Saturday, May 29, 2010

Kline or Walz : Who Sides with the Pentagon and Taxpayers ?

Based on the years in the military, one would think that John Kline (R-MN-02) and Tim Walz (D-MN-01) would support the Pentagon requests … but do they ?


And what about protecting the taxpayers from unnecessary government spending ?


Actually, one does support the Pentagon and the taxpayer while one does not.

Actually, it is striking how different they are.
One is very public about professing the evils of wasteful government spending as a political election tool … only to vote (repeatedly) for “earmark” spending requested by members of his political party.
While the other promotes transparency and seeks input from his constituents for how federal dollars should be invested.

Both make monthly appearances on former First District Congressman Tim Penny’s radio program.
Being that Congressman Penny is currently Co-chair of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Robert, so naturally the discussion focuses on government spending.

Friday it was Tim Walz turn on the air and the subject matter was the previous day’s vote on an amendment offered by Congresswoman Chellie M. Pingree (D-ME-01) to prohibit any further funding for the alternate F-35 engine.
Congresswoman Pingree stated : “ In 2001, Pratt & Whitney won the award for the primary engine for the Joint Strike Fighter through a competitive bidding process. This process was set up to save millions in taxpayer dollars. Since then, Congress has authorized an astonishing $1.3 billion of unrequested funds for the development of this extra unnecessary engine. The Bush administration opposed this program. The Obama administration opposes this program. And yet if this amendment fails today, we will continue to fund a defense program that is a complete waste of money.
I could not put it any better than the Secretary of Defense put it himself: Given the many pressing needs facing our military and the fiscal challenges facing our country, we cannot afford a ``business as usual'' approach to the defense budget. Tough choices must be made by both the Department and Congress to ensure that current and future military capabilities can be sustained over time. This means programs and initiatives of marginal or no benefit, like the F136 engine, are unaffordable luxuries.”

This amendment forces a vote on whether to support an “earmark” or as the Republicans have redefined it as a “ Programmatic Request since for political re-election purposes, the Republicans have announced a moratorium on “earmarks”.

At stake : $485 million dollars in the FY 2011 Department of Defense budget (or to put it in prospective, 53 jets can be built for the cost of the "extra" engine.)

The argument :
On one side is the DOD and the Bush and Obama Administration (The Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force have all said they don't want it) and the performance of the current engine (394 F-35 aircraft test flights planned in the schedule to occur during 2010 have been completed with sufficient results).
On the other side is the “loser” of the original award or as one Congressman said ”let me say how proud I am of the more than 4,000 Hoosier employees of Rolls Royce who worked to develop this engine.”

The result : Congressman Walz voted with the Pentagon’s and taxpayer’s interests while Mr. Kline voted with the special interests. Overall, the Democrats wanted to eliminate this unnecessary expenditure, but because of the strong support from the Republicans, the funding stayed in the bill.

Mr. Kline has a penchant for denouncing domestic spending via the “earmark” process yet fails to acknowledge unnecessary spending authorized through his House Armed Services Committee … be it comic books or seventeen F/A-18 E and F Super Hornet strike fighters, Mr. Kline has proven to be a strong representative for the military industrial complex but not for the taxpayers. On a previous Tim Penny broadcast, Mr. Kline defended his support for Mr. Bishop's (R-UT) "earmark" for F-22 planes as a "good jobs program".

For Minnesotans this is especially hard to see Mr. Kline "waste" our taxdollars. We are struggling ... our communities are delaying replacing police cars, yet Mr. Kline fully supports building unnecessary jets.

Monday, May 24, 2010

MN-02 : Kline Opposes Earmarks But What About Programmatic Requests ?

Today’s Fuzzy Math Problem :
How does President Obama’s $548.9 billion Department of Defense FY2011 Budget become approved as a marked-up budget of $726 billion without “Earmarks ?

