So we lost the Senate. Yea, it hurts. Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. And get ready for the storm – the real storm -- coming in two years. You know, the political storm where Democrats take back the Senate and retain the White House. No, I’m not being overly optimistic. No, I am not riding on dancing unicorns jumping through candy-covered rainbows. I am saddled on a brute horse charging through the political lines of defeat. The Electoral College is on our side. The popular vote is on our side. The Senatorial election map is on our side. 2014 will be a contest quickly forgotten and 2016 will be our triumphant return to Rome.Read more
Across the U.S., conservative-dominated school boards have sought to manipulate public education curricula by overruling relevant experts in subjects such as history, economics, and science, establishing requirements to teach subjects through a conservative lens, and via outright censorship. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that questioned the Founding Fathers’ commitment to secular government and presented conservative political philosophies in a positive light. Astonishingly, the school board cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions across the world in the 18th and 19th centuries and replaced him with religious figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin because the board members disliked Jefferson’s support for separation between church and state.Read more
Over the past several years, as President Barack Obama has occupied the White House, his detractors have ceaselessly labeled his policies as communist or socialist. Pundits like Glenn Beck often carefully choreographed imagery of the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle flag, or the Nazi’s swastika when referring to Mr. Obama and his policies. The notion that Democrats support socialism has become a foregone conclusion in conservative communities. As one who formally studied economics and political science at BYU, hearing these terms twisted far from their actual meaning, and observing the comparison of programs like Medicare and the Affordable Care Act to Stalinist Russia, make me cringe. For Republican strategists, the purpose in making such comparisons to the genocidal regimes of Stalin, Mao, or Hitler is obvious- striking fear in their largely uninformed constituents. This messaging strategy has worked marvelously as more and more Americans now simply refuse to even consider the merits of any policy proposal that the GOP punditry has labeled “socialist” or “communist.”Read more
Most Americans claim they are tired of bitter partisanship and Congressional gridlock in Washington. The non-stop manufactured crises, including the show-downs over the federal budget and debt ceiling, the more than 40 House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the unprecedented use of the filibuster in the Senate to block even routine executive and judicial appointments, are just some of the ways politicians have log-jammed our democracy. Last October’s unpopular government shut down led to the furlough of nearly 1 million workers, while another million were compelled to work without pay. Any astute observer of American politics knows that one of the primary reasons for this Congressional dissonance is hyper-partisan redistricting, or gerrymandering.
Most Americans support raising the minimum wage, comprehensive immigration reform, and universal background checks on gun buyers. Americans do not want subsidies for oil companies and tax breaks for corporate jet owners. And Americans are in favor of balanced deficit reduction that includes both new revenues and spending cuts. Yet, partisan gerrymandering is why these and many other highly popular proposed reforms have no chance of passing in the current Congress.
The complexities and drivers of the federal budget are vast and intimidating to understand. However, it is very difficult to have discussions about our federal deficits and national debt unless the process is first understood. I want to initiate this discussion to help readers understand our nation’s budgetary process and to foster more informed dialogue. Hopefully this explanation will dispel partisan rhetoric and break down unfounded talking points.
The Federal Budget: Our nation’s budget can be divided into two major segments; mandatory and discretionary spending. Mandatory spending is authorized by law and not subject to annual review or appropriations. This falls outside of the Executive Branch’s control as the President cannot unilaterally change laws and is incapable of creating spending bills per the Constitution. Mandatory spending is the largest part of our nation’s budget composed of entitlement programs like Medicare, Social Security, and welfare. Mandatory spending is also incredibly difficult to alter given complexities and integration with society.
Discretionary spending is subject to the budgetary process and controlled by the Executive Branch. Over half of our discretionary spending is allocated to the military and the other half is divided according to department need. Since the President maintains control of the discretionary budget he should be held accountable for increasing or decreasing spending. The current discretionary budget today is $1.1 trillion, slightly less than in 2008.
The Calendar: The federal government reports on a fiscal year outside of the calendar year. This is common for many corporations as fiscal years can be planned around inventory fluctuations or revenue patterns. Regardless of the reason, our national budget runs annually from October 1st to September 30th. All accounting procedures are completed shortly after the fiscal year closes and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) compiles reports made available to the public.
The Basic Process: At the beginning of the year the President initiates the process by submitting a budget to Congress. The budget is typically provided the first week of February. Once Congress receives the budget they send it to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan organization, to evaluate assumptions and quantify changes. Once the CBO evaluates the budget a report is published for the public and Congress (typically in March). The House of Representatives then adds any additional amendments, and begins confirmation with the Senate.
