Washington Merry-Go-Round

America’s piggy bank

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

America’s piggy bank

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – America has a piggy bank it no longer needs, a piggy bank with sufficient resources to pay for the current fiscal year’s sequestration, albeit a resource unlikely to be used because friends and foes might misinterpret its purpose.

Sequestration, which is scheduled to go into effect on March 1 per the Budget Control Act of 2011, mandates budget cuts for the next 10 years, beginning with $85 billion this year. Congress is struggling to come up with cuts and revenue to offset this, but has so far failed.

There is another solution. In 1975, responding to OPEC’s (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) 1973 oil embargo, the United States established the SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve), which now includes four sites in Louisiana and Texas holding approximately 695 billion barrels of oil worth nearly $63 billion – oil that cost the government around $20 billion.

Would it be feasible to sell off the SPR? According to Citigroup, the United States, aided only by Canadian oil imports, can expect to achieve energy independence within five years. This would be a result of increased production and decreased consumption primarily due to increased fuel efficiencies. It would eliminate the SPR as a critical need. After all, the United States managed quite well without the SPR prior to 1973. The country would have no more reason to stockpile oil than it would to stockpile any other important natural resource that are available in domestic abundance. And even if there is a call to refill the SPR, it would be good business to do so when oil prices have fallen.

Further, with U.S. troops stationed in several Mideast countries and the U.S. 5th Fleet patrolling the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Arabian Sea following our defense of the region, there is no chance of another OPEC oil embargo. In fact, there is even speculation that OPEC is on its last legs due to competition from Russian, North Sea and other regions’ oil production, as well as decreasing U.S. oil imports.

Meanwhile, $63 billion is not $85 billion, and here the math becomes complex. Selling 695 billion barrels of oil would impact the world’s per-barrel price, which means the sale would generate something less than $63 billion. On the other hand, a reduction in the price for oil would be a boon to the economy, creating a ripple effect that would impact corporate profits and consumer disposable spending, all of which would increase tax revenues.

It would be impossible to say if these dynamics would provide enough money to cover the $85 billion sequestration for 2013. There is even a chance that the figure could be surpassed, but whether the final number comes up short or over would be inconsequential because finding $10 billion or $20 billion in spending cuts, if necessary, would be much more palatable than finding $85 billion in cuts or revenue.

True, the SPR can only solve the sequestration problem for 2013, but that might be sufficient. As a minimum, it would provide Congress with more time to resolve the budget issues. At best, improvements in the economy could substantially lessen the size of sequestration sums needed in 2014 and beyond.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

GOP fears their Tea Party Republicans

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

GOP fears their Tea Party Republicans

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s lunge for water got more attention than anything he said, and that was understandable since he didn’t say much of note. He characterized President Obama’s State of the Union speech as a call for more spending when the president explicitly said government cannot do everything, and offered proposals that wouldn’t cost taxpayers money.

On the same day that Rubio delivered his speech decrying government and extolling capitalism, he cast his vote against the Violence Against Women Act, which passed the Senate with a vote of 78 to 22. For the reputed savior of the Republican Party to line up with the minority of the minority on legislation important to women doesn’t change much of anything for the GOP.

Rubio was elected as a Tea Party favorite, but the Tea Party Express had its own star pupil, Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., deliver a separate response to the State of the Union. Aside from coverage pointing out that Rubio and Paul basically offered the same small government conservative message, Paul’s post-SOU address went mostly unnoticed.

The good news for Republicans is that these two senators did not play out their differences for everybody to see on Tuesday night. But the fact that they were polite for a single evening doesn’t mean that there aren’t real conflicts within the Republican Party. At the heart of the GOP’s problem is the fact that Republicans made a pact with the Tea Party to win the Congress in 2010, and they’ve been paying for it ever since.

