Congress and missed work weeks

The House and Senate are not in session today, Presidents’ Day. However, neither are they tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The same is true for two more weeks near the end of March and the first part of April. During the remainder of the year there are several more such weeks. Take a look at the calendars: House and Senate. You will note some differences in the two calendars.

A different Senate calendar refers to these weeks as “State Work Period.”

It’s not a matter of nothing to do. Yesterday, in The Indianapolis Star, a USA Today graphic was included that shows the looming deadlines beginning with funding for the Department of Homeland Security with a deadline of February 27th with others to come up in the following weeks.

What are your thoughts on these calendars?

George Will: The harm incurred by a mushrooming welfare state

Opinion writer
1/21/15

America’s national character will have to be changed if progressives are going to implement their agenda. So, changing social norms is the progressive agenda. To understand how far this has advanced, and how difficult it will be to reverse the inculcation of dependency, consider the data Nicholas Eberstadt deploys in National Affairs quarterly:

America’s welfare state transfers more than 14 percent of gross domestic product to recipients, with more than a third of Americans taking “need-based” payments. In our wealthy society, the government officially treats an unprecedented portion of the population as “needy.”

Transfers of benefits to individuals through social welfare programs have increased from less than 1 federal dollar in 4 (24 percent) in 1963 to almost 3 out of 5 (59 percent) in 2013. In that half-century, entitlement payments were, Eberstadt says, America’s “fastest growing source of personal income,” growing twice as fast as all other real per capita personal income. It is probable that this year a majority of Americans will seek and receive payments.

This is not primarily because of Social Security and Medicare transfers to an aging population. Rather, the growth is overwhelmingly in means-tested entitlements. More than twice as many households receive “anti-poverty” benefits than receive Social Security or Medicare. Between 1983 and 2012, the population increased by almost 83 million — and people accepting means-tested benefits increased by 67 million. So, for every 100-person increase in the population there was an 80-person increase in the recipients of means-tested payments. Food stamp recipients increased from 19 million to 51 million — more than the combined populations of 24 states.

What has changed? Not the portion of the estimated population below the poverty line (15.2 percent in 1983; 15 percent in 2012). Rather, poverty programs have become untethered from the official designation of poverty: In 2012, more than half the recipients were not classified as poor but accepted being treated as needy. Expanding dependency requires erasing Americans’ traditional distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. This distinction was rooted in this nation’s exceptional sense that poverty is not the unalterable accident of birth and is related to traditions of generosity arising from immigrant and settler experiences. 

Eberstadt’s essay, “American Exceptionalism and the Entitlement State,” argues that this state is extinguishing the former. America “arrived late to the 20th century’s entitlement party.” The welfare state’s European pedigree traces from post-1945 Britain, back through Sweden’s interwar “social democracy,” to Bismarck’s late-19th-century social insurance. European welfare states reflected European beliefs about poverty: Rigid class structures rooted in a feudal past meant meager opportunities for upward mobility based on merit. People were thought to be stuck in neediness through no fault of their own, and welfare states would reconcile people to intractable social structures.

Eberstadt notes that the structure of U.S. government spending “has been completely overturned within living memory,” resulting in the “remolding of daily life for ordinary Americans under the shadow of the entitlement state.” In two generations, the American family budget has been recast: In 1963, entitlement transfers were less than $1 out of every $15; by 2012, they were more than $1 out of every $6.

Causation works both ways between the rapid increase in family disintegration (from 1964 to 2012, the percentage of children born to unmarried women increased from 7 to 41) and the fact that, Eberstadt says, for many women, children and even working-age men, “the entitlement state is now the breadwinner of the household.” In the past 50 years, the fraction of civilian men ages 25 to 34 who were neither working nor looking for work approximately quadrupled.

Eberstadt believes that the entitlement state poses “character challenges” because it powerfully promotes certain habits, including habits of mind. These include corruption. Since 1970, Americans have become healthier, work has become less physically stressful, the workplace has become safer — and claims from Social Security Disability Insurance have increased almost sixfold. Such claims (including fraudulent ones) are gateways to a plethora of other payments.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a lifelong New Deal liberal and accomplished social scientist, warned that “the issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it but what it costs those who receive it.” As a growing portion of the population succumbs to the entitlement state’s ever-expanding menu of temptations, the costs, Eberstadt concludes, include a transformation of the nation’s “political culture, sensibilities, and tradition,” the weakening of America’s distinctive “conceptions of self-reliance, personal responsibility, and self-advancement,” and perhaps a “rending of the national fabric.” As a result, “America today does not look exceptional at all.”

Read more from George F. Will’s archive or follow him on Facebook.

Congressional Salaries and Allowances: In Brief

“Congressional Salaries and Allowances: In Brief,” is published by the Congressional Research Service and dated December 30, 2014. A quick look at salaries of Congressional members and officers is here.

The thirteen page publication, in its entirety, is available here. It includes The Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA): Supporting Personnel, Office Expenses, Travel to the District, and Mail for Members of the House and The Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account (SOPOEA): Supporting Personnel, Office Expenses, and Mail for U.S. Senators.

Rep. Stutzman sends our message to feeble leadership

The Pharos-Tribune
Brian Howey
The Howey Report
1/11/15

INDIANAPOLIS — On the day after he was one of 25 Republicans to vote against the reelection of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, the Politico reported that “particular ire was directed at U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman,” who was a leading instigator of the attempted coup.

Many see Stutzman as a Republican on the Tea Party fringe, steadily working his way toward the back bench. Ultimately, this may be the case.

