Category Archives: Heller

Questioning, Questionable, Values

** Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) would like to do something about the backlog of paperwork stalling veterans’ benefits, and has signed onto the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act (S.2091) also sponsored by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), David Vitter (R-LA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Jerry Moran (R-KS).  Details of the bill can be found at Senator Casey’s web page.   Just a thought — but before we send “boots on the ground” into another armed conflict it might be advisable to consider the requirements necessary to provide services to the veterans of that conflict BEFORE leaping into the fray?  Do we really value the service of our members of the Armed Forces?

** Oh, spare me the rhetorical flourishes!  “Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management over the agency’s roundup of his cattle will go down in history as a high-profile clash of Old West values with today’s federal regulations on the use of public lands and natural resources.” [LVRJ]  Or, might we opine that the squabble will be added to the list of Cranky Old Welfare Queens who want to graze their privately owned cattle on public land — at public expense?  And, what, pray tell, is an “Old West value?”  Before contributing a Hollywood stereotypical opinion on the matter — please note that the original ‘cowboys’ were vaqueros, Mexican, Spanish speaking cattle hands.  As for land use issues — the introduction of barbed wire restricting open range was a particular sore point [LIOW] exacerbating the trouble between farming and ranching interests.  Or, is Bundy harkening back to the Good Old Days when his hands could apply wire cutters to fencing around crop lands, decimating the neighbor’s alfalfa crops?  Was THAT an old west value?

**  The real face of poverty in America?  Recommended reading: Clarence Page’s contribution on the subject, reprinted in the Las Vegas Sun.  While the Republicans may be using “Urban” as a code word for African American, and “welfare” takes on a darker hue, the numbers are revealing –  of those participating in the WIC nutrition program 10.3% are Native American, 2.72% are Asian, 19.3% are African American, and 60.94% are White. [USDA]

Families receiving TANF aid are 31.8% White, 31.9% African American, and 30% Hispanic ethnicity. [HHS]

Do we value the lives of our neighbors — or just a little more or less so depending on the pigmentation?

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Senator Heller’s Happy Land: Retirement Income?

hellerSenator Dean Heller (R-NV) had this to say during the Senate Banking Committee’s hearing on retirement security:

“A growing number today’s workers are preparing for retirement through defined contribution plans, like 401(k)s, and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), that allow families to accumulate financial assets from investments in stocks, bonds and mutual funds.  These retirement accounts, along with the development of rules allowing for increased after-tax contribution allowances in Roth plans, are further expanding individuals abilities to contribute earnings to their retirement plan.  Although these are positive developments, many Americans are still struggling to save for retirement.  Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) March 13, 2014″

True… sort of.  Did we notice the part about “workers are preparing for retirement through defined contribution plans?”   Senator Heller makes this sound like a ‘happy thing.’  In fact, there are some serious disadvantages to those defined contribution plans.

In a defined contribution retirement plan (1) the worker/investor takes all the risk; (2) unless the worker annualizes their account balance they can outlive their benefits; (3) benefits may not bear any relation to the working pay; (4) is more expensive to administer than a defined benefits plan; (5) outside service is not easily translated into a larger retirement account balance; (6) employees are not necessarily rewarded for continuing to work if the account balance is deemed sufficient or they want to transfer to a new employer’s program; (7) there is no post retirement benefit increase; (8) it is difficult to transfer a lump sum account into a steady monthly or annual income stream. [IllinoisMRF pdf]

In other words, for an employee to derive the full benefit from a defined contribution retirement plan that individual has to be a pretty savvy investor, and  has to think of him or herself as a ‘non-career’ employee.  There is also a bit of a calendar game going on.  Imagine the difference between a person’s retirement investment portfolio if the person were to retire in the wake of the Mortgage Meltdown of 2008 when the market closed at a low of 6,594.44 on March 5, 2009, [USecon] and the individual who retired as of 3:00 pm yesterday afternoon when the DJIA was 16,075. [Money]

There’s nothing which seems particularly ‘positive’ about putting family retirement plans into the hand of the Wall Street Casino and hoping they accumulate — and peak at just the right time — unless some ickiness happens like fund managers investing in Enron, or Lehman Brothers, or… whatever.

Timing is crucial. If we look at the real world, and the reality of savings in America then the Work Until You Drop Rule could easily come into play:

“The reality is that many DC plan participants are unable to retire or must find a way to generate additional income because their investments failed to meet their needs. A recent study by Fidelity Investments revealed that workers 55 and older had an average 401(k) plan balance of $233,800 in 2011. If those investors retired and put all of their money into high-risk investments (the only way to generate decent returns), they might be able to generate 6% per year. That’s about $14,000 in income.” [Smith InVest]

To put this in perspective, 2014 federal poverty level guidelines put a two person family at 100% of the poverty level based on an income of $15,730, and that would be if they placed their money in high yield high risk investments.

