13 December 2007

Time to get an update on those benchmarks

When last I looked this poor group couldn't even figure out what it was going to do to meet its commitments, and as they had come in with such high expectations it is time to apply the same thing they do to others to themselves: judge them on their benchmarks.

Am I talking about the Iraqi Parliament? Heaven forbid! They actually have budgetary collections and allotment for same going relatively well and are doing basic legislative work to make sure that all Iraqis get a fair share of the wealth in their budget. No, this other group came in with even lower expectations that making peace amongst all segments of society, getting huge National legislative projects going and trying to do all that while being attacked from all sides. Comparitively, the Iraqi Parliament is doing swimmingly compared to this group.

Now to review, here is the group in question and their promises that they wish to be held to:

All is clear now, no? This is the Majority in the US Congress, the august body that has been in session since mid-January of this year after winning a bare majority to get its candidates in office. As they came in espousing *benchmarks* for everything, it is time to apply their own benchmarks upon them to see just how they are doing.

Fair is fair, no?

1) Honest Leadership and Open Government

This sounds so grand and easy to do! Win elections, get majority, put good laws into place, make sure you have open hearings and a transparent process for drafting laws and budgets. Exteremely simple! I mean your party comes IN on this platform so it should be EASY to get your own party members to AGREE with it... you are in the Majority, after all. Now for a promise from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, 13 NOV 2006 at Newsmax:
Rep. Nancy Pelosi says her first agenda item after becoming Speaker of the House will be a vote requiring lawmakers who sponsor "earmarks” to be identified.

Earmarks are provisions, inserted in larger bills, that allocate funds for specific projects. Many of these provisions are considered "pork,” but lawmakers are currently not required to identify themselves as the sponsor of an earmark.

"There has to be transparency,” the California Democrat told USA Today. "I’d just as soon do away with all [earmarks], but that probably isn’t realistic.”
Dear me! 'Realistic'? From a party of high ideals? In any event Speaker Pelosi wanted to go after earmarks. On that very same day, however, who does she announce she wants as the #2 person in the House? This via the WaPo:
House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) yesterday as the next House majority leader, thereby stepping into a contentious intraparty fight between Murtha and her current deputy, Maryland's Steny H. Hoyer.

The unexpected move signaled the sizable value Pelosi gives to personal loyalty and personality preferences. Hoyer competed with her in 2001 for the post of House minority whip, while Murtha managed her winning campaign. Pelosi has also all but decided she will not name the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) to chair that panel next year, a decision pregnant with personal animus.


Hoyer also has the strong support of many of the party's conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, who worry about Murtha's involvement in the Abscam bribery sting in 1980 and what they see as his freewheeling style on the House Appropriations Committee, where he has openly advocated for the interests of his district and his political supporters.

Some of Hoyer's supporters put the best face on Pelosi's intervention, saying Murtha would not have asked for a public letter of support if his campaign were not in trouble.
A very strange thing to do, that, put Mr. Pork himself in the #2 slot who openly packs as much pork as he can into his district. Also note the Abscam problem (via The Spectator) in the past where Mr. Murtha put forward the following caught on videotape:
MURTHA: Let me tell you what I see. Howard, his deal with you guys, or two other guys [Thompson and Murphy], I'm dealing. I'll tell you how I feel about my part of it. My part is that you don't need to spend a goddamn cent on this thing. That's my feeling. Howard feels differently about it. These other two guys have as much influence with the administration and in Congress as anybody. There's no question about it. There's no question about these other two guys being long-term members, being chairmen of the right committees. They're the right people. But -- you gotta look at it realistically, you gotta know all the facts before you can do anything at all. Now, as I told Howard, I want to deal with you guys awhile before I made any transactions at all, period. In other words I want to say, "Look put some money in these guys," and I, just let me know, so I can say, you know, these guys are gonna do business in our district. Then there's a couple businesses that I'm not personally involved in but would be very helpful for the district, that I could make a big play of, be very helpful to me. After we've done some business, then I might change my mind. But right now, that's all I'm interested in. [12:00:40] Period. And I'm gonna tell you this. If anybody can do it... and I'm not bullshitting you fellas, I can get it done my way. There's no question about it. I can get it done. And the thing you gotta remember is, what happened to [South Korean agent Tongsun?] Park and those guys, you can't start going to people that you don't know, that don't level with you, that bullshit you, that don't look into it. For instance, I may tell you in a week after I look into it can't be done. It cannot be done. And I'll tell you. I won't bullshit you. When I make a deal, it's a goddamn deal. That's all there is to it. And, uh, you know, after it's done, you may tell me, well you've already done it, there's no reason for me to deal with ya. Howard tells me that you're not that kinda people, that, you uh, you know, that you deal, you know...


