The tragic rush-hour collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis on 8/1 should force an overdue examination of the Republican strategy of reducing government to the size where, as Grover Norquist famously said, "we can drown it in the bathtub."
A few hours before the bridge collapsed, the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank based in Chicago, issued a press release that congratulated Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) for issuing 20 full or partial vetoes of tax hikes and spending increases voted by the state Legislature. One of the vetoes blocked a $4.18 bln transportation bill containing tax and fee increases. Republicans stopped an attempt to override the veto with 20 minutes remaining in the legislative session. Earlier, on 5/1, he had vetoed a $334 mln "emergency" capital investment bill.
Those appropriations would have come too late to fix the Mississippi River bridge, of course, but budget-cutting has been a GOP article of faith for more than 25 years. The resulting neglect of the nation's infrastructure is beginning to show.
In a visit to the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis (8/6), President Bush vowed to aid in reconstruction efforts. But AP noted that "[n]early two years ago, with parts of New Orleans still under water after Hurricane Katrina, Bush made similar declarations in the French Quarter, promising that the government would 'stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.'" New Orleans City Councilwoman Shelley Midura remarked: "I'm sorry, it takes more than a simple sentence." The federal government has provided more than $116 bln to the Gulf Coast. But much of that was for emergency needs or short-term projects such as debris removal, levee work and housing assistance. Major reconstruction work has yet to begin in New Orleans, and city officials are still drafting a $1.1 billion recovery plan.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said both disasters underscore the need for greater investment in infrastructure. The same day the bridge collapsed, Bush threatened to veto a $20 bln water-projects bill he says was laden with pork-barrel programs.
Congress has approved $250 mln to help fix the Minnesota bridge. The government is also providing $5 mln to help remove debris and reroute traffic.
Steve Soto noted at theleftcoaster.com (8/3) that when a bipartisan majority in Congress in 2004 suggested increasing the gas tax by 4 cents to pay for road and bridge projects, the White House threatened to veto the measure because it contained a tax increase.
Meteor Blades at DailyKos.com noted (8/2) that the American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card in 2005 pointed out the US is $1.6 trillion behind in infrastructure investment. "That, by the way, is the amount of tax cuts Mister Bush tried to get passed in 2001, before he had the Global War on Terrorism with which to shape his legacy. Congress 'compromised' and gave him only $1.35 trillion, tax cuts that writer Robert Freeman once labeled a 'national form of insanity.'"
The Civil Engineers' report pointed out that bridges aren't our only problem:
Dams (D+) Since 1998, the number of unsafe dams has risen by 33% to more than 3,500. While federally owned dams are in good condition, and there have been modest gains in repair, the number of dams identified as unsafe is increasing at a faster rate than those being repaired. $10.1 bln is needed over the next 12 years to address all critical non-federal dams -- dams which pose a direct risk to human life should they fail. ...
Drinking Water (D-) America faces a shortfall of $11 bln annually to replace aging facilities and comply with safe drinking water regulations. Federal funding for drinking water in 2005 remained level at $850 mln, less than 10% of the total national requirement. The Bush administration has proposed the same level of funding for FY06. ...
Schools (D) The federal government has not assessed the condition of America's schools since 1999, when it estimated that $127 bln was needed to bring facilities to good condition. Other sources have since reported a need as high as $268 bln. Despite public support of bond initiatives to provide funding for school facilities, without a clear understanding of the need, it is uncertain whether schools can meet increasing enrollment demands and the smaller class sizes mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. ...
Transit (D+) Transit use increased faster than any other mode of transportation -- up 21% -- between 1993 and 2002. Federal investment during this period stemmed the decline in the condition of existing transit infrastructure. The reduction in federal investment in real dollars since 2001 threatens this turnaround. In 2002, total capital outlays for transit were $12.3 bln. The Federal Transit Administration estimates $14.8 bln is needed annually to maintain conditions, and $20.6 bln is needed to improve to "good" conditions. Meanwhile, many major transit properties are borrowing funds to maintain operations, even as they are significantly raising fares and cutting back service. ...