The Senate also receives the federal budget and may pass as submitted or add additional amendments. Discrepancies between chambers are typically worked in committee and once aligned the budget is voted on and sent back to the President’s desk. If the President aligns with the changes he signs the budget and it is implemented for the upcoming fiscal year. If the President is not aligned the budget is sent back to Congress for revision.
Continuing Resolutions: As we have seen in previous years the Senate, House, and Executive Branch might not agree on the budget. This lack of cooperation is typically pinned on the Chief Executive unfairly. However, there is a critical secondary process to keep the government operating without an annual budget; continuing resolutions (CR). A CR is passed by Congress and the President to continue operations at the same levels already agreed upon by a previous budget (a de facto budget). There are several CRs that need to pass to sustain spending in the Executive Branch. Simplified, there is a CR for every cabinet department (Defense, Homeland Security, Education, State, etc).
Do you remember when government shutdown in October of 2013? The beginning of the fiscal year (October 1st) came and our government did not have a completed budget or CR to authorize spending. With no authorization workers were furloughed and major departments of the Executive Branch closed. Again this only impacted the discretionary portion of total budget; mandatory spending is not reviewed annually and continued to be spent.
Avoid the Political Spin: No government branch has more control than another when it comes to passing the annual budget. I have often heard explanations arguing either the House or President controls the budget when results are favorable. For instance, when Clinton was president and the Republicans controlled the House, arguments were made justifying either branch's impact on the budget. Once the process is understood, it becomes clear that both branches need to work together to pass a budget.
This explanation might prompt readers to question the House’s role in spending per the Constitution. As directed by our founding document all spending bills must originate in the House. Bills are prelininary laws so new spending is first passed by the lower chamber. Once the bill becomes a mandatory law spending falls outside of the annual budgetary process.
A great example of the House’s constitutional power was witnessed when the Immigration Bill passed by the Senate in 2013. Once passed the bill was retained, waiting for the House to pass their own version and use reconciliation to put the bills together. If the Senate had sent their bill to the House, it would be immediately stamped unconstitutional and discarded.
My last admonishment for readers who have made it this far – know the actual budget and what is driving the annual deficit and the national debt. Although it seems easy to blame any one individual or party, it requires significant compromise and bipartisanship to change either mandatory or discretionary spending. Office of Management and Budget
Lately I have been engaged in several debates and discussions with my conservative friends. I am often entertained with how they use words or phrases to exemplify a position or undercut my arguments. Since I find many of these tactics somewhat humorous, I decided to share some of the user's perceived definitions and place them against the litmus test of reality. Enjoy!
2nd Amendment: The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. Reality: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. The Framers were opposed to standing armies and felt it was the people’s role to defend the Free State (which is ironic given our current military structure). There was purpose in gun ownership and the Founding Brothers always supported moderation in all things.
Birthers: Those who oppose any presidential nominee born outside of the United States as per the Constitution. Reality: This view really only applies to Democrat nominees. Currently one of the GOP presidential front-runners is Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz who was born in Canada. John McCain was born in Panama and George Romney was born in Mexico.
Communist: (also see Socialist) Conservatives are not really sure of the difference between a Socialist and Communist. Reality: Communism is COMPLETE governmental control of capital and resources. Nobody supports this, not liberals, not even Hitler.
Constitution: Our nation's founding document that can only be correctly interpreted by conservatives. Reality: The Constitution is cherry picked by conservatives to fit their agenda. Appointing judges, nominating cabinet positions, controlling the executive branch, and conducting foreign policy fall squarely under the President’s command but is undermined by conservatives on a regular basis. Advice and Consent by the Senate is being abused and the House of Representatives does not represent the majority of the people due to gerrymandering.
Gun Control: The belief that government is coming for your guns and undermining your rights. Reality: Gun control is common sense solutions to help curb the rampant violence being experienced in our country. Ideas such as the Brady Bill, background checks, concealed carry permits, resources for the ATF to enforce current laws, and gun dealer inventory requirements are all solutions that can help prevent a portion of our 30,000 gun related deaths each year.
Entitlements: The giving out of free handouts to the lazy and parasitic by the government. Reality: 60% of all entitlements go to seniors, 20% go to the disabled, 10% go to working families, and another 10% go to non-working individuals and families (including college students). It should also be noted that red states take more entitlements per capita than blue states.
Executive Orders: A power grab by the President of the United States as a way to circumvent the Constitution. Reality: The President of the United States has the authority to regulate how the executive branch functions.
Family Values: The basis for America’s greatness and the aspiration of how we should live as a society. Reality: Conservatives use family values as an ambiguous argument trying to suppress any diversity in social norms.
