We’re back

Today, uVoted4them.com makes its return from vacation. We had a great time. Hope you did, too.

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U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer is one of 24 senators whose wish came true Friday with the resignation of Eric Shinseki as secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Sen. Deb Fischer

Sen. Deb Fischer

Fischer was one of 13 Senate Republicans and 11 Democrats who called for the resignation after a preliminary report from the VA inspector general’s office disclosed that roughly 1,700 veterans who’d requested services from the VA in Phoenix, Ariz., were never scheduled for appointments or put on a waiting list.

In the House, ABC News put together a list of 32 Democrats and 72 Republicans also calling for Shinseki’s departure. Of the Nebraska delegation, only 3rd District Rep. Adrian Smith was listed.

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Nebraska’s House delegation — Reps. Terry, Fortenberry, and Smith — all voted against a measure Friday that would prevent the DEA from raiding medical marijuana farms in states that allow the use of medical marijuana.

The amendment, sponsored by California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, passed anyway, on vote of 219-189.

Pot farms are far from safe, however.  The appropriations bill to which Rohrabacher’s amendment was attached still needs to be passed by the House, agreed to by the Senate and signed into law.

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Sen. Mike Johanns has been named one of 32 members of Congress recognized as a “Fiscal Hero” by the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

MikeJohannsFiscal heroes are chosen for a number of reasons, include their voting records, floor speeches, introduction of legislation, attempts to push leadership toward certain policy positions, efforts to emphasize the nation’s debt at town hall meetings and other constituent contacts.

Campaign to Fix the Debt is one of the groups financed by Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson, whose ambition is to cut earned-benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Peterson, 86, doesn’t attract the attention of, say, the Koch Brothers, because he maintains a low profile, and his groups publically project a reasonable, bipartisan spirit.

Democrats the group has named as “Fiscal Heroes” include Sens. Mike Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both of Delaware, and Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

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If he’s lucky, Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse will never again have to follow a reality Duck Dynasty Phil Robertsonstar in camoflauge to the lectern, as he did Thursday night in New Orleans.

The Daily Beast reports that half the audience at the Republican Leadership Conference left the hall after keynote speaker and  Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson delivered they keynote speech.

Sasse followed Robertson to the stage about 9 p.m., after a long night of speeches.

Glenn Beck’s The Blaze does a splendid job covering Robertson’s guns-gays-God speech; we’re still trying to find decent coverage of Sasse’s speech.

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Ben Sasse’s Senate campaign is adding staff. The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind., reports that James Wegmann has quit his job with Indiana Rep. Martin Stutzman to work for Sasse. Wegmann has been on Stutzman’s communications staff since 2010.

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Dr. Marie Belin, an Omaha pediatrician and Douglas County co-chair of the Ben Sasse for MarieBelin149x199Senate campaign, has been named vice chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party.

Belin is a Nebraska native who grew up in Lincoln. She is a partner in Village Pointe Pediatrics, and has long been active in Nebraska politics, according to J.L. Spray, state party chairman.

“Marie will bring a range of talents and experience to the NEGOP and I look forward to working closely with here,” Spray said in a statement. “Her experiences with grassroots campaigns will be a valuable addition in our efforts to elect Republicans throughout Nebraska.”

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Lincoln businessman Todd Watson is trying to create some traction for his independent bid for the U.S. Senate. The self-described Todd Watsonfaith-based conservative told the Lincoln Journal Star‘s Don Walton that the two-party system is broken. “We need to reduce government regulation, but if you break the laws, you get extra oversight. If you caused an economic meltdown, you deserve oversight, ” Watson said.

Watson said he’s already collected the 4,000 signatures needed to get on the November ballot, but hasn’t turned them in yet. Also gathering signatures for an independent bid is Jim Jenkins.

We found this from Watson on youtube.com.

 

 

Sunday: Nine days out

Nebraskans have weighed in on what they think of Senate candidate Ben Sasse’s ad that has his daughters discussing Obamacare, and over the weekend we got to see what Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, thinks.
TheHillMay4SasseKids

The Sasse ad was one of many Sabato critiqued for an article in The Hill on the use of surrogates in campaign ads. With approval ratings for politicians somewhere on the level of used car salesmen, candidates commonly turn to others — often their relatives — to vouch for their character and commitment.

In case you missed it, the 30-second spot features gloomy music in the background, a close up on the girls talking about how their dad “despises” Obamacare and how they pray for the other Senate candidates every morning. And then, as if to show how they are just normal little girls after all, despite their intense thoughts on policy issues, we get two seconds of one of them saying she wants a pony.

uVoted4them has no problem with the use of children in campaign ads, but we would much rather see Sasse’s children in their normal roles of being children.

