Archive (2007)

Like a Refiner's Fire

Those of you who listened to Handel's Messiah this Christmas may remember this aria and chorus, taken from Malachi 3:

For He is like a refiner's fire.
And He shall purify...
The same harsh, Old Testament worldview dominated this year's session of Congress.  The combination of Republican unity in the House, and an unprecedented use of the filibuster by the Republican minority in the Senate, served as a refiner's fire, removing whatever Republicans considered impure from Democratic bills. 

This was most evident in the last-minute pre-Christmas swarm of legislation approved by Congress.  It contained a mix of concessions and conglomerations, all driven by the Republican stall and the Democrat's inability to offer compromises that would find fault lines in the Republican minority. Politically, perhaps the biggest concession was the stake driven through the heart of S-CHIP expansion.  Remember last month when the press was predicting that the Democrats would extend S-CHIP until September, 2008 to force a funding showdown before the election?  So much for that idea: the new S-CHIP extension, passed on the last day of the session, extends S-CHIP as-is until March, 2009.  The NPR headline, "Democrats Suffer Loss as House Extends SCHIP" says it all.  The 2009 compromise is a white flag on an issue that was supposed to be bread-and-butter for Democrats in the next election. 

The S-CHIP cave-in offers two lessons in politics.  First, and as usual, it shows that money donated to "Progressive" issue-oriented groups is generally wasted.  Take a look at the Americans United for Change blog, which makes no mention of the total loss suffered by an organization that spent millions for S-CHIP ads this year.  Instead, Americans United has picked a new issue, the mortgage crisis, which I'm sure will yield more donations from angry contributors.   Just don't ask them for results.

Second, S-CHIP shows House and Senate Republicans that short-term pain can yield long-term gain.  Randy Kuhl and his colleagues took an incredible pounding in the media, yet that sound and fury signified nothing in the end.  The Republicans knew that the Democrats could not abide a lapse in S-CHIP funding, so they stuck together until the day of reckoning and got what they wanted.  Kuhl can argue, as he does in his most recent blog post, that he "voted for S-CHIP", and he has plenty of time before the 2008 campaign for voters to forget what happened this year.

Another major political concession was the cut in the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).  Unlike the original proposal, the version passed has no pay-as-you-go provision.  It simply cuts the AMT and adds the $50 billion shortfall to the deficit.  This abandonment of pay-go is another Democratic cave-in motivated by a deadline.  If some kind of AMT cut was not approved by the end of the year, next year's tax refunds would be at stake.  As it stands, the refunds might be delayed by seven weeks. 

The big conglomeration at the end of the session was the Omnibus Budget Bill, which began life as the State Department and Foreign Aid appropriation.  Faced with the specter of failing to pass a budget bill, the Democrats took the State bill and tacked on every appropriation bill but Defense (which had already passed).  To understand how the Republicans used the refining fire of the Senate, I've added a bill history feature to Congressdb.  The history for the State and Foreign Aid appropriation illustrates the refining process nicely.   The original bill was rejected by Randy Kuhl and the majority of Republicans.  It went through the refining fire of the Senate, and came back as a bill that was approved by the Congress, including Kuhl.   The Washington Post has a good run-down of the merits (few) and excesses (many) of the resulting bill.

An even better example of the filibuster stall is the energy bill, which was supported by 36 Republicans (Kuhl among them) when passed by the House in January.  When the bill hit the Senate, it went through a "purification"  that included a half-dozen cloture votes.  The resulting bill lost one provision that taxed producers to finance renewable energy, and another that would have required the use of renewable sources by electric providers.  The new version gained almost 60 more Republican House votes.  The Oil & Gas journal has a full run-down of the final bill.

In the world of customer service, the mantra is "under-promise and over-deliver".  In this session of Congress, the Democratic leadership did the opposite.  They were mainly unable to deliver on the really significant expectations raised, such as a possible withdrawal from Iraq and re-instituting pay-go.  Now it's up to the Democrats to sell this as the product of Republican obstinacy rather than Democratic impotence.  There's some justification for that view, but the Democrats would have an easier job selling it to the general public if they had set lower expectations at the beginning of the session.

For those of you who've read this far, you might be interested in two snippets from the Messiah mentioned at the top of this post.

