I made another mistake this morning--yes, even I have “moments.” I turned to C-SPAN this morning during breakfast. I compounded my mistake by not changing the channel or nor turning the tv off. Four items I watched from this morning’s Senate broadcast were:
Senator Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) asked for unanimous approval of a bill that passed the House with 450 “Yea” and 1 “Nay.” The bill would enable subpoena power for the Commission investigating the BP oil assault on the coastlines and wetlands of at least three states, including the Mississippi River delta; subpoena power for access to BP’s internal records regarding that firm’s involvement [viz. responsibilities] in an ecological disaster on the Gulf of Mexico and on the economic livelihood of our country’s commercial viability; and on the very well-being of the people, land and sea animals, and the food chain they all rely upon.
The Republicans objected so the request for approval failed.
Senator Dodd (D-Illinois) made an impassioned speech asking for the passing of the Financial Reform act as passed by the Joint Conference Committee of the Senate and the House. He noted that his party had only 58 members in the Senate, just two votes short of the 60 votes required for approval in the Senate. Senator Dodd emphasized that the bill is a compromise from what almost everyone wanted included, but that the process had been unique because the press and the public had open access to the 70 hour deliberation of the Conference Committee. He spoke in the spirit of restoring the trust that Americans and the world need to have in our financial policies and risk management.
Senator Dodd hoped that the response to the prior item would not characterize the manner with which the Republicans would vote on the Conference Committee’s bill.
Senator Barrasso (R-Wyoming) rose to ask the Senate to repeal the Health Care law. He said this has been a weekly request since the law was enacted. As an orthopedic physician, he asserted that the outcome of that law would increase health care costs for small businesses and for families. His anecdotal example did not refer to rising health care costs, but to the inability of a small businessman to qualify for a $35,000 tax credit. The small businessman said he could qualify if he split his company into two companies.
The senator’s example spoke to two of my concerns: 1) that the new law will eliminate current insurance coverage by 2014 for all individuals with a Medicare Advantage plan. I have such a plan with Blue Cross that uses Medicare provisions for prescriptions and physican/hospital cost reimbursements. I pay BC no premium for this coverage; I do pay $98.50 monthly for Medicare Parts A,B, and D health insurance plus co-pays; 2) that all federal assistance programs to support individuals establilsh qualifications that require individuals to bankrupt themselves, sell all assets-including home, vehicles and retirement savings (IRA) before they can become eligible. The only exceptions appear to be Social Security, Medicare and in commerce the financial institutions. Even veterans benefits for health care services have a means test based on a veteran's financial resources be equal to the official Poverty level.
Senator Brown (R-Massachusetts) rose to chastise the Democratic members for increasing government expenditures without having the funds for them. He asked whether the Senate should use its credit card or its checking account to pay for the new federal governmental programs or for extending unemployment benefits. Notably, he did not suggest deferring some already budgeted expenditures to pay for immediate needs. Clearly, Senator Brown was foreshadowing that the Republicans will vote against extending unemployment benefits. Why would the most junior member of the Senate issue such a challenge? It is comparable to one’s seeing a large cumulus cloud far to the West and a clap of thunder with flash of lightning. Senator Brown would be the cloud, Senator McConnell would be the more dangerous sign of imminent destruction.
I would like to hear that same warning before the Senate votes on the Emergency Supplemental Funds Act to funds wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would support moving such supplemental funds from the DoD to pay for unbudgeted unemployment insurance. Neither political party will make such a trade-off.
The most immediate actions for the federal government are 1) to contain and clean up the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico and 2) to authorize extension of unemployment benefits for the next six months. The upcoming November election will focus on “local issues” whereas the 2012 general election will address Presidential issues: 1) our foreign policy and the use of military forces around the world as part of it; 2) the National Debt and deficit spending; 3) the national health plan in operation; 4) states rights, i.e. the 10th and 14th Amendments; and 5) activist federal court judgments, as both too conservative or too liberal.