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The York News Times has endorsed Jon Bruning for governor, rejected both 3rd District U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith and his GOP challenger Tom Brewer, and taken a pass on choosing one of the Republicans vying to succeed Mike Johanns in the Senate.

Publisher Greg Awtry was disappointed by the late April debate between Smith and Brewer. Smith, he says, talks a good game about controlling government spending, but government spending has risen 46 percent over the course of Smith’s career in Congress, and the national debt has doubled. The clincher for Awtry seems to be both candidates’ support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

“We can’t endorse Col. Tom Brewer after his dismal performance (at the debate), and we sure can’t endorse Adrian Smith after his misguided allegiance to foreign oil pipeline companies over his own constituents fighting the Keystone XL. You see, Smith thinks it’s fine for a foreign corporation to take control of farmers’ and ranchers’ land in his Third Congressional District by using the power of eminent domain, and Brewer misstated the incorrect myth that this oil would help us import less oil from the Middle East.”

(For the record, most oil imported into the United States comes from Canada or Latin America. Brewer has erred on this throughout the campaign. At first, uVoted4them.com chose to give him a pass because he was a soldier and not a political pro, but campaigns should be learning experiences. After months on the trail, he’s still stuck in some other decade on this issue — not an encouraging sign.)

Here’s what publisher Awtry said about the four Republicans running for Senate.

YorkNewsTimesNoEndorseApril30

Read for yourself the News Times’ voter guide here.

Aside

More odds and ends

With the support of Nebraska Reps. Lee Terry, Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith, the House passed Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2015 budget on Thursday, which calls for deep cuts in federal spending — $5.1 trillion over 10 years — and the privatization of Medicare.

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If you Google “who receives farm subsidies” and go the EWG Farm Subsidy Database, you’ll find the names of about 15 Dinsdales who live in either Palmer, Elkhorn or Omaha listed as beneficiaries of the government’s subsidy program between 1995 and 2012. Nebraska Senate candidate Sid Dinsdale grew up in Palmer, lives in Elkhorn and works in Omaha. What are the odds that he knows some of those folks?

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Senate candidate Ben Sasse tried to put the no-big-deal slant on campaign finance during Wednesday’s debate by noting that more money was spent on potato chips than political campaigns during the ’06 and ’08 cycles.

Thanks for the history lesson, Dr. Sasse. The question was about campaign spending since 2010, when the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling started feeding billions more dollars into campaign coffers. uVoted4them.com is still waiting for an answer, but thanks for the trivia.

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Finally, polling shows a larger divide between Republicans and Democrats on climate change during the Obama administration, based at least in part on the parties’ fundamental policy positions.

Republicans are more likely to oppose comprehensive efforts to combat climate change because they would require a federal role nationwide, thus stealing “liberty” from the American people. Democrats, of course, don’t have the same ideological opposition to federal intervention.

Here’s how Oklahoma Sen. Jim  Inhofe explained it to Roll Call:

Jim Inhofe from Roll Call

Endorsements, stereotypes and bad jokes

U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, the Republican representing Nebraska’s 1st District, has endorsed Ben Sasse in the Senate race and Pete Ricketts in the race for governor. Sasse was Fortenberry’s chief of staff during the “spring of 2005,” according to the Omaha World-Herald. We’ll have more to say about Fortenberry’s endorsement in an upcoming post.

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U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer will be campaigning later this month in Iowa for Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, according to the Weekly Standard. Former Alaska Gov. and Tea Party royalty Sarah Palin, who endorsed Fischer in 2012, has also endorsed Ernst and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and Pete Ricketts. Palin endorsed Sasse for Senate in a Facebook post; she endorsed Ricketts for governor at a splashy event in Grand Island. The World-Herald has a nice photo of the two.

Tom Brewer's military career makes impressive campaign visuals, but you'd think it would also make him less likely to jump to conclusions about his fellow soldiers.

Tom Brewer’s military career makes impressive campaign visuals, but you’d think it would make him less likely to jump to conclusions about his fellow soldiers.

The day after Wednesday’s deadly shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, retired Army Col. Tom Brewer has issued a statement calling for all personnel on military bases to carry guns.

“The men and women of the United States military have spilled their blood across the globe to protect our way of life and the rights given to use by the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. These rights should not be denied by our own government on American soil,” Brewer said in a news release.

