Congress

Allen West: America’s GOP Stooge

You know how I like to start columns with the word “so?”

So, former GOP Congressman Allen West (FL) has written a new book and he’s out peddling it to the masses. Actually, he didn’t write any of it. He used a ghost writer. Nonetheless, he’s “on tour” trying to sell his tome. allenwest

There’s just one small problem with West’s book. It’s basically full of misquotes, made up quotes, and lies. George Bennett from the Palm Beach Post did some really thorough research into West’s book and came up with this review that’s just scathing. Now remember, this is the same moron who claimed with great authority that there were 78-81 House Democrats who were members of the Communist party.

He’s also the same guy who lost his re-election after one term in Florida’s 22nd District, this coming after a stellar Army career ending in a forced retirement (well, it was that or be court martialed for beating an Iraqi policeman). What a great American patriot this guy is.

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Today’s GOP: Modern-Day Pharisees

So this is the definition of a pharisee: a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity. Another more, say modern-day definition of a pharisee would be someone who is “a sanctimonius, self-righteous, or hypocritical person” (dictionary.com).

I’ve met people like this throughout my life. I am in the business of politics after all.mcallister

The latest political pharisee comes to us via the Fifth District of Louisiana. This complete douchebag, Congressman Vance McAllister (R-LA), takes douchebaggery to a whole new level. First reported by the The Ouachita Citizen, a newspaper based in W. Monroe, Louisiana, it seems like the first term Congressman has stepped out on his sixteen year marriage. Here’s the video from  security cameras.

To be clear, I don’t care if McAllister is a Republican or a Democrat. My problem with him is that he’s a complete hypocrite. This guy ran as a Christian conservative on “family values” and is adamantly opposed to marriage equality. But here’s just how sick McAllister really is: he states right here on his website “As a father, Vance is worried about the type of future President Obama and career politicians are leaving for the next generation.” Is this guy serious? He’s a father and he’s worried about the next generation? Yeh McAllister, you’re a real role model for your five kids.

So who’s that young woman McAllister was caught kissing on camera with his shirt tail untucked? Well that would be one of his young Congressional staffers. Yep, that’s right. Louisiana’s 5th District Congressman is literally and physically screwing the next generation alright. And it’s all on the taxpayers’ dime to boot.

There are countless other examples of elected officials who run on “family values” but literally screw over their own families. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) had the same problem. Sadly, he had to pay money to a hooker to get “happy.” I hope all that money was put to good use since he’s now running for governor of the great State of Louisiana. What a role model! Clearly there’s something weird running in those swamps and bayous down there in the Pelican state, something that makes these men habitual hypocrites. davidvitter

So Congressman McAllister, do me and everyone else a huge favor. Don’t run on “family values” when you’re screwing someone other than your spouse. Don’t tell me as a gay man that my relationship isn’t as good as yours since you Congressman McAllister apparently don’t give a damn about your own marriage. You want to tell me I’m not worthy when you’re dipping your oil stick into the wrong car engine? I’d suggest you might want to take a long hard look at yourself and have an honest (honest being the operative word) look at just how stupid you look now.

I think what saddens me the most isn’t that McAllister cheated on his wife. It’s that he got caught by security cameras. It’s one thing to be a philanderer. It’s another thing to be just plain stupid.

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Yes, Even Good Progressives Should Retire From Congress

Back in January, I wrote a piece in usnews.com basically laying out the case that a slew of really really old Members of Congress were probably going to just bag it and retire. Their fundraising was pitiful, they hadn’t paid their party dues and what’s worse, they’re hanging onto every stinking campaign dime in their coffers like a bunch of Egyptian mummies. Many of these old bulls have since announced they’ll be leaving after this fall’s elections. Some are great progressives, some just plain suck.

