Congress Can’t Get Anything Done Because Lawmakers Are Never In Washington

With the 113th Congress shaping up to be the least productive in six decades, freshman Representative David Jolly (R-Fla.) has a novel idea to increase legislative productivity: Require lawmakers to work the same five-day 9-to-5 schedule that most working Americans already follow.

Lawmakers in the House typically show up on Capitol Hill on Monday just in time to make a 6:30 p.m. vote and are usually nowhere to be found come Thursday afternoon. Other times lawmakers work a Tuesday to Friday workweek, typically with a light load on Friday.

In a letter to his esteemed colleagues on the House Rules Committee, Jolly suggested that all the time off could be part of the reason Congress can’t seem to get anything done.

“A work week in Washington should be no different than a work week in every other town across America. A change in the rules of the House to reflect that very basic principle is one that we as a House, as Republicans and Democrats, and most importantly as representatives of our neighbors and fellow Americans, should swiftly adopt,” Jolly wrote in his letter.

The House will be in session for only 110 days total this year, which, according to Jolly, is not enough time to take on the major issues facing the nation today.

“We should be in session more. We cannot rightfully address the many concerns of the American people like the national debt, tax reform, national security and education if we are not in session,” Jolly said.

But Jolly says that the issue is about more than making sure lawmakers spend more days at the Capitol; he wants to be sure that each lawmaker is giving American taxpayers at least 40 hours each week.

“I would respectfully request that your subcommittee require for any week that Congress is in session in Washington D.C. that such session run from 8:00 a.m. on Monday until 6:00 p.m. on Friday. Simply put, a work week is a work week. Our efforts should reflect those of every other working American,” he added in his letter.

The House and Senate adjourned on Thursday after just eight unproductive days in Congress’ latest session on the heels of its five-week August recess. Lawmakers were itching to hit the midterm campaign trail.

Rand Paul Delivers Pro-Liberty Message, Rips GOP

ALEXANDRIA, Va.Either Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) knows how to pander to a friendly crowd or reports of the lawmaker’s gradual abandonment of some libertarian values have been exaggerated. Likely, it’s a combination of the two.

Paul on Thursday spoke to attendees of the Liberty Political Action Conference, delivering a pro-liberty message and criticizing the GOP for the exclusionary politics that have stunted the growth of the party’s voter base.

The senator’s speech, which covered everything from President Barack Obama’s latest illegal war to the stupidity behind harsh anti-marijuana laws, was chock-full of decidedly pro-liberty, pro-Constitution messaging.

“So we just finished celebrating Constitution week,” Paul began, discussing how some lawmakers had chosen to pay tribute to the nation’s fundamental legal document.

“Barack Obama celebrated by doing one more unconstitutional thing,” he continued, before criticizing the president’s reversal on 2007 promises that he wouldn’t lead the nation into war without the consent of Congress.

“Apparently, that was good as a candidate but not so good as a president,” Paul said.

Failure to follow the Constitution and keep campaign promises is a problem that Obama shares with many elected officials, the lawmaker said, adding that he highly recommends “un-election” whenever that’s the case.

Moving along to an issue that Paul has tackled head-on, the senator discussed the disturbing militarization of police recently on display in Ferguson, Missouri.

Paul said he’s wondered “What went wrong?” in Ferguson as he ponders legislative solutions to the problem.

In the lawmaker’s view, the militarization is a negative consequence of other misguided policing trends and laws put into place over the past several decades.

“Maybe it’s that we went crazy somehow…” Paul said. “In a situation where there’s a hostage-taker, you want the police to be aggressive. But if someone’s got some pot, do you want them to break down the door at 2 in the morning with masks and tear gas and concussion grenades?”

The senator explained that such raids often have devastating consequences. As a specific example, he told the story of 19-month-old Bounkham “Bou” Phonesavanh who was left clinging to life earlier this year after a concussion grenade was thrown into his playpen during a drug raid in Georgia.

