Israel Opponent Appointed To Senate Foreign Relations Committee

— by David Streeter

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) expressed outrage over Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) new membership on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee given his deeply disturbing record when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship. NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris said:

Senator Rand Paul’s membership in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should be raising red flags and provoking severe concern across the pro-Israel community. The decision by Republican Senate leaders to give a bigger microphone and a prominent platform to someone who has repeatedly called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and used his leadership PAC to push an anti-foreign aid agenda is simply outrageous. As we’ve said for months, Senator Paul and his father’s acolytes are becoming legitimate forces in today’s Republican Party — and pro-Israel Republicans have repeatedly and epically failed to address this growing issue within the GOP ranks. Now this failure has very real consequences. The overwhelmingly pro-Israel American public deserves much better than a radical ideologue on the Senate’s primary diplomatic committee who has demonstrated a singular obsession with slashing aid to the Jewish state.

More after the jump.
Senator Rand Paul twice pushed for ending U.S. “welfare” (in his words) for Israel — which prompted seven Democratic Senators to author a letter firmly rejecting Paul’s proposal. Further, Paul has been a staunch opponent of general U.S. foreign aid — which has long been supported by the pro-Israel community — and even used his leadership PAC to push his anti-foreign aid agenda during the 2012 campaign.

Unfortunately, membership in the committee is not likely to cause a change in Paul’s behavior. As Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin noted (emphasis added):

Replacing them will be Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rand Paul (R-KY), and newly minted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Paul has been a thorn in the State Department’s side since he came to the Senate, pushing for drastic cuts in U.S. foreign aid and holding up several State Department nominees. His new SFRC perch will allow him to ramp up those activities.

Senators Affirm Israel’s Right to Self-Defense

Last light, the Senate unanimously passed Resolution 599 supporting Israel’s “Pillar of Defense” operation against Hamas. According to The Times of Israel,

The United States Senate sent a message of solidarity to Israel on Thursday by unanimously passing a resolution that expressed firm support for Israel’s right to protect its people from terrorism on the second day of Pillar of Defense.

Introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), Senate Resolution 599 expressed ‘vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizing and strongly supporting its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.’

Sixty-two Senators joined the bipartisan resolution as co-sponsors.

The full text of the resolution follows the jump.
112TH CONGRESS 2D SESSION S. RES. 599

Expressing vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizing and strongly supporting its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES Mrs. GILLIBRAND (for herself and Mr. KIRK) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

RESOLUTION

Expressing vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizing and strongly supporting its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism. Whereas Hamas was founded with the stated goal of destroying
the State of Israel;

  • Whereas Hamas has been designated by the Secretary of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization;
  • Whereas Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and accept previous agreements between
    Israel and the Palestinians;
  • Whereas Hamas has launched thousands of rockets and missiles since Israel dismantled settlements and withdrew from Gaza in 2005;
  • Whereas terrorists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have fired approximately 900 rockets and missile shells into
    Israel this year, an increase from roughly 675 attacks in 2011 and 350 in 2010;
  • Whereas Hamas has increased the range of its rockets, reportedly with support from Iran and others, putting additional
    large numbers of Israelis in danger of rocket attacks from Gaza;
  • Whereas, on November 14, 2012, President Barack Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated
    Israel’s right to self-defense; and
  • Whereas Israel, as a fellow democracy, has an inherent right to self defense in the face of terrorist attacks: Now,
    therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate —

  1. expresses unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizes and strongly supports its inherent right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism;
  2. reiterates that Hamas must end Gaza linked terrorist rocket and missile attacks against Israel, recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and agree to accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians;
  3. urges the United Nations Security Council to condemn the recent spike in Gaza-linked terrorist missile attacks against Israel, which risk causing civilian casualties in both Israel and Gaza; and
  4. encourages the President to continue to work diplomatically with the international community to prevent Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist organizations from retaining or rebuilding the capability to launch rockets and missiles against Israel.

Senate Extends Tax Cuts For Middle Class On Strictly Party Line Vote

The Senate extended the Bush-era tax cuts for the first $250,000 of income. 51 Democrats voted for the bill, but Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Jim Webb (D-VA) joined all of the 47 Republican voted against it.

Earlier today, the GOP plan was defeated on a 45-54 vote. Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) voted with the Republicans while Senators Scott Brown (R-MA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) voted with the Democrats. The Republican plan would included even income beyond $250,000 in the extension of the tax cut.

Statement by President Obama follows the jump.
Statement by President Obama on the Passage of the Middle Class Tax Cut Extension:

With the Senate’s vote, the House Republicans are now the only people left in Washington holding hostage the middle-class tax cuts for 98% of Americans and nearly every small business owner.  The last thing a typical middle class family can afford is a $2,200 tax hike at the beginning of next year.  It’s time for House Republicans to drop their demand for another $1 trillion giveaway to the wealthiest Americans and give our families and small businesses the financial security and certainty that they need.  Our economy isn’t built from the top-down, it’s built from a strong and growing middle class, and that’s who we should be fighting for.

