Thursday, January 24, 2008

Will Congress go Wimpy with Economic Stimulus Legislation ?

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'” – Ronald Reagan, U.S. President

"I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." -- J. Wellington Wimpy, a character in the old Popeye comic strip.

For those of you to young to know Wimpy, he was a habitual deadbeat mooch, so widespread was his reputation for continually deferring his financial obligations that he had difficulty borrowing enough for lunch.

Congress must have missed the news, but it looks like they may be offering a free lunch ... not for the needy, but for the protected masses.

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported CBO [Congressional Budget Office] foresees a fiscal 2008 deficit of $219 billion, or about 1.5% of GDP. That's up from $163 billion last year, or 1.2% of GDP, and up about $65 billion from what the CBO projected as recently as last August. Most of the change from August is due to the one-year Alternative Minimum Tax fix passed in December -- the previous "baseline" assumed 23 million new AMT victims would be welcomed into the fold this year.”

This means that once again the deficit will increase from the prior year.

Now, that projection was before today’s news that economic stimulus package has been devised that would give most tax filers refunds of $600 to $1,200 and also provides tax incentives for businesses. Or as The Wall Street Journal reports “generous tax breaks” for business.

That’s the hook. Like a good game of switcheroo, the headline is tax rebates, but the tax give-aways get buried in the story. What should be a short term, temporary fix to address housing/energy consumer issues may be being used to apply significant changes to benefit business. At this stage, it may be too early to know the details but there was consideration of a number of changes including how long a business may carry forward losses. Some of these changes may have little to do with what caused the economic slowdown yet certain members of Congress have a propensity to exploit the situation.

In fact, under the guise of the economic climate, a number of bills have been introduced.
H.R. 5109 The Economic Growth Act of 2008 which is cosponsored Michele Bachmann and John Kline and has as one of its main points to lower the Corporate Tax Rate to 25% (effectively a 28% rate cut);
HR 5105 which besides the same Corporate Tax Rate cut also includes the elimination of the Estate Tax and makes the Bush Tax Cuts permanent.
HR 4995 which is cosponsored Michele Bachmann and John Kline and also includes the Corporate Tax Rate reduction.

It was just last year that President Bush was uttering the phrase "income inequality" acknowledging that corporate executives bonuses and golden parachutes have gotten out of hand.
Now, we have Republicans in Congress pushing to reduce Corporate taxes instead which I have previously discussed as illogical.

The proposed plan is that business will get 1/3rd, yet since the changes involve the tax code, there is no incentive for the business to take immediate action. Business may elect to wait until customer activity picks up before deciding to increase employment or investment in equipment/facilities.

The missing piece is the lack of extension of unemployment insurance and food-stamp benefits. These programs would have caused an immediate impact. That is a double-whammy. By not including these in this legislation while the problem grows means that there may be need to address this in a few months.

In my view, this plan will only add to the deficit without generating maximum benefits. If business needs incentives, Congress should consider waiving the Social Security matching portion for all new hires – this would encourage businesses that will increase employment levels as business picks up. (Since Social Security is currently “loaning” money to the government for other operations, this deficit will be increased based on true government spending – not being hidden by borrowing Social Security funds.)

This plan must be approved by Congress. Legislation that is passed in haste, can cause more harm than good. Let’s heed Reagan’s words, Government may not solve this problem, but could actually make things worse.

Congressman Tim Walz stood for fiscal responsibility in his AMT vote (and a survey of Republicans supported his vote ). Congressman Walz needs to exercise the same discipline … as certainly, Bachmann and Kline will reward business.

As those of us who remember the Popeye cartoons will recall, Wimpy was usually refused … and it’s time that Congress not be Wimpy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Survey of Republicans supports Walz AMT position

Tim Walz expressed concern about his vote against HR 3996 – the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2007 -- "It's an ad made in heaven for them".
My response was that the First District finally had a Fiscally Responsible Congressman.

Congressman Walz may be at ease … Republicans and Democrats support his position.

A survey of 1,527 likely voters conducted December 10-13, 2007 of the most competitive 65 congressional districts – 25 held by Democrats and 40 by Republicans - (which I presume included Minnesota’s First District) revealed an interesting response …. Not from supports of Democrats, but from Republican supporters.

