Archive (2007)

Kuhl's Penfield Meeting

Rochesterturning has video from this afternoon's town hall meeting in Penfield. This clip shows Kuhl's non-response to a constituent's comment about the Iraq war. I assume from the clip that Kuhl is continuing his policy of treating these meetings as "listening opportunities".

Update: Not really. After the break, I've embedded another video from Rochesterturning's reporter that shows Kuhl giving a long answer to a constituent's question about what's next in Iraq. Also, don't miss Rochesterturning's coverage of the Raging Grannies, who serenaded Kuhl on a number of issues.

By the way, though I don't agree that "the support of the troops is being undermined" as Kuhl says, I do think the latter part of Kuhl's response presents a pretty clear-eyed view of the legislative terrain. The Democratic bill (and note his use of the word "Democratic" rather than "Democrat") was a careful compromise that met the needs of a broad swath of party members. The evidence of how difficult it was to make the compromise is shown by the members who didn't vote for the bill. On the left, you have members like John Lewis (GA-5), who say that they won't vote for any more funding for Iraq. On the right, you have members like the one Kuhl mentioned, Dan Boren (OK-2), who won't vote for measures that might limit funding for troops. To get a veto-proof majority, Pelosi has nowhere to move but right. The votes on the left will never be there, and they wouldn't be enough to stop a veto if they were.

The question is whether there is some language that includes limitations that will be acceptable to enough Republicans to get a veto-proof majority, yet is objectionable enough for Bush to veto. I doubt it, but if such a day comes, then we'll know that we've truly arrived at the beginning of the end of the war.

What About Gates?

Shamar Patterson, a 16-year-old boy, was killed two weeks ago, allegedly by members of a loosely-knit gang, the "Mafia Assassins". Though he was killed in Rochester, Shamar was a resident of Gates, a town at the very northern tip of the 29th. Shamar and his alleged killers had once been schoolmates at Gates-Chili High School. Shamar's mother lives in Gates, no doubt in part because of the quality of the schools: Gates-Chili has over double the graduation rate of the neighboring Rochester city school district.

In yesterday's press conference about a $2.5 million grant, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales mentioned gang violence in the Crescent, a high-crime area of Rochester. He pointed out the good work being done by Operation Ceasefire, a joint anti-gang operation between the City of Rochester and the Monroe County District Attorney. No mention was made of the hometown of the victim and the offenders.

Also conspicuously absent from any of the proceedings was Congressman Randy Kuhl. Kuhl, whose office memorializes every cent that comes the way of any town in the 29th (such as the recent $6,557 grant to the Rushford Fire Department), apparently wasn't involved in getting $2.5 million for a problem that threatens the lives of people in his district. I would think Kuhl would want to be part of the efforts to keep gang violence out of Gates. I'm sure his absence was mainly due to the Rochester focus of Gonzales' visit, but I can't help but wonder if part of the reason is that Gonzales is political kryptonite.

Who's Waving the White Flag?

As expected, Randy Kuhl voted against on the revised emergency supplemental appropriation which would mandate an withdrawal from Iraq beginning in either July or October, depending on war progress. President Bush will veto this bill, and then a compromise will ensue. During the debate over the compromise, I expect Randy to repeat some of his favorite talking points: he will "support our troops no matter what" and he's not ready to "wave the white flag of surrender".

Ignoring for the moment what "supporting the troops" really means, let's look more closely at one of the lesser-publicized parts of the bill [pdf]: the restrictions on the Iraqi government. In Section 1904 (f) of the bill (reprinted below after the break), funding is restricted unless they Iraqis complete a laundry list of items, including distributing oil revenues, scheduling elections, and allocating funds for reconstruction. In short, Congress wants the Iraqis to do what's been promised for four years.

In a war where the next few months are crucial, and where our troops occupying the country are facing an enemy that finds ever more insidious ways to blow them up, expecting the Iraqi government to make a few hard compromises seems only fair. Yet it sounds like the Iraqi Parliament itself is ready to wave its own white flag. At this critical time, and with no resolution reached on the main issues that divide the factions in the government, the Parliament is still planning to take its two-month summer recess.

