Legislators do your job – I have a dream

I have a dream of legislators working together. I have a dream that leaders like McConnell, Pelosi, Schumer, McCarthy and Pence will sit down with a to-do list and find common ground to pass needed legislation to help people. Stabilizing healthcare costs and addressing the opioid crisis, addressing deteriorated and needed infrastructure, providing better job retraining and community reinvestment, addressing the risks of climate change and addressing the increasing deficit and debt are a few priorities.

It is a dream I have. You may not agree with my priorities, but I hope you share my dream of our legislators being more concerned with doing their jobs than keeping their jobs.

Note: The above letter was forwarded to my newspaper opinion page. Please feel free to modify and use.

Good words, now let’s walk the talk

I have now seen South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy interviewed twice on their book released this week called “Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country.” Scott who is Black and Gowdy who is White speak openly of their friendship.

I think it is excellent the two legislators are speaking of their relationship. I am delighted they are getting along well and feel their relationship can serve as a guide to better discussions. Yet, when asked if the same guide could help Congress, Gowdy spoke of the desire to win and the other side lose getting in the way of better relationships.

Frankly, I don’t buy that. I think they need to walk the talk in Congress. When anyone on their team is being uncivil, untruthful or callous, they need to call them out. I actually called each leaving a message with one and speaking with a staffer on the other.

I complimented their efforts and wished them well with their book. But, I said Americans want members of Congress to work together to solve problems. It matters not who wins or loses – it matters if we the people benefit. And, when someone denigrates another, which happens too often from the White House, they need to act like their fellow SC legislator Lindsey Graham did when he called the President on the carpet for his infamous remark about sh**hole countries.

Gowdy is retiring from office as still a young man saying he is tired of this zero-sum game of politics. To be frank, he played that game to the hilt, even as late as January with his role in the Congressman Devin Nunes’ memo which was highly political and sloppy work. On the flip side, while he does not believe the Presidenf colluded (see previous reference to political and sloppy work), he did say if the President is innocent, he should act like he is. Then there is his role in the endless Benghazi hearings, which was referred to by fellow Republicans Condaleeza Rice and Colin Powell as a “witch hunt.”

So, seeing his name with this book was a little surprising. Yet, I will treat his intentions as a sincere effort and applaud both of their mission. They just have to be more than words. Words are cheap – we must walk the talk. We need them and their fellow legislators to walk the talk, as well.

 

 

 

Questions and more questions

I have written before that we do not ask enough or the right questions of our leaders and candidates. Why, what, how, when, where, how long and how much? If we would just ask the why questions more, we would be far better off.

Here are a few to ask:

Why have we not made changes to gun governance since the significant majority of Americans want certain measures?

What do you plan to do about our $19 Trillion plus debt problem, especially with the interest burden becoming such a big part of our $4 Trillion annual budget?

Why are we not doing even more to combat climate change (or in the case of some, why are you blocking climate change actions)?

Why are we not funding Planned Parenthood even more, when they help reduce unwanted pregnancies through education and birth control thus reducing abortions and healthcare costs based on actual data?

What do you plan to do about retraining people for jobs that have been reduced due to technology, declining markets, offshoring, outsourcing, etc.? 

Why do some people feel they are more American than others based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc.?

Why must you be against something because your opponent is for it?

When did collaboration become a dirty word?

What data do you have to support your contention or plan or better yet, when did using actual data become a negative?

When did we start tolerating bigotry in our national leaders, especially since this has been a reason to not vote for racist candidates in the past?

There are many more to be asked, but we could start with these few.

Collaboration proves to be successful

The strident bent of a small group in Congress that is holding that body and our Country back from governance is at odds with what has been most successful over time. Governing in a democracy is hinged on the art and execution of compromise and collaboration. Neither political party has all of the answers and some within those parties are not even asking the right questions. So, if you are unwilling to collaborate, you will not know where your opinions may be off base. In short, if you are not there to govern, then why are you there?

There are two recent examples of very successful presidencies that are due to collaboration and compromise, one a Democrat and one a Republican. Both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan have been deemed by their parties and others to have had good presidencies. Yes, they had their faults and made mistakes, but they also had some similarities. The Bureau of Labor statistics show under Clinton’s tutelage, more jobs were created than under any other president, even more than under FDR. The BLS statistics show that under Reagan, more jobs were created than under any other Republican president and he ranks in the top three behind the two men noted above.

It does not stop there. Clinton left the White House with a balanced budget which he worked with Congress to achieve over the last few years of his presidency. Reagan also was tireless in his efforts to have a balanced budget, actually raising taxes a number of times after his too deep tax cut early in his presidency. It should be noted that per an economic advisor to both, David Smick, who wrote “The World is Curved,” both presidents were very big on free trade and trade agreements.

