Sep 242010
Harry Reid Bubble Boy
Image by absentee_redstate via Flickr

To argue that the dysfunction of the federal government is purely a Republican issue would be naïve. Long unable to move forward on Democratic legislation, the new Congressional majority of 2009 was quick to let loose and take advantage of a Democratic executive branch.

The ARRA was the first significant legislation to wear the stamp of a Congress controlled by Democrats. Although it has been successful, in spite of Republican spin, one has to wonder how effective it might have been if more keenly honed to address directly the specific issue of job creation. It’s true that it included $288 billion in tax relief that cut the tax bills of 95% of Americans, and that it also sent $224 billion to aid the states and pin up Medicaid and unemployment insurance. But the $275 billion that went to direct investment was not, like the other portions, intended to sustain current spending and break the fall. It was allocated for the express purpose of creating jobs.

It is within this direct investment component of the stimulus that the Democrats established their most resounding successes, but unfortunately it also exhibits their most disappointing failures. There’s little room for legitimate complaint about the $90 billion allocated for clean energy or the $20 billion that will fund the digitizing of medical records. Both of these programs will pay dividends to American taxpayers far into the future. But the vast sum of grant money distributed into the black hole of government gives cause for concern and lends substance to the Republican argument that Democrats are all about bigger government.

Though the data is not coded to ease such extraction, a brief analysis of the information provided for download at reveals some interesting facts. The data representing all allocations through the end of June includes 347,915 awards of contracts, grants and loans, totaling $237 billion. Interestingly, a query of the data looking for “recipients” with a name that includes “school” or “education” finds 59,916 awards totaling $47 billion. Similarly, a search of “college” or “university” nets 26,047 awards for nearly $17 billion. Looking for funding that went to cities, a query of “city of” returns 16,364 award and another $17 billion; counties apparently received on the order of $12 billion, state departments of transportation around $19 billion, and other state departments and housing authorities close to $20 billion more.

All told, on the order of $131 billion appears to have gone to government organizations. This is not to say that none of this funding found its way into the private sector, or that thousands of private sector jobs were not created. Many of these government agencies, from school districts to transportation departments, maintain a practice of subcontracting to industry vendors. But once the money is fed into the bureaucratic machine, suspicion arises, and rightfully so. Such practice is viewed as more SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fouled Up) because accountability and transparency are severely obscured. The result is that both the motivation and effectiveness of the investments is appropriately called into question.

Fortunately for Republicans, not long after the Stimulus, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. From that point on, steadfast Republican obstruction has reigned supreme over timid Democratic initiative. As stated above, the Republicans, without doubt, deserve their share of the blame in this, but if not for the Democrat’s extreme lack of intestinal fortitude, much more meaningful legislation could have been passed. From healthcare to finance reform, the Democrats have allowed themselves to be bullied, never once requiring the filibustering Republicans to actually stand up and control the floor of the Senate. Instead, each time they compromised and produced diluted legislation of questionable worth.

In the end, the most well defined accomplishment of our near completely dysfunctional Congress is a starkly polarized populace. Americans on both sides of the debate blame the other. The Tea Party blindly carries the banner of smaller government and continues to grow in its numbers, railing against an ineffective government but upholding positions that only promise to make it more so. When will we learn?

Government is not the enemy, but the sorry excuse in Washington sure is. The solutions are before us, but the path we’ve chosen, through two political parties that fight harder for control than for the wellbeing of the nation is leading us to destruction. The American people need to wake up, to refuse to listen to anymore political rhetoric and to start asking more intelligent questions. America doesn’t need smaller government, nor does it need larger — it needs effective government, and it needs it now.

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Sep 232010
Howdy Doody Mitch McConnell
Image by uvw916a via Flickr

Americans complain about the federal government’s failure to restore the economy, and they largely place the blame on the Democrats because they are in power. But while the Democrats have their share of culpability, the Republicans have earned their title as the “Party of No.”

Ironically, the party whose members claim unwavering dedication to the original spirit of the Constitution has relied upon a parliamentary maneuver that was not part of the Framers plan and used it to obstruct the process of government. The filibuster, which did not exist at all until 1837 and did not require a super-majority to break before 1917, has become a prominent feature of the obstructionist Republican minority.

The filibuster was used sparingly up until 1970. Between 1919 and 1960 there had been only 27 filings of cloture (motion to end a filibuster). But in recent times it has grown in popularity, with the Republican minority of the past two congresses setting all-time records. Prior to the 110th Congress (2007-08), the Democratic minority had held the record with 68 filings in 2005-06. The last two Republican minorities eclipsed that total by stopping the wheels of government 139 times in 2007-08 and already 118 times in the current Congress.