But what I see in Stutzman is someone who had the guts to make a declarative statement that the status quo in Congress is utterly unacceptable. It is something the American people have been telling pollsters for years now. If you take a recent best case scenario, NBC/Wall Street Journal put Congressional approval/disapproval at 16/78 percent last month. Fox News had it at 14/80 percent. The National Journal had it at 9/80 percent last autumn.

The 113th Congress passed only 234 laws, the lowest in history. Another count by Politico had 296 laws passing, with 212 of them described as “substantive” while 84 were categorized as ceremonial. This Congress shut down for 16 days, with Stutzman a leading proponent. The House was only in session 147 days, and the Senate 141 days, or about 40 percent of the time. Some 94.6 percent of incumbents were reelected on Nov. 4. Since 1964, it’s never dipped below 82 percent in the House, and only during the Reagan landslide of 1980 has it gone below 60 percent in the Senate.

Even though the states have been begging Congress to fulfill its duty and bring about comprehensive immigration reform, this Congress kicked that big, stinkin’ can down the road.

Stutzman explained his vote against Boehner, saying, “In my years of service as a state and federal legislator, I’ve been honored to consistently support the leadership of my party because of their commitment to conservative principles. The parliamentary procedures of the U.S. House of Representatives are a proven framework for respectful thought and dialogue as the best means to guide proposed laws through a meticulous legislative process.”

“One month after winning the 2014 midterm elections, the current House leadership forced members to vote on the ‘CROmnibus’ legislation less than three days after it was introduced, a violation of the spirit of the House of Representatives ‘three-day rule’ before voting on bills,” Stutzman explained. “Legislation that contains almost 1,700 pages of legal language deserves the time and attention required to comprehend its content before bringing it to the floor for a vote. Recorded votes that break our own rules are no better than ‘passing a bill so we can find out what’s in it.’ It is a dangerous practice that consistently results in laws that are detrimental for the American people. This type of disregard for regular order and other similar actions will not do anything to build the trust of the American people. We can and must do better.”

Sometimes it’s worth noting that a member on the outlier can actually be absolved by history. Then U.S. Rep. Mike Pence was a lonely Republican vote against No Child Left Behind, a popular bill that was based on a ridiculous premise, as history as proven. Then U.S. Rep. John Hostettler was the lone Hoosier Republican to vote against the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, has none of the blood on his hands in what has proven to be nothing less than an American disaster.

Stutzman is not the only Hoosier member to publicly complain about this process. An exasperated U.S. Sen. Dan Coats explained last month, “One of Congress’ primary duties is to fund the federal government, but under the management of Harry Reid, the Senate has consistently ignored important spending decisions until literally the last minute. This forces senators to vote on large bills that fund the entire government, but inevitably include many items I do not support. The bill that the House sent to the Senate bill does, however, make positive changes for Hoosier families. Reforms include cutting the EPA budget by $60 million and the IRS budget by $345 million, prohibiting an EPA regulation opposed by Indiana farmers and blocking any new funding to implement Obamacare. Republicans will govern not only more conservatively, but also more responsibly, when we take control of the Senate in January.”

To Coats, the Reid era Senate was “dysfunctional.”

The question Hoosiers should keep in mind is with such a dismal performance record, why is Stutzman the only member to come to the conclusion that the problem lies at the top, with long-entrenched leadership, as opposed to the back bench? Since 1899, only one House Majority Leader (Eric Cantor) was defeated in a primary election and that came last spring. It isn’t a stretch to say that Cantor might be our little yellow canary.

Stutzman added, “The American system of government is based on the idea that ultimate power lies in the people, not the federal government. Our elected officers at all levels of government must be accountable to the rules and structures that have been established as a proven means of governing with integrity. Congress should not be the exception, but the example of such rule of law.”

Virtually all Hoosier House members sit in safe districts. They all have huge campaign war chests stored to discourage challengers. All breezed to reelection last November with comfortable to overwhelming pluralities.

But 2016 will be a vastly different beast than 2014. Six of the seven Republicans invested in leadership this week that has done virtually nothing to deserve the trust of the people. The people are consistently saying that they want lawmakers to work across the aisle, compromise, and deal with the nation’s many challenges. Hoosier members who voted for leadership would be wise to press them internally to get to work, and deal with the needs of the people. Within two years, complacency could be replaced with pikes and pitchforks.

Brian Howey, a Peru native, is the publisher of The Howey Political Report. He can be reached at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.

Budget Battle Deadlines for 2015: Immigration, Debt Ceiling and 2016 Federal Budget

In order for Congress to avoid rushed backroom budget deals like the 1,600 page Cromnibus, they must adhere to deadlines in the budget process. Here are the ones they need to keep in mind this year:

2016_budget_timeline_large

National Priorities Project
By Jasmine Tucker
1/6/15

Today marks the first day of the Republican-controlled 114th Congress, where 74 brand new, newly-elected members will swear in with other members of Congress.

In a previous post, we brought you three New Years’ resolutions for Congress. Now that the new year and new Congress have started, here are some deadlines for lawmakers to keep in mind if they want to keep those resolutions: (more)

Speaker Boehner: You can do better

It just doesn’t feel right. Furthermore, it was unnecessary. John Boehner was re-elected Speaker of the House and then removed two representatives from the Rules Committee because they did not vote for him as Speaker.

I have been learning about the tremendous clout that a Speaker has. This was one more lesson and I don’t like it. For a system of governance that we pride ourselves in this falls far short of our idealism.

The voting for Speaker will be found here. If you would like to know more you’ll find it at “Boehner takes revenge.”