However, Senator Heller is correct, there has been a shift into the defined contribution plans, as noted in EPI testimony to the panel:

“In the private sector, defined-benefit pensions were largely replaced by defined-contribution plans, shifting costs and risks from employers to individual workers. In 1989, 62 percent of full-time private-sector workers had retirement benefits and these were divided roughly equally between those with defined-benefit pensions and those with defined-contribution plans, including roughly 20 percent of full-time private-sector workers who had both. By 2010, 50 percent of these workers had a defined-contribution plan and 22 percent had a defined-benefit plan, including roughly 13 percent who had both (Wiatrowski 2011).” [EPI]

And here’s the part wherein the rubber of Republican theoretical and ideological rhetoric meets the road of reality:

“In theory, the shift from defined-benefit pensions to defined-contribution plans could have broadened access by making it easier for employers to offer retirement benefits. However, participation in employer-based plans, which peaked at just over half (52 percent) of prime-age wage and salary workers in 2000, fell to 44 percent in 2012. This occurred even though the baby boomers were entering their 50s and early 60s, when participation rates tend to be high (Copeland 2013; Morrissey and Sabadish 2013).” [EPI]

What is the result of this shift?  Can we use the Inequality and Uncertainty tags?

“As 401(k)s replaced traditional pensions and the population aged, assets in individual and pooled retirement funds grew faster than income. By 2010, average savings in retirement accounts had surpassed the value of annual household income. However, retirement insecurity worsened as retirement wealth became more unequal and outcomes more uncertain (Morrissey and Sabadish 2013).”  [EPI] (emphasis added)

Here’s what that looks like with real numbers:

Mean household savings in retirement accounts increased from around $24,000 in 1989 to around $86,000 in 2010. However, the growth was driven by a small number of households with large balances. Median savings—the savings of the typical household with a positive balance—peaked at around $47,000 in 2007 before declining to $44,000 in 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession, even as the baby boomers were entering their peak saving years (Morrissey and Sabadish 2013).  [EPI] (emphasis added)

And about those ‘tax incentives’ to which Senator Heller refers as ‘positive developments’ — what of those?

“Retirement account savings are very unevenly distributed. In 2010, a household in the 90th percentile of the retirement savings distribution had nearly 100 times more retirement savings than the median (50th percentile) household, which had a negligible amount. The top 1 percent of households had over $1.3 million in retirement account savings. All told, households in the top fifth of the income distribution accounted for 72 percent of total savings in retirement accounts (Morrissey and Sabadish 2013). Assuming upper-income households receive tax subsidies at least proportional to their share of savings, this suggests that the lion’s share of tax subsidies for retirement savings go to high-income households.” [EPI] (emphasis added)

And so, in Heller’s Happy Land, the rich get richer and the “lion’s share of tax subsidies for retirement savings go to high income households.”   There seems to be something of a theme going on here — Lion’s Shares and Subsidies for the Top 1% — the Republican Concern Core.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street sector enjoys a cut of the savings at every jog and turn.  No wonder Senator Dean “Banker’s Boy” Heller is pleased with the trends?

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A Little Common Sense and Economic Literacy Required

The GOP filibuster of the bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits for “long term” unemployed people was broken by a 60-37 vote in the U.S. Senate [vote 2] with both Nevada Senators voting in favor of the cloture motion.  The bill will now move over to the House side where passage is less certain.

While Senator Heller (R-NV) is anxious for us to know that he’s “still a conservative,” [WaPo Fix] he’s also representing a state with a heavy 3.9% long term unemployment rate.  [BusinessInsider]

How They Voted – States with 3% or higher long term unemployment

Rhode Island  4.1%   Reed (D) Whitehouse (D) Yes

Nevada 3.9% Reid (D) Heller (R) Yes

New Jersey 3.9%  Booker (D) Menendez (D) Yes

Illinois 3.7% Durbin (D) Yes Kirk (R) No

California 3.7% Boxer (D) Feinstein (D) Yes

Mississippi 3.6% Cochran (R) Wicker (R) No

North Carolina 3.6% Hagan (D) Yes Burr (R) No

New York 3.5% Gillibrand (D) Schumer (D) Yes

Georgia 3.5% Chambliss (R) Isakson (R) No

Florida 3.3%  Nelson (D) Yes  Rubio (R) No

Michigan 3.3% Levin (D) Stabenow (D) Yes

Pennsylvania 3.0%  Casey (D) Yes  Toomey (R) No

South Carolina 3.0% Graham (R)  Scott (R) No

These “no” votes make no economic sense.   First, we ought to look at some of the statistics related to unemployment in this country.  The BLS report for November 2013 on characteristics of those unemployed show that of the 10,271,000 unemployed persons in the U.S. 5,400,000 were those who had been laid off or who had finished temporary jobs.   For some 4,448,000 these were not temporary lay offs.  3,329,000 were permanent job losses.  1,160,000 were those who had completed temporary jobs.

Secondly, we should look at where the jobs are increasing.  The last comprehensive report issued in November shows some pockets of economic activity which aren’t promising.  For example, in the health care and services category showed increases in most subcategories, approximately 4,000 nursing home care jobs were lost. [BLS]   While mining and logging showed general growth, support services for mining were down 3.1%.  The manufacturing sector slugged along, with significant employment up for motor vehicles and parts, up 6.7%.  Transportation equipment manufacturing was up 4.9%, and fabricated metal products related employment increased by 3.1%.

