Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mastering The Senate And The US House Again

'I sure do like counting to 67, boys! Don't you?'

After our last post, '280, 60, 290 and 67' which basically laid out some very basic arithmetic concerning the passage of legislation in our pretty unique American democratic republican model, we were contacted by several people who wanted the Republicans in Congress to 'fight more!; show some spine!; make Obama sweat some!'

They were thrilled that John Boehner had decided to retire, presumably because the next Speaker is going to emulate the success of the Green Bay Packers when they fired their previous coach and hired Vince Lombardi who wound up winning lots of games and lots of championships for the smallest town in the NFL.

Assuming the NFL didn't have a commissioner who could just veto any victory by the Packers' offense or defense, that might be a good analogy. Great coaches can turn mediocre teams into winners overnight. Look at what Jim Harbaugh is doing at Michigan this year.

But the US Government is not the NFL. We have 3 branches of government and 2 divisions in the legislative branch, each with different roles, representational functions plus an executive branch where a President gets to act like a home plate umpire in major league baseball who can call balls and strikes as he sees them...whether or not they are actually balls or strikes to begin with.

With all that in mind, and the fact that 218, 60, 290 and 67 are critical mass numbers along the way towards creating the nuclear fission process that ultimately can produce a bill signed into law, here are some of the ways the existing GOP Congress might want to consider entering 2016 on a more aggressive posture, the last year of President Obama's presidency and the Presidential Election.

1) Repeal of Certain House and Senate Procedural Rules

As counter-intuitive as it seems, these two internal House/Senate procedural rules should be adopted on Day 1:

  • Repeal the House Ethics Rules on entertainment and other privileges
  • Repeal the ban on congressional earmarks in appropriations bills.

Both of these have served to hamstring the very process of deal-making and compromise that is so essential to a living breathing representative democracy as ours.

A brainiac friend of ours pointed out that these bans ran against the 'Kaldor-Hicks' economic efficiency models with which he was familiar with and we were not. He wrote:
 'I find it quite disconcerting that the House majority party has almost unanimously pledged to eschew its constitutional responsibilities by eliminating earmarks ...thus, handing over budget spending decisions/control to faceless non-elected bureaucrats. Earmarks traditionally provided the resources needed to achieve greater economic (Kaldor-Hicks) efficiency within the legislative process (e.g., 'bribing some Democrats' to vote with the other side of the aisle). No Speaker can get the job done when his party takes away his best tools.

And he is no flag-waving friend of Republicans. He just understands the need for thoughtful reasoned compromise in our elective legislatures, most of which is sorely missing today everywhere across the United States.

The House Ethics Rules were enacted by Newt Gingrich as some sort of 'clean up the place' effort for PR purposes. In actual fact, all it did was turn every lobbyist/legislator contact outside of the office into a fund-raising opportunity which made the whole process even more smarmy and infantile.

Banning congressional earmarks took away one of the heaviest hammers a Speaker of the House or Senate Majority Leader could use to sway marginal votes one way or the other. Imagine LBJ and his successor as Senate Majority Leader without them; the Civil Rights Act of 1965 might never have been passed without tradeoffs of pork for votes among Southern Democrat Senators and Congressmen.

The great thing about this? Both are resolutions that have to be passed by both Houses separately but NOT signed into law by President Obama. He will be completely be excluded from this process.

You'll see why these two steps are essential to the legislative strategies listed below:

2) 'Make Obama's Life A Living Hell'

This is the preferred posture of many in the Tea Party Movement wing of the Republican Party. Open up every investigation possible into every aspect of Obama's Presidency and bring every Cabinet official to Congress for hearings after hearings after hearings.

In fact, this is what seems to have been the tactic ever since the Republicans took over the House in 2010.  Every time the House GOP passed another one of the 47 bills to repeal Obamacare, every Republican with any sense at all knew that the Harry Reid Democrat Senate would not even take the bill up for consideration, hence: 'Nothing would get done on Obamacare repeal!'

Call Obama names. Get up on the floor of the House and say bad things about Obamacare, the Iran Deal and his over-reach on executive amnesty. It makes you feel better and your followers feel better but in the end, it barely affects the President in the White House because nothing ever gets done to pass a bill that remotely has a chance of reaching his desk.

2) Try to Work With President Obama

One of the things that has to be present in any negotiation is some good faith on the part of both parties to get something done in their mutual best interests and 'for the greater good'.

Absent that sort of understanding on both parts, there is no chance for any negotiation, compromise or progress. Just Clint Eastwood westerns where both sides stand at the end of the dusty street, guns in holsters waiting to be plucked up and fired at the other side when the other side grabs his gun to shoot you.

Except no one fires anything. They just stand there staring at each other for days on end.

That is sort of where the Republicans and President Obama have been ever since he was elected in 2008, isn't it? He doesn't really like anything the Republicans are interested in and they are certainly not interested in expanding any government program that President Obama has excelled in during his two terms in office.

President Obama probably will not be judged by history as one of the most involved Presidents in history, certainly nothing like LBJ or even Reagan or Clinton. His attitude has always seemed to be more of the aloof 'I got elected President so deal with it' posture which has infuriated the Republicans even more than his reluctance to meet with them on a regular basis to negotiate and compromise and make deals.

We understand that President Obama has met with Raul Castro more times than he has met with Mitch McConnell or John Boehner this year. Talk about 'disengagement'.

So if one side doesn't want to even enter into good-faith negotiations, what is possibly left to do?

3) Make Obama's Life a Living Hell AND Force Him To Come To The Table

In order to do this, the Republicans will have to read everything possible about the leadership of Whig Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate, Henry Clay of Kentucky.

Clay was a self-described 'legislative supremacist', as were the majority of elected Members of Congress and Senate from our Founding until the Great Depression and WWII when the American people abruptly seemed to have abandoned their concerns about 'monarchical' powers of the President and wanted FDR to lead them out of the devastation of the Great Depression and, in many ways, to victory over Hitler and Japan.

What does that mean, anyway, to be a 'legislative supremacist?'

It means that you believe the intent of the Founders and the underlying fabric of this country is served better when Congress acts like the ultimate power and arbiter of our democratic republican form of government rather than let the President exercise unlimited executive power and ask only that Congress follow his lead and pays for all of his initiatives.

You may be a follower of President Obama today. However, if President Trump or Rubio tried to use the same executive powers to accomplish their agenda without going through Congress just as Obama has done repeatedly, you will go crazy with anger.

In which case, you would be the ultimate hypocrite and in danger of losing all credibility with anyone.

How might this 'legislative supremacy' look starting January 1, 2016?

How about if the New Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter like the following to President Obama:

'Dear President Obama:

Our work for the Fiscal Year 2016 is done. All of the programs have been authorized and appropriated through September 30, 2016 just as we are Constitutionally authorized to do.

We are hereby adjourning Congress until then unless you want to seriously talk about the legislative issues before us and come to some mutually agreed-upon conclusion that works for the American people.

You are free to come to speak to a more-then-half empty Congress floor at the end of January for your State of the Union Speech. You can stay as long as you want and speak as long as you care to orate; we are sure it will be a stem-winder.

Other than that, call us when you are serious about working together.

'Your humble and obedient servants....etc....'

Imagine that. No Congress to pass any more bills, authorize higher levels of spending, intervene in any sort of shenanigans of any sort.

When the fiscal year comes to an end, absent any involvement by this President, Congress would reconvene to pass a CR (Continuing Resolution) at last year's levels and send it to the President to sign or veto.

