United States News Digest
Fiscal 2006 Budget Follows Bush Blueprint
Both the House and Senate Budget Committees acted last week to pass budget resolutions for FY 2006 that largely follow the Bush blueprint. Both claim to reduce the budget deficit by half, by 2009. Both provide a reserve fund of $50 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both assume tax cutsthe House $106 billion, and the Senate $70 billionover five years. Both also demand "savings" from mandatory spending programs. The Senate demands $32 billion and the House $68.6 billion over five years. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) minced no words as to what this budget will actually mean. In a presentation to the Senate Budget Committee on March 10, he noted that while the budget plan requires sacrifice of the American people, "in the end they're worse off, with higher deficits, increased debt burden and fewer services to show for their sacrifice."
Democrats Shut Down House Ethics Committee
The battle over the (non-)ethics of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) escalated, on March 10, when the Democratic members of the House Ethics Committee refused to allow the committee, which is divided evenly 5 to 5 between Republicans and Democrats, to organize for the 109th Congress. They said they won't allow the committee to operate until the rules changes passed in January, are repealed. The changes would require, among other things, that at least one Republican member support an investigation, before a probe can take place. Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the committee, told reporters, after the committee deadlocked on its own rules, "These rules undermine the ability of the committee to do its job. An ethics committee has to do a good job if it's going to do any job at all."
The Democrats' action followed reports that a delegation of Republican House members, including Tom Delay, accepted an expense-paid trip to South Korea on Aug. 25, 2001, from a registered foreign agent, in violation of House rules. Delay's aides claimed: "There's no way we could have known." But the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, which arranged and paid for the trip, was created with help from a lobbying firm headed by DeLay's former chief of staff, Ed Buckham. DeLay was accompanied on the trip by his wife, and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ander Crenshaw, both Florida Republicans.
Mollohan had on March 1 introduced a resolution to repeal all of the ethics rules changes that the GOP had forced through. "There cannot be a credible ethics process in the House of Representatives," Mollohan said, unless the committee "is able to consider complaints against members and staff in a thorough, efficient, and non-partisan manner." Under the new rules, a member of the majority party who is alleged to have violated the rules of the House, is guaranteed protection from an investigation. This rule, Mollohan said, will "promote partisanship and deadlock within the committee."
Fat Cat Republicans Kill Minimum Wage Hike
Senate Democrats proved, on March 7, that any debate on increasing the minimum wage is now a partisan debate, at least, in the Senate. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) sponsored an amendment to the bankruptcy reform bill, to raise the current $5.15 an hour minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, over two years. Kennedy told the Senate that the current minimum wage, when adjusted for inflation, is at its second-lowest level of purchasing power in its history. Most minimum-wage workers, Kennedy noted, have no health insurance, few are able to save for college tuition, most are being squeezed out of the housing market, and depend on driving to get available jobs, thus have been hit by historically high gas prices. Kennedy also noted that while Americans are working more hours than they were 30 years ago, and more hours than workers in other industrialized countries, they are making less.
The Republicans responded by introducing a counter amendment, sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) that would have raised the minimum wage to $6.25 an hour, but would have reduced the number of workers eligible for the minimum wage, and allowed employers to replace overtime pay with so-called "flex time." Santorum called his amendment a "surgical attempt" at a smaller increase in the minimum wage, because it would not impact small businesses' ability to hire low-wage workers.
But Santorum's amendment could not cover over the fat cat Republicans' ideological opposition to the minimum wage. Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) compared mandating a minimum wage to the policies of countries like Cuba and North Korea, where "only the Federal government should be able to determine what one earns or does not earn...." Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) complained that the minimum wage "is a Federal government mandate which creates negative ripples throughout the national economy by making goods and services more expensive for families." Kennedy's amendment went down to defeat by a vote of 46 to 49, and Santorum's 38 to 61.