“Why are we doing this?” Paul exclaimed.

Other anecdotes in the speech served to answer his question: Government is too big.

The senator told the audience that change will come only as Americans dedicated to shrinking the size of government are elected to office — and that means letting more voices be heard at the conservative table.

Paul derided Republicans for inhibiting their own ability to win elections by failing to appeal to people outside of their base pool of supporters.

“So many times, Republicans are seen as this party of, ‘We don’t want black people to vote because they’re voting Democrat; we don’t want Hispanic people to vote because they’re voting Democrat,’” he said. “We wonder why the Republican Party is so small. Why don’t we be the party that’s for people voting, for voting rights?”

That’s where liberty-minded voters come in, the senator noted, saying: “The bottom line is we’re not winning — at least the big office, the presidency. We’re often not winning the statewide races, and we’re not winning because we don’t have enough people.”

“I think the liberty movement has actually been more open to receiving people of all walks of life,” Paul said. “… That’s how you win elections.”

The senator ended the speech with a quote from former Congressman Ron Paul, his father and LPAC organizer: “Freedom is popular.”

Daily Read: Conservation Through Capitalism

Government conservation efforts that attempt to protect the wildlife and the environment often include business and individual regulations that create a negative economic impact. In the case of endangered species, outright bans on goods such as ivory create confusion and do little to stop poaching in the countries where a buck can still be made trading the material.

A recent Vice Media interview with New Zealand wildlife conservationist Roger Beattie offers a lesson in capitalism 101: When people have an economic incentive to protect one of Mother Nature’s gifts, they usually will.

Vice’s Soong Phoon writes:

Roger Beattie is a New Zealand wildlife magnate. He runs several enterprises: a kelp farm, an organic sheep farm, and a reserve for weka, or Maori hen. Considering his environmental pedigree after spending 14 years working in conservation, he’s the last person you’d expect to be encouraging people to eat New Zealand’s famous, beloved, and endangered native birds.

Native birds like the weka are in decline due to predation in the wild. Beattie is vocal about the fact that endangered native birds need to be farmed for consumption to help sustain the animal’s populations. He believe there is a huge potential market for the meat due to its taboo nature, and tourists and exotic food lovers will pay the high prices to make it sustainable. It’s probably not going to blow any minds that this emphatic farmer isn’t best mates with the New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

The best quote in the interview is Beattie’s reasoning behind identifying market solutions: “If private individuals want to do conservationist things, there should be no impediment. We farm native paua, plenty of people are propagating native trees — but certain native species can’t be farmed. No species that have ever been farmed have ever died out. Since man has been in New Zealand, we’ve lost 44 bird species because they were protected. If you’ve got the choice between something being protected and dying, and something being farmed and thriving, that’s not much of a choice.”

Read the full interview on Vice’s “Munchies” blog.

Left Hand, Meet Right Hand: Pentagon Discusses Ground Troops In Iraq

The Obama administration has repeatedly insisted that its plan to respond the Islamic State terror threat in Iraq and Syria will not involve ground troops. But top Pentagon officials told lawmakers Tuesday that they plan to recommend U.S. boots on the ground.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told a Senate panel that, if necessary, U.S. troops would “accompany” Iraqi soldiers on the ground in an advisory role. He also discussed the possibility of U.S. troops in Iraq taking active combat roles by calling in airstrikes from the ground.

“To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [ISIS] targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

President Barack Obama said during a speech last week that his administration wasn’t even considering the possibility of U.S. boots on the ground in the battle against ISIS. But Dempsey suggested that Obama’s position on the matter is less black and white than the administration has suggested.

“At this point, his stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat,” Dempsey said. “But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Dempsey’s suggesting that boots on the ground could become necessary is likely a calculated effort to ease Americans toward the reality of a forthcoming renewal of full-scale military operations in the Middle East. After all, Obama’s strategy was only officially made public last week. So — barring what military officials know from decades of U.S. meddling in Middle Eastern affairs — it seems a little early to plan for failure.