The 36-year Army veteran, who served six tours of duty in Afghanistan, is Rep. Adrian Smith’s Republican opponent in Nebraska 3rd District. They will debate April 25. The winner of the primary will face Democrat Mark Sullivan of Doniphan.

Only law enforcement and security are currently allowed to carry guns on military bases. uVoted4them.com doesn’t want to be rude, but asks the question: If everyone is in uniform, and everyone has a gun, how is anyone going to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys when the shooting breaks out?

We know Col. Brewer is a man of action, but isn’t it unfair to every veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to jump to the conclusion that the shooter, 34-year-old Ivan Lopez, suffered from PTSD? All we’ve heard is that he had been treated for depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation. PTSD was only one of the diagnoses being explored, and not everyone with PTSD goes on murderous rampages.

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One of uvoted4them.com’s email treats is Daily Kos’ daily roundup of campaign news from across the nation, which is usually handled in a far less ideological manner than most Kos content.

Here’s part of the email from Thursday:
Jesus

No, Jesus hasn’t entered a Nebraska House race. And, no, state Sen. Ernie Chambers hasn’t sued Jesus. “Jesus. Seriously?” was Daily Kos’ reaction to 2nd District Rep. Lee Terry’s insensitive joke about being late to a committee hearing because his plane was delayed, maybe because of a faulty ignition switch.

The hearing was about faulty ignition switches on General Motors vehicles linked to 13 deaths. GM hid the problem from 2001 until finally issuing a recent recall of 2.6 million vehicles earlier this year.

This is the second time in about six months Terry has gotten national attention for foot-in-mouth disease. He faces businessman Dan Frei in the Republican primary. State Sen. Brad Ashford is the Democrat in the race. Terry has apologized.

 

U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith of the flyover country that is Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District, is one of the star players in a New York Times article about the after-hours good life that comes with the job.

Here’s the first paragraph of Eric Lipton’s article in the Times of Jan. 19:

VAIL, Colo. — After some time in the hot tub, an evening cocktail reception and a two-and-a-half hour dinner in a private dining room named Out of Bounds, Representative Adrian Smith, Republican of Nebraska, made one last stop, visiting the lounge at the Four Seasons Resort hotel here to spend more time with the lobbyists and other donors who had jetted in from Washington, D.C., to join him for the weekend.”

Notes from the campaign trail

1st District Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was the only member of Nebraska’s delegation in Washington to vote for the $1.1 trillion budget bill. Regardless, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 passed easily (72-26) without the support of Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer or Reps. Lee Terry and Adrian Smith (359-67).

Shane Osborn, Republican candidate for Senate, found himself in hot water Thursday after a Tweet that criticized the new omnibus budget plan as a “short bus to nowhere.” A short bus is a small school bus often used to transport children with disabilities, and the reference was derogatory. Osborn apologized and yanked the tweet, but fortunately there’s a website where it lives on in infamy. Among those who saw the tweet was Jordan Gehrke, a senior advisor to rival Ben Sasse, who responded: “Agree. Awful bill but mocking special needs kids?”

Conservative radio host Mark Levin has endorsed Republican Senate candidate Ben Sasse. Levin, who uses his show to bash all things Obama, most recently accused the president of attempting to stage a “gradual, quiet coup,” through his use of executive orders. Sasse also has a new video featuring his toddler in which he talks about contraception, abortion and Obamacare. Who’s listening, though, with an adorable kid in the scene?

Bart McLeay has snagged the endorsement of his fellow Kutak Rock law partner, former U.S. Sen. Dave Karnes,  and former U.S. Rep Jon Christensen of Nebraska’s 2nd District. In 1988, Gov. Kay Orr appointed Karnes to serve the remainder of U.S. Sen. Ed Zorinsky’s term after his untimely death. Christensen served two terms in the House, from 1995-99.

Rep. Lee Terry has a new campaign manager, Kevin Conroy, who’s worked on both on the Hill as a staffer and in a bunch of Republican campaigns. In 2008, he was field coordinator for both Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in the all-important New Hampshire presidential primary. We wish him better luck in Nebraska.

Mark your calendars now:

  • Jan. 27, Union-busting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will appear at an Omaha campaign rally for Pete Ricketts, a candidate for Nebraska governor. The Ricketts family, individually and through the Ending Spending Action Fund, heavily backed Walker in his 2012 recall battle.
  • Jan. 28, President Obama’s State of the Union address.
  • Jan. 29, the first debate for Republican senate candidates at the Gering Civic Center. The sleepy Scotts Bluff County town of 8,500 will give the candidates a chance to dust off their debate skills before the main events..
  • Feb. 4, National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraiser for Shane Osborne in Washington.