Although Sleaze and Smear will be his opponent in next November’s election, his job will be to educate the voters on what the vote really concerned. The newspaper headlines were that millions of middle class taxpayers would be affected by the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).
Fear was working overtime.
But the question was not should the AMT be changed, but what about the lost revenues ?
The House Democrats had one idea … a fiscally responsible idea. In the end, Walz could have caved to re-election concerns and joined the Republicans or he could do --- what he did do – the right thing.

Read the following questions and you will see the real debate and how people responded.

Q.49 As you may know, last month the House of Representatives passed a tax cut bill. It protects 23 million middle income taxpayers from paying the Alternative Minimum Tax, saving them up to $2,000 in taxes. It also makes more families eligible for the child tax credit and makes combat pay tax deductible. And it allows those using the short form to deduct their local property taxes. To pay for the lost revenue, the bill increases taxes on hedge fund managers and investors who currently pay a tax rate half that applied to ordinary income. Do you favor or oppose this bill?

Democrats favored this bill 64 to 23; while Republicans favored it 61 to 21.

Q.50 Now let me read you some statements about this bill passed by the House of Representatives. After I read them, please tell me whether you agree more with the first statement or the second statement, even if neither is exactly right.
The Democratic candidate says, this bill provides critical tax relief for 55 million middle class and working class taxpayers at a time of a weakening economy and growing financial pressures on families. I support it because the bill does not increase the deficit. It is paid for by closing tax loopholes and asking wealthy hedge fund managers to pay the same tax rate as those with ordinary income.
The Republican candidate says, this bill abuses the legitimate goal of protecting those about to be hit by the AMT, but it is packed with special interest goodies and raises taxes on investors that will hurt our economy at a time of uncertainty. I am opposed to any tax increases at this time. This country can't afford politically motivated tax increases that could push us into recession.

Democrats supported the Democratic position 63 % and the Republican position 33 %.
Republicans supported the Democratic position 54 % and the Republican position 40 %.

The Senate took a different approach, so the survey asked this question :

Q.52 As you may know, recently the Senate passed a tax cut bill. It protects 23 million middle income taxpayers from paying the Alternative Minimum Tax, saving them up to $2,000 in taxes. To avoid raising any taxes to pay for the lost revenue, the bill will increase the deficit by $50 billion next year. Do you favor or oppose this bill?

Democrats narrowly favored this bill 45 to 44 while the Republicans opposed the bill 44 to 52.

That’s right, people especially Republicans are concerned about the deficit.
If Walz was concerned about questions for re-election, the question need to addressed to Norm Coleman, Michele Bachmann, and John Kline -- “Why are you voting to run up the deficit against the wishes of Republicans?”

Two points.
First, the AMT problem has not gone away. The bill that was passed fixed 2007 but not 2008. Now is the time to address it. There is no doubt that some of the stock market concern relates to the uncertainty of the AMT. A quick resolution will stabilize the situation. PAYGO is the only way that makes sense. Walz is right.
Second, as Congress considers a stimulus package, attention must be given to the deficit. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is a Republican appointed by President Bush, said longer-run tax measures could actually hurt the economy. "A fiscal program that increased the structural budget deficit would only make confronting those challenges more difficult." Foolish suggestions like Michele Bachmann’s misleading titled Middle Class Job Protection Act HR 4995 that uses the current economic climate to push the long standing objective of lower corporate tax rates makes no sense.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bachmann’s Politics Undermines Our Chance at Prosperity

Robert Kuttner writes in his new book, The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity , that the median income of working-age families has actually fallen by 5.4 percent over the last seven years, adjusted for inflation, even as the gross domestic product has grown by 18 percent.

Worse yet, our buying power is being eroded. Average Hourly Earnings grew 3.7 percent in 2007, but the Consumer Price Index rose 4.2 percent, meaning families dipped into their savings or increased borrowing just to stay even.

This assessment is not lost on Minnesota’s Congresswoman Michele Bachmann - "We work long hours and sometimes even two jobs to provide for our families. But the families across our state and the nation are feeling anxiety. The costs of healthcare, gasoline, tuition, and other necessities are rising. That's why it's more important than ever to provide workers and small businesses with the tools they need to create more jobs and improve the economic future for American families.”

While Bachmann recognizes that something needs to be done, her solution is that Corporate Tax Rates need to be reduced.


