Posts containing my opinion of the race.

Kuhl Supports Mortgage Relief

The Messenger-Post has a story on Randy Kuhl's support of HR 4627, a bill that would allow interest-free withdrawals from 401(k) plans to pay for mortgages.  While Kuhl thinks it's a good idea, a financial planner quoted in the story says that it's never a right to take money out of retirement plans.

Far be it from me to question the wisdom of a financial planner, but this bill makes sense to me.  There are a few circumstances, such as someone with good job prospects who's temporarily out of work, where a making mortgage payments from a retirement plan is a good strategy. Unfortunately, there are many other situations where the bill will allow homeowners to double down when they should be cutting their losses. 

In the end, this and other efforts to blunt the impact of the mortgage crisis can't really do much, because the risk of rewarding speculators far outweighs the benefit of rescuing a few legitimate victims.  If the mortgage crisis ends in a bailout, it will engender a new, larger bubble fueled by speculators assuming that government will swoop in to rescue them if the market goes south.  Of course, it isn't politic to point that out, so Kuhl and other politicians will continue to trot out band-aids like this one as the recession deepens.

Pop-Up Energy

Randy Kuhl sent me a new mailer. This one is on energy policy, and you can see what I thought of it by checking out Pop-Up Energy

Pop-Up S-CHIP Mailer

For all you VH-1 viewers out there, the Fighting29th is proud to present Pop-Up SCHIP.  Move your mouse over the boxes and see what pops up.

Silly Assumptions About the Job of Congressman

The Democrat and Chronicle's editorial board has two community members, a "liberal" and a "conservative".  This year's conservative is Petrena Hayes, who was formerly the Greece community blogger. 

Editorial board members publish occasional op-eds, and Petrena's first contribution complains about the current perqs enjoyed by Members of Congress.   Exile at Rochesterturning has a good critique of her essay, but I'd like to make another point.

Every Member of Congress in the Rochester area, with the exception of Louise Slaughter (NY-28), is in a hotly contested district.  The job of Congressman in a contested district is a tough job.  When you're not traveling back and forth between your district and DC, you're on the phone or at fundraisers begging for money.  In between, if you're Randy Kuhl, you're visiting every backwater town in the district, listening to people complain. 

The notion that any of these guys took the job because they wanted to workout at the House Gym and take advantage of the retirement benefits is ignorant.  Most Members of Congress have impressive resumes with post-graduate degrees.  If they were motivated primarily by greed, there are much quicker ways to make more money.  The motivations I see in our congressional delegation are a combination of altruism and ambition.    There are some lapses, such as Kuhl's recent junket, but Congressional perqs are distraction, not a major issue.

If you don't believe me, check out this story in the Atlantic Monthly. The full story is subscriber-only, but I've included a few choice excerpts after the break:
Sarah Feinberg, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman, estimates that incumbent members in a competitive race spend “twenty-five hours a week” fund-raising, while challengers devote “forty to fifty hours a week” to literally dialing for dollars.

In addition to the fourteen-hour workday [Heather] Wilson [R-NM-1] often puts in—soliciting money, sitting on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Intelligence Committee, and taking care of constituents—she faces a grueling weekly commute that takes seven hours each way (if all goes smoothly) between her studio in Washington and her full-time residence in Albuquerque. Wilson’s family is used to this: her daughter, Cait, was just over eighteen months old when her mother first won federal office [...] (When Cait was younger and would say “I want you” over the phone to Wilson, the congresswoman recalls, “it was almost physically painful.”)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi works fourteen-hour days whether or not Congress is in session. [...] Pelosi’s schedule between 1:15 p.m. on Friday, June 23, and 9:00 p.m. on Monday, June 26, featured stops in Providence; Cambridge, Massachusetts; San Juan; Pittsburgh; and Washington, D.C., and included five fund-raisers, three media appearances, two official meetings, one charity event, and a dinner for members of Congress that she hosted in her own home.

One of the only times former House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey got truly angry at his executive assistant was when she decided, in response to public criticism that lawmakers earned too much money, to calculate how much Armey earned an hour. She established that it averaged $3.57.

Obstructionism Alone is Not a Strategy

In recent blog posts and email, Randy Kuhl isn't shy about criticizing Congress.  Recalling a race from 60 years ago, Kuhl uses Harry Truman's term, "Do Nothing Congress", to describe the workings of the first year of the 110th Congress.  Kuhl proudly links to articles with headlines that begin with "GOP not budging...".  Though most of the links in his newest post try to pin the blame on the Democratic leadership, Kuhl is not afraid of articles that paint his party as obstructionist.

While it's too early to draw any conclusions about the impact of the primaries on the race in the 29th, the lopsided turnouts in New Hampshire and Iowa have shown one thing:  independents are overwhelmingly voting for Democrats. 
As they did in 2006, Democrats claim that a vote for them in 2008 is a vote for change.  Kuhl's rhetoric is aimed at showing that the Democrats' oversold their ability to change in 2006, so voters are suckers to choose them again in 2008.

