Government in bits and pieces

As constituents begin bringing the heat to Washington lawmakers about the government shutdown, the Republican majority in the House tried Tuesday to re-open pieces of the government they closed hours earlier.

First, House leaders sought to reopen such  Washington tourist attractions as the National Zoo, Smithsonian Institution and the memorials to Presidents Lincoln and Washington, veterans of the Vietnam and World War II , Holocaust victims and other sites.

Second, they tried to reopen the flow of federal funding to the District of Columbia. DC residents pay taxes like all Americans but, because the federal government does not pay taxes on any of the DC real estate it occupies, it sends money to the district to pay its share. During the 1995-’96 shutdowns, garbage collection in DC was one of the first casualties, and the capital soon became a stinky mess.

Finally, the House attempted to restore funding so veterans’ benefit would continue.

All three measures failed because, rather than following normal procedure that allows them to pass bills by a simple majority, House leaders chose to bring them to the floor using a procedure that requires the approval of two-thirds of the members. Republicans hold a majority, but they need the votes of Democrats to reach that higher threshold, and the Democrats have so-far objected to funding government in bits and pieces.

Less than a full day into the shutdown, Washington had already become an ugly place. A planeload of World War II veterans, the  85- and 90-year-old remnants of America’s Greatest Generation was turned away from the World War II Memorial because all National Park Service sites have been closed. They were fortunately “rescued” by a group from Capitol Hill that moved some of the barricades so they could enter.

The barriers were replaced first-thing Wednesday morning, but the closed memorial and the more planeloads of elderly veterans arriving later on “honor flights” from the states was too fine of a photo-op for Republicans to miss. A group of far-right members of Congress, including Rep. Michele Bachman, joined the Republican National Chairman there as he unveiled a check to pay for five security guards to protect the 7.4-acre memorial during the shutdown.

In another largely symbolic move Tuesday, House Republicans selected what are called “conferees” to negotiate with the Senate to resolve their differences on H.J. Res. 59 and reopen the government. Traditionally, conflicts in budget bills are hashed out in meetings between members of the House and Senate. Those conferences are typically held early in the year, however, so Congress can pass a complete budget during the Spring.

But House Republicans had already poisoned that well by declining 18 earlier invitations from the Senate to meet. Besides, there is no budget pending to keep the government open for a full year. The current resolution would only keep the government open through Nov. 15 — a mere six weeks. The only conflict preventing continuing government operation is the Affordable Care Act. Both sides are taking an all-or-nothing stance on Obamacare.

What that means for Nebraskans is that they should step away from the mail box.  Mail will continue to be delivered, but no one in Washington is working to process your passport application, tax return,  security clearance or Small Business Administration loan. If you do business with the federal government, there will be no new contracts to bid on and no checks processed to pay for the work you’ve already done.  You can’t even start planning your family vacation to Yellowstone next year because most federal websites have closed, too.

Why all the problems? Because killing Obamacare is more important to some Republicans than keeping the government going.  Republicans have spent the past three decades gerrymandering congressional districts to the point where they don’t have to worry about re-election. In most districts, there is no way a Republican congressman could ever lose anyone other than another Republican candidate. If you don’t vote for them, there are plenty of others who will.

And you thought it was only federal employees who were non-essential.

Washington Drama Queens

Legislation to continue funding the federal government after Monday, continues to ping-pong between the House and the Senate.

In Sunday’s wee hours, the House passed a new version of H.J. Res. 59, the Continuing Appropriations Resolution 2014, with a poison pill potent enough to ensure its rejection by the Senate.

By a vote of 231-192, the House agreed to send to the Senate a measure that would keep the government open for another six weeks, until Dec. 15, but would delay the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, for a year and would delay contraceptive coverage for women from employer-paid health insurance policies.

All three of Nebraska’s members of Congress, Lee Terry, Adrian Smith and Jeff Fortenberry, voted for the measure.

Just two days earlier, the Senate stripped out a similar attempt to kill Obamacare and passed a “clean” funding measure on a vote of 54-44, with both Nebraska senators, Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer, voting against the clean bill.