The defense official, joined by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, classified the U.S. as being “at war” with ISIS. The military leaders also appeared to suggest that Americans should plan for long-term involvement in the region, saying that ISIS’s defeat will only ultimately come as generations of radical Muslims are overtaken by more moderate adherents to the religion.

“This will not look like ‘shock and awe’ because that is not how [ISIS] is organized, but it will be persistent and sustainable,” Dempsey said.

In Syria, the officials suggested that training rebels fighting ISIS is the best approach to coincide with efforts in Iraq.

White House deflected wildly when asked about the defense officials’ remarks on possible boots on the ground.

“As was clear from General Dempsey’s remarks he was referring to a hypothetical scenario in which there might be a future situation in which he might make a tactical recommendation to the president as it relates to ground the use of ground troops,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

The president is scheduled to further discuss ISIS strategies with military leaders on Wednesday.

Spreading Democracy: Afghanistan Requests A Bailout

The U.S. has spent billions of taxpayer dollars to fund military invasions and government manipulation in a decadeslong effort to “spread democracy” in the region. Meanwhile, American citizens have suffered widespread economic uncertainty, been terrorized by corporate greed run amok and have witnessed the federal government’s inability, or unwillingness, to protect the country’s borders.

The U.S. has failed in its effort to export democracy — take a look at Iraq. But America does seem to have taught the Afghan government a thing or two about reckless economic stupidity.

Afghan officials said Tuesday that the nation is broke and in need of an immediate $537 million bailout to keep its government open.

The Afghan government hopes to get the money from the U.S. and other international donors within the next week, according to a report in The Washington Post.

“We hope they will pay for us, and we are asking at once,” Afghan treasury director Alhaj M. Aqa said. “They are asking me when I need it, and I told them this week or we will have a problem.”

The budget shortfall could affect as many as 500,000 government employees in the country, including 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police.

Afghanistan’s economic officials say that the shortfall in its $7.6 billion budget is the result of a 25 percent drop in domestic revenues during political campaigning in the country. A yearlong presidential election, they claim, made international investors nervous and Afghans unwilling to spend.

Here’s the funny thing: About 65 percent of the country’s budget already comes from foreign aid and the U.S. has spent more than $100 billion in the country.

Boehner Calls House Republican Colleagues ‘Knuckleheads’ For Challenging Establishment

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized Republicans who disagree with his positions on Tuesday, telling members of the International Franchise Association, “I have a few knuckleheads in my conference.”

The jibe came in the midst of remarks on the dangers of a politicized National Labor Relations Board with the power to exercise the will of whichever party controls the Oval Office at a given time.

Reforming President Barack Obama’s NLRB has been a top Republican priority for some time.

From the Senate floor Tuesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that a Republican-controlled Senate could make that goal a reality.

“Everybody’s familiar with the president’s unconstitutional effort to pack the National Labor Relations Board with liberal partisans in early 2012,” McConnell said. “It’s time to restore balance to the National Labor Relations Board. Let’s take the politics out of it.”

McConnell’s remarks were made in support of the NLRB Reform Act proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

“It would restore the NLRB to its proper role as an umpire, instead of an advocate for the Right or the Left,” McConnell said. “It’s the kind of thing our constituents want to see us doing: standing up for reform and against entrenched political interests.”

The Alexander bill would increase the NLRB’s five members to six, three from each political party.

But, as Boehner noted, majority isn’t always king in getting legislation passed.

During his Franchise Association speech, the House Republican lamented that he has a “paper majority” because some members of his party don’t toe the establishment line.

“On any given day, 16 of my members decide they’re going to go this way, and all the sudden I have nothing,” Boehner said. “You might notice I have a few knuckleheads in my conference.”

Boehner was likely referring to disagreements he’s had with more conservative members of his party this year. In February, the House leader declared that politicians with Tea Party ties had “lost all credibility” as budget-related drama unfolded in Washington.