If this provision of H R 1591 doesn't survive the veto and compromise process, there's no hope at all for a resolution in Iraq during our lifetimes:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, 50 percent of the funds appropriated by title I of this Act for assistance to Iraq under each of the headings ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’ and ‘‘International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement’’ shall be withheld from obligation until the President has made a certification to Congress that the Government of Iraq has enacted a broadly accepted hydro-carbon law that equitably shares oil revenues among all Iraqis; adopted legislation necessary for the conduct of provincial and local elections, taken steps to implement such legislation, and set a schedule to conduct provincial and local elections; reformed current laws governing the de-Baathification process to allow for more equitable treatment of individuals affected by such laws; amended the Constitution of Iraq consistent with the principles contained in Article 137 of such constitution; and allocated and begun expenditure of $10,000,000,000 in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.

Immigration Facts Among the Fantasies

This morning's Democrat and Chronicle featured two op-eds by experts discussing H R 371, the "AgJobs" bill. This bill creates a new class of non-resident workers, who will receive "blue card" status. Workers in the country illegally will be eligible for blue cards. Once a blue card is obtained, the worker may have his status promoted to "green card" or permanent resident status after five years if certain conditions are met.

Randy Kuhl is one of 28 cosponsors of this bill. I've already discussed the political implications of Kuhl's reversal of his earlier opposition to AgJobs, as well as the response by conservative columnist Bob Lonsberry. Today, I want to take a closer look at one issue raised by Lonsberry and peripherally in the op eds: could Americans be doing these jobs?

James Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, opens the issue with this statement:

Our industry is wholly dependent on a migrant work force. Local laborers are uninterested or unavailable to work on farms; migrant laborers are eager to help us harvest the crop in the fall. Many seasonal farmworkers can earn more than $15 per hour, with housing provided.

The counter-argument to this position, raised by Lonsberry, is:

Forget this crap about illegals doing the jobs Americans won't do. Yes, welfare has gotten rid of most entry-level and low-skill American workers. But the reason farmers don't get local labor is because they don't pay enough. When an hour of hard manual labor involving a fair amount of specialized skill pays less than an hour of salting the fries at McDonald's you can't expect people to line up to work on your farm.

To evaluate these positions, let's first bring a few facts to bear. According to the Department of Labor, the average farm worker earned $7.25 per hour in 2001-2002, the last year when statistics were reported. Those paid by the piece averaged $8.27 per hour. During the same year, the average worker in "Leisure and Hospitality" earned roughly $8.57 per hour. "Retail Trade" workers made about $11.29. The overall average was $14.54, and construction workers made $18.00. So, Lonsberry is partly right: doing farm labor pays a little less, on average, than salting fries (a hospitality industry). It also pays a lot less than other relatively unskilled jobs (retail) and a whole lot less than other jobs that may involve a lot of manual labor (construction).

By the way, the $15 hourly wage cited by the Apple Farmers' Allen must be at the high end of the spectrum. Hourly wage growth since 2001-2002 was 15%. If farm wages grew at the same rate as other wages, the average farm worker doing piece work probably makes about $9.50, a far cry from $15/hr. I assume Allen's qualifiers ("Many" "can earn") signify that the average farm worker doesn't make that kind of coin. The finding that 30% of farm workers had family incomes below the federal poverty guideline in the most recent survey makes me even more skeptical about the $15 claim.

So, it looks like Lonsberry is right: farm jobs don't pay a competitive wage. But wages aren't the only thing that make jobs attractive. Let's dig a little deeper into the demographics of farm work.

According to the 2002 survey, the average age of farm workers was 33. Half of the farm workers surveyed were under the age of 31. Seventh-nine percent of the workers were men. Over half (57%) left their families to work. Why is that? Part of the reason is the flow of work:

The 13 million estimated migrant workers in the United States follow three general streams. In the East, workers begin in Florida and travel up through Ohio, New York and Maine, following crops that range from citrus to tobacco to blueberries. The Midwestern stream begins in Southern Texas and flows north through every state in the MidWest. Workers in the West begin their season in southern California and follow the coast to Washington state or veer inland to North Dakota.

This brings up another important, obvious point: farm work is seasonal. There's a tiny window of time where the farm worker is able to pull down $9.00/hr. The logistics of getting the right number of workers to the right place at the right time are difficult. That's why immigrant farm workers who perform harvest-related tasks tend to be employed by labor contractors. Someone needs to coordinate the movement of "follow the crop" farm laborers so they arrive when they're needed.