If he signs it, funding continues at last year's levels which will be far below what he wants to enact his executive amnesty plan, any Obamacare bailout or staffing expansion and probably many aspects of his misguided Iran Nuclear Deal. Entitlement spending will increase unabated but eventually the freezing of discretionary funds at FY 2016 levels will bring the federal budget into balance all by itself.  Probably the mid-2020s or so.

If Obama vetoes the CR extension in September, 2016, he will then run the risk of shouldering the blame for closing down the government and, perhaps for the first time, the blame for not raising the debt ceiling. After all, he will have been the only game in town for the past 9 months with the press and the media constantly asking him when he is going to contact the Speaker and Majority Leader just as he has repeatedly reached out to the ayatollahs of Iran and the Castros of Cuba to make a deal with both of them this past year.

Couldn't he possibly reach out to the Republicans at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue more times than that in 2016?

Another line of thinking might be for the GOP to stay engaged during the year but take the funding for the most contentious issues out of the broader appropriations bills at the start such as funding for the agencies that will administer the executive amnesty program; expansion and further implementation of Obamacare and the execution of the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Put those agencies all on the chopping block like a turkey for Thanksgiving and zero them out. Totally. In essence, they would all become 'non-essential federal workers' just like 98% of them are so designated when a big snowstorm is about to hit Washington and sent home.

Then start trading off some funding for each agency piece-by-piece in return for some other concessions.

This is where the restoration of the earmarks will really come in handy for the New Speaker and Majority Leader. In order to get to 60 votes in the Senate to invoke cloture and close off filibusters, the Senate Majority Leader can promise a new bridge or road to be built in the states of 6 Democrat Senators who might be swayed by such a thing for that particular vote.

The vote can then pass the Senate by simple majority and then vetoed by the President.

Once vetoed, the same trading process can occur again, just as it has for centuries before earmarks (pork barrel politics, log-rolling) were eliminated not too long ago. Keep offering deals to 7 more Democrat Senators to build bridges in their state and 43 Democrats in the House and you can finally build the coalition to override an Obama veto on anything the Republicans want to pass.

Every Senator and Member has their price. It is very hard for any Member of Congress or Senator to fall on their sword for Obama or any President if it meant $100M was cut out of the budget for a bridge in their state. We have 1000's of deteriorating bridges and thousands of miles of rutted, pot-holed roads, you know; think of this as a way to get them fixed at the same time we are unlocking the legislative blood flow again.

Building roads is about as 'constitutional' as it gets. See Article 1, Section 8, Codicil 7 if you don't believe it.

The way we see it, throwing around a couple of billion dollars to build bridges is far preferable to spending trillions on Obamacare and letting executive amnesty happen unabated and allowing the Iran Nuclear Deal to get fully implemented, don't you?

You want 'compromise' and 'negotiations' again in the US Capitol? Reinstate earmarks and loosen the ridiculously simple-minded ethics rules and let the process happen again.

It will unshackle leaders in the legislative bodies to get things done. You have to get to 218, 60, 290 and 67, remember?

Just as it was supposed to work.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

'218, 60, 290 or 67'

The band Chicago had a great song that made next-to-zero sense the first couple of times you heard it in the 70's growing up.

'25 or 6-to-4'

It still doesn't make a lot of sense to be honest about it. It is just a darned great song, mainly because of the pounding opening riff of cello, drums and horns. It still conjures up images of junior and senior high school pep rallies for some reason.

Here's some other numbers that don't seem to make a lot of sense to House Republicans or Rebellious Tea Party Republicans nowadays in the aftermath of Speaker John Boehner's resignation:

'218, 60, 290 and 67'

If some modern day band or rapper can make a song that makes sense out of those numbers, then God bless them. We hope they make as much money off of their song as Chicago did off of theirs.

We bring this up because of many discussions we have had with well-meaning and well-intentioned people since Speaker Boehner announced his resignation who are frustrated that the Republicans who now control both the US Congress and US Senate have not been able to derail (take your pick of the following):
  1. Obamacare
  2. Iran Nuclear Deal
  3. Executive Amnesty for 5 million Illegal Immigrants
Among many other issues.

The thinking goes along the lines of this:

'We gave you control of the Congress in 2010 and the US Senate in 2014 just like you leaders, Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky asked us to and so what? You have not accomplished any rollback of any important issue in the last 4 years in the House or the last 9 months in the US Senate?

Why should we support you guys ever again?' seems to be the prevailing sentiment amongst the 'Truly Disgusted With Everything' Caucus.

It is one reason why you see so many people flocking to Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina on the Republican side of the presidential primary race so far. These voters are completely fed up with everyone elected and they are just throwing their hands up in the air in despair.

We think it highlights a more important problem in America today: 

Constitutional Illiteracy on the part of the American Public.

And since many constitutionally illiterate voters have elected many of their own to represent them in Congress, apparently those elected representatives have no idea of how a bill becomes legislation as even the most casual observers of 'Schoolhouse Rock' would know.

Whatever happened to basic junior high school civics classes anyway? Have they been replaced by Common Core math classes where 1+1 don't add up to 2 any longer?

Let's take a basic review of what most people used to learn in the 7th or 8th grade:

218 is the first key vote you gotta get to win on any bill before Congress. It can be a stand-alone bill or a massive omnibus bill but any bill has to get 218 votes to pass, usually after also receiving 218 votes on a Rules Committee vote governing the procedure and order of the vote to come.

GOP has 247 Members in the US House so they got that covered when it comes to passing anything and everything. Just like Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats had full control of the throttle from 2009-2011 when Obamacare was passed.

60 is the next voting hurdle to cross in order to close debate in the Senate or 'invoke cloture' as they say. That is not so bad; it used to be 100 since 'unanimous consent' had to be secured in the Senate in order to allow debate on any issue in the pure filibuster, pre-limited cloture vote years.

That is a vestige of the Roman Senate where unanimous consent was necessary to pass any legislation. Usually under the threat of the Caesar at the time burning down your mansion and all your crops and vineyards if you didn't vote for his expansive plans of grandeur but that is another story.

The GOP has 54 US Senators today. Unless they can bribe 6 more Dems with bridges and roads, which can be done, that is the end of the road for any repeal, reform or tweaking of any issue above such as ACA, Iran Deal and immigration.

Even if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could get to 60 votes to invoke cloture and start debate on the issue at hand and then won 51 votes to pass anything in the Senate, President Obama has promised to veto anything Republican, the exact mirror image of many Republicans who swore to oppose anything Obama wanted to pass in 2009 when they had no earthly way to do so in the House or the US Senate because they were in such deep minorities from 2009-2011.

President Obama, sadly, has shown the propensity of a hamster to work with House or Senate Republicans on anything, even after he lost the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. It is like nothing changed to this White House. He just decided to pick up his pen and issue executive orders and enact regulatory dictat to get around the duly-elected bodies of Congress and Senate, ALL of which can be reversed on Day 1 of a Republican President if elected and sworn in on January 20, 2017.

Executive orders have the lasting power of a drop of water on a hot hot pan on the stove if the White House changes parties. That is the trouble with President Obama not working with Congressional Republicans to build broad-based consensus on treaties such as for the Iran Deal and on legislation such as the ACA. The second a Republican President takes over the White House, and assuming the House and Senate stay heavily Republican, he/she can dismantle any executive order issued by President Obama with the stroke of the pen.

The well is so poisoned in Washington today that the House GOP could propose a bill calling the sky Carolina Blue and Obama would respond: 'That is unfair to the other 323 NCAA basketball teams so I am going to veto it!'

So once he vetoes the Carolina Blue Sky bill, the House has to get to 290 votes to override his veto which means 43 of Obama's Democratic supporters in the House will have to buck their Presidential Leader and join with the Republicans.  Which ain't gonna happen.

