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Archive for October, 2010

   Yes Folks! We’re heading for the midterm elections once again. I remember 1994’s midterm election when the Republicans swept into office with their Contract with America. That ended the sole control the Democrats had during Bill Clinton’s first term in office. Is it better when one political party has control of the Congress, or is it better when there is a stalemate or Gridlock? Gridlock, as you should recall, is where nothing gets done, everything gets tied up, legislation is always pending or in somebody’s desk top, and there is continuous bi-partisan bickering and an ongoing stalemate between Democrats and Republicans to the point where the American voter is wringing his hands in utter frustration.

     Traditionally, Wall Street does very well under gridlock in Washington—while Main Street gets screwed by gridlock. And, by the way, don’t target all your frustration on the politicians in Washington. They have value conflicts that pretty much reflect value conflicts in the general population. Perhaps democracy works best when one political party has an ironclad hold on the nation. This is because with an ironclad control by one party in Congress at least desired goals and objectives usually get done for the American people.

     The question the American people must constantly ask is—are the things being achieved in Congress what you want as an individual voter?  Because different voting blocks tend to have different values, and thus a different political agenda, the dilemma between having a Congress in Gridlock versus having only one party in absolute control isn’t going to be resolved any time soon.

 Does the Public Want to Relive 1994?

      The country appears to be headed for another 1994 type of election. But you have to ask yourself another question: What was the result of ending the gridlock in 1994? Was it good for the nation? First, let’s look at the promises made in Contract with America:

 THE REPUBLICAN CONTRACT WITH AMERICA

(Circa 1994, by Newt Gingrich & Co)

     On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:

  • FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
  • SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
  • THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
  • FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
  • FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
  • SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
  • SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
  • EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.

What Was The Impact of 1994 Contract with America?

 Not much really except a lot of Republicans got elected and there was a return to business as usual.  

However, it seems to me there were a few good ideas for legislation put forward by the Republican Party in 1994. So, what really happened as a result of ending Gridlock in 1994? Some observers cite the Contract with America as having helped secure a decisive victory for the Republicans in the 1994 elections; others dispute this role, noting its late introduction into the campaign.

Whatever the role of the Contract, Republicans were elected to a majority of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1953, and several parts of the Contract were enacted. Some elements did not pass in Congress, while others were vetoed by, or substantially altered in negotiations with, President Bill Clinton, who would later sarcastically refer to it as the “Contract on America.”

How Will You Decide in 2010?

     You will have to decide as a voter whether the last two years (2008-2010) was more successful under the OBama Administration in meeting the needs of the nation than the Republicans might be if they take back the Congress in 2010. If the Republicans win it will thus set a new agenda for the nation (Promise to America) for 2010-2012.

     The irony of this upcoming election is that the Republicans, while wanting to end gridlock in a similar fashion as 1994, has done everything in their power to  create Gridlock between 2008-2010. The Republican posture during the last two years has been to create or foster stalemates, block proposals, and maintain a constantly uncooperative, if not destructive, attitude toward getting things done. The Republicans basically created their own form of gridlock thus doing nothing to help a traumatized nation dealing with a severe recession and high unemployment. Rather than compromise or work closely with democrats—the Republicans preferred to be obstructionist.  Does the public in the upcoming midterm election of 2010 want to reward that kind of behavior?

     Much of your decision-making will rest, of course, upon whether you believe (ideologically or otherwise) the nation is going in the right direction or not, and whether in troubled economic times, you also believe one party rather than the other is better at achieving what you hold to be important for the nation as a whole. It will be a balance between how you value the accomplishments of the democratic party versus how you value the accomplishments of the Republican Party during the last two years. One doesn’t have to vote based on promises made; in this situation, one can actually evaluate each party’s accomplishments during the last two years.

     It is said that actions always speak louder than words. It’s fair to say that past actions of the Republicans, especially under the leadership of George Bush, spoke volumes about their failure to respect the wishes of the American voters, which is why they lost so badly to the democrats in 2008. The vast majority of Americans in 2008 felt the agenda of Barack OBama was the right course for the nation.

