Tag Archives: Congress

When did earmarks become fashionable?

“Earmarks” used to be a four-letter word.

Republican members of Congress rose against them. They were eliminated. Now they’re back, thanks in large part to the insistence of, um, Republican members of Congress.

Earmarks are those items that lawmakers tuck — or sneak — into budgets. Remember the “Bridge to Nowhere” that the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens inserted into a budget? The “bridge” money went for a structure that, well, went nowhere in Alaska.

Stevens was scorned for that little game of fiscal chicanery.

Now it appears that earmarks are being resurrected. I don’t get it.

Republicans who now control both congressional chambers — and the White House — have forgotten how they won voters’ hearts in the first place. They are supposed to be the “party of fiscal responsibility.”

Earmarks are meant to allow lawmakers to bring “pork barrel” money to their states and congressional districts. Many House members and senators have been pretty damn good at it. The late Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd fattened the budget with money he directed to West Virginia. And get this. Former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican, once bragged that he brought back so much “pork” to his home state that he was afraid of “coming down with trichinosis.”

I consider myself a deficit hawk, even though I also consider myself to be a left-leaning blogger. I don’t like earmarks any more than the next guy. They constitute government waste.

They’re coming back.

What happened to “draining the swamp,” eh? Mr. President? When are you going to pull the plug?

Waiting for the pundits’ new cliches

I watch a lot of TV news shows. Maybe that’s to my discredit, given that my wife and are holed up at the moment in an RV and the weather outside has been too cold to do much of anything.

What I am hearing is beginning to bore me to sleep.

I keep hearing the TV talking heads — the pundits, if you please — repeating the same “cool” words and phrases they like hearing themselves and each other say.

“At the end of the day” remains at the top of my list of phrases to jettison.

“Walking back” a statement is another one that is gaining ground in the toss-it-on-the-scrap-heap contest.

There also are “cool words” that seem to crop up in pundit-speak. “Kalashnikov” is one of them. It kind of rolls off the tongue and when I hear pundits and/or commentators mention the weapons used on a battlefield, they are bound to mention “Kalashnikov” rifles because they like sound of the name. Admit it: You know what I’m talking about.

Here is one of my latest “favorites.” It’s when Congress and the president keep “kicking the can down the road.” This usually refers to non-decisions they make regarding budget matters.

Congress cannot get a long-term budget approved. The president cannot persuade anyone on Capitol Hill to do anything. What happens? They end up “kicking the can down the road,” which is code for “failing to do their job.”

Come to think of it, why don’t the talking heads just say it loudly and proudly, that our government leaders are, um, you know … ?

The pundits sit around those tables talking to each other and they speak in that strange jargon that they use with each other or when they’re on the air talking to you and me.

Look, I’m not a grammarian. I don’t pretend to be a wordsmith in the mold of a Faulkner, Steinbeck, a George Will or a William F. Buckley. I tend as well to fall back into habit-forming word usage and phraseology.

I suppose if I’m patient enough, new phrases will sprout, kind of like weeds in the garden. We’ll all know them when the pundits keep repeating themselves.

Which is it: shutdown or deal on budget?

On one day, the president of the United States declared there would be a government shutdown if Congress didn’t come to a decision on an immigration package that secured our borders.

That is that. No deal, no government. “I would love a shutdown” if there’s no deal to build a wall. “Without borders, we don’t have a country,” Donald Trump declared.

The next day, U.S. Senate Democratic and Republican leaders cobbled together a budget deal that funds the government for two years. It’s a bipartisan agreement. Oh, and it doesn’t have any money for the wall the president wants to build across our southern border.

No worries, said the president. He’ll sign it if it gets to his desk.

So, which is it? Does the president want the wall or does he want to fund the government and avoid a shutdown that could occur later this week?

Honestly, I prefer the second version of the president’s current view. I believe he should sign the bill if it clears the House of Representatives, which at the moment is going through a revolt among members of its most conservative members. They hate the bill because it spends too much money and, yes, doesn’t include money for the wall or other border security measures.

They call themselves “fiscal hawks.” They say the Republican Party no longer can claim to be the party of “fiscal responsibility.”

Here’s what I hope happens. The House agrees on the Senate bill, they send it to the White House, the president signs it and then all sides — Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the president — get to work immediately on resolving the issue of immigration.

A viable government needs to proceed without the imminent threat of shutting down.

I am one taxpaying American citizen who is damn tired of this Band-Aid policy of running the government.

Can we just agree to keep the entire federal government functioning and serving all Americans while our representatives do what they were elected to do?

It is called “governing.”

State of the Union: a most political event

I am inclined to tell my friends who are fans of Donald J. Trump to settle down. Chill out. Take a breather. Don’t get so upset that congressional Democrats didn’t stand and cheer along with their Republican “friends.”

Trust me on this: Given that I live in the heart of Trump Country, my list of friends and acquaintances is full of Trumpkins. I don’t begrudge them for their political loyalty. I also hope they don’t begrudge me for mine.