For He is like a refining fire:

Download Messiah_Refiners_Fire.mp3 (624K)

And He shall purify:

Download Messiah_And_He_Shall_Purify.mp3 (787K)

Do The Right Thing

Today's news that President Bush will veto the Defense Appropriation Bill is a surprise, but the illogical rhetoric accompanying it is all too familiar.  The administration objects to a provision in the bill that would allow courts to freeze Iraqi assets as part of lawsuits against Iraq.  The Iraqi government opposes this measure because it would expose them to asset freezes related to litigation over Saddam Hussein's bad acts.

Despite being one of those who supported the bill, the most senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, John Warner, said:

The president is doing the right thing [...] It's in our national security interests, and it's the right thing to try to preserve what I perceive as a strengthening of the relationship between our government and the Iraqi government.
If it was the "right thing" to do this, why didn't Warner do the "right thing" and oppose the bill in committee?  If the President is doing the "right thing", why did Randy Kuhl vote for the bill two weeks ago?

Various Items

I survived Christmas, but I'm still digesting the last few days of Congress.  I also need to close out my series on the D&C.  Until then, here are a few items in no particular order:

  • Those of you interested in new media might want to read an interview with Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.  Craigslist is a company of about two dozen people with the goal of bringing free classified ads to the world.  Money quote:
Newspapers have much bigger problems. Newspapers are going after 10% to 30% profit margins for their businesses and that hurts them more than anything. A lot of things are happening on the Internet that never happened before because the Internet is a vehicle for everyone. The mass media is no longer only for the powerful, and that's a huge change for the entire newspaper and news industry.
In the old media model, with huge presses or transmitters and large technically-adept staffs, a 20% profit margin was necessary to attract investors willing to finance the overhead in return for a share of the profit.  In the new media model, major capital investments are no longer part of the picture, so media can run on a low- (or no-) profit, sustainability model.  In other words, today's media can be more like a small business than a major corporation.  That's a tremendous shift in the media business model that we're just starting to see nationally in sites like Craigslist or TPM Media.  The shock waves of that shift are just starting to be felt in our local markets, but when they hit, it's going to be an interesting ride.
  • I like watching the HBO series The Wire.  The show takes on different issues in inner-city Baltimore, including the War on Drugs, Education and Unions.  It's written by two veteran reporters for the Baltimore Sun.   This year's theme is journalism, and it will be fascinating to see the parallels between the D&C's role in inner-city Rochester, and the Sun's in Baltimore.
  • This week's Massa press conference was canceled due to the holidays.

Sweet Baby Jesus

Posting will continue to be light until after the baby Jesus' birthday.  You would think that being the son of God would be enough for the guy, but he apparently needs two whole months of decoration, lights, singing and shopping every year in order to be satisfied that we remembered his birthday.  I'm happy with a pair of socks and a bottle of scotch.  And if someone mumbles a chorus of "Happy Birthday" sotto voce, I consider it a banner year.

As a non-militant atheist, I find all the "War on Christmas" rhetoric amusing.  If such a war exists, it makes our debacle in Iraq look like the Marianas turkey shoot.  In other words, Christmas is winning, big-time. 

I live in a supposedly lily-white Christian suburb.  Not so:  Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists live on my street, not to mention atheists, agnostics and other assorted heathens.   We all have to put up with 8 weeks of repetitive music, garish decorations, and rampant materialism.  Yet when our school district tries to make Christmas break "Holiday Break", and forbids the use of obvious symbols of Christianity, some parents react as if they replaced the lunch ladies with paroled child molesters.

I believe every Christian has an absolute right to celebrate Christmas in their homes and churches.  But I also think that the Hindi, Muslim and Jewish kids on my block get enough Christmas in the stores and on TV.  They don't need to have more displays and activities funded by their parents' tax dollars. 

Also, those who regularly genuflect in reverence towards "the market" should recognize that my neighbors shop, too.   Maybe when a clerk says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," my neighbors and I will feel more comfortable in the store, and we'll be more likely to buy there.  That's basic capitalism, not a "war".

Well, enough of that.  Even though I'm an atheist, I'm also a devoted Dad and husband, so I'm off to do yet more Christmas shopping.  No Massa press conference coverage, and light posting will ensue.  Baby needs some new toys.