Food Stamps: Free handouts to the lazy. Reality: 50% of all food stamps go to children, and another 15% to seniors. 1 in 5 veterans are also recipients of food stamps.
Liberal: Any person that expresses a difference of opinion with a conservative. Reality: A liberal is any person who fights for individual liberties. The definition has been twisted by conservatives and misused to represent any person offering a difference of opinion. Being labeled a liberal brings full discredit in any political conversation or debate with a conservative.
Liberal Media: Any media outside of conservative news sources. Reality: This term is used when conservatives lack a coherent response to any data being sourced. This could be viewed as the ultimate debate cop-out which, by disregarding the source, immediately invalidates all arguments.
National Debt: The amount of money we have to borrow due to the President’s budget. Reality: The Debt is a function of multiple administrations impacting mandatory expenditures that cannot be changed unless reversed by the House, Senate, and President working together.
National Deficit: The same as the National Debt (really – I hear this all the time). Reality: The National Deficit is the annual (not total) gap in spending vs. receipts.
Pro-Choice: A liberal position that encourage woman to seek abortions for their poor choices. Reality: Pro-Choice does not mean pro-abortion. Abortion is a complicated choice and the decision cannot be lumped into one generic stereotype. Pro-Choice should be left up to the individual’s doctor, religious authority, family and not directed by government influence. It should also be noted that 30% of all abortions are by married women and the abortion rate has been declining rapidly since 1980.
Pro-Life: A position that believes the embryo is a living person, and the sanctity must be protected at all costs. Reality: Pro-life arguments typically end at conception.
Ronald Reagan: The ultimate conservative and the gold standard for Republicans. Reality: Ronald Reagan supported gun legislation, signed pro-choice legislation, passed two of the largest tax hikes in American history, tripled the National Debt, passed full access for the uninsured to use emergency rooms, provided amnesty for three million undocumented workers, and signed several pieces of social reform legislation into law. I’m pretty sure he would be kicked out of the Republican party today.
RINO: Republican In Name Only Reality: Name given to any Republican that does not maintain total loyalty to party ideas and platforms. I have seen Republican legislators who vote with the party 95% of the time and still be labeled a RINO.
Science: A selective explanation of data and theory that can be opposed for political justification. Reality: Public opinion does not trump scientific data.
Socialist: (also see Communist) Any person who supports government programs, fair taxation policies, or pretty much anything that is associated with the Democratic Party. Reality: Socialism is governmental control of capital and resources. The police, fire department, public schools, libraries, national parks, roads and bridges, judicial system, and the military are all socialist organizations. Our country has always been a mixed-market economic system balancing socialism and capitalism.
Tea Party: A political movement that is holding our leaders responsible both fiscally and conservatively. Reality: A political movement that brings little to no ideas to the table and uses opposition as its only weapon. The Tea Party takes extreme stances on every conservative issue and has been detrimental to the party when it comes to elections (Republicans would have control of the Senate today if it wasn't for Tea Party candidates). The Tea Party creates gridlock and then points to the same gridlock as to why government doesn't work.
Tyrannical Government: Our nation’s leadership making obsessive power grabs to suppress the ideas of the majority. Reality: A conservative narcissist phrase used as fear-mongering to generate divide among our citizens. Simply refuted, ask any believer why a tyrannical government would willingly submit to public elections.
I personally want to thank Arizona’s Republican Party. From the removal of concealed-carry permits, to SB 1070, to radical border philosophy, to Sheriff Joe’s posse, and now the attacking of Senator John McCain, misguided legislators are alienating key voting demographics in the state. The Hispanic vote is growing leaps and bounds, doubling this past decade and edging close to 30% of the electorate. Moderates are regularly siding with Democrats over issues like gay rights and immigration reform causing key political strategists to take notice. Many have switched Arizona from red to purple going into 2016 and believe this transformation will continue for decades to come.
Current voter evolution is lost on our state leaders. Recently Arizona GOP legislators passed a resolution censuring McCain, a moderate favorite, for his “long and terrible record of drafting, co-sponsoring and voting for legislation best associated with liberal Democrats.” They also used the session to vote on a support measure for non-Arizonan Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. You read that correctly – Arizona legislators wasted taxpayer resources to show support for Senators that do not represent their constituents. Of course, this misguided political theater is far from the truth as John McCain’s 90% party-line voting record stands on its own. Probably the most conservative vote of McCain’s career came in 2003 when he, and then-Congressman Jeff Flake, bucked their party voting against a massive prescription drug entitlement program. That single bill accounts for $17 trillion in unfunded liabilities today and one of the largest drivers of our national debt. In contrast that same bill passed with votes coming from Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Tom Delay, Jon Kyl, Rick Santorum, Pete Sessions, Darrell Issa and several current Tea Party darlings.
