Category Archives: House of Reps

House Republicans will likely prove they have learned nothing and choose McCarthy as Majority Leader

1300110118The big news over the last week of course has been House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing his re-election to David Brat. With that loss Cantor announced he would be stepping down as Majority Leader within the House. This mixture of news has made the blogs go crazy, especially political blogs that lean towards the right. Realistically there have only been two Republicans going after Cantors leadership position: Kevin McCarthy (CA) and Pete Sessions (TX). Just a short bit ago Sessions decided he was not going after the Majority leader position after all. This effectively gives McCarthy the win. It is unlikely any single House Republican can mount the support between now and the secret vote next Thursday to claim a victory over McCarthy. McCarthy’s likely win will show the elected Republicans in DC have learned nothing from Cantors defeat.

The first thing to look at is why Cantor lost. It seems too many bloggers and political pundits have been stating that Cantor lost either because of being soft on immigration reform or because the Tea Party wanted him out. Neither reason actually seems to have any connection with reality, but fits nicely with the talking points of people forgetting to check their bias at the door. Those blaming “soft on immigration” should look at a recent POLITICO poll showing most of Americans (including Republicans) want comprehensive immigration reform. Furthermore a poll in Cantors own district showed over 70% support for immigration reform. Status quo Republicans have got to give up this silly war on immigrants if they plan to move forward as a party.

And as far as the Tea Party being a reason for Cantor losing? Really? I have yet to find any credible source showing any Tea Party group that actually used to money to promote Brat, or even to defeat Cantor with attacks. The only involvement from Tea Party groups that I can find is them yelling “We support you” from afar. No, the Tea Party had nothing to do with Cantor’s loss.

Instead I would say Cantor’s loss was a direct results of two things:

  1. Cantor loves to talk small government, while voting the exact opposite of his rhetoric.
  2. Cantor is an arrogant ass.

Other than Obamacare, it is hard to find a big-government expanding bill that Cantor hasn’t supported and voted yes on. Some examples include the PATRIOT ACT, TARP, No Child Left Behind, Government Motors, and appropriations bills that ran amuck of the Budgetary Control Act. Cantor is almost a cliche example of a status-quo DC Republican who pretends to be fiscally conservative, yet fails to actually vote that way when it truly matters.

Where do I get the idea Cantor is arrogant? Well, other than the fact I watch him on CSPAN often; I was able to speak with a colleague of mine who actually lives in his district (full disclosure, she is a Democrat). She says there is a very unfavorable opinion of Cantor across party lines in his district and wouldn’t be surprised if he moved to DC after this loss since nobody loves him in Virginia. In addition NYmag has a article looking at the variety of people who truly detest Cantor.

OK, I hear some people ask. Yes, Cantor was political hypocrite and very unliked, but what does that have to do with McCarthy? Well, McCarthy also loves to give the good “I’m a fiscal conservative” talk.. Yet he supported expansion of the PATRIOT ACT, TARP, No Child Left Behind, Government Motors, and appropriations bills that ran amuck of the Budgetary Control Act (a copy/paste of Cantors ‘accomplishments’). Actually from a fiscally conservative perspective the only good thing about McCarthy is that he isn’t an arrogant ass; yet that is not enough to redeem the fact he doesn’t walk the path he talks.

If  When the House Republicans choose McCarthy next week it will be continuation of the status-quo big-government party the national GOP has become. At that time the DC Republicans will reinforce the fact they don’t care about fiscal conservatism. They will also double-down on the misguided belief that a war on immigrants is the right path.

There is a possible silver-lining with McCarthy being chosen as Majority Leader however. Such a move may push more people away from voting for establishment politicians in the future. And that is truly the only way to start fixing the many problems in DC: incumbents have to go! It is time for voters from all political persuasions to actually send elected officials to DC that can be honest with their constituents; as opposed to current politicians (from all parties) that are only answerable to special interest groups.

Representative Noem votes aye to two-year budget deal

US Representative from South Dakota Kristi Noem, at Brown County Fair
US Representative from South Dakota Kristi Noem, at Brown County Fair

Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. This “act” is an amendment being added to the Continuing Appropriations Resolution of 2014 (HJ Res 59). If this amended bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the President it will become the new federal budget for discretionary spending.

Ironically both Democrats and Republicans hate this bill. Those on the economic right feel Representative Ryan sold out by raising taxes (airline ‘fees’) and removing the small fiscal victory won through sequesters. Those on the economic left feel spending was too restricted and there should have been an extension of unemployment benefits. I think this is a case where both sides had to “embrace the suck” and vote for it to avoid a shutdown confrontation in early 2014.