Wastewater (D-) Aging wastewater management systems discharge billions of gallons of untreated sewage into US surface waters each year. The EPA estimates that the nation must invest $390 bln over the next 20 years to replace existing systems and build new ones to meet increasing demands. Yet, in 2005, Congress cut funding for wastewater management for the first time in eight years.
CAN DEMS REACH 60? Republicans have used the threat of filibuster to block progressive initiatives in the Senate, where the Dems have to scramble to get a bare majority on a good day, but Stanley Greenberg advised progressive bloggers at the second annual Yearly Kos convention in Chicago to think big as they seek the 60 votes to take that threat away. Data continues to suggest that the political environment is worsening almost daily for Republicans. As reported by Chris Cilliza of WashingtonPost.com (8/3), Greenberg cited a recent survey that looked at seven states -- Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia -- where Senate Republican incumbents are up for reelection next year. In the seven Senate seats, the average re-elect number for the GOP incumbents was 37%, with just 13% saying they would "definitely" vote to reelect the incumbent. Greenberg referred to those results as "go get your shotgun numbers." Asked whether they would support the Republican incumbent or the Democratic challenger, 45% on average of the survey respondents chose the Democrat, while 44% backed the incumbent. Todd Beeton of MyDD.com noted that Greenberg didn't even include Colorado, largely seen as the top pick-up for Dems in '08; Oregon, which is increasingly becoming a top-tier pick-up opportunity; or Alaska, where longtime Sen. Ted Stevens (R)'s retirement (or indictment) could put that state seriously in play. "That's 10 right there out of a total 22 seats they have to defend as opposed to just 12 of ours. Now granted, this doesn't take into account the fact that the GOP does have some pick-up opportunities of their own," such as Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), "but as Cilizza notes, the fact that top Democratic pollsters were willing to be so outspoken in such optimistic terms says a lot about the confidence Democrats have going into next year ..."
Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, reports that the GOP is no longer putting off mounting an aggressive campaign to unseat Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) -- even though the two-term incumbent is still recovering from a brain aneurysm that has sidelined him since December. "It's time," National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (R-Nev.) said. Meanwhile, Republicans in South Dakota continue to be skittish regarding Johnson, believing that attacking him politically on matters of policy will appear unseemly.
BIG BAD DEMS. Perhaps if the Dems got to 60 votes, they can prevent the Republicans from further dismantling the Constitution, as the nominally Democratic Congress did when 16 Senate Dems and 41 House Dems joined their GOP colleagues to pass a bill that authorizes warrantless surveillance of phone calls and emails of US citizens, in apparent violation of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.
Democratic leaders had reached a deal with Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell on small fixes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow intelligence agencies to gather information on foreign terrorists, Spencer Ackerman reported (8/3) at TPMMuckraker.com, before the White House nixed that agreement and insisted that Congress give the attorney general and the director of national intelligence the power to approve international surveillances, rather than force them to go to the secret intelligence court set up for that duty. The court's only role will be to review and approve the procedures used by the government in the surveillance after it has been conducted, James Risen reported in the New York Times (8/6). The court will not scrutinize the cases of individuals being monitored. The law also gave the administration greater power to force telecommunications companies to cooperate with such spying operations. The only good point is that the bill expires in six months, but it undoubtedly will be used to justify the Bush administration's illegal warrantless wiretaps since 2001.
As Glenn Greenwald noted at Salon.com (8/6), "Prior to the November, 2006 elections, the Bush administration tried desperately to force the Congress to enact new FISA legislation to legalize warrantless eavesdropping. The Democrats resisted just enough to prevent its enactment. Karl Rove and Republicans generally then ran around the country exploiting that obstructionism in order to accuse Democrats of being 'soft on terror' and 'wanting to prevent the President from listening in when Osama calls,' the Republicans were crushed in that election, and Democrats obtained an historic victory. In the not-blue state of Montana, Jon Tester defeated an incumbent GOP Senator by running on a platform of repealing the Patriot Act in its entirety. Wouldn't the most basic rationality compel Democrats to draw the conclusion that this rank Terrorism fear-mongering does not actually work?
"Yet here they are, after refusing to legalize warrantless eavesdropping prior to their midterm victory, allowing this legislation to pass now that they are in the majority. It is as politically self-destructive as it is unconscionable on the merits."
