Casey’s inability to cut par for course with D.C. Dems

September 8, 2006 at 8:28 am

Bob Casey Jr.’s inability to answer Tim Russert’s question last week — “name one federal program you would cut” — is a clear indication that he would fit in very nicely with fellow liberals in the United States Senate.

Robert Novak:

“There are lots of ways to cut,” said Casey. He quickly added “the first thing you have to do” is raise taxes on the top 1 percent of income by rolling back Bush tax reductions. He suggested closing “some tax loopholes” — mentioning only “offshore tax loopholes” (an issue ignored since Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign). Drawing on experience in Pennsylvania state government as former auditor general and current treasurer, Casey said, “Sometimes you try to limit the number of consultants.”

That dismal response will not lose for Casey what has been considered the surest Democratic chance for a Republican-held Senate seat. The problem facing Democrats is the dilemma if they gain control of the government in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Casey, a moderate liberal, is typical of Democrats unwilling to downsize social welfare programs. After pummeling Republicans about budget deficits, their only recourse is higher taxes — a course fraught with political and economic perils…

…Only when Russert asked his balanced budget question did Casey justify his reputation as a less than stalwart political debater. All he could think of immediately was “to repeal the tax cut for people making over $200,000 a year” — a tax increase for the rich. Russert responded that would bring in only $56 billion a year against a deficit of over $200 billion. However, its negative effect on the economy probably would produce much less than the estimated revenue. Not surprisingly, the recap of the debate playing on Casey’s website eliminated the entire dialogue about spending…

…Casey is in the same niche with fellow Democrats in proposing large amounts of new spending for domestic social welfare programs. He has supported Kerry’s 2005 “Kids Come First Act” costing $100 billion over five years. Last Oct. 14, Casey advocated for nearly $300 million more in small business funding than President Bush proposed. On March 18, he called for $8 billion more in pre-kindergarten programs.

Again, Chris Matthew’s reaction seems appropriate:

Congressional salaries at all time low…

July 10, 2006 at 3:50 pm

…well, as compared to average annual incomes. The Influence Peddler comments on a recent Roll Call report showing the trend. This comes as the Senate is preparing to vote on a congressional pay raise — a vote that will no doubt be opposed by Republican Senators who are up for reelection this fall.

Coburn bill would open up government to net

July 5, 2006 at 11:11 am

Grants, contracts and other government tax-payer funded transactions are notorious for being frought with waste and abuse. A good way to fix the problem is to pull back the veil of secrecy and let everyone look in on the behind the scenes machinations. The internet provides the tools for this to happen, and a new bill proposed by Senators Tom Coburn and Barrack Obama would help make this a reality.

Exasperated by his party’s failure to cut government spending, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, is seeking cyberhelp.

Mr. Coburn wants to create a public database, searchable over the Internet, that would list most government contracts and grants — exposing hundreds of billions in annual spending to instant desktop view.

Type in “Halliburton,” the military contractor, or “Sierra Club,” the environmental group, for example, and a search engine would show all the federal money they receive. A search for the terms “Alaska” and “bridges” would expose a certain $223 million span to Gravina Island (population 50) that critics call the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

While advocating for openness, Mr. Coburn is also placing a philosophical bet that the more the public learns about federal spending, the less it will want.

John McCain a blogger?

June 28, 2006 at 2:26 pm

Arizona Senator John McCain today posts for the first time ever on a blog. Check it out over at Porkbusters.

Bush talks tough on spending

June 27, 2006 at 2:03 pm

President Bush today commended the House of Representatives for passing line-item veto legislation and ecouraged the Senate to follow suit. The Senate will likely consider the measure after the July 4th recess as part of the Stop Overspending Act of 2006. The SOS Act, a comprehensive budget process reform act, faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

Bush also took aim at the congressional earmarking practice:

I believe another crucial test for the Congress is to whether or not the Congress will pass a line-item veto. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. A line-item veto would be a vital tool that a President could use to target spending that lawmakers tack on to the large spending bills. That’s called earmarking, and that’s become quite a controversial subject here in Washington, D.C.

I happen to believe that a lot of times earmarking results in unnecessary spending. See, part of the job of the President and the leaders in the Congress is to set priorities with the people’s money. If you don’t set priorities, the tendency is to overspend. And sometimes — a lot of times, the earmark doesn’t fit into the priorities that have been sent through the budgetary process. A lot of times earmarks are inserted into bills at the last minute, which leaves no time, or little time, for debate. Part of the process — a good process is one in which members are able to debate whether or not spending meets a priority, whether it makes sense. Earmark sponsors are often not required to provide their colleagues with a reasoned justification for proposed spending. And not surprisingly, the process often results in spending that would not have survived had it not been subject — subjected to closer scrutiny. Part of a good legislative process is for members to take a good look at whether or not a spending request meets a priority or not.

Billions in Katrina funding wasted

June 27, 2006 at 8:14 am

I hesitate to link to this story because the NY Times is running it…and let’s just say I am less than enamored with that outfit right now. But link I must because this story is huge. According to the Times, rampant fraud and abuse associated with Congressionally approved funding for Katrina-cleanup is costing the taxpayer billions. Are you surprised? I am not.

A hotel owner in Sugar Land, Tex., has been charged with submitting $232,000 in bills for phantom victims. And roughly 1,100 prison inmates across the Gulf Coast apparently collected more than $10 million in rental and disaster-relief assistance.

There are the bureaucrats who ordered nearly half a billion dollars worth of mobile homes that are still empty, and renovations for a shelter at a former Alabama Army base that cost about $416,000 per evacuee.