But if they get to 290 votes somehow in the House, Majority Leader McConnell in the Senate would have to get 13 of Obama's Democratic supporters in the Senate to buck their Presidential Leader which none of them have shown the willpower or backbone to do so far almost 7 years into his term.

Perhaps Teddy Roosevelt would say of them: 'I could carve a better backbone out of a banana!' Or an eclair in other denunciations of political opponents at the time.

However, the simple fact of the matter is that Republicans who want to change things in Washington don't have a 'Boehner' problem or a leadership problem.

They have a 'math' problem, plain and simple. For any talk show host or activist to be 'angry' that John Boehner did not overturn Obamacare, the Iran Deal or the executive order on immigration like Hercules cleaning out the Augean Stables before sunrise shows an extreme lack of understanding of how our government works which is even more scary for seemingly highly educated people.

If you think Speaker-to-possibly-be Kevin McCarthy is going to succeed in doing the impossible that John Boehner failed to do somehow, stop it right now, please! You are going to only frustrate yourself no end and possibly say some things that will wind up making you look foolish out in public which is something you should avoid doing at all costs because once it is out there, you can't take it back.

In days gone by when there were 91 Southern Democrats in the House and maybe 10 in the Senate, those 'Blue-Dog Democrats' would often side with the Republicans on matters of fiscal policy and national defense and create the majorities to pass bills and then, if need be, override a Presidential veto from time to time.

Today, there are 3 Blue Dog Democrats in the House. There are no liberal-to-moderate Republicans from New England any more which also provided some ballast the other way when they sided with the Democrats on some issue or the other.

We have a completely polarized elected Congress and Senate and nothing John Boehner could have done would have changed any of those dynamics or basic facts of life regarding passing legislation in Washington today.

We have some ideas on how the next Speaker might want to approach the situation but we would suggest everyone first read 'Henry Clay: The Essential American' by David and Jeanne Heidler of Texas A&M University to see what a 'real' Speaker of the House and then later, Majority Leader of the Senate did to establish 'legislative supremacy'.

Henry Clay constantly challenged His Excellency, President Andrew Jackson whom Clay hated with a passion and whose passion was returned in like-kind by President Jackson himself.

It is amazing they didn't shoot each other in a duel at 10 paces on the Washington Mall at sunrise one morning.

It would make for an interesting session or two of Congress...as long as not passing anything is your idea of 'interesting'. Which has a certain allure to us right now, truth be told.

Congress does have the power of the purse, however and they should use it as we will discuss in a later posting. The first thing to know though is how your rebellious Congressman or Senator feels about certain issues that might be near and dear to their hearts, and thereby we mean 'their re-election hopes and plans and dreams'.

That might tell you something about why it is so hard to get 100% of all Republican votes to repeal, revamp or reform some government program or issue.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Now That Speaker Boehner Is Out, What Next?

'Gang of Seven': Boehner, 2nd row, 1st on left
Quick question for all you 'reformers' out there:

'Name the Members of the 1990 'Gang of Seven' who toppled Democrat Ways and Means Chairman Danny Rostenkowski and helped pave the way for the 'Contract for America' and the GOP takeover in 1994?'

Right. One of the leaders was none other than John Andrew Boehner whom many on the right are today not toasting his service to our country but cheering his departure.

Others include former NC Congressman Charles Taylor who was never considered a squish by any measure. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was in that class of freshmen.

Jim Nussle of Iowa was so incensed about unethical behavior of Democratic leaders in the House over the House banking scandal (which involved cashing in postage stamps for cash among other things) that he resorted to wearing a brown paper bag over his head because he was so 'ashamed' to be part of the same Congress.
Not the 'Ain'ts'

Nussle, of course, went on to become Chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2001 and Director of OMB in 2007. See what a little 'theatrics can do for you in politics?

John Boehner came into the US House 4 years before we left Congress in 1995. He was a solid conservative intent on reforming the federal government which meant, back then, reducing it in size and expense and intrusion into your daily lives via regulations and legislative fiat across-the-board and, of course, balancing the federal budget for the first time since man walked on the moon in 1969.

(We went to a wonderful reunion of former staff and campaign aides for retired Congressman Alex McMillan last weekend where now-Governor and Presidential Candidate John Kasich, another reformer who was in Congress during the 1980's and '90's, wrote a very nice letter congratulating Congressman McMillan on his efforts to help guide efforts that led to the first balancing of the budget in 1997 'since man walked on the moon' so we decided to lift that phrase for this brief history lesson today)

'What happened to Boehner?' many on the far-right are asking today. 'If he was such a 'reformer' when he came into Congress, why did he leave as such a RINO (or whatever insult they care to cast his way)?'

'REALITY' happened to John Boehner. And the 'US CONSTITUTION' happened to John Boehner.

Just as it will happen to whoever takes the job as the next Speaker of the US Congress. And the next. And then next. And the next.

If you can't understand that, you are going to be perpetually perplexed, bewitched and bewildered by the US political scene. You might want to consider taking up horticulture or catfish-farming as a hobby since they would be far easier to understand and master.

The Founders did something pretty amazing back in 1787 when they were writing the second Constitution for the United States, the Articles of Confederation being the first, which bombed by the way or else there would have been zero need to go to Philadelphia and essentially 'overthrow' the first Constitution and replace it with the second.

They gave us the 'rules of the game' for playing in this democratic republic and essentially laid out a game plan for operating a capitalist economy under governance of the voting electorate, not a king or sovereign as had been the norm forever on the face of the earth until then.

They made it exceedingly difficult for any one person, faction or party to get 100% of what they wanted in any one session of Congress. They had just fought a war of independence from such tyrannical rule, in their opinion, and they were going to set up a government where that could never take place again on American soil.

Very few times in American history has one side or the other had a chance to get close to 100% of what they wanted to get done in any one session of Congress. 2009-2011 saw President Obama and the Democrat House and Senate push through major legislation including Obamacare mainly because they had 60, or close to 60 Democrat Senators in the US Senate with a massive majority in the US House and a Democrat leading the way in the White House with a pen in his hand to sign whatever Congress sent to him.

You may not like what they sent to him, but they did it (mostly*) according to the rules set up 238 years ago in Philadelphia by men such as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin.

What have been the main impediments for the past 5 years now for the Republicans who have controlled the US Congress to getting their agenda passed and overturning what the Democrats have done?

#1 is President Obama in the White House who has the same pen that can sign bills into law but he can use to veto any and all Republican bills that he doesn't want to see enacted into law.

#2 was the Democrat-controlled Senate under Majority Leader Harry Reid from 2008-2015. There was no way in Hades that a Republican snowball, no matter if it was the size of the Capitol itself, was going to roll downhill and get passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama.

Not without substantial input, negotiation and compromise from the Democrats, that is. In which case, the bill would look more like Dodd-Frank or ACA than the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 passed by a Republican House and Senate and negotiated by Erskine Bowles on the part of Southern Democrat President Bill Clinton that lead to the only 4 balanced budgets most of us will ever see in our lifetimes.

So what was the solution by many on the angry far-right of the political spectrum?

'Shut down the government!'

We have seen it done before. We have been a part of the chorus who said the same thing in frustration many times when we were 85-seats in the minority for a decade in the US House.

Try It At Home! You'll Get As Much Done As
You Would Shutting Down The US Government!
Know what it ultimately accomplishes 999 times out of 1000?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It accomplishes about as much as flicking these red white and blue Jello squares with your finger and watching them wibble and wobble for a few seconds on the plate....and then ultimately, they return to stasis and have made absolutely zero progress to any goal anywhere.