Polls certainly agree that the public is disgusted with Congress.  But Kuhl's strategy is a double-edged sword.  Since he isn't presenting a positive program, voters will wonder if he's part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  Massa has a list of positive goals, most of which are shared by the Democratic presidential candidates.  Even if voters don't agree with every detail of Massa and the Democrats' platform, they may well choose it over the prospect of more gridlock.  As the saying goes, something is better than nothing.

In The News

The Star-Gazette reports that Randy Kuhl is concerned that the Farm Bill hasn't yet gone through the conference committee process, even though the previous bill expired at the end of 2007.   Wonder what happened to that bill?  Well, if you look at the Congressdb summary,  you can see that the bill was passed by the House in July.  After the inevitable cloture vote, the Senate finally passed it in December, almost immediately before adjourning.   So, what Randy is telling us is that we should be upset that the filibuster threats in the Senate have delayed the Farm Bill.  OK, I'm upset.

The Democrat and Chronicle's story on suburban poverty notes that the number of children living in poverty in Rochester's suburbs is on the rise.  One of the school districts mentioned, Wheatland-Chili, is part of the 29th district.  Another, East Rochester, is on the very edge of the district.

Another Kind of Audacity

Here's the first email I received last night after the Iowa caucus was called for Obama:

Yeeeeaaaahhhhhhh!!!! You did it!

The DFA Unite for a Progressive President Campaign was a huge success and helped propel Senators Obama and Edwards to first and second place victories in Iowa.

A year ago, the pundits and beltway Democrats said this race was a forgone conclusion. Over the last two months, you made it a dead heat on the ground in Iowa.

Tonight: Progressives Won!

The nomination is far from over. New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are coming up fast. And, Super Tuesday could decide the nomination.

With your help, we will continue to make history. You did it in Iowa. Let's do it again across the nation. Contribute $15 right now and support our campaign for a progressive president.

DFA stands for Democracy for America, a political action committee.  Perhaps they did have something to do with setting the stage for Senator Obama's win last night.  But the notion that someone should send them $15 because Obama won is a staggering misdirection.  If you have a few bucks to send, you'll get the most bang for those bucks by sending them directly to your candidate of choice.

This is especially true in the 29th district, where groups like DFA and MoveOn are active supporters of Eric Massa's candidacy.   If you're sending DFA money and haven't maxed out your contributions to Massa, you're as big a sucker as someone who thinks that the right way to respond to last night's events in Iowa is to send Howard Dean's brother a check.

Kuhl's New Year

The Ontario Republican's New Year's Eve post sounds like he was hitting the champagne a little early.  GOP believes that Randy Kuhl will do well in 2008, and cites two reasons why: the surge is working and therefore Iraq is less of an issue, and S-CHIP is off the table.

I must have slept through the Iraq victory parade, especially the part where all of our soldiers came home and we stopped spending billions per month on a war without end.  But I don't think I was the only one who missed the "Iraq is not a problem" bandwagon.  Last week's Economist magazine, hardly a hotbed of left-wing extremism, has an in-depth review of the Iraq situation.  Acknowledging that the surge has lessened violence in Iraq and provided an opportunity for improvement, they say:

Alas, there has so far been no sign that the government of Nuri al-Maliki is poised to grab this opportunity. Indeed, as an adviser to General Petraeus glumly describes it, “The politics is going nowhere.” The government still acts like a collection of competing fiefs, not a body that speaks with a national voice. Even among Shias, a paralysing factionalism has, if anything, got worse. [...]

Worse, Mr Maliki is still failing to reach out effectively to the Sunnis. The main Sunni block in parliament, which had a clutch of ministries in the ruling coalition, continues to take no part in government. [...] To cap it all, the Sunnis are sorely divided too—and not just over al-Qaeda. The main Sunni block in parliament is deeply wary of the Awakening in Anbar, which may displace it as the authentic voice of the Sunnis nationwide.
Also, I didn't sleep through the Petraeus hearings, where he made it clear that the surge will end in the Spring.  By that time, both parties will have picked their nominees and Iraq will once again be a major issue getting tons of airtime as part of the Presidential race.   Surge or no surge, a broad majority of Americans still want to get out of Iraq.  Thinking that this issue will just go away is simply unrealistic.  We are going to hear a lot about Iraq in 2008, and much of it will not be kind to Kuhl's record on the issue.

As for S-CHIP, Massa can still argue that Kuhl's stalwart support of the Republican minority led to 50,000 fewer insured children in the 29th district.  The recent S-CHIP cave-in by the Democrats just kicked the can down the road.   Massa can still ask voters who they would like to be voting on S-CHIP expansion in 2009:  him, or Randy Kuhl.

In general, all of the issues on which Massa campaigned in 2006 are still important in 2008.   The economy isn't getting better, the deficit is growing, the war in Iraq hasn't made us more secure, and healthcare is becoming less affordable by the day.  The only difference between '08 and '06 is that the entire country will be focused on the presidential race, where all of these issues will be debated continuously until the day of the election.  I have to assume that a happy warrior like Massa is relishing that prospect, and I don't think there's much silver lining for Kuhl in the cloud that's been created by 7 years of the Bush administration.

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?
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