Her legislation, the Middle Class Job Protection Act, is designed to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent and provide 50 percent bonus depreciation and increased Section 179 expensing over the next two years. Without getting into the particulars, it should be noted that cutting corporate tax rates is the battle cry of the Republican Presidential candidates. Fred Thompson was first to announce a 27% rate, then Rudy Giuliani and John McCain at 25% and not to be outdone, Mitt Romney’s plan is a to get to 20 percent over two years.

First, not every corporation pays taxes. It doesn’t matter what the rate is, if corporations are not paying taxes. As this report documents, American corporations have a variety of subsidies and tax breaks that allow them to pay no income taxes. The Study was of the 2001-2003 taxation of 275 of the Fortune 500 companies. The Study reports, for example, that "Eighty-two of the 275 companies, almost a third of the total, paid zero or less in federal income taxes in at least one year from 2001 to 2003."; and that "Twenty-eight corporations enjoyed negative federal income tax rates over the entire 2001-2003 period." That’s why it is comical that anyone even suggest cutting the corporate tax rate.

Second, I thought Small business is the backbone of the American economy … the Job Creators. Since many sole proprietorships pay based on individual income tax rates using Schedule C, Bachmann’s plan will not help them. Also, there are the S corporations which have increased substantially since the 2001 and 2003 reduction of individual income tax rates.

Third, if you are a small business that is paying taxes, the tax may be already below the 35% rate. As this study shows, 96.3% of small businesses do not pay the top rate.

A fair question to ask of the Congresswoman, is if the costs of healthcare, gasoline, tuition, and other necessities are rising, why aren’t you offering legislation that directly affects those issues ?

Here’s my alternative. If gas prices is the problem, temporarily eliminate the Federal Motor Fuel Excise Tax. The per gallon Federal Motor Fuel Excise Tax is 18.4 cents on gasoline, 13.6 cents on LPG, 24.4 cents on diesel fuel, 18.4 cents on gasohol, 19.4 cents on aviation gas, and 4.4 cents on jet fuel.

First, this will impact virtually everyone … directly and indirectly. Working families and retirees will see it when they fill up their tanks and businesses will no longer have to charge a surcharge. Truckers will see a reduction. Small business and big business will all benefit.

Second, these monies go to the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The Trust Fund dollars are then re-evaluated and redistributed back to the states. This is the second benefit. If the Trust Fund does not have the source of revenue but still the same desire for good roads and bridges, construction projects will be scrutinized. No longer will there be Bridges to Nowhere. That's right, pork-barrel spending will face serious scrutiny.

The other suggestion would be relate to the underlying cause of this “recession”. The Congresswoman fails to mention the sub-prime mortgage crisis in her litany of problems facing working families. That may be because Republican Bachmann voted against HR 3648 - Mortgage Debt Relief Forgiveness Act of 2007 even though 165 other Republicans supported this bill.
The suggestion would be to encourage the Federal Reserve to reduce the prevalent interest rates by one point. That would immediately send a message to Wall Street. Immediately, lower loan rates would help businesses and consumers.

If only Congresswoman Bachmann would value the working families as much as she values Corporations.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Congress To-Do List :

As Congress returns to Washington, the first order of business needs to be a return to some of the issues that you may have thought were done – AMT, Farm Bill, and SCHIP.

Although these issues were addressed during the first session of the 110th Congress, they still need to be at the top of the To-Do List.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
Faced with the end of the Income Tax year, Congress and the President extended the AMT patch for 2007, but the issue is still looming for the 2008 tax year. Minnesota can be proud of Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz for voting fiscally responsibly against this patch. Now is the time for the rest of Congress to agree that pushing the debt out to next generation is fiscally irresponsible.

This problem has been known for decades, but instead of addressing it, Congress has magnified it. Consider Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) comments (March 8, 2001) when the Bush Tax Cuts were being proposed.
Roughly one in seven taxpayers will come under the shadow of the Alternative Minimum Tax by the end of the decade… That figure will significantly be higher if President Bush’s tax plan is adopted, and that is according to the Joint Tax Committee of the Congress.”

His words have been proven true.

Let’s not fall for Michelle Bachmann’s Taxpayer Choice Act legislation.

The tax code is riddled with loopholes and subsidies that have no justification other than to appease certain political interests. It’s time to address these.