You can put into order of importance the next tier of Senate urgent actions we need:
- FINANCIAL SERVICES REFORM
- JOB CREATION
- ADJUST SPENDING PRIORITIES within the federal departments including the Supplemental funding for the Department of Defense, the Treasury , DHHS Medicaid assistance to the states, Department of Education assistance to the states for federal program requirements, and others. Budget offsets for social programs in health care and education should use offsets from Department of Defence budgets.
- WARS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN - and what should we do?
These will be the core issues of the November elections for most voters. Other diverting issues may dominate campaign media away from the above: immigration reform or repeal, dependence on foreign sources of oil, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), abortion funding, health care reform, unemployment, anti-incumbent voices, shrinking government, i.e. starve the federal government agency interference by reducing taxes. By diverting the campaign attention away from the core issues about which there is sufficient public knowledge and support, Republicans and blue-dog Democrats can obscure public opinion and win elections.
The "diverting issues" I list have been raised in every Congressional and Presidential election since 1976. They are really important issues, but none have resulted in significant Congressional actions in the past 34 years; why should we expect action now? Incumbents and challengers alike need to spell out their plans and proposals for resolving campaign issues. We cannot "Just Say NO!" without putting forth concrete proposals and efforts on all issues facing our country.
Recently I have considered changing the title of this blog, or beginning a new one. The reason behind all of this deep thought is my wanting to create a distance between the world of the Bush/Cheney years from the new world of Obama/Biden and beyond.
I will keep the same title for now. I had great hopes for the Obama/Biden administration after the 2008 November election. Many of my hopes vanished when Nancy Pelosi announced that the bringing of legal proceedings against the prior administration was not on the table.
In addition, I find the current appellation is still relevant to the way the Obama Administration operates. This saddens me because I believe there were criminal actions for which people should be tried. Mr. Obama's approach to governing, his mode of trying to make each branch of government work as they were intended, may be the approach our country needs at this time.
Since Nixon was President, more and more power accreted to the Executive Branch and that trend culminated in the most willfull distain for our Constitutional form of government by George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condelezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld in our history. It should not surprise anyone that the public continues to look to the White House for the definitive word for solving our problems. When President Obama waits for Congress to initiate and fund actions in response to a crisis, the media and the Republicans criticize him for weakness or for failing to act. Even his senior staff seem prone to wait for word from the Oval Office before going public with their responses and actions. I write that off to the number of long-timers who occupy senior positions in the Obama
One criticism of Mr. Obama is that he has lost touch with the people who elected him. Over this past weekend, one political commentator compared Barack Obama to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The comparison to FDR did not go well for Mr. Obama. The commentator emphasized the difference between these two Presidents by playing a film clip from the 1944 funeral cortege watchers on Pennsylvania Avenue. A teary-eyed Black woman was asked by a reporter if she had known FDR. The woman replied, "No, I did not know the President, but he knew me."
He knew me. Mr. Obama has tremendous responsibilities for righting the economy, for bringing into a consensus the Democratic majority in Congress, for continuing measures to implement the Health Care Act and for embodying civilian leadership in the conduct of two wars. I doubt that anyone could make the case that Barack Obama faces more difficult tasks than did FDR. FDR, however, did not succeed in every way, such as his failure to nationalize many aspects of the economy needed to climb out of the Depression, nor did he address racial discrimination in America. His failures reflect the workings of our political dynamics of the 1930's and 1940's. So, today, Mr. Obama's failures are not symptoms of inadequacy or weakness; they reflect the interactions of the Congress, the Supreme Court and the Executive as separate, equal centers of governing power in 2010.
What Mr. Obama cannot afford to do is lose connection with the public. As a lawyer, he needs to understand his clients better. This task cannot be delegated to his lieutenants or limited to periodic town hall meetings. President Obama needs to hear from us more directly in a way that is unfiltered by administrators with their own agendas.
His clients--you and me--have to speak our minds about our concerns, too. We have to be more forthcoming in our letters, emails and phone calls to the White House, in addition to our elected Congressional members. We have to do our part for him to do better.