In the retail sector of the U.S. economy there was more mixed news.  Employment in electronics and appliance stores down 3.6%, in food an beverage stores down 5.4%, in health and personal care stores down 3.4% in a sector which showed an overall 22.3% increase Oct/Nov 2013.  [BLS]

The mixed news created the chart below, indicating that while employment levels were generally higher, this wasn’t necessarily good news for those who were among the long term unemployed (longer than 26 weeks.)

Duration Unemployment 2013Looking at some of the other labor data could indicate some of the employment sector weakness facing the long term unemployed.  Unemployment rates in the construction sector, while far better than in 2012, were still at 8.6% as of November 2013. [BLS]  The unemployment rate in the leisure and hospitality sector was still above the national average at 9%, and unemployment in the agricultural sector was at 9.7%.

Given a situation in which there hasn’t been enough job creation in significant sectors, and in which while employment has generally improved, there remain pockets of losses, and what we don’t want to create are more “discouraged workers.”

BLS Table A-16 puts paid to the conservative theme that the unemployed are sitting on the stoop swilling beverages of choice and “taking” a living from “hard working Americans.”

Discouraged Workers 2013The number of Americans “marginally attached” to the labor force declined from 2,505,000 in 2012 to 2,096,000 in 2013, meaning that there was a decrease in the number of persons “who want a job, have searched for work during the prior 12 months, and were available to take a job during the reference week, but had not looked for work in the past 4 weeks.”

There was also a decline in the “discouraged worker” category, from 979,000 in 2012 to 762,000 in November 2013.   Discouraged workers  are categorized as “those who did not actively look for work in the prior 4 weeks for reasons such as thinks no work available, could not find work, lacks schooling or training, employer thinks too young or old, and other types of discrimination.”  These people obviously didn’t drop into the infamous “other category” because those numbers also declined.

Others is a category which “Includes those who did not actively look for work in the prior 4 weeks for such reasons as school or family responsibilities, ill health, and transportation problems, as well as a number for whom reason for nonparticipation was not determined.”  Those numbers dropped from 1,526,000 to 1,334,000 between November 2012 and November 2013.   It’s truly hard to argue that people are willing to avoid work when even at a point at which there are three applicants for every single job available those who have only the most tenuous connection to the labor force are demonstrating a reduction in their numbers.

When the numbers of “marginal, discouraged, and ‘other’” workers are dropping people are obviously NOT willing to accept “dependency” on the government for their income.

If we are truly interested in improved economic growth then we’d be well advised to take both some long term and short term measures to develop it.

Short term activities should include extending unemployment insurance benefits so that people have the wherewithal to continue to seek work.  No one is giving away gasoline to get to job fairs and interviews.  Further, (once more will feeling) such benefits act as a automatic stabilizer for the economy, keeping spending levels from gyrating wildly in times of economic instability.  DB’s been on this topic at least since April 2011.

Long term investments in infrastructure rehabilitation and construction would go a long way toward providing employment to meet short term needs in the construction sector and long term necessities for economic activity.

However, there may be little hope that the 233 Republicans in the House of Representatives (112th Congress) will manage to throw off the shackles of ideology.  We know that Trickle Down Economics is a hoax.  We’ve had thirty years of it.  We know that tax cuts don’t “boost the economy;” had this been the case the Bush Administration would have been wildly successful.  We know that deregulation produced one amazing financial sector collapse. And, we can see from the BLS statistics that unemployed people are leeches on the body politic.

However, all this information and experience didn’t prevent 37 Republican members of the U.S. Senate from voting to sustain their filibuster of the bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits to the long term unemployed — including some from the states which could have definitely benefited from the legislation.

Common sense and a modicum of economic literacy are in order.

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Default Dean Adds To His Tea Party Creds

Dean Heller DoubleOn Halloween 2013 Senator “Default Dean” Heller (R-NV) voted to sustain the Senate Republican filibuster of  Congressman Mel Watt’s nomination to be the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. [roll call 226]   “Default Dean” added another Gold Star to his Tea Party Helper chart with his next vote, another vote to sustain a filibuster — this time of the nomination of Patricia Millett to fill a vacancy on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. [roll call 227] * see previous post and The Republican Argument is Bogus. (pfaw)

Some Republicans groused that Rep. Watt, a Yale Law graduate with extensive experience in North Carolina politics, and a Congressman from N.C. in several sessions “lacked the experience to administer an agency as large as the FHFA.”   By the end of the day on October 29th it was obvious there were going to be Senate Republicans who would block an “up or down” vote on Watt’s nomination. [Reuters]

It would be instructive at this point to mention that the Federal Housing Finance Agency is the outfit that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Mortgage Twins, and the objects of GOP calls for a full privatization of the secondary mortgage market.  Additionally, it should be noted that Rep. Watt’s nomination is the second to be blocked by Senate Republicans; former N.C. banking commissioner Joseph Smith withdrew his nomination to head FHFA in 2011 in the face of GOP opposition.  Finally, Rep. Watt is on record as supporting measures to allow bankruptcy judges to trim the principal owed on home loans.  It appears that this position is sufficient to render his service on the House Financial Services Committee inadequate to Republican purposes.  [BloombergNews]

Given the opposition to both Smith and Watts a sentient person could logically conclude that in this instance the GOP doesn’t want the FHFA to be fully functional.   If the deregulation of the secondary mortgage market is the desire outcome, and the repeal of the oversight agency is impolitic, then the obvious way to impede the regulatory process is to keep the agency headless.  That sentient person could also conclude that St. Peter’s nomination would be blocked, on the grounds that his previous experience was only as a “community organizer” and that his most recent housing experience comes solely from his residency in a gated community.

