Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The 2012 Election Question may well be ….do you want to be represented by Michele Bachmann? - Part One


Since taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January of this year, Republicans have brought the nation to the brink of a government shutdown three times.  The overall result has been a continued loss of confidence in our ability to govern ourselves in a stable and predictable fashion.  Both global and domestic markets reflect this instability and the consequences are being felt in everyone’s retirement accounts as well as a diminished reputation overseas verified by a serious downgrade in our national credit.

When analyzed in a political science sense, it goes back to the midterm elections of 2010 and the increased influence of the Tea Party.  No matter how you look at it, their impact far outweighs their numbers.  The House has 435 members with Republicans numbering 242.  Of this, 56 are part of the Tea Party caucus organized by our own Michele Bachmann.  That means the Tea Party caucus possesses less than 25 percent of the Republican vote in the House but yet dominates the agenda.

Yes, their tactics include demonizing compromise and cooperation with Democrats.  But that does not explain their disproportionate influence relative to their numbers.  The sad reality is that others created a vacuum and the Tea Party stepped in.

I would contend that it started with President Obama’s failure to accept and endorse the report of the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission.  By all standards of competence, it was a solid bi-partisan effort.  Its recommendations if pushed by the Obama administration would have put the United States on a more successful path to recovery while protecting the integrity of the entitlement programs.  Nothing since has been proposed that matches Bowles-Simpson in quality and bi-partisanship.

Once the President ignored that report, the Tea Party stepped in and filled that void.  They have controlled the debate ever since.

Following the President’s inaction on Bowles-Simpson, the challenge fell to House Speaker Boehner and the House Republican majority.  However, instead of building a governing coalition with moderate Democrats, Boehner opted to surrender to the uncompromised demands of the Tea Party.  Their prime goal was not to govern but rather to make certain that Obama was a “one-term President”.  That type of goal casts aside all commitment to governance and quality of public policy and substitutes a new version of brutal partisan politics including questioning the loyalty and nationality of the President.  In their eyes, the only loyalty that counts is their loyalty.

The overall result is that the Republican Party is now being absorbed by the Tea Party and all GOP Presidential candidates with the exception of Jon Huntsman have surrendered large parts of their philosophy and intelligence to the Tea Party.  Climate change has now become a scientific fiction.  Lower taxes for business accompanied by far less regulation is the only panacea for economic recovery for an economy that soured after the Bush tax cuts and the failure to regulate Wall Street.

The ultimate oddity is that small minorities of Tea Party members of Congress now control the House and believe that they have the power to dictate American politics regardless of the will of the Senate and the President.  They literally have no concept of shared governance and are willing to sacrifice the well being of the nation in order to have their way.

However, this is not without consequences.  When Republican members of Congress yield their vote to the Republican caucus and that caucus is controlled by the unyielding Tea Party members then it stands to reason that they should be held accountable for the consequences.  After all, the tail cannot wag the dog without the dog’s consent.

I would submit that this subservience to the Tea Party will only strengthen the hand of the President and make Republican members of Congress appear to be weak and so intimidated that they cannot or will not represent the best long-term interests of their district.  In essence, they have become agents of the Tea Party and the result may well be that they will bear responsibility for even the most outrageous views of the extreme Right.

In 1950, when Richard Nixon sought the Senate seat in California, he compared the voting record of his opponent, Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas with that of an alleged “communist” House member, Vito Marcantonio.  The campaign slogan was essentially  “should California send Vito Marcantonio to the U.S. Senate.”   Although the comparison was grossly unfair, the voters chose Nixon.

Similar comparisons may well take place here and with some justification.  Michele Bachmann as a congressional Tea Party leader may well find herself in many Democratic ads with the question:  “Do you want our District to be represented by Michele Bachmann?”

You judge.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Budget Deficits – A Time for A Growth Strategy

With the advent of fall comes football, back to school and an early focus on the next legislative session.  The latter is as welcome as a trip to the dentist.

The reason is simple and that is the reality that weak economic growth and declining income spell trouble for state budgets dependent on income and sales growth.

Currently, Minnesota will likely face a deficit of approximately $1.9 billion for 2013-14.  This figure does not include any inflation or payback of the $2.1 billion from K-12 education.  But the real surprise will be on the revenue side.  If my recollection is correct, the February forecast pegged projected economic growth at 3.2 percent.  That is turning out to be highly optimistic.  Two percent or less is more likely.  This means that revenue expectations will be considerably lower and we can expect a shortfall to be announced in the November forecast.

Rather than being surprised in November, it would be more prudent to plan for another deficit now.  Further, I would contend, this should give our leaders the opportunity to do it right.  By that I mean putting an end to the rolling deficits that have been the norm for the past nine years and produce an integrated budget that is pro-growth and projects out revenues and expenditures for at least four years with inflation included on both the revenue and expenditure side.

When I use the phrase “pro growth” I mean tilting our expenditures and tax system toward long-term job growth.  This means investments that will advance growth and a tax code that entices growth.  The simple reality here is that we cannot cut or tax our way to success.  We must grow the economy.

The true opportunity here is that we as a state have an enormous number of talented people from both the private and public sectors that can put together a pro growth strategy.  Political leadership should be modest enough to know that they cannot do it alone.

The process really starts with the Governor and Legislative leaders having a free ranging conversation with leaders from groups familiar with this area such as the Itasca Project, the Economic Club, the Citizens League – past and present and some solid financial minds including the University of Minnesota and former state government Finance Commissioners.

The prerequisites are simple:  a commitment to make it work.

From here, the group can formulate a process that leads to comprehensive legislation.  But the key in the opening conversations is that they should take place in a comfortable and relaxed environment with privacy respected.   The goal here is to grow the economy not the partisan feud.

A successful product will give all of us a sense of success and a better future for our children.  It will also restore our pride in the quality of our governance.