 

Sen. Mitch McConnell Blocks Iran Sanctions Vote

— David A. Harris

The actions today by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to block a vote on new Iran sanctions represents the Republican Party’s latest failure to take sanctioning Iran seriously. First it was Republican House members voting repeatedly against amendments that would have closed loopholes and strengthened sanctions. Now, McConnell is saying that the Senate GOP needs more time to study the legislation because he and members of his party want a clear declaration over the use of force.

The President and his Administration have repeatedly been crystal clear that military force is on the table to stop Iran. Perhaps McConnell missed that our Ambassador to Israel broadly said the military option is ‘ready’ and ‘fully available’ during a recent interview.

With all due respect, I must ask Senator McConnell — what kind of message does blocking a vote on strengthening sanctions send, particularly with negotiations rapidly approaching? We know how gridlocked the Senate is; why push this critical legislation back?

Reuters report follows the jump.
Reuters reported:

U.S. Senate Republicans blocked new economic sanctions on Iran’s oil sector on Thursday, saying they needed more time to study revisions, a surprise move that drew anger from Senate Democrats who had expected unanimous approval ahead of Iran talks on May 23.

‘I feel I’ve been jerked around,’ Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor after the Republican objection.

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said his staff did not receive a draft of the bill until late on Wednesday night, and needed more time to make sure it was as strong as possible.

‘There is no reason in the world why we can’t resolve whatever differences we have and move forward,’ McConnell said. ‘We certainly don’t want to take a step backward, and there are members on my side of the aisle who are concerned that the way the measure is currently crafted could actually be a step in the wrong direction,’ McConnell said….

Democrats wanted to pass the proposed penalties ahead of talks between world powers and Iran next week, and had support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

But Republicans sought a stronger statement in the bill that the use of U.S. military force was an option.

GOP Protects Millionaires From Being Taxed Like Commoners


Today is Tax Day when Americans pay their share to support our country. Of course, some of the wealthiest Americans are not paying their fair share and the Senate Republicans voted last night to make sure that continues to be the case.

Statement by President Barack Obama

Tonight, Senate Republicans voted to block the Buffett Rule, choosing once again to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest few Americans at the expense of the middle class.

The Buffett Rule is common sense. At a time when we have significant deficits to close and serious investments to make to strengthen our economy, we simply cannot afford to keep spending money on tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans don’t need and didn’t ask for.  But it’s also about basic fairness – it’s just plain wrong that millions of middle-class Americans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than some millionaires and billionaires.  America prospers when we’re all in it together and everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

One of the fundamental challenges of our time is building an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.  And I will continue to push Congress to take steps to not only restore economic security for the middle class and those trying to reach the middle class, but also to create an economy that’s built to last.

A Senate at risk


111th Senate

Part 5 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

“Enzi has already gotten detailed responses to the questions he raised. We know exactly how the 9/11 health clinics have spent their money, and so does Enzi.”
– Manhattan U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler

Whew! The American people were spared a U.S. Senate that might take command of its legislative agenda.

We do not want to jeopardize the Democratic Senate seats in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and other conservative states.

More after the jump.
Under the headline Senate Democrats’ minimalist agenda, The Washington Post reported that the Democratic majority has intentionally restrained itself to save seats in states like these.

The May 21, 2011, Post account states: “Democrats have decided to try to shield those lawmakers from the usual weeks-long debates and instead await for compromises to be reached behind closed doors. Reid’s approach is a bet that doing nothing looks better for them, so long as their arguments resonate with voters in 2012.”

Welcome to governance in the Senate half of the 112th Congress. Any wonder we have been stuck with an immovable Senate? Doing their jobs might cause some Democrats to lose their jobs in the November 2012 election. The Democratic leadership worried that they might lose their 51-47 majority if they overplayed their hand; two senators then were independents who caucus with the Democrats.

What, then, is the point of having a Senate?

Senate gridlock is rooted in the Senate’s composition that requires equal representation for all states, while leaving the House of Representatives with proportionate representation. Senate Democrats  represent all five states that opposed proportionate representation during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Rhode Island, which did not participate in the convention, is also represented by Democrats in the Senate.

Most low-population states are conservative or conservative-leaning. They are represented by Republicans in the Senate or alternate between the two parties. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was defeated for re-election in 2004. If he represented New Jersey or New York, he almost certainly would be serving in the Senate today.

Daschle’s fellow Democrats do not want others like him defeated, so they adjusted their agenda to protect their Senate seats in swing states. Three of those states, where two incumbents were retiring and a third was up for re-election, are home to 3.5 million people – Nebraska, 1.7 million; Montana, 975,00; and North Dakota, 646,000.