Senator Heller’s opposition fits neatly into this scenario when we notice that he is a supported of S. 1217 — a bill to privatize the secondary mortgage market.

“In 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken into government conservatorship and given a $188 billion capital injection from taxpayers to stay afloat. As a result of this bailout, the private market has almost completely disappeared, and so nearly every loan made in America today comes with a full government guarantee.  Despite this unsustainable situation, there has still been no real reform to our housing finance system since the financial crisis.”  [Heller]

The statement from Senator Heller doesn’t whitewash history — it merely leaves out a significant piece — like anything that happened prior to 2008.  Prior to 2008 the Mortgage Twins were hybrid-privatized secondary market financial agencies, and in the process of behaving like privatized secondary market finance operators they succumbed to the same avarice infecting the rest of the secondary home loan market — cutting back on home loan requirements and passing along risky financial products in the name of “managing risk.”   Further, there was a ‘silent agreement’ implicit in the operations of the Mortgage Twins before 2008 that the products it sold into the financial market did have the imprimatur of the federal government.

To boil things down to the core — what Senator Heller’s support of S. 1217 means is that he wants a return to the pre-2008 system, without any federal regulation of the secondary mortgage market at all.  Why would Senator “Default Dean” Heller want to confirm any nominee to head the FHFA when he’s supporting a bill that would eliminate Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the FHFA within five years of the bill’s passage?

S. 1217 is warmly supported by the American Bankers Association and the Mortgage Bankers Association, and why shouldn’t it since it contains the following lovely loophole:

“Amends the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to exempt covered securities insured by FMIC from Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation in general and from credit risk retention requirements…”  [OC]

The “FMIC” is supposed to be modeled on the FDIC, and notice that according to S. 1217,  introduced by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), if the FMIC issues any “securities” those are exempt from regulation by the SEC.   Those who like deregulation of the financial markets will love this one.

Time and again, Senator Heller is fond of telling anyone who happens to be within range that he “voted against the bailout” as if he were somehow beyond the pressure of the lobbyists from the Mortgage Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association — and yet rarely can one find a Senator so ready and willing to carry the water for MBA and ABA interests.

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The Revenue Side of the Equation: Two Suggestions

ScalesIf the leadership of both major U.S. political parties are truly serious about “paying down” the national debt, and reducing our budget deficit, then both need to move beyond the Austerian economics embedded in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (sequestration).

Perhaps in the rarefied atmosphere of academic debate it’s remotely conceivable that government services could be cut back sufficiently to balance the effects of (1) two major military operations, (2) one major recession, and (3) tax reductions during war time — however, as we discovered during the last government shutdown, “we” want leaner government BUT we don’t want our national parks closed, our NIH studies delayed, our Veterans Benefits deferred, our Indian Health Service programs halted, or our FAA flight safety personnel home on furlough, and so on and on.

The efficacy of the Austerian solutions to the economic doldrums in Europe has already been questioned.  As of May 2013 members of the European Union were seriously questioning the “dogma of Austerity.” [CSMonitor] [Slate][USNWR]  Predictably, there were voices from the financial sector replying that “real” austerity would have worked, and that the philosophy wasn’t truly implemented.  [Forbes]  Once more we tread into Academia, the land in which the theory of “true” austerity drives headlong into the realities of governance.  We may want lower taxes in general, but we also want inspected food, safe air travel, veterans paid what they were promised, scientific trials for cancer treatments, national parks and memorials open and protected, unpolluted air, clean water, regulated nuclear power plants, disaster aid and relief, insurance for livestock losses, and all those other “details” swamped in the rhetoric of the Austerian ethereal-ism.

Sequester Savings

The focus on Austerity Economics (and politics) places singular focus on cutting expenditures — but there is another side to the equation — loath though political leadership may be to discuss it — increasing revenue, otherwise known to  one and all as “raising taxes.”

Let’s begin with the premise that current levels of income disparity are counter-productive to growth in the United States economy.

Income inequality graph 2

The concentration of wealth (and income) in the upper echelons of American income earners doesn’t create the level of aggregate demand which could be achieved if more people had more money to spend for more goods and services.   So, let’s talk about Tax Reform.

On one hand we have the Ryan Plan:

“The tax proposals in the budget that the House approved on April 15 place a top priority on cutting  taxes for high-income people, while doing nothing to reduce budget deficits, themselves.   In addition to making the Bush tax cuts permanent and continuing to provide relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) at a cost of nearly $4 trillion over ten years, the House budget advances a series of additional tax cuts that would primarily benefit high-income households at a cost of nearly $3 trillion over that period, most of which is assumed to be offset by reductions in tax expenditures that are left unspecified. ”

Not to put too fine a point to it — but this is austerity on steroids — and there is probably a reason those reductions in tax expenditures are left unspecified.  As we saw during the shutdown, it doesn’t take much pressure to make Republicans cave for specific funding categories.