Know what would make a HUGE difference?

Getting a Republican elected President of the United States in 2016. That would make a huge difference for those of you who didn't think Mitt Romney was 'conservative' enough to meet your lofty standards of purity in political philosophy in 2012 so you decided to not work for him or, in millions of cases, decided to sit at home and not even vote for him.

How's that working out for ya?

The second thing that would really make a difference is for everyone to take a close look at the US Constitution again and understand just how deeply entrenched 'compromise' is in that sacred document. The Founders were 'serial compromisers' as our friend Neil Siegel of the Duke Law School likes to call them. There was not one single thing they didn't compromise on in 1787, unless, of course, you consider their punting of the slavery issue for 20 years not a compromise which it was for those who wanted to ban it outright immediately at the time.

You can wait, and wait, and wait until a Republican President who is 99.999% pure according to your standards wins the White House and the GOP maintains control of the US House and (somehow) gets to 60 US Senators....and THEN you can see all your dreams come true as the federal government is hacked back down to pre-World War II size.

The third thing you can do is take a lesson from Hall of Fame Coaches Dean Smith of Carolina and Coach K at Duke. Seriously. Both men adapted with the times and came up with new strategies to play college basketball based on 'reality' with each succeeding period and style of the game.

Coach Smith came up with the 'run-and-jump' trapping offense; the play-calling at the free throw line; the 'Finger Point' to praise the assist-maker, not the guy who made the easy layup and padded his scoring average and who could forget, the Four Corners offense that drove people crazy unless you were a Tar Heel fan watching yet another close game end with another Tar Heel victory.

Coach K has only managed to coach in 4 decades now with different players and different styles and different tempos and different ages. He won the NCAA title last year...and he used the ZONE DEFENSE a lot at the beginning of the year!  Talk about compromising your basic core principles of life! Coach K of 1986 would have strangled Coach K of 2015 for using any zone defenses...until he congratulated him on winning his 5th national title that is.

The point here is to say that there are other ways to get things done legislatively than shutting down the government. The Planned Parenthood videos are deeply disturbing to anyone who has seen or listened to them. Perhaps the funding for Planned Parenthood should be dealt with in a separate line-item appropriations bill that President Obama would have to sign or veto out in plain sight of day, not buried in the guts of a multi-trillion continuing resolution bill the general public has no idea of what it is in the first place anyway.

Congress has the power of the purse to fund or not fund the implementation of Obamacare or his executive action on immigration. 'Legislative supremacists' (their term) such as Henry Clay routinely challenged His Excellency, President Andrew Jackson, by not funding what the White House wanted and causing a ruckus that would make today's battles seem tame by comparison.

Maybe John Boehner could have done more on those tactical matters. Or maybe he had Chairmen of major committees and rank-and-file GOP members and/or Tea Party favorites unwilling to go even those alternative routes.

We remember hearing rebel GOP Congresspeople rail about 'cutting federal spending'...except the Appalachian Regional Commission or some farm program where they came from. Push on any Tea Party Rebel Congressperson today in the US Congress hard enough, and they will eventually spill the beans about the 2-3 federal programs they will not vote to cut because of the district and state they represent.

It is either that or compromise your rear end off which those on the far right still seem to feel is a 4-letter word. So do the same percentage of folks on the far-left who wouldn't know a good compromise deal if it fell off and hit them in the head like a ripe coconut.

All we know is that the next Speaker of the House, whoever he or she may be, will soon be called a RINO and worse by people who really have not read the Constitution or understand the rules of the game.

It is like playing golf with people who have not read the 'rules of golf', of which there are 34 basic rules and seemingly thousands of sub-rules. Something happens and then they get very angry and upset even though they don't understand the rules of the game to begin with.

Might as well follow the rules of the game as established by our Forefathers whom all of the right side of the political spectrum say they revere and respect and want to follow in the first place. Yes?

(We say 'mostly*' because the Democrats did use some parliamentary maneuvers such as budget reconciliation rules but they were not set up until after the 1974 Budget Control Act was passed post-Watergate)

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

American Politics, Donald Trump, Gorgeous George and Al Czervik

Everyone is concerned about Donald Trump as if he is breaking some sort of gentleman's agreement in American political discourse.

If anything, Donald Trump is returning American politics to its rough-and-tumble nature that existed at its very beginnings.

American politics has never been the genteel gentlemen's sport that one might associate with English fox-hunting or cricket or tea-sipping at 3 pm in the parlor of some castle.

American politics has always been more akin to the WWE, the World Wrestling Entertainment Inc or the WWF before it. American politics 'looks' and 'sounds' vicious but there has always been a sort of understanding that beneath it all, it has very strong elements of entertainment, comedy and theater to every campaign. The more memorable they are, that candidate usually has a good chance of going a very long way to winning the White House.

The way that boorish people get eliminated from the political process is if enough people don't like them or what they are saying and they don't vote for him/her. It is Darwinism and capitalism at its purest intersection; you get the choice to decide if you are 'buying' what the candidate is selling and saying by voting for them or not. It is up to you.

If 50%+1 of the voting population agrees with you, he/she gets to serve in the White House for 4 years. This is not a debutante ball, you know, where manners and politeness are rewarded somehow.

Teddy Roosevelt was hardly considered a 'polite, shy and retiring' personality, for example. He could be as acerbic and scathing as any individual of his day, in politics, the press or anywhere in America.

If you have never seen Gorgeous George from days gone by in professional wrestling circles, then you may not ever understand Donald Trump, all the way up to his flamboyant blonde mane. Gorgeous George was the Master of Showmanship; he knew how to fill auditoriums to the rim with ticket-buying fans.

Just like Donald Trump.

(Muhammad Ali understood Gorgeous George 100%; he copied his flamboyant exhibitionist style of sports as entertainment all the way to becoming the (Greatest of All Time!'...click through the title of this post if you want to see the video of Gorgeous George below)

We thought it would be fun to see if you could match up the quotes below with any American political figure of the past or present, including Donald Trump, since he is considered by far to be the most scandalous in this campaign today.

Some are candidate-on-candidate quotes; some are elected official-on-elected official quotes and some are press quotes or scurrilous campaign jingles or comments circulated by opponents of the other candidate.

We threw in a few Rodney Dangerfield as 'Al Czervik in 'Caddyshack' quotes as well to see if you could tell the difference between modern American comedy and historical political fact, (mainly because we have been struck by how similar Donald Trump and Al's delivery and zingers really are upon deeper reflection):

1. "(He) had no more backbone than a chocolate eclair." 

2. "(He) doesn't know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday." 

3. (He is) a coward, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla” 

4. "Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames, ... female chastity violated, or children writhing on the pike?.....(T)he soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes." 

5. "In your heart you know he might" (explode an atomic bomb);  In your guts, you know he's nuts." 

6. (My opponent is a) "document-shredding, Constitution-trashing, Commander in Chief-bashing, Congress-thrashing, uniform-shaming, (foreign adversary)-loving, arms-dealing, criminal-protecting, résumé-enhancing, (foreign leader)-coddling, social security-threatening, public school-denigrating, Swiss-banking-law-breaking, letter-faking, self-serving, election-losing, snake-oil salesman who can't tell the difference between the truth and a lie." 

7. "It is said that at a year old,  he could laugh on one side of his face and cry on the other, at one and the same time." 

8. "(He's) a no good lying bastard" (and anyone who votes for him) "ought to go to Hell." 

9. "I've asked (the former) President to please not bring up the religious issue in this campaign." 