MURTHA [12:14:13]: The thing is, what I'm trying to do is establish the very thing that you talked about. That tie to the district, that's all I need, from then on -- I'm gonna be there 20 years in that goddamn Congress. I don't want to screw it up by some little goddamn thing along the way that, if I wanted to make a lot of money I would have been outside making a lot of money. And you, I know what I can do and what I can't do...I won't bullshit you, that's for sure....you got two good people, and I just want to know -- well, I know the facts.
Yes, Speaker Pelosi wanted to put an individual with *that* point of view into the #2 slot in the US House of Representatives. Pretty much the opposite of Honest Leadership and Open Government, no? Let us not try to bullshit the American People when putting Rep. Murtha in charge of the House Majority is putting a man with no transparency or honesty into a position of high power.

Rep. Hoyer, however, would prove to be no great leader for Honesty or Openness in government as seen just by his trip to Egypt, which I have written about previously, and his meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood. The MB, just to be clear, is the organization that got funded by Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, to counter Nasser and supported Wahhabist doctrine to do so. This organization would spin up multiple terrorist organizations and individuals utilizing terrorism to meet the ends of MB: HAMAS, Hassan Abd Allah at Turabi destabilizing Sudan, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Armed Islamic Group in Algeria, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GAI) in Egypt, Armed Islamic Movement in Pakistan, amongst many. So, when there is even the hint of private meetings with members of MB, as is the case in Rep. Hoyer's trip, one does start to wonder about this Honesty and Openness in government and meeting with an organization that is outlawed in Egypt.

Speaker Pelosi would lead her own passel of Congresscritters to give aid and support to Bashar Assad of Syria, directly against the wishes of the White House. For those wondering on the ability of Congresscritters to do anything in foreign policy the US SCOTUS ruling on US v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. handed down on 21 DEC 1936 addressed this:

(2) The powers of the Federal Government over foreign or external affairs differ in nature and origin from those over domestic or internal affairs. P. 315.

(3) The broad statement that the Federal Government can exercise no powers except those specifically enumerated in the Constitution, and such implied powers as are necessary and proper to carry into effect the enumerated powers, is categorically true only in respect of our internal affairs. In that field, the primary purpose of the Constitution was to carve from the general mass of legislative powers then possessed by the States such portions as it was thought desirable to vest in the Federal Government, leaving those not included in the enumeration still in the States. Id.

(4) The States severally never possessed international powers. P. 316.

(5) As a result of the separation from Great Britain by the Colonies, acting as a unit, the powers of external sovereignty passed from the Crown not to the Colonies severally, but to the Colonies in their collective and corporate capacity as the United States of America. Id.

(6) The Constitution was ordained and established, among other things, to form "a more perfect Union." Prior to that event, the Union, declared by the Articles of Confederation to be "perpetual," was the sole possessor of external sovereignty, and in the Union it remained without change save insofar as the Constitution, in express terms, qualified its exercise. Though the States were several, their people, in respect of foreign affairs, were one. P. 317.

(7) The investment of the Federal Government with the powers of external sovereignty did not depend upon the affirmative grants of the Constitution. P. 318.

(8) In the international field, the sovereignty of the United States is complete. Id.

(9) In international relations, the President is the sole organ of the Federal Government. P. 319.