Let’s be honest. You’ve got men and women who’ve been in Congress since before I was born, who are sitting on hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars, and aren’t doing a damn thing to help their less fortunate colleagues get re-elected. I actually don’t believe in term limits; that’s what voters are supposed to do. But many of these folks are greedy bastards who have no lives other than marble hallways and leather chairs.

Rep. John Conyers (MI)

Rep. John Conyers (MI)

Now in my column, I only focused on Democrats since I was only able to get my greedy little hands on the fundraising chart for the House Democratic Caucus. I asked the Republicans if I could see their list and they didn’t respond. Shocker.

Since then many of these guys have announced their retirements, guys like Rep. John Dingell (MI) and Rep. George Miller (CA). These two guys are great progressives and have been in the forefront of fighting the good fight. But they’re basically out and let’s pray like hell young progressives replace them. 10 Democrats and 13 Republicans to date will be gone in the next Congress.

There are others retiring from Congress as well who don’t really have any seniority. Perhaps the biggest asshat in all of Congress, Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN), is leaving. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass Michele. I’ll actually miss her since literally every word that comes out of her mouth is a Saturday Night Live mini-skit. Soooo much to play with, to write about, to talk about. And all that will go away come November. But I digress.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN)

Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN)

One old bull still standing whose time has sadly passed is Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY). Rangel has represented parts of Harlem since 1971. He’s debonair, a Korean War veteran, and has had a hand in nearly every piece of progressive legislation since the dawn of time. But then there are his seemingly endless ethics violations. Rangel has been the ongoing subject of investigation by the House “Ethics” Committee since 2008. No that’s not a joke. Finally, on December 2, 2010 Rangel was censured by the full House of Representatives. He stands as only the 23rd Member of the House to be censured in its entire history.

Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY)

Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY)

While I’m appreciative of Rangel’s service to our country, his time is up. It’s time for some fresh blood in Congress. Last cycle, Rangel barely survived a primary fight from state Senator Adriano Espaillat by just over 1,000 votes. Espaillat is challenging him again and this time, he just may win in late June. He’s gotten the endorsements of the New York City Council chairwoman and the Bronx Borough president.  Now Espaillat is no spring chicken at 59 but he doesn’t have an ethics track record a mile deep.

Bottom line: many of these old bulls need to be thrown out. It’s one thing to be old, wise, and the master player in the game. It’s another to be one of 23 censured Members of Congress and still earning a taxpayer check. So yes, even progressives should know when their time is up and I would welcome a slew of new progressives to the halls of Congress to shake things up.

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The School of Political Destruction

dems v gop cartoonSometimes I wonder if Washington, DC has reached a point where it has lost all its humanity.

This town, where even the most mundane legislation rarely passes because of an indeterminate level of partisanship, seems to be on life support. Just last week, the U.S. House failed to pass a “Farm Bill,” traditionally the most bipartisan, bicameral bill the Hill produces. From Tea Partiers spitting on Democrats walking to vote on “Obamacare” to Pres. Bill Clinton’s impeachment for lying about sex, I’ve wondered if the partisanship of the last few decades was only coming from Republicans. Indeed I was convinced it was a one-sided affair.

Then Edward Snowden showed up via the Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald and it hit me like a ton of bricks: oh God, even fellow liberals have enrolled in the “School of Political Destruction.”Greenwald

Conservatives and progressives have existed in this country since her inception. Indeed, it was the struggle between these groups that formed our current system of balance between state and federal governments. Modern-day liberalism was a reaction to the laissez-fare economic theories which led in large part to the Great Depression. Conservatism, as we knew it, was its mirror to what was largely perceived as over reach by Roosevelt’s liberals and his New Deal plan. And while spirited debate has always been the uniting thread of our political fabric, it wasn’t until Watergate and the subsequent Clinton impeachment that Washington turned sour and vile. These are demarkations, points in our nation’s history, where we can look back and see a sea-change moment.

Sadly, it seems we’re in a death spiral.