Pro-business lobbyists are in Washington this week urging Congress to take action on NLRB reform.

 

Daily Read: On Poverty, Another War We Lost

The Daily Signal’s Robert Rector in a Tuesday commentary tells us what the federal government has been able to accomplish after 50 years and $22 trillion taxpayer dollars spent waging President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Not much.

From the piece:

Over 100 million people, about one third of the U.S. population, received aid from at least one welfare program at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient in 2013. If converted into cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all poverty in the U.S.

But today the Census will almost certainly proclaim that around 14 percent of Americans are still poor. The present poverty rate is almost exactly the same as it was in 1967 a few years after the War on Poverty started. Census data actually shows that poverty has gotten worse over the last 40 years.

How is this possible? How can the taxpayers spend $22 trillion on welfare while poverty gets worse?

The answer is it isn’t possible. Census counts a family as poor if its income falls below specified thresholds. But in counting family “income,” Census ignores nearly the entire $943 billion welfare state.

For most Americans, the word “poverty” means significant material deprivation, an inability to provide a family with adequate nutritious food, reasonable shelter and clothing. But only a small portion of the more than 40 million people labelled as poor by Census fit that description.

Johnson’s goal was to give poor Americans the tools needed to pull themselves out of the poverty cycle, and he even sold his War on Poverty plan by discussing how it would shrink welfare doles.

Of course, the federal government has made great gains in power anytime it has declared “war” on anything (drugs, terror) and gladly spends about two-thirds of the nation’s overall budget on warfare and welfare (defense, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security). In any free-market system, more power would come with more responsibility to demonstrate results. But the smoke and mirrors of the nation’s modern economy absolve leaders of that responsibility with unnatural economic meddling.

Thus, what look like failures to reduce poverty are, in reality, part of a larger economic problem that has to be answered by the leaders of a warfare/welfare state. And the left isn’t the only group at fault. Neoconservatives, while spending much time speaking out against domestic programs that make people dependent on government, are often all too happy to create international disturbances that leave people in far-off lands dependent on U.S. military welfare. I think we call it “spreading freedom.”

Next time a Barack Obama talks about hope and change through big domestic programs or a John McCain discusses safety through military adventurism, Americans who can no longer afford to be aloof must demand clear results.

We’ve seen three wars failed in the past half-century (drugs, terror and poverty); how many more can we afford to lose?

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” — George W. Bush from Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

Bad Politics On Crack: Rethinking Mandatory Minimums Would Save Taxpayers Billions Of Dollars

The Congressional Budget Office reports that legislation designed to give federal judges more discretion in sentencing nonviolent drug offenders would save U.S. taxpayers more than $4 billion over a decade.

Over the past 30 years, the number of inmates in America’s prisons has increased by 500 percent, due in large part to federal sentencing requirements put in place as a result of the never-ending War on Drugs. Bipartisan legislation put forth by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) earlier this month would incrementally “modernize” drug-sentencing policies.

“Our current scheme of mandatory minimum sentences is irrational and wasteful,” Lee said of the legislation last month. “By targeting particularly egregious mandatory minimums and returning discretion to federal judges in an incremental manner, the Smarter Sentencing Act takes an important step forward in reducing the financial and human cost of outdated and imprudent sentencing polices.”

According to the CBO’s numbers, the lawmakers’ Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 would, between 2015 and 2024, give as many as 250,000 nonviolent offenders the opportunity for release earlier than under current law.

The reduction in the prison population would save American taxpayers about $4.36 billion over the same period.

“Today’s CBO report proves that not only are mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses often unfair, they are also fiscally irresponsible,” Durbin said. “By making the incremental, targeted changes that Senator Lee and I have proposed in our Smarter Sentencing Act, we can save taxpayers billions without jeopardizing public safety.”

The lawmakers have been careful to stress that their legislation would not repeal mandatory minimum sentences altogether but gives judges more power to sentence nonviolent offenders on a case-by-case basis.