Kuhl News Roundup

Randy Kuhl made today's front page [pdf] (jump [pdf]) of the Corning Leader.  Kuhl gets credit for a slew of earmarks that accompanied the omnibus budget bill.  Thanks to reader Elmer for sending this in.  The Star-Gazette also has a  story on the same topic, as well as one on the energy bill, which Kuhl supported in its final form.

Turns out that the reason they call things rumors is that they might not be true.  Exile at Rochesterturning notes that Randy Kuhl did not go to Iraq after all.

Kuhl Votes for Omnibus Bill

The Hornell Evening Tribune has a story on Kuhl's vote for the Omnibus spending bill, which is a giant conglomeration of appropriations bills patched together to get Congress home by Christmas.

Randy Doesn't Lease a Car

The Democrat and Chronicle has a story about local Members of Congress who lease vehicles at taxpayers' expense. Randy is the only Rochester-area rep who doesn't do this.

Louise Slaughter (NY-28) leases the most expensive car, a Buick Lucerne.  If you're over 60 and live in Rochester, you drive some kind of Buick sedan, and Louise is no exception. The only difference between her and some of my older neighbors is that Uncle Sam foots the bill for her GM boat.

Kuhl in Iraq?

Exile over at Rochesterturning has heard rumors that Randy Kuhl recently paid, or is paying, a visit to Iraq.  

How Dare They?

Reader Rich sends a Letter to the Editor [pdf] from the Finger Lake Times about Randy Kuhl's trip to Brazil.  Written by the mother of a page nominated by Kuhl intern in Kuhl's office, it says that earlier letters criticizing Kuhl's trip were "mean and wrong".  

No, the congressman didn't travel by private jet, stay at a 5-star hotel, spend time at the pool or beach. You don't have to take my word for it, check for your­self. Congressman Kuhl's of­fice will be happy to supply you with the real facts.
I don't know if Kuhl spent time by the beach, but he did take a private (military) jet, and his itinerary shows that he stayed in a number of five-star hotels.

Another variation on this theme can be seen in the Steuben Young Republican blog post Respect for Randy. The post has a couple of videos showing the slings and arrows launched at Randy:  "Take a look at this town hall meeting Randy held in Branchport. He had to sit there and listen to more than 5 minutes of attacks."   It sounded like five minutes of gentle questioning to me.

There's something a little disturbing about the version of "respect" being peddled in these two examples.  Randy Kuhl is a politician, and everything he says and does should be questioned closely by his constituents, the press, and any other interested party.  There's nothing disrespectful about doing that, and it should happen more often, not less.

Update:  Meghan Tisinger of Kuhl's office wrote to say the following: 

FYI…the editorial in The Finger Lakes Times was written by the mother of a page that Randy appointed. The page did not work/intern for us. All pages work for the Speaker’s office.
I've corrected the post.  Here's a Wikipedia article about pages.

Kuhl AMT Vote Makes the News

The Hornell Evening Tribune covers Randy Kuhl's second vote against cutting the Alternative Minimum Tax.   My take on the AMT, and fiscal discipline, can be read here.

Iran RoboCall

I received another robocall call earlier this week:

Hello, I'm calling from the Campaign to Defend America.  Congressman Randy Kuhl needs to be honest with the American people. US intelligence agencies have revealed that Iran stopped building nuclear weapons four years ago.  Congressman Kuhl, George Bush and Dick Cheney were wrong about having [?] to bomb Iran, just like they were wrong about invading Iraq.  Call Congressman Kuhl at 585-223-4760  and tell him to stop pushing us into wars based on lies.
Update:  Reader lean, who considers these calls harassment, sends along the full contact information for Campaign to Defend America:

Campaign to Defend America, Inc.
1825 "K" Street NW
Suite 400
Washington DC 20006

Phone (202) 454-6200 main
(202) 263-4528 (direct)
(202) 263-4530 (fax)


H.Con.Res 215, which was co-sponsored by Randy Kuhl and Dan Boren (D-OK-2), names the first week in June as National CPR and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Week.  It passed the House yesterday, and the Senate on December 6. 

Also, and completely unrelated, I missed the Massa press conference this morning, so no report on Massa doings this week.