I came to Washington, DC in 1992 to work on the Bush-Quayle re-election. I was a closeted, conservative 25-year old gay southerner in desperate need of a fresh start. I believed deep in my heart that President Ronald Reagan had done no wrong, that all Democrats were completely evil, and that the GOP platform (which I had no clue what it consisted of) was God’s word. Bush lost to Bill Clinton, Democrats reigned supreme (for two years), and I came out of the closet with a clear realization that perhaps my father’s conservative indoctrination was inherently flawed. Fast forward to 1997 and I went to work for freshman Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) as an unpaid intern and began the best education of my life in that elite school of the U.S. Senate.

I got great advice from an old school staffer at the time, a quiet man who worked for Senator Robert Byrd (WV) . He told men in his quiet, West Virginia drawl “Sit on the Floor, watch and learn what’s going on, and remember that the key to this place is the art of the deal.” What I picked up early on was you can work for a liberal or a conservative, but in the Senate you must find common ground. So I buckled down, learned everything I could about anything, and then spent a majority of my time working with staffers from both sides of the aisle to pass legislation that was good for our country and my boss’s constituents. That’s Congress’ job after all isn’t it? Poll after poll tells us a majority of the American people want results, not complaints or excuses.

So when did it become so bad, so evil for liberals and conservatives to compromise? When did it become commonplace for conservatives to hate anything liberals proffered up and vice versa? When did it become ok to force 139 filibusters in a single Congress!

That’s why was I so struck by Greenwald’s “breaking” story about Snowden. I’ve long followed Glenn and his work, admiring his tenacity and pure passion for the truth. I went back and read much of his reporting for salon.com. And while I agree with many things Glenn has espoused over the years, what troubles me most now is his extremism against the art of compromise. He wrote on December 14, 2010: “What’s most striking about all of this, as usual, is how the worst and most tyrannical government actions in Washington are equally supported on a fully bipartisan basis.” Those 28 words are simply anathema to everything I learned in the Senate.

Now I want you to take a small test with me.

Take away Greenwald’s voice in the above quote and substitute Senator Ted Cruz (TX) or that of Michelle Malkin or maybe even Rush Limbaugh. Is there any difference? Isn’t his extremism the same as theirs? In the end, both sides know in their hearts they’re always right. Greenwald once said “I think the only means of true political change will come from people working outside of that [two-party electoral] system to undermine it, and subvert it, and weaken it, and destroy it; not try to work within it to change it.” (International Socialist July 7, 2011). Key words here: undermine, subvert, weaken, and destroy.

Last time I checked, those aren’t very liberal-sounding words. In fact, those aren’t actually very American words are they?TedCruz

I know I’ll catch a basket of hell from lefties out there who think I’m comparing apples and oranges. Democrats think Republicans are evil and vice versa. The problem with that is neither is inherently true. Are there bad Republicans? You can bet your ass there are and frankly there are bad Democrats. But it seems it’s just way too easy to demonize political or religious types, to cookie cut them and put them in labeled boxes like they’re some sort of weekend project for OCD types.

Our political system is in bad shape and it needs more than a tune up. In fact, I’d suggest it needs more than just new tires and a polish. America’s politics needs it’s engine rebuilt.

There isn’t a single silver bullet to fix our current political environment. I’ve advocated in the past that we should ban money in politics and remove cameras from the House and Senate Chambers (sorry C-Span!) and I stand by that. Members too often play to the cameras and then sell their souls at fundraisers while we stand around and scratch our heads at their disfunction.  Maybe if we forced politicians from both sides of the aisle to not just work together but to live, eat, sleep, and play together we’d see more results.  You know, kind of like, children. Fifty years ago, we had conservatives and liberals and they all lived in Washington, DC with their families and they went to cocktail and dinner parties together. They fought it out during the day and at night, they got to know each other and made deals. And Congress’ approval rating never hit 10% approval.