So farm work is seasonal, and farm workers have to migrate to stay employed. But it's easy to imagine that each state with seasonal crops could arrange for local unemployed workers to pick the crop. Lonsberry and commenters at the Democrat and Chronicle are arguing that if we raised wages for farm workers, we might lower the number of people on welfare in the area. To understand why this won't work, we need to look at the economic impact of farm employment.

Steuben County is the Southern Tier county that spends the most on farm labor. In 2002, Steuben's farmers spent $361K on farm contract labor. It's 2007, and farm workers are underpaid, so let's pick a number that reflects inflation and the raises necessary to attract local laborers: say, $700K. Assuming that every single worker who would do contract work on Steuben farms receives public assistance, how would that $700K impact Steuben's welfare rolls?

According to the Steuben County budget, in 2007, $63 million will be spent on economic assistance. $33 million of that will go towards DSS and Medicaid alone. $700K is a drop in that bucket. When you add federal assistance to the county total, it's unlikely that $700K is even one percent of what's spent on welfare in Steuben during a year.

Conservatives of the Lonsberry stripe hate welfare and they hate illegal immigration. The idea that throwing out immigrant farm labor will open up new jobs for welfare recipients is attractive in its simplicity. Yet, as the facts show, simplicity is its only virtue. At this point, it's time to quote H. L. Mencken:

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.

More War Protests

The Democrat and Chronicle reports on protests at Randy Kuhl's Fairport offices today. The protesters were associated with the political action group Metro Justice, and the protests were timed to coincide with the anti-war ad that began running this week.

The D&C story also reports the ad buy was small (120 ads), and it also notes Kuhl's stock response, which has not changed in quite a whle:

I’m going to support our troops no matter what [...] I’m not about to send up the white flag and surrender at this point.

Of course, that response leaves open the question at what point Mr. Kuhl will send up the white flag, but I assume we'll hear about that when he decides that surrender is in order.

Labor's Right and Left Hand

Anyone skeptical about the power of incumbency and committee assignments need look no further than Randy Kuhl's recent campaign finance report. Kuhl, who withdrew his co-sponsorship of H R 800, the Employee Free Choice Act, called the bill "Orwellian", and was confronted by 150 union members after a town meeting, received $2,500 from labor PACs in the first quarter of 2007.

Kuhl, who received a "Spirit of Enterprise" award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for his 100% voting score last year, wasn't endorsed by the AFL-CIO in 2006, yet he received $500 from the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department PAC. He also received $1000 each from the firefighters and iron workers.

I suppose the labor unions think they're getting something out of their contributions: presumably their donations are related to Kuhl's committee assignments in the Transportation and Infrastructure or Education Committees (since it was the Firefighters "Registration and Education" association that contributed). Maybe their $500 or $1000 bought a few minutes of face time, or they hope it will result in a call that's returned.

That said, I wonder how they would explain their contributions to the 150 union members who showed up in Corning a couple of weeks ago.

First Quarter Numbers

The FEC has posted fundraising numbers for Randy Kuhl and Eric Massa. According to the summaries, Kuhl raised $115K, and Massa raised $16K, $10K of which was in the form of a loan from Massa.

Massa's numbers are low. According to Massa, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee expects him to raise $300K by the end of June. That sounds like a fundraising gambit. It's not as if the DCCC has hundreds of other hard-working, experienced, electable candidates in the 29th clamoring to put in 18 months of campaigning. Nevertheless, Massa is far short of his own goal of raising $3 million for the next cycle.

Right around release time, the FEC data is in constant flux. For both Massa and Kuhl, some of the numbers on the summary page don't seem to add up. I'll be going over the detailed reports and reporting on a couple of interesting entries in the next couple of posts.

New Anti-Kuhl War Ad

Americans United for Change, the same group that financed anti-Kuhl radio spots last month, has produced a new ad attacking Kuhl for his Iraq War voting record. The 30-second spot, which will begin airing this week, details the number of dead and wounded in Iraq, shows a picture of Kuhl and President Bush, and ends with the tagline "Tell Randy Kuhl: after four years, it's time to end the war."

Kuhl is one of six Republicans targeted by the ad campaign. The others are Mary Bono (CA-45), Dean Heller (NV-2), Tim Johnson (IL-15), Jim Walsh (NY-25), and Heather Wilson (NM-1).