South Dakota’s lone Representative Kristi Noem voted aye to the budget deal. Here is the press release from Noem’s office on the budget deal:

Rep. Kristi Noem today supported a two-year budget agreement that makes a series of modest reforms to both mandatory and discretionary spending and reduces the likelihood of another government shutdown next year.

“This agreement is not perfect by any means, but it takes a small step in the right direction and starts us on a path to more productive budgetary discussions,” said Rep. Noem.  “The budget agreement came together through a bipartisan process that kept all our principles intact.  It does not raise taxes or increase the deficit, but it does protect critical defense programs and makes small but permanent reforms to mandatory spending.  While it doesn’t solve all our budgetary problems, the bipartisan agreement stops Congress from legislating from one crisis to the next and brings us closer to addressing our nation’s fiscal crisis.”

The bipartisan budget agreement reduces the deficit by $23 billion without raising taxes.  Additionally, the agreement stays well below the Budget Control Act’s spending caps for FY2014 and FY2015.

I’m not going to blame Noem for voted Aye on this ‘compromise’. Due to the Obamacare website debacle during the government slowdown earlier this fall, I believe the Republicans can put a W on that ‘shutdown’. This time I don’t see a good reason for the Republicans to tempt another shutdown. Obama and ACA both have declining poll numbers. Going into the 2014 midterm elections I believe it would be smart for Republicans to focus on freeing people from the bad impacts of Obamacare. Noem herself could potentially regain some support she lost by doing a mixture of opposing Obamacare and fighting against NSA overreach (her vote against Amash’s amendment is still fresh to many of us). Another shutdown without all the Republicans going ‘all in’ would likely backfire this time.

The part of her press release I have a problem with is her passing on Representative Ryan’s sales pitch that the bill does not raise taxes. Fiscal conservatives can look at  the Aviation security service fees increase and realize it is a tax raise in disguise. Raising a fee and then saying no taxes were raised is quite misleading. In this case Noem (and most of the other representatives voting aye) should have just avoided talking about taxes in the agreement. We all know the deal is bad. By including a misleading statement it leaves her open to attack from fiscal conservatives in the mid-term election.

As the bill goes on to the Senate I don’t see there being much resistance with its passage. Many conservative groups are pressuring conservative Senators such as Thune to vote no. I don’t see that pressure being effective. Reid is going to make the bill get passed. So if  Thune does vote no it would most likely be for political reasons.  The Senate Democrats may not like the budget agreement, but they are in control of the Senate and do not want this showdown going into the mid-term election year.

It will be interesting to see how both parties use this ‘compromise’ as a political tool in the mid-term elections. I have a feeling this budget compromise will put incumbent DC politicians from both parties even more vulnerable in 2014 to primary opponents. It should be an interesting midterm election year!

Noem still doesn’t have a good answer for voting against the Amash NSA amendment

US Representative from South Dakota Kristi Noem, at Brown County Fair
US Representative from South Dakota Kristi Noem, at Brown County Fair

About three weeks ago I posted that Representative Kristi Noem has to be replaced in the 2014 election for voting against civil liberties. This was in response to her vote of No to Representative Amash’s NSA Amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014. The amendment would not have de-funded the NSA (as many have stated). Rather it would have provided a means to stop the NSA from spying on all American citizens.

Yesterday Noem happened to be at the Brown County Fair in Aberdeen. I took this opportunity to speak with Representative Noem about her vote on the Amash Amendment. She mostly gave the answers I anticipated. Basically, she thinks the Amash amendment went too far. Instead of supporting the Amash amendment, she supports other bills (and amendments) that create specific restrictions upon NSA activities. She also was very careful to mention “content” as the target of restrictions; meaning that meta-data can be left open for open spying by the NSA (saying meta-data isn’t data is the NSA’s way to spy without saying it is spying).

A good part of the conversation revolved around the NSA briefings for Congress; which she obviously cannot talk about to level I would like. I let her know that as someone who spent two decades working in network security I believe the NSA is over-stating its case to Congress by at least 80% (it’s a reality I seen while working in the industry). She agreed with me that information is over-classified and they may in fact be over-stating their case. However she still feels the classified sessions with the NSA made it clear to her that the Amash amendment would have been bad for national security. On a high level I disagree with her. However since these ‘briefings’ are classified it is hard for me to know just what exactly she was told.

The last problem I had with Noem’s response is it came out very.. carefully. It is obvious she has a pre-canned response to questions about NSA spying on American citizens and her poor voting record. I can understand why she has these answers prepared, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. At the end of our conversation Noem did say she might potentially support such a measure in the future. But she said that would only happen if NSA abuses are found. Personally I think enough NSA abuses have come to light.