The Farm Bill
First, let’s acknowledge that although it is called the Farm Bill, it actually is the major authorization for nutrition programs (Food stamps, emergency food assistance program (TEFAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), etc.) and conservation programs.
Second, Bush has firmly stated that he will veto the bill. With all the talk of a recession and stimulus legislation, the pork barrel spending will be the justification that Bush uses when he vetoes the bill. As the House-Senate conference committee meets, they should re-consider some of the amendments that the Senate voted down. Specifically, Sherrod Brown's (D-OH) amendment. Senator Brown discovered that during a time when the USDA paid out $10.5 Billion in aid to farmers, it paid $19 Billion out to the private crop insurance industry to help farmers fill out forms and qualify for federal aid when crops are damaged, for example, by disease, freeze, flood, or drought. Perhaps the worst part of the current law ties the insurance agents’ fees to crop prices, which have recently soared. Additionally, Senator Klobuchar’s amendment should also be given further consideration.

The Farm Bill as presently constituted will not be approved, so it behooves Congress to enact a fiscally more responsible bill before sending it the White House.

State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
Unable to override the President’s veto, Congress has passed another temporary funding program which extends the current program until late 2008 or early 2009 depending upon your state. This stopgap measure alludes addressing the uninsured problem. This legislation had bi-partisan support and many states feel the need to serve their citizens, but the Bush White House continues to object.
Take Ohio , where the Republican-controlled General Assembly voted to expand the coverage limit. Currently, states must get at least 95 percent of children in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level enrolled in the program before eligibility could be expanded. This hurdle is difficult to do as no state currently meets that requirement … so while citizens that would like coverage and the states want to increase participation, the Bush White House is rejecting those requests. Remember the states share in the payment on this program. Ohio will not be the only state affected.

Congress should enact legislation that would establish limited trial programs for states that wish to participate. Thereby, if a state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly wants to serve their citizens better, why should a Republican President say no? If it is limited and temporary, it should be able to withstand a Presidential veto.

Obviously, Bush will use his veto power to influence what Congress passes, but I would encourage Congress to counter that with the passage of a new version of the Protect America Act (PAA) which modernized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). The current law will expire in February. Since it has been reported that “late-payment of telephone bills resulted in interruptions of the timely delivery of surveillance results shifts the power to Congress to set the tone of the debate.

My message to Congress, address ATM, the Farm Bill, and SCHIP before FISA.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Better Tax Plan : Huckabee or Bachmann

The answer : Neither

Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is getting some publicity for embracing the FAIR TAX . The Fair Tax is an idea that has been around for a while and those in Minnesota’s First District will remember as it was part of Gil Gutknecht’s standard campaign stump speech. John Linder (R-GA) has been the prime sponsor since offering the legislation in July 1999. He has reintroduced substantially the same bill in each subsequent session of Congress. The current bill is HR 25 and currently has 68 co-sponsors (none from Minnesota although Collin Peterson was the prime co-sponsor in 2001.)

In short, the idea is to eliminate income tax by shifting all taxes (including Social Security and Medicare) to a national sales tax.
It’s a good talking point for Huckabee but legislatively, it is Dead On Arrival. Why? Simple, remember George Bush’s campaign theme “There’s nothing better than a fellow citizen opening up their door and saying, welcome to my home; welcome to my piece of property.” … the ownership society. Although, Bush also campaigned to make the tax code simpler, fairer and better able to promote economic growth, his President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform recommended “lowering the mortgage-interest cap, which is the amount of a loan on which homeowners would receive a tax break for interest paid, from $1 million to the average regional housing price in the range of $227,000 to $412,000.

Would Congress follow the panel’s recommendations ?

No. The Mortgage Debt Relief Forgiveness Act of 2007 now is based on a principal residence up to $2 million.

As this commentary clearly states : “Wealthy households are most likely to own homes and to itemize deductions. Half of all homeowners do not claim deductions at all. Tenants, of course, don’t even qualify. As a result, 62 percent of households with incomes above $200,000 receive a mortgage interest tax break, averaging $7,219. In contrast, only 3.5 percent of households with incomes between $10,000 and $20,000 receive any subsidy, averaging $317. If anything, these tax deductions help push up housing prices artificially, especially at the upper end, because homebuyers include the value of the tax subsidy in their purchase decision. This leads wealthy homeowners to buy bigger houses than they would without the tax breaks.