10. "He tried to choke me! You saw it. He called me a baboon, thinks I’m his wife." 

11. "(He is) unprincipled and a pander bear' 

12. "(He's) a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician." 

13.  "(T)he big newspaper, owned or controlled by Wall Street, ... which with raving fury defends all the malefactors of great wealth." 

14. "Oh, this is the worst-looking hat I ever saw. What, when you buy a hat like this I bet you get a free bowl of soup, huh?"

15. "(He has a) hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."

16. "Last time I saw a mouth like that, it had a hook in it."

17. 'Ma, Ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha, ha, ha!' 

18. "Oh, this your wife, huh? A lovely lady. Hey baby, you must’ve been something before electricity."

19. "(He's) a Byzantine logothete backed by flubdubs and mollycoddles." 

20. "(He is) a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw who eats hoecakes, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."

(Bonus Question for extra credit, easy) 
21. 'Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine!' 

(Answers below; no cheating until you have finished answering all the quotes first)

A. Rodney Dangerfield as Al Czervik in “Caddyshack” 10, 14, 16, 18
B. Virginia Senator Chuck Robb about Oliver North 6
C. Former President Truman about Dwight Eisenhower 2
D. Truman on Nixon 8
E. JFK about Truman's comments about Nixon 9 (see quote #8)
F. TR on President Benjamin Harrison 12
G. TR on President McKinley 1
H. TR on Woodrow Wilson 19
I.  Paul Tsongas about Bill Clinton 1992 11
J. Newspaper editor about Thomas Jefferson 4
K. Former Congressman Davy Crockett about President Martin Van Buren  7
L. TR about New York Times or Wall Street Journal 13
M. Democrat attacks on Barry Goldwater in 1964 5
N. Jefferson supporters on John Adams 15
O. John Adams response to Jeffersonian attacks 20
P. Opponents of Grover Cleveland who supposedly fathered an illegitimate child 17
Q. Union Commanding General George McClellan on President Abraham Lincoln 3
R. Grover Cleveland supporters jingle attack on James G. Blaine 21

(Sorry....none of the above quotes are attributable to Donald Trump...although many could be)

Bonus video: 'The Elections of 1800' Attack Ads by Jefferson and Adams

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius Who Gave You Obamacare

'My best friend is Jonathan Gruber of MIT'
We love Wile E. Coyote.

No matter what the obstacle or what the challenge, Wile E. Coyote always seemed to come up with some massively complicated Rube Goldberg contraption that defied gravity and common sense to capture the Road Runner and finally get a decent meal out in the desert.

We think Wile E. was on the legislative team that concocted and helped pass the ACA, the 'Affordable' (sic) Care Act, otherwise now colloquially known as 'Obamacare' which is neither 'affordable' and has not covered every uninsured person as promised in 2010.

(click through the title line if you want to see a classic video of Wile E. Coyote, this time with Bugs Bunny)

Consider this latest news from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, hardly a right-wing Tea Party mouthpiece when it comes to Obamacare:

'60,000 North Carolinians dropped their health insurance, 50% of whom did so after receiving expensive medical care'

60,000 people. There are only 459,714 ACA customers in North Carolina to begin with. 13% of all ACA customers dropped out of the ACA within the first year, 1/2 of whom received expensive medical care before dropping out.

And guess what? With guaranteed issue, these same people can come back into the ACA coverage before they need another round of expensive medical treatment, receive it and then drop out of the ACA again right after and stop paying premiums again until the next time they need medical care.

This was all predicted as far back as HillaryCare in 1993. Everyone knew it would happen if set up like this without any penalties or restrictions. Obamacare is just HillaryCare on steroids.

Here's some news headlines you won't see coming out of the Obama White House on the ACA, especially not when they are waving the banner of successfully completing the Iran Deal that apparently only they and 21% of the American people want in the first place:

'Nationally, the federal government reported that 11.7 million people had signed up for ACA coverage by the February end of the enrollment period for 2015. By the end of June, the number still enrolled had dropped by 1.8 million, to about 9.9 million'

As a result, BCBSNC has asked the state of North Carolina for another large rate increase, now for the 3rd year running, this time of close to 35% over last year.

We took out a blunt pencil and figured out that had the ACA not passed in 2010, our individual health care premium would today be over 50% less than it is expected to be for 2016.

Yours might be more. If you are working for a big company that is paying for most of your premiums or a large university or large non-profit organization, you probably don't feel the sting of these exorbitant and almost usurious health insurance rate increases.

But rest assured, every small business person or self-employed individual is taking the full brunt of the Wile E. Coyotes in the Obama Administration such as Jonathan Gruber who thought they were 'Super Geniuses' and had concocted the perfect health care insurance system in 2010.

All we can say is we agree with Bugs Bunny when he says at the end of this embedded clip:

"'Mud' spelled backwards is 'dum'"

We don't know what 'Obamacare' or 'Gruber' spelled backwards means. But it is apparently not 'smart' or 'perfect' by any stretch of the canine imagination.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

'The Founders Were Serial Compromisers'

Compromise Brought Us Together.
Signing Pledges Will Tear Us Asunder.
One of the reasons why we like what we are doing is that we always get the chance to hear a distinguished scholar, professor or expert talk about some aspect of helping people learn to run for public elected office.

We get to learn from such experts while we also get to see the next crop of James Madisons, Thomas Jeffersons and Alexander Hamiltons in these classes. There are hundreds of them...they just have not been running for public office for any number of reasons.

Which we are trying to change.

Last night, we got to hear Neil Siegel of the Duke Law School expound on the ins-and-outs of the US Constitution in about 90 minutes. Each time we hear a different speaker, we learn something new about that truly amazing document written by mere mortals in 1787 in Philadelphia, PA.

Here's one line that caught our attention from his lecture:

'The Founders were serial compromisers'

In today's poisoned political environment, every one of these 'compromisers' would be primaried in the next election for violating some pledge they had signed promising 'never to do such a thing' while in office.

Here's what some of them might have been called:
  1. 'The No Equal Representation for Small States Pledge' signed by the Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania delegations
  2. 'The No End To Slavery Pledge' signed by members of the SC and Georgia delegations
  3. 'The No Taxing Authority for Congress Pledge' signed by almost everyone.
Can you imagine what would have happened had there been such a slavish dedication to any of these principles at the Philadelphia Convention? 

We can. The answer would have been 'nothing'. Or worse than nothing since the only government they would have defaulted to would have been the inept and inert Articles of Confederation that failed so miserably as our First Constitution and whose foibles and deficiencies led to the creation of the constitutional convention in the first place.

Is that what you would have wanted at the very beginning of our American Republic?

We bring this up because yet again we have seen the abject failure of 2/3rds of our federal government to work together, this time on the Iran Nuclear Deal which we think has the potential to be one of the worst deals America has ever entered into. (see 'Israel Will Not Exist in 25 Years'-Ayatollah Khamanei)

President Obama deliberately chose to by-pass the traditional constitutional process of passing the Iran Nuclear Deal as a treaty through the US Senate which required 67 votes to pass, mainly for fear of it not being able to attract enough Republicans to support it as written. Then the Democrats in the Senate mustered 42 votes to defeat a cloture motion which would have allowed full debate on the Senate floor had it gotten 60 votes in the Senate.

So, on perhaps the most momentous international agreement between the United States and anyone in the 21st century so far, the entire elected legislative body in the US Senate is basically denied a chance to fully debate the ups of this Iranian nuclear agreement, if there are any, and the downs, of which there seems plenty.

What sort of 'democratic republic' is that?