The Tea Party and its radical candidates cost the Republicans control of the Senate in 2010 and 2012, and now saner voices in the party are trying to wrest back candidate recruitment from the Tea Party. Leading the effort is Karl Rove, whose newly formed Conservative Victory Project aims to weed out candidates likely to implode on the campaign trail and say what they really think. Rove’s effort is getting a lot of pushback from all kinds of conservative groups, and it’s not clear whether his project will survive. Rove, like his mentor, Lee Atwater, gained fame as Pres. George W. Bush’s heavy-handed political operative.

But Rove’s scorecard in 2012 was extremely disappointing to the donors who gave him money, and they may very well take a look at this latest effort and conclude that Rove’s approach to politics has run its course.

The wedge issues that carried Republicans to the White House in the past have shifted, and the GOP seems at a loss about what to champion next. Watching Rubio deliver his remarks in both English and Spanish, one thing that seems certain, the GOP won’t be pushing for English only anymore, just one of many divisive cultural issues that are now a dead letter.

The divide within the Republican Party is evident with Rubio and Paul, however much they downplay their differences. Both are likely presidential contenders in 2016. By then, Rubio will have frayed his Tea Party credentials in an effort to make the GOP look modern and in touch with the American people.

The Tea Party has run its course with the voters, but within the GOP, it still wields power. They say there are two kinds of Republicans in Congress, the Tea Party, and those who are afraid of the Tea Party, spurred by their fear of opposition in a primary. Republicans are far more fearful of Tea Party challengers than they are of Democrats.

Fear of being “primaried” is the phenomenon driving all sorts of bizarre Republican behavior on Capitol Hill from South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham’s determined focus to defeat President Obama’s choice for Secretary of Defense, to Texas Senator John Cornyn’s vote against former Senator John Kerry for Secretary of State. Cornyn was one of three no votes, along with Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe and Texas freshman Ted Cruz, a Tea Party darling who has Cornyn worried about a primary challenge.  The Tea Party has lost ground, but it still has Republicans running scared.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

Sequestering the sequestors

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Sequestering the sequestors

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Unless one or the other side has a change of heart, the much talked about budget-cutting device of sequestration will kick in on March 1st. It would be far preferable if the White House and congressional Republicans reach an agreement to distribute spending cuts more fairly, but for now it appears they will be arbitrarily leveled across the board at both the defense budget and domestic spending.

Every domestic program that is not a protected entitlement will take a hit, and that includes everything from federal spending on cancer and Alzheimer’s research to funding for Head Start and Air Traffic Control at airports. Spending you didn’t even know you needed, like weather satellites, will be scaled back.

That’s the bad news, but the good news is that these cuts will not be felt on Day One. There will be time for lawmakers to consider what they have done and to come back and rectify their mistake. Of course, they may need help seeing the error of their ways, and that’s where President Obama comes in.

There are three weeks between March 1 and March 27 when the “continuing resolution” that funds the government expires, and that window is when Congress will finally get to work. They will fix the sequester, and they will continue to fund the government unless Republicans have completely lost their minds, and want to see their party go the way of the Whigs.

Until the axe actually falls, all the talk about sequestration is theoretical with politicians painting dire scenarios while trying to stick the other party or the president with the blame. But when it actually happens, the Pentagon and department heads throughout the government will have to come up with a road map indicating how they will implement the cuts.

The president has already started to play hardball, pointing out that the threat of deep cuts has forced the Navy to delay sending an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf. That’s just a hint of what’s to come in terms of actual cuts and the president’s ability to use the bully pulpit to play politics around the impact of those cuts.

When the theoretical becomes the personal, and individual lawmakers get a taste of how their district or state could be affected, the political equation favors the president. That is especially true when it comes to defense spending. Congress has been diligent in awarding defense contracts in virtually every congressional district in the country. When jobs are lost, lawmakers can be counted on to loudly protest cutbacks that hurt their constituents.

Obama should have a game plan ready should sequestration happen, and that game plan should target Republicans who supported sequestration, and whose districts could suffer.  The president could legitimately call in those members and let them know that unless they dial back, defense spending in their districts will take a hit.