Options

#1. Financial Transaction Tax could be one way to increase revenue by transactions which would not exacerbate income disparity, would be relatively easy to administer, and might address some of the volatility issues in our current equities markets.  A fuller explanation is available from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, published in 2010.  More information is available from the Center for American Progress (Feb 25, 2013).  See also: Zero Hedge, Nov 2009).  For those who really want to get into the weeds of the European Council’s consideration of a financial transaction tax, there’s Bruegel.Org’s “Benefits of a Transaction Tax,” available in download (pdf) at this link.   The Irish Congress of Trade Union published its “Case for the FTT,” (pdf) Nov 2012.  “FTT: Europe Needs It,” published by the World Economic Review, March 2012. (pdf)

#2. Modify the capital gains tax.  Our current tax system taxes actual w-o-r-k done by human beings at a higher rate than income earned by money.

Most long term capital gains are subject to a top rate of 15%. [TPC] The individual income tax rate (+$400,000-$450,000) are subject to a maximum rate of 39.6%. [TPC]  This system doesn’t serve to ameliorate the income disparity in this country, and is popular only among those who serve the interests of the financial sector and adhere to the principles of the Supply Side Hoaxsters.

Additional information on the current state of capital gains taxation can be found at “A Tragedy in Two Acts,” Bloomberg, Dec. 9, 2012.  CNN “Money” March 1, 2012.  “Who Pays Capital Gains,” CTJ, and
“Ending Capital Gains Tax Preference.”  “Rising Income Inequality and the Role of Shifting Market-Income Distribution, Tax Burdens, and Tax Rates,” EPI, June 2013.   “Capital Gains Tax Rates, Stock Markets, and Growth,” Brookings, November 2005.

Not that we can expect members of the Nevada congressional delegation like Rep. Mark “Alamo” Amodei (R-NV2) and Senator “Default Dean” Heller (R-NV) to give these proposals much serious consideration, but perhaps those more inclined to balance the scales in our tax system will give modification of the capital gains taxes and the enactment of a financial transaction tax a serious thought or two.

 

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Five Reasons Senator Heller’s Vote Is No Surprise

Heller 2Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was one of 18 members of the United States Senate to vote against a bill to end the government shutdown, and to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of default. [roll call 219] This comes as no surprise. Absolutely no surprise.

For all of Senator Heller’s posturing as Mr. Moderate, his voting record has been indicative of a banner representative of Tea Party America.

#1. NO on the bill to avoid default and end the government shutdown. (H.R. 2775)  Roll Call 219.  Why would anyone be  surprised? Senator Heller also voted against the bill to end the 2011 stalemate.  [RGJ 8/11] In the 2011 vote Senator Heller was one of 26 members voting to dive over the edge; in 2013 he was one of 18.

#2.  NO on the TARP bill.  Otherwise known as the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, and perjoratively called the Bank Bail Out, there were two votes on this measure in the House.  After it failed on the first attempt the stock market tanked. [roll call 674] Thus advised of the economic and financial consequences of a failure to put some props under the financial sector, the House held a second vote.  Once more, then Representative Heller voted against the measure. [roll call 681]   If there has been a bit of campaign material I’ve received from Mr. Heller that has not reminded me that he was “against the bank bailout” I must have missed it.

There was much to despise about the TARP bill, however, the hard sad unavoidable fact was that our credit markets had ground themselves into a solid freeze in October 2008.  While this isn’t a particularly good analogy — think of an engine which has run out of oil — at some point the lack of liquidity creates a seizure.  There was an appalling lack of liquidity, and we were in the midst of an equally appalling seizure in capital markets.  Representative Heller voted not to add any oil to the motor.

#3. Senator Heller has been a consistent proponent of the so-called Balanced Budget Amendment.  Of all the naive and misleading proposals offered to the American public, this ranks among the most egregious.  In 2011 he joined Senator Jim DeMint (R-Heritage Action) to introduce this bit of fiscal insanity. [DB]  A “balanced budget amendment” would do nothing to help state governments, it would do nothing to promote tax equity, and nothing to make the federal government operate like the state governments. [DB] And, NO, this is NOT like your family budget! as explained here, and here.

#4. He co-sponsored S. B. 712 with Senator Jim DeMint which would have summarily  repealed all of the provisions of the financial regulation reform enacted in the Dodd-Frank law. [DB]  Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.  Under the ubiquitous heading of “gettin’ rid of guv’ment regulation,” Senator Heller would have undone every effort made by the Dodd-Frank Act to rein in corporate greed, require banks to maintain adequate capital, require financial institutions to adopt plans for unwinding failed banks, and protect consumers from mortgage and other financial frauds.

What doesn’t say “Tea Party” better than teaming up with former Senator DeMint and Representative Bachmann?

#5 Senator Heller has taken a consistent position in opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

“Senator Heller would gladly allow the insurance industry to continue to offer those junk  “defined benefits” plans, to exclude infants and children with “pre-existing conditions,” to spend less than 80-85% of the premiums they take in on actual medical treatment and services.   He would repeal the tax cuts available to small businesses which offer health care insurance to their employees, and would allow the infamous “Do-nut Hole” in prescription medication coverage to reopen.”  [DB]

All the benefits of the Affordable Care Act notwithstanding, Senator Heller would happily vote to repeal the ACA.