So, 1 percent of the nation’s citizenry – out of 308 million Americans – can propel the Senate leadership to ignore or minimize the needs and concerns of tens of millions of Americans. Democrats in the 112th Senate represented 190 million Americans after the 2010 election and 204 million in the 2008 election before Scott Brown, a Republican, was elected on Jan. 19, 2010, to fill a Massachusetts Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Under these overall population estimates, each senator is counted as representing half their state’s population. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party is not counted here because he was elected as a Republican.

The four Democratic senators from New York and California collectively represent one-sixth of America’s population, 36.9 million in California and 19.5 million in New York.

That leaves 56.4 million Americans, and 135 million from other moderate or liberal states, in the lurch.

If the Senate represented the populace on a more proportionate basis, then far more attention would likely be paid to issues raised by the senators from high-population states such as New York and California.


Our present form of government was launched in a building at Wall and Nassau streets in lower Manhattan that was demolished two decades later. George Washington was inaugurated on the balcony on April 30, 1789. Eight blocks northeast, 212 years and four months later, two hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center towers.

It was this very form of government that threatened funding of two programs for New York City resulting from the 9-11 tragedy. One issue prompted bickering between a Manhattan congresswoman and a senator who represents fewer people than the number who live in her district. Manhattan alone comprises triple the population of the state that sent Mike Enzi to the Senate. For those who are confused by New York’s geographic composition, Manhattan is one of five boroughs that comprise NYC, population 8 million plus.

Manhattan’s population is 1,600,000 and Rep. Carolyn Maloney represents 700,000 people. The population of Enzi’s state, Wyoming, is 544,000.

In December 2010, Enzi opposed the Zadroga bill to compensate 9/11 workers sickened during the clean-up of the World Trade Center site. He was even accused of quarterbacking a campaign against the bill with a document that Carolyn Maloney called “a pack of lies.”

The New York Daily News attributed to unidentified sources the claim that Enzi, ranking Republican on the Senate Health Committee, was behind the opposition to the Zadroga bill, which would spend $7.4 billion over 10 years to provide health care and pay victims.

The revenue would be raised from closing tax revenues on foreign corporations. Because Republicans were against employing this source for revenues, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, suggested other funding alternatives.

The News reported that the Republican document ignores their offers and labels the foreign tax provision a job-killer, and blatantly fabricates the claim that 95 percent of the workers were provided for in a recent $625 million legal settlement.

Only 10,000 people who sued, not the 30,000 who received some form of treatment, are covered by the settlement, the newspaper article clarified.

Calling these claims “a pack of lies,” Maloney said, “If these were legitimate concerns, why are Senate Republican leaders only raising them now, at the last minute, instead of years ago?”

Enzi would not respond to these accusations, but a week later he penned an op-ed piece in the News where he claimed that health-care providers that received federal grants for 9/11 health programs “have failed to tell Congress where that money has gone.”

In a follow-up letter to the News, Maloney and Jerrold Nadler (Ground Zero is located in his congressional district) wrote that “Enzi has already gotten detailed responses to the questions he raised. We know exactly how the 9/11 health clinics have spent their money, and so does Enzi.”


Obama signs Zadroga Act

In a Dec. 3 editorial, the Daily News employed phrases such as “distort the truth” and “torture decency” to describe Republican tactics. “They should stand at the graves of all those whose lungs were fatally destroyed, starting with NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who labored 450 hours at Ground Zero, and repeat the libel.” The bill was named after Detective Zadroga.

Next excerpt – Two senators, a high road and a low road

To change policy, change the system


Maturing moment – Convention delegates sign great but flawed Constitution at Independence Hall.

Part 4 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

Congress will never change so long as both political parties are locked in an endless struggle for power.

Many senators and representatives in both parties enter Congress with the best of intentions, but they must still run for re-election and consider how their votes will affect their respective parties.

The end result means frequent watered-down compromises between what is best for their constituents and the public at large, and for their party.

More after the jump.
Republicans seem dead set against doing anything for vulnerable citizens,and they have feared that a more conservative candidate will be nominated to face President Obama in November. Democrats will restrain themselves because they worry that Democrats representing swing states or swing House districts will be endangered by initiatives considered to be too liberal.

It would be ideal if citizens entered Congress as, well, citizens intent on solving America’s problems, but political pressures intrude on a disproportionate basis. The election of independents could readily revitalize elections and the governing process.

The present system impedes the election of independents who would have difficulty raising the kind of money and building the type of campaign organization that can be provided by a political party. Because of the winner-take-all system, independents usually end up siphoning votes from one or both party candidates.