Cenk Uygur wrote at HuffingtonPost.com (8/6) that 28 Democratic senators voted the right way. "The rest are the biggest bunch of weaklings and half-wits I have ever seen. They are the soft underbelly of the Democratic Party."
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) wrote for the HuffingtonPost.com (8/6): "Six years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, Congress rammed through the USA PATRIOT Act with little consideration of what that bill actually contained. Five years ago, Congress authorized a reckless and ill-advised war in Iraq. One year ago, Congress passed the deeply flawed Military Commissions Act. And late last week, a Democratic Congress passed legislation that dramatically expands the government's ability to conduct warrantless wiretapping, which could affect innocent Americans. It is clear that many congressional Democrats have not learned from those earlier mistakes, two of which happened when Democrats controlled the Senate. Once again, Congress has buckled to pressure and intimidation by the administration ... The American people see through these tactics, and don't buy the president's attempts to use the threat of terrorism to get what he wants any more. Unfortunately, 16 Senate Democrats and an Independent, as well as 41 House Democrats were all too willing last week to let the president successfully employ this ruse yet again."
Dems who voted for the bill include Sens. Lincoln (Ark), Prior (Ark.), Feinstein (Calif.), Salazar (Colo.), Carper (Del.), Nelson (Fla.), Inouye (Hi.), Bayh (Ind.), Landrieu (La.), Mikulski (Md.), McCaskill (Mo.), Klobuchar (Minn.), Conrad (N.D.), Nelson (Neb.), Casey (Pa.), and Webb (Va.); as well as Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)
PATRIOTIC CORPORATIONS SOUGHT. Bills introduced in the House and Senate would reward patriotic companies that don't screw their employees and weaken the country by moving jobs overseas, William Greider wrote 8/3 at TheNation.com. The House and Senate bills differ slightly but pursue the same goal. In the House, a "Patriot Corporation" would get tax breaks and preferences in federal contracting for employers who produce at least 90% of their goods and services in the US and with American workers. The companies must invest in research and development domestically, provide adequate health care and pensions and -- surprise -- comply with federal laws like workplace safety, environmental protection and consumer regulations. The Senate's "Patriot Employers" version would give a 1% tax credit on taxable income for companies that maintain or increase their US employment in relation to their overseas workers. They must also keep their corporate headquarters in the US. The Senate bill, which also has a "living wage" requirement, is sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). House co-sponsors are the same progressives pushing party leaders to undertake a thorough revamp of US policy on globalization and trade, Greider wrote. They are Schakowsky and Hare of Illinois, Sutton and Ryan of Ohio, Woolsey of California, Kagen of Wisconsin and Ellison of Minnesota.
"The principle at stake is straightforward," Greider commented. "Multinational corporations cannot continue to have it both ways -- moving more and more value-added production and jobs offshore to capture cheap labor, while still enjoying all of the rewards and benefits of claiming American identity. It's not just the outrageous tax breaks. The American military defends their freedom to operate around the globe.
"These measures can be the beginning of tough new policies on globalization. They are quite limited in scope, but a good start. Thousands of small to mid-sized manufacturing firms that do not offshore their production should salute the initiative since the incentives are intended for them. The rewards are modest gestures at this point. The real fight begins when Congress proposes penalties -- higher taxes -- for those unpatriotic companies that left home."
DEMS MOVE TO INSURE 6M KIDS. House Democrats pushed through legislation 8/1 to add 6 million lower-income children to a popular health insurance program while making deep cuts in federal payments to Medicare HMOs, defying a veto threat from President Bush. On a 225-204, mostly party-line vote, the House passed the legislation, which would add $50 bln to the decade-old State Children's Health Insurance Program and roll back years of Republican-driven changes to Medicare, AP reported. The bill would slash federal payments to private insurance companies that cover elderly and disabled patients under Medicare and shift money to doctors and benefits for lower-income beneficiaries. The rest of the children's health increase would come from hefty increases in taxes on tobacco products.