To be fair, Arizona’s divisional rhetoric mimics what we experience across our nation. Conservatism has been replaced with exclusionary politics that cast aside any politician that does not align with their platforms 100% of the time. Cloaked under the guise of the Constitution these political radicals are punishing any politician that steps across the aisle, ignoring the entire compromising fabric of our originating document. Such attitudes were on display earlier this year as the country witnessed the full Tea Party agenda as the government was held hostage by a misguided minority. Such extreme positions were also experienced at local levels as two Colorado State Senators were ousted for supporting the same common-sense gun legislation that Ronald Reagan would have endorsed.
Ironically, embattled Senator McCain’s approach to immigration is the only path that will save Arizona’s current Republican Party. The Hispanic community is a becoming a force and the Tea Party circus is motivating voters across the state. One of Arizona’s residents, a national political strategist for the GOP, commented that such extreme actions such as censuring Senator McCain are why “they (the nation) laugh at us.” I completely agree. Arizona’s intolerant primary voters will soon see the same phenomenon experienced in Nevada, Delaware, and other states where extreme candidates were traded for moderate Democrats, which I will applaud.
Several changes in voting laws are dramatically impacting women in Texas. Women that have been voting for years are now being asked for additional documentation to cast a ballot. Just imagine going to your local voting precinct, the same one visited for the last 40 years, and having the authenticity of your vote questioned? Now imagine that you are an elected judge and because of name discrepancy an affidavit is required to sign.Read more
We congratulate the team of Democrat Leaders negotiating the successful end to the government shutdown. We supported their efforts and have a special passion for Senator Reid's masterful legislative skill as Majority Leader. Throughout the ordeal Reid refused to give in to any of the changing demands from Republicans. He also won support from several Republicans in the Senate and eventually prevailed with a bill that was ratified by the House.
Throughout the standoff Republicans continued talking about "negotiation" and "compromise" but their actions reminded voters that a significant portion of their party does not believe in either. Many Republicans took an extreme stance regarding government's role, pushing the mantra "government is the problem" to new heights. Some, like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, even celebrated the shutdown. Harry Reid recognized their gleeful posturing and understood the improbability of governing those who maintained ideological divides around the role of government.Read more
The other night while surfing various political sites and social media groups I came across a troubling Facebook page; “Democrats Done with Jim Matheson”. For those of you unfamiliar with Representative Matheson, he is a Democrat Congressman from the reddest of states, Utah. Matheson has been a political chameleon as of late, voting with the Republicans on several issues including the shutdown and the countless repeals of the Affordable Care Act. He represents Utah’s 4th district which overwhelmingly voted for Governor Romney over President Obama in 2012 by double digit margins. He also won a razor close election edging out his Republican rival Mia Love by .3%. Ms. Love has already announced she will run again, and this time Matheson does not have the help of a presidential election.
This Facebook group’s premise explains the reason for rejection, “This page is for Utah Democrats that are sick and tired of Jim Matheson. We see him for the real man he is. A DC politician only worried about reelection.” I completely agree -- Matheson is worried about re-election, and as a vocal Democrat, I am too. However, I am more worried about losing the seat than any floor vote Matheson casts. In fact I ENCOURAGE Matheson to vote with the Republicans every single vote where a majority is established (and with the Hastert Rule, that is every vote). For those of you balking at such a position let me explain further.
Irrelevance is being a minority party in the House of Representatives. A minority party cannot decide the floor agenda, appoint committee chairs, direct debates, or initiate votes. In setting up our government, the Framers designed the representative body of the House to work in a democratic setting. Unfortunately, what they did not take into consideration is the rampant gerrymandering that has undermined the intent and balance of the Constitution. In 2012 there were 1.5 million more votes for House Democrats yet today there are 33 more Republican Representatives. In order to return appropriate balance Democrats will need to flip those seats, many of which are anchored in steadfast red districts, to return the balance of power back to the majority.
Any primary challenger that successfully defeats Matheson will cost Democrats a congressional seat. Even an unsuccessful primary challenger will force Matheson to the left, which will be leveraged against him in the general election. Even more problematic than losing Matheson’s solitary (and inconsistent) vote is the daunting challenge for Democrats to flip one more seat and regain control of the House. If by small chance Democrats do achieve majority, and Matheson continues to vote with the Republicans, Democrats would still be in a much better place.
For all my Democrat friends in red districts the same strategy applies. Vote with the furthest right leaning candidate in primaries or the candidate that polls strongest against a Republican challenger. No one candidate is above control of the House, which should be the only priority for Democrats in 2014.