Some bad actors from either party who hold safe seats would probably get elected anyway, but a less partisan Congress would dilute their power. Probably nobody would have dared tell a president that he lied.

Independent candidates have been elected in a handful of statewide elections, usually small states. Of 100 senators and 435 House members, only two members of Congress are independents – Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was also elected as an independent when he represented Vermont in the House. Like independent governors in other states, these candidates were already people of stature.

These kinds of obstacles might be overcome by creating a system known as Instant Runoff Voting, which allows voters to list other preferred candidates in case their favored candidate ranks low on the pecking order. More on this in later chapters that outline recommended improvements.

It is probably impractical for an independent to mount a serious campaign for president or for elected office in a diverse, populous state, but it might be possible in congressional districts and small states.

______________________________________________________

The performance of Congress tops a chain of oppressive circumstances that restrict government on most levels in resolving difficulties in society.

The failings here are evident – crime, poverty, substandard schools, housing shortages, unemployment, inadequate health-care coverage, the widening income gap, child abuse, prejudice, political gridlock, corruption, government mismanagement and so on.

People often complain about conditions, but little is done about them. Some Americans who may fit the label of “liberal” assail Obama for failing to push his progressive agenda harder. Some African-Americans gripe that Obama has not done enough for issues which affect the black community. All true.

Maybe they failed to notice some slight stumbling blocks. Obama and Democrats in Congress have been unable to succeed with basic initiatives because of Republican opposition. The House passed legislation for a partly publicly financed health care system on Nov. 7, 2009, when it was controlled by the Democrats, but the Senate dislodged what was called the “public option” because Republicans threatened to exercise their filibuster power.

The same fate awaited Democratic attempts to repeal tax cuts for the wealthy.

If Democrats cannot get past these simple hurdles, how are they expected to do much else of a progressive nature?

The barrier that blocked Democratic legislation in Congress is one of many traps in our governance system that obstructs efforts to address some of the most basic needs in our country. Children continue to go hungry, more loyal employees in the private sector lose their jobs, students still attend overcrowded schools, prices persist in rising as wages stagnate.

Our system also maintains institutional racism. African-Americans and other racial minorities are disproportionately victimized by such policies.

None of this is likely to improve so long as we endure the policies produced by our current system.

To change policy, change the system.

The historic magnitude of the Constitution cannot be minimized, but certain of its rules limit America’s ability to serve its citizens adequately. The Constitution provides a durable foundation, but in two centuries it was necessary to place a great deal of building blocks atop it. What we have now is far from sufficient.

The Constitution contains four significantly flawed requirements. The most obvious was the set of provisions prolonging slavery. Fortunately, slavery was abolished with the Civil War, but the Constitution reflects the ongoing racial conflicts inherently embedded in American society.  

The electoral college was widely vilified when the 2000 presidential election turned into a bizarre spectacle – not the first time that a presidential candidate won the electoral college while losing the popular vote. The electoral college served its purpose for selecting presidents during the nation’s early years, but the reason for it no longer exists and the electoral college remains a drag, at best, on the democratic process.

The electoral college allows the ongoing potential for the selection of a president who is elected by only a minority of the voters, not to mention other disadvantages.

Creation of the Senate permits a minority of the country’s population to control part of the legislative process and the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The majority of the people must depend on chance at the ballot box to obtain sufficient clout in the Senate.

On the surface, the amendment process can easily block any attempt to adjust these clauses to make the system more democratic. Any proposed amendment can be thwarted by provisions requiring a two-thirds vote in each house and ratification by three quarters of the 50 states.

Under this system, interestingly, the minority of the population can block adjustments of the rules which already stifle the will of the majority.  

Our system of governance also inhibits the appointment of Supreme Court justices and judges on the lower federal courts whom we can trust for fairness. It is possible for the minority of the people to select judges because of the power of the electoral college and the composition of the Senate.

Beyond the Constitution itself, our 50-state network as we know it is anachronistic. The economic strength or weakness of many states now depends on corporate decisions reached in other states and even foreign countries. Big cities or metropolitan areas usually fund a state’s operations by higher proportions, and the larger states send more money to the federal treasury than smaller states.

Some cities and metropolitan areas may well be self-sufficient if they detach themselves from their state governments. It would likewise make sense if low-population states merged, or if some small states folded into an adjacent larger state.

Many of our problems are self-inflicted. We entrust our political leaders with extensive powers on levels from the White House to City Council. We have elected many exceptional people for public office, yet we have voted people into office who mismanaged our government, stole from us and even contributed to frantic turmoil throughout the world.

Politicians who betray our trust are able to do so because we let them get away with it.

Few enough Americans exercise their rights. Many do not vote in any elections and others will only vote in selected elections, especially the presidential election and in big-city mayoral elections. We do not take time to learn about candidates’ backgrounds and their positions.