Here's a question to ask if you are a supporter of President Obama and this Iran Deal:

'Would you be as happy to see a President Donald Trump bypass a Democrat Senate and House and basically just emulate this process now plowed by President Obama?'

If you can answer an honest 'yes' to this, then you are constitutionally consistent at least. If no, then you really have to examine why and come up with a good answer as to why not.

It is very hard to have any sort of compromise when either side is unwilling to accept the fact that the other side basically fundamentally disagrees with you, no matter how smart you may think you are or how righteous you may think your cause is.

If you think that the Founders had it any easier when it came to commitment to issues and fundamental principles, think again. While no one was shot in a duel in Philadelphia, duels were common back in the day. Then-sitting Vice-President Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton over a disagreement and a basic hatred of each other in the morning at Weehauken, New Jersey....and 10 days later, he was back in the Senate chamber presiding over the US Senate as if nothing had happened.

We can't have a functioning democratic republic without 'serial compromisers' as Professor Siegel pointed out last night. The Founders compromised on almost every single issue that came to the table at Philadelphia.

We can't even compromise on one single thing anymore. Not even allowing an important issue such as the Iran Deal to come to the floor of what used to be known as 'The World's Most Deliberative Body', the US Senate.

Today, the US Senate has officially become known as 'The Place Where Everything Goes To Die!' Or at least serious rational civil debate.

Daniel Webster and Henry Clay would be aghast. Maybe the Founders should have considered one more Amendment in their original bill of rights:

'Thou shalt compromise! Early, often and always!'

At least people would know that is how our government is supposed to work instead of not working as we have seen for decades now.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Stark Raving Mad Facts About Social Security

While the world covers the rise of Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders breathlessly while also trying to report 'what the meaning of the words 'classified State Department memos on a personal server' means to Hillary Clinton, some other very important issues are being left uncovered, unreported and not discussed.

In polite company at least.

One of the leading thinkers in Washington on Social Security matters for many years, Carolyn Weaver of the American Enterprise Institute, among other posts in DC, passed away yesterday.

While we did not know her personally, we were aware of her work as she was noted by others in her field for being clear-eyed and cold-blooded when it came to getting to the facts of the issue because it is so important to each and every one of us personally when we retire. Perhaps more so, it is 'collectively' more important to us as a nation because of the imbalances Social Security is placing on the nation's finances at this time and will continue to do so unless radically transformed and reformed.

We would much prefer to hear what candidates think about and are going to do about reforming Social Security, preferably to a defined-contribution based plan similar to what has happened in the private sector over the past 25 years, than what they think about less important matters which are usually the issues the press wants to cover ad infinitum.

How wonderful it would be to have a mature, reasoned debate about the future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the United States during this entire Presidential campaign since:1) they are VERY important issues and 2) if we correct them and solve them properly, most of our budget and debt problems will go away.

Seriously. Almost overnight. How great would that be? Something big actually getting done in American politics once again!

Just to bring some solid information for your gray matter after it has been pounded into gruel this past summer with a wide array of seemingly inane political matters, we thought we would reprint for you one of Carolyn Weaver's essays on Social Security from 1992 since it is so succinct and to the point that it might even start to heal your brain cells again.

The following article is from the Concise Encyclopedia on Economics. While some of the data in this version is a little out-dated, some of the points she makes about Social Security are so important we have highlighted them below in bold red just so you will know what is important in her writing.

The sad part is that this is the sort of thing we really need to be talking about in our national debate. As important as the issues of government clerks performing their civic duty when it comes to issuing marriage licenses or building the wall between the US and Mexico, these issues pale in comparison to the magnitude of the problems we face in funding the unfunded liabilities now evident in the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs, just to name the most gargantuan Triple Towers of Fiscal Mismanagement of them all.

Think about that the next time you watch any of the debates or some of the truly insipid political reporting now going on the evening news or on the cable channels.

And remember the name 'Carolyn Weaver'. Cause she spent her lifetime sending out warning signals to us all.

Ignore her at your peril. Especially if you are age 20-30 right now.

[An updated version of this article can be found at Social Security in the 2nd edition.]

[Editor's note: although this article was written in 1992, the data anticipated by the author for the years up to 2000 have been fairly close to the actual data.]

'The Social Security system, including old-age and survivors insurance, disability insurance, and hospital insurance (Medicare), poses a staggering liability in the years ahead. Benefits in the year 2025, when the retirement of the baby-boom generation is in full swing, are projected to cost 23 percent of taxable payroll in the economy, up from 14 percent today. In today's dollars, that amounts to $1 trillion annually. Between now and 2065, the actuaries' official long-range measuring period, the nation's giant retirement program is slated to spend $19 trillion in present value terms. Counting Medicare, the liability is $30 trillion. How this liability is met—indeed whether it is met in full—will profoundly affect people's savings and retirement decisions, the nation's public finances, and ultimately, the amount and distribution of America's wealth.

For most of its history Social Security has been financed on a pay-as-you-go basis. With pay-as-you-go financing, benefits to retirees and other beneficiaries are met by current taxes on workers; income roughly equals outgo, and assets do not accumulate significantly. Pay-as-you-go Social Security systems have large unfunded liabilities.

Research by Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, published in 1974 (and in a follow-up article in 1982 correcting a programming error in the original study), suggested that the pay-as-you-go method of financing Social Security had depressed private saving in 1971 by a whopping one-third. His argument was simple but compelling: to the extent people view the government's promises to provide retirement benefits as a substitute for their own retirement savings, they will tend to save less. Less private saving, when not offset by increased government saving, means less new capital and ultimately lower real incomes.

Feldstein's findings touched off a major controversy in the economics profession over the determinants of private saving and the effects of government policy. Are people "life-cycle" savers, as Feldstein suggested, making choices to maximize their own financial well-being over their lifetimes, saving mainly to finance their own retirement? This is consistent with Milton Friedman's earlier discovery that an individual's spending is powerfully affected by how much he expects to earn over his entire lifetime, not simply by what he earns today. Or are people linked with their children, through financial gifts and bequests, in such as way as to neutralize the effects of Social Security? In the latter case, Social Security should increase private saving as the elderly attempt to offset, through increases in their planned gifts or bequests, the (implicit) future Social Security taxes that their children will have to pay. Harvard's Robert Barro, chief proponent of this view, argues that people adjust their private transfers to undo the compulsory transfers inherent in Social Security. If Barro is correct, the introduction or expansion of a pay-as-you-go system should reduce saving only by people who do not have surviving children or who want to transfer less than the compulsory transfers under Social Security.

While the debate is by no means resolved, most economists agree that both motives—life-cycle saving and bequests—matter. The empirical evidence, while mixed, continues to support the view that Social Security has had a significant depressing effect on private savings, although this effect does not appear to have been as large as originally believed. Economists B. Douglas Bernheim and Lawrence Levin, for example, found that Social Security depresses personal saving dollar for dollar for single individuals, but has no effect on saving by married couples.

Pay-as-you-go financing not only reduces real income through its effect on private saving, but also redistributes wealth and income over time. Those who retired in the early years of Social Security got huge wealth transfers because they paid taxes for only part of their work lives and because, as the system was being expanded and taxes were being raised, they paid these higher taxes for only a few years.

According to a study by the Congressional Research Service, a worker with average earnings who retired at age 65 in 1940 got back the retirement portion of his and his employer's taxes, plus interest, in a mere two or three months!!!! (our emphasis added). For workers who retired in 1960, the payback period was 1.1 years. For those retiring in 1980, the payback period had increased to 2.8 years.

The picture is much bleaker for future retirees. The expected payback period for today's older workers, those retiring in 2000, is 12.9 years, rising to 18.3 years for workers retiring in 2030!!!!!!(our exclamation points added for emphasis!)