So, the FLAT TAX is DOA.

So, if Congress won’t embrace the FLAT TAX, what are they working on ?

The Taxpayer Choice Act would make permanent the current capital gains and dividends tax rates and create a voluntary Simplified Tax that would give individuals the option of paying under a highly simplified income tax system or under the regular income tax as it is structured now.

As a main sponsor, Minnesota’s Congresswoman Michele Bachmann issued a press release that the system needs to be changed to “give taxpayers the ability to choose how they wish to pay federal income taxes: 1) through the regular income Tax Code as it is currently structured; or 2) through a "Simplified Tax" that has just two income tax rates: 10 percent for joint income below $100,000 and 25 percent for income above. The Simplified Tax also includes a generous standard deduction of $25,000 for married couples, or $12,500 for individuals and a personal exemption of $3,500. The combination is equivalent to a $39,000 exemption for a family of four.

Now the first reaction is how will this be paid for ? The national debt is rising and the Bush tax cuts are not reducing the debt (see last paragraph).

Second, if the Simplified Tax is elected, income offsets such as those listed on Schedule A Deductions (home mortgage, property tax, medical, etc.) as well as Earned Income Tax credits (Child credits) are eliminated. Thus taxable income would be the same as gross income ( for many that are their wages) with the allowance for the Standard Deduction and Personal Exemption.

Third, once a taxpayer made the choice to switch, it could only be switched back once more during their lifetime unless there is a change in martial status (or death.)

Fourth, the winners win more (or the rich get richer.) The current tax system includes rates at 28%, 33% and 35% levels (which effectively start after the Adjusted Gross Income is over $123,700 for Married filing jointly). So, if you are in the highest bracket, under the Simplified Tax, the rate would be 25%.

Fifth, even if you do not elect the Simplified Tax, the legislation makes the Capital Gains and Dividends rate cuts permanent (they were scheduled to expire in 2009.) A review of IRS records indicate that “13,776 tax filers with adjusted gross incomes in excess of $10 million — a mere 0.01 percent of all filers — received 28.2 percent of the total tax savings. Their average tax break was $1,876,280 each. The affluent win again !

Sixth, if the objection to the current tax system is that it is too complex and filled with subsidies and special allowances, then how is adding one more system going to make it simpler?

The real problem with the Taxpayer Choice Act is that some members in Congress are falling for it. HR 3818 has 86 co-sponsors (including John Kline but no other Minnesota Congressmen) which is more than the FLAT TAX proposal.

The Republican ace in the hole for elections is Tax fear-mongering. As the campaigns start, voters will hear about the Taxpayer Choice Act, but not the nuts and bolts of how it works … and that will be combined with chants that “those Democrats will raise your taxes.”

Now, I am not a Democrat … I am a fiscal conservative … I am also a realist.
Here’s the real truth :
From fiscal 2002 through 2006, on-budget federal deficits totaled $2.4 trillion, including $836 billion borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund and spent on other government programs.
The largest cause of these enormous deficits has been the remarkable drop in personal income taxes, which fell from 10.1 percent of the gross domestic product in fiscal 2000 to an average of only 7.3 percent of the GDP in fiscal 2002 through 2006 — a 28 percent drop. In fact, income tax revenues have been at or near their lowest levels as a share of the GDP in 55 years.

Bachmann’s plan will make the problem worse.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pawlenty Driving Minnesota in the wrong direction

When the political campaign season is in full swing, there will be a lot of shouting about :
Unfunded mandates,
Wasteful government spending,
Incompetence by government agencies,
And government bureaucratic intervention.

But there is no sense in waiting until Election Day as the culprit is not on November’s ballot.

Tim “Big Ideas” Pawlenty and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) are making headlines … and for all the wrong reasons.

Pawlenty has directed the Department of Public Safety to use a biometric system to determine if multiple licenses have been applied for by individuals whose facial characteristics appear similar and merit further investigation in his battle to confront illegal immigration. The Minnesota driver’s license database contains more than 11 million photos as part of individual license records.