Way of Wisconsin – Citizens exercise their democratic rights in rotunda of state capitol in Madison, in protest of Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union initiatives

Once successful candidates take office, too few of us bother to keep track of what they do or communicate our concerns to them. Nor do we organize sufficiently to express dissent of their actions. The series of mass protests in Madison, Wisc., was an exception to what we have experienced in modern times.

Mayors, governors, judges and elected officials of all kinds have mismanaged their operations or abused the trust placed with them. Scandals abound, involving massive contract overruns, judges prosecuted for profiting from sentencing practices, council members benefiting from questionable procedures, a lawyer’s conflict of interest over a proposed building, sexual harassment, the appointment of a schools chief seen as indifferent and unqualified,  and a state government’s longtime neglected oversight of an abortion doctor ultimately charged with murder of babies after being born alive.

The system can be changed.

This begs some legitimate questions: Why bring all this up? Are there any alternatives? If there are, how do we bring about any change?

A series of recommendations are recited in the latter portion of this series. They include a more proportionate form of congressional representation; a realignment of state governments; more regional systems of government; modified rules governing the federal courts; and electoral changes to encourage campaigns of independent candidates, among other measures. Did I mention scrapping the electoral college?

These suggestions can at least serve as a starting point for consideration.

The most anticipated concern about these ideas is this likely question: How? To risk understatement, the obstacles to any changes are daunting.


Broken system – Electoral vote prompts need for bizarre recount in Florida, sparking protests.

If the Senate refuses to adjust or eliminate the filibuster rule, what hope is there for anything else? To amend the amendment process, we obviously need to use, well, the amendment process. The public understood full well the consequences of the electoral college when we endured the Florida recount a decade ago, but there has been no groundswell to eliminate it.

We should be under no illusion that the system will change. Maybe conditions can improve, but at this rate the outlook is not optimistic.

However, it is crucial to understand the deficiencies of the system before we can improve conditions. Making America what it should be does not seem possible under the existing way of doing business, but maybe it can happen. I do not know how to change policy without changing the system.

At stake is good government and how it can best serve its people.  

Profiles in Absurdity


Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) escorts Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) into the House of Representatives for the 2012 State of the Union

Part 3 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives
— Allen West’s belated Valentine’s Day message to colleague Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

To revive the economy, a majority of the House slashed  $126 million during February 2011 from the National Weather Service, the agency which operates the Pacific Tsunami Warming Center in Hawaii, which in turn issued warnings minutes after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.

“The nation is in an historic fiscal crisis, and it is imperative that the Congress roll back spending in virtually every area — including NOAA — so that we can help our economy (get) back on track,” explained Jennifer Hing, GOP congressional spokeswoman

Tea partiers ignored safety concerns when they eliminated $61 billion in expenses. The House passed a bill slashing $61 billion, but the Democratic-controlled Senate disregarded the legislation.

More after the jump.
A union representative, quoted by the Associated Press, said the proposal could lead to furloughs and rolling closures of weather service offices, which might in turn impair the center’s ability to issue warnings comparable to those issued on March 11. “People could die,” said Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

The weather service cuts were part of $454 million in reductions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, asserted the need for the warning system, AP reported. “This disaster displays the need to keep the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center fully funded and operational,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I hope my Republican colleagues in the House are now aware that there was a horrific earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific.”

Hing, spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, insisted that House members understand that critical lifesaving and safety programs are maintained, according to AP. She said funds for a network of buoys to detect tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean will be retained.
It would be devastating if Hawaii and California were struck by a tsunami without an opportunity to minimize the damage. Hawaii is a tourist mecca and California is our most populous state, home of countless, innovative industries.

One would think the Republicans are anxious to preserve that part of our economy.


Our system has produced many members of the House and Senate who have done well, and there have been times they disgraced their office. A few samples of the latter, mainly Republicans:  

John A. Boehner infused three odious attitudes into this Feb. 15, 2011, sound bite:

Over the last two years, since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs. And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We’re broke.

Boehner, Speaker of the House then, was accused of lying about those 200,000 jobs and shed no tears — his specialty, remember? — over lost jobs, but what’s really incredulous is his claim that “we’re broke.” He broke the national bank, along with most of his cronies in Congress and the former Bush administration. They could have saved programs under the “human services” label by raising taxes on the wealthy.

Thank the filibuster and the Senate’s composition. The Democratic majority in December 2011 sought to restore higher tax rates for couples earning more than $250,000 yearly, but the filibuster process blocked it.

George W. Bush entered the White House with a comfortable surplus and produced a colossal deficit. In between, the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and slashed taxes for the wealthy.

Our military forces exited Iraq at the end of 2011 and, at this writing, we are stuck in Afghanistan. In December 2010, Democrats in Congress sought to revive higher tax rates for the wealthy, but Senate Republicans filibustered their way to maintain the lower tax rates.