     Therefore, one needs to put the accomplishments of both parties during the last two years under the microscope again to see if it meets your criteria for the “Right Course for the Nation.” Is it an election about the Goals and Objectives of two differing political parties, or is it about the Methods used to achieve their respective goals and objectives. The public is usually quite good at articulating their personal goals and objectives for the nation. They are, however, usually unknowledgeable about how best to achieve those goals. That’s why the public elects others to Congress who are presumably more knowledgeable in matters of methods. One area the public is sorely unknowledgeable is in the area of Economics and Economic Theory.

      In addition, the voter brings to this entire process a lot of excess baggage. As I see it, the American people are extremely fickle, very impatient, have a short memory, and public polls indicate national preferences are once again for Republican candidates and a conservative agenda as reflected by the Tea Party movement. So, what in the world does an intelligent prudent voter do when the country is constantly fickle every 2-4 years bordering on a “Psychos-R-Us” mentality?  

     The year 2008 promised much change in Washington (just like 1994) following the public’s disgust with Republican Wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and an escalating national debt that knew no ceiling, and a financial meltdown that came inches close to putting the country into another 1930s type depression.

     So, now that the American people have had some experience with the OBama administration, the new democratic administration had a chance to control the congress thus ending once again (in theory at least) gridlock in Washington (sort of —but not really with Republican obstruction).

     It is the position of The Reasoned Society that the only intelligent way to approach the upcoming midterm election is to contrast the accomplishments of the OBama administration with the accomplishments of the Republican Party in Congress the last two years. It is not the position of The Reasoned Society that a democratic society works best when absolutely nothing gets done.

      Let’s look now at some of the accomplishments of the OBama administration first, followed by the accomplishments of the Republican Party. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide which political party or agenda, as reflected by their accomplishments, are worthy of your vote in the upcoming election. Here they are:

 OBama Administration’s Accomplishments

OBama had numerous accomplishments in his very first year in office.

Passing Stimulus, Generating Jobs

     On February 17, 2009, OBama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill into law. In December 2009, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report estimating that “in the third quarter of calendar year 2009, an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million people were employed in the United States” due to that legislation. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, CBO has increased its estimate to 800,000 to 2.4 million additional employed through the fourth quarter of that year. Moreover, a November 20, 2009, New York Times article reported that the “consensus” among “dispassionate analysts” is that “the stimulus package, messy as it is, is working,” citing nonpartisan analyses of gross domestic product and total employment figures by several companies specializing in economic forecasting. Further, a January 25 USA Today article stated that, according to its “quarterly survey of 50 economists,” “[u]nemployment would have hit 10.8% — higher than December’s 10% rate — without OBama’s $787 billion stimulus program,” adding, “The difference would translate into another 1.2 million lost jobs.”

Eliminating Wasteful Spending

     OBama was able to achieve some significant cuts to wasteful spending — most notably, the elimination of the F-22 fighter jet program after he successfully lobbied the Senate to vote to strip out financing for more jets from a defense funding authorization bill. The Washington Times reported on January 14 that OBama won “60 percent of his proposed cuts” and also managed “to get Congress to ax several programs that had bedeviled President George W. Bush for years.”

Sotomayor Nomination

     On May 26, 2009, OBama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court to replace the retiring Justice David Souter. She was confirmed by the Senate on August 6, 2009, and sworn in August 8, making her the first Hispanic justice, and only the third woman, on the court.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

     The first bill President OBama signed into law, on January 29, 2009, was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which expands the rights of workers to sue employers over wage discrimination claims.

SCHIP Expansion

     On February 5, 2009, OBama signed a bill expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover 4 million more lower-income children.

Public Lands Bill

     On March 30, OBama signed an omnibus public lands bill, which The New York Times reported “allows for 2 million more acres to be declared wilderness… [with] more than 1,000 miles designated as scenic rivers, and adds land for national trails.”

Credit Card Reform

     On May 21, 2009, OBama signed into law a bill providing what USA Today called the “most sweeping changes to the credit card industry in 40 years,” adding restrictions on interest rate increases and fees and restricting the marketing of credit cards to college students.

