent party message and outmaneuvered legislatively at every turn by Barack Obama and the Democrats.

The most recent Real Clear Politics average of national polling in the presidential race finds Donald Trump and Ben Carson holding onto 47% of the vote.  Add in the ten percent supporting Carly Fiorina and the “outsider” vote tallies 57%.   U. S. Senator Ted Cruz, technically not an “outsider,” but perhaps the most solidly conservative candidate in the race pulls 8%.  Meanwhile, establishment favorites Jeb Bush and Chris Christie have fallen into also-ran status.

The resignation of House Speaker John Boehner has given members of that chamber the opportunity to change the dynamic of both feckless legislative leadership and the presidential race by electing a speaker who can become an effective voice for the party over the next year until the election of a new Republican president.

Instead the House Republican caucus has descended into chaos.  Rather than put forth bold new leadership, Plan A was simply to fall back on business as usual and move everyone up a step on the leadership ladder.  When it became clear the real conservatives in the conference would not go along, heir apparent Kevin McCarthy withdrew from the race.  Plan B is to elevate 2012 Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan to the seat, but Ryan appears unwilling to go along with the procedural reforms conservatives are rightfully demanding as the price for their support.

Enter Congressman Dent who suggested Republicans should meet with Democrats and come up with a “bipartisan coalition to elect the next speaker.”  What?!?   At precisely the time the party’s grassroots are practically shouting from the rooftops of Iowa and New Hampshire that they want a strong new voice for the party Dent proposes the exact opposite.

Dent and his diminishing band of fellow moderates would rather share power with Democrats than accommodate conservative members of their own conference and hear the very clear message being sent by the party’s grassroots.  Nothing could be worse for the GOP than the spectacle of the next speaker being elected by the moderate faction of the Republican conference joining with Democrats against their conservative brethren.

The result of such an outcome would be twofold:  First, any possibility of the GOP being an effective counter to President Obama’s “pen and phone” government would evaporate effectively rendering congress a useless appendage for the next year.  Second, look for Donald Trump’s polling numbers to skyrocket as voters flock in ever larger numbers to the one man who they increasingly view as being able to fix things.

And, when Donald Trump stands in front of the Capitol building and places his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office as the next president of the United States, he should give a front row seat to Charlie Dent and the other Republican congressmen who made his victory possible.

(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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Thomas J. Smith: An American Life


From the minutemen of the American Revolution to the settlers of the old West to the housewives who poured into the factories during World War II to the Tea party movement of recent years our nation began and thrives when ordinary Americans step up and do extraordinary things.

Since the beginning of our Republic the concept of a “citizen legislator” has been the ideal.  Our founding fathers realized that professional politicians are more concerned about their careers than “we the people” posed a threat to our liberty.  Four score and seven years later, President Abraham Lincoln eloquently called it a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Now special interests and professional politicians dominate both Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg while the interests of working families, small businesses and senior citizens take a back seat.  But there are those who are willing to leave the comfort of their private lives and fight to preserve, protect and defend the God-given rights upon which our nation was established.

Thomas J. Smith was one who has answered his nation’s call.

Tom Smith, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 67, was an American success story.  At the age of nineteen, when his father became ill, Tom decided to postpone college and run the family’s Armstrong County farm.  He mortgaged his existing property to purchase a coal mine and – by risking capital and his financial security – successfully expanded his business operations over a 20 year period eventually mining more than a million tons of coal per year and employing over 100 people.

Along the way, Tom and his wife Saundra had three biological children. Then, the Smith’s adopted a family of four children from Texas allowing the siblings to be raised together.

After selling his mining interests in 2010 and becoming alarmed over rapidly expanding federal intrusion into our lives, Tom was in the vanguard of the Tea party movement and helped to found the Indiana/Armstrong County Patriots.

But that level of activism was not enough for Tom Smith.  In 2012 he decided to run for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania.  The sitting governor and state GOP endorsed another candidate, but Tom persevered dealing the party a rare defeat and besting five other candidates to win the nomination.  Despite his best efforts, the headwinds against the GOP in Pennsylvania that November resulted in the re-election of the incumbent.

This is the point where most people give up.  But not Tom Smith.  He was only getting started.  Tom became involved in a wide range of state and national policy battles serving on the boards and financially contributing to a wide range of organizations fighting for individual liberty and personal freedom.

In the summer of 2015 Tom was again planning to enter the political fray as a candidate for congress when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  That cut short his political career, but Tom remained involved fighting for the issues about which he cared deeply until his final days.

Ronald Reagan once said that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Thomas J. Smith did his part to ensure that freedom endures for the next generation.  His life and career will continue to serve as both an example of what citizen activism should be and as an inspiration to the rest of us to step up and continue the cause which he has “thusfar so nobly advanced.”

(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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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.)

Permission to reprint is granted providing author and affiliated are cited.

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