Short Takes

If you missed the debut of Nebraska’s first campaign commercial of the 2014 season during Saturday’s Chiefs-Colts game, the 30-second spot is set to air again during Monday’s national championship game between Florida State and Auburn.

Or, if you don’t want to wait that long, there’s a link to a sneak peak at Republican Ben Sasse’s campaign Facebook page that will take you there.

Sasse, president of Midland University in Fremont, announced an ad buy for the BCS championship game last month. The campaign said it was working with conservative media guru Fred Davis, who is known for his unconventional ads.

Davis, nephew of Oklahoma Sen., James Inhofe, grabbed national attention for turning immigration-friendly Arizona Sen. John McCain into a tough-talking anti-immigrant superhero during a difficult primary race. More recently, he produced unsuccessful Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s “I am not a witch” commercial.

Fortunately, Sasse’s ad is more along the lines of the McCain ad. It’s called “The Outsider” and tries to position Sasse as an outsider to Washington politics, even though he is the only Republican candidate for Senate who has actually worked in Washington — a city where he’s held a number of jobs in government.

It’s an attention-getting ad that suggests towing the US. Capitol behind a Mack truck to Nebraska, the land of common sense, free from “influence peddlers.”

Sasse leads the Republican field in fundraising, with substantial out-of-state donations from big-dollar super PACs, like Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund.

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Recently retired Army Col. Tom Brewer of Gordon is hoping to replace Rep. Adrian Smith in the 3rd District. Brewer is 36-year veteran who served six tours in Afghanistan and earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star there.

While most candidates for the 3rd District vie to be the most conservative of the field, Brewer’s campaign positions have turned out to be refreshingly mixed. He supports  the expansion of Medicaid to insure the poor, but says the rest of the Affordable Care Act should be repealed. Brewer also questions the safety of locating the proposed Keystone XL pipeline so near the Ogallala aquifer.

Seinfeld character Frank Costanza created Festivus as a holiday for the “rest of us.” Maybe Brewer will be the candidate for the rest of us.

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Finally, kudos to Republican Senate candidate Bart McLeay for following his end-of-year fundraising email with a “thank you” email, even sending one to people who did not donate.  Candidates flood inboxes with pleas for money as the quarterly reporting deadlines loom. It’s nice to see one who hasn’t forgotten his manners. McLeay has his own new video, and you can see it here.

Holding Rep. Smith accountable

Rep. Adrian Smith

Nebraska Reps. Adrian Smith and Lee Terry voted to cut $40 billion from the SNAP program over the next 10 years.

Not long after Rep. Adrian Smith and 216 of his House Republican colleagues voted to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program, Smith sent out an email and posted a statement on his web site.

The $40 billion cut, he said, would affect the eligibility of not one single person now receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

That did not make sense.

How did House Republicans propose to chop food stamps for 10 straight years at a $4 billion-a-year clip and impact no one? How could Smith make that claim when forecasts estimated a loss of benefits to 4 million to 6 million people? The Congressional Budget office estimates a loss of benefits to 3.8 million people in 2014 alone.

I took my puzzlement directly to Smith. I left a message at his official House website, asking for an explanation. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I thought maybe there was something I was overlooking. Maybe $4 billion dollars worth of fraud, waste and abuse that could be trimmed away. Maybe if everyone’s benefits were cut a bit, it would add up to $4 billion.

This week I received an answer from Rep. Smith.  An answer with the same nonsensical claim:

“As you may know, the House of Representatives recent considered H.R. 3102. Included in the bill were provisions that would maintain Congress’s strong commitment to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), while making commonsense reforms. In addition, the bill would ensure SNAP benefits go to those who meet existing income and asset requirements.” (Emphasis added.)

The truth is that Smith’s statement is not true. H.R. 3102 does tighten income and asset requirements and it will mean lost benefits to Nebraskans. About 180,000 Nebraskans receive food stamps — about 10 percent of the population.

While it’s rare for an officeholder to cling to positions that are blatantly false, as Smith has,  all politicians have a strong aversion to taking personal responsibility for their actions.

Who me? I’m not the one who voted for the cuts that cost your nephew his job,  slashed your grandma’s food stamp benefits, or left your cousin with a three-mile walk to work because  your city didn’t get the needed federal public transit funds.

The good news here is that there’s no way the $40 billion House Republican cut will become law. The Senate version of the Farm Bill cuts SNAP funding by only $4 billion, and the figure in the final legislation will almost certainly be in that ballpark.