The House will have to negotiate differences with the Senate, which on 8/2 passed a more limited $35 bln expansion of the children's health care program which would allow 3.3 mln more kids to enroll without broader Medicare changes. With bipartisan support it passed 68-31, enough to override a threatened veto. Bush has proposed spending half as much on the program -- scheduled to expire Sept. 30 -- over the next five years. The White House said the Senate bill "goes too far in federalizing health care"
BUDGET CHIEF CONFIRMATION ROADBLOCK. US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he would filibuster White House budget director nominee Jim Nussle after Sanders forced Nussle to go on record admitting that at a time the White House is trying to prevent better funding for children's health care programs, he supports giving the members of Wal-Mart's Walton family alone a tax break worth more than $30 bln. "President Bush is completely out of touch with the economic realities facing working families," said Sanders, announcing his filibuster. "He needs a budget director who will make him face the facts, not his fantasies."
MURPHY'S LAW HITS CIA. In his review of Anthony Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Chalmers Johnson at aep.typepad.com notes (7/25), "Perhaps the most comical of all CIA clandestine activities -- unfortunately all too typical of its covert operations over the last 60 years -- was the spying it did in 1994 on the newly appointed American ambassador to Guatemala, Marilyn McAfee, who sought to promote policies of human rights and justice in that country. Loyal to the murderous Guatemalan intelligence service, the CIA had bugged her bedroom and picked up sounds that led their agents to conclude that the ambassador was having a lesbian love affair with her secretary, Carol Murphy. The CIA station chief 'recorded her cooing endearments to Murphy.' The agency spread the word in Washington that the liberal ambassador was a lesbian without realizing that 'Murphy' was also the name of her two-year-old black standard poodle. The bug in her bedroom had recorded her petting her dog. She was actually a married woman from a conservative family. [p. 459]"
ELECTORAL COLLEGE FOLLIES. Thomas Hiltachk, a Republican lawyer who specializes in ballot referenda that try to fool people in the titles and fine print, is sponsoring a ballot initiative for the June 3, 2008, California primary (which now falls four months after the state's presidential primary), Kevin Drum wrote at WashingtonMonthly.com. The Presidential Election Reform Act would award the state's electoral votes based on who wins each congressional district. Had this idea been in effect in 2004, he noted, Bush would have won 22 electoral votes from California, about the same number awarded the winners of states like Illinois or Pennsylvania. "This is obviously something to be concerned about, since reliably-blue California would normally award all 55 of its electoral votes to the Democratic candidate. Under the Hiltachk plan the Democrat would probably get only 30-35 or so. But I wouldn't panic over this yet. If the powers-that-be decide to fund the signature gathering, they can probably get this thing on the ballot. But Californians have a pretty serious case of initiative fatigue these days, and not many initiatives pass. What's worse (for Republicans, that is), it's nearly impossible to pass a blatantly partisan initiative. It's hard to think of the last one that succeeded." He noted that the Democratic Party and its allies will spend boatloads of money to defeat it, adding, "That may be the whole point, in fact. It often is with these things."
Jonathan Alter of Newsweek noted that Democrats are trying a similar ploy in North Carolina, though only three or four electoral votes are at stake. "Democrats, who usually lose the state in presidential contests but control the legislature and the governor's mansion, make no secret of their desire to win partisan advantage by going to the congressional-district formula," he wrote. He added that Article II, Section I of the US Constitution stipulates that the selection of electors is up to state legislatures "in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." When power is delegated to the electorate in referenda, the legal authority gets fuzzy. "In any event, the Hiltachk referendum will face a challenge in court."
In February a bipartisan coalition of former senators led by Birch Bayh, Jake Garn and Dave Durenberger unveiled a campaign for a national popular vote without going to the trouble of abolishing the Electoral College. Under the plan, state legislatures would pass bills that pledged to award their state's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. "It's not clear which party this would help, but if adopted by as few as 11 states, it would guarantee that the candidate with the most votes actually won the election," Alter wrote.
JUST ANOTHER GONZO MISSTATEMENT. It has been known for quite a while that the political affairs office at the White House conducted partisan, political briefings, despite the Hatch Act's prohibitions on politicking in government buildings with government employees, Steven Benen noted at Talkingpointsmemo.com (8/4). "In April, we learned there were at least 20 private briefings on GOP electoral prospects before last November's elections, for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies -- all of which are covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity. In July, the story got slightly worse when we learned the campaign briefings were also given to the Bush administration's top diplomats, several ambassadors, and officials at the State Department and the Peace Corps. With all of this in mind, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales [on 7/24] whether "the leadership of the Department of Justice" had participated in any of these political briefings.