It is too little and too late for Representative Noem to say she will maybe vote for civil liberties in the future. As we come into the 2014 election I look forward to finding a replacement for Representative Noem. There are at least two non-Republican candidates I know about that are possibly planning to enter the House race. I have also heard whispers of a possible Republican candidate that is looking to primary against her. I think as a State we can agree that South Dakota needs better representation in US House.

Don’t trample on the 5th Amendment going after Lerner

AP_Documents_BillofRightsEarlier this week I followed the House Oversight Committee hearing regarding the IRS scandal.  Lois Lerner, the Director of the IRS’s Tax-Exempt Division, gave an opening statement before the Congressional Committee. Then she was excused after pleading the Fifth Amendment. As I stated yesterday, I believe Ms Lerner should be fired. However I am quite concerned that many are calling for her to be put back in the ‘hot seat’ because she ‘waived’ her Fifth Amendment rights.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa may have let her leave the hearing, but he plans to drag her back in. Here is the statement Issa provided to POLITICO:

“When I asked her her questions from the very beginning, I did so so she could assert her rights prior to any statement,” Issa told POLITICO. “She chose not to do so — so she waived.”

I would expect this to be a top priority for Issa when Congress returns in June. And I expect Issa to attack the Fifth Amendment at that time. The legality of this area is very murky. Here is an excerpt from Doug Mataconis’s article on the subject:

In the end, all that Lerner’s statement constitutes is a declaration of her own innocence. Given that, the Reiner Court’s holding that the Fifth Amendment privilege still applies to people who claim to be innocent strongly suggests that she did not waive her rights merely be making a statement in which she states that she is innocent.. Indeed, to the extent there is any doubt on this issue I would expect that a judge is going to err on the side of protecting her rights at this stage, especially given the fact that this is a Congressional hearing and not a Grand Jury proceeding or criminal trial and the fact that there is an ongoing FBI investigation of this matter of which Lerner is likely to be, at the very least, a person of interest. A finding that Lerner waived her rights in this Committee hearing would, potentially, prejudice her ability to assert those rights in a law enforcement interrogation.

There will be more to come on this I am sure, but I submit that the default rule of erring on the side of liberty is one that people examining the issue would do well to apply.

I hope the Congressional Committee will rule on the side of liberty as Mr Mataconis suggests. Just because it appears someone appears to have violated other US Citizens First Amendment rights does not excuse violating her Fifth Amendment rights. Even if the Fifth Amendment does not match this situation perfectly (because it technically isn’t a court) it would be unwise for Congress to deny her the right to keep silent when she may self-in-criminalize. Such precedence would show Congress has no respect for the rights of citizens when they are ‘inconvenient’.

I will end this post in the way I find most appropriate, by posting the text from the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation

 

PS. There are a couple more recent big stories in regards to Lerner. First she has refused to resign as asked, and second she apparently personally sent some of the letters to Tea Party groups being targeted.

House passes the Full Faith and Credit Act, Obama promises to veto

Anonymous_Roadsign_Falling_rocksYesterday the Full Faith and Credit Act was passed by the House of Representatives (HR 807). The bill passed by a vote of 221 to 207 (SD Rep Noem Voted Yea). This legislation represents the ongoing debt ceiling battle. According to the Daily Beast this bill will do the following:

…would empower the U.S. Treasury to pay down all interest payments on the national debt in the event of a confrontation over raising the debt ceiling. In other words, the link between debt ceiling and the risk of default would be removed. The bill would also ensure that the Social Security Administration could access its own trust fund to pay social security benefits and disability payments on time by allowing the treasury to issue debt specifically tied to these benefits.

Every Democrat in the House voted against this bill. Obama has promised to veto this legislation if it reaches his office. Democrats are taking the stance that American taxpayers cannot prioritize their debt so why should government. Well, actually Americans DO prioritize their bills when running against their personal debt limit, but that distraction move from Obama is little more than a political trick.

At risk here is the credit rating for the United States. As Representative Delaney (D-MD) states in a Washington Post oped:

An institution that borrows on a non-prioritized basis would never contemplate borrowing on a prioritized basis. Doing so would undermine its standing in the bond market and suggest that it is not worthy of its strong credit rating. This type of self-imposed downgrade would materially affect its financial prospects.

I agree with Representative Delaney that a prioritization of debt will create a credit downgrade for the US in the event the debt ceiling is looming. However that is only true IF the debt ceiling is looming! If congress can find ways to reduce spending and stay well under the debt ceiling this bill has no impact. I believe the true intent of this bill is to incentivize Congress into reducing spending before the debt ceiling is reached. It will also remove Social Security as a political tool to be used during debt ceiling negotiations.

Personally I think there are better ways for Congress to tackle the debt ceiling issue (cut spending). However this move may well allow fiscal conservatives in Congress to push for the spending reduction that are actually needed. It will be interesting to see if the Republicans in the Senate will get this one passed.