This bleak long-term picture is inevitable. Average rates of return on Social Security taxes must fall as the system matures and, in the long term, cannot exceed the rate of growth of wages in the economy. Michael Boskin, chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, and his colleagues estimated that workers with median earnings and with nonworking spouses will get a real return on taxes of only 2.1 percent if they retire in 2010, and only 1.5 percent if they retire in 2025 or later.

Returns are even lower for workers with working spouses. The expected net loss for the 2025 retiree is $48,000, in present value terms, as compared to a net gain to the 1980 retiree of $63,000.

Social Security also transfers income within the same generation. For example, the weighed-benefit formula subsidizes workers with low earnings at the expense of those with higher earnings. The payback period for someone retiring in the year 2000 varies from ten years for the minimum-wage worker to twenty years for the relatively highly paid professional (1992 earnings of $55,500).

Much of the wealth redistribution that Social Security causes has little rationale. For example, Social Security subsidizes people who work in covered employment for only brief periods, even if their earnings are quite high. Also, the 50 percent benefit increase for spouses subsidizes "traditional" families, those with one breadwinner and a nonworking spouse, at the expense of two-earner couples and single people. For people born in 1945, the expected rate of return for a two-earner couple with a combined salary of $50,000 is only 0.4 percent, or less than one-fourth of the 1.74 percent return for the single-earner couple with the same salary and same total taxes paid. Finally, the retirement earnings test and actuarial adjustments for early and delayed retirement subsidize people who retire at sixty-five (and possibly earlier) at the expense of those who retire later.

Each of these transfers alters the return to work and thus distorts people's decisions about when, where, and how much to work.

There is much evidence for the view that Social Security has contributed to the sharp decline in labor force participation rates and in the average age of retirement for older men. Michael Hurd and Michael Boskin, for example, concluded that the entire 8.2 percent decline in the participation rate of men age sixty to sixty-five that occurred between 1968 and 1973 was caused by the 20 percent increase in inflation-adjusted benefits enacted during that period.

As a result of legislation in 1983 and generally healthy economic growth during the rest of the decade, Social Security is running a surplus of about $50 billion annually and accumulating assets rapidly. (not true in the 21st century...our notes added) Trust fund assets have quadrupled in the past five years and now top $325 billion ($450 billion including Medicare). Social Security's total asset holdings are greater than those of the top fifteen private pension plans combined—including General Motors, AT&T, IBM, and Ford. According to the Social Security Board of Trustees, assets will peak in the 2020s at $5.5 trillion (roughly $2 trillion in today's dollars). Interest earned on trust fund assets is expected to defray a significant portion of the cost of future benefits.

Some economists applaud the shift from pay-as-you-go toward partial advance funding as a fiscally responsible measure that will increase national saving and lighten the tax burden when the baby boomers retire. Other economists criticize it as fiscal chicanery—a hidden redistribution of taxes over time. They argue that surplus payroll taxes are used to fund the general operations of the government today, in exchange for general fund financing of Social Security tomorrow, and that trust fund surpluses create no real saving and may result in substantial wealth losses for the economy as a whole.

Who is right depends on whether the excess payroll taxes are being (and will be) saved and productively invested, or whether they are being used to finance current consumption by the government. Presently, any surplus monies are invested in new, special-issue government bonds. The trust funds are credited with a bond—an IOU from one part of the government to another—and the Treasury gets the cash, which it can spend like any other federal receipts. Saving occurs only if the government uses the surpluses to retire outstanding government debt (or to issue less debt to the public), causing the public to buy new private securities, thus increasing the funds available for investment.

Advance funding, as currently conceived, is thus an indirect mechanism for adding to the nation's capital investment. But it can work only if Congress restrains itself from doing two things: (1) relaxing fiscal restraint in the rest of the budget—that is, increasing spending on other programs or reducing taxes—and (2) using the increase to increase Social Security benefits, bail out the financially ailing Medicare trust fund, or fund a new program like long-term health care. That's a big "if." The alternative, spending the surpluses as we go, would substantially increase the government's long-range indebtedness and undermine the economic well-being of future workers and retirees.

The budget reforms adopted in 1990 were touted for having dealt with these concerns head-on. Previously, the Social Security surpluses were counted in determining whether the government met its deficit-reduction targets. Increases in the surpluses thus reduced the savings that had to be achieved in other programs. Social Security has now been removed from the Gramm-Rudman budget targets—and from the mechanisms that enforce those targets. Also, new procedures make it more difficult to bring legislation to a vote that would undermine the financial condition of Social Security.

Economists grounded in public choice theory, and therefore skeptical of politicians, are not sanguine that these new rules can keep Congress from spending the Social Security reserves for the next forty years. The "enforcement mechanism" for Social Security is weak by design: expansions of Social Security will not trigger any automatic reductions in other spending. In addition, the procedural "fire wall" for Social Security applies only to some legislation. Moreover, enforcement mechanisms are subject to change, as evidenced by two major revisions of the Gramm-Rudman law since 1985.

Four central changes in our economic and social life since the thirties have altered the costs and benefits of Social Security, yet have had almost no effect on the design of the program. These are the great expansion in employer-provided pensions and other sources of retirement income; the steady increase in life expectancy (since 1930, life expectancy at birth has increased from 58 to 71.6 years among males, and from 61.3 to 78.6 years among females); the steady improvement in the financial well-being of the elderly relative to other age groups; and changes in federal policy itself, which have resulted in an array of programs providing assistance to the elderly poor and medical-care coverage for virtually all of the nation's elderly. U.S. retirement income policy can continue to ignore these developments only at great cost.

About the Author

Carolyn L. Weaver is resident scholar and director of the Social Security and Pension Project at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. She is also a member of the Social Security Advisory Board.

Further Reading

Barro, Robert J. The Impact of Social Security on Private Saving: Evidence from the U.S. Time Series. 1978.

Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, Disability Insurance, and Hospital Insurance Trust Funds. 1992 Annual Report. 1992.

Boskin, Michael J. Too Many Promises: The Uncertain Future of Social Security. 1986.

Boskin, Michael J., Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Douglas J. Puffert, and John B. Shoven. "Social Security: A Financial Appraisal across and within Generations." National Tax Journal 40 (March 1987), no. 1: 19-34.

Feldstein, Martin. "Social Security, Induced Retirement, and Aggregate Capital Accumulation." Journal of Political Economy 82, no. 5 (1974): 905-27.

Feldstein, Martin. "Social Security and Private Saving: Reply." Journal of Political Economy 90, no. 3 (1982): 630-41.

Hurd, Michael D., and Michael J. Boskin. "The Effect of Social Security on Retirement in the Early 1970s." Quarterly Journal of Economics 99 (November 1984): 767-90.

Kollman, Geoffrey. "Social Security: The Relationship of Taxes and Benefits." Congressional Research Service Report no. 92-956 EPW. December 16, 1992.

Quinn, Joseph F., Richard V. Burkhauser, and Daniel A. Myers. Passing the Torch: The Influence of Economic Incentives on Work and Retirement. 1990.

Weaver, Carolyn L. The Crisis in Social Security: Economic and Political Origins. 1982.

Weaver, Carolyn L., ed. Social Security's Looming Surpluses: Prospects and Implications. 1991.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Donald Trump As Teddy Roosevelt?

'Just bully for me, thank you!'
'Bully for me! Bully for you, Donald!'
There has been all kinds of speculation about Donald Trump since he announced his run for the Republican nomination for President on June 16.