This can be done largely under the radar although a Republican entering the Obama White House is rare enough that such a visit is unlikely to escape attention. Republicans who stood firm for sequestration are going to be very uncomfortable standing by while their constituents suffer. It would be a matter of sequestering the sequestors.

Politics is a contact sport, and nobody is going to blame Obama for getting tough on the other party. Lawmakers who supported sequester can’t go running to the press to say they didn’t think their district would be punished. They would look foolish.

The sequester was designed as something so onerous it should never happen, but it appears that it will happen, and it could be the ultimate teaching tool for Obama to bring Congress into line.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

Too much tea for the GOP

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Too much tea for the GOP

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – As the second in command of House Republicans, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has a tough job. The Tea Party wing of the party looks to him as their leader at the same time he’s trying to move the GOP away from its more extremist base. In a speech this week at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, Cantor reversed his position on “dreamers,” young people brought to this country illegally by their parents, saying he now supports granting them legal residency.

Adopting the slogan, “Making Life Work” for more people, Cantor offered a wish list that includes more school choice, more flexible schedules for workers, and more readily accessible health care. It was a speech that if you closed your eyes and couldn’t see who was behind the podium, you might think it was a Democrat.

Cantor gets an A for trying to move his party to the center, at least rhetorically, but it’s a heavy lift for him to bring off. He made his reputation in the House as the brash young legislator pushing the image of the GOP as a party of “Young Guns,” a moniker that wisely has been retired in the wake of gun violence.

Now he’s trying to find a more socially pleasing platform on which to stand, but the message gets confused with the messenger. Cantor is no happy warrior; he’s gotten ahead by tapping into the anger of the Tea Party, anger so destructive that it is not an exaggeration to say that it is destroying the Republican Party from within.

Cantor has the correct instinct to try to move his party away from the extremes, but he doesn’t have the credibility or the policy chops to make his ideas plausible. He’s been carrying the banner for obstructionism, and to suddenly reverse course makes him appear more of an opportunist than a visionary.

The last happy warrior who identified as a Republican was the late Jack Kemp, a star quarterback turned politician who championed immigration reform and opportunity for minorities and was both lauded and derided as a “bleeding-heart conservative.” Kemp served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the first Bush administration, and was Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996.

No one has claimed Kemp’s mantle of political ebullience and equality, and when the Tea Party emerged during the summer of 2010, the main emotion its adherents projected was anger – anger at big government symbolized by Obamacare. Railing at government is not new in American politics, but the Tea Party, egged on by Rep. Cantor and others, offered a new vehicle of expression. Fueled by an infusion of money made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Tea Party moved the GOP so far to the right it cannot compete nationally.

Anger as a tool in politics is powerful, but to be effective over the long run, has to be coupled with a positive vision as well. Newt Gingrich was unrelenting in his criticism of Democrats in his rise to power in the 1990’s, but he understood that wasn’t enough. Gingrich’s “Contract with America” was a coherent set of policy goals whether you agreed them or not, and when the GOP took over the House in 1994, Republicans had a whole host of legislation they could vote on. Most of it died in the Senate, but for a time, it had the appearance of action.

The Republican Party is in need of an extreme makeover, and Cantor’s “Making Life Work” speech this week is a step away from the harsh views that have defined the party. How meaningful is Cantor’s shift? Sarah Palin’s words come to mind, that the only difference between hockey moms and pit bulls is lipstick.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

Angry Chameleon McCain

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Angry Chameleon McCain

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Watching Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., in his recent public appearances, whether it’s grilling President Obama’s nominee to head the Defense Department, or making the case for immigration reform as a matter of practical politics, the question that comes to mind is, who is John McCain? Which of his various personas is the real McCoy – the real McCain?

He first burst onto the national political scene with his maverick run for the presidency in 2000, riding around New Hampshire in a bus dubbed “The Straight Talk Express.” Reporters loved him for his freewheeling approach to politics, his willingness to entertain questions on all kinds of subjects, and his unvarnished candor.

But the wheels came off the Straight Talk Express when the campaign moved to South Carolina and McCain realized that being a maverick meant that he did not always tow the party line, a fact that upset more conservative Republicans.