House Dems Denounce 'Masters of the Imperial Congress'
House Democrats released a 147-page report March 8, denouncing the GOP as "masters of their own Imperial Congress," for staging a massive abuse of power during the 108th Congress. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, released the report, "Broken Promises: The Death of Deliberative Democracy; A Congressional Report on the Unprecedented Erosion of the Democratic Process in the 108th Congress." "Stifling deliberation and quashing dissent in the House of Representatives became the standard operating procedure," the report states. "Past Congresses waived the House Rules; the 108th Congress simply ignored them. And when their tactics led them into conflict with House Rules they could not ignore, they changed them."
The Republican-run Rules Committee "routinely ignored regular committee order," using "'emergency' procedures in the wee hours of the night or early in the morning," and excluded larger and larger numbers of House Members with amendments from floor debates. "We watched as Republican leaders shut down the conference process so completely, that the only people who knew the contents of conference reports when they came to the House floor were the special interest lobbyists who had written them.
"The Members who once, with some justification, railed against a majority leadership's abuses of power are now the masters of their own Imperial Congress."
The report also quotes the right-wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI)'s Norm Ornstein's attack on the Republicans' management of the House, "It is the middle-finger approach to governing."
Democrats Escalate Opposition to Bush Medicaid Cuts
House and Senate Democratic Leaders Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Harry Reid (Nev.) sent a letter March 7 to President Bush in which they endorsed a protest by the nation's governors against the administration's proposed $60 billion cut in Federal Medicaid funding. "[I]t would be irresponsible to cut federal funding for Medicaid and exacerbate the strain on the states' budgets," thereby "jeopardizing" health coverage for the almost 60 million Americans dependent on Medicaid, they warned. "[D]o not shift costs to the states."
In addition to Pelosi and Reid, the letter was also signed by: Senators Max Baucus (Mont.), the top Democrat on the Finance Committee; and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), the top Democrat on the Finance Committee's Health Care subcommittee; and Reps. John Dingell (Mich.), the top Dem on the Energy Committee; and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the top Dem on its Health subcommittee.
Dump Joe Lieberman Movement Forming in Connecticut
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is angering Democratic activists in his state; indeed, some wonder if he's a Democrat at all, and they are looking for at least one candidate to run against him in the 2006 primary, the New York Times reported March 7. "I think he has betrayed his constituency and he is leaning way too far to the right," said a former supporter of Howard Dean's Presidential bid, who met with other former Dean supporters to develop a statewide "Dump Joe" effort.
Democratic Bill Proposes Constitutional Right to Health Care
Representatives Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.) proposed a Constitutional amendment on March 3, to establish health care as a basic civil right. The amendment, H.J. Res. 30, says, "All persons shall enjoy the right to health care of equal high quality." And "The Congress shall have power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation." Twenty-seven other House Democrats, many of them in the Black Caucus, co-sponsored the amendment legislation, Stark said in a news release. Stark insisted that a Constitutional guarantee to health care is necessary because of reductions in company-sponsored health benefits, and proposed cuts to the Federal Medicaid budget.
Iraq War Further Destroys Citizen Military
An article in the March 7 Baltimore Sun highlights another way in which the Iraq war is destroying the U.S. military. As a result of demoralization among "draftable" youth, Army recruiters are being forced to accept a "lower quality" of recruits in order to make their quotas. "Five months into the recruiting year, the percentage of recruits ... without high school diplomas is more than double the percentage of last year." While the article doesn't specifically make the point, this is a sure way to get people killed. It quotes David Segal, a military sociologist, "There's a firm finding that smarter soldiers are better soldiers, doing their jobs and surviving on the battlefield," something that was recognized as far back as Machiavelli.
So far, the desire for quality is still holding out, but, since recruiters missed their February quota by a significant 27%, that is likely to change. The long-term damage was highlighted by an old timer, Lawrence Korb, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense under Reagan, who said, "The Army you take out of Iraq might not be really as good as the one you sent in."