The titans of the financial sector and the major insurance corporations haven’t been Senator Heller’s only concern, he’s also taken the side of Big Oil, voting in July 2010 to protect BP from oversight in the wake of the Gulf Oil Spill, and voted not once but 8 times to protect tax breaks for the big oil corporations.  [DB] See votes 153, vote 78, vote 80, vote 1140, vote 835, and vote 40.

Still wondering where Senator Heller stands in relation to what remains of the Republican Party?

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Heller’s Horrors vs. The Constitution

ConstitutionIt seems there are some “Constitutional conservatives” who haven’t perused that august document, and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) is one of them?  His response to the shutdown of the Federal government? Enact his “No Budget No Pay” bill. [Heller]  Lovely — there’s just one little problem with not paying members of Congress until the houses pass a budget — it violates the 27th Amendment.  “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”  The Amendment was among the original ideas from the Founders, finally enacted in 1992, and it was intended to prevent members of the House and Senate from jacking up their salaries right before elections.

Then there’s the matter of raising the debt ceiling:

“Without a serious discussion about reducing our debt, I have to agree with then Senator Obama, who called an increase in the debt ceiling a ‘sign of leadership failure’ and a move that shifts the ‘burden of bad choices’ to future generations. Our nation cannot afford to continue raising the limit on our nation’s credit card without making the difficult decisions that prevent the country from incurring even more debt,”said Senator Dean Heller.”  [KRNV]

Oh, here we go again! The Think Of The Children Argument.  News Flash for the Junior Senator — raising the debt ceiling has NOTHING to do with incurring debt.  It has everything to do with paying the debts we’ve already racked up.   Senator Heller appears to believe this debt magically increased during the incumbency of President Obama.

“When President Obama came to office, our nation’s debt was more than $10 trillion. Five years later, our debt is nearly $17 trillion and growing fast. Democrats and Republicans must come together and agree on a long-term solution that places our nation on the path to fiscal solvency. Reducing wasteful spending and reforming the tax code are good places to start. As Senator Obama said in 2006, ‘Americans deserve better,’” said Senator Dean Heller.” [KRNV]

There was no magic involved. There is, however, some magical thinking.   First, when the Obama Administration took over in January 2009 it assumed the costs of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Since the costs of these efforts are no longer glossed into “supplemental appropriations,” we’re going to have to look at the $800 billion gorilla in the room — the outright cost of operations in Iraq.   Then there’s the not-so-small matter of paying the veterans’ benefits to those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total expense involved in these military efforts is projected to cost about $4 trillion. [Marketwatch]

Secondly, the United States (including Senator Heller) decided it was a dandy idea to cut taxes in war time — a reversal of what had been previously considered fiscally responsible thinking.  Let’s look at the elements driving the current level of debt one more time:

Source of National Debt

Thus, about 50% of the national debt which concerns Senator Heller so profoundly is a result of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Bush Era tax cuts (supported by Senator Heller.)  The darker blue segment of the graphic indicates the lost revenues from the Recession created by the collapse of the Housing Bubble.

Senator Heller would prefer not to compare the Bush and the Obama Administrations when it comes to policies which “place our nation on a path to fiscal solvency.”  If he did, he’d be highlighting the following information:

Bush Obama SpendingAnd here we have the answer to the question: Whose new policies created more federal spending? Was it Bush’s $5.07 trillion, or was it Obama’s $1.44 trillion?

As for which side of the aisle was more attentive to future spending levels, the staff of the Washington Post analyzed FY 2014 budget proposals and published the results:

Budgets Compared 2014Whose spending levels were lower over the next decade?

None of these analyses will prevent Senator Heller from continuing to bleat out the same talking points the GOP has been promoting with consistent enthusiasm — The Debt Is Rising! The Debt Is THE Problem!  Equally consistent has been the Republican demand that the social safety net (Social Security, Medicare, SNAP, TANF) be the target for cuts — not the Department of Defense; unless of course we’re speaking of increasing educational, housing, and health benefits for members of our military and veterans.

Now the Republicans threaten to shove the nation over the fiscal cliff, to which Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) responded:

“A vote to avert default is simply a vote to pay the bills. It’s not a vote to spend more money, to authorize new programs or to buy new things and more. It’s a vote to pay the bills the federal government has already incurred – bills for roads and bridges we’ve already built and warships we’ve already commissioned, as well as wars we’ve waged with borrowed money and tax breaks we’ve charged on the national credit card. A vote to avert default is a vote to pay the bills for all those things.”

That pretty much sums it up: (1) Pay the bills… (2) Pay the bills… (3) Pay the bills… as the Constitution says in Amendment 14 section 4.

*For the wonks in the audience, there is an excellent summary of debt ceiling legislation from the Congressional Research Service available in PDF.

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Who’s On The Other Side Of The Bargaining Table?