(10) In view of the delicacy of foreign relations and of the power peculiar to the President in this regard, Congressional legislation which is to be made effective in the international field must [p306] often accord to him a degree of discretion and freedom which would not be admissible were domestic affairs alone involved. P. 319.

(11) The marked difference between foreign and domestic affairs in this respect is recognized in the dealings of the houses of Congress with executive departments. P. 321.

The US Congress got this sort of thing stripped from them after the Articles of Confederation and in standing up the US Constitution. The US Congress has no ability to *do* foreign policy for the United States, that is directly given to the Executive. And yet Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and a number of others on both sides of the political aisle broke with that in going to Syria to meet with Assad and to Egypt to meet with MB. In doing so the Majority has not dealt Honestly or Openly with the American People in recoginizing the limitations of the Legislative branch in these things.

Earmark reform, however, would seem to have the best chance of going through, with even the President signing up to help on the issue in DEC 2006 (15 DEC 2006 AP via Political News). On 10 JAN 2007 Robert Novak would note that getting Senators to actually be Open and Honest was going to be a problem with earmarks:

Earmark Reform: Senators Coburn and DeMint plan to introduce an amendment to the Senate lobby reform package that focuses less on the behavior of lobbyists than the behavior of senators. Namely, it would forbid senators from requesting earmarks that may financially benefit themselves or immediate family members of themselves or their staffers. The idea is to mirror laws that prevent executive branch employees from benefiting personally from their work in the government.

Coburn complains of projects he claims were funded because of the assistance of family-member lobbyists. This is something Congress will be especially loath to touch. The provision is a back-handed slap at Reid, who was accused last year of benefiting from an earmark that will increase the value of land he owns in Arizona, and four of whose sons are paid lobbyists.
Yes, Senators don't want to endanger their nepotistic outlook, so as to have their family members paid for by the federal treasury via money going to their employers. That is difficult to decide?

On 09 FEB 2007 Ed Frank ,at Americans for Prosperity, received a letter from a House staff member on how the new regime of money counting would work, which he then puts down as the following:
Aside from the fact that they're not counting the bloated, pork-filled Army Corps of Engineers budget in their calculations, the most interesting aspect of this letter is that Congressman Obey has decided to measure a 50% cut in the total cost of pork-barrel earmarks against the amounts planned in fiscal year 2006. That's last year -- before the current fiscal year's big drop in earmarks.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Congress approved 12,852 earmarks in fiscal year 2006, with a total price tag of $64 billion. Assuming Obey is measuring the promised 50% reduction in the cost of fiscal year 2008 earmarks against those CRS numbers, we can expect the House to approve about $32 billion in pork-barrel earmarks this year. Of course, the new Democratic leaders will loudly tout a 50% cut in earmarks.

The only problem with their grand scheme is that in the current fiscal year (2007), we can expect approximately 2,600 earmarks with a total price tag of $14 billion, according to our friends over at Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW.)

Now, according to my global-warming-friendly solar-powered handheld Casio calculator, if Congress approves $32 billion in earmarks this year after approving only $14 billion last year, that's a 128.57% hike in the cost of earmarks in one year.

The new Democratic leadership does deserve some credit for pushing through stronger earmark reforms than their Republican colleagues were able to enact, but any claims that they're cutting the cost of earmarks by half this year is just wrong. Only in the bizarro world of the Washington budget is a 129% year-over-year, real-dollar spending increase considered a 50% cut, while attempts to increase year-over-year spending at a slightly slower rate in entitlement programs like Medicare are considered "devastating cuts."
Yes, this is known as 'cooking the books' until the cover comes off and the sheets turn to mush... a bit overdone, really.