McCain prided himself on his strength of character, a trait that allowed him to persevere through five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Yet, he was unprepared for the way George W. Bush and his political allies attacked him in the South Carolina primary, claiming his adopted daughter was a love child, his wife was addicted to prescription drugs, and that his behavior as POW was not as advertised. Such tactics were beyond the pale, and should have created a lasting enmity. Instead, after losing the nomination, he campaigned for Bush, changed his colors and accepted the Bush orthodoxy. The maverick became the chameleon.

In 2008, the chameleon moved hard right and won the nomination. However, he still tried to pass himself off as a maverick by naming the unconventional Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, as his running mate, but the move backfired. She turned out to be more conservative than McCain, and far less knowledgeable on the issues. So, in exercising the most important decision a presidential nominee can make – selecting the person who would be one heartbeat away from the presidency – he failed. Palin was unqualified, and it is generally accepted that she cost him the election.

Having lost, McCain’s history would indicate that he would be as forgiving of Pres. Barack Obama as he had been of his North Vietnamese torturers or of George Bush’s nasty politics. But once again his chameleon nature prevailed, and he has seemingly fostered a lingering hostility, deep and personal, toward the man who defeated him in 2008.

The questioning at Hagel’s confirmation hearing exposed the rawness of McCain’s feelings when it comes to the man who nominated Hagel, and to the war whose success he wants measured by only one thing, the surge, instead of the initial invasion of Iraq. Hagel refused to give McCain a simple yes or no on whether the surge succeeded, viewing it in the overall context of a war that was unnecessary, cost too much in blood and treasure, and that served mainly to empower Iran in the region.

The way he bludgeoned Hagel was unbecoming of a senator and did nothing to advance understanding of the kinds of judgments Hagel will be called upon to make once he is confirmed as everyone expects he will be. Hagel did not perform well and had to be corrected at one point by the committee chairman, Democrat Carl Levin, on the president’s policy toward Iran, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb, and not containment. But Hagel kept his cool like a solid soldier, and even commended McCain’s heroism despite the hostile questioning from his old Senate buddy and fellow Vietnam vet.

Watching McCain in the hearing made us long for the days when a senator, proud of the position and respectful of the institution, treated others in a dignified and civil manner. Instead, we were treated to an angry man, who took advantage of his position to be overbearing and bullying. The maverick truly became an angry chameleon. The good news is that chameleons are capable of extraordinary change.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

Immigration reform becoming nonpartisan

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Immigration reform becoming nonpartisan

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – If ever there was a clear example of the axiom that elections have consequences, it is the GOP’s turnaround on immigration reform. Leading the charge is Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., who championed reform before he was against it, initially teaming up with Senator Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., on a legislative remedy, and then running for reelection in Arizona on an anti-reform platform.  Now he’s out front pushing for immigration reform once again.

Pretty dizzying, isn’t it, and it gets more bizarre when you consider that last year’s Republican presidential candidate won his party’s nomination in part by moving farther to the right on the immigration issue than any of the other contenders, and no one in the field was what you might call soft on immigration. Romney coined the phrase self-deportation, suggesting that millions of illegal immigrants take it upon themselves to go back home, and he said in response to a question that as president he would veto the Dream Act.

It was President Obama’s executive order granting young people brought to the U.S. as children a legal right to remain and enroll in college or the military that was a factor in rallying Hispanic voters to join the Obama coalition. Obama won the Hispanic vote by a margin of 3 to 1, which McCain cited as a reason for Republicans to pursue immigration reform.  “As you look at demographics in states like mine, that means that we will go from Republican to Democrat over time,” McCain said at a breakfast sponsored by Politico two days after appearing with a bipartisan group of senators to unveil a framework for immigration reform.

The sudden rush toward bipartisanship on an issue that only months ago had been so divisive is the result of naked politics. Republicans who look ahead to recapturing the White House understand that the GOP can’t win a national election if they don’t improve their standing with Hispanic voters, the fastest growing minority in the country.