Bargaining with GOPSenator Dean Heller (R-NV) is sad that “Democrats are refusing to negotiate…” a standard GOP talking point du jour:

“Reached at his Senate office — where he personally spends about an hour every day taking calls during the shutdown — Nevada U.S. Sen. Dean Heller said he was disappointed Democrats were refusing to negotiate a reasonable solution to the shutdown standoff. “This is a poll-driven shutdown,” he said. (Heller said about half of the people who call him oppose the law, while the other half support it.)” [Sebelius]

The problem for the Democrats appears to be With Whom Do We Negotiate?  The negotiating partner doesn’t seem to be House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

“I know that that’s not the path he preferred,” Reid said. “I know that because we met the first week we came back in September and he told me that what he wanted was a clean CR and the $988 [billion] number.  “We didn’t like the 988 number. We didn’t like it but we negotiated. That was our compromise,” Reid added. “The exact bill that he now refuses to let the House vote on. That was our negotiation.”  [The Hill]

So, the simple and relatively obvious conclusion is that the Senate Majority Leader thought he had a deal with the House Speaker in September — which compromised to reach the $988 billion Continuing Resolution — and Speaker Boehner couldn’t deliver on his end of the bargain.

There is no sense  negotiating deals (of any ilk) when the negotiating partner cannot deliver his or her end of the bargain.  I could “negotiate” with a Rolls Royce dealership for the purchase of a lovely new ride — but since my bank account won’t cover such a delightful acquisition there’s no reason for the  dealer to waste time haggling with me.  At least one Republican House member is willing to discuss this problem:

“The longer this goes, the closer we get to the debt limit and the more the two of these roll together,” said Representative James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma and a member of the Budget Committee. “If any agreement is going to happen we’re going to have to have multiple negotiators rather than have Boehner come back with it.” [NYT]

Multiple negotiators?  There’s a recipe for chaos. The Democrats are supposed to negotiate with whom? Speaker Boehner? and Senator Cruz? and Rep. Bachmann? and Rep. Gohmert? and Rep. Stutzman, who isn’t sure what the GOP wants? [TPM]  However, there are still hardliners who refuse to negotiate at all:

“The House’s hard-liners, however, indicated that they were not ready to give in. Representative Phil Gingrey, Republican of Georgia, acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers were suffering, and more than a million more were working without pay.” “There’s some pain and suffering, but I don’t think that pain and suffering compares one bit to being stuck with a lifetime of Obamacare, so that’s why I’m holding pretty firm on this,” he said. [NYT]

So, by Senator Heller’s lights, are both the Administration and the Senate supposed to bargain coterminously with (1) the more moderate members of the House GOP caucus, (2) the House Leadership, (3) the House hardliners? To what possible end?

If the situation is, as Senator Heller asserts, a poll driven argument, then those polls aren’t looking so good for his side of the aisle:

“More than 7 in 10 say Congress should place a higher priority on passing a resolution to get the government running again, rather than stopping some provisions of the health care law from taking effect. And two-thirds say any budget agreement should be kept separate from discussions about funding the health care law; just a quarter, including a slight majority of Republicans, say a budget agreement should also cut off funding for the law.” [NYT]

If we drill down into the recent CBS polling on the shutdown we find 72% opposed shutting down the government over disputes about the new health care insurance law;  Republicans are split with 48% approving and 49% expressing disapproval. And that coveted “independent” segment — 21% approve while 76% disapprove. [TPP] This is not good territory for the national ambitions of the Republican Party.  To wit, Nevada Governor Sandoval weighs in:

“The constant focus on Congressional and White House bickering especially annoys Republican governors who feel that the party can take back the White House in 2016 if they nominate one of their own and run not only against the Democrats, but also against Washington dysfunction, much as George W. Bush did in 2000.

“There’s a clear contrast there,” Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada said of the difference between his fellow chief executives and Republicans in Washington. “People are craving leadership and craving problem-solvers.” [NYT]

It, indeed, would nice to get some “leadership and problem-solving” accomplished — but how is that done when it would take “multiple negotiators”  who range from cautiously centrist to heels dug into the ground hardliners, none of whom wish to negotiate anything?  Good question when the GOP cannot seem to productively negotiate within their own caucus.

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Heller’s Dystopia

Heller 2Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller is one of the GOP members of the U.S. Senate to sign on to the Tea Party Manifesto — as posted on August 2nd, he’s co-sponsoring the Paul/Coburn bill to gut the rules and decisions  associated with the Commerce Clause.  [TP] However, labor law isn’t the only thing that would be repealed in Heller-Land.

Note what the Coburn/Paul/Heller proposal states: “Prohibits the use of the Commerce Clause, except for “the regulation of the buying and selling of goods or services, or the transporting for those purposes, across boundaries with foreign nations, across State lines, or with Indian tribes…”  [Coburn]

The exceptions are the Rule.  Except for buying, selling, and transporting goods or services… the Commerce Clause would not be applied as it is today.  This isn’t a conservative reading of the U.S. Constitution, it’s a radically reactionary one.