And there is the Illinois woman who tried to collect federal benefits by claiming she watched her two daughters drown in the rising New Orleans waters. In fact, prosecutors say, the children did not exist.

The tally of ignoble acts linked to Hurricane Katrina, pulled together by The New York Times from government audits, criminal prosecutions and Congressional investigations, could rise because the inquiries are under way.

Even in Washington, a city accustomed to government bloat, the numbers are generating amazement.

“The blatant fraud, the audacity of the schemes, the scale of the waste — it is just breathtaking,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Yes, Senator Collins, it is breathtaking…but I don’t recall you joining a chorus of House-side conservatives who expressed their fear that this would happen and attempted to offset the funding. Look for the pols to line up and condemn the waste as fast as possible now…but someone needs to ask them why they didn’t see this coming at the time. After all, it was foreseeable:

Such an outcome was feared soon after Congress passed the initial hurricane relief package, as officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross acknowledged that their systems were overwhelmed and tried to create new ones on the fly.

“We did, in fact, put into place never-before-used and untested processes,” Donna M. Dannels, acting deputy director of recovery at FEMA, told a House panel this month. “Clearly, because they were untested, they were more subject to error and fraud.”

When you rush, for political purposes, to appropriate billions and billions of dollars, so as not be appear callous to the very real suffering of Gulf Coast victims, you are bound to be careless with American’s tax dollars.

UPDATE: A reader emails the following:

There are two issues……how you pay for the relief (which conservatives rightfully made a big deal about)…..and how the money is actually spend (which I have yet to see a House side conservative really talk about…probably so they don’t embarass the Administration).

In fact, I think Collins is the only R out there talking about how the money was wasted. If you want to beat her up on the first issue….fine…….but don’t say that the House conservatives (like Mike Pence) are stronger on the second issue, because they are MIA.

The reader also points out that Collins did read a statement into the Congressional record in May of 2005 that highlighted waste fraud and abuse issues within FEMA.

Point taken…but a few additional points should be made.

One, there are other Republicans talking about this. Tom Coburn for one…Coburn has a bill right now that actually would be helpful in this regard. The Coburn/Obama database bill would create a database of all federal grants and contracts that would be searchable by citizen investigators. Watchdog groups and concerned individuals would be able to find out exactly how federal money is being spent. This would go a long way towards increasing transparency and rooting out fraud and abuse. It would be nice to see Senator Collins and some others help Coburn in that effort. Collins did to her credit support another Coburn bill creating a CFO to root out waste fraud and abuse within FEMA.

Two,isn’t it politically harder for house conservatives to raise the offset ruckus beforehand than it is for Collins and others to point out waste and abuse after the fact? Demanding offsets was politically unpopular at the time and it took guts. Granted, offsets and waste fraud and abuse would seem to be different issues on the surface, but to me they are both part of a larger issue: stewardship of American’s tax dollars. It would be nice to see Senators demand offsets on the front end, and then root out waste and abuse on the back end. That would be consistency as far as stewardship is concerned.

Finally, it is worth noting the actual votes for the Katrina funding. In May, the Senate passed yet another emergency supplemental bill appropriating funding to Katrina cleanup. For the most part, it was only the fiscal conservatives in the Senate who voted against the funding (see roll call). At the staggering tally of $103 billion, those votes seemed appropriate.

Pence, Hensarling take aim at wasteful spending

June 23, 2006 at 9:27 am

The Hill’s e-newsletter reports:

Next stop on the conservative crusade to curb federal spending: Washington’s own Metrorail system. A pair of prominent House conservatives sent House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) a letter Thursday asking the two leaders to postpone a scheduled vote next week on the National Capital Transportation Amendments Act until appropriators find offsets to balance funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the RSC budget director, wrote the GOP leaders to oppose federal funding for select Metrorail upgrades, which includes 340 new rail cars, 275 new buses, two new underground pedestrian walkways, each linking a different pair of downtown stations, and a number of other construction projects.

The letter sent by Pence and Hensarling can be read here.

A step toward fiscal sanity

June 22, 2006 at 7:37 pm

The House today passed the line item veto.

Reps. Kingston and Doolittle on Line Item Veto, Immigration

June 21, 2006 at 3:01 pm

Congressmen Jack Kingston and John Doolittle today conducted a conference call with conservative bloggers.

Kingston noted that the line item veto would be on the floor tomorrow. He granted that some appropriators would vote against it but said that he and Doolittle, both appropriators, would vote for it.

Regarding the House’s plans for hearings on immigration, the plan is to come back after August and work on a bill that can pass Congress. Doolittle says the hearings are necessary to “understand what really is in the Senate bill.”

John Hawkins asked if the hearings strategy meant the bill was dead for the year. Kingston said he “hopes not” and that he “sure as heck would not support this if this were just a way to let it die slowly.”

I asked the Congressmen if they were content with coming back from the summer and passing another tough border security bill even if it meant no final bill coming from Congress. They both appeared to be comfortable with the possibility and noted the political unpopularity of the Senate’s amnesty bill. “I would hate to pin my reelection and the House majority on the Senate’s [position],” said Kingston.

Kingston and Doolittle acknowledge there may be a need to “forcefeed the Senate” on the issue of immigration by swaying public opinion over the summer. “We also find seperating ourselves from the Senate is helpful,” said Kingston. Doolittle noted the institutional difference between the House and Senate: only one third of the Senate is facing the voters in the fall, everyone in the House is. Kingston thinks that, “Seperating ourselves from the Senate the closer we get to November may be standard operating procedure.”