This is obstructionism, plain and simple. Our democracy is based on political deliberation and debate that culminates in a vote, and the Republicans have strived to stop this process from occurring. They have essentially fought to block anything and everything the Democrats have proposed and offered nothing in the way of alternatives. So egregious is their barricade of democracy that they have no defense against charges of deliberate sabotage at the expense of American citizens.

The Republicans blocked healthcare, and they stood in opposition to Wall Street reform. They opposed job aid to the states, and they fought against extending unemployment benefits. They filibustered small business stimulus and attempted to stop the closing of loopholes to disrupt the offshoring of jobs. The Republicans have even repeatedly resorted to filibustering President Obama’s appointments, adding greatly to their excessive number of holds, which have led to fewer than half of the President’s judicial appointments being confirmed. The inescapable truth is that the party that wants people to believe that government is ineffective has done everything within their power to make it so.

Yet as counterproductive as this “just say no” tactic has been inside the Congress, the distortion and spin so prevalent in the media has been even more destructive. Witness the Stimulus: routinely portrayed as an abysmal failure by Republicans, non-partisan experts credit it with adding as much as 4.5% to the GDP and trimming 2 full percentage points from unemployment. In fact, as stated by economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s, it just happens that the month the NBER identified as the end of the recession was the month in which Stimulus spending was at it’s maximum.

Interestingly, it was also June of 2009 when former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich told the crowd at a Republican fundraising event that the Stimulus had “already failed.” His claim was obviously untrue, but when the objective is strictly confined to discrediting the opposing party, regardless of the costs to the American people, the rules of honesty and common decency have no bearing. From Sarah Palin to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell to John McCain, the Republicans have set aside any semblance of sincerity in order to mask their commitment to the wealthy and regain power on the backs of a struggling middle class.

Next: Broken Government — Democratic Inadequacy

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Sep 222010
President Barack Obama is joined by Vice Presi...
Image via Wikipedia

Whether you’re conservative or liberal, Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian, there’s one thing upon which most people will agree: our federal government is broken. The American economy crashed in 2008, and though the experts say that the Great Recession has officially passed, most people would beg to differ. The sad truth is that most Americans were hurt in the collapse; they either lost wealth or income or both. Now, two long years later, far too many people are still struggling and waiting for a dysfunctional government to implement effective solutions.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reported on Monday that the most severe recession since the Great Depression had ended in June of last year. The NBER made their determination based on several economic indicators, including total output and industrial production. The facts, according to the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), are that we’ve now regained 69% of the GDP and 38% of sales. The problem is that only 9% of private sector jobs have returned.

As of the end of August, national unemployment was still stuck at 9.6% and the broader U-6 rate, which includes the underemployed, was at 16.7%. So, it doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that with nearly 15 million unemployed Americans, people are justifiably angry with a government that was able to restore the banks, but seems unfazed itself and unable to help the average citizen.

With the 2010 midterm elections now only six weeks away, this sense of anger toward what’s perceived as an ineffective and self-serving federal government is what’s feeding public opinion. Wall Street brought down the economy, but they’re doing fine. Washington set the stage for the collapse, sat idly while it occurred and has not yet brought back the wealth or employment that was taken from the middle and working classes. Is the federal government culpable? Absolutely — but Americans would be well served to recall the depths of the pit from which we’re trying to crawl.

Although the recession that “ended” last June officially started in December of 2007, by the end of July 2008, unemployment was at a comparatively low 5.7%, with total job loss for the year of 463,000.  Then in September, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the freefall began. By October all lending had stopped; the GDP was down 6%; job loss totaled 1.7 million, global trade collapsed, and net household worth had dropped by $5 trillion.

President Bush signed the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) into law in October, and although it did feed the thieves behind the housing crash, it could very well have prevented the 25% unemployment levels that hit in the 1930s. But TARP or not, when President Obama took office, the economy was hemorrhaging nearly 600,000 jobs per month, and total job loss for 2008 had been recalculated at 3 million.

The new administration was desperate to enact measures to prevent further economic decay, but with interest rates nearly at zero percent, monetary policy had already been exhausted. So, in response, President Obama championed the only course of action still available to the federal government — a stimulus.

It was one month into the new Democratic administration, the economy was in dire straits, and the number of jobs lost each month was still increasing. The federal government needed to act, so a stimulus spending plan was quickly formed, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed by Congress and signed into law on February 16. Sadly, a sign of things to come, the legislation was passed without a single Republican vote in the House and only three in the Senate. The most partisan period in contemporary politics had begun.

Next: Broken Government — Republican Sabotage

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