It’s not lost on me I’ll be attacked for being a “former lobbyist,” for favoring back room deals, for harking for a time past. I have very thick skin and thankfully, the First Amendment is remarkably clear about the role of redressing our government aka lobbying. That’s a diversion though. Attacking the attacker isn’t an answer to the charge. But pointing out what’s wrong with extremist voices on both sides of the political aisle seems rational if not underrated.

The late David Foster Wallace once noted that writing’s first obligation is to address what it is to be a human. It’s that ability to understand your fellow human beings, to understand their point of view that would lead to human solutions for human problems. Applied to Washington, DC, the ability to compromise, of giving and getting, is what’s lost in Washington today.

Sadly, there’s little tactical difference between a Ted Cruz or a Glenn Greenwald. And if we as a society accept and allow this kind of governing, then let’s take Greenwald and Cruz’s advice and destroy our two-party political government. You know, it’s the one we’ve had since 1789 and it’s worked remarkably well…until now.

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What Went Wrong in South Carolina?

Just imagine a lovely spring day, it’s 72 degrees, zero humidity, and a warm sun is shining down on you in Charleston, S.C. Instead of tooling around in the golf cart with the dogs in tow, I’m covering what I’m calling the “southern clown show,” a.k.a a special Congressional election down here in the Palmetto state, filled with scandal, comedy, and marital infidelity.

Since Republican Governor Nikki Haley appointed Republican Rep. Tim Scott to fill former Senator Jim DeMint’s open Senate seat, we’ve been abuzz down here on who was going to replace Scott. Enter the clown on stage right: former Republican Governor Mark Sanford. As if that’s not enough, enter stage left the older sister of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert: Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. These two candidates have thrown it all at each other these last few months. And the press, well we’ve been simply transfixed.

NOTE: This column was originally posted at msnbc.com on May 8, 2013.

So what happened Tuesday in this race where Rep.-Elect Sanford won with 54% of the vote?

I have said over and over again that women rule the world. Women decide every election, including this one, and the First District down here in the low country of South Carolina is filled with women of every size, shape, stripe, and color known to man. These are women who empathize with Mark Sanford’s ex-wife Jenny. She’s strong, has great business and political instincts, and is hyper-protective of her family.

But here’s the rub: I said on Tuesday’s The Cycle that South Carolina is “a state filled with sinners that love redemption,” which explains how Sanford won with such a margin.

Elizabeth Colbert Busch in theory could have won this race. But the reason Sanford prevailed is due to a couple of factors. First and foremost, the First District is overwhelmingly Republican. It’s so GOP that even 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney won this district by 18 points. Any Republican, every Republican, should win this place in a cakewalk. And last night, Sanford clearly convinced enough of his base that he was sorry for what he did to his family and his constituents to be returned to office.

I’ll be honest in that I thought enough women would defect to Colbert Busch to win. But then reality hit at dinner last night with friends. An elegant Charleston woman stopped by our table to say hi and asked in her Southern drawl “Anybody know who won?” When we told her Sanford had, she said “Oh thank Gawd! I just can’t imagine a Democrat representing me with that evil Nancy Pelosi.”

That’s when the Tea Party element of our fine meal showed up and reared its ugly head. While most people under thirty voted with Colbert Busch, the older generations have such a deep hatred for all things Washington, D.C.  that they held their noses and voted for a deadbeat-dad, philandering, womanizing, lying cheat. This Tea Party fringe element of the Republican party is as pervasive as ever before.

So here’s the key: Charleston and the South Carolina Low Country are hotbeds for rebels. The Civil War literally started right here in our harbor. So we have a long and storied history of rebelling against government intrusion and overreach. What was deemed as a close race all day came out to be a big win for Sanford, an act of redemption. In the end, though, this race doesn’t signify much. Yes, the “comeback kid” won in a Republican district but he is number 435 in the House of Representatives, literally in the back of the House. He was a thorn in the side of his party back when he represented much of the First District in the 1990′s and he has pledged to be just as prickly up in Washington. And they own Mark Sanford now, bruised, battered and victorious.