Boehner never complained. He must share the blame now that “we’re broke.” So be it.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain reminded Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at a committee hearing that his governor sent her a request to waive Medicaid requirements to save $541 million in annual state expenses. This exchange was broadcast on C-span.

In March 2010, when Obama signed the watered-down Affordable Care Act into law. McCain did his part in quashing any chance for creation of a publicly-funded health-care system.

On Jan. 19, 2011, 242 Republicans and three Democrats in the House passed the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law.” Arizona’s Republican House members who voted for it were Jeff Flake, Trent Franks, Paul R. Gosar, Benjamin “son of Dan” Quayle and David Schweikert, while Arizona Democrats Ed Pastor and Raul M. Grijalva voted against the bill. Of course, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was hospitalized after surviving the Jan. 8 assassination attempt.

Arizona was among 26 states challenging the health-care law in court. One federal judge even ruled the entire law to be unconstitutional. However, these challenges were expected to be decided by the Supreme Court.

At the same time, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer faced a cash-flow nightmare. Collectively, many states were contending with a budget gap estimated at $125 billion. Brewer wanted to make up for almost half the state’s deficit by dumping 280,000 Arizonans from Medicaid coverage.

She sent a letter to Sebelius asking for a waiver in the new health-care law that requires the states to retain eligibility levels if they want to receive federal Medicaid money, according to The New York Times; other governors in both parties planned to follow suit. She wrote:

Please know that I understand fully the impacts of this rollback, and it is with a heavy heart that I make this request. However, I am left no other viable alternative.

Brewer wanted to unload 250,000 childless adults and 30,000 parents from Medicaid who were allowed eligibility as the result of a 2000 referendum. It was funded from cigarette levies and a tobacco lawsuit until 2004, when the general fund took up the slack, according to the Times.

Here was my recommended response from Sebelius, the mild-language version:

Jan, you talk about a heavy heart. You and your pals in Congress have hardened my heart. Democratic governors will get serious consideration for a waiver, but not any of you knotheads from Austin, Atlanta, Tallahassee or your beloved Phoenix. You might not have this problem if your cohorts in Congress had not obstructed a serious initiative to reform our health-care system. As my Democratic friends from the Bronx would say, waiver this! And give my best regards to Sen. McCain.

Rep. Allen B. West, a Republican, revealed serious mental-health issues when he sent Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz a nasty personal note after she attacked his defense of a bill to reduce Medicare and other domestic spending on July 19, 2011. (Okay, so I’m not licensed to make m-h diagnoses; you judge).

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that Schultz, a Democrat, took to the House floor and said:

The gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries — unbelievable from a member from south Florida.

West left the chamber immediately after his own speech, prompting Schultz’s rebuttal on the floor. He subsequently fired off this memo to Schultz and House leaders:

Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me. Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district!

Actually, West focuses on a different congressional district. He lives in Schultz’s district, but represents an adjacent district covering parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, though that’s a minor aspect.

In a fundraising letter, West wrote that Schultz “attacked me personally for supporting the legislation.” He has also griped about criticism for being a black conservative, sort of the Clarence Thomas of  Congress.

Schultz’s criticism of West on the House floor is known as “fair game.” Politicians habitually snipe at each other over policy issues. The grown-ups take it in stride, but West could not, well, take it.

Schultz was on target when she told The Miami Herald:

It’s not really surprising that he would crack under the pressure of having to defend that. If he feels that concerned and gets that churned up over having to defend his position then he probably should reconsider his position.

Hmm… Since when was she licensed to make mental-health diagnoses?

Tom DeLay offered these words of wisdom on Jan. 10, 2011:

This criminalization of politics is very dangerous, very dangerous to our system. It’s not enough to ruin your reputation. They have to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family.

“This criminalization of politics” did not disturb DeLay when he engineered the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 because the president lied about…his sex life.

DeLay felt far differently about it when Travis County Court Judge Pat Priest in Austin sentenced him to three years in prison for money laundering and conspiracy — the result of his role in channeling corporate donations to Texas state races in 2002, according to the New York Times.

The evidence presented at the trial showed that DeLay and two associates routed $190,000 in corporate donations in 2002 to several Republican candidates for the state legislature, using the Republican National Committee as a conduit. Texas law bars corporations from contributing directly to political campaigns.

DeLay and his Republican friends pushed for Clinton’s impeachment on grounds that he lied in court about sexual activity with Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern. There were suggestions that Clinton’s denial did not constitute perjury. Clinton did nothing that affected his presidential duties. However anyone regards Clinton’s behavior, what’s the difference in terms of his job?

It was petty stuff, which is what DeLay claims about his conviction and sentencing. In fact, he charges that the Democratic district attorney was using the law to avenge his empowerment of Republicans.