By 26 MAR 2007 the Majority would be wielding its authority to close out the Congressional Research Service from reporting on earmarks, this seen at Opinionjournal by John Fund:

Democrats promised reform and instituted "a moratorium" on all earmarks until the system was cleaned up. Now the appropriations committees are privately accepting pork-barrel requests again. But curiously, the scorekeeper on earmarks, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS)--a publicly funded, nonpartisan federal agency--has suddenly announced it will no longer respond to requests from members of Congress on the size, number or background of earmarks. "They claim it'll be transparent, but they're taking away the very data that lets us know what's really happening," says Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. "I'm convinced the appropriations committees are flexing their muscles with CRS."

Indeed, the shift in CRS policy represents a dramatic break with its 12-year practice of supplying members with earmark data. "CRS will no longer identify earmarks for individual programs, activities, entities, or individuals," stated a private Feb. 22 directive from CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan.


That is sophistry. The House rule making earmarks public, which was passed in January, doesn't apply to earmarks for fiscal year 2007, the year Mr. Coburn wanted his report on. There is no Senate rule, and a proposed statute defining earmarks hasn't become law. OMB's list of earmarks applies only to fiscal year 2005.

And in any case, CRS works for Congress, so it is bizarre for it to claim work being done by the executive branch as a reason to deny members information it was happy to collect and release in the past. When I asked a CRS official if the new policy stemmed from complaints by appropriations committee members, she refused to answer the question, citing "confidentiality" concerns.

But other CRS staffers are happy to talk privately about the political pressure members often exert, despite Mr. Mulhollan's new directive that all employees inform management within 24 hours of any contacts with the media. "The director operates out of fear members will get upset," says Dennis Roth, a CRS labor economist who is president of a union representing 250 CRS workers. "The groundhog doesn't want to see his shadow, so he stays in the dark hole so he won't."
"There is real anxiety members will complain if CRS says something is an earmark when the new appropriations committees say it isn't," says another CRS staffer. He notes CRS "caught hell" last year with its report finding that more than 95% of all earmarks in fiscal year 2006 bills weren't written into law and thus not legally binding.


Despite claims they would bring reform, Congress's new bosses are acting like the old bosses. Last Friday, Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake sought clarification from House Appropriations Chairman David Obey about an incorrect listing of a NASA earmark in the Iraq supplemental bill. Rep. Obey responded: "The fact is, that an earmark is something that is requested by an individual member. This item was not requested by any individual member. It was put in the bill by me!" In other words, Mr. Obey believes his own earmarks are nothing of the kind.

Sen. Coburn plans to fight back. He says he will attach an amendment to every appropriations bill demanding CRS prepare a full report on the earmarks in it. "Let senators vote for secrecy and prove they don't want a transparent process or let them deliver what they promised," he says. "The choice will be theirs and the American people will be watching."

What? Spending that was not legally binding and could not, in effect, be spent by the federal government because Congress and the President had not authorized it? Why would Congress want to STOP that kind of reporting?

Then there is the entire 'don't believe what we say, we just wanted to get elected' deal with how the new majority would treat the minority in the House. This from Patrick O'Connor The Politico, 16 MAY 2007:
Democrats are wielding a heavy hand on the House Rules Committee, committing many of the procedural sins for which they condemned Republicans during their 12 years in power.

So far this year, Democrats have frequently prevented Republicans from offering amendments, limited debate in the committee and, just last week, maneuvered around chamber rules to protect a $23 million project for Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.).

On Wednesday, Democrats suggested changing the House rules to limit the minority's right to offer motions to recommit bills back to committee -- violating a protection that has been in place since 1822.

Much of this heavy-handedness is standard procedure in the House, where the majority has every right to dominate, but it contradicts the many campaign promises Democratic leaders made last year to run a cleaner, more open Congress.
Yes, the burden of governing obviously means keeping the opposition shut out from congress. When you are looking to change rules that have stood since 1822 just to 'get your way' then you are no longer thinking much about practicing Open and Honest government and looking more towards simply removing any hinderance the opposition might make.

Then on 04 JUN 2007 MSNBC would report on yet other ways the Democratic Majority looked to be less than Honest and Open:

WASHINGTON - After promising unprecedented openness regarding Congress' pork barrel practices, House Democrats are moving in the opposite direction as they draw up spending bills for the upcoming budget year.