The Clause, as contemporarily interpreted covers a wide range of commercial topics:

“From anti-trust policy to union organizing, from consumer rights, to civil rights and environmental protection, progressives have enacted legislation that conforms corporate commerce to the agenda and values of society rather than accepting the conservative claim that society must conform itself to the agenda and values of corporate commerce. Our robust Commerce Clause reflects the genius of the Framers, who considered well-regulated national commerce on fair terms to be a crucial constitutional value and a social and economic imperative.”  [PFAW]  (emphasis added)

Thus by narrowing the spectrum of topics which may be considered as coming under the Commerce Clause, the reactionaries would void anti-trust laws (what multinational corporation wouldn’t love that?) Roll back consumer protection laws (what Big Bank wouldn’t love to see the repeal of Sarbanes-Oxley and the Dodd Frank Act?) Ditch the interpretations of the Commerce Clause as they apply to Civil Rights (what loving son of the Old South wouldn’t like that?) and, pull the rug out from under environmental protection laws (Hey, the North Pole is already a lake — why not just increase environmental pollution until we can water ski on it?)

This essentially pro-corporate assault on the Commerce Clause isn’t something which popped out of the Head of Zeus recently, the Roberts’ Court skewed its decision upholding the Affordable Care Act by chipping away at the use of the Commerce clause in its decision.

We’d not be the first people to notice this:

“But the health care law was, ultimately, a pretext. This was a test case for the long-standing—but previously fringe—campaign to rewrite Congress’ regulatory powers under the Commerce Clause.” [Slate]

Here’s the crucial part of the Roberts’ decision:

“Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. Congress already possesses expansive power to regulate what people do. Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do. The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it. Ignoring that distinction would undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers. The individual mandate thus cannot be sustained under Congress’s power to “regulate Commerce.” [Slate]

There’s that phrase again, so beloved by the radical right: “a government of limited and enumerated powers.”    If the Congress cannot enact statutes predicated on the Commerce Clause beyond regulating buying, selling, and transporting goods and services, then it cannot enact civil rights statutes, labor statutes, environmental law, consumer protections, and anti-trust legislation.

Shall we return to the days when a motel in this country could refuse rooms to people of color?  A restaurant?  A movie theater? Under the very narrow Tea Party interpretation of the Commerce Clause may a local realtor refuse to show homes to members of ethnic minority groups? Can a bank “red line” minority ethnic communities?  Can the local grocery refuse to hire members of the LBGT community?  Senator Heller and his cohorts would have it so.

Under the guise of legislating only that which is related directly to the buying, selling, and transporting of goods and services, may we countenance discrimination against women in the workplace?  Is it acceptable for a corporation to pay women less than men for doing the same job?  Would  it acceptable to hire a less qualified man for a position also drawing interest from very well qualified women?

The point is that while selling, buying, and transporting might be regulated — manufacturing would not be thus restricted.  Nor, would the processes by which items are manufactured.  So, if your neighborhood, or city, begins to smell like Pittsburgh in the 1920′s, or people are being killed  by polluted air such as happened in Donora, PA in 1948 – so be it?

Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that this is all some sort of esoteric Constitutional argument over interpretative minutiae.  There is a well coordinated, more than adequately financed, movement in this country to turn back the progress made by 75 years of federal legislation and litigation to improve the lives of the citizens of this country — in terms of their health, their working lives, their basic rights, and their protection from monopolies and Big Trusts.

It’s 2020 — and the GOP is pleased that its efforts in the legislatures, the Congress, and the Supreme Court have put children back in factories, have put women in their place, have quieted those noisy minority groups,  have put the smog back in the fog, and put the Bankers back in their rightful positions of ultimate power.   Welcome to Heller-Land.  Dystopia personified.

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Senator Heller’s Nostalgia for the Good Old Days of 1896

Child LaborWho knew Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was so nostalgic for the Good Old Days?  Senator Heller is one of the co-sponsors of The Tea Party Darlins’ shiny new bill to bring back the Glorious Early Days of the Industrial Revolution.   Senators Coburn and Paul have  introduced the Enumerated Powers Act of 2013. This bill gives members of Congress the procedural tools necessary to stop unconstitutional legislation. And what is “unnecessary?” [TP]

The third part of this truly unbelievable bill is a gateway to the past — “3)      Prohibits the use of the Commerce Clause, except for “the regulation of the buying and selling of goods or services, or the transporting for those purposes, across boundaries with foreign nations, across State lines, or with Indian tribes…” [Coburn]

So, let’s declare unconstitutional some of those little irritants that so burden the Titans of Industry, things like:

Child Labor Laws

8 hour days

Weekends

Overtime Pay

We should all be so grateful to our corporate masters that we should revert to sub-menial jobs with 12 hour shifts for 75 cents an hour instead of participating in a pension plan.

Liability for Industrial Accidents

Sweatshop regulation

Strikes and job actions

Master contracts

Sexual harassment and discrimination statutes

Minimum wages

In Senator Heller’s Ideal World if your boss wants to institute 12 hour shifts with no overtime pay — that’s perfectly all right.  If your daughter’s boss harasses her in the work place — she’ll just have to quit to be rid of him.  If your son’s employer wants him to drive his big-rig long into the day and night — so be it.

If your wife’s minimum wage job pays $1.25/hr. she should be grateful to have any job at all.  If you are injured on the job and are unable to work — that’s your problem.

If you’ve not read Otto Bettmann’s “The Good Old Days, They Were Terrible,” run — don’t walk to your nearest library or bookstore and get your copy today — it will explain just exactly the working conditions Senator Heller thinks are appropriate for the 21st century American worker.

Now, are there any questions about who Senator Heller represents in the U.S. Senate?

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