DeLay was not using the power of impeachment to avenge Clinton’s empowerment of Democrats?

DeLay’s hypocrisy surfaced then, but his abuse of the Constitution’s impeachment clause was offensive.

Impeachment is briefly covered in Article II, Section 4:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery and other high Crimes and Misdemeanors

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The framers of the Constitution had higher purposes for the impeachment clause than settling political scores. Now DeLay, who appealed his sentence, felt victimized by an unfair legal situation. Bad law or not, he was still convicted of violating it.

Next excerpt: To change policy, change the system

An illegitimate Congress? You betcha

Part 2 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

The Republican leadership is asking its members to make a silly vote. — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, April 1, 2011

Blame Congress.

Even more, blame the rules of the game that enable the Congress we have.

More after the jump.
Congress is hardly the only culprit responsible for bad government, but Capitol Hill is the starting point. The majority in Congress can declare war, or shift this power to the president; raise or cut taxes, especially for the rich; send troops…not to mention the National Guard…to fight Muslims in two unstable countries; and provide or deny our most vulnerable citizens housing, food, health care and quality education.

Congress can also violate the U.S. Constitution, as did 221 members of the House of Representatives via some bizarre legislation on April 1, 2011.

All 221 members ignored Article 1, Section 7, of the Constitution which was recited on the House floor on Jan. 6, 2011. All supporters of the bill in question were Republicans, the very ones who insisted that the Constitution and its 27 amendments be recited when Congress opened its 2011-12 session.

All Democrats and 15 Republicans voted against H.R. 1255. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, said the bill “violates my conscience and the Constitution, and I cannot vote for it.”

Our system is not perfect, but the 221 representatives who voted for the bill cheapened our way of doing the people’s business.

H.R. 1255 required that a fiscal year 2011 spending bill, already passed by the House, would become law if the Senate would not pass a spending law by April 6.

There is a reason the bill never became law after that date – the Constitution, which requires that a bill can only become law after both houses pass a law and the president signs it, or the president refuses to sign and both houses override his veto by a two-thirds vote.

The provision reads, “Every bill which shall have passed The House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law.”

In the less than genteel debates over the April 1 budget bill, The Hill newspaper quoted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor saying,

Funding the government at the levels passed by House Republicans might be what Senator Reid wants, but surely even he would agree that it’s a better alternative than shutting down the government.

Cantor, a Republican from the Richmond, Va., area, was referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Some Democratic representatives recommended that Cantor and his flock read children’s books on the Constitution such as House Mouse, Senate Mouse, according to The Hill. Then-Rep. Anthony Weiner of Queens quipped, “It’s a much thinner book and it rhymes.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco invoked the most mature comment when she declared, “What you see on the floor today is no example of democracy in action. It’s silly. The Republican leadership is asking its members to make a silly vote.”


On the surface, Congress is representative government. After all, each of us can claim representation by one member of the House of Representatives and two members of the Senate, with the exception of those living in Washington and the U.S. territories.

Some Americans are represented better than others. In reality, Congress neither represents the majority of Americans nor adequately protects the rights of minorities. Congress is mainly hobbled by two inherent mechanisms and one of its own making.

First is the constitutional mandate for disproportionate representation in the Senate allowing each state equal clout – whether a senator represents 544,000 citizens or 36.9 million. Second is the stifling two-party system which thwarts meaningful participation of third parties and independent candidates in the political process. If more independents could get elected, is it possible that neither party could claim a majority in either chamber? The Senate’s composition is aggravated by the filibuster rule, which the Senate majority can revise or eliminate.

On May 30, 1787, the Virginia Plan was introduced to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia proposing a national government consisting of a legislature, executive and judiciary. The concept for a legislature subsequently materialized as two houses of Congress – each to represent American citizens on a proportionate basis. On June 9, New Jersey delegate William Paterson declared, “New Jersey will never confederate on the plan before the Committee. She would be swallowed up.”

Virginia was the most populous state at that time, followed by Pennsylvania. New Jersey was among the small states, yet now New Jersey outranks Virginia, respectively 11th and 12th in population. New Jersey was joined in opposition by delegates from Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut and New York, the latter of which is now our third most populous state. Despite Delaware’s current ranking of 45th, all five states are part of the northeastern bloc that traditionally adheres to moderate and liberal policies. Each is represented by centrist or liberal Democrats in the Senate.

On June 11, Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed “that the proportion of suffrage in the first branch should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second branch or Senate, each state should have one vote and no more…As the states would remain possessed of certain individual rights, each state ought to be able to protect itself; otherwise a few large states will rule the rest.” Sherman revised his proposal on June 20 and was joined by fellow Connecticut delegates Oliver Ellsworth and William Samuel Johnson on June 29 in proposing a comparable plan, later to become known as the Connecticut Compromise.