Democrats are sidestepping rules approved their first day in power in January to clearly identify "earmarks" - lawmakers' requests for specific projects and contracts for their states - in documents that accompany spending bills.

Rather than including specific pet projects, grants and contracts in legislation as it is being written, Democrats are following an order by the House Appropriations Committee chairman to keep the bills free of such earmarks until it is too late for critics to effectively challenge them.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., says those requests for dams, community grants and research contracts for favored universities or hospitals will be added to spending measures in the fall. That is when House and Senate negotiators assemble final bills to send to President Bush.

Such requests total billions of dollars.
So to be Open and Honest one tries to shut out the opposition from reviewing items in the budget, restrict their time, remove their input, coerce the non-partisan reporting service from reporting, and then attempt to go around the rules entirely to hide spending until it is past voting upon?

So, surely, by 10 DEC 2007, more than two months after the beginning of the 2008 Fiscal Year for the federal government, this has been all worked out, right? All the budgets passed?

Unfortunately, no, and here from David Rogers at a WSJ Washington Wire blog we get to see why on 10 DEC 2007:
Democrats are rethinking their year-end budget strategy amid anger over White House veto threats and an intra-party fight over suggestions Democrats are willing to accept war funding to gain leverage for domestic spending.

A $522 billion omnibus spending bill had been scheduled for a House vote Tuesday, but House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D., Wis.) abruptly announced he won’t file it tonight and recommended substantial revisions before a floor vote. Obey said he is prepared to cut billions from domestic programs and eliminating all home-state projects or spending “earmarks” favored by lawmakers in both parties.

“I’m not in the business of trying to pave the way for $70 billion or $90 billion for Iraq for $10 billion in table scraps,” Obey said. “We asked Bush to compromise. He has chosen to go the confrontation route.”

“I want no linkage what-so-ever between domestic [spending] and the war. I want the war to be dealt with totally on its own. We shouldn’t be trading off domestic priorities for the war.”

The bill, the product of weeks of backroom negotiations, had been an attempt by Democrats to find some middle ground with the administration by cutting $10.6 billion from spending bills that passed the House last summer. At the same time, new emergency funds were added, chiefly to meet State Department requests and a Republican-backed initiative to improve border security. Obey’s anger seemed directed not just at the administration but also his colleagues. The chairman is described as most upset with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), whose comments last week triggered new stories suggesting a year-end bargain trading war money for domestic funds. Obey is not alone. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) was described by one top Democrat as “livid” about Hoyer’s comments at a Washington Post editorial board breakfast.


Getting the bill down to Bush’s spending limit would require cuts of about $10.6 billion, leaving many agencies’s budgets effectively frozen at 2007 levels.

“If we’re going to lose we might as well lose with clarity so that people understand who is responsible for those inadequate investments,” the combative Obey said. “And if you take those bills down to the president’s level, it is very hard for me to understand how earmarks can survive. It’s not a threat. It’s a reality.”
Removing pork a 'problem', is it? But I thought the Democrats were all about Open and Honest government that wouldn't try to hide spending and earmark requests and abide by their #1 promise?

For area #1 Congress is a failure in being Open, Honest and transparent about the goings-on in the appropriations committees. Further, their attitude to shut down debate, change bills by fiat after they have been voted on and then to COMPLAIN about it when caught, demonstrates a basic inability to comprehend their jobs and the role they play in the federal government.

As every other lovely thing they want in their list depends absolutely upon being able to understand their jobs and commit to giving the People the widest possible access to the functions of Congress, this Congress has failed at that and all subsidiary points are moot. When those in charge of Congress attempt to leverage authoritarian ways upon the Houses of Congress, they are no longer exercising the powers handed to them in a democratic system where such things are granted them by the People.