House Republicans remain a stumbling block. Unlike McCain who can look around his state and see the changing demographics, a substantial number of House districts represented by Republicans have fewer than 10 percent Hispanic populations. They can kid themselves that immigration reform doesn’t matter to their constituents, but it’s not that simple.

How the party presents itself sends a message to other voters that the GOP must court, particularly in contested suburban districts. George W. Bush’s campaign theme in 2000 of compassionate conservatism softened his party’s hard edges and won over suburban women. In 2004, Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, a number that no Republican since has come close to matching.

Bush made a good faith effort to achieve immigration reform, working with McCain and Kennedy. But their coalition fell apart, and when McCain subsequently ran for reelection, he said if the bill he had co-sponsored with Kennedy came up for a vote on the Senate floor, he would vote against it. Now McCain is back in the game, championing reform along with several other key senators that include on the Republican side, Florida’s Marco Rubio, a rising star and potential presidential contender. Rubio’s verbal gifts and instinctive charm were on display when he appeared on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show this week. Limbaugh started out with a tough line against reform proposals offered by the senators but before long he was agreeing with Rubio that what they offer is a recognition of reality, and that whatever the senators propose has to be better than anything the White House and Obama come up with.

Tough decisions and hard compromises lie ahead, but the betting is that Washington has turned a corner on immigration reform.  A big vote in the Senate, with perhaps more than 70 senators voting aye before the summer recess, could force the House’s hand and the sound you hear will be gridlock breaking.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

Women in combat

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Women in combat

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – In the early 1970’s, before women were allowed to attend West Point, some of the more forward-thinking cadets noticed that among the celebrated generals pictured in a huge mural at one end of the dining hall was a woman, Joan of Arc, keeping company so to speak with Napoleon, Alexander the Great and Hannibal, among the other great captains of history. It struck them as a little odd to extol one 15th century woman as a warrior at a time when there were no female cadets at the academy.

The federal service academies put more enlightened policies in place by the mid ‘70s, and the 1980 graduating class at West Point was the first to include women. There was a great deal more controversy then about those first steps toward gender equality than was evident last week when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, announced that the military was lifting its exclusionary rule against women in combat.

To put their announcement in context, it’s really not a question of whether women should be allowed in combat, but whether women have the physical qualifications to do every single job. The services have three years, until January 1, 2016, to assess the practicality of fully integrating women and dropping the barriers that exist.

Some jobs like the highly competitive and coveted spots with the Army Rangers or the Navy Seals may never be realistic options for all women, but that will be determined. The pool of men for these units is extremely competitive with physical tests that stretch the boundaries of human capability. Few men can meet the test, but it is possible that there may be women out there who are their match. This rule change opens the door to women but it does not guarantee their inclusion. The burden will be on the service chiefs to say which jobs, or which covert operations, should remain closed to women, and for the Secretary of Defense to judge whether the exclusions are justified.

Other militaries around the world, notably the Israelis, have a broad role for women and it’s no big deal for women to fight alongside men. What’s happened in the U.S. armed services as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that women are being pulled into combat without being officially designated to participate at that level. To use the parlance of the military, they are “attached” rather than “assigned” to combat units.

On the battlefield it is a distinction without a difference. Women are wounded and dying alongside men, but they are not receiving credit for combat experience. At least 139 female soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without combat as part of their record, their eligibility for promotion is hampered. Opening this path for them to combat does not compromise military readiness in any way; it simply ratifies what is already happening on the ground, and allows women to compete for jobs they are well qualified to perform.

There was a time when eligibility for combat was determined by physical strength alone, but the modern military has moved well beyond that point. The evolution of military science and technology means that brain power along with the ability to manage stressful conditions matter more than sheer brawn, which is why it makes no sense to deprive the nation of more than half the population from serving in combat. Intellectual prowess is not gender exclusive.