They obviously have time on their hands, as DPS is investigating unauthorized use of the state driver’s license database by DPS employees in July and December. KARE-11 reported that a number of recognizable names were on the list of people who had been targeted … Sven Sundgaard’s name was mentioned … but I don’t know if that was serious reporting or jest … but it’s good to know that the scope includes people of Scandinavian descent.

OK, so since Pawlenty is the boss, the DPS somehow finds the resources to perform biometric analysis. What if, lo and behold, Sven Sundgaard has a Doppelganger ? DPS must send someone out to investigate. Talk about proving a false positive ! The investigator will have to go to Sven’s home and lo and behold, Sven can prove who he is … but if there is somebody that has factitiously used Sven’s image on their driver’s license, the investigator will never find him.

Is this a good use of the public’s resources ? Not according to other government officials who are concerned about the lack of resources required by Pawlenty’s executive orders.

And if state funding was tight already, Minnesota could lose $20 to $42 million in federal highway money because the DPS system of licensing commercial truck drivers violates federal regulations. Turns out that the commercial driver's license program failed to screen out drivers convicted of drunken driving and other criminal offenses. But DPS has been busy on the roads, as 3,354 impaired drivers were arrested in December alone. Each year, alcohol-related crashes account for around 200 deaths, thousands of injuries, and damages to property.

Why is Pawlenty creating more work for a Department that seems to be having plenty of challenges already ?
Judging by the photographs of the Republicans standing as Pawlenty made his announcement, it can only be for political reasons.
This is sad.
Pawlenty should be driving efforts for bi-partisan solutions … not driving wedge issues.
In 2006, the Governor proposed a number of ideas that representatives from the Sheriff's Association, the Police and Peace Officers Association, labor, business, immigrant groups, faith-based organizations, human rights advocates, and community organizations all testified against it.
What is different today ?

Dividing the state’s citizens through fear mongering, intimidation and racial profiling may excite a voting block, but based on the number of members of the US House Immigration Reform Caucus (including amongst others : J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), John Hostettler (R-IN — the chair in the 109th Congress of the House Immigration Subcommittee), Chris Chocola (R-IN), Anne Northup (R-KY), Melissa Hart (R-PA), Charles Taylor (R-NC), Richard Pombo (R-CA) and of course, former First District Congressman Gil Gutknecht) who all lost, this would be an unwise political course.

The hope here is that like so many of Pawlenty’s other “Big Ideas”, this one quickly dies before we waste too many resources.
DPS and other state agencies have more productive tasks that need to be done. (Hint ==> Get Federal $)
The first order of business when the new legislative session starts should be to review and terminate this wasteful government directive.
Please contact your representative … sadly, mine was photographed standing behind Pawlenty, so I won’t be able to voice my opinion until November 4th.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Prize of this Game is your next Congressman

Although Winston Churchill once said “Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business.”, there are others who believe that politics is a game … how to get one-up on the other side. Elections becomes the means to the end.

So what Game is being played in Minnesota ?

Reviewing the Independent Republican Press Releases , Ron Carey clearly has Tim Walz in the crosshairs (with Al Franken getting more attention than a comic’s opening act.)

So what’s the reason why Representative Walz gets the attention that Ellison, McCollum, Oberstar or Peterson don’t get ? Simple – the configuration of Districts. And that’s the Game. Who will be your next congressman is largely determined by who the current congressman is.

Star-Tribune reported “The latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau confirm that Minnesota could lose a congressional seat in 2010. Historically, Minnesota has had eight districts since 1960’s.

The last time there was redistricting, the 2002 elections produced a competition between an incumbent Republican (Mark Kennedy) versus an incumbent Democrat (Bill Luther) and opened up the Second District for John Kline.

Most of Minnesota’s districts are somewhat logical except the Sixth District (Bachmann’s current district) which is a loop around the north side of the Twin Cities from the Wisconsin border (including most or all of Benton, Sherburne, Stearns, Wright, Anoka and Washington counties.)

But with one less district, the competition will be fierce (unless someone retires.) For those of us in southern Minnesota, this will be very interesting. The 2000 redistricting linked the bottom of the state from border to border whereas previously the western half was in one district and the eastern half was in another.
Will the existing wide swatch be maintained?
Or will Peterson’s district extend south to the Iowa border? Would Walz’s district grow North as far as Lakeville which is John Kline’s hometown?