One friend — and he’s an actual “friend” — has been ranting on social media about how the Democrats sat on their hands during Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night. He is just insulted that they would disrespect the president in such a disgraceful manner. How dare they do such a thing!

My friend has been around long enough to know how this game is played. Republican presidents usually get the proverbial stiff-arm from Democrats in the House of Representatives hall. Here’s the deal, though: Democratic presidents get the same treatment from Republicans when it’s their opportunity to deliver State of the Union speeches.

It goes with the territory, folks.

I don’t like it, either. I would rather the “loyal opposition” would show respect for the presidency, even if they dislike the individual who is occupying the office in the moment.

I need not remind my friend, moreover, about how Republicans treated President Barack H. Obama when he delivered his speeches to Congress. However, if he is reading this blog post, I’ll remind him of how GOP U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during one of Obama’s speeches before a joint congressional session.

By my reckoning, that outburst was far more disrespectful than anything we saw this week.

I’m not worried in the least about how Democrats behaved while the Republican president stood before them. They did what members of the “opposing” party always do.

Do I wish they would behave better? Sure. I also wish the same of Republicans the next time we elect a Democratic president.

Didn’t hear much ‘unity,’ Mr. President

I awoke this morning during a lunar eclipse. But the sun rose in the east — just as it has done since the beginning of time.

However, I don’t believe I awoke to a country more “unified” after last night’s presidential State of the Union speech, which I watched from start to finish.

The president said his speech would “unify” the nation. Judging from what I witnessed on my TV screen, I didn’t see a unified joint congressional session. Republicans stood repeatedly. Democrats sat on their hands.

Is that somehow different? Is it unique to this president in this time? Not at all! Republicans sat on their hands when Presidents Clinton and Obama spoke to them, just as Democrats did during President Bush’s two terms (the president’s post-9/11 speech notwithstanding, when everyone was cheering his rallying cry to a grieving nation).

Donald Trump’s urging of unity was supplanted by mentioning tax cuts, the repealing of the mandates required by the Affordable Care Act, the battle over immigration and construction of “the wall,” the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice. Divisiveness, anyone?

The president took office in the aftermath of arguably the most contentious, bitter campaigns in the past century. He took charge of a nation divided sharply over his election — and it hasn’t gotten any less divided in the year since he took office.

If the congressional response we witnessed Tuesday night on Capitol Hill is indicative of the nation those men and women represent, well, the president has a lot more work ahead of him.

Who will hug the aisle at the SOTU?

State of the Union speeches always are accompanied by back stories, vignettes that give commentators something on which to, um, comment.

How many ovations will bring both parties to their feet? How long will the president speak? How many programs will he lay at the feet of Congress?

Here’s what I’ll look for tonight: Who will be hugging the aisle when the sergeant at arms announces: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States?

When the president walks down the aisle toward the podium, he usually shakes hands, gets high-fives, slaps a few members of Congress on the back, gets good wishes and does that silly “finger-point” to someone he recognizes.

During the two most recent presidencies — of George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama — one could always depend on seeing certain lawmakers getting TV face time hugging or shaking hands with the incoming president. I think, for instance, of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat.

Members of Congress usually wait for hours prior to the speech to get their preferred place along the aisle. You could depend on seeing Rep. Lee greeting Presidents Bush or Obama as they walked toward the speaker’s podium.

There’s a new man in the Oval Office these days. Donald J. Trump’s the guy who’ll deliver the State of the Union speech.

So … the question: Who will we see leaning over the aisle looking to greet the president, and will one of them be Sheila Jackson Lee, the fierce Democratic partisan?

Let’s get real for just a moment. Democratic members of Congress — along with a few Republicans — have been pretty damn vocal in their criticism of the president; they’ve blasted him for his behavior, his rhetoric and, indeed, his policies.

What’s more, this president has been pretty fierce in his response to his congressional critics.

I believe I’ll look tonight to see evidence of grudges.

Keep it civil at SOTU

I have been preaching and screeching seemingly since The Flood about the need for greater civility and collegiality in the halls of political power.

Here comes my pitch for more of the same this week. The president of the United States is going to deliver his first State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress.

Donald J. Trump will stand at the podium and will seek to tell the nation about how he sees the condition of things in the country and lay out his agenda for the future.

Yes, I’ll be watching along with the rest of the nation’s political junkies to see how his message will be received by Democrats. You know Republicans will cheer, whoop and holler at everything that comes from the president’s mouth. The Democrats? Let’s just say they’ll be more, um, circumspect.

There’s talk of congressional Democrats boycotting the event.

President Barack Obama wasn’t always treated with utmost respect by members of the opposing party when he delivered State of the Union speeches. There was the infamous “You lie!” epithet that came from U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson. I’ve commented, too, about how congressmen and women would operate their “devices” while sitting on the floor while ostensibly “listening” to the president.

The most recent time a president received universal applause from a joint congressional session clearly was when President Bush spoke to the nation immediately after 9/11. We were united in our sorrow and rage and Congress reflected that sense of national resolve.

My hope for Donald Trump is that he is treated with courtesy.