Far too many Upon the Hill view themselves as Rep. Murtha does: having a sinecured position for decades in which to dispense the People's money to their friends, business associates and their families. In actually fighting those things they have put down as 'reforms' and in trying every means possible to remove such reforms via the legislative process and intimidation of the organs of government to adhere to the authoritarian stance of the Congressional Leadership, this Congress is paving the way for something far, far worse in the future as such excesses only serve as a new starting point for the next Congress.

We have been warned about what this looks like quite some time ago in Federalist No. 26 on 22 DEC 1787 about the abuses of Congress:
"The legislature of the United States will be obliged by this provision, once at least in every two years, to deliberate upon the propriety of keeping a military force on foot; to come to a new resolution on the point; and to declare their sense of the matter by a formal vote in the face of their constituents. They are not at liberty to vest in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence. As the spirit of party in different degrees must be expected to infect all political bodies there will be, no doubt, persons in the national legislature willing enough to arraign the measures and criminate the views of the majority. The provision for the support of a military force will always be a favorable topic for declamation. As often as the question comes forward, the public attention will be roused and attracted to the subject by the party in opposition; and if the majority should be really disposed to exceed the proper limits, the community will be warned of the danger, and will have an opportunity of taking measures to guard against it. Independent of parties in the national legislature itself, as often as the period of discussion arrived, the State legislatures, who will always be not only vigilant but suspicious and jealous guardians of the rights of the citizens against encroachments from the federal government, will constantly have their attention awake to the conduct of the national rulers, and will be ready enough, if any thing improper appears, to sound the alarm to the people, and not only to be the VOICE, but, if necessary, the ARM of their discontent.

Schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community require time to mature them for execution. An army, so large as seriously to menace those liberties, could only be formed by progressive augmentations; which would suppose not merely a temporary combination between the legislature and executive, but a continued conspiracy for a series of time. Is it probable that such a combination would exist at all? Is it probable that it would be persevered in, and transmitted along through all the successive variations in a representative body, which biennial elections would naturally produce in both houses? Is it presumable that every man the instant he took his seat in the national Senate or House of Representatives would commence a traitor to his constituents and to his country? Can it be supposed that there would not be found one man discerning enough to detect so atrocious a conspiracy, or bold or honest enough to apprise his constituents of their danger? If such presumptions can fairly be made, there ought at once to be an end of all delegated authority. The people should resolve to recall all the powers they have heretofore parted with out of their own hands, and to divide themselves into as many States as there are counties in order that they may be able to manage their own concerns in person."
The warning about how it takes time to subvert a democracy are clear and extend beyond that of utilizing military power. Today we see a Congress trying to avoid the responsiblities of power so as to enjoy the fruits of it at the expense of the People.

That will come to no good end.


Stephen R. Maloney said...

Your article on Pelosi, Murtha, and the persistence of earmarks is excellent. The question is: what are we going to do about it?

I hope you and your visitors will get behind the candidacy of Lt. Col. Russell. Frankly, he needs national support to win this race, which is in fact winnable if Russell does everything right, which he is in fact doing. I hope you'll join Bloggers 4 Russell, which will be one of the biggest such movements ever to take place. I'd like to make three requests: first, for you and your visitors to visit Russell's web site at http://williamrussellforcongress.com and make a donation. Second, for you to join Bloggers 4 Russell by either leaving a comment at my site http://camp2008victorya.blogspot.com or by sending me an email at: TalkTop65@aol.com. Third, keep talking about the Russell effort and enlisting new supporters.

If we all hang together, we can win this race, and that will have a monumental effect on U.S. politics. God bless.

steve maloney'
ambridge, pa

A Jacksonian said...

Stephen - My thanks!

I looked at that question in Ending the Pork Barrel Express and come to a few basic concepts on removing the pork. The last is actually the easiest to achieve - any off-budget item is not listed in the budget and, therefore, not legal.

A President can sign the budget and then refuse to spend 'off-budget' items as they are not in the budget, have not been put on his desk for review and are, therefore, not legal programs that he can spend money on. This President could do that... if he wanted. And *that* would be the show-down of all time with Congress.

Takes guts... which is missing in the Presidential race to-date.