Although the Republicans control the House, Democrats control the Senate. With the votes of just 51 of the 54 Democrats in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid could essentially kill the House’s version of the resolution. That would only add pressure to Speaker John Boehner to come up with a spending measure that does not defund the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Reid has assured Boehner that a provision to kill or delay Obamacare will never pass the Senate and, even if does, it faces a certain veto from President Obama, and Republicans lack the votes to override that veto.

Altogether, it means a government shutdown at 12:01 Tuesday, the same day Americans now without health insurance can start shopping for coverage. The full roll-out of the Affordable Care Act begins Jan. 1.

The House’s move to delay Obamacare for a year seems to be just a set-up for continuing chaos in Washington. Twelve months from now, the House will still be controlled by the Republicans, the Democrats will still control the Senate, and President Obama will still be president. Because the Republican measure funds the government only until Dec. 15, the likelihood of a government shutdown over the holidays would continue to loom large.

The House also passed a provision Sunday that would keep paychecks flowing to the military personnel in the event of a shutdown, but some 7,000 other government employees would be without paychecks for the duration.

Also looming on the horizon is the additional drama that will come in October from raising the debt ceiling. House Republicans now plan to hold an increase in the debt ceiling hostage to a laundry list of GOP priorities, including a year-long delay of the ACA and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Raising the debt ceiling has nothing to do with future government spending. It merely gives the government the authorization to pay the bills that Congress has already incurred from previous budgets. By not raising the debt ceiling, Congress ensures that government bills will go unpaid.

Defaulting on financial obligations has much the same creditworthy-crashing effect on our government as it would on any household, only the impact on world markets would be 300 million percent larger.

More chaos. More drama. When does it stop?

Trickling down in Nebraska

With the House of Representatives having just passed a stunning $40 billion cut in food assistance to the poor, it’s a good time to examine the relationship between federal budgets and state budges.

A large percentage of the money in any state’s budget comes from the federal government. It may be as little as 20 percent in Alaska, or as much as 49 percent in Mississippi. In Nebraska, exactly 36. 23 percent of Nebraska’s general revenues in 2012 came from the federal government, according to the Tax Foundation.

The means that more than one-third of the dollars used to run the state of Nebraska every year, comes from the federal government. It also means that when Congress makes deep cuts to the federal budget, your state lawmakers have to make the hard decision to either cut state services or replace those federal dollars by raising state sales and income taxes.

Either decision means a loss for Nebraskans: Less money in their pockets or fewer services to meet their needs. And, when the state government has less money, it gives less money to counties, cities, school districts, and universities.

City parks are not maintained, teacher-student ratios get larger, tuition goes up, fewer police officers patrol the streets, and libraries close early. That is, unless city and school officials decide to make up for those lost state dollars by raising your property and city sales taxes. Again, a lose-lose scenario for Nebraskans.

Most Nebraskans are justifiably concerned about federal debt and deficits. As responsible, educated people, they know trillion-dollar deficits aren’t good for our country. We are a hardy people, used to weathering storms and making sacrifices. We’d love to see more fiscal discipline in Washington, and most of us would be happy to see cuts or an end to some of the programs that those in our nation’s Capitol deem essential.

The problem is that Nebraskans in Washington are never going to ask you what you can live without — what you want to see cut. Moreover, your House and Senate members are never going to tell you how the decisions they make will impact individual Nebraskans — you, your family, your neighbors, your fellow congregants.

And your governor and state lawmakers are never going to ask you whether it’s worth it to you to pay a few more dollars in taxes to replace the money that Washington didn’t send. They aren’t going to ask you which budget holes that Washington created are the ones you think are important enough to fill with state money.

In fact, no politicians on any level will ever talk about the individual effects that will come from service cuts. They don’t want it to ever occur to you that they are in any way responsible for, say,  bigger potholes, longer waits at the DMV, or your nephew’s lost job.

If it ever occurs to you that the lawmakers you voted for are responsible for your inconvenience — the camping trip your family can’t take because of an early shut-down of some state parks — it will also occur to you that the people you elected are not the wonderful folks looking out for your best interests that you thought they were when you were in the voting booth.

Compared to some other states, politics is a polite sport in Nebraska. School board members, university regents, mayors, state lawmakers, the governor — none of them are willing to point the finger at anyone else when cuts have to be made. Why? Because they have their own pet legislation to pass, agendas to pursue, and ambitions to fill. Everybody gets along better when they all go along.