The Smarter Sentencing Act currently pending in the Senate is just one portion of a national shift in attitudes about dealing with nonviolent drug crimes. The Obama administration has announced modest plans to shift the nation’s justice system away from mandatory sentences for low-level offenders, and the Department of Justice announced in April that it was considering clemency for thousands of prisoners sentenced under the laws.

Still, Congress is the only entity real power to reduce mandatory minimums. After all, it was a perfect storm of congressional knee-jerk reaction and electoral politics that created the laws in the first place.

As Eric Sterling, Counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, told NPR’s “This American Life” back in 1999:

The bottom line was the Republicans won in 1984 on the crime issue. They had beat up the Democrats. They had attacked the Democrats as soft. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate for president, went down in flames.

And so we now come to 1986, a year in which it is possible that the Democrats could retake the Senate, a year in which the stage is being set for the 1988 election, in which Reagan will not be on the ballot. And so in the overall national political calculus, Democrats are looking around for traction.

And then there was a famous overdose.

…So in June, 1986, at the end of the basketball season, the champion player from the University of Maryland basketball team, Len Bias, signs with the NBA champion team, the Boston Celtics, the team of the home town of House Speaker Tip O’Neill. Bias flies to Boston. He’s going to be the hope of the Celtics. Bias flies home. He’s celebrating with his friends. And he dies in the middle of the night from an overdose of cocaine of some kind.

The politicians politicked, the media frenzied and American Main Street became terrified of the crack cocaine epidemic it didn’t know it had before a celebrity who happened to have ties to the House Speaker died.

Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill got the “tough on drugs” legislative train rolling full speed ahead, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle attempting to outdo one another on drug sentencing laws. At some point, the campaign-fodder legislation outpaced reason.

… [I]t was being introduced at a point in which there was no longer an opportunity for hearings. We had no hearings,” Sterling said. “We did not consult with the Bureau of Prisons, or with the federal judiciary, or with DEA, or with the Justice Department, to at least find out from those folks what would be the effect of mandatory minimums. What are appropriate mandatory minimums?

…The numbers that we picked in the Judiciary Committee, the 20 grams of crack cocaine, would have triggered a five-year federal minimum. The Republicans in the Senate dropped the 20 grams to five grams and raised the– from five years to 40 years because the Republicans were going to be tougher.

Decades later, hundreds of thousands of lives stalled and billions of dollars spent, lawmakers are finally moving in the other direction. But with little political capital to gain from frantic headlines, don’t expect the reforms to come quickly.

The full 1999 NPR piece on mandatory minimums is worth a listen and available here.

 

Economic Patriotism: U.S. Ranks Near Last In Tax Competitiveness

Something’s rotten in the District of Columbia.

Democrats routinely claim that corporations in the U.S. lack “economic patriotism” and don’t pay their fair share in taxes. In fact, they claim, those corporations are so unpatriotic that President Barack Obama is currently working out a plan to prevent corporate tax inversions, where companies acquire assets outside the U.S. to avoid burdensome taxes.

The results of a recent study by the nonpartisan think tank Tax Foundation, however, neatly place a realist fly in the left’s hysterical ointment: Because of high corporate taxes and policies requiring taxation of profits made outside the country, only two developed nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on the entire planet have a tax code less friendly to business than the United States.

The Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index takes into account more than 40 tax policy variables in its inaugural ranking of 34 industrialized OECD nations. The U.S. ranked 32nd, beating only Portugal (33rd) and France (34th).

“The United States scores poorly largely because it maintains the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world at 39.1 percent and is one of the six remaining countries in the OECD with a worldwide system of taxation,” the Tax Foundation said.

The think tank also cited poorly structured property, individual, and capital gains and dividends taxes as contributors to the U.S.’s poor ranking.

