On a Congressional Budget

The 114th US Congress (435 Representatives and 100 Senators) is now in session. With Republicans controlling both chambers, it will be interesting to see how their relationship with a Democratic president unfolds.

Republicans love to champion a decrease in spending – of course, they do so while protecting their sacred cows and attacking the Democratic sacred cows. To me, one way the Republicans can legitimize decreased spending and promote their smaller government mantra (plus gain favor with the public) is by significant decreasing funding of their own operation – the budget for operating Congress. (I know, fat chance of that.)

For those that don’t know, the cost of operating Congress is about $1.7 billion per year. In the chart below, I examine salaries, staffing, and office expenses for each office and the Congressional committees.

Note: For the ease of understanding and calculations, I rounded figures

Note: For the ease of understanding and calculations, I rounded figures

The savings represent over $54,000,000. On the other hand, it’s only 3% of the Congressional operating budget. Nonetheless, it’s a start, which means there is more room to cut even more.

Hey Congress, when you are done looking at yourself, reforming the procurement process can deliver mega-savings – but I know, you won’t do that either. OK – back to your sacred cows.

On the U.S. Situation

I imagine most Americans are tired of the news about Congress and its antics regarding shutdown and sequester. I also imagine the rest of the world is a bit annoyed as well. Therefore, it’s time to do some basic informing.

The Facts
1) According to the US Constitution, Congress (not the President/Executive Branch) is responsible for fiscal matters, including the budget. Because of the balance of powers in the Constitution, the President can sign or veto the budget bill passed by Congress.

2) According to the US Constitution, the government can operate at a debt, which it has been since the mid 1970s. This is something that many (if not most or even all) state and municipal constitutions do not allow. For the record, the biggest holder of US debt is the US Government itself – not China.

3) Debt and deficit are different, but related. The negative differential in one fiscal year between income and spending is the deficit, while the debt is the cumulative total of annual deficits.

4) Sequester was not a presidential mandate. As part of the Congress-passed, president-signed Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress agreed to form a Super Committee that would produce legislation to reduce the deficit by a fixed amount over ten years. Failure to reach an agreement would initiate pre-determined, automatic cuts known as sequestration.

5) The Super Committee failed in their task, and Congress continues to pass (and president signs) short-term legislation to delay sequestration and raising the debt ceiling – thus choosing to kick the can down the road rather than addressing the issue.

6) The debt ceiling allows government to pay for the bills for goods and services that the government has already authorized to spend. Because the government would still have income, failing to raise the debt ceiling forces the government to prioritize payments (as long as money exists to pay).

Commentary
Although polls have the darkest clouds hanging over Republicans, favorable ratings are not brightly shining on Democrats and President Obama. In the end, US lawmakers are skirting their responsibility of governing for the citizens in favor of the selfishness of their party and themselves. Members will evade, distort, deceive, intentionally misinform, and even lie to get their way. Each party targets certain budgetary items and protects others. Each party has its members firmly in line with a party-first mantra.

The Founding Fathers designed a system with differences from our European forefathers and one involving a separation of powers to prevent one-party domination. Although the majority rules in government, governing involves the majority giving something to the minority as part of the final deal – and that same minority willing to take what they can get.

Currently, this is unquestionably not happening. Partisan lawmakers believe all answers lie within their philosophy while the other party has nothing to offer. Creative problem solving that looks outside of both boxes has no chance.

I fret a future election cycle when one party controls the White House and both sides of Capitol Hill because the stage is set for a strong overreach that forces the party’s values upon all. Given the current climate, the question isn’t if, but when.

Flashbacks: On Politics

Sports and politics are the main topics when I started this blog. As the sidebar shows, I broadened my posting interest since the early days – however, politics as maintained a presence. Enjoy, visit as many as you want, and I hope you comment on the post you visited.

On Knowledge and Power

Knowledge: the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association

Knowledge: the range of one’s information or understanding

Knowledge: the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning

Knowledge: the sum of the known – the body of truth, information, and principles acquired by humankind

Power: ability to act or produce an effect

Power: legal or official authority, capacity, or right

Power: possession of control, authority, or influence over others

Power: a controlling group

Mangan’s 14 ways to Acquire Knowledge: Practice, Ask, Desire, Get it From Yourself, Walk Around It, Experiment, Teach, Read, Write, Listen, Observe, Put in Order, Define, Reason

Those with power get it through one or more of the following: Delegated authority, social class, resource currency, association, expertise, persuasion, knowledge, celebrity, force, moral persuasion, groups, traditions, relationships (Wikipedia)

An essence of Power Theory: Those in power want to keep it. Those out of power want to get it.

My point is simple. Politicians aren’t stupid, but their actions are about power – not knowledge. Otherwise, they would work toward solutions for the common good, not party dogma and ideology.

Definitions from Merriam-Webster

On Parties and the Partisans

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” — George Washington, September 19, 1796, Farewell Address

As we watch the current uproar regarding the event of Benghazi, sadly and shamefully, this is the way Washington works. Regardless who occupies the White House, regardless who controls Congress, our elected officials are primarily about spin – spin to protect an ideology, advancing a political point of view, and setting the course for the next election.  With spin favoring manipulating facts, or even worse, lying, truth and integrity are two of the casualties. With many, if not the majority, of Americans aligning themselves with a preferential political party and relying on biased perspectives, who are the real winners and losers?

The recent IRS news is another example. Congress is jumping into the fray with various committee hearings, which are actually prime opportunities for predictable political grandstanding. Besides taking advantage of diversions to avoid critical issues, the committees probably will not address this key question: Do political groups fit the definition for 501-C4 tax exemption as an organization organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.

The answer: Absolutely, because they act in the welfare of most (if not every) elected official in Washington!

FYI: I wrote the above before reading these two good reads: a column by Ruth Marcus and this commentary from Roll Call.

On After Newtown

The December 14th shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut left 26 people dead – including 20 elementary students. I haven’t said much here because I’ve been listening and processing.

Since that day, I’ve heard quite the variety of reasons for the horrific event:

  • Lack of security in school
  • Availability of assault weapons
  • Lack of religion in schools
  • President Obama
  • Evolution
  • Failure to identify mental illness
  • Lack of love
  • Lack of family
  • Weapon purchases at gun shows
  • Violent video games
  • Rap songs
  • Too many guns
  • Too few guns
  • Hollywood
  • Lack of parenting
  • Media
  • NRA
  • Popular culture
  • Declining values

I’ve also heard many solutions:

  • More gun laws
  • Banning assault weapons
  • Limiting assault weapons
  • Regulating purchases of ammunition
  • Arming teachers
  • Arming administrators
  • More assault-related training for school employees
  • Issue more guns
  • Ban all guns
  • Better mental health identification
  • Moral education in schools
  • Arming security in schools
  • NRA providing school security
  • Improving mental health services
  • Increasing religion in schools
  • Transferring children from public schools to private schools
  • Better enforcement of existing gun laws

The lists above aren’t meant to be inclusive as I’m sure they are more. As some call for a national conversation, the notes above serve as evidence about my doubts about the possibility of a meaningful conversation. Simply put, how can people address a problem when they don’t agree on the problem?

Columnist Charles Krauthammer isn’t may favorite, but this closing statement in this column is very telling.

Gun control impinges upon the Second Amendment; involuntary commitment impinges upon the liberty clause of the Fifth Amendment; curbing “entertainment” violence impinges upon First Amendment free speech.

That’s a lot of impingement, a lot of amendments – but there’s no free lunch. Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.

We made that trade after 9/11. We make it every time the Transportation Security Administration invades your body at an airport. How much are we prepared to trade away after Newtown?

Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 163

On Politics
The Cincinnati Enquirer hosted a foreign reporter for 10 days regarding the election. During his time here, he attended local speeches by President Obama, Mitt Romney, and the First Lady. The article he wrote following the election is an interesting perspective. Because of where the reporter’s home and given the election results, the comments are also interesting.

Meanwhile, those suffering from Election Distraught Syndrome are signing petitions to get their state to secede, which is the conservative equivalent of a losing liberal saying they are moving to Canada. I’m still waiting on the person to exercise their promise of saying they were moving out of the country if Barack Obama won in 2008. Of course, the people do forget they have the individual right to secede, which means move AND denounce your citizenship.

On a similar theme, here’s an article about 6 bizarre election reactions.

Last week I wondered if winners would shy away from declaring mandates. Two days later, I read this quote from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): We Republicans in the House and Senate think we have a voter mandate not to raise taxes. (Source)

Interesting, but to no surprise, Congressional Republican firm stance on no tax increases for the rich, which (to me) means they prefer to raise taxes on everyone. Although they are in a pickle, which could mean “It’s time to play Kick the Can.”

I like these words from conservative columnist Peggy Noonan: The Republicans worked hard but were less clear-eyed in their survey of the field. America has changed and is changing, culturally, ethnically—we all know this. Republican candidates and professionals will have to put aside their pride, lose their assumptions, and in the future work harder, better, go broader and deeper. (Source)

Gov. Romney’s recent account about blaming his loss serves as good evidence to support Peggy Noonan’s statement. Cheers to some as Gov. Jindal (R-LA) for  saying something sensible.

On This Week’s Headlines from The Onion

  • Needy Nation Breaks Down after First Full Week without being Pandered to by Politicians
  • Report: Majority of Americans Now Eating One Consecutive Meal a Day
  • 5-year-old Girl Feels like She Just Wasted Whole Carousel Ride Waving to Dad
  • Nation Horrified to Learn about War in Afghanistan While Reading Up on Petreaus Sex Scandal
  • Kim Jong-Un Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2012

Interesting Reads

On Potpourri
Thanksgiving is next week in America. My wine recommendations for the Thanksgiving meal are Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer because the flavors from green beans, sweet potatoes, and cranberries screw up wine pairings for this feast.

Cheers to my alma mater for making The Onion this week.

For those noticing the nested dolls in the first St. Petersburg post, this one made me laugh – plus, it could be a potential holiday gift for the hard-to-buy-for person in your life.

Thank you Viveka for this award!

There will be a Saturday Morning Classic Cartoon post this weekend.

More Ginger Ale Reviews
Thomas Kemper Ginger Ale: Smooth; ginger tasting not overpowering, but enough to linger; not spicy; creamy quality with a hint of vanilla to me; honey is an ingredient – I like it!

Blenheim Ginger Ale: With the initial taste, I thought sweetness with low ginger. The ginger taste is delayed and with a touch of spice – and lingered. Another good one!

Here’s a touch of jazz to send you into the weekend. Well, handbells and chimes jazz with a light touch of drums. Believe it or not, it works! Have a good weekend! In the words of Garrison Keillor, Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.