Who represents the First District when the 2009 Congress assembles may weigh heavily on how the State reconfigures the districts.

For the country as a whole, gerrymandering by state legislatures has reduced the number of competitive house seats producing fewer competitive races in the House than in the Senate. Minnesota has resorted to using the Minnesota Supreme Court Special Redistricting Panel to create the districts.

If you are concerned about gridlock and ineffectiveness of the federal government then redistricting reform may be the solution to government malaise.

Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) wrote Across the nation, redistricting has become an engine of polarization, partisanship and incumbency protection. [SNIP] Our democracy should not require voters to navigate high walls and structural barriers that have been erected to achieve preordained results. As we advocate for democracy around the world, it's time we restore democracy to our own elections.

The National Taxpayers Union has endorsed the need for change.

There is proposed legislation in Congress.
The “Federal Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act of 2007” ( HR 543 ) was introduced by Representative John Tanner (D-TN) and has 32 cosponsors. Senator Tim Johnson has introduced a companion bill – S. 2342. The legislation would prohibit States from carrying out more than one Congressional redistricting after a decennial census and apportionment, to require States to conduct such redistricting through independent commissions, and for other purposes.
The objective must be geographic continuity, compactness, and contiguity. In developing redistricting plans, the intent would be to prohibit considering voting history, political party affiliation, and incumbent addresses unless doing so is necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

Before writing your Congressman to become a co-sponsor, play The Redistricting Game .

The Redistricting Game was developed by the University of Southern California and is designed to educate, engage, and empower citizens around the issue of political redistricting. The game will show a wide range of abuses and manipulations that encourage incumbents to draw districts which protect their seats rather than risk an open contest. The game allows players to explore the ways in which abuses can undermine the system, and provides info about reform initiatives.

Have fun playing The Redistricting Game, because before to long the campaigns of Sleaze and Smear will be playing their game in the First District.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Memo to Congress : A Resolution for the New Year

Congress regularly issues Joint Resolutions, Concurrent Resolutions and Simple Resolutions. Most are none descript , while others are commemorative
… some are about people we may know , and some may be controversial

As we start a New Year, Congress needs to Resolve to respect other’s religions. History abounds with examples when religions have been co-opted into motivating acts of violence. Too often we see what happens in the absence of dialogue. Dialogue and religious freedom form the cure for all forms of violence that feed on religious differences. Respect for another’s religious beliefs can overcome fear and adversity.

In December, President Bush issued a Presidential Message : “America is a land of many beliefs, and our society is enriched by our Muslim citizens. The kindness, generosity, and goodwill displayed by American Muslims during this special occasion and throughout the year have contributed to the strength and vitality of our Nation.

Sadly, the House of Representatives when given an opportunity to acknowledge the Muslim celebration of Ramadan voted to reject an opportunity to promote acceptance of other’s religion. This form of religious intolerance only fosters bigotry.

It’s not just with Islam that politics and religion intersect.
We see it in the immigration debate where Catholics were bashed for their efforts to seek just treatment while providing assistance to the families affected by ICE arrests.
We saw it when Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu was initially denied an opportunity to speak at the College of St. Thomas.
We see it with the influence of the America Israel Education Federation (AIEF).

My wish for 2008 is that Congress will embrace and promote religious tolerance. We don’t need a Congress that promotes any religion … just religious tolerance. When a crisis arises (and we know it will), albiet it locally or globally, the bonds of friendship can be the dialogue that is needed to resolve conflict instead of inciting fear.

The following members of the House of Representatives opted not to promote tolerance (since religion and politics should not mix, the party afflation is not listed) :
Robert Alderholt (AL)
Gary Ackerman (NY)
Todd Akin (MO)
J. Gresham Barrett (SC)
Jo Bonner (AL)
Mary Bono (CA)
Paul Broun (GA)
Ginny Brown-Waite (FL)
Michael Burgess (TX)
Steve Buyer (IN)
John Carter (TX)
Yvette Clarke (NY)
K. Michael Conaway (TX)
John Conyers(MI)
Nathan Deal (GA)
Diana DeGette (CO)
Terry Everett (AL)
Mary Fallin (OK)
Randy Forbes (VA)
Barney Frank (MA)
Trent Franks (AZ)
Scott Garrett (NJ)
Louie Gohmert (TX)
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