Many of us don’t like the idea of this man sitting in this office. However, he is the duly elected president of the United States. The office deserves loads of respect. It’s my belief that members of Congress assembled in front of the president should treat the office with reverence — and should act accordingly.

As for the president’s pledge that he will seek to unify the nation when he delivers his State of the Union speech, I’ll only add that he had that chance at his inaugural. It didn’t work out that way.

I am hoping for — if not necessarily expecting — a better outcome.

Put yourself in their shoes

Let’s play a game of “Pretend” for just a moment or two.

Pretend you’re one of the millions of Americans working for the federal government. Pretend you’ve invested your entire professional life in service to others; you believe with all your heart in public service.

Pretend that you work for the park service, or you are on the medical staff of a Veterans Administration hospital unit. Pretend you answer phones at a government agency and direct callers to the person to whom they want to speak.

Pretend you’re wearing a military uniform, that you’re one of about 1.5 million Americans who take an oath to protect the rest of us from our enemies around the world.

How in the world do you feel today knowing that your federal government — your Congress and your president — cannot agree on a long-term federal budget that pays you to keep performing your public service?

If it were me, I’d be damn angry! I would be upset that I cannot plan for the future. I would be angry that I cannot know for certain whether I’ll be able to stay at my post beyond the next short-term deadline that Congress has just approved.

That’s what is staring those millions of public servants in the face. Congress has slapped another Band-Aid on an open wound. It has sent the package to the desk of the president of the United States. Donald Trump will sign it.

Then those dedicated public servants — those who serve you and me — get to wait until Feb. 8 for what might occur. That’s when this current budget resolution expires.

This is a crock! It’s a travesty in the extreme! The men and women who serve us deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. They damn sure deserve it from the yahoos who serve in Congress. And those clowns won’t forgo their pay. They do not face the prospect of furloughs. They don’t have to worry about their financial future.

Oh, no! They’ll just keep on keepin’ on.

The government is going to reopen. It will stay open at least until Feb. 8. Then what? Will we get to go through more of the same nonsense we’ve just experienced?

The millions of Americans who sign up to serve us deserve far better than they’re getting from the policymakers who cannot do their job.

Hold the applause and the back-slapping, Congress

I swear I could hear — even way out here in Flyover Country — the sounds of cheers, backslapping and high-fiving on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. Senate this morning approved a measure that funds the government all … the … way until Feb. 8.

Great, huh? Well, not even close.

The House of Representatives now gets this measure. House members will follow suit. Then it will head to the White House, where Donald John “Dealmaker in Chief” Trump will sign it into law.

What got the deal done? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to allow debate on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals status in exchange for reopening the federal government that had been shuttered since midnight Friday.

Oh, brother. What a sham!

The president said in September he wanted to disband DACA, but gave Congress until March to find a legislative solution. Congress didn’t get there. Then came the government shutdown game of chicken.

Neither side blinked when the money ran out. The government closed its doors. The blame game commenced.

Now we have Senate Republicans crowing that they got Democrats to accept most of their demands.

To what end? We have yet another temporary repair. Then we get to have another face-off — maybe, perhaps, possibly — on Feb. 8.

DACA screams loudly for a resolution. It involves the status of U.S. residents who came here illegally when they were brought here — as children — by their parents or legal guardians. These young men and women do not deserve to be shipped back to the country of their origin, countries they do not know; they grew up as Americans.

The Trump re-election campaign poisoned the discussion over the weekend by releasing a TV ad that declares Democrats would be culpable if an illegal immigrant commits murder, saying that Democrats would have blood on their hands.

So, here we stand. We’re likely to get the government reopened. DACA will return to the bargaining table. Senators and House members are proud of themselves because they worked hard all weekend to find a solution.

However, it’s another short-term fix.

We need something that we can call the “law of the land.” We need to end this gamesmanship. We need a government that works.

When we arrive at that point, then we can break out the bubbly.

Is this the work of a ‘fraud’?

I wasn’t looking for proof of a political accusation, but one has presented itself anyway.

In 2016, former Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney peeled the bark off the party’s primary frontrunner when he called Donald John Trump Sr. a “fraud” and a “phony.”

I thought at the time that the 2012 GOP nominee was talking exclusively about Trump’s penchant for bellicosity and insults. However, in the past few days, some things have come into sharper focus.

The president campaigned for office proclaiming his immense skill as a deal maker. He promised time and time again on the stump that he’d make the “best deals” in the history of humankind … or words to that effect. He vowed that the nation no longer would be snookered into falling for “bad deals.”

Well, here we are. One year into Trump’s time in office, the nation’s government is shut down. The president has been unable to deliver on one of those fundamental promises of his winning presidential campaign. He hasn’t cut any deal at all, let alone any bad deals.

I guess I can presume that’s what Mitt meant when he called Trump a “fraud.”

The late, great heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali used to say about his predictions about when he’d knock his foes out that “It ain’t braggin’ if you do it.”

Donald Trump needs to quit braggin’ if he can’t deliver the goods.