"Not that I'm aware of. ... I don't believe so, sir," Gonzales said. But the Washington Post reported (8/4) that Justice Department officials attended at least a dozen political briefings at the White House since 2001, including some meetings led by Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, and others that were focused on election trends prior to the 2006 midterm contest, according to documents released 8/3. "If political norms still had any meaning, this might be the kind of revelation that would force an Attorney General to resign," Benen wrote. "After all, a) there's no legitimate reason for Karl Rove to brief DoJ employees on individual congressional races; and b) Gonzales testified that he didn't believe the briefings happened at all. Of course, political norms lost their meaning a few years ago, so there will probably be no adverse consequences for this whatsoever."
NO NUKES IS GOOD NUKES. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) came in for some criticism from D.C. pundits when he seemed to rule out using nuclear weapons to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance," he told the AP. Many people would think he was using good sense. But Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Obama's rival for the presidential nomination, said nuclear deterrence has kept the peace since the Cold War, "and I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons." But Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has not taken sides in the presidential race, criticized presidential candidates who refuse to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against terrorists, going so far as to compare such politicians to President Bush. "Bush policy is, you got a big stick, use it," Harkin said, according to the Des Moines Register (8/7). "You use tanks and you use huge weapons and massive military to go after terrorists. It's just wrong, not the way to beat terrorists."
GOP BLUES. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told a Iowa crowd (8/6) that Republicans face an uphill battle in the next election and must persuade voters that they can manage government better than the party has in the past eight years. "I think that whoever emerges from the Democratic side is going to be very, very difficult to defeat," McCain told a Cedar Rapids Rotary Club. "We came into power in 1994 to change government, and it changed us." (Des Moines Register, 8/7.)
GOP LOSES YOUNG VOTERS. A new research report from Democracy Corps (democracycorps.com) outlines the collapse of the "Republican" brand among young people. The national survey of 1,017 young people aged 18-29, released 7/27, found that Republicans and younger voters disagree on almost every major issue of the day. The range of the issue disagreements range from the most prominent issues of the day (Iraq, immigration) to social issues (gay marriage, abortion) to fundamental ideological disagreements over the size and scope of government. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had substantial leads in a potential matchup with Rudy Giuliani -- the most acceptable Republican -- but both Dems still have room to grow their support among younger voters. Among likely voters, a generic Democrat bests a generic Republican in the congressional race by 18 points, 57% to 39%. Young people are much more favorable towards the Democratic Party than the GOP with a net 31-point difference in views about the parties among likely voters. Among independents just 22% describe their view of Republicans favorably, while 50% are critical. Conversely, Democrats fare reasonably well with independents, with 37% offering favorable ratings and 27% offering unfavorable ratings.
In 2008, young people (ages 18-31) will number 50 million, bigger than the baby boom generation. While participation among young people still lags well behind other generations, turnout jumped 9 points in 2004 (to 49%). In 2004, 56% of younger voters supported John Kerry. In 2006, younger voters supported Dems by a 60&endash;38 percent margin, the highest of any generation.
Matt Yglesias noted at matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com (7/27): "White young people like the GOP just fine; the GOP has a 2-point advantage. The issue is that black and Hispanic youth *loathe* Republicans and the younger demographic has disproportionately few non-Hispanic whites. ... The Democratic leanings of young people are driven by giant advantages among women (+28), people with no college education (+28), Hispanics (+42) and blacks (+76)."
N.C. EXPANDS CLEAN ELECTIONS. The North Carolina General Assembly has adopted the Voter-Owned Elections Act (VOEA), which will bring Clean Elections campaign reform to three statewide elected officials. Candidates for state auditor, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction will have the opportunity to opt in to full public financing for their campaigns, just as candidates for the supreme and appellate courts in the state do now. North Carolina pioneered the judicial public financing program and has been looking to expand their Voter-Owned Elections policy to other offices. See publicampaign.org.
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