The muted reaction to the entry of women into combat is a testament not only to the cultural shifts in society but to the needs of a modern military.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

Benghazi one of many dangerous posts

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Benghazi one of many dangerous posts

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – After being out of the public eye for several weeks due to health reasons, a fully recovered Hillary Clinton turned in a bravura performance before two congressional committees on Wednesday. She deftly handled questions over five hours, taking responsibility for the tragic events last year in Benghazi while deflecting any personal blame for the lapse in security that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Some senators typically overplayed their hand, peppering Clinton with questions about why it took the administration more than a week to concede the attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi was a terrorist assault and not a spontaneous protest in response to an anti-Islam film. The Secretary of State finally had it with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., erupting emotionally to ask why that should matter. “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”

It was a good question and nobody seemed to have much of an answer other than to chalk it up to partisanship. Republicans thought the Benghazi attack, which occurred in September when the presidential campaign was in full throttle, would undermine President Obama’s claim that he had Al-Qaeda on the run and raise questions about the administration’s credibility. It was far from another Watergate, but Republicans thought it had the potential to damage Obama’s leadership.

The public didn’t respond the way the GOP hoped, and then Clinton was on the sidelines, suffering first from stomach flu, then a fainting spell brought on by dehydration, and finally a blood clot in that hospitalized her. In the meantime Republicans had built up Benghazi in their view as some terrible breach of security that someone in a high position should be called to account.

Clinton in her opening statement before the Foreign Relations Committee cited a long string of incidents where American personnel abroad have been assaulted, taken hostage or killed. The popular view of an ambassador as a wealthy donor who is rewarded for his or her financial support with a plum post abroad is certainly true in some instances. But Clinton made the point that serving abroad in unstable parts of the world carries risk, and that the lesson of the Benghazi tragedy must not be to disengage from the world, or to sequester U.S. diplomats in fortified compounds.

The usually cool Secretary of State’s voice quivered when she recalled comforting the families of those killed in Benghazi. She acknowledged under questioning from the House Foreign Affairs committee that she was aware that the security threat in Benghazi was escalating. A bomb had been found at the compound in June, and there had been an ambush that same month on the British ambassador.

Clinton’s insistence that she had never seen any of the specific requests for additional security that Stevens and others had asked for in cables prompted Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kent., to say that if he were president at the time, he would have fired her. That prompted at least one audible gasp from Clinton’s State Department entourage as the Secretary brushed aside the comment as unworthy of a response.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

Veto the redundant debt ceiling bill

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Veto the redundant debt ceiling bill

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – At the behest of the Republican majority, the House of Representatives has passed a bill authorizing the U.S. Treasury to borrow without limit the funds necessary to pay for spending already passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. This is redundant and should be vetoed.

As we wrote on January 7, the operative clauses of the Constitution are:

Article I, Section 8, Clause 2: “[The Congress shall have the Power] to borrow Money . . .”

Article I, Section 8, Clause 5: “[The Congress shall have the Power] to coin Money . . .”

Article I, Section 9, Clause 7: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law . . .”

What this means is that the House of Representatives has just acknowledged the supremacy of Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 as to the issue of borrowing and spending. Specifically, the House has agreed that appropriations laws, which must be obeyed by the Treasury, can only be obeyed if the Treasury can make up the shortfall between revenue (taxes, sales, etc.) and mandated appropriations by either printing or borrowing money.

Clause 7 does not allow the Treasury to choose which appropriations to pay. By law, it must pay them all. The clause does not say the Treasury can only pay for the appropriations Congress has passed if there is enough money to do so. This is why Clause 7 supersedes Clauses 2 and 5. Congress cannot take away with one hand what it has ordered with the other. It cannot say, “The Treasury must spend this money, but we will not allow it to print or borrow the money to do so.”

Now, for the first time since World War II, Congress is authorizing the Treasury to borrow whatever it needs to pay for the spending Congress has already mandated. No dollar amount has been attached to the bill, except that at the end of the term of the authorization on May 19, 2013, an automatic ceiling will be raised to include whatever amount the Treasury has borrowed.

