Letter to my Republican Senators on Debt Ceiling

I posted the following letter on my two Republican Senators’ websites. If you agree with its theme, please feel free to modify and use.

Dear Senator, as a retired business consultant and manager, I am disappointed in the Republican Party stance on the debt ceiling. I am glad eleven Republicans did the right thing and passed a measure to allow it to be raised for several months, yet I was disappointed you were not one of the eleven.

I have long been concerned with our building debt and annual deficit that has gotten worse. We need to address this issue when we discuss spending and revenue, not with the debt ceiling. Our reputation to our creditors is essential. To be frank, as an independent and former Republican, my former party is only concerned with debt ceiling when they are not in the White House. It did not seem to bother the party when it increased under Trump.

Yet, what also concerns me is the hypocrisy of both parties. The GOP passed a tax reduction in December 2017 that raised the debt by $2 trillion, approximately. And, we passed two pandemic aid bills that to me should have been directed at employers to keep people employed and not furlough them, as well as helping folks not working. We missed opportunity and spent poorly.

We need the infrastructure improvements which are ten years overdue. Yet, we must figure out ways to start bringing the debt down before the interest cost approaches the military spend in our budget.

Solving this problem requires data and effort, not sound bites. I have seen the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget do an exercise in Rotary or college groups that ask tables of people to solve the Social Security deficit. Armed with about two dozen ideas and price tags, these tables can solve the Social Security deficit in 90 minutes.

Solving the bigger problem can be done and will take time, but not if we never start to do so.

Grandstanding is not governance – not even close

As someone who follows the news and used to hold most elected officials in higher esteem, I am continually frustrated with the absence of good governance in Washington and various state capitols. Rather than governance, I see grandstanding for sound bytes to beat the other party over the head with. The purpose is to remain or regain power, where they will be in charge of doing nothing to govern.

Several Congressional representatives and Senators have retired or are retiring. The principal reasons are the disillusionment with the open hostility between factions and the fact over 1/3 of their time (some said 40%) is fundraising for the party. Let me say that last part in a different way. We taxpayers are paying for elected officials to hit us up for money between 33% and 40% of the time.

In essence, elected officials are more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs. A further frustration is the number of folks who just don’t bother to reach out to all constituents and only care about their own party. The truth has become a casualty. And, what is sad is those who pay attention to the news know many of these elected officials are lying and know they know they are lying, but they lie anyway.

Grandstanding is a pronounced way of lying drawing attention to the person so doing. To me, it is akin to a gorilla beating on its chest to make an opponent cower and not fight back. Right now, we have an entire party that is OK with the US defaulting on its debts. Increasing the debt ceiling is to address what we have already spent or decided to spend, which the same folks did not seem to mind doing. Or, they cut revenue which also increased the debt.

In fact, many of these same folks voted on a tax bill in December, 2017 that reduced taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals which raised the debt by $2 trillion, approximately. In essence, we added to debt to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. Per the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, we must do both – cut spending and raise revenue to address our deficit and debt. The math will otherwise not work.

I have shared with several Senators it is OK to push back on spending to make sure we consider the best investments, but grandstanding on a debt limit that you helped make worse is not the place to do it. Before the pandemic, the US was around $22 trillion in debt with a $1 trillion annual shortfall on our budget ($3.4 trillion in revenue on $4.4 trillion in expenses). After needed pandemic stimulus, we are even worse off on debt and scheduled to be even further behind.

The last time we had a debt limit standoff was about eight years ago, led by Senator Ted Cruz (who by the way voted for the tax bill increase noted above increasing the debt). Our allies pleaded with us not to renege and when the US was within twenty-four hours of defaulting, ten female Senators from both parties told Cruz and others to get out of the pool for an adult swim. These ten women resolved the matter and the US did not default.

Our debt and deficit has been caused by both parties. Do not let either party say it is the other one’s fault as that simply is not true. And, we need for both of them to be involved to remedy this. Unfortunately, no one has the stomach to do what it really takes to resolve this. Any elected official can spend money and reduce taxes. Any elected official. But, that is precisely the problem. We need serious discussion with data and not grandstanding. Grandstanding is not governance.