Transparency

     The Washington Post reported that moves by the OBama administration to improve government transparency “included a ban on lobbyist gifts; restrictions on the hiring of lobbyists; publication of White House visitor logs and other records; and a move to bar lobbyists from serving on advisory boards.” A report by Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, and U.S. PIRG stated that: “The cumulative effect of the Administration’s actions has been to adopt the strongest and most comprehensive lobbying, ethics and transparency rules and policies ever established by an Administration to govern its own activities.”

Tobacco Regulation

     On June 22, 2009, OBama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which, for the first time, gave the U.S. Food & Drug Administration the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of tobacco.

National Service

     On April 21, 2009, OBama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which expands the scope of AmeriCorps and provides opportunities for young people and senior citizens to join in service programs.

Stem Cell Research

     On May 9, 2009, Obama signed an executive order easing restrictions on the use of federal money for embryonic stem cell research.

— T.K.

Recent Accomplishments

The following was written by Eugene Robinson recently for the Washington Post.

      In less than two years in office, the Obama Administration has made some incredible progress, from passing historic health reform to reining in Wall Street and fighting to create new jobs. Even so, sometimes it can feel like all of the day-to-day news is focused on the negative, without much emphasis on the real changes the President has made with the help of supporters around the country. For a look at some of the great accomplishments in just the past few weeks—including troops leaving Iraq, bringing the auto industry back from the brink of collapse, and containing the oil spill in the Gulf.

     This is a radical break from journalistic convention, I realize, but today I’d like to give credit where it’s due — specifically, to President Obama. Quiet as it’s kept, he’s on a genuine winning streak. It’s hard to remember that the inauguration was just 19 months ago. Expectations of the new president were absurdly high. If Obama had done back flips across the Potomac River, when he reached the other side he’d have faced probing questions about why it was taking him so long to cure cancer, solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and usher in an age of universal peace and prosperity. But look at what he’s accomplished in just the past few weeks. Let me highlight four recent headlines.

     “Last U.S. combat troops leave Iraq”: Obama campaigned as an early and vocal opponent of the Iraq war, calling it a distraction from the more important conflict in Afghanistan. When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush’s combat surge. Obama said he would bring our combat forces home and he did — ahead of schedule…. “General Motors to launch stock offering”: One of the many crises Obama faced when he took office was the imminent collapse of an iconic industrial giant….Obama ended up pouring $50 billion into the company, acquiring a 61 percent ownership stake.

     Critics complained about the advent of “Government Motors” and raised the specter of bureaucrats in Washington holding public hearings to redesign the Corvette. But now, after making more than $2 billion in profits so far this year, the restructured company is confident enough to sell stock on Wall Street — and begin repaying the government’s investment. The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That’s nice work.”Gulf oil spill contained”: When BP’s Deepwater Horizon well went rogue, the Obama administration was criticized for being slow off the mark. Some of the criticism was justified — the initial response did seem unfocused. But the administration managed to turn things around and quiet any talk of “Obama’s Katrina.”

     Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion as a guarantee that the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill would be compensated….

     And finally, “President wades into mosque controversy”: Yes, I’m serious. Supporting the mosque in Lower Manhattan didn’t score any political points. But Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.

     He still hasn’t walked on water, though. What’s wrong with the man?

 Republican Party Accomplishments, 2008-2010

     Below are the accomplishments of the Republican Party in Congress during the last two years, 2008-2010.

 

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Summary

You should know that the economy and jobs are the nation’s principal issues this midterm election.

     You should also understand that economic cycles based on economic principals have a life of its own, and no administration (Democrat or Republican) can ever fully control it. Twenty-four months from now the economy will be booming again, and unemployment will be below 6 percent. The unemployment rate during the depression of the 1930s was 25% of the nation’s workforce. By comparison, we are already in good times, and soon we will return to great times. This is the real world folks and it is best if you understand that if you’re ever going to be a wise, sagacious and prudent voter.

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