You Voted for them Nebraska, tries to avoid intrastate politics. There are other people, organizations and sites that do that and do it very well. We just want to remind you that there is a very real connection between the budgets passed in Washington and the quality of your life in Nebraska.

Sources cited: The Tax Foundation, taxfoundation.org

© uvoted4them, 2013

Banana Republic Budgets

By tradition, Congress passes 12 bills every year that make up the annual federal budget. Normally, the bills are passed in mid-April, well before the start of the government’s new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

For the past four years, however, Congress has failed to pass a budget and the American government has been financed through a legislative device known as a continuing resolution. Continuing resolutions  authorize the government to continue spending at current, increased or decreased levels for a specific period of time.

The current budget crisis is the result of the expiration of one continuing resolution on Sept. 30, the last year of the government’s fiscal year and the Congress’ failure to pass either a new budget or a new continuing resolution that would fund the government starting Oct. 1.

With no spending authority from Congress, the government must shut down all non-essential operations. Hundreds of thousands of government employees will not report for work and will not be paid during the shutdown. The military, border patrol and Coast Guard will continue operating, but the men and women in those services will likely not be paid until the government reopens.

The United States government went through a government shutdown for 21 days in late 1995 and early 1996. The effects were limited because Congress had already passed some of the 12 budget bills. This year, however, Congress has passed none of the bills, so the effects of shutdown would be widespread.

Budget-by-continuing-resolution has created a series of crises over the past few years more befitting a Banana Republic than a superpower with the world’s largest economy. The same could be said for the chaos involved in raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Congress, however, has chosen chaos over order because Republicans believe last-minute brinksmanship over the budget or debt ceiling gives them greater negotiating power with the Democratic president and senate.

The country of Egypt is in chaos because factions within Egypt do not like the president that was democratically elected. The situation there is not unlike that in Washington, where factions within the Republican Party do not like the democratically elected American president. Compromise and negotiation are the American way, the democratic way, the way this democracy has worked for more than 200 years.  If you are tired of the drama, tell your congressman and tell your senator.

Brinksmanship

The House of Representatives began debate Thursday on measures that would fund the government after Sept. 30, giving an official form to the war over a government shutdown.

The spending measure, however, is paired with one that would repeal Obamacare. There is very little chance that anti-health care reform senators could muster enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate to defund Obamacare, so the House opposition is largely ceremonial.

Even if Republicans do find the votes, President Obama has promised to veto any bill that cuts funding for Obamacare.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the leading rhetorical bomb-thrower in the Affordable Care Act fight, concedes that defunding the ACA has little chance in the Senate, so it will be up to the Republican-controlled House to make the last stand.

Over the summer, Cruz and the conservative Heritage Foundation staged a nationwide series of anti-Obamacare rallies. His backtrack has attracted understandable criticism from House members. The House has voted 41 times to defund Obamacare, while Cruz’s fight has been limited to rallies, Tweets and Facebook posts, which have given him a measure of Republican celebrity, but have contributed nothing to the legislative process.

Nebraska’s delegation is divided by the issues.

Sen. Deb Fischer — Supports the strategy to tie Obamacare to continued funding of the government. Fischer told Nebraska Radio Network on Thursday that she doesn’t want a government shutdown, but that it might be the only way to force her colleagues in Washington to begin to take seriously the issue of spending and debt. nebraskaradionetwork.com

Sen. Mike Johanns — Has opposed Obamacare, but also described efforts to tie Obamacare to a government shutdown as “not a realistic plan.”The senior senator from Nebraska also noted that the ruckus being raised by Sens. Cruz, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky was good for the trio’s presidential aspirations but would not be good for the country.

Rep. Lee Terry (1st District) — Supports the Republican strategy. “Obamacare is worthy of throwing yourself on the sword,” he told U.S. News & World Reports. usnews.com

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (2nd District) — Told an August town hall that he would oppose measures that would lead to a government shutdown and noted that President Obama would never sign any legislation that defunded the ACA. Fortenberry also said he would like to avoid another round of indiscriminate, across-the-board sequester budget cuts.

Rep. Adrian Smith (3rd District) — His official web site shows past support for killing Obamacare and a desire for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, but does not address the current situation on either topic. There were no related returns on a Google search.