Crisis averted, but we cannot get complacent and must act

Thank goodness more rational heads prevailed this past week and we listened to what our global financial partners were telling us. I was not counting the chickens until they were all hatched. Here are few remarks from around the globe that we need to remind folks of courtesy of NBC News online.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde welcomed the deal but said the shaky American economy needs more stable long-term finances. The deal only permits the Treasury to borrow normally through February 7 and fund the government through January 15.

After the deal was approved and signed, the Tokyo stock market, the region’s heavyweight, gained as much as 1.1 percent Thursday. Markets in South Korea, Australia and Southeast Asia also gained. Earlier, China’s official Xinhua News Agency had accused Washington of jeopardizing other countries’ dollar-denominated assets. It called for “building a de-Americanized world,” though analysts say global financial markets have few alternatives to the dollar for trading and U.S. government debt for holding reserves.

In Israel, a key American ally in the Middle East, commentators said the fight hurt America’s overall image. “There is no doubt that damage was done here to the image of American economic stability,” Israel’s economic envoy to Washington, Eli Groner, told Israel’s Army Radio. “It’s not good for the financial markets, not in the United States and not around the world.”

The next time someone brings up that it would have been OK not to pay our bills, ask them if they truly understand what they are advocating with folks around the world saying the above. And, just to illustrate this point further, Brazil had some major building initiatives around their growth, Olympics, etc. and they looked to financing from China, Dubai and other non-American sources, so don’t think the world does not notice our dysfunction. With that said, we do need to deal with our deficit (and debt issues) and hopefully the December 13 report by the bi-partisan committee will be fruitful.

In May, 2012, I wrote the following post regarding the Tea Party’s efforts. While I support their push for dealing with the deficit, they are not being very good stewards with the faith some have entrusted in them. In addition to their uncompromising positions and trust in dubious sources of information and history, they are also taking a key lever off the table that we must use to get our deficit under control. In addition to reducing spending, we must increase revenue. It is not an either or issue – it is both as recommended by the Simpson-Bowles (or Bowles-Simpson) Deficit Reduction Committee.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/what-kind-of-tea-is-the-tea-party-drinking/

So, Congressional leaders, you have until December 13 to come up with a plan. That plan cannot include holding the debt ceiling hostage or shutting down the government. Please remember, our stability is a rock on which the global economy is based. Please heed the words by the Chinese official above. If we can no longer be that rock, the world will find another one. Innovation is portable as is money. People are investing and will invest elsewhere if we don’t get our act together.

Three Women GOP Senators who bring needed reason

Our hope resides with the Senate on a current end to the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. After a very troubling and unsettling usurp in the House yesterday which derailed productive conversations for about six hours, the saner heads in the Senate have to lead the way. I did see encouraging comments from three female Republican Senators who are part of the Gang of 12 Bipartisan senators – Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Kelly Ayotte. They feel it can be done in an interview on the NBC Today Show this morning. Plus, they were refreshing talking about the need to govern and get this done. There will be time to discuss issues after the crisis.

When asked about what this means for the Speaker’s future, they noted that his role cannot be the issue. They noted that Americans are tired of the “zero-sum” game of politics. They said they support the Speaker, but it is time to govern the country and cease the gamesmanship. The syllable “man” in gamesmanship is used with intent. I have been a broken record about needing  more women in politics as I believe it will lead to less gamesmanship and more reasonable debate. This is evidenced by their comments as can be seen and heard with this link below:

http://www.today.com/video/today/53294271/#53294271

As a man, I know that men like to compete. The problem in this chess game of politics, the pawns are the ones who bear the brunt of their poor gamesmanship. However, there is one man among many who says default would be “an act of sheer idiocy.” This line comes from none other than Warren Buffett, who knows a little about finance. Unfortunately, even Buffett isn’t wealthy enough to help the US out of this self-created mess. Yet, the significant majority of financial people, including Christine Legarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund and yet another woman, say an US default would be lunacy. They are right.