Answer : “Programmatic Requests”

John Kline (R-MN-02) of the House Armed Services Committee HASC proudly issued a press release announcing “ the committee’s unanimous approval of H.R. 5136, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY-2011”. The word “earmark was never mentioned … although Mr. Kline did congratulate himself for changes in the “the Yellow Ribbon reintegration law I championed three years ago” … a program that was funded via an “earmark”.

Ignoring “earmarks” is easy … even during a moratorium … just follow the instructions in this GOP memo that redefines what used to be called “earmarks” as Programmatic Requests : “For HASC GOP Member purposes the term “programmatic requests” has no current definition.

The memo goes on to give a specific example : "the second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, which the committee believes is a national security imperative to reduce the risk inherent in requiring the Air Force, Navy and Marines to fly a common aircraft. This broadly supported action has been included as a matter of policy, and not at the request of a single Member."

Are you familiar with the Joint Strike Fighter second engine ?
It was highlighted on ABC News last week as a $3 Billion Boondoggle and one that was mentioned in the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) Pork Book earning it last year’s The Little Engine That Couldn’t Award.
CAGW writes about the alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter as having “received $1.2 billion in pork since 2004. The Senate did not include any funds for the alternate engine in its version of the appropriations bill, but the House version prevailed in conference.
On February 1, 2010 at his briefing on the fiscal year 2011 DOD budget, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “I’m fully aware of the political pressure to continue building the C-17 and to proceed with an alternate engine for the F-35, so let me be clear. I will strongly recommend that the president veto any legislation that sustains the unnecessary continuation of these two programs.”
On February 25, 2010, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell reiterated DOD’s position on the alternate engine, stating, “this money can clearly be better spent buying capabilities that our warfighters do need. This is a luxury we cannot afford.”

For someone that promotes himself as having the goal of “reducing wasteful pork-barrel spending and restoring order to America’s fractured fiscal house.”, why does Mr. Kline continue to fund a program that even President Bush gave up on ?

If only, the alternate engine was the single “Programmatic Requests” but it’s not.
As CAGW reports for last year’s DOD budget, there were “$6,056,565,000 for 35 anonymous projects. This accounted for only 2 percent of the 1,752 earmarks, but 59 percent of the $10.3 billion cost of the bill, which is more than last year’s 57 percent.

And the C-17 that Secretary Gates referred to was also reviewed by CAWG to the tune of $2.5 Billion for the procurement of ten C–17 aircraft. “In a floor statement on September 30, 2009, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) voiced his opposition to the C-17 funding: “That’s why the Administration ‘strongly objects’ to the addition of $2.5 billion in funding for these ten unrequested C-17 aircraft. The Department of Defense’s (DoD) own analyses shows that the 205 C-17s that the Air Force has or which are on order, together with the existing fleet of C-5 aircraft, are sufficient to meet the Department’s future airlift needs – even under the most stressing situations. So, I am absolutely convinced that we should not be having taxpayers put up $2.5 billion for these aircraft. Doing so not only misallocates procurement funds this year to buy expensive airplanes that are not needed, but it also imposes a continuing sustainment cost of $100 million dollars per year for every year thereafter for their operation.”

Mr. Kline is quite vocal about his opposition to “earmarks but he commonly refers to small-dollar domestic programs … and although we can all agree that “wasteful” spending must be eliminated, yet Mr. Kline fails to highlight the area that he has direct input … Congress’ appetite for military spending … just ask about the $69,880,000 for 22 projects “earmarked”by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) … and when Mr. Kline was asked about his support for Mr. Bishop’s F-22 “earmark”, Mr. Kline said it was good for jobs.

I hope that Dan Powers, the DFL endorsed candidate, takes a hard look at Defense spending. Mr. Kline will no doubt claim his military experience provides him with greater insight, yet Mr. Kline is addicted to military spending … while America is fighting ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kline’s HASC wants to raise the 286-ship fleet to 313 ships including funding for two SSN 774 Virginia-class submarines — the first time the committee has authorized two ships in one year – and $3 billion to fully fund two DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and support the restart of construction of the class.
With al Qaeda and the Taliban seeming to be headquartered in caves, why does Mr. Kline want to spend so much on ships ?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Safer at War than at Work

April was a deadly month.