As for Colbert Busch, she raised a ton of money and proved she can run a race in a GOP district competitively. The million dollar question now is, can Elizabeth Colbert Busch run statewide in a state that is beginning to show certain shades of purple and light blue? That remains to be seen but hey, I’ve always been drawn to strong Southern women and South Carolina has a very famous one now.

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Playing By a Different Set of Rules?

I’ve been stewing for months now over this issue of whether half the country does or doesn’t pay income taxes. A few weeks ago, my old Senate colleague “Mac,” emailed me in complete frustration over this debate. We went back and forth and both agreed that there needed to be a simpler way of explaining the “taxing” of America. So I’ve been trying desperately to find the best way to write about this when lo and behold, Governor Romney’s recent statements about the American taxpayer came to light and lit a fire underneath my, well, you get the point.

The basics of taxes are simple: while most workers pay payroll taxes (up to a certain percentage of their salary), not all Americans pay net taxes. Almost all Americans pay income taxes throughout the year but when it comes to that dreaded April filing deadline, nearly half the country qualifies for deductions or exemptions that negate their income tax liability. So while they pay their taxes upfront (check your paystub, you’ll find them), most Americans get refunds.

This presidential campaign seems to be a philosophical war between the “have’s” and the “have nots.” It was less than a year ago the country was abuzz over the 99% vs. the 1%. The GOP was decrying class warfare and the Democrats were calling the GOP cold-hearted and mean. I, for one, was desperately trying to tune it all out. Until today.

Today, my friend David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief at Mother Jones, reported that Governor Romney has been caught saying he didn’t care about the 4 7% of Americans who don’t pay taxes. I’m unnerved by this video but not because he said “half the country doesn’t pay taxes.” My problem with this video is that Romney has written off half the country. He makes it clear, pointedly clear, that this 47% of Americans aren’t going to vote for him, that they’ll never vote for him.

This isn’t a smart move, especially from a politician. This isn’t a smart move from a man who most likely pays NO payroll taxes because he doesn’t have earned income (while just about every other working American does). This isn’t a smart move from a man who admittedly pays only 13% in income taxes on investments (when the top rate on “work” is 35%). Simply put, what Governor Romney has said is offensive and I frankly don’t think he can recover from it.

The reason this “revelation” is so shocking is because it’s finally crystallized that Governor Romney has no clue who his audience even is. The smart folks over at The Tax Foundation have published a ton of great data but this map shows precisely where that 47% of Americans Romney thinks are freeloaders live

The states with the highest number of “freeloaders” are in red. Only one of them, New Mexico, seems to be in play for President Obama. All the rest are solid GOP states. Solid GOP states that Governor Romney seems to think are freeloaders, are slackers, are living off the government, are “entitled,” to use his exact words.

This is frustrating for me because I don’t live in a world where success is castigated or looked down upon nor do I live in a world where Americans who need a helping hand are government leeches. I, for one, applaud success. What frustrates me here is the hypocrisy coming from candidate Romney. In a closed-door fundraiser, he berates the very voters that love him (see the red states above). He hides his tax returns yet tells us that he pays 13% and demands years of tax returns from his Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (WI). What’s worse, that he won’t show his returns, that he pays on average less than most Americans pay in taxes, or that he holds his running mate to a different standard than he does himself? This is insulting.

It just seems that Governor Romney seems to be playing by a different set of rules than most Americans. This double-standard is what made “Mac” so upset and should make most Americans upset. For me, it’s simply insulting.

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Is Gov. Romney Responsible for a Woman’s Death?

We’re clearly only a few months away from a presidential election, the latest indicator being the onslaught of negative advertisements coming from each presidential camp. By most accounts, it’s just getting nastier and nastier by the hour. Both sides of the aisle have dirt under their fingernails and the latest ad comes from my friends on the Democratic side of the aisle.

