Tag Archives: 27th Amendment

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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Amodei, tired of drama, introduces his own theatricality

AmodeiNevada’s entrant in the Karl Rove Look Alike Contest, Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) has some Rovian rhetoric for readers of the Elko Daily Free Press:

“The Republican Party is making some changes, both internally and externally, following the re-election of President Barack  Obama, according to Nevada GOP leaders at the Elko County Lincoln Day Dinner Friday night.

“I am tired of the drama,” U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei told an audience in the Red Lion Inn & Casino. “I’m full up on drama. Drama doesn’t get anything done.”

The recent adoption of the “No Budget, No Pay” Act by the U.S. House of Representatives is an example of progressing Republican action, he said.

“This was a good start of demonstrating to the president, to the people in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi that the Republicans are capable of putting together 218-plus votes to play some serious ball on getting things started to turn the budget around.”

Where to begin?  Why not start with the Republican Party is making changes statement? Really?  So, what bills were introduced by Republicans in the U.S. Congress as the 113th session begins which might lead us to believe anything has changed, or is changing?

The Return of the Culture Warriors

Representative Paul Ryan (R-Palinistan) introduced a Fetus-Personhood bill.  The bill would give full citizenship rights to one celled human embryos, before they are even planted securely in the uterus. Nothing says change like introducing 8 anti-abortion bills co-sponsored by Rep. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin (R-MO) in the 112th Congress, and then stepping right back into the ranks for the next round of the War on Women.  Nor is Representative Ryan alone.

Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) introduced H.R. 23, the Sanctity of Human Life Act, in which life begins at “fertilization,” and Representatives Diane Black (R-TX) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have H.R. 217 and H.R. 61 respectively forbidding women’s health grants to any organization which provides abortions — take that Planned Parenthood, 3% of whose funds assist in pregnancy termination.l [GovTrack]  The Party which was interested in 44 bills on abortion in the 112th Congress hasn’t stopped participating in the Culture Wars even though the topic of is great interest to only 18% of the American public.  [Pew]

The Repealer’s Redux

Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) was pleased to introduce the first bill for the 113th — yet another bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  There were 33 votes in the House of Representatives to repeal the ACA after the Supreme Court affirmed its constitutionality; and, here they go again.  A chart from last summer  illustrates how the 112th spent its time —

112th Congress votes

The Debt Debaclers

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that: “You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due.”   True enough, the deficit didn’t matter to the electorate in 2004 — in large part because it wasn’t presented as an all consuming terrifying hideously large totally unacceptable DEBT to the voters.   It’s interesting that the deficit/debt wasn’t a huge ongoing issue because the trends in deficit spending (related to two wars + one nasty recession) by 2008/2013 look like this when graphed out:

Trends Deficit Spending

Thus we have the ironic situation in which the party which controlled the White House while the deficit spending was trending upward is vilifying the party controlling the White House while the deficit spending trend is headed downward.   Representative Amodei has evidently joined the Debt Debaclers.

If Representative Amodei is really serious about “turning the budget around,” then is he asking for a return to the Bush Administration’s policies which saw an increase in deficit spending trends? Surely not.

Smoke, Mirrors, Tricks, and Gimmicks

The recent adoption of the “No Budget, No Pay” Act by the U.S. House of Representatives is an example of progressing Republican action, he said.”  The 285-144 vote on H.R. 325 to which Rep. Amodei is referring, doesn’t indicate much of anything — especially a consistent GOP intention to “progressing Republican action” — because a quick look at the roll call vote informs us that such disparate Representatives as Wasserman-Schultz and Joe Heck (NV) both voted against it.  While Rep. Amodei voted in favor of the bill along side Rep. Langevin (D-RI).  Meanwhile, back at the Constitution, there’s this little problem noted by the folks at the Christian Science Monitor about the 27th Amendment:

“Congressional pay is the 27th’s subject. Among other things, it says, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of the Representatives shall have intervened.”

Oops! We understand that the amendment was intended to prevent fat self provided pay increases, but the language of the amendment applies to pay cuts as well.  “Varying the compensation” means changing the compensation, and that includes Down as well as Up.   If Representative Amodei tires of “drama” then this piece of theatricality should draw boos rather than his applause.

The MRA

However, Representative Amodei is not above a bit of theater himself, like “returning” $155,000 in unspent office funds to the Treasury to help reduce the debt.  [EDFP]  This is a nice gesture, but that’s all it is.  If all 435 members of Congress returned $155,000 the Treasury would garner some $67,425,000.  This assumes that all members of Congress have 10% of their office budgets unspent.  These numbers, presumably apply to what is known in Washington-Speak as the MRA, or Member’s Representational Allowance.

Representative Amodei’s gesture would look better had not the MRA been declining already.

The MRA is funded in the House “Salaries and Expenses” account in the annual legislative branch appropriations bills. This account has decreased in recent years, from $660.0 million in FY2010, to $573.9 million in FY2012.  The total amount of each Member’s 2012 Representational Allowance is 88.92% of the amount  authorized in 2010. This is in accordance with a 5% reduction to the 2010 authorization  mandated in House Resolution 22, agreed to on January 6, 2011, and a 6.4% reduction to the 2011 authorization as reflected in H.R. 2055, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012. The 2012 allowances range from $1,270,129 to $1,564,613, with an average of $1,353,205.  [CBO pdf]

A person might also be less skeptical if it were know why Rep. Amodei’s office expenses were 10% lower than the estimated MRA?

“The MRA may be used for official expenses including, for example, staff, travel, mail, office equipment, district office rental, stationery, and other office supplies.”  [CBO pdf]

Representative Amodei could have been a “job creator” with that unspent 10%.  A constituent services assistant earns about $32,000 per year, a constituent services representative about $40,000.   A Congressional staff assistant generally earns about $30,000 annually.  However, if Representative Amodei isn’t convinced that beefing up constituency services is necessary, then it’s probably a good thing to return the money.

In the mean time, if Representative Amodei is tired of the Drama in D.C. then it might be a good thing if such staff has he has hired would look seriously at the spending trends in the federal government over the past four years.  Further, he could be taking a more analytical look at the components of the current level of indebtedness and seek to reduce Defense Department spending (some 40% of all discretionary spending)  for non-essential items and to calculate the additional revenue which might accrue from passage of the American Jobs Act?

That wouldn’t be as histrionic, but it might indeed be more helpful.

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