Has it been that long? It seems like only yesterday he said John McCain was 'not a war hero'; called Megyn Kelly a 'bimbo' and tangled with Jorge Ramos of Univision.

Maybe it is because he says all the same things every day it seems. Just a continual loop of sound bites and video.

Many pundits in Washington have predicted his political death 10 times already. George Will is biting through his upper set of teeth as he gnashes them contemplating the 'end of conservatism' as we know it today.

Whatever it really means, that is. We have heard at least 10 different descriptions of it over the years ranging from social conservatism to tax conservatism to libertarian conservatism to whatever-the-heck-you-wanna-call-it conservatism.

It seems to us that Donald Trump has tapped into the large taproot of disgust and revulsion that has been building against both established parties for about a decade that now manifests itself in the large percentage of people who are officially registered as 'Independents' or 'Unaffiliated'.

Every time we talk to such a group, they say the same thing over and over and over and over again:

'We hate the Democrats. We hate the Republicans. The Democrats spend too much money and like too much regulation and taxation of the private sector. The Republicans like to spend too much time worrying about what people are doing in their bedrooms.

They fight and they fight and they bitch and they bitch and they never get anything done for the overall good of the country. They are too concerned about their party and careers and staying in office way too long.

We are socially moderate-to-libertarian and fiscal conservatives.' 

Period. Next question.

In North Carolina, such officially registered Independent/Unaffiliateds accounts for close to 32% of the registered vote nowadays. That is a huge chunk of the electorate that neither side really knows how to speak to.

Along comes Donald Trump. He goes from nothing to 10% in GOP primary polls to 15% to 20% to 25% and now is over 32% in many state polls across the nation. Every time he does or says something that the 'experts' say will 'kill his campaign', he goes up another 5% points overnight it seems.

We have been trying to figure out who in American history he most resembles the most. We think you have to go all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt to get some inkling of why Donald Trump appears to have hit such a sweet spot with so many people today.

Both were (are) very wealthy sons of very wealthy people to begin with. Sons of privilege you might call them both.

Let's face it: It is easier to get to home base from third base if you are already born on it. After a while, after you have achieved great financial success, it starts to appear to you as if you have hit a grand slam home run to get to home base instead of acknowledging that you probably had a pretty good headstart in life over 99.9999% of every other human being who has ever been born on this planet.

Donald Trump acknowledges all this. So did Teddy Roosevelt.

'I am rich. I admit it.' they say. 'But what I want to do as President of the United States of America  is help everyone in America get rich! Especially the hard-working middle class!'

And therein lies the secret of the allure of both of them it seems. The average middle-class worker sees and hears a rich guy such as Donald Trump say such things and what they are really hearing is this:

'I wanna help YOU make more money and get a better job and take care of your family and pay your bills!'

That is a hard thing not to like. Especially after 6 years of stagnation and frustration in the job market and economy.

There is a strong line of populism in both TR's rhetoric and Trump's stream-of-consciousness thinking and talking out loud.

Both are, at their core, 'showmen' of the first order. Teddy Roosevelt used to go on big safari hunts in Africa and bring back enough dead big-game animals to fill a zoo.

At least Donald Trump just likes to open up casinos, fancy hotels and run Miss America Pageants. And tell people 'You're fired!' on 'The Apprentice'.

Teddy Roosevelt loved the crowds and loved to deliver fiery speeches to large crowds to inspire them to follow the Greatness of America dreams.

So does Donald Trump. Except he seems to be doing it right off the top of his head. At least Teddy Roosevelt was a learned scholar and author and historian of the first order; his speeches were probably a bit more nuanced than Mr. Trump's.

But not much.

Both had/have third-party aspirations. When Teddy Roosevelt wanted to run again after he retired from the White House voluntarily after 2 terms (remember there was no 22nd Amendment preventing long-term presidencies until 1947 after FDR's 4 elections), mainly because he missed the action so much, and he wasn't the Republican nominee, he invented a new political party, the Bull Moose Party, and ran under that banner. Bully for him!

We'll see if Donald Trump remains in the Republican camp if he does not wind up being the nominee. He can sign all the pledges others want him to but in the end, the only thing that would prevent him from running as a third-party candidate in all the 2016 primaries would be lack of ballot access due to lack of organization beforehand.

Both are New Yorkers. Or rather 'New Yawkers'.

There is something unique about a true New Yawker speaking in short sentences in simple words that everyone can understand. The Brooklyn in him is distinctively assertive and directive:

'We are gonna make America great again!'
'We are gonna build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it! Trust me!'
'We are going to knock ISIS out and take back their oil fields!'

You just get the feeling that he, like Teddy Roosevelt before him, means what he says and says what he means. Come hell or high water, he is issuing leadership language whether you like it or agree with it or not.

At the same time, it covers a lot of territory and gives comfort to a lot of people who need and want hope after a long period of disillusionment with the current White House and the Members of the US House and Senate.

The economy has not boomed over the past 6 years under President Barack Obama. Health care premiums have not gone down $2500 per year for every family under Obamacare. ISIS is running rampant over the entire Middle East it seems and jobs keep going to Mexico and China and Asia and not to the rural areas of North Carolina or wheatfields of Kansas or drought-stricken regions of central California.

Let's face it: Americans really DO want to believe we live in the greatest country on earth! That is why we are Americans!

They are tired of the worldwide apology tours of President Obama over the past six years. They are tired of negotiating with our enemies such as Iran which shows absolutely zero predisposition to changing their ways on the world stage now they are within grasp of building nuclear weapons. They are tired of not seeing the American economy explode with an over-abundance of new jobs ever year, especially the young graduates of our nation's best universities.

So Donald Trump comes along with a very simple cap that reads in bold letters: 'MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!'

And they are buying what he is selling. Whether everyone agrees with what he says or how he says it or not.

On top of all that, both TR and Trump were/are willing to take on the Kings and Barons of Wall Street. Teddy Roosevelt went after them on a trust-busting binge at the beginning of the 20th century. Donald Trump has clearly stated that he wants to raise taxes on Wall Street investment bankers who have large amounts of carried interest on investments that get taxed at a far lower rate than ordinary income would be taxed.

'They're my friends! I know them like a book! They laugh at how little they pay in taxes! Trust me, I know whudda I'm talkin' about!'

The little guy and the average middle-income wage-earner sees and hears a very rich guy like Donald Trump or Teddy Roosevelt going after the big guys on Wall Street, especially after so many of them re-made their fortunes on the back of those same taxpayers when we bailed them all out in 2009 after they helped burn down the financial system of America, and they say to themselves:

'That is a guy speaking the truth! I might not agree with him on everything....but I agree that he is a leader and we desperately need a strong leader now to lead us out of this mess we are now in in America!'

Even evangelicals in Iowa are supporting Donald Trump! They hear him say 'I have never asked God for forgiveness on anything I can remember cause I can't remember doing anything wrong' which is completely contrary to the notion of original sin and fallen creatures...and they say, 'Well, that is good enough for me!'

On women's issues, he has been very specific on maintaining women's health funding through Planned Parenthood even while saying he thinks the abortion delivery side of Planned Parenthood should be shut down due to the recent revelations regarding the horrendous sale of fetal organs...and both sides seem to be saying: 'I can live with that!'

It really is like watching the Hale-Bopp Comet come out of nowhere and streak across the evening sky this summer, isn't it? 

Or maybe that is just Donald Trump's hair?

* Read 'Theodore Rex' by Edmund Morris and see if you don't agree that many of the same similarities between the eccentric and bombastic behavior of Teddy Roosevelt and Donald Trump 100 years later. Maybe we are due for another 'showman' like TR

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