While this ad isn’t surprising, it troubles me.  The message here is that Mitt Romney’s actions at Bain Capital were responsible for a woman’s death from cancer. Nothing is farther from the truth and even the White House/Obama campaign have distanced themselves from it. David Axelrod on Morning Joe was clear: “no one should or could blame Governor Romney for the death of that guy’s wife.” To be clear, this ad ran only on Youtube and aired once I believe on TV before it was pulled down.

Both campaigns and/or their surrogates are spewing false ads on TV, radio, in print, etc. False ads aren’t some sort of new political invention. It just seems to me that the brazenness employed by both sides of the aisle is getting out of hand this cycle. Take for example the TV ad the Romney campaign is running, claiming President Obama cut $716 Billion from Medicare. While it is true he used part of those cuts to pay for “Obamacare,” he also uses part of those savings taken directly from medical providers, NOT Medicare recipients, to pay for preventative care. At no point does Obama cut Medicare benefits. What’s worse is  the Romney campaign leaves out that the Ryan budget did EXACTLY THE SAME THING. The hypocrisy is beyond belief.

Bottom line: both ads are pure unadulterated lies. I suppose it might be a tad bit naive to think that you just can’t lie on tv like that. But yes, that would take naivety to a whole new level, something I’m not prepared to do. Nor should I, for that matter, since I’m a part of the media now.

I’ve said time and time again on tv that what the American people crave right now, what they’re thirsty for, is authenticity, for someone to just tell them the truth. One of the reasons the Obama campaign from 2008 inspired so many people was because of his positive message of hope and change. I supported  President Obama then and support him now but he and his staff were naive to think they could “change” Washington, DC in four short years. I’m reminded of President Carter’s same promise. He, too, failed miserably. And so the GOP talking point, or better yet laughing point, today is “keep the change.”

What I don’t want nor do I expect for the President’s campaign or its surrogates is to engage in the same dirty tricks as the other side of the aisle. Do I expect them to fight back, to counterattack? Of course! Sen. John Kerry’s people will tell you to this day that taking the high road in 2004 instead of attacking the Swift Boat ads was a mistake and probably cost them the election.

It’s one thing to counterattack. It’s another thing to smear the other side with lies. Burton and companies advertisement is dirty and it’s wrong. It is, in a word, a lie. I for one don’t believe there’s nothing the Obama campaign can do to stop these types of things. And I suppose there’s a difference between a campaign lying (like Romney is doing) versus a Super Pac lying (like Burton’s group is doing). In the end though, both stink to high heaven. It’s no wonder tv-watching America can find their “Mute” button without even batting an eye.

 

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Romney vs. Ryan

I’ve been asked over and over again for my opinion on Governor Romney’s vice presidential pick of Representative Paul Ryan (WI). Ryan is, if anything, authentic. And that’s a HUGE problem for Romney.

Listen, Ryan is a smart guy. He’s a serious policymaker and he has proposed serious policy positions, many of which I’ve legitimately disagreed with. Ryan has gone places where most Members of Congress would never go and I respect that. There are some votes where I’ve agreed with him, specifically his vote in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. And there are plenty of votes where I’ve disagreed with him, including his vote in favor of Medicare Part D (because it wasn’t paid for and added trillions of dollars to our national debt), his vote against my marriage equality, and obviously I disagree with much of what’s in his proposed budgets. But again, Ryan actually believes what he’s proposing. I’m going back and looking at his record and I can’t find a single time where he’s flipflopped on a single policy position.

I don’t need to rehash Governor Romney’s habitual flipflopping. That’s widely-reported but now his inability to come up with a single position and then stick with it is under even more scrutiny because of his running mate’s record. By picking Ryan, Romney has inadvertently turned the spotlight directly back on himself. The contract between the two couldn’t be more stark. Romney will say anything to be elected POTUS and Ryan doesn’t shy away from anything.