Yet, both men were huge collaborators with Congress. In fact, Reagan was best friends with Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill as put forth in the book “Tip and the Gipper,” by Chris Matthews, who was on O’Neill’s staff. Reagan and O’Neill disagreed a lot, but both loved their country, so they found common ground and passed legislation. Clinton was not best friends with the two speakers from the opposing party, Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert, but he worked with them and fellow Democrat speaker Tom Foley to get things done, including the efforts to get us out of a deficit position and sign key trade agreements.

Recognizing that presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy, they do provide tailwinds or headwinds. So, it should not be ironic that two presidencies where the first and third most jobs were created were under collaborative presidents. Moving forward to today’s time, our current president has also seen success on these fronts with 67 consecutive months of job growth and halving the unemployment rate which is now at 5.1%. When done, his job numbers will rank pretty good among all presidents.

Yet, so much more could have been done if he and Congress worked together more. The opposing party has set out not to collaborate with the president and is on record as such. This president could have done a much better job of reaching out to this Congress, in spite of the negative partisanship. A good example is we have let an ideal time pass (with low interest rates) for investing more in improving and shoring up our outdated infrastructure. Outside of the Stimulus Act which provided funds to infrastructure projects, we have kicked the can down the road. And, these investments are known job creators.

So, as we see the machinations of a small number of folks who want the gears to come to a grinding halt, we need to remember how we got here. Government, of course, could be more efficient, yet it does play a huge role in our economy, safety and well-being. Collaboration and compromise are the keys. Let’s focus on getting things done.

 

A dysfunctional Congress – a national security risk?

This is actually not my question. I was reading an article on the inability of Congress to do much of anything, and the author of the comment noted that Congress is so dysfunctional it is actually a national security risk. The point was in reference to Congress is so busy doing make work on scandals of the month, they are actually forsaking the role to govern various oversight functions. But, I think it goes further than that. I believe Congress’ inability to do anything, even in crisis mode, jeopardizes the health and welfare of the United States.

The smaller VA Health Care Bill which should be celebrated as a bi-partisan effort between Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jeff Miller was only passed because it funded much less than is needed. It will help immensely, but it is not near enough and they will have to come back next year. It should be noted, Sanders’ earlier legislation for four times as much was not passed in the spring before the problems in Phoenix and elsewhere blew up. Plus, a very small transportation infrastructure band-aid was passed at the eleventh hour before the funding law expired, but it does not address our major infrastructure needs. There are other exceptions of collaboration, but herein lies the problem. These collaborations should not be so newsworthy.

Last night, the House adjourned by passing two bills to address the border crisis which will go nowhere. Conservative columnist David Brooks shared his frustration on PBS Newshour last night saying the Republican party gave up on governance and passed a bill that would look good on Fox News. The bill was passed after a compromise bill fell through the day before. Brooks lamented that Senator Ted Cruz worked with Tea Party Representatives to craft a bill that will go beyond deporting all of the refugee kids without a hearing, but also lead to the deportation of about 500,000 people who are here on work-visas after they expire. Brooks noted the party desperately needs an “anti-Cruz” person to step up and speak about governance.

Never mind, there are votes to pass the bi-partisan, collaborative Senate Immigration bill that was passed last year. Yet, most major bills have passed the House in the past two years with an unusual caucus. The only way for Speaker Boehner to secure passage of needed legislation, with a couple of exceptions, is for some moderate Republicans to join in with the Democrats to get enough votes in a bi-partisan collaboration. This was how the unfortunate government shutdown was ended. This was how Hurricane Sandy relief was passed. This was how the fiscal cliff crisis was resolved and so on.

The Senate is in a much better place as the majority caucus is more unified. Plus, the Senators are subject to state-wide election, so the gerrymandered districts do not affect them like they do Representatives. These Representatives face more strident candidates in primaries, which may determine the winner as they run unopposed in the fall. If a candidate does not have to face someone in an opposing party, then some more zealous ideologues can win and they are less prone to collaboration. So, the Senate can find a higher percentage of collaborators, Senator Cruz withstanding.

So, with this context, our country is not addressing the key issues. And, even when crises come to the forefront, the dysfunction gets in the way of governance. The government shutdown which was harmful to so many and led the President to cancel an Asia-Pacific trip to open markets should not have happened. The country was held hostage by a handful of people and it hurt our country and made us look like stooges in the global community. It took the bi-partisan, collaborative efforts of several female Senators to end the madness and show the men how it should be done. Some of these same Senators are working on a bi-partisan collaboration for a bill to address sexual violence on college campuses, following their successful efforts to refine the legal process on sexual violence in the military. The key words are bi-partisan collaboration.

There are many problems to deal with and neither major party has a license on the solutions. Some folks don’t even understand the problem, so their solutions are off the mark. We also have donors and lobbyists who generally rule the roost and feed some of this lack of understanding through misinformation. To combat this, we can at least get people to the table who will collaborate and hear each other out. And, as I have said in two earlier, recent posts. If an ideological candidate is touting “my way or the highway” this election, as voters, we need to show them the highway.