“Too many – both among the large- and small-state delegations – were simply not in a mood to embrace compromise,” Richard Beeman writes in “Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution.” “One by one, they rose to defend their ideas and, more importantly, the interests of their particular states.” The delegates ignored all three versions of the Connecticut plan until July 16, when they decided to split the composition of the two chambers. Members of the House of Representatives would each represent the same amount of constituents (that number now averages 720,000) and each state would be represented by the same number of senators.

Madison and four other delegates gathered the next morning, July 17, to discuss the July 16 decision. They found no takers to reconsider the Connecticut Compromise, which was formalized in Article 1 of the Constitution. Most delegates, displeased with the final product for varying reasons, signed the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, because their choice was to persist with the status quo or formalize the governing mechanism produced by the convention.

In the Federalist Papers, Madison argued for Section 3 of Article 1, which authorizes creation of a Senate with equal representation. The Constitution was ratified by 11 of the 13 states, and Congress as we know it today convened on Wall Street in lower Manhattan on March 4, 1789. George Washington was inaugurated as our first president on April 30, 1789.

Nine states were required to ratify the Constitution, made official by New Hampshire on June 21, 1788. North Carolina and Rhode Island made it unanimous soon after the government was formed.

Washington strenuously warned against the formation of political parties in his 1796 farewell address in part because “it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.” Political parties indeed emerged. After the Civil War, the political process settled into a pattern dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties.

In 2006 and 2008, voters upset with Republicans mainly had Democrats as an alternative. In 2010, Republicans benefited. Independent or third-party candidates typically divert votes from the more preferred party candidate.

The filibuster was rooted in Vice President Aaron Burr’s verbal critique of Senate rules. He singled out a Senate rule requiring the majority to cut off debate, and the Senate scrapped the rule in 1806 without replacing it. More than a century later, political pressures produced the filibuster in 1917, requiring a so-called super-majority to end debate. The filibuster carried debate to the extreme in which debate could clog up Senate business indefinitely.


A tsunami warning buoy

The upshot of these events is a dysfunctional system that in 2011 produced a possibly illegitimate Congress; cuts to a tsunami-warning system; and the criminal conviction of an impeachment leader.

The swearing-in for 433 House members of the 112th Congress was held on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 5, 2011, as two other members – Michael Fitzpatrick of Bucks County, a Philadelphia suburb, and Pete Sessions of Dallas – attended a reception a few hundred yards away, in the Capitol Visitor Center, for more than 500 of Fitzpatrick’s constituents.

As Speaker of the House John A. Boehner administered the oath of office on the House floor, Sessions and Fitzpatrick watched Boehner on live television and recited the oath without leaving the reception, at 2:15 p.m. Predictably, House parliamentarians told them they must be officially sworn in, and Boehner administered the oath of office on Thursday.

Fitzpatrick said he thought that the Jan. 5 swearing-in would be held at 2:45, not 2:15. Any situation could arise that might prevent a member of Congress from attending the swearing-in.

Their failure to show up for the oath does not by itself jeopardize the operations of Congress. The act of casting votes for six legislative measures – before taking their oath of office – could be problematic.

Because two illegitimate congressmen cast votes, can these measures be legitimate?

If Sessions and Fitzpatrick paid attention when the Constitution was recited on Thursday morning, they would have been aware of Article VI, Clause 3: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.”

Sessions and Fitzpatrick violated Clause 3 when they voted to establish the rules of the House and a 5 percent reduction in congressional office allowances, according to The Washington Post. Their votes were stricken from the Congressional Record on Friday, but was that sufficient?

This fact remains: The House passed six measures in which two illegal votes were cast for each. That could make the entire package of bills illegal. Any one of these bills which, if they need to be ratified by the Senate and signed by the president, could be illegitimate because illegal votes were cast in the first place.

Sessions even chaired a committee meeting on Thursday.

They should have arranged to be sworn in before casting any votes. It takes plenty of gall to cast votes without abiding by the constitutional requirement to be “bound by Oath or Affirmation.” They should have known better. Sessions spent the previous 14 years in Congress and Fitzpatrick was first elected in 2004, defeated two years later and elected again the preceding November.

Their allies might argue that these measures would have passed without their votes, so it is okay to maintain the results. However, the initial inclusion of these votes could taint the end result.

Congress disregarded our constitutional principles. The House took legislative action that was not legitimate. The only way to make it legitimate is to wipe the slate clean and hold the votes and the committee meeting again.

The House not only violated the Constitution when it took on those six votes. The House persists in violating the Constitution so long as it refuses to straighten out its self-inflicted mess.

This is not parsing. The law is the law is the law. If our own Congress cannot abide by the law that binds it, then our system is automatically violated.

Next excerpt – Profiles in absurdity