Just some of the headlines that you may have missed :
On April 2, 2010, 7 workers were killed by a fire at the Tesoro oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington;
On April 5, 2010, 29 miners were killed and 2 were injured in a massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia, in the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years;
On April 20, 2010, there was an explosion and fire on the British Petroleum-leased Transocean Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana in which 17 workers were injured and 11 workers went missing;
On April 29, 2010, 2 miners were killed at the Dotiki Mine in western Kentucky that is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, based in Tulsa, Okla.

Did you realize that each day, an average of 14 workers are killed due to workplace injuries in the United States … that’s over 5,000 workers who are killed due to workplace-related injuries.

Did you know that more people are killed worldwide each year at work than in wars … in April, US casualties in Iraq were eight deaths while in Afghanistan thirty-four people died.

Soldiers put their life on the line in war, but employees should not go to work thinking that they will not come home.

The other big headline in April was the ID legislation enacted in Arizona. The trigger point of this legislation may have been the murder of Robert Krentz and his dog who were shot on March 27, 2010. As sad as any loss of life is, putting it in perspective, over the past five years the highest number of deaths reported was 241 … a far cry from 5,000 workers that are killed every year.

Realistically there will always be accidents which result in death, but where is the outcry for safety in the workplace ?

Workplace safety is not a partisan issue. We all pay when someone dies … the family is impacted, the business is impacted, the community is impacted.

In the Minnesota Congressional delegation, the representative who has the most influence and opportunity to enact changes is John Kline (R-MN-02) who is the Ranking Minority Member of the Education and Labor Committee. Sadly, Mr. Kline seems only focused on Card Check legislation. A quick search of his website, reveals no recent entries on “Safety” or “Workplace”.

Mr. Kline was eerily silent on the Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch miners deaths and finally issued a press release ten days after the explosion. Mr. Kline wants a “comprehensive” review, yet on February 23, 2010 a Labor Committee hearing was held "to assess whether a backlog of mine safety enforcement actions are adversely impacting [MSHA's] ability to protect miners' safety and prevent future tragedies." Sadly, of the committee's 19 Republicans, just one bothered to show up -- that was the most junior GOP member, Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania. Sadly, when it came time for questioning, Chairman George Miller (D-CA) said "I'd like to recognize the senior Republican on the committee this morning".
Just as the Massey event has a history, so does the Kentucky disaster even though it may have had only two deaths but it illustrates a bigger problem. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) records show the mine was cited 840 times by federal inspectors for safety violations since January 2009, and 11 times closure orders were issued. The records show 214 of the citations were issued in the first four months of this year, and twice inspectors issued closure orders this year.
Yet, even if Mining is ignored, there are a lot of other workers that are killed in other industries.

Legislation has been started in the House, HR 2067 Protecting America's Workers Act while the companion bill in the Senate is S. 1580 Protecting America's Workers Act which lists Minnesota’s Senator Al Franken as a co-sponsor.

The House bill already has 75 co-sponsors.
It has some very good proposals.
A proposed change would eliminate the employer’s right to use the administrative appeals process to delay its obligation to abate serious hazards. Currently employers can postpone abatement while their citations are being contested before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC). This is commonly cited as a problem in the Massey incident.

Another proposed change would expand the rights of victims and family members to receive notice and pleadings, and make a statement before an Administrative Law Judge at OSHRC. Too often, the investigation may just be within the company’s control … the family who may have heard complaints before the death may not be given the opportunity to alert the OSHRC.

Mr. Kline, this is a time to stand up for workers and safety. Mr. Kline is definitively anti-union .. yet, if there are unsafe workplaces, there could be more reasons for employees to unionize … so Mr. Kline become a co-sponsor and work to enact HR 2067 … I am sure that Senator Franken would appreciate your support.

When workers (and families of workers) go the the polls this fall, while Mr. Kline will want to stress his Card Check concerns, the key question should be : What did you do to Protecting America's Workers ?