Video after the break:

Farming the Program

I grew up in farm country, and out there the saying about a farmer who is better at getting USDA funds than growing crops is that he's farming the program instead of farming his land. The Roseland Bowl isn't a farm, but it looks like Jack Moran, the owner of the business, would make a pretty good farmer. Not only did he get a USDA rural development loan guarantee last week, Rochesterturning dug up a story showing that he was the recipient of funds from a 9/11 loan program a few years ago. Both of the loan programs he's used have been held up as examples of government waste and mismanagement.

Though these loans are big and are at the edge of program guidelines, I don't think the story here is about Kuhl or Moran. Kuhl wasn't in office when the 9/11 loans were granted. Moran is a pretty solid Republican donor, but he's certainly not maxing out his contributions to any politician, including Kuhl. The real story is how little care is exercised by the current administration when handing out loan guarantees. Roseland Bowl wasn't directly hurt by 9/11, and it isn't in a truly rural environment. Nevertheless, it has gotten a whopping $3.8 million of government-guaranteed loans from programs that are either loosely structured or loosely administered. The same USDA program that funded Roseland also funded an art gallery on Cape Cod and rental subsidies on Nantucket.

Republicans like Kuhl use the rhetoric of fiscal conservatism, yet the practice of the administration they support is to spend money with less restraint than drunken sailors. It will be interesting to see if Kuhl's opponent can make some hay on this issue in 2008, because it's programs like these that raise our taxes.

As for Jack Moran, I can't blame him for farming the program. If the money's there, he'd be a fool not to take it.

A Little Moderation

The Albany Project quoted Thursday's post about the Roseland Bowl non-issue, and took exception to the last sentence of that post. I said "that's how Kuhl will get re-elected." What I should have said is "if Kuhl is re-elected, this is how he'll do it."

I don't think Kuhl's re-election is a foregone conclusion by any measure, but I do think that he's doing a pretty good job of mixing constituent service with careful moderation of his voting record. By my scorecard, he's a little over 50% at 60% in voting with the majority in the House. As the New York Times reported today, being in the minority has allowed the Republican leadership in the House to loosen the reins. In the words of Peter King (NY-3),

They don’t want to lose seats [...] They’re not pushing members to take suicidal votes or take a bullet for the team.

Kuhl has also been able to keep up his schedule of town meetings, and when he gets his name in the paper, it's generally been associated with bringing money home to the district. That's how incumbents of either party win.

Kuhl on the Pelosi Trip

Today's Democrat and Chronicle carries a story about Louise Slaughter's (NY-28) participation in the Congressional delegation to the Mideast led by Nancy Pelosi. This delegation has become controversial because it is visiting Syria. Randy Kuhl's spokesman, Bob Van Wicklin, gives Kuhl's response:

Randy feels that it's the administration's job to deliver diplomatic messages, not Congress [...] The fact that Speaker Pelosi botched the message she delivered on behalf of Israel is evidence of that. We need to speak through one secretary of state, not 535 of them.

Kuhl has consistently favored diplomatic dialogue with Syria and Iran. The basic facts of the Pelosi "botch" are available from the Washington Post, which excoriated Pelosi for her misstep in an editorial yesterday.

Another Strike in the Bowling Story

Rochesterturning reports that Jack Moran, the proprietor of Roseland Bowl, is a former chair of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, an association which gave $55K to mostly Republicans in the 2006 cycle. Randy Kuhl wasn't one of them.

MyDD has also picked up this story. What both sites seem to be missing is that this is a loan guarantee, not a loan. If Roseland pays back the loan, the loan will cost the government nothing. Because the government guarantees the loan, Roseland benefits by having a lower interest rate.

What's fishy about this particular transaction, if anything, is that the loan was guaranteed by the Department of Agriculture through a program that's supposed to benefit rural development. I don't view Canandaigua as a rural location, but it probably technically fits the standards of the loan guarantee program.

As Vincent points out in a comment on this morning's post, this transaction assured 36 jobs in Canandaigua without costing the government a penny. I think locals will view that as a win, and that's how Kuhl will get re-elected.

Update 4/6: Today's Washington Post has a story on the USDA loan program that explains its broad definition of "rural". Besides Canandaigua, Cape Cod and the suburbs of Atlanta and Tampa are "rural" by the USDA's definition.