The bad news is that as long as politicians get away with deceptive practices, those deceptions will continue. Here’s one that Rep. Smith only thinks he’s gotten away with.

Back to business as usual

With less than 24 hours left until a likely default, the House and Senate reached agreement late Wednesday on a deal that reopens the federal government and avoids a breach of the debt ceiling.

By a margin of  81-19 in the Senate and 285-144 in the House, Congress approved H.R. 2775 to fund the government through Jan. 15 and covers the debt limit until Feb. 7

Nebraska’s entire delegation, Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer, and Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry and Adrian Smith, supported the measure.

Smith, Terry and Fortenberry were among the 87 House Republicans who joined 198 Democrats in passing the budget and debt deal. In the Senate, the measure gained the support of all Democrats and all but 18 Republicans.

Voting against it were such vocal opponents as Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas,  Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Mike Lee of Utah. There was concern earlier in the day that Cruz would use a procedural move to delay the vote until at least Thursday.

The Senate voted about 9 p.m. CDT and the House voted just after 11:15 p.m. CDT.

In the end, Republicans had little to show for the 16-day shutdown of the federal government and stretching the debt ceiling to the brink. They failed to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, although they did win a minor concession involving income verification for those receiving federal subsidies to buy health insurance.

No answers for the folks back home

Republican rhetoric about the debt ceiling is beginning to sound amazingly like the rhetoric that proceeded the government shutdown. Whether the GOP’s “no big deal” talk is a signal that Republicans are ready to take us into a default remains to be seen, but it isn’t encouraging.

Pro-shutdown and default positions, once staked out only by Congress’ newest and most extreme members, have lately taken on a mainstream flavor. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a member of the Senate since 2005, who previously served three terms in the U.S. House, joined the bandwagon Monday.

“There’s no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country because it’s never not been increased, and that’s why we’re $17 trillion in debt,” said Coburn said Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

“I would dispel the rumor that’s going around that you hear on every newscast that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we’ll default on our debt. We won’t. We’ll continue to pay our interest, we’ll continue to redeem bonds, and we’ll issue new bonds to replace them.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that default could be avoided if the U.S. prioritizes the payment of its obligations. That could mean officials would have to weigh making payments to foreign bondholders against sending out Social Security or veterans’ benefits because the federal government spends more  each month than it takes in.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said that “prioritization” is just another word for default.  It is also unknown what damage an attempt at prioritization would have on the economy and financial markets. America has never defaulted and neither has it ever tried such a prioritization plan.

Just the fact that the debt ceiling matter is up for debate is making markets jittery. In 2011, there was so little faith that the parties would end their bickering in time to avoid default.  Standard & Poor’s downgraded American’s credit rating for the first time in history.  The last country to make it back to AAA after a downgrade spent 19 years doing so.

Sadly it’s hard to find a member of the Nebraska Congressional delegation who  is taking  a firm stance on the debt ceiling.  None has posted their position on their official web site, even though the deadline is next week.  In the media, their comments are mostly limited to the old-news shutdown.

Do Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer think no Nebraskans own Treasury bills? Do Reps. Lee Terry, Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith not understand that many of the elderly are already worried about their November Social Security checks?

2nd District Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was one of those who supported the 2011 fight over the debt ceiling that led to the credit downgrade. He has  since said he would not support another debt ceiling fight — but not recently.

Freshman Sen. Deb Fischer may even support the drama of the twin shutdown-default fights. In one of her September columns, Fischer wrote:

“This pair of decisions present Congress with the opportunity to address our out-of-control spending. Nebraskans know that Congress doesn’t act unless it is forced to do so. That’s why I look forward to the debates on our rising debt.”

Nebraskans should be getting loud-and-clear answers from their Washington delegation. We saw our home values and retirement accounts trashed in the 2008 economic crisis. We’ve been through the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Our families have suffered layoffs, and now the hardships of the shutdown. We are a nation at war. Why do our leaders in Washington think it’s OK to shut down the government while our military fights a war that Congress created?

The “Prioritization” option may seem like an alternative, but it’s not. The nation’s payment system is automated for efficiency. Even if the Treasury Department could find enough fountain pens, paper ledgers and green eye shades to un-automate, there are too many bills and too few Treasury employees to make it work. Most of them at home, furloughed.

Nebraska’s senior senator, Mike Johanns, has voted both for and against past debt ceiling increases, but hasn’t said whether he would support an increase this month. He did say, however, that he’s worried about the situation. Aren’t we all?