Here is the catch. In passing this bill, the House has simply restated its order – its law – to the Treasury to spend the money Congress and the president already made mandatory by law. In other words, it is unnecessary. It is redundant.

The irrational argument to the contrary would contend that a law passed under Clause 7 cannot be implemented unless funds are approved under Clauses 2 and 5. The problem is that the appropriations laws do not contain such a requirement, the absence of which clearly indicates that authorizations under Clauses 2 and 5 are already included in the laws.

As we previously wrote, “If, on the other hand, Congress passed a bill under Clauses 2 and 5 forbidding the Treasury from borrowing and printing additional money at the same time it approved an appropriations bill that could not be funded any other way, a true constitutional crisis would ensue. In reality, of course, this is impossible because no president would sign such conflicting bills into law.”

It is important here to parse the word “appropriation.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an appropriation is “a sum of money appropriated for a specific use.” Therefore, an appropriations bill does not just instruct the Department of Defense to build an aircraft carrier. It appropriates the money to build it, and it cannot appropriate what the Treasury does not have or cannot obtain through revenue, sales, printing, or borrowing. Therefore, an appropriation is not just an order to spend money, but also an authorization to obtain it.

For these reasons, the president should acknowledge the acquiescence of Congress in the logical interpretation of Clauses 2, 5, and 7 and of the meaning of the word “appropriation,” but he should not sign the debt ceiling bill lest that be a recognition of the right of Congress to misinterpret the Constitution.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

Commentary or entertainment

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Commentary or entertainment

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Beware the pundits. Whether the television talking heads are talking about politics or economics, the scenario is the same. They are first and foremost in the entertainment business, which is why their words helped create pandemonium in the financial markets during the fiscal cliff crisis.

The problem is the medium. Television thrives on hype and controversy to attract viewers, and viewers attract advertisers. In many respects, it mirrors the divisiveness in the nation. Most people may be in the political and economic middle ground, but most television commentators are not. Television producers provide debates more than informative discussions, which is why political conservatives debate liberals and fiscal conservatives debate Keynesian economists.

This is fine, but where are the centrist voices? Their absence helps to increase the divisions both among the public and in Congress. The fiscal cliff crisis was – and once again is about to be – the latest example of pundit-driven overreaction. Most political veterans knew that Congress would not let the Bush tax cuts expire for middle-income earners and would not let the $1.2 trillion spending cuts known as sequestration kick in to shut down the government. But the pundits spent two months warning of the opposite scenario.

Day after day, we were bombarded with “experts” telling us of the horrors of “the cliff” and the likelihood of going over it. Then, as December 31, 2012, the day of reckoning approached, the pundits became increasingly excited. The sky was falling. The world was ending. Congress was made up of partisan fools. The system doesn’t work. America is failing.

But this is not what you read from us. We simply wrote that the country would not go over “the cliff,” period. And come the next deadline, whether it is the debt ceiling or sequestration, we repeat: the country will not go over “the cliff.”

However, the vociferous cliff pundits virtually talked the Dow Jones Industrial Average down nearly 1,000 points during the last three months of the year. Yes, there are many factors affecting the stock market, but it is of note that it dramatically recovered after Congress passed the appropriate cliff-avoiding legislation at year end. How might the market have behaved had most pundits told what history repeatedly has proven: in the end, politicians will do the public’s bidding, albeit, often at the eleventh hour.

However, history, experience, and centrist reason does not make for good television. It is the realm of hype and controversy, and because it shapes public opinion far more than our political system and our elected representatives do, it bears the lion’s share of blame for the gridlock, partisanship, and divisiveness that currently plagues the nation.

Certainly, not all television commentary is entertainment and not all print commentary is rational, but there is a significant difference. Writers cannot shout in several second bursts. They cannot talk over one another, turning debates into indecipherable rants. Instead, writers are compelled to put their reasoning on paper where the public can quickly discern whether or not it is logical and compelling. This is why there is a yawning chasm between the print and television mediums, a chasm between rational commentary and irresponsible entertainment.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND