On a Congressional Budget

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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.

Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 246

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This week’s terrorist attack in Paris was horrifying. Strength to the French, and peace to the many Muslims who condone condemn such brutality in the name of religion. Much of life is about two virtues that a few people lack: respect and tolerance.

Note: The previous paragraph shows an edit with the original word in place. Using that word was an honest mistake, and I apologize. A special thanks to Lame for pointing this out to me in private.

Congress is back in session … gag!

In his recent WSJ column, I appreciate these words by William Galston:

Although both the executive and judicial branches play a role in the legislative process, the people’s elected representatives are supposed to drive this process. When they fail to do so, the legitimacy of popular government is called into question. Along with partisan commitments, members of Congress have constitutional responsibilities, and it is time for members of both parties to start honoring them. …

For the most part, though, there are only two choices—continued gridlock or compromises in which each party gives ground on matters it cares about. …. Both sides would have to eat some crow, but the dish might still be palatable.

Cheers to the fact checker at the Washington Post, who also put together this list of the biggest Pinocchios of 2014. Then again, politicians do make it easy.

Act 15 of Life: The Musical is complete. Readers provided an outstanding collection, so many thanks to all participants. Only 2 acts to go in this musical – any ideas about the theme for Act 16?

I’m hoping to continue the Exploring series, thus will consider your suggestions. Think person, place, or thing.

Congratulations to Cindy for being the 50,000th comment here (which happened in the last post). She received a beautiful fireworks display!

If I can complete the work, I hope to celebrate the first Saturday in 2015 with a Saturday Morning Cartoon post!

To lead you into The Onion headlines, here’s their suggestions for fighting the winter blues.

On This Week’s Headlines from The Onion
Brutal cold doesn’t factor into man’s decision to stay inside for two straight days
Weird chair pressed into service at family’s holiday dinner
Copycat criminals continue to mimic liquor store robbery from 1882
Dirty-Slush machine provides children in Florida a taste of winter
Supreme Court releases young Scalia’s audition tape
Man who spent 300 hours playing fantasy football this year rewarded with $30 second-place prize

Interesting Reads
Connection between dirt and antibiotics
Science of the booty call
An excellent energy series from WSJ
(Interactive) Interesting oil graphic
(Graph) Inflation-adjusted gasoline prices since 1980
The link between bourbon biscuits and bourbon whiskey

Your Weekend Celebrations

  • (Fri) Nerd Day, Apricot Day, Clean Off Your Desk Day, Balloon Ascension Day, Cassoulet Day, Static Electricity Day, Dance Day, Organize Your Home Day
  • (Sat) Peculiar People Day, Bittersweet Chocolate Day, Cut Your Energy Costs Day, Save the Eagles Day
  • (Sun) No Pants Subway Ride Day, Milk Day, Step in a Puddle & Splash Your Friend Day, Secret Pal Day, Learn Your Name in Morse Code Day, Hot Toddy Day, Thank You Day, Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Cigarettes are Hazardous to Your Health Day

To send you into the weekend, here’s a 2-fer from Life: The Musical – Act 15. The first is a song (thanks Narf) that didn’t fit the parameters, but the video was an excellent match to the theme – plus it make you smile. The second goes out to Debra because I was surprised she didn’t use it. Have a safe weekend and in the words of Garrison Keillor, Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 170

In the recent election, the Republicans lost their White House bid, lost more elections in the House than won, and were overwhelmingly thumped in the Senate races. Dear GOP: What do you mean when you say Americans have spoken or America wants?

With all the talk about the debt ceiling, it’s obvious that politicians value it more than economists.

As the House read the Constitution this past Tuesday morning, if wonder if they understood the part that Congress is responsible for spending and the federal government can operate at a deficit.

With many having received their first paycheck of the 2013, I’m amused by those blaming President Obama and his voters for more taxes withheld.

  • In 2011, President Obama proposed a temporary reduction in the withholding tax with hopes that people would increase spending. Congress passed the temporary suggestion, and the president signed the bill.
  • For 2012, Congress passed extending the temporary holiday, and the president signed the bill.
  • For 2013, Congress passed a bill allowing the tax holiday to expire, and the president signed the bill – thus taxes returned to 2011 levels prior to the president’s proposal. At least readers here know the events.

You may have heard the poll results comparing the favorability of the US Congress to cockroaches. Here are the study results to enjoy.

On This Week’s Headlines from The Onion

  • Gorilla sales skyrocket after latest gorilla attack
  • Area woman decides not to post Facebook status that would tip gun control debate
  • Air Force One pilot invites excited Obama into cockpit
  • Procrastinating surgeon putting off coronary bypass by cleaning entire hospital
  • Deadly virus found to be “real squiggly”
  • Only difficult pistachios left in bag
  • Hidden Valley Ranch bombed by balsamic extremist

Interesting Reads

On Potpourri
This is NOT from The Onion, but from the Call them Sherlock files: Taxpayer Advocate Says Taxes are Too Complicated

My week was a busier than normal, thus I didn’t get around as much as I normally do.

During the Freshly Pressed craze, I discovered Ray – an Australian radiologist and artist who transforms X-Rays into art. Check him out, and if you comment, tell him I sent you.

Ever since the Freshly Pressed stats rush, it has been interesting to watch the daily stair-step downward.

This is picture is awesome, so click here to see it.

Good news – Saturday will provide a classic cartoon post.

To send you into the weekend, here is (thanks to El Guapo) a wonderful explanation and humorous look at the European debt crisis – thus worth 3 minutes.

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Have a good weekend! In the words of Garrison Keillor, Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

On Election Night 2012

It’s Election Night in America. I wrote this post several days ago with this night in mind so, at the time I publish this, the elections results are young and without a declared winner in the race for president.

While one party likes to walk around with the pocket Constitutions, all members of Congress swear to uphold it. The U.S. Constitution is an interesting document, but to me, the following are the three most important words: We the people.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We the People elect members to Congress to represent We the People in order to pass laws, control the budget, and exercise authorities granted by the Constitution.

We the People elect members to represent all people, which means not just the ones who voted for the elected; not an ideology; not a political party; not a religion, not a financial donor, not a special interest – but yes, to represent We the People.

We the People elect members to serve all people regardless of their faith, thus the elected are not to serve their religious preference. After all, the Constitution is quite clear regarding religion. Let the elected not forget that the Constitution lacks words as God, Creation, Christian, Jesus, and Lord (which only appears in the Signatory section).

Although Christian principles may have influenced the Founding Fathers, the Constitution does not declare the U.S. as a Christian nation. If the elected represent Christianity, what about the nonChristians? If the elected represents Christianity, which denomination will you represent? Then, what about the other Christians?

We the People are from all faiths and no faiths, therefore, our representatives should avoid submitting proposals on behalf of Christianity because what the church considers best for itself may not be in the best interest of We the People.

Representing We the People requires avoidance of firm ideology or a party each of these diverts attention from the needs of We the People. Adherence to a party or ideology silences We the People, and blocks the path to meaningful solutions.

Representing We the People requires conviction to represent the needs of the people who did not vote for the elected. After all, they too are We the People.

Representing We the People requires patience, the ability to listen, to desire to find the common good for all, to watch-out for and respond to human need that is beyond one’s self interests, party, or ideology.

Representing We the People requires discussing among yourselves to share ideas and concerns in order to work toward a solution for the common good – an idea that may be found in one side, the other, a compromise, or outside the grounds established by ideology, party, religion, self-interest, or special interest.

We the People need effective government to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, to provide a common defense, to promote general welfare, and to secure liberty for all of We the People. Especially during this time, we need our elected officials to make difficult decisions – the ones that test their gut against their party, their ideology, their religion, their self-interest, their donors, and special interests.

Along with a president, on this day we elect all 435 members of the House of Representatives, and 33 members (approximately one-third) of the Senate. Their task seems simple, but I also know they will represent religion, a party, an ideology, self-interests, special interests, and donors over We the People – therefore, let me be the first to say the following about the newly elected, ‘Starting in 2014, throw the bums out. All of them! Clean house!” After all, We the People deserve better.

On a Pathetic Lot

Simply put – as a collective, those occupying the hallowed halls of the US Congress are, at best, a very pathetic lot. I’m not going to call them clowns because I recognize both the viciousness and the shrewdness involved, so pathetic remains a suitable adjective.

We elect members to the House of Representatives on two-year terms – thus they make selfish decisions in light of their upcoming re-election bid that is always just around the corner.

We elect members to Congress who make decisions based on their needs, their party’s needs, and their donor’s needs – with the country’s needs no more than a selective sound bite.

We elect members to Congress who get outstanding financial support from special interests, so the elected legislate to the needs of the donors. Open Secrets is a great resource about campaign donors, PACs, and lobbying.

We elect members to Congress who fail to accept responsibility – just listen to them for proof.

We elect members to Congress who use their position to secure their next job. Not all, after all, but this applies to too many.

We elect members to Congress who get favors from the law for which is illegal for private citizens – such as insider trading.

We elect members to Congress so they (as a body) can determine their leadership based on their fund-raising ability for the party.

We elect members to Congress who regularly speak to financial accountability but regard Congress’s own operating budget as a well-guarded secret.

We elect members to Congress who are not the problem because it’s those from the other districts and states.

Meanwhile, with most of 2012 lying ahead, do not expect much from Congress in 2012 for this reason – both parties are rolling the dice with hopes of gaining power from the November vote so they can drive their agenda. Yes, they are truly pathetic.