So, let’s hope the Gang of 12 can get it done today, get something through the Senate and over to the House. If they do that, let’s hope the Speaker will choose to govern than placate the strident views in his party. Please phone or email your Senators and Congressional representatives to make this happen. We need to get this done. And, we need to get it done today.

The GOP has screwed the pooch

If people are horrified by the verbiage of this headline, please know that it is a term used by test pilots in the Air Force and was used heavily during the book and movie called “The Right Stuff.” The term “screwed the pooch” is a term given when a test pilot pushed his aircraft too far and the mistake would cause the loss of the aircraft or, worse the loss of his or her life. The erroneous test pilot was said to have “screwed the pooch.” Unfortunately, these brave men and now women, often paid dearly for their test pilot efforts, which was a recurring theme in the movie.

I use the term to portray what the GOP has been doing to itself over the past few years culminating in the current state of affairs where a few are holding the country and their own party hostage with demands that are so strident, others in their party are balking. In fact, the GOP leadership is close to its wits end as they are being pushed by the US Chamber of Commerce, business leaders and conservative columnists and papers to cease the charade and come to the table. They have screwed the pooch.

I was somewhat hesitant to use this term as it was used with brave and daring test pilots who were paid and loved to fly jets to their outer limits and beyond. They called it “pushing the envelope.” I find no bravery in the Tea Party as I see a stubbornness that has arisen from a faulty data, misinformation and unlimited funds from a few key donors. These donors have heavy ties to the fossil fuel industry, so from my view and that of other independent voters, the donors are using the passion in Tea Party group for a cause that the group is unaware.

These donors want to perpetuate the fossil fuel profit making engine by any means possible. They want to dismantle environmental regulations and gain full access to dig, drill and exploit. Even as we speak, the GOP is considering the push for environmental restrictions being lifted as part of the debt ceiling and budget bill. Why would they do that at a time when the United Nations sanctioned International Climate Change Group scientists have just noted they are 95% sure global warming is man-influenced and the folks in China are having a hard time seeing the sun and breathing clean air is becoming a luxury.

The stubborness tracks to the position on Obamacare which is largely a GOP idea. The exchanges, in particular, are right out of a GOP playbook that wants more competition for insurance coverage in a state. And, one of the biggest Tea Party proponents lives in Texas, which is where the most uninsureds in America exist. They are dead last by having the highest tally of uninsureds. I get back to a simple question – why aren’t you in favor of Obamacare? And, why won’t you expand Medicaid, as well?

But, I guess one of the troubling aspects in the budget deal is the current proposal passed by the Senate has the GOP preferred sequestration restricted budget baked in. In other words, the GOP has garnered approval from the Senate on a major concession and that is to continue fairly capricious cuts. If the House voted for this Senate bill right now, it would pass with enough GOP Congressional representatives joining the Democrats. One GOP Congressman said if the vote was confidential, 150 GOP members would vote for it. That is almost 70% of the GOP representatives. What does that tell you?

Obama has made some concessions with this budget. He is not going to unwind his healthcare law. And, in spite of the overall like/ dislike of Obamacare, since the GOP disinformation campaign has been so effective, people don’t know what it is, including some representatives, senators and governors. Yet, if you ask about the features of Obamacare, people like the features in the majority. What has already been made effective – extending coverage to age 26 for adult children, elimination of lifetime limits, elimination of preexisting conditons on kids (the adult part is effective 1/1/14), limiting insurer profits on premiums, and improving senior drug coverage – are well received. The exhanges are a good idea and will let people have access to coverage.

I have written numerous letters to my GOP representative to stop siding with the Tea Party and start being a reasonable steward. The Tea Party has screwed the pooch and per conservative columnist David Brooks is on the downward side of their success.The GOP has screwed the pooch as well, but they still have time to remedy this and make a course correction. Let’s hope for our country they do. Speaker are you listening?