Simply put, Ryan has a core and Romney doesn’t. That’s harsh. That’s tough. But it’s fair. By choosing Ryan, Romney has exposed his ultimate wound. He’s shown he’s the Stepford husband of the pair. There was plenty of me to agree with when Romney was the Governor of Massachusetts, yet very little of me to agree with as the eternal “conservative” candidate for the presidency. He’s devolved in his positions whereas Ryan picks a position and sticks with it.

I’m of the school of thought that most Americans just want someone who’s authentic to lead this country in these troubled times. In 2008, most Americans thought that was going to be then-Senator Barack Obama. Then the reality of Washington slapped him square across the face with its ugly partisan hand.

Four years later, the country is being asked to make a decision: pick a man who lacks a core or a pick a man who’s been schooled as a sitting President. It’s a “choice” election and Ryan’s pick I think will backfire on Romney and hand the Democrats the White House for four more years. We’ll see in exactly 86 days.

Posted on by jimmy in Congress, Equal Rights, House, Presidential 1 Comment

Washington Makes a Deal: a Bad Deal

Yesterday, House Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid announced that they had reached a six-month, short term agreement that would avert a government shutdown on October 1, 2012.  At first glance, it seems we finally have some good news coming from Washington, DC.  But if you look at this deal more closely, Congress has done nothing more than kick the can down the road.

Congress’ job is to pass legislation for the good of the country and keep the government open at spending levels the nation can afford.  Sadly, they have failed to do both.  Blame can be attributed to both political parties but the so-called “Tea Party” and the recession have made this normal routine of passing spending bills almost impossible.  Partisanship has reached unprecedented levels in the last three and a half years and for proof look no farther than the record number of filibusters by the Senate’s GOP in this Congress.  Never before in American history have we seen more legislation filibustered than we see today.

So while we may think the agreement reached by the leaders of both Chambers is a good thing, the reality is Congress is shirking its responsibilities at a time when the American people and American businesses both want and expect them do their jobs.  These spending bills touch almost every aspect of American society: our defense, our diplomacy abroad, our healthcare system, our schools and our hospitals.  That’s what is in these spending bills and that’s where our tax payer dollars go.

 You may recall last summer House Republicans took the nation to the brink of disaster by demanding draconian cuts and a possible default on our national debt. This disaster was averted at the very last minute when both houses of Congress and President Obama agreed to reduce the national debt by putting in place what is known as sequestration.  Those cuts will take effect at the beginning of 2013.  In addition, the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 will all expire on December 31, 2012.  So while most Americans don’t have a clue what their tax rates will be in five months, Congress has decided to put itself on autopilot for the next six months. No profiles in courage here.

While this is a smart political bill, the only people that this agreement helps are those who work under the Capitol dome.  I suppose getting any kind of agreement is good news these days but it seems as if we have to swallow yet another bitter pill coming from Washington, DC.

Note: this column was originally published on MSNBC’s Lean Forward blog.

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Rural vs. Urban: Who Has it Right?

Not that you care but I wake up between 5:30-6:30am most everyday. My routine’s simple and straightforward: 

1) convince the hound to wake up so I can make his, I mean MY, bed

2) hit the “head”

3) take the myriad pills my doctor forces me to ingest since I’m officially falling apart and

4) grab my Iphone to make sure the world hasn’t “blown up” on Facebook or Twitter while I let the dog out so he, too, can “hit the head.” Fair’s fair right?

It’s my last step in waking up where I usually get “my fix” of useless drivel posted on the Internet that makes the process of morning coffee amusing. Some of my favorites are “Should I add these over ripe bananas to my breakfast cereal or should I make banana bread?” or “Traffic blows today!” or “Why isn’t Matt Lauer on tv today?”. Yes America, this is the crap you write for the entire world to see that adds absolutely nothing to the national dialogue.