Via the report’s executive summary:

The United States provides a good example of an uncompetitive tax code. The last major change to the U.S. tax code occurred 28 years ago as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, when Congress reduced the top marginal corporate income tax rate from 46 percent to 34 percent in an attempt to make U.S. corporations more competitive overseas. Since then, the OECD countries have followed suit, reducing the OECD average corporate tax rate from 47.5 percent in the early 1980s to around 25 percent today. The result: the United States now has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world.

While the corporate income tax rate is a very important determinant of economic growth and economic competitiveness, it is not the only thing that matters. The competitiveness of a tax code is determined by several factors. The structure and rate of corporate taxes, property taxes, income taxes, cost recovery of business investment, and whether a country has a territorial system are some of the factors that determine whether a country’s tax code is competitive.

The top spots on the list are held by relatively small OECD nations, meaning that, in a relative sense, the U.S.’s ranking isn’t quite as bad as it seems. Larger U.S. trading competitors rank closer to the bottom of the list: Japan (25th), Canada (24th), the United Kingdom (21st), and Germany (20th).

Here’s the full list:

  1. Estonia
  2. New Zealand
  3. Switzerland
  4. Sweden
  5. Australia
  6. Luxembourg
  7. Netherlands
  8. Slovak Republic
  9. Turkey
  10. Slovenia
  11. Finland
  12. Austria
  13. Korea
  14. Norway
  15. Ireland
  16. Czech Republic
  17. Denmark
  18. Hungary
  19. Mexico
  20. Germany
  21. United Kingdom
  22. Belgium
  23. Iceland
  24. Canada
  25. Japan
  26. Poland
  27. Greece
  28. Israel
  29. Chile
  30. Spain
  31. Italy
  32. United States
  33. Portugal
  34. France

Still, the authors of the report say that tax policymakers around the world should have an eye toward reform in the future.

In today’s globalized economy, the structure of a country’s tax code is an important factor for businesses when they decide where to invest. No longer can a country tax business investment and activity at a high rate without adversely affecting its economic performance. In recent years, many countries have recognized this fact and have moved to reform their tax codes to be more competitive. However, others have failed to do so and are falling behind the global movement.

Looks like it’s time for Democrats to rethink that economic patriotism line.

Read the full Tax Foundation report here.

Read This: WaPo Wonders If Rand Paul Is Leaving His Libertarian Leanings Behind

In a front-page article, The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold examines Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) evolving positions on everything from gay marriage to foreign aid.

Senators Speak on Repealing President Obama's Health Care Act in Washington
UPI FILE

Fahrenthold writes:

Sen. Rand Paul wanted to eliminate aid to Israel. Now he doesn’t. He wanted to scrap the Medicare system. Now he’s not sure.

He didn’t like the idea of a border fence — it was expensive, and it reminded him of the Berlin Wall. Now he wants two fences, one behind the other.

And what about same-sex marriage? Paul’s position — such marriages are morally wrong, but Republicans should stop obsessing about them — seems so muddled that an Iowa pastor recently confronted him in frustration.

“With all due respect, that sounds very retreatist of you,” minister Michael Demastus said he told Paul (R-Ky.) after the senator explained his position during a stop in Des Moines.

Paul has built a reputation as a libertarian ideologue, a Washington outsider guided by a rigid devotion to principle.

But his policy vision is, in fact, a work in progress. While he has maintained his core support for cutting spending and protecting Americans’ privacy rights, Paul has shaded, changed or dropped some of the ideas that he espoused as a tea party candidate and in his confrontational early days as a senator.

To be sure, Paul’s positions on many things have changed and damage has already been done among many people who initially supported him because of his relationship and similarity to another Paul. But what made Ron Paul so able to build a cult-like following was his unwillingness to play politics with his core libertarian beliefs — that’s also what precluded him from ever having a real shot at making it to the Oval Office.

Rand Paul has clearly demonstrated that he is willing to bend on certain issues to gain more mainstream appeal. The question is: How much can Paul evolve before he becomes a certified “for it before against it” flip-flopper?