Stop Posturing and Try Governing

I think one thing that most Americans can agree on is their frustration over our Congressional leaders. With a lower rating than a bucket of spit, you would think they would be looking for ways to improve on that image. Yet, I continue to see posturing for the sake of political gamesmanship that I find truly annoying. Both political parties deploy these tactics, but I find a much higher percentage of posturing from our more conservative brethren. One reason is the antagonism they feel must be hurled at the President from the opposing party. The Democrats likely had a higher propensity to do this when President Bush was in the White House. But, I find a higher degree from the GOP given the propaganda that is emitted from their news network.

I had noted before that the hatred toward the Affordable Care Act is ironic as it is largely a Republican idea being spawned by the Heritage Foundation and advocated by Senator Bob Dole in the 1990’s as an alternative to Hillary Care, which was a national insurance program. Yet, the posturing I found most amusing even beyond that of Mitt Romney who helped pass a version while Governor of Massachusetts, was that of Senator Jim DeMint, known by many as the leader of the Tea Party. He wrote a letter to President Bush advocating what Massachusetts had done for the whole country and in particular, the individual mandate. Other GOP senators agreed. However, when you scroll forward three years and President Obama gets passed a variation of Romney Care, DeMint and these senators lambasted it as heresy. Senator DeMint, you sent a letter advocating the healthcare act and now you reverse your position because the other guy took your party’s idea and passed it.

We had another example of this kind of posturing this week when Senator Mitch McConnell started deriding the choice of fellow Republican and former Senator Chuck Hagel as the nominee for Secretary of Defense. Senator McConnell, this is the same guy you are on record as raving about four years ago. This former Vietnam veteran has done nothing in the intervening four years that would change your thinking, except for garnering one new advocate. He was nominated by the President of the other party who took your candidate and said I like him. When I see the former Senator’s credentials, I come away very impressed. He is not perfect, but he looks a lot less imperfect than some of the other names mentioned in this post.

In fairness to my conservative friends, let me reiterate my disdain for Senator Harry Reid, who postures with the best (or in this case worst) of them. I think he and McConnell are the poster children for what is wrong with Washington. Yet, I must give credit to McConnell for working with the Vice President to get a bill passed to avoid the fiscal cliff. It was not close to where I wanted them to come out. I wanted more tax increases and some spending cuts. So, I am glad something happened as something needed to happen and the markets reacted favorably, but we did fall short of a better outcome. And, of course we fell short because of the posturing made by Speaker Boehner. He was close to a deal with the President  that would have accomplished more and he did a misdirection with his Plan B. When that failed, McConnell had to pick up the dropped ball. So, I think we ended up with a lesser bill as do others.

As a result, our leaders have set us up for more last-minute haggling that will result in acrimony and, very likely, the downgrading of US debt. I am firmly convinced the posturing will prevent the debt ceiling from being raised and the markets will react very negatively. If these folks had hashed out a better fiscal cliff avoidance deal, we would not be as perilously positioned. In spite of what both sides say, here are a few road map keys from where I sit:

– tax revenue needs to still increase (the data shows the math won’t work otherwise) and we should revamp the tax code per Simpson-Bowles;

– defense spending needs to come down – find the dollars – as there are surplus areas of spending;

– social welfare spending needs to come down as well – we need to become more empowering where we can and use a scalpel on many programs; Americans talk a big game, but when cornered they don’t want cuts to programs that affect them, yet cut them we must; and

– infrastructure spending needs to go up (we must cut and invest) as our bridges, roads, electric rids and gas lines, etc. are in need of upgrading. The stimulus bill worked in many areas, yet all people heard about was where it did not. Senator Richard Burr could not recall an infrastructure investment from the Stimulus Bill, yet I drove over a bridge today on I-85 in NC that is 30 miles from his home which has two large signs that it is funded by the American Recovery Act (aka the Stimulus Bill) – how is that for posturing?

Mr. President, Senators and Congresspeople, we have only two months to make major strides on these complex topics. Do not wait until the last minute as something inferior will be passed. And, if you do nothing, you will have the pleasure of seeing the sequestration cuts hit home and our debt being downgraded again. The President has proposed some very good, but imperfect Secretaries. If you have a real problem with them, then state your argument. If you are just posturing, do not waste people’s time and get busy on the deficit deal. Time is of the essence. Stop posturing and try governing.