Then this morning, something amazing happened: one of my Facebook friends actually vented about how the District of Columbia can’t seem to pick up his trash with any regularity. Normally I’d just keep scrolling down to another banal thought but I began to think back on my time when I rented on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and realized how right my friend Matt was.

And that’s when it struck me (sans coffee): things haven’t changed much since I bought my little log cabin in the mountains.

Washington, DC is actually a small city of only 618,000 residents, none of whom have meaningful representation in Congress but pay one of the highest local tax rates in the entire country. DC residents have the right to vote yet their votes don’t count towards electing our President. They don’t have two Senators like Wyoming, a state with nearly 50,000 fewer residents. Bottom line: DC is the physical seat of power for our country yet its residents are treated like second class citizens. Part of this is Congress’ fault but frankly (and here’s where  my DC friends will get ticked off at me) most of the blame belongs to DC itself.

BACK TO THE BASICS

What is it about a major metropolitan area not getting the basics down? Snow removal, trash pickup, pot holes: the list is endless. I guess when  you have hundreds of thousands of people in cars/buses/trucks using you everyday, you’d have pot holes too. But   trash pickup? I mean, that’s about as simple as it gets right? It just seems small towns and rural communities get it right most of the time, even in a time when state and local budgets are smaller and making do with less. Perhaps it’s just that the people in smaller communities rely on each other more so than larger, more metropolitan areas.

I think this is why I continue to be so saddened and disappointed in the District of Columbia. Nothing has changed since I left her. I mean after eight years, they can’t even get trash pickup right? I’m not sorry to say that’s just plain pathetic. Other major metropolitan areas have some of the same basic problems as DC (namely Detroit, MI) yet others are well-run. I’ve written about the beauty of working in New York City. It gives you everything you want, when you want it, from Central Park to the subway to Broadway to Wall Street. And yes sometimes it gives you things you don’t want: murder, thievery, and endless traffic jams.

I’m lucky that I’m allowed the dichotomy of living two lives: one in a bustling, pulsing big city and the other in a large mountainous county of a mere 7,000 residents. I’m struck by the similarities: we have murder albeit on a smaller scale. We have thievery as well. And we definitely have traffic jams, especially when it’s harvest time and we get stuck behind a huge tractor for miles and miles of non-passable country roads.

Here’s the difference though. The county where I live, there is no trash pickup. Hell, we don’t even have stoplights. Our police force and public schools are paid for from my county taxes but most everything else is volunteer. I traded a life in the District of Columbia where public services were sporadic at best and the cost-of-living was twice as much for where I live now. I traded a life in the city of “easy and accessible” for a rural life  of “get in my car and drive” for even the most basic things. I get my city fix pretty much every week when I go to New York for work but then I get on that plane and head back to the land of lightning bugs and blue-ridged mountains.

To be honest, it’s worth it for me to drive my trash to the local dump where I can talk to the old crusty dudes that have worked there for decades about the lack of rain. It’s worth it for me to walk to the top of my property and look out at Battle Mountain and then look back at my little log cabin built in 1729 in sheer wonderment. And it’s worth it for me to stand in my kitchen with my french pressed coffee, reading inane Facebook posts because every so often, one just jumps out at me and reminds me that we rednecks out in the country can get it right too.

My rural vote counts, as it should for every American. It just seems to me that if we can get even the simplest services right in BFE (and you know what that stands for), then the District of Columbia should be able to get it right too. Until they can even get the basics down pat, then I’m not ready to say our nation’s capitol should become a state and have the same rights as my little county or New York. I mean, if you can’t do only the basics, then how the hell can you manage the major stuff right?

It’s time for Washington, D.C. to figure it out. It’s past time actually. And in the meantime, its residents will continue to suffer and be denied the one thing that makes us such a beautiful democracy: a vote that counts. How un-American.

Posted on by jimmy in Congress 1 Comment